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Our hotel in Hanoi doubled as a tour company (as with many budget hotels). They offered a selection of day tours via privatehire car. We chose to take advantage and visit the Perfume Pagoda. It wasn’t a guided tour, more-so just the transportation was provided and we toured by ourselves. This suited us just fine. It was more expensive than a packaged tour from an agent, but still very reasonable by North American standards. It cost us about $40 for the day for the whole family! We were able to go at our own pace and not have to worry about keeping up with other people…or holding them up!
After arriving at a small dock, our driver negotiated us a ride on the boat and tickets into the temple complex. I’m not sure exactly what went on, but we did end up waiting a bit for a boat to actually show up! Eventually we piled into this rickety little boat with another couple, and we were off.
Safety is very different in Vietnam compared to Canada. Looking at the pictures I still can’t believe we had the girls on that rickety little boat with no life jackets!! We also drove into the country with just a lap belt on Calais, and Kacela in the carrier. The things you do in a foreign country that one would never do at home.
After about 30min in the boat we arrived at the temple complex. We got out of the “boat” and walked through the lower complex to the gondola. During holidays this area can get quite busy, but as we were there mid-week it felt like we had it completely to ourselves.
Calais loved the gondola ride up the mountain to the Huong Tich Cave. It is walkable, and looking down you can see merchant’s stalls lined up on either side of the pathway. With older children we may have taken the gondola up and hiked back down, however we chose to be lazy and ride the gondola both directions!
Once at the top it was another short walk to the cave. There were a few more people in the cave, but it never felt crowded. The cave was nice and cool, so we spent a few minutes enjoying the reprieve from the heat, and then headed back down the gondola for the lunch and the boat-ride back.
This is a day-trip that I would highly recommend, as long as you are okay with kids in the boat life-jacket free. We were going so slow that I didn’t think we could get into much trouble. We were never far from the riverbank. It took me a few minutes in the boat to calm the panic out of myself, and then I was fine! The scenery was so beautiful it was easy to just relax and enjoy.
Tips for visiting the Perfume Pagoda with Kids:
1. Hire a private car and driver. Your options are organized tour, public transit or private car and driver. This is a full day trip, and if you can it’s much better to go at your own pace rather than with an organized tour. I looked into public transit however it seemed like a hassle. I decided that a car and driver was our best option. Looking back at how the day went, vs how the day could’ve gone, I am grateful we chose a car and driver. Even with our driver we ran into a few hiccups and I am very glad didn’t end up navigating this on our own.
2. Be prepared for the boat ride! This was our first boat-ride in Vietnam and although I should have expected this, I didn’t. If you know what you are getting yourself into, it will be a more enjoyable trip from the start.
3. Bring snacks and water. There were a few stalls open around the base of the gondola, but options were pretty slim. We ended up eating lunch at the only open restaurant, but it was a complete tourist trap. The food wasn’t exorbitantly overpriced, but it wasn’t fantastic for what we got. Pack some snacks, or go during the weekend when more of the stalls are open.
4. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. The boat-ride is about 30min long each way, and there’s no protection from the elements. To ensure that you and your kids are comfortable and don’t get sunburnt, load up on the sun-protection essentials!