Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside the Pak Ou Cave

Statue Silhouettes Inside Pak Ou Cave

 

Pak Ou cave is located upstream from Luang Prabang on the Mekong River in Laos. A two hour leisurely boat ride beside picturesque villages and lush greenery ends at the strange cave. The cave is not that extensive or impressive, but what is inside is worth the trip. Thousands of Buddha sculptures cover the inside of the cave left by worshipers.  Each statue is unique and reflects the many positions of Buddha. Many of the carvings are broken which I thought made them interesting and charming.

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Temples in Southeast Asia

Travelling in South East Asia has many advantages such as the gorgeous weather, friendly locals, the exotic cultures, unique flora and fauna, affordability, and the fabulous food. The one thing that is a constant reminder of how far away I am from my home culture is the history of the temples throughout the region. Here are a few of my favorite temples displaying the rich history of the past and the modern culture of Southeast Asia today.

CAMBODIA~  Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive sites I have witnessed in the world. The temples within the archaeological park were built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The biggest temple, Angkor Wat, is massive and breathtaking especially at sunrise.

Angkor Wat

A few miles to the north are the Temples of Angkor Thom and the Bayon built by Jayayarman VII. The highlight of this temple complex is the four faced Buddha statues that rise above the jungles that once covered them. A warm feeling of peace washed over me as I gazed up to the heads that face each direction on the compass point.

Faces of Bayon

One of the favored Angkor temples is Ta Prohm because it has been left almost as it was when it was rediscovered; merged with the jungle!

Temple VS Jungle at Ta Prohm

BALI~ Temples sit on every corner in Bali. Each and every one holds something special from the welcoming smiles at the doors to the serene statues inside.

One of the many temples in Ubud, Bali

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the temples in Bali is the traditional dances held nightly. Here was my favorite, the Kecak and Fire dance.

Kecak Fire Dance in Ubud, Bali

The trip down to see Tanah Lot surrounded by the sea was well worth the drive.

Tanah Lot Temple, Bali

THAILAND~ The mighty temples in Thailand assault your vision when compared to the natural brown and gray stone temples in Bali and Cambodia. Vivid blues, blood reds, lush greens and bold oranges mix with the blinding gold stupas and pagodas to create a visual feast.

Golden Buddhas

Guardian at Wat Arun

The Grand Palace is crammed with so many temple buildings that blend together in the smoldering heat of the day. Dazzling statues like the Emerald Buddha are housed here in the many gleaming temples.

Grand Palace, Thailand

Thailand-Grand Palace

Wat Arun is a stupa-like pagoda that is encrusted with broken pieces of porcelain and seashells. The views from the top offer a fabulous sight of the Grand Palace across the river. The monastery is known as the temple of Dawn and is one of the best known landmarks in Bangkok.

Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn

LAOS~ Like Thailand, the temples in Laos are glittery gold and an overabundance of colors. The most impressive temple in Vientiane is the Pha That Luang with its blinding gold stupa  rising up into the sky. The often photographed temple graces the bills in Laos and one can see why as the temple is one of the most impressive sites in SE Asia. The tranquil scene inside the temple grounds is a welcome contradiction to the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

A trip north to Luang Prabang sets a totally different mood. Monks donned in saffron-colored robes peacefully walk the streets and sit in quiet reflection at the temples. Visitors are welcomed and encouraged to poke around the temple grounds and enjoy the gorgeous sites.

Buddhist temple at Royal Palace

Even the caves in Luang Prabang are temples which hold worship treasures. A leisurely trip up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Cave reveals hundreds of Buddha statues inside. A stop at a local whiskey village finishes the day trip with a  smile. Here some of the statues sit in the dark cave overlooking the meandering river and rolling hills.

Pak OU Caves

VIETNAM~ The Temple of Literature is an ancient Confucian sanctuary in the heart of Hanoi. It is a peaceful respite from the noise and traffic of the city. Built in 1070, this temple complex has five beautiful courtyards to wander through. This ancient temple is featured on the 100,000 dong note.

A huge drum at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

The city of Hanoi circles around Hoan Kiem Lake, the site of a famed Vietnamese legend of a magical sword used to defeat the Mongols. The Tortoise Pagoda sits in the heart of Hoan Kiem Lake honoring the turtle that took the sword back to the bottom of the lake after the battle.

