Category Archives: Shrines

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Guarded by a giant golden statue, with the cacophonous yells of monkeys, you’ll find the Batu Caves looking down upon Kuala Lumpur. Weathered and rugged limestone hills steeply climb upwards, adorned with festoons of jungle foliage, giving way to one of the most popular Hindu shrines in the world outside of India.

Upon coming to Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves was one of – if not the – top thing that we wanted to see. The caves are very easy to access. You can take the metro directly to the town of Gombak where the shrine resides for RM 4.40 (~$1.50) from KL Sentral Station. However, we had to take an Uber to the caves, as we were in Petaling Jaya which did not have rail access. This was not an issue though – it was cheap, quick, and efficient.

Consecrated Gold Statue of Lord Mudrugan

Upon arriving to the caves, you will first notice the golden statue of Lord Murugan. It towers above you at the entrance to the long staircase. Which brings me to the second thing you’ll notice immediately – the stairs. There are 272 concrete steps bringing you to the cave complex within the hill.

Batu Caves Stair Entry

The Batu Caves are an active religious site, and you should come dressed appropriately. This means wearing shirt sleeves and covered knees for me, and to covering shoulders and legs for women. If you don’t meet these requirement, you cannot enter – however there are usually attendants at the base of the stairs renting out sarongs for only a few RM each. Actually entering the cave complex itself is free.

We began our climb in the late morning under the surprisingly warm January sun. We took our time climbing the stairs, but it only took ten or fifteen minutes to reach the first landing. Along the way, we took time to admire the jungle and local inhabitants of the caves – namely monkeys.

Climbing the Stairs
Monkeys Just Hanging Out
Mischievous Monkey

The monkeys keep their distance mostly, but as we’ve learned in other locations, they are wildly unpredictable, curious, and will take a swipe at any opportunity. On the way up, we saw a baby monkey had managed to swipe an entire ice cream cone.

Monkey With Ice Cream
Monkey Stealing a Waterbottle

Dark Cave

We took our first stop at the landing of Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is an undeveloped part of the cave complex, which offers tours. There is a 45 minute guided tour for RM 35 (~$10) running every 20 minutes. For larger groups and advanced notice, you can book a 3 – 4 hour tour, further exploring the cave complex for around RM 80 (~$22) a person.

Dark Cave Entrance

We didn’t take the tour, because we didn’t have closed-toe shoes. If you have the time and opportunity it is a great tour though. The caves are home to the rarest spider in the world, endemic geckos, and other fauna found only here. The 2 km complex exhibits a wide range of geological formations with stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops, and other features. Instead of taking of the tour, we read the informative plaques at the entrance to the cave, and watched the antics of the monkeys – very entertaining.

Cave Map
Batu Caves Flow Stone
Plaque at Batu Caves

Temple Cave

After a half hour, we continued up the last third of the stairs to the shrine. When you arrive at the top of the stairs you will find a large landing opening to a large cave atrium. You will actually need to descend more steps into the main “room” which houses several small shrines.

Kyle and Bri on the Steps
Inside the main room
Shrine within Batu Caves

Various vendors will sell you trinkets, drinks, and other items while up here. Keep in mind that the drinks in the shrine are more expensive than at the base because everything must be carried up by hand – no elevator or wheel-chair access here.

Proceed further into the cave and you find another shrine in the back. Here the roof gives way and light enters the cave. This allows the cave to feel more open and inviting than many other cave complexes you may encounter.

Staircase to Interior Shrine
Shrine Within Batu Caves

Batu Caves is actually a rather recent development. The caves are estimated to be 400 million years old, and has been used by the indigenous Temuan people for centuries. Modern day usage of the caves began in 1860 with Chinese settlers  excavating guano for fertilizer. The caves then became famous after being recorded by colonial authorities and the American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.

An Indian trader named Pillai was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance to the cave. In 1890 he founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple within the cave. Wooden steps to the temple were originally put in, but concrete steps were placed in 1920 to accommodate the heavy number of visitors.

Thaipusam

The Batu Caves serves as the premier place to be outside of India for the Hindu holiday of Thaipusam. We are still kicking ourselves for not visiting the temple during the holiday (we were in Kuala Lumpur during it).

The festival begins in the early morning hours and features devotees walking several kilometers from the the city. During their march, kavadi bearers pierce themselves will metal skewers, and elaborate shoulder carriers (Kavadi), as a display of their devotion. Priests tend to the devotees sprinkling consecrated ash over the flesh of the participants.

Thaipusam

This display is made to offer milk to Lord Murugan, the god of war within Hinduism – though he also features prominently within some sects of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India as well.

Thaipusam

Photo courtesy of: nina.bruja

While the display can come off as extreme and macabre, the surreal experience is viewed as a purifying bringing good luck in the coming year.

The festival is extremely crowded, attracting over a million visitors on the day (which takes place in late January or early February.

Thaipusam

Other Attractions In Batu Caves

At the base of the stairs, there are two other cave temples: the Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave. Both feature Hindu statues and paintings. For those interested in the history and lore of Murugan and other Hindu teachings, these are excellent places to check out – though not free like the cave temple.

Art Museum Cave

There are numerous shops and stalls surrounding the entrance to the complex selling souvenirs, clothes, food, and drink.

I enjoyed my first of many coconuts on our travels here. Briana also managed to grab some vegetarian food easily and for a very reasonable price.

Kyle with Coconut
Veg food at nearby stall

We really enjoyed the Batu caves and recommend it for anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur. It’s a great activity for most anyone, especially families and active adults.

