We drove two and a half hours from Hanoi to Cuc Phuong national park. It was the first national park in Vietnam. And it’s quite rainy and cold today. We enjoyed the company of Tony and Emmanuel from Australia (Emmanuel is originally from France) on this trip. Our group stopped at a primate preservation center, partly funded by German sponsors. The center intercepts smugglers taking the monkeys to China for use as food, medicine or pets. From there, they house and rehabilitate them, releasing the fit back into the wild. We saw some really beautiful species, some of which only exist in Vietnam. I wanted to see the Slow Lorus, but they’re nocturnal. We saw some others with great markings and little beards, and what looked like little red shorts, and watched them frolic. The cages are large, and the monkeys look healthy. Sorry, no pictures as it was super rainy, and the cages obscured the monkeys.

After the primate center, we checked in to our government hotel, which could use a few amenities, like heat. No one in Vietnam seems to know what we mean when we ask if a structure is heated. I was sort of a pansy and didn’t go on the wilderness hike today, as it’s rainy, and I’ve already been sick twice in the last month, once from the blowing wind in Halong Bay. Ah well, a good time to catch up on a few other things.

We had a really good sort of country meal at the hotel’s freezing dining room tonight. The most memorable items were savory meatballs and some nice potatoes. Our guide was excited because he usually guides the Halong Bay tour, and hasn’t been to Cuc Phuong in months. He has friends here. So he and his friend brought some peach-flavored rice wine to our table. We all had about three shots and it was fun to watch the guides get a little wacky.

The room was quite cold overnight, and we huddled under two thick comforters. I also used a silk sleep sack, which adds a surprising amount of warmth. We put a mosquito net over the bed — Cuc Phuong has some malaria risk, although we only saw one mosquito. In the middle of the night, I woke to find a large spider, right in front of my face, on the other side of the net. These weren’t my favorite accommodations.

The next day, while we were driving, we saw a large herd of goats crossing the street. Unfortunately, we weren’t quick enough with the camera. We also saw some rice paddies that had ancestors graves in their midst. In the South, Hue explained to us that many people bury their dead amongst the crops, because they want to be near them, and also because it’s easier to give them their daily offerings as they work next to them.

Cimg1755

We then took a boat ride near "Chicken Mountain," which is sort of shaped like a chicken. This boat ride was much less pleasant than the balmy one on the Mekong. The north is cold this time of year, and wind and water don’t help. We huddled in our coats for much of the trip — I guess I can thank the tailors of Hoi An for something. The boat was piloted by a local woman, wearing high heels no less. It always amazes me how the local women can look fashionable even knee-deep in a rice paddy.

It was interesting to compare and contrast the ways of life on this waterway versus the Mekong. The Mekong definitely looks more fertile. But the landscape is certainly stunning up here — the mountains and rock formations look kind of like Halong bay.

Cimg1754

Friendly children waved at us again. And partway through the trip, a small footbridge was opened so our boat could pass through.

Cimg1757

There are lots of Catholics here, and a yellow flag on a house signifies a Catholic inhabitant. We saw many churches in the communities.

Cimg1756

After our boat trip, we breaked for another good country lunch at a little local kitchen. Then we drove past some other hills/mountains to some old temples. The area is rural, but it’s important as it was briefly the capital of Vietnam. There are two temples for two kings here. After the first died, the second married his queen. The temples are hundreds of years old and beautiful in the foggy air.

Cimg1753

There are "Buddha trees" planted on the temple grounds. You can taste the sweet nectar of the flower as you would a clover.

Cimg1750

There are also "bonsai rocks" on the grounds.

Cimg1752

The proprietor of the second king’s temple was very eager to show us around and lit some incense for us to place at the altar. He gestured to explain the stories of the kings, and grabbed our hands taking us around the statues.

Cimg1747