As the sun rises, bringing the city to life, its rays incidentally strike upon the golden statue of the grand Buddha sitting atop a hill, its golden glow enhanced by the verdant green surrounding it. Somewhere in the lush green mountains against the backdrop of red and orange hues in the sky, domes and stupas equivalent to scattered gems amidst the landscape are waiting to be uncovered. A sight so majestic and magical you begin to lose track of time and space. In the distance, you hear the soothing chant of the morning rituals by saffron-clad monks, beckoning you to leave your suffering behind and be part of the spiritual process; to be deeply human, again.
Sights and experiences as mentioned above can be found throughout Asia. Thousands, devotees or not, head over to these great sites to attain enlightenment. This article covers 13 such sites in Asia that promises you an experience that goes beyond what you expect, but within the realm of spirituality.
1. The Borobudur Temple, Central Java, Indonesia
Set in the heart of Central Java, near Yogyakarta, lay a majestic stepped pyramid, which was built in the 9th century to represent the teachings of Buddhism. The monument, a claimed UNESCO Heritage site and the biggest Buddhist monument in the world, spans across the stunning landscape of immaculate beauty of verdant fields of Borobudur, accentuating its mysticism and highlighting the miracle of man’s craftsmanship.
During the Sailendra dynasty in the 9th century, the stepped pyramid was built as a visual representation of Buddhist teachings. The main massive stupa on the stepped pyramid is believed to be pointing up to heaven and represents the attainment of Nirvana.
During Vesak day, be enchanted by the chanting of the Buddhist monks and devotees as they perform their rituals in Sanskrit language from 4 p.m. till 7 p.m. Following that, circle around the Borobudur Temple with hundreds of other devotees, holding candles and soak in the moment of rejuvenation. Witness the trails of thousands of white lanterns released into the night starry sky at about 11 p.m. to mark the end of the ritual. The existence of this temple is said to be a miracle given than it is situated in an area that is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Here, you will gather more information about the Borobudur Temple.
2. Ancient Capital City of the Majapahit Kingdom, East Java
For hundreds of years, the former historic site of the Majapahit Kingdom attracted experts from various institutions and academics from all around the world to unearth its revelations. Being the only Buddha-Hindu site that can be found in Indonesia, built on a flat terrain witnessed by three mountains, it is a site of endless remnants that defined its unique history.
Through extensive research and excavations, it was later discovered that the symmetrically built ancient canal system was what that gave the city its shape. As you visit the Trowulan site, which is believed to be the ancient capital city to the kingdom, you will be greeted by thousands of artifacts that are bound to be thought-provoking as you form the image in your mind of the empire that dates back to the 13 to 15 century A.D. Human sculptures depicting various races, production tools, domestic appliances, parts of houses, ceramic artifacts, metal artifacts such as coins and tools and stone reliefs are what can be found at the site.
Discover more about the Majapahit Kingdom here.
3. Swayambhunath Shrine, Kathmandu, Nepal
The hill adorned with a white dome that is crowned with a golden spire stood rigid despite the violent tremors of the Kathmandu earthquake in 2015. The Swayambhunath Shrine did not succumb to the high magnitude that could have brought it down to ruins. Its enigma is of no surprise.
The Swayambhunath Shrine has a remarkably enlightening history to its existence. The location where the shrine now stands was formerly a lake. The story has it that Buddha was said to have planted a lotus in the lake, which miraculously radiated light. It was then given the name, Swayambhu, which means “Self- Created.” This light became a spiritual marvel as divinities from all around the world came to the site to worship it and to attain enlightenment. Until one day, Bodhisattva Manjushri decided to make the place accessible to pilgrims and transformed the place into what we find today — the hill in place of the lotus and the Swayambhunath stupa in place of the magical light.
Soar into the sky as you ascend to the temple and watch the beautiful sunset over the city of Kathmandu. The Buddhist temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, will leave you enlightened and spellbound as it rewards you with a spiritual experience like no other.
Read here for more information on the Swayambhunath Shrine.
Built into the mountain, the monastery of Fo Guang Shan, “Buddha’s Light Mountain,” is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan.
The 36 meter tall, gold Buddha statue is the tallest in the world, and along with the exquisite architecture of the pagodas, are some of the sights to behold. In the middle of 1997, the monastery was closed to provide its students with the best environment for their monasticism. However, upon the request of the local government, it opened its doors to public at the end of the year 2000 — a testament to its great value to the public for its propagation of its Buddhist teachings in this modern world.