Things To Keep In Mind At Batu Caves

  • This is an active religious site, and as such you should dress and act respectful and modest
  • The complex is large and will take several hours to properly explore
  • The temple requires strenuous physical activity as there is no elevator or wheelchair access
  • Pay attention to the monkeys, we recommend not carrying food, and keeping water out of site when not actively drinking.
  • Keep all loose items on you or in a bag, don’t let the monkeys grab your stuff
  • Monkeys have personalities, some are far more bold and aggressive than others
  • Once a monkey has an item, it is no longer yours – don’t get bit by fighting a monkey 

~B & K

Briana Descending Stairs
Angry Monkey

Keraton Palace Yogyakarta Indonesia

The Keraton Palace of Yogyakarta sits inside the Kraton – the palace city of the Sultan. The walled city houses 25,000 people, 1,000 of whom are directly employed by the Sultan.

Today, the Kraton remains just as vibrant and bustling as it used to be – as it is a fully functioning city. In fact, it was the location of our AirBNB and made for a wonderful starting point for many of our adventures while in the Yogya city-center.

Keraton Palace Display

Getting Into Keraton Palace

Our plans to visit the Keraton Palace did not go the way we had intended though – it was supposed to be the second stop after visiting Taman Sari, but we ran into a random student on the street who got us to go check out the Batik school instead, and that totally threw off our plan. Though this resulted in a much more fun, and unexpected afternoon.

After wandering down Malioboro street from the north, we re-entered the Kraton. We found ourselves looking at the Keraton Palace. The Keraton is a still functioning palace, and home to the current Sultan. As such, some of the palace is off limits to the public and shuts down on holidays and Sundays.

But for those interested in visiting, you enter from the north side of the complex, on the right side of the entry gate.

Keraton Palace Entry

Still, the complex can offer some interesting sights to wander around and explore.

Keraton Palace Roosterrs

If you come at the right time (which we didn’t) you can see performances which are included with your ticket. The specifics vary by the day, but generally are between 9 am and noon and include gamelan, puppetry, poetry readings, and classical dances.

Keraton Palace Covered Pavillion

As well, there is a museum on the grounds. As I stated above, it’s poorly curated, so we don’t really have much context. The artifacts are still interesting to look at.

Keraton Palace Museum Weapons
Keraton Palace Museum Drums
Keraton Palace Museum Cars

The palace looked nice, but ultimately we found it sort of boring as it was uninformative to the casual tourist. Still, it’s worth taking a peek – especially if you plan to show up at the right time and day.

Keraton Palace Memorial Bas Relief

If you’re really lucky, you might even get to see the Sultan.

~K~

Keraton Palace Inner Courtyard

Getting To The Coast

Nonetheless, with our destination set, we set out for a walk to get to the statue. We began with our customary walk out of the residential road and across the bridge (which was under construction) over the river to the main road.

Local Houses
Stormy Skies in Sri Lanka
River Bridge

Coastal Walk

Once on the road we proceeded out towards the waterfront road, where we proceeded to walk the entirety of Weligama Bay. During this time, we passed numerous fish mongers, boats, shrines, surfers, and cricket players.

Empty Lot
Local Fishmongers
Outrigger Boat
Small Roadside Shrine

The sky was on the verge of storming nearly the entire duration of our walk, but this had become customary to us. We had arrived in Sri Lanka during the monsoon, and as such it rained most days. But coming from Florida, this really wasn’t a big deal – we’ve heard people complain about monsoon weather, but personally, I think it is actually nice (less tourists, and cooling rains – why complain?).

Stormy Skies
Local Durian Vendor

Just as we rounded the cape of the bay, we turned inwards back towards the main drag of Weligama. Along this road, at this point, though, things were far more relaxed and residential.


Taprobane Island
Briana On A Beach Ropeswing With A Local Friendly Dog
Old man pulling his cow.
Kapthurai Mosque Weligama

Turning Towards The Interior

We stopped by a small Buddhist shrine, but didn’t feel right entering because we weren’t properly dressed. A few locals outside the shrine urged us to go in and look around, but we still felt a little uncomfortable.

Grounds of the Buddhist Temple

Proceeding to enter at their behest, we were shot dirty looks by other locals inside the temple. We opted to simply wander the grounds for a few minutes but not intrude on the temple operations themselves. Shortly after, we left.

Shrine In The Buddhist Temple

Continuing along the road, we came upon numerous homes and buildings of seemingly no consequence. However, they all bore a authenticity that made our wandering all the more enjoyable.

Home in Weligama
Woman walking in front of her house
Victorian Architecture With Brilliant Foliage
Briana walking down the street in Weligama
Buddhist Temple Buddha
Weligama Post Office

Arriving At The Rock Of The Leper King

A long while later, we finally came to a fork in the road that I was expecting – near the train tracks and knew that we were close to the statue. A quick turn to the left, and proceeding across the tracks brought us to the entrance to the tiny park that held the statue.

Train tracks in Weligama

The statue was carved into a large boulder and stood a few feet above head height. The park was small, but offered a quiet respite from the going-ons about us.

Rock Of The Leper King Weligama Sri Lanka

Known locally as Kusta Raja Gala or Rock of the Leper King, it depicts an ancient king stricken with Leprosy. The king was instructed to drink coconut pulp for three months to cure his disease. The “cure” worked and the statue was built to commemorate him.

