Experience the Perfume Pagoda festival - Hanoi
Crowds in the Caves
Perfume Pagoda is a site that host one of the largest religious festivals in Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come from all over of Vietnam during one of Vietnam's longest festival (it is believe up to 60,000 people visit the temple each day during this time). People are really packed bumper-to-bumper when walking to the Huong Tich temple - really packed! But at the same time the crowds are controlled and very patient. Perfume Pagoda is a large religious site which is about 60 kilometres southwest of Hanoi. It comprises of a number of Buddhist temples built into limestone cliffs or cavern and pagodas. In the centre is the Huong Tich cavern (Inner Pagoda) which is the site of the Perfume Pagoda festival. The Huong Tich cavern has big stalactites and stalagmites running down from the ceiling and growing upwards from the cave floor. Inside the caves there are statues of Lord Buddha and Goddess of Mercy. The annual Perfume Pagoda festival begins on 15 February on the Lunar calendar, however, people start coming to the cave as early as mid January to mid March.
Route to Perfume Pagoda
Easiest to get to the Perfume Pagoda is to get a local tour from your hotel. Cost around $30.
The route to the Perfume Pagoda include a bus ride, boat ride then a cable car ride to get to the Huong Tich cave temple. The bus ride takes approximately 2 hours to get from Hanoi to the pier.
The boat ride on the Yen River is one of the highlight to getting to Perfume Pagoda, the scenery are both beautiful and relaxing. The boat ride takes between 30mins - 1hour. Mountains, farms, padi fields and even its own hidden villages are some of the scenery along the way.
Once you reach the foot of the hill, you have a choice to go on the cable car ride (if I recall correctly, the queue during the festival was almost an hour) or you can walk up the stairs which is lined with all kind of stalls on both side - the walk also takes an hour to get to the top where the Huong Tich temples are situated.
Huong Tich cavern
Upon reaching the Huong Tich temple cavern, a steep (and slippery) 120-steps descend into the cave. Once reaching the bottom of the cave, you just need to follow the crowd (yes, one way) further into the cave where the Buddha statues are and people offer their prayers. Some of the carving and statues are believe to have dated back to the 1700s. In the outter area of the caves, you may see people with bowls collecting water droplets from the cave - these water droplets are believed to have blessing properties.
I must say the festival crowds is an experience with a beautiful boat ride along the way.