The Perfume Pagoda or Chua Huong is located in the centre of a sacred site in the mountain foothills among many revered Buddhist shrines. Pilgrims and tourists from all over come to seek good luck from the stalactites and stalagmites inside the cave. The view en-route and around the temple is gorgeous with streams, fruit trees and other plants.
The Perfume Pagoda is a renowned pilgrimage site in north Vietnam. Also known as Chua Trong, meaning inner temple, this Buddhist pagoda is located at the centre of the Huong Pagoda complex, a huge array of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the Huong Tich limestone mountains. It lies 60 kms southwest of Hanoi and derives its name from the spring blossoms growing in the area that make the air of the place fragrant.
Architecture of the Perfume Pagoda
The Perfume Pagoda is built on a 50m high grotto (cave). The huge entrance of the cave is resemblant of a dragon's mouth. Some ancient Chinese letters dating back to the 1770 adorns the entrance. The inscription roughly translates to the leading cave of the southern world. After descending 120 steps, the entrance can be reached where an intricate shrine of Lord Buddha and a Buddhist goddess Quan Am, the goddess of mercy, lies. The cave is also marked by several stalactites and stalagmites.
Perfume Pagoda Festival
The Perfume Pagoda becomes especially busy during the Huong Pagoda festival when pilgrims from all over Vietnam and the world come to visit the Buddhist shrine. It's one of the longest lasting festivals of Vietnam that begins on February 15 of the lunar calendar. The surge of visitors is mostly seen from the middle of January to the middle of March. It's also a great opportunity for the younger generation to find a suitable partner for themselves. During the festival, meat from wild animals like porcupine, deer and pig are sold by restaurants as rare meat. Several stalls come up during this time at the shrine giving it a commercial and touristy feel.
Perfume Pagoda Tours
Several tour agencies in Hanoi offer day trips to the Perfume Pagoda which ranges from around USD 25 to USD 40 for VIP service. It mostly includes a hotel pickup in the morning at about 8:00 AM or 8:30 AM and drop off to the hotel at 7:00 PM or 7:30 PM. In between, there are bathroom breaks, visits to souvenir shops and final stop at the boat pier from where the river cruise begins to reach the Pagoda. There are several restaurants like Quyet Thang Restaurant or Hoa Nhai Restaurant from where you can grab a meal. For overnight stays, you can choose hotels like Hoa Nam Hotel and Huong Pagoda Trade Union Hotel or guest houses like Nhat Linh Hostel and An Binh Guesthouse.
How to Reach Perfume Pagoda
You'll need a combination of road, river, walk and cable car to reach the Perfume Pagoda. The journey is interesting in itself but it's advisable to embark on it with a guide. It takes 2 hours from Hanoi to My Duc in a car. From there, you need to take a boat rowed by locals to reach the foot of the mountain. From there you'll have to climb to the top and come down. The best option is to take a cable car up, which will cost around VND 80,000 one-way and VND 120,000 return, and then descend on foot.
The boat journey is worthwhile as it offers a view of the fruit trees like apricots and medicinal herbs grown by local villagers. The boat ride will also give scenic views of fishermen catching fish in the stream and rice fields with farmers working in them. If you have time, you can stop by and visit other temples like Vong Temple, Thien Son Pagoda, Chua Thien Chu Pavilion or the Thuyet Kinh Cave.
Perfume Pagoda History
It's believed that the first temple in the Perfume Pagoda Complex was built during the reign of Le Thanh Tong in the 15th century. As per legends, the area was discovered over 2000 years ago by a meditating Buddhist monk. The original statues of Lord Buddha and Quan am date back to 1767 while the current ones were put in place in 1793. The French and American wars caused a lot of damage all of which has been renovated.
Perfume Pagoda Significance
The stalactites and stalagmites within the cave are named based on the individual blessings that they bestow. All pilgrims touch the stalactites and stalagmites believing that they can bring miracles and good luck in their lives. Some are also believed to bring good harvest and increase prospects of childbirth. Moreover, the Perfume Pagoda is one of the most popular and biggest domestic tourism attractions in Vietnam.
Best Time to Visit Perfume Pagoda
Although pilgrims throng the shrine all year round, however, the best times to visit the Perfume Pagoda it is from the middle of the second to the end of the third lunar months subsequent to Tet and on even days of the lunar calendar.
Tips on Visiting Perfume Pagoda
It's best to be dressed in respectful apparels like full trousers or long skirts considering it's a religious shrine. Although, sleeveless clothes or shorts aren't prohibited, but it can earn you unpleasant comments.
You can also consider carrying hats and water, especially in the hot months to avoid the harsh sun. If you plan to hike up the hill, a good pair of hiking shoes is advisable.
In the wet weather, the rocks maybe slippery. So you must be careful during the ascent.
If you want to experience the infectious energy of a popular Vietnamese destination, then a trip to the Perfume Pagoda is a must. If not for the Buddhist heritage, then definitely for the lush surroundings and a feel of Vietnamese life.