Rock Of The Leper King Weligama Sri Lanka

We stayed for a few minutes, before proceeding back towards our AirBNB. Of course, we were still a far from home at this point, with good walk ahead of us. We took a break watching some cricket players across the road.

Cricket Field

Returning Home

This time though, we proceeded to make our way through the heart of Weligama and the main city center. It was very busy, and aside from the cell phones, evoked the feeling of being in the 60s or 70s.

Weligama Town Center Seasonal Shrine Under Construction
Local Gas Station
Old Man In His Home
City Center of Weligama

The walk took us several hours, and we were quite tired upon arriving back to our AirBNB. As we’ve found elsewhere, a simple walk in “mundane” neighborhoods can offer more noteworthy experiences than typical tourist fare.

~K~

Walking Down The Street

Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaca Salt Lake

The Mosque of Umm Haram, better known as Hala Sultan Tekke is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam by most Muslims. We visited the site twice during our stay in Cyprus: the first time with my parents who came to visit us after finished up a vacation in Europe; and again with Briana’s dad who came for a visit as well during our prolonged house sit here.

Get In

The location of Hala Sultan Tekke is optimal for a visit upon arrival. The complex sits at the shore of the Larnaca Salt Lake, which is just 1.5 km from the Larnaca International airport. The first time we visited, we picked up my parents from the airport and then went straight to the mosque.

Briana On the Salt Lake

Hala Sultan Tekke is very inviting and quiet for visitors. The complex is comprised of a mosque, mausoleum, minaret, cemetery, and living quarters for men and women. The term tekke (which means convent) applies specifically to gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood. However, the present-day complex does not align to any specific sect and is open to all.

Minaret Of Hala Sultan Tekke
Hala Sultan Tekke Complex

Historical Significance

The site has been of importance for many Millenia. Originally, the location served as a cemetery for the Bronze Age town of Dromolaxia Vizatazia pre-2000 BCE. The town remained inhabited and cemetery in use through to the 1st century BCE.

Hala Sultan Tekke gains its name and importance due to its connection with Muhammad. It is said to be the site of the death of Umm Haram, who was Mohammad’s wet nurse. She was of old age and died falling off her horse during the siege of Larnaca between 647 and 649 CE, which was a part of the greater Arab raids by Caliph Muawiyah. She was buried where she fell and a tomb was built there. Shia belief holds that she is buried in Madinah, Saudi Arabia – but nonetheless, the masuoleum is still considered holy. Due to the political situation in Cyprus, Hala Sultan Tekke is located in the Greek, non-Muslim sector of Cyprus and thus pilgrimages to the site are rare.

During the Ottoman administration, a complex and mosque was built around the tomb. The exact date of the construction of the complex is not clear, but is estimated to have begun in 1760. Repairs began on the complex in 2004, and current restoration projects are underway on the mosque and minaret, funded in part by USAID and UNDP.

Pass Through the Gate

Our venture into the complex began at the ornate gate, which opened to a path which led down into the garden. The garden, known as Pasha Garden is a small but nice arrangement of plants and fountains.

Entry To Hala Sultan Tekke
Garden
Garden

At the bottom of the garden is a fountain which stands directly across the entrance to the mosque. We ventured into the mosque and respectfully took off our shoes and put on the provided robes at the entrance. It was unwatched however, so we did not have to.

Enter the Mosque

Upon our second visit, we were disappointed to see a tourist family who was allowing their son to run around shirtless. As well, a couple of young men who went into the mosque with shoes and t-shirts. Dress appropriately when entering, the grounds provide you with the means to do so. It seems to be very insulting and disrespectful to not do so.

Briana and Kyle's Mom

The interior of the mosque is humble, especially in comparison to Mohammad Al-Amin in Beirut and the National Mosque of Malaysia. Little gold ornamentation or any other signs of wealth or extravagance adorn the walls and ceiling. The mosque is simple, with a soft carpet, and a balcony.

Interior Of Hala Sultan Tekke//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Interior Of Hala Sultan Tekke
Balcony Interior

Visit the Tombs

Behind the wall (which faces to Mecca) is the entrance to the tomb. Here we found Umm Haram’s tomb along with four other tombs: two being of former sheikhs, and a two-leveled marble sarcophagus  belonging to Adile Huseyin Ali and Hussein Bin Ali who was a descendant of Muhammad.

Tomb
Tombs

Beneath the women’s guest room lie the remains of an ancient site.

Ancient Ruins

Larnaca Salt Lake

The site sits at the shore of the Larnaca Salt Lake. The lake has been of importance since ancient times due to it’s natural salt composition. When we visited, during the summer (in the middle of a very bad drought), the lake was completely dry. We could walk out and pick up the salt blocks by hand. Underneath the three inch crust, was a deep black muck, which once we realized was there, we were careful to not get on us. During the wet seasons, the lake serves as an important stopping point for migratory birds traveling between Europe and Africa. In all, more than 80 bird species utilize the lake.

Salt Chunk

Many rags were tied to trees here. It is customary in Cyprus to tie rags or ribbon to trees near tombs as tokens of good luck and reverence.

Rags In Trees

We made a friend with a stray Husky by the lake as well.

Husky

Visit

Visiting Hala Sultan Tekke is free and the hours are as follows:

Winter hours (16/9 – 15/4 )
Monday – Sunday: 8.30 – 17.00

Summer hours (16/4 – 15/9)
Monday – Sunday: 8.30 – 19.30

~K~

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Nejmeh Square: At The Heart Of Beirut

At the heart of Beirut, resides Nejmeh Square. A chic historical space in the downtown district of the historical “Paris of the east”. We only had one truly full day to spend in Beirut, after spending a few days previously in Bcharre in the mountains northeast of the city. Because of our limited time and AirBNB location, we decided to spend our day in the famed Nejmeh Square.

