After a 2 hour drive from Hanoi we arrived at a small village and transferred to small metal boats at Ben Duc. The boats were like flat tin baths with tiny wooden seats in them. As we were 4 large westerners and the boat had a small leak pluugged with a bit of cloth I had my doubts about getting to the destination. My feeling of doom was increased when a a small frail looking woman got in the boat and started to row. However the the frail old lady must have been superwoman in disguise and we paddled off below the limestone cliffs. The views were stunning and despite the cramped legs the journey was beautiful. When we arrived you have a choice either to walk up the hill to the pagoda or take the cable car. If it is hot take the cable car. If it is cool the walk is fun. We took the cable car up and walked down. At the top past the inevitable tourist stalls is the Huong Tich grotto with the temple inside. Cool but a bit of a disappointment. After a brief cooling visit we walked down to have lunch at one of the many tourist restaurants at the bottom and then visited the Thien Tru temple. ( much more impressive than the cave at the top). Then after the return trip in the tin bath back to Hanoi. Overall a very enjoyable trip but becoming a bit too touristy.
Needless to say, our boat journey on the Yen river to Perfume Pagoda was the highlight of our trip. For about 60 minutes, we meandered along silhouettes of tall mountains and watched as the mountains framed the rising sun and the reflection danced on the Yen river. Surely an inspiration for poets of yore and present day scribes?
Click here for more Yen River pictures.
Well, we found out the the Kitchen Temple wasn't the only temple around, in fact there are other temples strung like pearls high up in the mountain! The most famous one was Huong Tich Grotto which needed a 'short' 2.5km uphill climb. Well, you don't say...
When we arrived our destination, we took a short, albeit steep walk to the entrance of Perfume Pagoda. The first shrine that we saw was Den Trinh or registration shrine. Apparently, all visitors to this area must first "trinh" or register at the shrine and to announce their intentions to the Gods. Personally, I didn't register than anything other than a desire for lunch;)
Our journey started at some Godforsaken hour in the morning since we had to take a bum-rotting-two hour ride to travel 50 miles from Hanoi to a pier in Ben Duc. Along the way, the bus made its way through Ha Dong city, Van Dinh township and passed through rice fields and shops selling roasted doggies.Well, I was too shocked to take a picture of the roasted stuff so here's a nice picture of a vegetable field. If you're keen to see a roasted dog, check out my Hanoi page.
Note: The road wasn't exactly in mint condition so it was like an off-road experience with pot holes and all. Cellulite Workout time!!!
Double Note: Despite my complaints, ODC did provide a nice air-conditioned mini bus. Guide was nice and friendly too.
Upon arriving at Huong Tich grotto, 120 more descending steps await you as the temple lies deep within the grotto. The entrance to those steps is aptly called "hell's gate" .
Where: Huong Tich Grotto, Perfume Pagoda, North Vietnam
Within Huong Tich grotto at Perfume Pagoda, you'll find stalagmites and stalactites in a variety of forms and shapes . As with the caves in Halong Bay, the locals can see trees, goddesses, couples, and even nine dragons within. Hmm, a case of too much moonshine again, I suspect...
At the bottom of 120 steps, lies a little shrine that has been used for worship since the 1520's. Well, when I was there, there were crowds of insensitive backpackers who wandered really close to the locals as they worshipped..
Along the way, you'll also find rest houses along the way. A lot of entrepreneurial folks will try to sell you coke and other American tidbits. Well, my travel gp ( which consisted mainly of Danes ) were young and energectic so they only paused for shots to be taken.
We also saw lots of petite rowers in peak-coned hats perched on a wall by Yen river, patiently waiting for customers. Apparently, these folks are a privileged lot. Every year, lots are drawn for this sought-after job since it pays quite well and tourists are known to give generous tips.Normally, the rowing jobs are reserved for under-privileged lot whose family have died in the war. Also, the use of motorised boats are prohibited on this river so as to give these rowers a job.
Where: Ben Duc, Yen River, Enroute to Perfume Pagoda
After like what seemed like an eternity on the road from Hanoi to Huong Son, we finally reached the pier ( Ben Duc ) at Yen Vi river. We saw lots of burgundy-red metal boats clustered at the mouth of the pier. Later, we would sit on one of these boats on a scenic journey to perfume pagoda.
Beyound the shrine lies the next point of interest, Thien Tru temple which was built in the 18th century. Interestingly, "Thien Tru" means heavenly kitchen. Supposedly, the rock formations in this area look like chefs busily working in the kitchen thus the name.
Note: I didn't see anything that resembled chefs, if you ask me, those locals probably saw them after having one too many moonshine drinks.
For a while, I thought that our rower would be one of those petite frail-looking ladies. To my relief, our guide chose a straping young lad. We climbed gingerly unto the boat and since it was so rickety, it shifted each time we moved our bums. Well, this really tickled us and our guide captured our mirth..
Hubby and I signed up for a trip to Perfume Pagoda while we were in Hanoi since we heard that it was the "Ha Long Bay of the Paddy Fields" Admitedly, having the ODC travel agent at our hotel lobby in Phan Thai Hotel did us no justice, we just kept signing up for their trips, haha...
Where to sign up : ODC travel Agent@Phan Thai Hotel, Hang Gai St
Cost: About USD14