I'd had enough of Hanoi for a while (still have another 2 partial days in between coming and going), so I decided to take a tour to the Perfume Pagoda about 60km from Hanoi. It's a complex of pagodas and shrines built into the karst (limestone) cliffs. It was an all-day affair with about 1-1/2 hours on the bus each way and a 1+ hour ride each way in a rowboat (almost all were rowed by women). To get to the Perfume Pagoda it's either a couple hour climb up steep, often slippery steps or a 10 minute ride on a cable car. Since everyone else in my tour was taking the cable car I did that as well; I really didn't think walking up was a very good option in this humidity. The good news was that the effects of a typhoon in the area kept it slightly cooler with a slight breeze and no sun. Several of us did walk down and reached the bottom before the rest of our group who had to wait for the cable car. The Perfume Pagoda is actually a temple in a cave. It has a couple of big stalactites - one for males to pray to and one for females.
After returning to Hanoi I got on an overnight sleeper train to head up to Sapa in the Hill Country. After the train you crowd onto a minibus (with the usual organized chaos that always seem to accompany this in 3rd world countries). Finally made it to Sapa about 10am (somehow the train arrived 2 hours behind schedule). The typhoon is in the area so last night and most of today were washouts. I did wander around the town a little but unfortunately the spectacular views that are supposed to be here were nonexistent. It still is a fascinating little town with the very colorful hill tribe people here. I think it's the Hmong who are here, and the young women speak very good English.
Tomorrow I head out for 3 days of trekking and, hopefully, views and not much rain.