Directions In Nejmeh

An Amble Through Colorful Streets

We made our way at the start of the day down Armenia Street. It was going to be about a two kilometer walk from our studio apartment to our destination, so we got a nice taste of the city street life. The street is lined with stores, cafes, restaurants, and the eclectic. The Lebanese take their food seriously, so you can expect excellent food just about anywhere you stop. We decided to have our try of Lebanese coffee at Urbanista, which was not what we expected.

Armenia Street
Pizza Parlor on Armenia St

Briana really wanted to see the painted stairs of Beirut – which we came across. We had our photo op, and then proceeded on only to find more stairs. It would appear that much of Beirut is covered in painted stairs, murals, and street art. Every turn provides a new discovery, so walking around is quite fun unto itself.

Beirut Painted Stairs
Beirut Painted Stairs
Beirut St Art

Martyrs’ Statue

After what seemed to be a very long walk, we finally came to Nejmeh Square, or at least, the area that would become it. We still had a ways to go, but we could at least see it now. Our first stop however, was the Martyrs’ Statue, which lies just to the east of the square.

Martyrs' Statue

The statue commemorates Lebanese and Arab nationalists who were hanged by the Ottoman empire in 1916. The statue was damaged during the Civil War from 1975-1990, and was restored in 1996. Though repaired, the statue still shows the bullet holes and scars from Beirut’s war torn past.

Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque

Adjacent to the Martyrs’s Statue, stands the magnificent Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. Also known as the Blue Mosque, this Sunni Muslim mosque was inaugurated in 2008 and has become a dominant feature of the Beirut skyline with it’s four minarets and blue domed roof.

Mohammad Al Amin

The mosque itself is quite large and inspired by Ottoman architecture. Entering the house of worship, you are greeted with grandeur as massive gold calligraphy graces the marble ceilings, and crystal chandeliers hand in the open room.

Inside Mohammad Al Amin Mosque

If you wish to visit, the mosque is open to visitors most days, with the exception of during prayer times (which change every day, so you will need to check based on when you plan to visit). While it is advisable that you dress appropriately, if you are not, you may be turned down. Briana wore long pants/leggings and brought a long sleeve shirt to ensure she would be able to enter despite the heat. Women will be given an additional covering to wear free of charge at the visitors entrance. I just made sure my knees and shoulders were covered for our visit. 

Inside Mohammad Al Amin
Mohammad Al Amin Visitor Entrance

When we visited, we were essentially the only ones there. There were a few others including the Imam who was reading from the Quran, but it was so large we basically had the whole place to ourselves.

Nejmeh Square

Entering Nejmeh Square itself was a little bit confusing at first. Due to recent uprisings, violent demonstrations, and political turmoil, the square is under heavy police and military presence. At first it did not appear that we could enter, due to the heavy fortifications and soldiers manning the gates.

Military Gate at Nejmeh

That did not deter us however, and we realized soon enough that we could walk into the square through one of the guarded gates. It was a little sad because due to this, the usually vibrant square was mostly deserted. There were a few dozen tourists and citizens walking around the beautiful historical streets, but a good majority of shops and restaurants were closed. In a way, it was also nice because we pretty much got what is a usually rather crowded area mostly to ourselves! 

Nejmeh Square
Nejmeh Square

The famous Rolex Clock Tower however still stood tall and proud and the center. While a bit disconcerting at first, the military presence actually did lead us to feel a little bit safer, as we noticed just how well they were managing the security, and the fact that there was nearly no one in the area to make the place a target.

Nejmeh Clock Tower
Nejmeh Square

St George Maronite Cathedral

From within Nejmeh Square, we made our way to St. George Maronite Cathedral. The Cathedral was constructed between 1884 and 1894, though it utilized a small church that had stood since 1753. We realized though, that this could actually be accessed from outside the gated area, not from within.

The construction itself is rather small in comparison to the surrounding buildings, but still remains a nice and very important site in the area. Do not confuse it with the St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

St George Maronite Cathedral

It has since been found that significant archeological remains of Roman constructs and Ottoman walls reside beneath.

Roman Ruins

St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral

About 80 meters north of the Maronite Cathedral is the larger St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The site originally had the Anastasis cathedral built in the 5th century. An earthquake destroyed all of Beirut in 551 and a new cathedral was not built until the 12th century. Again, the structure was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1759, and was properly repaired in 1783. The cathedral underwent it’s final modifications in 1910.

St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Excavations beneath the church show a timeline of the city’s history, which now houses a museum costing $3. We did not get to visit (we were short on money due to being robbed in Sri Lanka), but it is toted as being a great visit.

Instead we walked the grounds and visited a small chapel on the church grounds. The chapel is the Nouryeh Virgin Chapel.

Virgin Mary Chapel

As with the mosque, you must dress appropriately to enter.

Beirut

We wandered around the square for a bit but left after a short time. Because of security measures, there wasn’t too much for us to do once we saw the streets. Being on a budget, we couldn’t dine at any of the cafes and the shops were well beyond our price range.

Beirut is a wonderful city to visit, and there is much to see and visit including things we didn’t get a chance to do like the Jeita Grotto and National Museum. The city is far safer than American media portrays it. The memories of the Lebanese Civil War still sits fresh in the minds of the previous generation, and as such misconceptions persist.

