Brendan Gara Photography

stairway to heaven

BG_TRIX250_VIET_7Two-hours driving south of Hanoi finds one of Vietnam’s largest Buddhist temple complexes.  At the heart is the Perfume Pagoda, Chua Trong.  Every year from March to April, thousands of Vietnamese travel here as a pilgrimage.  They take a boat on the river Yen, and then walk the 4 km or so up the steep hillside to the temple.  It’s also become quite a tourist destination with tours advertised almost everywhere in Hanoi.  We hadn’t visited a temple for a few days so thought this might be worth a look.

BG_TRIX250_VIET_9Leaving Hanoi’s damp, traffic choked streets behind we escaped into the countryside.  Speeding past grey concrete, newly built high- rises (where Hanoians are being “moved” to reduce housing pressure in the city), giant billboards advertising fertilizer and strange, isolated buildings, two or three storeys high but no wider than a room, you glimpse a slower unchanged way of life: rice fields, flocks of ducks and tiny family cemeteries all disappearing into the grey drizzle.

BG_TRIX250_VIET_8A skiff takes you downriver.  In the pilgrimage season hundreds of these small aluminum skiffs plow up and down the river, so there’s plenty of work for all, but out of season the women rowers take it in turns to row the tourists for a small fee.  It’s otherworldly, slowly skimming down the river, trailing your fingers in the warm water, the only noise the rhythmic splashing of the oars.  Out of the mists tall steeply sided peaks rise up, clad in dense lush green jungle, reflected in the river, the margin delineated by bright pink water lilies.


The temple is in a cave near the top of the mountain.  Pilgrims walk up the 4 km or so of steps and narrow path.  On both sides makeshift shops sell food (dead and live animals hang or look balefully out of cages) and gifts to leave at the temple.


Like I said in an earlier post we’re not religious, so we waited and caught the cable car to the top.  Nice views.




  1. I found you through your post on Steve Huff. I’m going to follow your blog for a couple of reasons. I participated in the Vietnam War and was interested in you photos and posts about the area. Second, I have a M6 and have been trying to find the most consistent film for it so hoping to learn a few things from you. For example, my last role was Ilford Delta 100 and on a bright sunny day all the highlights were blown out. I used the M6 meter, that has been checked, and still had issues. Hope we can exchange ideas.

    • Thanks John, welcome aboard and hope I can keep your interest up. To be honest I generally use a handheld meter and change aperture/ shutter speed as light dictates. I’ll recheck the meter every hours or so. I also use sunny 16, so for Tri- X I start with shutter speed at 1/250th second ( I rate Tri-X at 250 ISO) and work from there. I’ve never liked Delta films, i used it once and it went awry in the developer somehow. HP5 or FP4 are both really nice films and old technology, so they may have more leeway in exposure, maybe?

      • Good to hear back from you. Have role of FP4 in now ISO 125 and will see. My blog is a bit different than yours, I’m a landscape freak. I would enjoy having you take a look

  2. Bob

    Hello to all. This is my first comment. I am totally new to photography. Shooting sunny 16 and hoping for the best. Haven’t yet sent in my first roll of film for processing in B&W. I would like to process my own roll of b&w but haven’t a clue as to where to start. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks….Bob

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