Situated just outside Kaohsiung, this monastery is an ideal site of Buddhist studies for those seeking enlightenment. It consists of a Buddhist monastery, a gallery and a Buddhist college. It is also home to the ancient Buddha tooth relic believed to have been saved from Tibet. The hospitality of the monks and nuns, who are more than willing to escort you throughout the monastery, will no doubt enhance your spiritual and unique experience. Take time to meditate or simply stroll around the massive site as you take in knowledge in the serene and calm environment.
Click here for more information on the Fo Guang Shan Monastery.
Fo Guang Shan Half Day Tour
Duration: 3 Hrs - 4 Hrs Duration
5. The Perfume Pagoda, Vietnam
60 kilometres southwest of Hanoi, legend has it that 2000 years ago, a Buddhist monk discovered the Huong Pagoda, a complex site of Buddhist temples built into the Huong Tich mountains. This site is believed by devotees to perform spiritual healing of the soul and alleviation of suffering. The journey to the site itself is part of an enlightening experience, especially when taking a boat ride along the Yen River with ots magnificent view of the rolling hillside accompanying you.
The Perfume Temple, otherwise known as Chua Trong, is the main temple situated inside the Huong Tich Cave. Enter the mouth of the cave, which symbolises the mouth of a dragon and be greeted by statues of deities, a large Buddha statue and stalagmites and stalactites. Gently these stalagmites and stalactites for they are believed to contain special powers. Look for a specific one that takes the form of a breast to get a blessing for good health by waiting below it to catch a drop of water.
The sacred site will leave you speechless as you marvel at its pristine condition.
Discover more about the Perfume Pagoda here.
6. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
Witness the sandstone ruins of Angkor Wat come to life as the night sky transitions into daylight — an unparalleled, jaw dropping scene. Spanning across an area of 500 acres, this site is Cambodia’s pride. What was actually built as a Hindu temple in A.D. 1113 and 1150 dedicated to Vishnu, was later transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century and now is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The architecture of Angkor Wat brings about curiosity as to how it was built. It was believed to have required the labour of 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants. The sandstones blocks were quarried from the nearby holy mountain, which is 30 kilometres away. The immaculate, decorative carvings on the ruins is the gateway to ancient times and Buddhist teachings. The site offers you endless discovery as you roam about the various areas. Be sure to take your time to take in the majestic yet sacred grandeur and let your emotions flow in sync with the environment.
Read more for more information about Angkor Wat.
7. Buddha Park (Wat Xieng Khuan), Laos
Discover the intricately carved statues that can be found in Buddha Park (Wat Xieng Khuan) in Laos. Situated in a meadow next to Mekong River, Buddha Park is located 25 kilometres away from Vientiane. The park features a harmonious blend of Hinduism and Buddhism as it was said to have been built by a monk who studied the two religions, thus the combination of the two are depicted in the park. At this site; however, it is stated that it was built in 1958 by a spiritual leader, who was also a sculptor, before he fleeing to Thailand.
The highlight of the park is definitely the statue of the reclining Buddha, which is a 40 meter long piece of art. Be sure to venture up the focal point of the park, a 6 meter high pumpkin-like structure, which consists of three levels said to represent hell, heaven and earth and get the best view of the park. From this vantage point, you’ll see more than the 200 sculptures of gods, demons, animals and anthropomorphic structures scattered amidst the greenery of the park.
For more information about the Buddha Park, click here.
Remotely situated amidst the lush mountains of Lantau Island in Hong Kong, the massive 34 meter tall, bronze, sitting Buddha atop a lotus throne glistens against its green and azure background. The statue was built in 1993 to resemble the position of the Sakyamuni Buddha sitting under the famous Bodhi tree as he was attaining enlightenment. One cannot evade the spiritual feeling seeping into your veins as you observe the details on the Buddha. The right hand of the Buddha is raised to give blessings to all.
Opposite the statue is a place known as “The Buddhist World in the South,” the Po Lin Monastery. You will find that the monastery is home to monks and Buddhist iconography, making it a gem for spiritual learning. Take some time to sit in the garden within its premise and enjoy the flora and fauna the garden has to offer.
Discover more about the Tian Tan Buddha here.
Lantau Island and Big Buddha Tour from Hong Kong Island
Duration: 8 hours
9. Mandalay’s Hilltop Pagodas, Myanmar
From an aerial view of Mandalay Hill in Myanmar, it looks as though the green landscape is covered in specks of gold dust — the roofs of the pagodas. These pagodas are scattered throughout the hill at different levels, thus climbing up the the hill will be both rewarding and therapeutic.