Is it Safe?

With that being said, it is still a country and city to be wary in. The military presence is heavy and felt everywhere: pill boxes, bunkers, tanks, check-points, and soldiers populate the streets. The region just north of the airport is not considered safe for most people. It is a very poor neighborhood with Palestinian refugee camps. One look at it will scream to you not to visit, it is quite obvious.

There is a military check-point to get in and out of this region of town (our taxi had to travel through it to get to the airport). Our host told us about some of the current issues in the region but I will avoid remarking much on it lest I get something wrong. 

Surprisingly, Lebanon has managed to keep itself out of much of the turmoil caused by it’s neighbors: Syria and Israel. While the borders and the Beqqa valley are not safe for tourists, great swaths of the country and most of Beirut remains safe.

We recommend visiting Beirut, but you should remain cautious while traveling. The city is lovely, and steeped in history and culture, and you should not be turned off due to overhyped fears.

Us In Nejmeh

~K~

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Borobodur temple incomplete stupa with buddha statue

Borobodur Temple Yogyakarta

Rising above the mist and fog of the south-central Javan jungle, lies the ancient stone temple of Borobodur.

Rising From the Jungle

While no written record exists for what is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, construction inscriptions and carved reliefs date the structure to sometime around 800 CE. At this time, the Sailendra dynasty of the Srivijayan Empire was at the peak of its power. Estimates put its construction at taking 75 years to complete.

Borobodur From Hill

During this period of time, there was relative harmony, and even confusion amongst the religions of the region: Hinduism and Buddhism. The rules of the region frequently patronized both religions and allowed for grand temples of both to flourish.

Borobodur High Bas Relief Carving

Lost To History

Around 1000 CE, nearby Mt. Merapi (a still very active volcano today) had many large scale eruptions, which led to the Javan King Mpu Sindok moving the capital of the Medang Kingdom to the East Java region. So began the decay of the region over the following centuries, with it’s last written acknowledgment being in 1365.

Once Islam made it’s way through Indonesia in the 15th century, Borobodur was all but lost to jungle and volcanic ash. And so the temple slowly crumbled and became swallowed by the jungle, only known by locals vaguely as a man-made mountain of stone and gained a superstitious reputation for bad luck and misery – often associated with death.

Rediscovered

The British captured Java in 1811 and appointed Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raggles as Governor of Java. He was deeply interested in the history of Java and was informed of a monument deep in the jungle. He commissioned an expedition. Within two months, trees and vegetation were removed to reveal the temple in poor shape, but standing nonetheless.

In 1835, Dutch administrator Hartmann continued work on unearthing the monument and performing investigations on the monument. The first photograph was taken in 1872 of the temple, and appreciation for the monument grew, as it slowly turned into a tourist attraction.

Borobodur Field View

Badly In Need Of Restoration

The Dutch army began restoration of the site in 1902, primarily to protect the foundation and corners. Other projects included providing proper drainage for the temple and removing loose and disfigured stones. Restoration continued with a halt during WWII.

The monument was not doing well though in the 1950s, and Professor Soekmono launched the “Save Borobodur” campaign. A complete overhaul of the monument began in 1975, during which stones were properly reset, cleaned, and fortified. Over a million stones were dismantled, cleaned and catalogued before being put back together. Borobodur was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

Getting In

For us, Borobodur was one of the primary reasons to visit Yogyakarta. Our homestay was located just a few kilometers south of the temple and was quite easy for us to access. Our host allowed us to borrow his motorbike and we took an easy ride to the grounds. We parked out front of the temple for IDR 5,000 Rupiah (~$0.40).

Borobodur Area Map

Approaching the ticket building, we became the targets of several vendors, which we ignored. One tried to sell us some water – don’t buy it, you’ll get some later. The entry gate has two sides, the right side is for locals and the left is for internationals.

The price is more for foreigners at 240,000 IDR each (~$18.00), however it feels appropriate as the grounds are very well-kept. Included in the price, you will be given a free water bottle, and offered tea or coffee. We elected for just the water bottles which sufficed for our stay. If you wish to see the sunrise, you will need to pay 500,000 IDR each, as they will take you to the top before the official opening of the site.

Borobodur Entry Gate
Borobodur Foreigner Ticket Booth

You must also pass through a small security check-point. It is not major, just a simple bag check. This has been implemented since ISIS made a bomb threat to the site a few years ago, though nothing has happened fortunately.

Well Manicured Paths Abound

Once paying and passing through security, we began our walk up through the well manicured lawns and gardens towards the towering temple. As we made our way towards the volcanic stone structure, we began to fully realize the immense size of the structure.

Borobodur boulevard
Borobodur Main Staircase

Climbing The Structure

We walked around the base of the structure before making our way up the structure. The temple is made up of multiple levels: six square levels and three rounds levels at the top. It is made this way to symbolize the realms of Buddhist cosmology: Kamadhatu (world of desires), Rupadhatu (world of forms), and Arupadhatu (formless world).

Borobodur Staircase Lion Guards
Borobodur Temple West Stairs
Borobodur Gargoyle Water Spout

The first four levels, which make up the Kamadhatu and Rupadhatu levels, contain highly intricate bas-relief sculptures, considered to be some of the best in the Buddhist world. These sculptures, which number into the thousands, depict 8th century Javanese life from hermits to merchants to royalty.

