Pilgrimage to Chua Thanh Son

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Thursday March 7, 2019

The phone alarm went off at 3:00 am. I jumped out of bed and put the kettle on for a cup of coffee. Did I mention that I love Vietnamese coffee. Two small bananas and a cup of coffee; breakfast complete. A quick shower and Chung my friend and taxi driver was at my door. We were headed for a Buddhist Temple about 60 km away. We picked up Lien and here two sisters, Yen and Ly. It was 4:02 am. We drove out of Hanoi for about two hours and then stopped at a roadside stall for the more tradional breakfast, Pho Bo. Of course it was delicious and filling.

Back on the road again. We arrived at the boat launch area about 07:30. After a very formal registration process we proceeded across the river. At this stop there were stalls with trays and various paraphernalia to arrange the offerings for the Temple altars. The offerings, we had brought with us and consisted of packaged food, fresh fruit, drinks, flowers, incense, cigarettes, and paper replicas of presents and various everday things used in Vietnamese life. We would visit three Temple sites over the day, and this process would be repeated two more times. The prepared platters of offerings were then placed on various altars inside the Temple. The Temple consists of various buildings. Inside are altars in front of various statues and busts representing Buddhist and Vietnamese Gods and Dieties. At this point every altar was visited, a donation of 2000 Dong was given and prayers were offered up. The Buddhist Religion is filled with sacraments and ceremonies. I am lost in trying to understand them. I guess it is somewhat like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. After all altars were visited the various platters of offerings were collected. The paper products were taken to a kiln and burnt. As smoke, it is belived that those who have died can use the offerings in the afterlife. The larger portion of monies is left for the monks, but a small amount is kept and considered “lucky money”. The food stuffs and drinks, etc. are distributed between the Temple monks and the givers.

Back at the river’s edge we enter our boat and begin the slow paddle upstream to the next pagoda.

We arrive at a long wharf and disembark. The whole wharf area is packed with various food stalls and venders selling all manner of goods. After much discussion it is decided that we will take the cable car to the top of the mountain. Chung, Lien, and I will walk the 5 km back down the mountain, but Yen and Ly will take the cable car back down. The trail back down the mountain is mostly covered with roofs and tarps from the many stalls selling all sorts of goods and foods.

We walk to the next pagoda (.5 km UP HILL) and present our offerings and prayers and then we board the cable car. After a slow leisurely ride up the slopes, we arrived at the mountain top and access to the cave.

There are hundreds and hundreds of people coming and going to the altars in the caves. We enter the stairway and descend into the mountain. It is much cooler in the caves and the well worn stairs and walkways are slick with moisture making walking a little difficult.

We arrange the last of our offerings and place them on the altars. We go to each altar and offer prayers. As we prepare to leave we approach a desk. At the desk Monks fill out a certificate with your name stating that you have made the pilgrimage to Chua Thanh Son.

We wander down the mountain trail. It is mostly well worn limestone stone with many stairs made of the natural limestone rock. I estimate there was at least 2500 stair steps. My calf muscles the next day, would verify that number. The walk back down the mountain was enjoyable, poking around in the vender stalls and sampling various pieces of food.

We arrived back at the wharf area. Of course lunch was in order. We orderd beef, pork, fish, tofu, salad, vegetables and rice. Yum!!!!

After lunch we boarded our boat and headed back to our starting point. The taxi ride back to Hanoi seemed a lot shorter. It may have something to do with the many small naps I took.

I had a wonderful time with my friends and an experiece I will cherish forever.

Arrival at wharf

The boats

Lien and Yen


Ly , Chrung, and our boat rower.

Offering Staging area

Coffee and snack boat delivering us coffee

River View

Graves along the river

River scenes

River scenes

River scenes

River scenes

River scenes

River scenes

Billboard on the River

Arriving at the Pagoda up river

Walkway to Pagoda


Preparing the offerings.

Courtyard Statue

Cable car

Ly and Yen

Lien and Chrung

Covered walkway below




Cable car above walkway


Cable car arriving at the Top

Decending into the caves.

Entrance into caves

Cave scenes



Enjoying our Lunch

On our way back.

The Perfume Pagoda is a complex of pagodas located in limestone mountains 60 kilometres from Hanoi. It’s a popular day trip from Hanoi that includes a boat trip through landscapes reminiscent of a Chinese ink painting.

The Perfume Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s most revered places of Buddhist worship and receives thousands of pilgrims from across the country during major festivals on the lunar calendar. Crowds during Tet – the Chinese New Year – are especially heavy.

Access to the 30 or so pagodas of the complex is via the Yen River. Travellers take a picturesque one hour boat ride each way. Small boats holding up to 6 travellers are paddled by local women at a leisurely clip.


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