Two-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.
Leaving 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.
A 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.