As well, images of mythical beings such as asuras, gods, boddhisattvas, kinnaras, gandharvas, and apsaras cover the walls while lions and gargoyles guard the ramparts.

Borobodur Narrow Corridor
Borobodur Picture with Indonesian

We walked around each level, before ascending to the next, taking in the relief sculptures along the way. In Buddhist practices, this is called circumambulation.

Borobodur Bas Relief Elephant Carving
Borobodur Ship Bas Relief Carving
Borobodur Bas Relief Carving Archer
Borobodur Temple Overlook

Reach Enlightenment At The Peak

Once we reached the top three levels, the structure changed. There were no more relief sculptures, everything was smooth, and instead of square, everything was circular. Stupas, each containing a figure of Buddha circled a central stupa.

Borobodur Incomplete Stupa With Buddha
Borobodur Upper Stupas
Borobodur Central Stupa

For Some, We Were The Attraction

This area was quite crowded, and we even found ourselves to be part of the attraction. A few high school aged kids approached us and asked if they could take a picture with us. After they broke the ice, we spent the next twenty minutes being bombarded by local children wanting to take pictures with us.

It was kind of crazy. While many tourists make it to Borobodur, they are usually Indonesian or from other nearby Asian countries, so we stood out from the crowds.

Borobodur Selfie with Indonesians

After a short rest at the top, and admiring the views of the surrounding countryside, we made our way down the temple to see what else the grounds had to offer us.

Borobodur bas relief carving of cats
Borobodur Temple Selfie
Borobodur Headless Buddha

Get Caught In The Rain

We began to make our way up a hill just off to the side from us. From atop Borobodur earlier, we had seen what looked like a small pagoda, so now we made a point to try and get to that hill. Along the way up, we passed by what looked like some form of a museum, but it cost an additional fee and we weren’t particularly feeling like spending more money than we already had that day. We did run into two kitties, so Briana of course made the effort to give them some water for a few minutes.

The sky above us was starting to darken, so we decided to push on to get the top of the hill before it would rain. The paved path was easy enough to follow up and within a few minutes we were at the top. It was a small covered platform that stood before a small circular clearing, surrounded by plants. Almost at the moment we reached the top, it suddenly started to pour. We real quick grabbed our ponchos and ran under the shelter the pagoda provided.

Waiting For The Rain To Stop

I had assumed that the storm would pass quickly. So we sat and watched the rain come down and the lightening flash. After about twenty minutes, it seemed to have only barely lightened on the rain, so we decided to make our way down the hill wearing our ponchos.

We got a little wet, but it was ok. We really wish we could have seen the temple during the downpour, as some of the rock carvings were clearly designed as water spouts. Nonetheless, we proceeded on to the Borobodur Ship Museum.

Borobodur Ship Museum

The museum sits a little off to the side from the temple, showcasing Java’s, and specifically Yogyakarta’s maritime history. The centerpiece of the museum, is a reconstruction of a Borobodur ship.

In 2003 it took a historical route from Indonesia to Madagascar and then on to Ghana (the ancient Cinnamon Route). Borobodur ships are depicted in bas relief on the temple itself and are large double outrigger maritime vessels from the 8th century.

Inside The Museum

Finish Off With A Bite To Eat

After finishing the museum, we made our way to get some food. Connected to the Borobodur complex is the Manohara hotel. It is a wonderful hotel, and reasonably priced at around $85 a night. But we budget travel, so that was outside our price range.

View From Manohara

That being said, the restaurant is open to everyone, and is very reasonably priced. While it’s not local prices, the “tourist prices” for most plates were still only between $3 and $5.

The restaurant has outdoor seating in multiple pavilions and a wide range of food, with numerous Indonesia specialities. Ultimately, we came back to the restaurant three times during our one week stay at our AirBNB. The restaurant afforded wonderful views of the temple and a great finish to our day.

~K~

Manohara Food
Manohara Menu
Walking The Grounds

Cat Ba Island Vietnam

Our trip through Vietnam had been quite tiring and overwhelming. The cities are huge, bustling, and crowded. The air is smoggy and hard to breathe. We were getting quite ready to cut our stay within Vietnam short of our 3 month Visa, but we still had a few things we wanted to check out. Ha Long Bay was on our to-do list, so we decided that we would do that, then figure out what we wanted to do after that. Ultimately, we settled upon Cat Ba island.

CatBaIsland_Kyle

Upon a little research, Briana found a much better way to experience Ha Long. Typically, most people will shuttle onto a junk for 2 or 3 days and explore the bay this way while paying upwards of $150 per person. What Briana managed to find, was Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is the largest island in Ha Long Bay, residing in the southwestern edge of the bay, and has several small towns on the island. Upon checking it out, we realized that we could spend over a week on the island and still take a boat trip out from the island – for a cheaper price than the standard Ha Long excursion.

CatBaIsland_Hidden Views

Getting In

With a little work, we managed to figure out the journey to the island. It required several buses, and a ferry to get there, as no planes service the island.

Upon arriving to the island, you immediately feel like you’re visiting Jurassic Park. Tall limestone karst cliffs rise from the sea, and dense, lush jungle clings to every surface. Swifts zip across the sky. We came in the off-season, at the end of February, and it was quite chilly upon arrival with a mist obscuring parts of the island – adding to the mystique.

CatBaIsland_Emerging from the Jungle
CatBaIsland_Roadside Orchard

There Are Only A Few Small Towns

The island has a few main settlements: Cat Ba Town, on the southern tip of the island; Viet Hai Village on the eastern tip of the island, accessible by boat; and the floating village, off the eastern coast of the island. Along the few roads that cross the island, you can find small homesteads and communities. Some of the larger valleys have rice paddies and small farms.

