Vietnam’s Perfume Pagoda - Orlando / Florida Guide
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If you get a chance to visit Vietnam in Jan or Feb then try to join the pilgrims at the Perfume Pagoda Festival.
Buddhism has long been at the centre of Vietnamese culture and life. It is believed to have arrived from India or China some 2, 000 years ago, and has shaped the country ever since. While Vietnam’s brooding karsts and jade waters might gain acclaim, its intricately eaved Buddhist temples are, for many, the living heartbeat of the nation.
Currently, 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. However, 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. Each year from 6 January to 18 March, worshippers flock en masse to purify themselves at its colourful festival.
Direct flights go from London Heathrow or Gatwick to Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. Flight time is around 11 hours with fares around £500 return. To reach the Perfume Pagoda, catch the No. 75 bus from Hanoi’s Yen Nghia station to Huong Son then take a boat ride from Ben Duc wharf to the pagoda, this will cost about $10 for a return and includes the entrance fee. Tour operators in Hanoi also have day trips, with prices from around $30.
As it grips 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 you either make the hour-long ascent or swap a long climb for the cable car, which for US$10 return is a good investment. At the top, temples and shrines stud the summit but the main attraction is Huong Tich Cave. Home to the Inner Temple, Chua Trong, with gilded Buddha statues lurking in the shadows and strong incense 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, you can stay in Hanoi for more 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. This will give you a glimpse into not just history but local life.
During the Ly and Tran dynasties which are the 11th–14th centuries, pagoda architecture reached its heyday. However few structures from this time still exist today. Wood was used as a building material but, in Vietnam’s often hot and humid climate, it weathers quickly. This meant the holy sites had to be renovated regularly and often expanded in the process.
No visa is required by UK nationals for stays of up to 15 days and it’s recommended that you be up to date with all vaccinations before you travel. Enjoy your trip.
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