Take the time to marvel at the elegant architecture of the pagodas and its interior where you will discover statues and engravings that tell a story. The beautiful prayer chanting by devotees and monks will leave you in the state of enchantment. Enhance your experience by heading to the summit of the hill and from the terrace of the Sutaungpyei Pagoda, rest your eyes, body and soul by appreciating the plain that stretches far out to the horizon. Breathe.
For more information on Mandalay’s Hilltop Pagodas, click here.
10. c’s Ancient Site, Mandalay, Myanmar
Travel back in time as you venture across Mandalay’s most famous 200 year old Burmese capital, Inwa, formerly known as Ava. Just 5 kilometres from Mandalay, you can explore the remains of the ancient city either on foot, bicycle or motorbike, but for a much more authentic experience, taking a tour by horse and cart will guarantee you a unique experience as you trot from sight to sight.
There are several gems waiting to be discovered at Inwa’s site. One is the old Bodhgaya Temple, an impressive building from the 1770s that was used to teach the royals. Walk around the quaint atmosphere and get transported back in time as you witness monks and children, learning in a school still being run in a corner of the monastery. Get lost in the thought of what this would have been like hundreds of years ago. Another gem is the “leaning tower of Inwa,” called Nan Myint Tower, which is a watchtower. Slightly tilted to the side,, it is nothing quite like any other watchtower you have seen.
In contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life, Inwa offers peace and quiet. Observe the simplicity of its people and their lives. This place truly brings you back in time to what it feels like when the chaos of modern life was once non existent.
Click here for more information on Inwa’s ancient site.
11. Thailand's Biggest Buddha
Mention ‘Ang Thong’ and the image of Thailand’s biggest Buddha of Wat Muang Temple should come to mind. A trip to Ang Thong, one of Thailand’s central provinces, would not be complete without a visit to the temple that houses the 95 meter tall and 63 meter wide Buddha image, considered to be Ang Thong’s landmark. In 1991, a statue made of concrete and painted in gold was erected.
Apart from the grand Buddha, other highlights on the temple’s grounds will astonish you. The chapel of Wat Muang has a certain prestige to it. Surrounded by hundreds of giant lotus petals, as though protecting the statue of one of Thailand’s revered monk is found inside. It is a sight to take in as you listen to the chants of the devotees finding inner peace. A stroll through the gorgeous garden surrounding the temple will take you on a journey of self-discovery as you study the myriad of statues depicting hell, characters from the literature work of the Thai and of Thai history.
Read more on Thailand’s Biggest Buddha here.
12. Singburi, Thailand
Singburi is a “lion” city and home to heroic acts of the villagers of Bang Rachan in a battle that took place in Thailand’s past. The city is also known as the spiritual city and it is no wonder that the people of Thailand feel that this city is the most blissful place to live. You are sure to share the exact same sentiment when you visit the province. A city that is itself a sanctuary to two magnificent images of Buddha.
Facing east, the concrete mass of Buddha, measuring 23 metres wide and 42 metres tall sits at Wat Phikun Thong. Its golden mosaic exterior commanding your attention to its beautiful facade as it radiates peace and blessing to mankind. In Wat Phra Non Chakkrasi Worawihan, you will face a huge reclining Buddha of approximately 50 metres in length. Its elegant structure is a great marvel to be appreciated solely by the natural lens of the human eye for its extensive length makes it impossible to capture through the lens of the camera.
For more information on the province of Singburi, read it here.
13. Tentokuin Monastery, Japan
Embrace peace and love by staying the night at Tentokuin Monastery in Kanazawa as you are being enlightened by a young princess’ glorious past. Maeda Toshitsune, the 3rd lord of the Maeda Family, who after the death of his wife, Princess Tama-Hime, decided to dedicate the temple as a tribute to her.
The monastery has a collection of wind-up dolls, illustrating the princess’ love for dolls and the life of the woman who married at the age of three and left the world at the young age of 24. Tread on the same floors she walked upon, listen to the morning chants of prayers in the rituals of the monks. Let the greenery of the garden surrounding the monastery soothe your eyes and soul, transmitting a sense of peace for it enshrines the soul of a woman who was very much loved.
Read more about Tentokuin monastery here.
Everybody needs at least that once in a lifetime experience in attaining enlightenment
In this modern world, we are constantly flooded with distractions due to technology that is advancing every minute, even as I write this and even as you read this. It is tough to steal some time for ourselves to remind us of our true existence, spiritually. Regardless our beliefs about life, all of us need to experience what it truly feels like to be at peace with ourselves. So, create a “Map of Enlightenment” and map out these sites throughout Asia as destinations to the gateway of the spiritual being.