Home > Neil in Hanoi > Day trip to Perfume pagoda

Day trip to Perfume pagoda

My motor bike trip with Mr Ngan and his charming wife, Ms Man, to the Perfume Pagoda, which in fact consists of 3 Pagodas, was a culturally rewarding experience. It took about 2 ½ hours by bike through some very interesting villages. Some of the villages specialised in Cornical Hats Making (Non) and some in the very popular dog meat (Thit cho). The villages are a hive of activity with people lively selling and buying all sorts of food and goods, delivering construction materials into the villages and kids on their way to school on their push bikes dressed in dark blue trousers, white shirts and the traditional red cravat (seen in most schools throughout Vietnam) around their neck.

Perfume pagoda is a series of Pagodas, Den Trinh, Thien Tru, Giai Oan and Huong Tich Cave, built in the 15th century by the most well known King, Le Thanh Tong.

On arriving at the village set on the Day River (Sông Đáy), a tributary of the famous Red River, we parked our bikes at a coffee shop, had a good hot Vietnamese coffee as it was very cold riding our bikes, hopped into a canoe to be paddled by a young man for about 45 minutes up the day river to explore our first temple. It was amazing how fast this little thin guy paddled the canoe.

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The river was clear and clean and there were fisherman going about their task catching fish to sell. There were three types of fishing going on. The first was net fishing, both throw and fixed nets, next traditional bamboo pole and fishing line and the third, a long bamboo pole with a metal ladle on the end with electrical wires attached to the ladle and connected to a battery, electric shock fishing. The fisherman stands on his kayak and puts the ladle into the water among the floating plants and then gives it a jolt of electricity. The fish are stunned and float to the surface where they scoop them into the kayak. The river is quite wide and along the banks there are a few small houses. The river has very few motorised boats so it was a calm peaceful trip.

Arriving at Thien Tru Pagoda (kitchen of God), we decided to have lunch at one of the many traditional Vietnamese restaurants situates at he bottom of the mountain. The lunch was a delicious selection of BBQ chicken, assorted vegetables, pork with rice and a Hanoi beer. We then started climbing numerous steps up the mountain to the Pagoda. The pagoda is quite spectacular and seems unchanged apart from regular maintenance over the centuries. Thousands of Vietnamese pilgrims flock to this Pagoda during the Tet New Year celebrations usually sometime in February every year. The whole area is a vast set up for eating, drinking and praying to cater to these pilgrims. Fortunately we were there in December and it was relatively quiet with only a few hundred tourists and some Vietnamese who had come to worship.

We then waited at about ½ ways up at the cable car station, to take it to the high peak to visit Huong Tich Cave. The mouth of the cave has the appearance of an open dragon’s mouth with Chinese characters carved in the wall at the mouth to the cave. Inside the cave are many statues to Buddha including one which is very large. The cave is a shrine and I saw many Vietnamese and Monks worshipping. The pilgrims light joss sticks and pray in front of one of many altars holding the joss stick in their prayer like hands, bow, usually three times, and then place them in a receptacle at the altar. Some of the people also bring offerings of food and flowers to leave at the altars. Fascinating to see how dedicated Buddhist devotees are in their belief of prayer and worship.

After heading back down the mountain, first on the cable car (you could walk the 1,000 stairs but it was too cold as it is winter in Hanoi from December to March, not because I was too lazy) we arrived back at our little man who was waiting to row us back to our bikes for the journey home.

The Perfume Pagoda is a wonderful trip full of history and culture. You get right into the heart of Vietnamese beliefs and see the culture of the rice farmers, villagers and fishermen in this provence. You can take a day trip from Hanoi which includes English speaking guide, lunch, all entrance and canoe fees and air-conditioned transport. Well worth the visit.

Footnote: The return journey was absolutely freezing. Even though I wore a scarf, shirt, pullover and jacket, I still froze. Better to do it by bus next time if it is in winter. Still I really enjoyed the whole experience.


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