On our last full day in Hanoi, we once again decided to shun the organised group tours and make our own way to the Perfume Pagoda.
We woke up early, hired a scooter for £4 from our guesthouse, and set off with Google Maps as our guide (we had Vietnamese SIM cards). This turned out to be a minor spanner in the works. After two solid hours of riding, Google Maps directed us to a field. Yes, a field. In the middle. of. nowhere. This, declared Google, was our desired location. Only it wasn’t. It turns out that Google had directed us to the field because that was the closest we could get to the Perfume Pagoda on a scooter.
Thankfully, we used our mobile data to find the village from where we’d get a boat to the Perfume Pagoda, Ben Vy. In Ben Vy, you’ll find a small tourism station where you can buy a boat ticket. It’s located almost directly opposite this place, on the opposite side of the river. It’s super easy to miss, but whatever you do, buy your ticket here. The many, many ladies who own the boats will try to tempt you away with promises of a cheaper ticket. The ticket we bought here was cheaper than anything we were offered by the boat ladies by a good 100K – we paid 200,000VND for a boat for two people. Ticket in hand, we boarded one of the tiny boats and a little old lady rowed us the 4km to the Perfume Pagoda entrance. Mike did try to row for a bit but the lady laughed so hard that he gave the oars back – she was a total pro!
On arrival at the entrance, we paid 100,000VND for our ticket into the Perfume Pagoda – this is usually included in the price you’ll pay in Ben Vy for the boat, but we only had dollars left by this point so had to pay on arrival. The boat fare is for a return journey so make a note of your boat number – the lady will wait for you but there are so many identical boats. Do note, you’ll also be expected to tip the boat lady and she won’t be shy about telling you if you don’t tip enough!
To get to the Pagoda you can either climb the stairs and trek to the top or take the cable car for 140,000VND round trip (90,000VND one way). We were running late so opted for the cable car, which is still about an easy 15-20 minute climb up some fairly ropey stairs. Bizarrely, you have to buy your cable car ticket at one of the restaurants, not at the ticket office next to the cable car itself. This also isn’t written anywhere so take note or you’ll end up doubling back like we did – if you ask at the entrance, they’ll tell you which restaurant to go to.
The cable car journey only takes around five minutes, but the scenery is absolutely glorious. We were lucky to visit on a crystal clear day and the views were amazing in every direction. From the cable car, it was a five minute walk and the views were stunning.
The Perfume Pagoda itself is down a large staircase and inside a huge cave. The setting is wonderfully peaceful and calming – we were the only people there during our visit and it was incredibly serene. We did visit just an hour before it closed though, and there were hundreds of tourists descending the stairs back down the mountain as we first made our way up! The cave wasn’t hugely impressive compared to others we’ve visited, but it was still nice. The whole experience – the scooter ride, the boat trip, the cable car and the Perfume Pagoda – was incredible and I’m really glad we did this without a tour. It wasn’t much cheaper and the ride back was both lethal (oh Vietnamese driving) and bloody cold, but it meant we had a really personal experience and felt like we got to see a little of the “real” Vietnam again.