Visiting the Perfume Pagoda complex from Hanoi

On our last full day in Vietnam, we had plans to leave the city of Hanoi once more. We boarded a bus to take us to the famous Perfume Pagoda about 60km south-west of the city.

This pagoda is part of an entire complex of pagodas and shrines up in the cliffs of Huong Tich, but the Perfume Pagoda is most definitely the most striking one. How often do you get to see a pagoda inside a cave?

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To visit the Perfume Pagoda, it’s wiser to book a day trip from Hanoi rather than to attempt to reach it on your own. As a single tourist or a small group it’s quite hard to get onto one of the boats that take you the rest of the way to the pagodas. You have to pay the fee for a full boat even if you’re only a few people. To avoid those difficulties, we once again booked this trip at Lily’s Travel Agency.

The Perfume Pagoda is one of the most spiritual places in all of Vietnam and considering we were visiting the country during the festival season, many Vietnamese were also heading that that direction. That was immediately clear as we arrived at the area where we were to board the boats. We definitely weren’t the only ones who would be getting onto one of the boats considering the amount that was ready to depart.

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From the parking area, it’s still about an hour by boat to the foot of the cliffs where the complex is situated. But it’s not boring at all. You are constantly surrounded by limestone mountains and beautiful rice fields. It felt like a little brother of the Ninh Binh Area, which actually wasn’t that far from there.

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Once back on shore, we followed our guide along the many, many stalls where all kinds of foods and goods where sold. Most were things that the people could offer in the pagodas but of course we could help but try some for our own.

Immediately upon arrival, we headed for the Thien Tru Pagoda. This was just like your average pagoda, but a tad more beautiful and of course the scenery surrounding it was quite stunning as well.

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For the first time ever in Vietnam, I didn’t feel completely at ease at the place, even though we were in group. Of course we stood out from the other visitors as we were all white, but there were occasionally a few – seemingly drunk – men who were hoovering a little too close to me and my friends for my taste. But all in all nothing too bad.

We were offered lunch in one of the bigger eateries of the complex. It was quite crowded and the food wasn’t much to write home about. It was below average for Vietnam in my opinion. But I guess that’s what you get in those big places. So you don’t have to take this trip to get some culinary delights.

After lunch, our group headed for the cable car to take us up the mountain to visit – what would be the highlight of our trip – the Perfume Pagoda. A single ticket for the cable car costs 100.000 which I found quite a lot actually. You can also walk all the way up, but that’s quite a heavy trek. We didn’t really get a choice as our guide almost forced us to take the cable car so we’d stay with the group. Afterwards I think it was just a time issue. It was quite a long way up there by foot so we wouldn’t have had a long time to actually see the pagoda. We did go back down by foot – which took us about half an hour already-, so this way we got the best of both worlds.

Arriving at the Huong Tich Cave, where the Perfume Pagoda is situated in, we once again got a taste of how busy this place actually was this time of the year.

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It was quite curious to see how they had actually constructed this pagoda inside the cave. But mostly it was intriguing to see the many people go about their prayers and offering their goods. Honestly, the pagoda itself isn’t all that interesting in my opinion. It’s more all the activity that comes with it that held my interest.

Conclusion; it is a beautiful site and it’s quite interesting to see these Vietnamese and their religious experiences, but from Hanoi it’s quite a long trek to see this complex. If you have plenty of time, I’d say ‘Go for it’, if you don’t, there are many other beautiful sites in Vietnam that are more beautiful.

This day trip costed us 35 dollars a person and included the bus trip from and back to Hanoi, the boat trip to the complex and lunch. The cable car was not included.

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