The Tortoise Pagoda at Hoan Kiem Lake

At the Northeast section of the lake you stroll over the arched red Huc Bridge crossing to the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple). Weeping Willow trees sweep the surface of the lake as flags flutter in the warm breezes coming off the lake.

Crossing Huc Bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake

Temple of the Jade Mountain~ Ngoc Son Temple

MALAYSIA~  Staying true to the advertising slogan, Malaysia-Truly Asia, the temples in this country are from many different Asian religions. Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian temples can all be found on the same city block.

The Christ Church in Malacca was built in 1714 by the Dutch to celebrate the take over of Malacca from the Portuguese Empire. The church was originally painted white, but in 1911 the distinctive reddish color has dominated the landscape of Malacca.

Christ Church, Malacca, Malaysia

140 foot Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves, Malaysia

The Batu Caves just north of Kuala Lumpur house one of the most important Hindu shrines outside of India. A statue of Lord Murugan glitters in the sun at 140 feet tall as he stands at the side of the 272 steps into the sacred caves. This temple is the final spot for the Thaipusam Festival (see earlier post).  The lower caves have two more temples filled with colorful Hindu statues and paintings.

Buddhist temples can be found all over Malaysia. Thean Hou Temple is nestled high on a hill above the busy city and Highways below. This six-tiered temple has exquisite roof lines adorned with peacocks and dragons. Hundreds of red lanterns float high above the courtyards.

Lanterns at Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Located in Penang, Malaysia it is rightly named the Temple of Supreme Bliss!  Pictured below is the seven storied Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas.  A hundred foot bronze statue of Kuan Yin See stands over the temple complex of Kek Lok Se.

Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas

Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan

The architecture of the mosques in Malaysia is breathtaking.  This beautiful aqua mosque is near Jalan Duta in Kuala Lumpur. It stands majestically on top of a hill where the minarets call out to prayer five times a day. Below is the beautiful pink mosque in Putrajaya that looks as though it is floating on the lake.

Masjid Putra

Next on my list of must see temples are the Swedogan Temple in  Burma/Myanmar and Borobudur in Java, Indonesia. What are your favorite SE Asian temples?  Let me know as I have one more year to feast my eyes on the temples in this part of the world!

Laos for the New Year

Our family arrived in Vientiane, Laos anticipating a quiet laid back city in South East Asia. Well we got the SE Asia part correct. Vientiane is a vibrant dusty city with lots of traffic. It is an easy city to navigate and explore on foot or in open-air tuk-tuks. There are plenty of fabulous Buddhist temples to explore in the old city. Our favorite was the Wat Si Saket, which houses over 6,400 Buddha statues. We puttered around the city with a helpful tuk-tuk driver who refused to pull over when we got a flat tire until the rubber came completely off the rim. He had to flag down another driver and take his spare tire. We finally reached the temple at Pha That and it left me speechless. The blinding gold stupa stretched up to the heavens in the crystal blue sky.

The next day we left the capital and flew up to Luang Prabang. Our initial vision of Laos unfolded before us as we entered the “city” along the meandering Mekong River. In our travels we have previously crossed the mighty Mekong in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but here in Luang Prabang it appeared especially magical. The charming old town is built right up to the banks with cafés overhanging the slopes. The pace was effortlessly slow and easygoing. The only transportation needed was a bicycle and your feet.

The temples are too numerous to count and the amount of saffron clad monks is staggering. We awoke pre-dawn to watch the procession of monks receiving alms from the people in the town.  The mist rose over the road and hills as barefoot monks padded in lines with outstretched baskets to accept their daily offering of sticky rice. The market place slowly came to life with coffee brewed by the cup and the smell of fresh croissants filling the misty morning. Locals quietly move about their business among the tourists snapping photos and resting in cafés drinking cheap local beer and eating sandwiches on fresh baguettes.

While sitting in a quiet café on the edge of the market, Brian and I watched the local and touristy scene. A blind man was lead by a woman and we watched in amazement as some of the tourist deliberately crossed away from him. The man approached the food stalls along the side of the road and without ever asking, each vendor offered him small change or food. He would respond with a beautiful wai and back away. The generous attitude and genuine smiles made this town my new favorite place in SE Asia.

 

On New Year’s Eve there were not any boisterous fireworks to ring in 2012. However thousands of candle lit lanterns floated peacefully into the night sky creating a magical tone to match the Laotian style. Local families roasted whole pigs and danced in the streets to celebrate the New Year. Luang Prabang will be etched in my memory for a long time.