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CatBaIsland_Rural Life
CatBaIsland_Small Garden

But all in all, the island remains a forgotten paradise. Although there is some tourism, the crowds haven’t really hit Cat Ba yet – but we recommend checking out the island soon, it’s bound to be found out sooner or later. Coming in the off-season, there were very few people here, and it wasn’t exactly beach weather.

The water is pretty cool, and it’s overcast a lot, but it’s actually really good for exploring the island. During the summer, it can get sweltering and hiking could be miserable. As well, the waters in the bay can get very rough during the summer, while the off-season has very calm waters making for a more enjoyable tour of the bay.

CatBaIsland_Jungle Trail

Step Into A Primordial Jungle

A majority of Cat Ba Island remains undeveloped jungle and wilderness. It’s really not surprising either. Once you start to explore the island, you realize just how easy it is for the island to remain remote – steep, jagged, limestone karst mountains raise from floor throughout. It’s truly a scene that will send you back a few million years.

Cat Ba National Park

Most of the island in fact, is a part of Cat Ba National Park, with some communities living within the park itself. Established in 1986, the park covers 263 square kilometers, with 173 being land, and 90 of inshore water. The park is a special-use forest, as one of the world’s biosphere reserves.

The park is home to 282 species of animal, comprising of 32 mammals, 78 birds, 20 reptiles, and 11 amphibians. The most famous of these is the Golden Langur, which is highly endangered with only about 60 individuals left in the world. The likelihood of running across one of these though is highly unlikely. The park is made up of three zones: a visitor zone, a research zone, and an off-limits zone.

A Large Swath Is Protected

Most people visiting will only be able to go through the visitor zones, which encompass the hiking trails, zoo, and various other locations throughout such as the frog pond or the jungle village. The research zone can be accessed by rangers, researchers and some students, and it is here that park officials conduct preservation experiments and probe the jungle for more information. The off-limits zone, which is located in the north-east of the island, and very difficult to attempt to reach, is off-limits to everyone and only accessed by officials and researchers in a strictly observational setting.

These protocols are established to help ensure the integrity of the forest and the park. Entering the park will cost 40,000 Dong per person, and parking (if you drove) will cost an additional 5,000. You can hire a guide as well for some excursions (recommended for some) but it is not necessary.

There is plenty to do within Cat Ba National Park and you could easily make a week of it if you so desired. Some of the most notable items you can participate in are: Specimen House, the zoo, Trung Trang Cave, Butterfly Valley, Frog Pond, Cang Viet Hai Trail, Hospital Cave, Waterfall Sunset Trail, and Lookout Tower Trail. While we did not do most of these, I can give a little explanation to them.

Specimen House:

Almost immediately upon entering the park from it’s headquarters, there is a large two storied building to your left. Within the house are restrooms for you to use as well as several rooms displaying preserved or stuffed animals endemic to Vietnam. The specimen house seems to have seen better days, it is a bit in disrepair, and there are no signs in English. However, it is still worth a look for some interesting views.

The Zoo:

There is a zoo at the end of a 30 minute trail. We began our way down it at one point, but as the day was getting on, we decided to turn back. Near the entrance to the trail however is a cage for rehabilitating monkeys as well as a large field for deer.

Trung Trang Cave:

This cave you will actually come across the entrance to on the main road before you make it to the park headquarters if you are coming from Cat Ba town. However, the gates are locked and you will need to check with a ranger at the gate to get them to open it for you. Sometimes the cave floods or may need to be close for various reasons. Rangers recommend you bring a flashlight as well.

Butterfly Valley Trail:

This trail leads to superb rock climbing on the island. Prices vary, but you can rent equipment from park officials at the cliffs who will assist you in climbing the difficult faces. We did not do this, but overheard at dinner someone say the gear is in top shape, and they know what they are doing.

The trail is a 3 hour hike from the park headquarters. You can ride a bike down the trail as well. During our visit though, construction was underway on the road where you would normally access it. It is recommended to just organize a tour if you want to do this.

Frog Pond:

Normally this pond is accessible via the Cang Viet Hai Trail. For those who do not wish to partake in such a strenuous hike, there is an access road that looks like it can be mostly ridden by motorbike. The road is just beyond the headquarters on your right.

Cang Viet Hai Trail:

This is the shining jewel of the hikes available on Cat Ba, but it is very difficult. It is 18km and climbs up and down the mountains multiple times. It is recommended that you take a guide, but it is possible to go it alone.

With a guide, you begin at 8am and hike up to Frog Pond and enjoy the many frogs there. You will then continue on until you reach a native village deep within the jungle. Here you break and eat lunch. If you are going alone, you may rent a bed for the night at their bungalow (a mattress on a wooden deck with a mosquito net). After lunch you will proceed on until you reach the ocean on eastern tip of the island.

There is a small town here, accessed on via boat. The guide will arrange for a boat back to Cat Ba town from there. If you go alone, it is difficult to get a boat back and if you do they are likely to over charge you, so you’ll most likely be hiking the whole way back to the park headquarters.

Hospital Cave:

I’ve already covered Hospital Cave in another post, but you can access the cave via a hiking route from the park headquarters. The hike takes around a half day to get there and back at a length of 4 km. Or you can take our route and just stop off on the side of the road.

