By Oceania Cruises Guest Michael U.
One of my favorite things to do whenever I travel is discover off-the-beaten-path spots that aren’t in the guidebooks or travel sites. From my recent cruise in Asia, one of my most memorable days was definitely the excursion my wife and I took in Ha Long Bay – we went on a really unique monastery and meditation tour that took us into the countryside.
As our tour guide mentioned at the very beginning, our excursion was tailored to travelers who like to explore lesser-known locations and head off the tourist track. The day began with an appropriately peaceful, scenic drive along the Yen Tu mountain range to reach the Yen Tu Buddhist Zen monastery in the Ha Long Bay countryside. We passed several small villages with bamboo fences along the way, and the atmosphere became noticeably calmer and more tranquil.
Once we arrived, we met our meditation instructor and learned a bit about the history of Vietnamese Zen Buddhism and how Yen Tu became the Buddhist Center of Vietnam. The instructor explained how King Tran Nhan Tong gave up his throne to become a Buddhist monk, after a war with Kublai Khan’s troops during the 13th century and established a Sect of Buddhism on the mountain.
Then our instructor gave us step-by-step instructions on how to sit, breathe, manage our thoughts and properly end the meditation. We were seated on comfortable, low-cushioned stools and he began by telling us to visualize our breathing – very helpful. As it turns out, exhaling worries and concerns can be a powerful instruction. The monastery was such a peaceful place with incredible views of the bay and mountains, which made the meditation experience so enjoyable and relaxing.
I also learned that after long meditations the monks massage their body – feet, legs, hips, arms, shoulders, face and scalp – for a few minutes to awaken the body and spirit. It almost feels like pressing the reset button on your whole body. The other goal of the massage is to get blood flowing in certain areas of the body again after sitting for long periods of time.
After the visit to the monastery, we stopped at one of the small nearby villages and visited a farmer’s house where we were served hot tea and enjoyed a delicious sweet potato snack. The owner of the house happened to see my wife studying a chart of the human body in his living room and offered to do a type of acupuncture treatment – an ancient treatment – on her forehead with a special tool and incense. He explained that it was a technique passed down for centuries and centuries, and it works by releasing key pressure points in the body. It’s used for medical reasons, along with pain and stress management. It was really interesting because my wife was having shoulder pain at the time, but after the treatment her discomfort has gradually improved to the point she is almost pain-free, which is remarkable.
Now that my wife and I are getting settled at home again, we’ve still been talking about this day in Vietnam that took us to remote locations that we wouldn’t have found on our own – and we’ve been talking about planning another voyage to Asia next year, this time maybe to Malaysia and Indonesia. Until then, we have meditation techniques to hone and hundreds of photos to organize from this cruise!