Apart from a day trip to Tam Coc in Ninh Binh, I did not venture out of my hotel room in Hanoi. The typhoon totally messed up my plan to visit the famous Halong Bay and it was quite a depressing travel time. After the storm was over, I went out to see how Hanoi had fared and the sight that met my eyes was tough. Hanoi was much affected by the typhoon and the streets were littered with uprooted trees, torn electrical wires, and broken poles. There was not much to do other than walking around the Old Quarter at that time and it was during one such stroll that I booked myself into a small group tour to Perfume Pagoda. It was a day trip just like Tam Coc and provided a getaway from Hanoi until the day of my train ride to Sapa. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to it.
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The journey to Perfume Pagoda is half the fun
Perfume Pagoda is a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the karst cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain. Translated as the Mountain of the Fragrant Traces due to the spring blossoms that scent the air, the setting is very lovely and the site is of immense religious importance. Located about 60 kilometers southwest of Hanoi getting to the pagodas is quite an adventure. It requires a two hours drive first from Hanoi, then by a boat ride down a river, then a hike on foot or zip up by cable car. The journey is half the fun and the best way to do it is by a small group tour which is incredibly cheap. I found the boat trip to be exceptionally pretty and local women row along scenic waterways between limestone cliffs. The hike to the summit is steep in places, and the ground can get slippery with rain. The smartest way to do the Perfume Pagoda is to ride up by cable car and hike your way down. There are many shrines scattered along the path and the most important sites are at the summit.
A revered religious site and a very pretty place
Locally known as Chua Huong or the ‘Inner Temple’, Perfume Pagoda lies in the heart of the maze of Buddhist temples built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich. It is located inside the Huong Tich Cave and is believed to be the first temple built here in the 15th century. The complex has many pagodas, each having a different shrine and most of them are Buddhist by faith. The shrines are named according to the blessing they bestow and while Dun Tien offers prosperity, Nui Co gives the chance of a childless couple to have a baby and Dun Gao which literally mean a ‘rice stack’ promises a bountiful harvest.
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Perfume Pagoda is a spiritual blessing
I loved my visit to the Perfume Pagoda. The journey was fun and the group I was traveling with were easy going, friendly bunch. We had perhaps the best guide with us and he introduced us to the intricacies of the local Vietnamese spiritual beliefs. It is believed by the Vietnamese that the pilgrimage to the Perfume Pagoda through its tranquil forest, rivers, limestone cliffs and inundated paddy field setting enriches spirituality and empowers people to stay balanced and relaxed. I cannot agree more. There is so much tranquil beauty in that area that the mind automatically calms down and goes into a quiet, happy, meditative state. It is the exquisite healing power of nature which does that and Perfume Pagoda is the combination of beauty and spirituality.
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Perfume Pagoda Travel Facts
How to Reach from Hanoi: The journey to Perfume Pagoda is half the fun. First, you must travel to My Duc which is 2 hours from Hanoi. There you have to hop on a boat from the Ben Yen pier. It is followed by a 45 minutes boat ride to Thien Tru pier. Make sure to memorize your boat’s number as there are hundreds of identical crafts there. From this point, a stone-paved path shaded by a canopy of frangipani trees leads to the seventeenth-century Chua Thien Chu. There are two options for reaching the summit. Either hike uphill for 2 kilometers or opt for a short cable car ride to the Huong Tich Cave.
The path to the Perfume Pagoda: The hike to the summit can be hard and treacherous on the descent during wet weather. Good walking shoes are highly recommended and remember to drink plenty of water, especially in the hot summer months. Though drink stalls can be found in plenty all along the path, the prices are inflated. During the festival time, this path is lined with stalls selling tacky souvenirs and refreshments, marring the spiritual atmosphere.
Things to Remember before visiting Perfume Pagoda
Perfume Pagoda is a pilgrimage site of immense importance to the local Vietnamese people. So respectful attire is advised. Long trousers, skirts below the knee and no sleeveless tops are recommended for this trip. Also, get a hat, umbrella and/or a rain jacket since the boats have no shelter and it may rain. Perfume Pagoda is a hard-to-reach site and not wheelchair accessible.
The Best Time to Visit: The annual Tet (Vietnamese New Year) celebrations, normally held in January or February is the busiest time to visit Perfume Pagoda. Unless you don’t mind massive crowds, it is best to avoid visiting during this time. February to April is the best time and it is a good idea to make an early start, especially if you are traveling down from Hanoi. Huong Pagoda Festival in February is also another busy time.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE