VietNamNet Bridge – On the first day of the Huong (Perfume) Pagoda Festival, the largest festival in northern Vietnam, thousands of tourists flocked to the pagoda on the outskirts of Hanoi from 1-2am.
A folk dance marks the opening of the famous three-month long Perfume Pagoda festival in My Duc District, Ha Noi. The festival, which officially opened yesterday, Feb 6, expects to draw 1.4 million visitors this year.
Many pilgrims even arrived in the Perfume pagoda complex as early as 1am. The event starts on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year.
The Perfume Pagoda - Huong Pagoda in Vietnamese - is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Ha Noi. The complex is just a two-hour (60-km) drive to the southwest of the city centre, in My Duc District.
In total, there are 18 different pagodas, shrines and natural caves within the complex, which were developed between the 18th and 19th centuries and are scattered throughout the striking mountain scenery.
Each year, the complex draws thousands of visitors, mostly during the spring festival months.
Thanks to the efforts of the festival's organising board in the run-up to the event, visitors should be better served this year, and initial reports show less crowding and traffic jams than in previous years.
Around 5,000 rowing boats are docked at the Duc pier on the Yen River, ready to transport visitors to the main pagodas. Electric lighting has also been installed from the foot of Thien Tru Pagoda to Huong Tich Cave (about 1,000 steps) to enable pilgrims to easily travel during night time and to ensure order and security.
Meanwhile, both the available accommodation and the number of cable cars have been increased to serve the growing ranks of visitors. The organising board has also strictly banned unlicensed stalls, which have pressurised tourists into buying items at unreasonable prices in the past.
"With such favourable weather, we welcomed thousands of people in the first days of the year. We did our utmost to serve visitors well," remarked Nguyen Duy Vi, deputy head of the pagoda management board, in the Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper.
"There have been no changes in entrance and boat fees. However, the cable cars, managed by the Hong Linh Tourism Company, did increase by VND20,000 (US$1) to VND140,000" he said.
The pagoda witnessed a huge number of visitors even before the official opening of the festival, it is reported.
Up to 112,000 people visited the Perfume Pagoda during the first four days of the Lunar New Year, which is an increase of 6,000 visitors compared with last year, said Vice Chairman of My Duc District's People's Committee Nguyen Van Hau in Viet Nam Investment Review.
Hau also affirmed that security forces were on site for 20 hours each day to deal with any incidents.
The spring festival, which runs until early March, is expected to attract 1.4 million visitors this year.
From 1-2am on February 5, many boats carried passengers along the Yen stream to the Huong pagoda.
At 3am, the Huong Tich Cave was packed with pilgrims.
Many people swiped banknotes on stone columns in Huong Tich Cave to wish for good luck ...
... and caught drops of water from the breast-shaped stalactite to wish for health.
The front yard of Thien Tru Pagoda was not too crowded. The weather was dry, convenient for pilgrims.
At 9am, the opening ceremony took place in the presence of Buddhists and pilgrims. Venerable Thich Minh Hien (second from right) presided over the ceremony.
The dragon dance opened the 3-month long festival.
10am at the cable car station.
The organizers constantly informed pilgrims of not bringing alcohol, meat and votives into the temple, but many pilgrims ignored it.
The Huong, Yen Tu and Bai Dinh Pagoda Festivals are the biggest festivals in the North. According to the organizers, during four days before the opening, the Huong pagoda welcomed more than 120,000 visitors.