We booked a day trip to Perfume Pagoda, about an hour and a half drive out of Hanoi. This is actually a complex of Buddhist temples located around Huong Mountain. We rode in a mini-bus with six fellow travelers. A great opportunity to admire the countryside. Utterly bovine!
There was the obligatory stop at a tourist souvenir complex where I photographed this palm interior.
Along the way we passed through many small villages and farmlands. Water sat on the land, in rice paddies and ponds.
We arrived at a village which seemed to have thousands of boats, both in the river and piled up on shore. During Tet thousands of pilgrims visit the Perfume Pagoda. Our guide told us that the river is so crowded that boat passengers don’t let their fingers curl around the boat gunwhale or they might get pinched.
Our group gingerly boarded two boats, which were rowed down the Day River by a couple of local women. Note the amount of freeboard. Our guide told us these boats typically carry 8 – 10 Vietnamese!
Along the Day River we saw many women working: rowing boats, working in rice paddies, fishing and shoring up the edges of paddies. Where were the men? Probably off playing cards and drinking rice wine! (according to our guide, who had a great sense of humor).
It took about an hour to paddle down the river to a long riverside dock. We began to see the enormity of the pilgrimage as we saw the facilities for handling the coming crowds. Vendors were busy setting up stalls for Tet, which starts in about two weeks. On the map below you can see just how many pagodas there are in hills around the Perfume Pagoda.
We were only going to visit the Huong Tich Cave, the center of the complex and the Thien Tru Pagoda. We took the easy way up to the cave: cable car. The view was spectacular as we rode up amongst the jungle covered hills.
Once off the cable car it was an easy walk to the stairs leading down into Huong Tich Cave, which with it’s large central rock formation, has the appearance of an open dragon’s mouth. Going past the large ‘tooth’ we entered the inner cave which houses several altars featuring many Buddhas. Stalagtites and stalagmites covered the roof and floor of the cave, some worn smooth by hands rubbing them for luck over the centuries.
We paused a moment before walking down to admire the view across the hills. In the foreground is a small cable trolley used for moving construction supplies up the mountain. It would be an incredible ride for fearless riders!
As we walked down the path we passed numerous vendors setting up their stalls. Some of the pieces of bamboo used in the structures were very long. As you can see below some of the stalls hung over steep drops to the jungle below.
Along the way we passed this small monkey on a large chain working his way through an orange.
Once back to the bottom of the mountain we stopped for a large, delicious vegetarian lunch. Although I personally did my best to consume as much as possible we did leave food on the table. We then walked over to the Thien Tru Pagoda, which was undergoing some reconstruction. Much of the pagoda had been severely damaged in the wars with both the French and Americans.
Below is one of the many building in the complex. Everywhere there were prayers flags and hanging banners.
Behind the buildings, in niches in the rock wall, were small shrines and altars. The dragon below appeared to go in and out of the rock face.
and out front were more statues of fantastic animals…
Mid-afternoon we started back. The ride back on the river was so peaceful. Sue scooped snail shells from the water surface. Sometimes another boat appeared on the journey back.
Even our ebullient guide Anh was reflective.
Once again it was terrific to get out of town for a day. The Perfume Pagoda and its environs were spectacular; well worth a day trip. The ride back was a bit longer due to a traffic jam which led our driver to take an interesting detour along a dike road by the Red River. As dusk turned to night we re-entered the chaos of Hanoi.