Tag - holy

Bago, Burma

Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma

Situated some 50 miles to the north of Yangon, the pretty town of Bago is one of Myanmar’s leading attractions and a great place to spend a little time. Also known as Pegu, the town is home to a large collection of sacred Buddha images, making it one of the country’s holiest sites.

Many people simply pass by Bago on their way to Mandalay, but those who take the time to stop and look around will come across many unique features. Here you will find literally thousands of Buddha images in carved niches in a rocky cavern and an interesting array of pagodas, temples and other buildings.

The site of Bago was founded in 573 AD by two Mon princes and paid an important role in the history of both Mon land and Myanmar before being destroyed by the Burmese King Alaungpaya in 1757. Although only a few buildings remain as testimony to this interesting period of history, those that do are worth taking the time to investigate.

Bago has a number of large pagodas, of which the Shwemawdaw or Golden Shrine is the most sacred as it is believed to contain a couple of hairs belonging to the Gautama Buddha. As you explore the town you will discover the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha statue and the impressive Kalyani Sima or Hall of Ordination.

There are a number of interesting places to explore on the outskirts of Bago. Just 40 miles to the east is one of Myanmar’s most prominent landmarks. Also know as Golden Rock, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a 5.5 meter high pagoda atop a large bolder covered with gold leaf. What makes this site so unusual is that the bolder is balanced on the very edge of a precipice and looks as though it will topple over the edge at any moment.

Bago is situated between the forested Pegu Mountains to the west and the Sittang River to the east. Surrounded by picturesque paddy fields, this is a good area to explore to get a real feel for Myanmar. There are number of places to get a bite to eat around Bagan and a couple of cosy places to stay.

Bagan, Burma

Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos

Also sometimes spelt Pagan, the Bagan plain contains a collection of more than 4,000 ancient temples and is an impressive sight, even if you’re not particularly interested in old buildings or have already feeling ‘templed out’. One of Myanmar’s most significant historical sites, the best time to visit Bagan is around sunrise or sunset.

Although the collection of pagodas and temples at Bagan is still very impressive, their number once totaled around 13,000, and they were built in the years between 1044-1287 before finally being abandoned when Kublai Khan invaded the area from China and people literally ran to the hills.

Although the detailed carvings on each pagoda and temple make them all special in their own way, the most highly revered temple is considered to be Ananda, which was built by King Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. The main feature of the temple is the four large Buddhas, which represent the first four holy men to have achieved enlightenment.

Another great temple to visit is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan’s highest point and provides spectacular views of the entire area, while the Shwegugyi Temple was built in 1311 and is decorated with especially attractive carvings. Also worth looking out for is the Gawdawpalin Temple, which despite some damage during the 1975 earthquake is still very impressive.

There are quite a few decent places to stay in Bagan as well as restaurants, markets and surrounding beauty, making this a great place to spend a day or two while you explore slowly. While you’re here, check out Bagan’s interesting museum and lacquerware workshops.

For a fresh perspective and excellent views, take a hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Plain at sunset. This is a truly memorable experience and provides the opportunity to take some fantastic photographs.

Bagan is situated on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, and sunset cruise on the river is a relaxing experience, while you can also be driven around the area in a horse cart or hire a bicycle and peddle around.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The small city of Siem Reap is the best place to stay if you intend to visit the Angkor Wat complex. There are a number of good places to stay, restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine and bars to hang out in the evening.

Before you visit Angkor, stop by Miniature Replicas, where you will see sculptures of all the temples situated in a lovely garden. This is a good way to get an idea of how much there is to see and plan your time accordingly. There are also a number of modern temples situated around Siem Reap, such as Wat Bo with its beautiful paintings and former royal palace Wat Dam Nak, which provide an interesting contrast to the wonders of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is a major symbol in Cambodia; it appears on the flag, on coins, posters and just about anything else you can name. The site was reopened in 1991 after nearly two decades of closure due to civil unrest. The best way to start a tour of Angkor is to visit Phnom Bakheng in time for sunset. Not only is admission free, but you can get your pass made, avoiding the crowds the next day.

Get up early the following day and hire a moto with a driver for the day so that you can travel in style. Head straight to Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by a vast moat, before moving on to the Terrace of the Elephants, which is over 300 metres long.

The next temple to visit is the enchanting jungle temple of Preah Khan, while the nearby Neak Pean is a symbol of the lake that lies at the top of the universe.

It is best to allow around four hours to see Angkor Wat properly, so perhaps devote the following day to exploring this magnificent temple. According to records, it took around 30 years to complete Angkor Wat, which measures an impressive 65 metres and covers some 500 acres.

The mighty Wat is built on several levels. The Gallery features 1,000 Buddhas where Buddha effigies of all descriptions line the corridors, while the temples picture galleries display scenes from Hindu epic texts the Ramayana, the Battle of Kurukshetra, and other epic scenes such as the Judgement of Heaven and Hell. 1,500 apsaras or ‘heavenly dancing girls’ wonderfully decorate the second level interior.

