Join the pilgrims as the Perfume Pagoda Festival begins, to celebrate it and the many other Buddhist temple complexes that form an iconic part of local life.
Buddhism has long been at the centre of Vietnamese culture and life. his believed to have arrived from India or China some 2,000 years ago, and has shaped the country ever since. And while Vietnam’s brooding karsts and jade waters might gain plaudits, its intricately eaved Buddhist temples are, for many, the living heartbeat of the nation.
Today, thousands of temple complexes sprinkle Vietnam. Many cling to rocky cliffs or stretch beside mirrored lakes; others survive as busy architectural anachronisms in Vietnam’s fast-modernising cities. But these buildings aren’t dusty monuments kept for posterity; they’re bustling pilgrimage sites.
One of the most important is the Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong) complex, only 60km from capital Hanoi. And each year, from 6 January to 18 March, worshippers flock en masse to purify themselves at its colourful eponymous festival.
Getting There & Around
Direct flights go from London Heathrow or Gatwick to Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. Flight time is around 11 hours; fares from £478 return. To reach Perfume Pagoda, catch the No.75 bus from Hanoi’s Yen Nghia station to Huong Son, then take a boat ride from Ben Ducwharf to the pagoda.
Gripping the forested limestone karst cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain, the first glimpse of the Perfume Pagoda’s complex of temples, caves and shrines is impressive. The sprawling compound is split into two, linked by a steep, step-laden 2km winding trail.
At the bottom lies the Den Trinh shrine and rock-encased Thien Tru temple, the latter’s triple-roofed pavilion welcoming visitors. Then either make the hour-long ascent or swap a long climb for the cable car.
At the top, temples and shrines stud the summit but the headliner is Huong Tich Cave. Home to the Inner Temple (Chua Trong), descend the flight of steps for gilded Buddha statues lurking in the shadows and strong incense notes filling the air.
The complex is very beautiful during the Perfume Pagoda Festival, when it’s decked in flowers and vivid bunting, with traditional dancers welcoming the streams of Buddhists who make the pilgrimage.
Alternatively, linger in Hanoi for more dreamy pagodas, such as Tran Quoc, which lies on an island in the West Lake; the precarious `One Pillar` (Mot Cot) pagoda; or Quan Su, the centre of Buddhism in the city. So, to get a timeless glimpse into not just history but local life, be sure to pay your respects.