One of the day trips that you can take from Hanoi in Vietnam is to visit the Perfume Pagoda Complex, which is a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines that are located on the Huong Tich mountains. It is certainly worth visiting for a variety of reasons, but be aware that during the festival time, from mid-January through mid-March, hundreds of thousands of visitors make their way to Perfume Pagoda. We visited in late fall, so there weren’t many visitors although preparations for the festival were already beginning. After taking a car to the town nearby, we boarded a rowboat to make our way through the countryside, which is absolutely beautiful. About halfway through the hour-long boat ride, other boats came by to offer us food, drinks, and other items to buy.
Once we docked in Ben Tro, which is really a series of restaurants along the river, we made our way to the first of the pagodas that we were to visit. We walked up the long path and stairs to reach Thien Tru Pagoda, which is over 500 years old. On either side of the path, especially as you near the pagoda, are tents selling items to use as offerings as well as restaurants. The architecture, artwork, and cultural features are amazing. We went in the different temples with the golden statues of Buddha and walked throughout the grounds. We saw a few monks on the grounds, but were mostly by ourselves with our guide as we walked among the different buildings. It was a wonderful start to our time in Perfume Pagoda.
After visiting Thien Thru Pagoda, we went to one of the restaurants. Normally the tours of Perfume Pagoda have large groups of people visiting together, but even though it was just the two of us, we were treated to a feast. It was way too much food, but it did give us the opportunity to try many different local dishes. We were served beef with fried potatoes, an omelet with spring onions, Bok Choy, fish from the river, fried chicken, stir fry, fresh fruit, and rice. Of course we put the spicy pepper sauce, Chin-Su, on everything. Although we couldn’t eat it all, we definitely tried a little bit of everything and also enjoyed a couple of cold beers to help cool us off on the hot day.
After lunch, we made our way past more of the stalls where monks were actually browsing through some of the items for sale, to get our tickets for the cable car that will take you to the top of the mountain. You can take the path to top of the mountain, and when it is busy it is pretty much the only choice, but we chose to take the cable car up and then walk down the mountainside afterwards. We had to wait a little while for the cable car as only a couple were running due to the lack of visitors, but it was well worth the wait as the cable car gets you above the trees to get wonderful views of the country.
Once we reached the top of the mountain, we made our way up, then down, to Huong Tich Cave. The cave itself is quite beautiful, but the reason for going there is see Chua Trong or the Inner Temple inside of the cave. After spending time walking around the cave, we started our way down the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) trail that is again lined with stalls selling items to use as souvenirs or as offerings to be left at the temple. Most of them were not open during our visit, but we can only imagine what it must be like during the height of the festival when thousands of people would line the pathway.
After a very full day, our boat took us back along the Song Huong River so that we could return to Hanoi. We took several tours during our time in Vietnam, including the Ninh Binh Province and Halong Bay, but going to Perfume Pagoda was definitely an incredible experience. If you have time while visiting Hanoi, we’d highly recommend taking this tour to see the various temples and beautiful countryside.