Now it is time to screw up you courage and climb to the very summit of the top level, which is a privilege that was originally reserved for the High Priest and the King. 480 steep steps lead up to the five towers, which lie waiting like the Holy Grail at the end of a virtuous quest. Ascend the 70 degree angled steps carefully and walk around the outer gallery, enjoying the magnificent view, which is incredible from all angles. Watch the sun set before slowly descending once more.

Most people find it difficult to leave Siem Reap and you need to allow at least through days to explore thoroughly.

Lopburi, Thailand

Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand

Dubbed “Monkey City” because of the thousands of monkeys that are allowed to reside in peace, Lopburi is the capital city of Lopburi Province. The city is located 150 km north-east of Bangkok and draws thousands of tourists each year, who flock to the city to see the Crab-Eating Macaques as well as the elegant Khmer temples.

If you are interested in the cheeky monkeys, who scamper around stealing food from tourists and causing general mischief, particularly good spots to see them are around the Khmer temple, Prang Sam Yot, and Sarn Phra Karn. All these temples are also interesting in their own right, as are Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and the former royal palace of Phra Narai Ratchaiwet, which also houses the Lopburi Museum, a great place to cool down and learn more about the local history.

The people of Lopburi take good care of the city’s monkeys as they believe them to be descendants of the monkey lord Hanuman. According to the holy book the Ramayana, Hanuman was a great hero who rescued Sita from her imprisonment in Sri Lanka and built Lopburi as his kingdom.

To the north of Lopburi, the famous and beautiful Saplangka Wildlife Sanctuary provides the perfect day trip for nature lovers. Also worth visiting is the nearby European Palace of Chao Phraya Wichayan, which has many interesting design and style features and some beautiful gardens in which to relax for a while.

Steeped in interesting history, Lopburi is full of temple ruins, which mainly date from the Ayutthaya period. Particularly of note are Wat Nakhon Kosa, Wat San Paolo, Wat Sao Thong and Wat Indra.

A great time to visit Lopburi is during the Monkey festival at the end of November, when the furry inhabitants are treated to a huge feast at the expense of their human neighbours, who take good care of them throughout the year.

Also look out for the King Narai Festival, which occurs in the middle of February and lasts for three days. The festival is marked which displays of local food and textiles, singing and the much anticipated traditional lakhon ling drama which, believe it or not, is performed by monkeys!

Phichit, Thailand

Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand

Located roughly 345 kilometres north of Bangkok, Phichit is known as the land of the crocodiles. In the past, this area was home to a large number of ferocious land crocodiles and now contains several fresh-water crocodile farms.

There are many interesting sites to explore in Phichit and many visitors find it necessary to extend their stay by several days in order to see everything. A great way to explore is to hire a motorbike or bicycle and cycle through the province at your own pace, noting the scenery and interesting architecture.

If you are interested in history, pay a visit to Utthayan Mueang Kao Pichit, which is a large park with an ancient town dating back more than 900 years. Most of the structures were built during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods and the old town is surrounded by city walls and moats. In the town centre is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat with its large bell-shaped chedi, containing numerous votive tablets.

Another site of historical and cultural interest is Ku Mahathat, where you can see ancient Khmer ruins, whilst Bung Si Fai is a large fresh-water lake to the south of town. There is a pretty landscaped park along the banks of the lake, which is a good place for a picnic. There is an aquarium on the other side of the park, which contains species of native fish and local fishing equipment.

There are a large number of interesting temples in Phichit. Among the best are Wat Pho Prathap Chang with its bronze Buddha statue, Wat Tha Luang and the extremely beautiful Wat Nakhon Chum.

Wat Bang Khlan was once the resident temple of the highly revered monk Luang Pho Ngoen and many people visit the temple in order to pay homage to a statue of Luang Pho Ngoen. Worth visiting is the Chai Bowon Museum inside the temple, which displays ancient items such as votive tablets, Buddha statues and earthenware. It is open every Saturday and Sunday.

Another interesting temple is Wat Khao Rup Chang, which is located along the Phichit-Taphan Hin road, 15 kilometres from town. On the hilltop is an old, Ayutthaya-style Chedi built from bricks. There is also a Mondop featuring interesting if slightly faded wall murals. The main purpose of the Mondop is that it houses a bronze Holy Relic.

The long awaited boat racing festival is usually held after the homage-paying rites to the province’s principal Buddha statue during September of each year and takes place on the Nan River in front of Wat Tha Luang. The entire area comes alive during the boat races, when teams of up to 50 men compete to be the first to row their enormous boat to the finish line. The festival is celebrated with displays of traditional singing and dancing and there is much merry making.