Perfume Pagoda

Hanoi Region

This striking complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines is built into the karst cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain (Mountain of the Fragrant Traces). Among the better-known sites are Chua Thien Chu (Pagoda Leading to Heaven); Chua Giai Oan Chu (Purgatorial Pagoda), where the faithful believe deities purify souls, cure suffering and grant offspring to childless families; and Huong Tich Chu (Pagoda of the Perfumed Vestige). It's extremely popular with Vietnamese tourists from February to April, but otherwise remarkably peaceful.

The complex is located about 60km southwest of Hanoi; getting here requires a journey first by road, then by river, then on foot or by cable car. The journey is half the fun, but don't try and do it without a guide: most tour operators offer day-return trips here from US$30 to US$50.

Travel from Hanoi by car for two hours to My Duc, then take a small boat, rowed by women from the local village, to the foot of the mountain. This entertaining boat trip takes an hour and travels along scenic waterways between limestone cliffs. Allow a couple more hours to climb to the top and return. The path to the summit is steep in places, and if it’s raining the ground can get very slippery. There's also a cable car to the summit (one way/return 100,000/160,000d); a smart approach is to take the cable car up and walk down.