The best way the reach the Thien Mu pagoda from Hue is by boat along the Perfume River. The young Vietnamese boat owner pushed off from the bank and then began to ply the large stern oar. Surely she wasn't going to row us all the way? Fortunately not: the boat has a petrol engine that was started up one we reached the middle of the channel. Now you might expect the Perfume River to be clean, and so it was. The shallowish water is clear, and local people bathe in it. Many live on the river, on small boats like ours. These houseboats, each with a small altar perched on the stern, are a picturesque sight. Boat dwellers are often poor, but it is difficult not to contrast this idyllic scene with the crowded, noisy and crime-ridden accommodation that much wealthier people put up with in Western cities. For all its problems, you may wish you lived in Vietnam.
The boats that transport tourists are funded by the government, and are thus well maintained and brightly painted. They are still the homes of the boat owners, who will try to sell you some souvenirs. It is polite to buy something, though in general Vietnamese souvenirs are not particularly exciting.
The journey takes about 30 minutes, past the flagstaff of the ancient capitol, until the pagoda comes in view, with the landing-steps adjacent. This is one of the most picturesque views in Vietnam, as one looks along the river to the mountains. The seven-storey pagoda marks the entrance to a Buddhist temple. There are always some tourists and local guides around. Hue girls are supposed to be romanitic, with a love of poetry and music, and they certainly look romantic in their conical hats and ao dai. The pagoda was built in 1601, and is well maintained. The entrance gate to the monastery has two fearsome guardian spirits with red faces. The monastery is still active: many of the monks are children, though a monk is a monk at any age and they should of course be treated with great respect. The monastery garden is peaceful and it is pleasant to stroll among the fruit trees, which bear very large, green fruits that we could not identify. Colourful butterflies flit about. In a garage is an ancient car, preserved because a monk from this monastery used it to travel to Saigon to commit suicide by self-immolation in protest at the French government's treatment of Buddhists. This explains the communist regime's ambivalent attitude to Buddhism: on the one hand all religion is frowned on, but on the other hand it is a national religion that represents Vietnam's independent spirit.
There are also many imperial tombs to explore in the area, and Hue is noted for performances of classical Vietnamese music.
Thien Mu Pagoda & Buddhist temple, Hue.
We were driven to the small compound near to the temple then got off the bus where we were immediately surrounded by people trying to sell the wares. A firm no and avoiding eye contact is all that is required for them to get the message. If they manage to get eye contact that is the first mistake you will ever make and they are halfway there to making a quick sale.
There is a slight incline to reach the temple grounds and then a flight of about 50 - 60 quite steep steps.
As you reach the top of the steps right in front of you is the magnificent 7 tiered Pagoda which is a stunning site and can be seen for miles around. Walking around the back of the pagoda there are two small roofed open aired buildings housing a massive drum and a massive bell. Visitors are encouraged to ring these and bang the drum by pulling back on a large log tied to a rope and then letting it go so that it lets out a loud thud or ring when it hits the side of the drum or bell.
After these buildings there is the monks living quarters and there is the car that belonged to Thich Quang Duc who committed suicide by driving the car to the middle of Saigon outside the Cambodian Embassy stopping the car getting out placing a cushion on the floor which he then sat on adopting the lotus position. Some other monks began pouring petrol over him he lit a match and dropped it into his lap. For ten minutes he burnt before his skin shrivelled and twisted in the heat toppled forward and the fire went out.
He did this in protest at the country's behaviour and treatment towards the Buddhists. It was caught on camera and mailed across the world and made headline news. Several other monks also did the same following this until the government were forced by international pressure to treat Buddhists the same as anyone else. His body was stored in the monastry and cremated but his heart remained intact and did not burn. It was held as a holy relic along with his ashes. The government soldiers tried to seize his ashes but fortunately two monks took his urn and hid it.
Behind this are is the temple with several statues of Buddha surrounded by landscaped gardens. The atmosphere is very peaceful and relaxing. It is quiet and a place for contemplation.
The temple and Pagoda are on top of a hill which over looks the perfumed river. Although it is called the perfumed river it certainly is not. It is the romanticised name of the river and in fact can be quite smelly.
It is a lovely place to visit and a must see on anyone's Itinerary if visiting Hue.