The Perfume Pagoda, or ‘Huong Pagoda’, had been top of our to do list (and everyone else’s visiting Hanoi) for a while now. It’s a vast complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the limestone Huong Tich Mountains. Legend claims that the site was discovered over 2000 years ago by a monk meditating in the area. As the complex is situated just on the outskirts of Hanoi it makes for the perfect day trip. We contacted a local tour company who picked us up at 8am, along with 13 others, to begin the 2-hour drive to My Duc.

After the drive, we were then piled onto a rickety metal rowing boat. Six of us perched ourselves on the uncomfortable metal seats while a frail, elderly looking Vietnamese woman power housed her way to one of the Pagoda entrances. It took a good hour but the journey was one of the highlights. It was so relaxing taking in the epic limestone scenery. Living in bustling, congested Hanoi sometimes makes us forget how iconic and green the Vietnamese geography is. Limestone rocks jut out of the earth from nowhere, nestled among lush tropical forests.

Before making our way to the main attraction, the Perfume Pagoda itself, which situated in the centre of the complex, we were taken to Thien Tru Pagoda (Heaven Kitchen) to wet our appetites.

By this point it was 1pm and time for some lunch at a local restaurant. It was buffet style and we both abused this as much as possible. We couldn’t work out if the rest of the group were impressed or repulsed at how much we stuffed ourselves. It certainly gave us the energy to tackle the Perfume Pagoda situated a long way up the mountains. Luckily there were cable cars that took us up to the top and allowed us to appreciate the scenery from above.

A short walk and a flight of 120 steps into Huong Tich Cave led us to the Perfume Pagoda. It’s situated in a gaping cavern filled with vines and trees. The entrance is often compared to a dragon’s mouth where Buddhist monks emerge from the darkness, enveloped in clouds of incense. Inside the cave are many statues but the natural geology of the cave was the most impressive aspect of the Pagoda. The chiming of drums and chanting monks was amplified by the huge echoing ceiling, plagued with hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites. We were told that many Vietnamese people visit the Perfume Pagoda on religious pilgrimages. Most are childless pilgrims or newlyweds praying for fertility while others visit for prosperity.

We decided to walk our way down the mountain and meet the rest of the group who took the more sensible cable car option to the bottom. It only took about half an hour but it left us sticky and sweating. Then, it was back to the boats for another equally relaxing hour-long paddle back to the minibus as the daylight began to fade. We would both highly recommend it as a day trip, and a bargain at $28 per person.

For more photos of the Perfume Pagoda, and the rest of the trip, please follow the link to our Flickr page.