Featured / Travel / Vietnam

Don’t hike a holy mountain with your knees exposed

Hiking up the rocky side of one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia, with the deafening screech of a million cicadas ringing in my ears, in an ankle-length skirt concealing my indecently short shorts and the oppressive Vietnam humidity bearing down on me… 

Let’s be honest. I was miserable. And I really had to pee.

I’ll start with the skirts.

When our tour guide, Tom, went over the itinerary with us the night before, I heard “hike” so I wore clothes I would normally hike in—shorts and a tank top. But I missed the part about this mountain being one of the most sacred in all of Asia. Oops. They provided ankle-length, wrap-around skirts to those of us with exposed knees.

One million steps up the mountain later, we saw the enormous bronze statue of Buddhist King Tran Nhan Tong and congratulated ourselves for making it to the top. Except we weren’t at the top yet. We still had a third of the way to go. Tom directed us to the left of the statue, where a steep, treacherous climb made entirely of boulders lay before us. He sent us off with a “Good luck. I’m staying here.”

Hydrate, they said. It’s good for you, they said.

What they failed to mention, however, was the lack of bathrooms on this mountain. The sheer willpower it took to suppress my urge to pee was exhausting enough as it is. Yet there I was hiking (and I mean HIKING) further and further away from the nearest restroom. 

I saw a few golden opportunities to relieve myself in the shrubs but every time I considered it, King Tran Nhan Tong’s bronze face popped into my head and frowned with disapproval.

Okay so I knew I wasn’t exactly in the best shape but watching men and women three times my age climb the same boulders with much more ease was an eye opener. There I was, drenched like I went for a swim fully-clothed and there they were floating past me in their fleece jackets and woven hats. I was moving one mile per hour. Aurora was pretty slow too, but she twisted her ankle so what’s my excuse?

We somehow ended up making it to the top first, though. I welcomed the breeze with open arms… and all of the insects the breeze carried. Imagine the grill of a big-rig going 50 mph. Now picture that on my face.

I bought cold bottles of water (to use as an ice pack. My bladder could not hold in another drop of liquid) and handmade bracelets. I mean come on, how many times can you give someone a souvenir and tell them “hey, I hiked all the way up a mountain for that.”

One hour later~

After all 22 of us reached the top and the group was gathered and pictures were snapped—I could finally start trekking back down the mountain.

Tom and a few others from our group were waiting back at the bronze statue.

Wait… others? How did they beat me? I was the first one to head back down. Am I really that slow?

No.

You see, what had happened was, Tom led us to the steep, rocky trail on the left side of the mountain…instead of the set of stairs on the right.

Thanks Tom.

P.S. I made it to the toilet. Toilet paper was a whole other issue.

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