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

Making the Most of a Trip to Vientiane in Laos

We spent a few days in Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos, during our trip to Southeast Asia. Although it was a short trip to the country, it was certainly full of fascinating sights and an opportunity to gain insight into the culture. We had a guide for the entire time that we spent in Vientiane, which was great since it allowed us to learn more than we would have just visiting on our own. It also gave us the opportunity to hear firsthand stories about the changes that the country is undergoing and how the citizens feel about those changes. We’ve listed here some of our top recommendations for anyone who gets a few days in Vientiane.

Two Reclining Buddhas in Laos (They are Farther Apart then It Looks)
View of Buddha Park

Buddha Park – Also known as Xieng Kuan or Spirit City, Buddha Park is something that is truly amazing. With over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues of various sizes, the park will allow you to immerse yourself into various figures and the stories behind each of them. Even though the park is only a little over 60 years old, you will feel transported into something that could be centuries old.

Golden Stupa in Vientiane
Praying at Altar Outside of the Stupa

Pha That Luang – Built in the 1500’s, Pha That Luang is a giant golden stupa that contains a holy relic that is believed to be the breastbone of the Lord Buddha, making it a great national treasure of the Laotian people. It is also the site of a Buddhist festival in November that attracts thousands of people to the city of Vientiane for the celebration. Walking around the golden architecture of the stupa, which is Buddhist shrine, is one of our favorite memories of visiting Vientiane.

View of the Temple Ceiling of Wat That Luang Neua
Wat Ho Phra Keo

Taking a Walking Tour of the Wats (Temples) – To say that there is a different wat or temple on every corner of the streets of historic Vientiane would not be an exaggeration. The Airbnb where we stayed was even located across the street from a wat. Most of them are open to the public for at least part of the day and each of them was unique in its own way despite some similarities. Some of our favorite wats were Wat Ho Phra Keo, Wat That Luang Neua, and Wat Si Saket, which is also a museum.

Standing on the Observation Deck

Patuxai (Victory Gate) – In the heart of Vientiane is Patuxai, or Victory Gate, which is Laos’ version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Just like the arch in Paris, going to the top of Patuxai provides amazing views of the city of Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos. The arch is made up of five levels that represent both the principals representing the coexistence of nations as well as the five principals of Buddhism. Regardless of the meanings of the five levels, today there are markets on each level as you climb to the top offering you the opportunity to buy local items and tourist trinkets.

Walking Through the Market
Watching the Sun Head Toward the Horizon

Walking Along the Mekong River – When visiting Vientiane in Laos, one thing that should be on your itinerary is spending time along the Mekong River. There are many restaurants on the road that sits along the river as well as Chao Anouvong Park, the main park in Vientiane. There are also a few rooftop restaurants that are only a block or two away from the river that offer great views of the city as well as the river. We had been told before visiting that we should be sure to see a sunset over the Mekong River and we were definitely glad that we did. At night, the area around Chao Anouvong Park that is near the inner city, turns into a night market with street food, family activities, and vendors selling locally produced items.

The COPE Visitor Center
Display of the Bombies Falling

The COPE Visitor Center – Although we weren’t originally planning on visiting the COPE Visitor Center, it turned out to be an enlightening experience. Part museum and part informative on the work that the COPE project does to help people who have been injured by the unexploded bombs that litter the countryside of Laos. Like visiting holocaust museums, it contains both disturbing images as well as an acknowledgement of the ravages of war.

Mekong Fish in Coconut Sauce Served with Sticky Rice
Pork Laab

Enjoy the Food of Vientiane – The food of Laos has been influenced by its neighboring countries as well as the French who once occupied the country. Fresh fish from the Mekong River can certainly be found on many of the restaurant menus as well as Laab, which is considered the national dish of Laos. We also enjoyed a couple of different styles of sticky rice and a variety of fried noodles with beef, chicken, and pork.

View of Vientiane
Road Leading to the Presidential Palace

Although Laos and its capital, Vientiane, might not be on everyone’s typical itinerary for visiting Southeast Asia, it certainly worth spending time there. We definitely enjoyed seeing all of the fascinating sights that were in or around Vientiane. It was just a short flight from Hanoi, Vietnam where we were staying, and three days seemed like a perfect amount of time to spend there.

Exploring Ancient Temples and Ruins in Bolivia

During our trip to Bolivia, we had the opportunity to visit several different ancient Incan sites. Unlike some locations that restore the ancient ruins in an attempt to show what they would have looked like, most of the ruins in Bolivia are in the same state that they were when they were discovered. We actually enjoyed seeing them without the modifications so that we could appreciate how well they have withstood the elements over thousands of years. Unfortunately, when we visited Tiwanaku, there was actually damage to the ancient statues and walls as the local army had used them for target practice. These locations made for some of our favorite memories during our trip to Bolivia.

Main Wall of Kallanka
View of the Ruins from Above
Inner Wall of the Temple

Incallajta – One of the tours that took while we were in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was to the ruins at Incallajta. They are some of the most well-preserved ruins in Bolivia and it really gives you a sense of how great the Incan civilization was.  Sadly, not a lot is known for sure about the site and it seems that it is not often visited by tourists.  The main temple building is massive and is probably an indication as to how important the site was to the Incan empire.  In addition to being a ceremonial site, it was also the easternmost defensive fortification for the Inca, with a large wall to protect them from the rival tribes in the Amazon.

Temple Stairs
Possible Calendar on the Gate of the Sun
Statue at Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku – Walking through the ruins of Tiwanaku brings both a sense of fascination and yearning for more. This once great capital fills you with a sense of mystery, both because of the seemingly impossible building methods used by the inhabitants over two-thousand years ago as well as the lack of knowledge that we’ll ever have because of the condition of the ruins.  Unfortunately, many of the stones that originally made up Tiwanaku are now used in the walls of the homes in the surrounding villages.  It has also suffered from a lack of preservation by the Bolivian government despite the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Impressive Ruins on the Island of the Moon
Iconic View from Isla del Sol with Isla de la Luna in the Background and a Ruin in the Foreground
Grass Growing on Top of the Ruin on Island of the Sun

Island of the Sun and Moon – Taking a boat out to visit Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is truly fascinating. The islands have many interesting ruins that pre-date the Inca empire and have been dated back to as far as 300 BC. The ruins are mostly of temples, but people lived on the islands as well. Island of the Sun is the larger of the two islands and there are even hotels where you can spend the night if you would like. If you just want to tour the islands and return to the town of Copacabana on the same day, it will take you about four to six hours.

The Ruins of Incallajta
Ruins on Isla del Sol
Ancient Wall at Tiwanaku

We saw many other fascinating things during our trip to Bolivia, including the cities of La Paz and Cochabamba, our first exploration into the Amazon Jungle and a stay in an ecolodge, as well as a treacherous trip down Death Road. Even with all of those adventures, visiting these temples and ruins were still among the highlights of our trip.