The Fascinating Perfume Pagoda Complex in Vietnam

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.

Scenery Along the River
Temple at a Local Home on the River
Passing Other Boats
Some of the Many Hills in the Countryside

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.

Temple Architecture
Golden Statues of Buddha
View from the Main Temple
Standing at the Entrance to the 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.

Fish and Other Dishes
Others Enjoying a Meal
Beautiful Vase in the Thien Tru Pagoda
View as You Pass Through the Gate to Thien Tru Pagoda

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.

Cable Car
Monks Browsing Items for Sale
View from the Summit
Scenery from the Cable Car Platform

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.

Offerings at the Cave Entrance
Marker Within the Cave
Temple Inside Huong Tich Cave
Exiting Huong Tich Cave

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.

Temple Building on the Side of the Mountain
Thien Tru Temple Gate
Items for Sale in a Stall
More of the Incredible Countryside
Walking Through Thien Tru Pagoda
Heading Back from Perfume Pagoda after a Full Day

Exploring the Amazing Caves in Vietnam

We saw many fascinating things during our trip to Vietnam, but one of the things that we found interesting were the different caves that we explored. We went to caves in the Ninh BinhPprovince as well in Halong Bay. Some of them were caves where we went through the cave by boats or canoes as well as others where we walked through the caves. Each one of them was a unique experience in their own ways and it was it was interesting not just from a geological perspective, but from a cultural perspective as well. There are other caves that can be explored, but these are the ones that we visited during our time in Vietnam.

Going Through a Cave
Rowing with Their Feet in Vietnam

Tam Coc Cave – One of the more popular day tours from Hanoi is to go to the Ninh Binh Province, especially to do the Tam Coc caves (which actually means three caves). There are a couple of styles of boats that will take you along the Ngo Dong River, but the ones where the oarsman rows with their feet are different from anything else that we’ve done. The caves themselves are quite interesting as they have been carved out by the river and they actually create tunnels that take you under the mountain by boat.

The Second Chamber, “Serene Castle”
Contrasting Formations

Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave – Of the many fascinating places that we visited during our Halong Bay tour, seeing Sung Sot or Surprise Cave was certainly unique. There are many caves throughout the region, although most of the other ones that we visited were on the water. Surprise Cave is completely different as it is more of what we would consider to be a cavern with large ceilings, stalagmites, and stalactites. It is another very popular location, so the earlier in the day that you can arrive, the better off you will be.

Exiting Huong Tich Cave
Chua Trong Inside the Cave

Huang Tich Cave – 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.

Amazing Views of the Ninh Binh Province
The Lower Viewing Point

Mua Cave – A visit to Mua Cave in the Ninh Binh Province isn’t only about seeing the cave, many of other caves that we saw were more impressive, but it is all about climbing the over 540 stairs to see the incredible views of the countryside. To be clear, the steps are steep and uneven throughout much of the ascent to the top, so bring plenty of water and take your time. Despite the effort to reach the summit, the views along the way as well as when you reach the top are well worth the muscle pain. At the base of the mountain is a beautiful park with statues of horses and a fountain. It is a perfect place to sit in the shade and unwind after completing the long climb up the staircase.

Entering the Cave
Monkeys Walking Along the Shore

Luan Cave – Another popular excursion when doing a cruise on Halong Bay is to explore Luan Cave (Hang Luan). You can either go by rowboat or by kayak depending on your preference, but either way it is an enjoyable experience. After passing through the cave, you enter an isolated inlet with stunning cliffs and turquoise water. Near the mouth of the cave, you will likely find several monkeys who climb across the rocky shore hoping for some treats from the many tourists who visit.

Boats Going One After Another Through the Caves of Ninh Binh Province
Tiger Cave

There are obviously many unique places to see during a visit to Vietnam, but if you take the time to get out of the cities and go to these interesting caves, you will be well rewarded. Seeing them was certainly a highlight of our two-week trip to this wonderful country.

Trips That Have Pushed Us Out of Our Comfort Zone

We enjoy travel of all kinds, but some of our favorite trips have been ones that have pushed us out of our comfort zone. There can be many different factors that make a certain trip create a little more tension than other trips. It isn’t that we get nervous about the trip, it is more that we are more anxious prior to our arrival and typically we settle in as soon as we arrive and start our adventure. It could be due to the language barriers, differences in culture, or even safety concerns. Oddly enough, we probably seek out these trips more now than visiting some other traditional travel destinations that people go to, especially from the United States. In no particular order, these are some of the places that we have visited that caused us to be a little apprehensive.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple entrance in Chennai, India
Choosing a Sari in Kanchipuram
Temples at Mahabalipuram, India

Chennai in Southeast India – We have talked about this trip many times as it was the trip that changed the way that we wanted to explore the world. The experience was truly amazing and we saw so many different temples and learned as much as we could about the local culture. Whether buying silk in Kanchipuram or heading to the coast to visit the ancient temples of Mahabalipuram, the trip was very different than anything that we had done previously.

Iconic View from Isla del Sol with Isla de la Luna in the Background and a Ruin in the Foreground
Getting Into Carrasco National Park in Bolivia
View of La Paz, Bolivia

Cochabamba and La Paz in Bolivia – There were several things that made this one of the best trips we’ve ever taken to a destination that many people don’t consider. It was our first opportunity to stay at an ecolodge and explore part of the Amazon Rainforest, which we did from Cochabamba. After a week of memories in the heart of Bolivia, we then went to La Paz where we able to take a tour that took us to Tiwanaku and then off to Copacabana to see Sun and Moon Islands. The different things that we were able to see combined with the people that we met really made this trip stand out.

Two Reclining Buddhas in Laos (They are Farther Apart then It Looks)
Boats Going One After Another Through the Caves of Ninh Binh Province
Halong Bay in Vietnam

Vietnam and Laos – Although many people travel to Vietnam, going to Laos was certainly a unique experience. Just traveling half way around the world can make a trip a little nerve-racking even if we’d read a lot about the culture before arriving. Seeing Halong Bay and taking a couple of tours into the countryside of the Ninh Binh Province were definitely highlights. Going to Vientiane in Laos, though, was a completely different experience. Even though the two countries border each other, there is no denying that they are worlds apart in many ways.

Sitting in a Historic Ottoman House
Empty Tomb in the Valley of the Kings
The Giza Plateau in Egypt

Egypt – Although it is definitely a destination that has attracted many tourists throughout the past hundred years, but we went shortly after the political unrest that caused Western tourists to be a risk. Other than having to have a police escort to visit Cairo’s Old Town area, we certainly never experienced anything that would have caused us concerns. Whether touring Cairo or taking a cruise down the Nile River to visit Luxor and Aswan, it was certainly an incredible trip. As amazing as the pyramids are to see, we were certainly glad that we took the time to explore even more of the country.

Turkey and Rooster on Death Road in Bolivia
Rowing with Their Feet in Vietnam
Chennai, India

Regardless whether you travel to a place that feels completely natural or to one that makes you see the world in a new light, all travel is rewarding. There have been other trips that have pushed us either culturally or in other ways, but these are some of our favorite travel memories.