Perfume Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples located about a couple of hours outside of Hanoi in Vietnam. At the heart of the complex is Huong Tich Cave and within the cave is Chua Trong or the Inner Temple. During the festival time, from late January through early March, thousands of people visit the temple and the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) path that takes you up to the cave is lined with vendor stalls selling food, gifts, and objects to use as an offering. In order to reach the Perfume Pagoda complex, you need to take an almost hour long boat ride (less if you take a motorized boat) through the beautiful countryside.
There is a cable car that will also take you to the summit where Huong Tich Cave is located and for the nominal price it is worth it. During the festival, however, the lines for the cable car are so long that it is faster to walk and even that is very slow going as you weave along the foot path. The views from the cable car are also worth it as it allows you to get above the path and see how it winds through the forest. After taking the cable car to the summit and visiting the cave and Chua Trong, we did walk down the path in order to get an appreciation of it. There were only a few stalls open during our visit and needless to say, with less visitors, they worked hard to try to get us to buy something.
From the cable car, you walk down a steep set of stairs that take you to the entrance of the cave. The opening of Huong Tich Cave is said to resemble the mouth of a dragon and there is a rock formation inside of the cave that also looks like a dragon. There is a ceremonial altar at the entrance and at the deepest part of the cave is the inner temple, Chua Trong. As we understand it, it is the only pagoda located inside of a cave and there are many different statues of Buddha in the temple. Even without the temple, the inside of the cave is interesting to see with all of the typical stalagmites and stalactites.
When visiting Hanoi, we’d definitely recommend going on the Perfume Pagoda tour, but only after doing Halong Bay and a Ninh Binh tour. The scenery is beautiful and the history, which goes back hundreds of years, and culture is fascinating. It is probably interesting to see during the festival season, but since we don’t like crowds, we were fine with visiting a couple of months before it started. The tour will take a full day from Hanoi, lasting about 10 hours from hotel pick-up to drop-off.