Waterfall Sunset Trail:

This trail can be accessed  from the park headquarters and makes a steep 40 min climb up and down each. The trail is one of the shorter ones you can take, but will apparently give you a great view of some select waterfalls.

Lookout Tower Trail:

This is the trail that we took, and we highly recommend it. For a more detailed look at this trail just go to the link here. This trail is very steep, and moderately difficult trail. You should allot yourself about 3 – 4 hours for this to thoroughly enjoy it.

The trail winds its way through the jungle culminating at the peak providing spectacular views from a lookout tower. Beware, this trail is hard on the knees and is not for those in poor shape.

CatBaIsland_View From the Top

Cannon Fort:

Overlooking Cat Ba Town you can visit Cannon Fort – a Japanese installation from WWII as well as a monument dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. Cat Ba Town waterfront offers a nice selection of hotels and hostels to choose from, as well as many affordable restaurants and cafes. We frequented the Buddha Belly everyday – a wonderful Vegan restaurant. From the town you can also book excursions on the island or out in the bay. We booked ourselves a day trip of Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and kayaking from CatBaVentures.

Biker’s Paradise

The best way to really see the island though is to rent a motorbike for the day and go exploring. The roads are practically empty, and in good shape. With a tank of gas, you can easily traverse the entire island, exploring the mountains and valleys in the most fun way possible. Don’t bother with a Xe Om, just get on and ride. If you’ve never ridden, there’s no better place to learn.

CatBaIsland_Briana Biking
CatBaIsland_Tall Grass Road
CatBaIsland_Look Back
CatBaIsland_Deep Jungle

What’s In A Name?

Cat Ba Island means – Sandy Woman Island. According to legend, three women washed ashore upon the island having drowned. The islanders were saddened and built a temple to commemorate each one.

Over time, the island came to be known as the sandy woman island – Cat Ba Island. There are three beaches on the island, aptly named Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, and Cat Co 3. All the beaches are located on the southern tip near the town.

The beaches have been dominated by the only resort style hotels on the island, but are still public access. If you want an even more secluded stay, you can make the jaunt over to Monkey Island. It’s just a ferry ride away, if you’ve made it as far as Cat Ba, it shouldn’t be a problem to figure out how to make it there.

CatBaIsland_Cat Co 1
CatBaIsland_Resort

An Island Worth Multiple Visits

We enjoyed Cat Ba immensely. It has probably been the highlight of our time in Vietnam. Here we tasted rural and secluded Vietnam. We traversed jungle, and saw life outside the city. It was mostly quiet, and the air was fresh.

People are generally happier here than in the city. The dogs certainly were happy running up and down the streets. We liked it so much here, that we immediately extended our stay on the island by several days.

CatBaIsland_North Bay Road
CatBaIsland_Main Street

The island truly is beautiful, and we can’t recommend it enough. There is so much to do here, and it’s much more relaxed Vietnam than Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi.

~K~

CatBaIsland_West Dock Road

Seoul Itinerary

Few people will get the opportunity to spend as much time as we did in Seoul. Most will only be visiting for a few days or maybe a couple weeks. With that in mind, we’re going to outline our itineraries for the time strapped traveler. Considering the city is huge, there’s no way you’ll get to see everything, so we’re going to outline what we think will give you the best and most authentic taste of the city. Here is your Seoul Itinerary.

1 Day Seoul Itinerary

Juhamnu Pavilion

If you only have one day, chances are you’re in transit so you’ll only have a few hours to really get anything done. You’ll need to allot yourself about an hour and half into and out of the city from and to the airport respectively. As such, you really only have the ability to access areas close to metro stations.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Start off here, on the northern edge of Seoul. This is the central palace of Joseon Dynasty and will give you a great view of Korean architecture. There are a few museums within the complex and will provide a full morning of exploration.

Jahamun-ro 

This street is just west of Gyeongbokgung and contains a lot of authentic restaurants and a few street vendors as well. Here you can grab lunch from anyplace that strikes your fancy.

National Museum of Korea

After lunch, hop on the metro and go to the National Museum of Korea. The largest museum in Asia offers an awesome selection of history and culture to explore. The grounds are expansive and will allow you finish off your afternoon here. Once you’re done, finish off by having dinner at any place you like out front of the museum campus and return to the airport or proceed on your way

3 Day Seoul Itinerary

Kyle at Ansan Summit

If you have three days, you have a little bit more time on your hands, so you’re going to have the chance to immerse yourself a little bit more in the culture. But you’re still going to be a little pressed for time.

Unless otherwise noted, I’m just going to discuss the days here. You should fill your nights by exploring the areas close to your hotel, taking in street food, and trying a few drinks of soju.

Day 1:

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N Seoul Tower

Start here, and spend an hour at the top getting a nice view of the city. Within the tower, there is information regarding different regions within Seoul which can further inspire your travels. You can take a bus or gondola to the top for the easiest trip, but it can be worth it to hike from the bottom to the top. You’ll get to hike a short piece of the Seoul City Wall, which you otherwise won’t get to visit on this visit.

Itaewon

Just south of N Seoul Tower is the international district, Itaewon. Spend some time here exploring the shops, chatting with some locals (you’re more likely to find a few English speakers here), and grabbing some local food – I recommend the Bulgogi.

National Museum of Korea

The museum will offer you a great introduction to Korean people and provide a full afternoon for you. Once you finish the museum, you can grab dinner out front of the museum.

Day 2:

Ansan Mountain

Ansan Trail

Start off from Dongnimmun Station and travel through Yonsei University campus towards Ansan Mountain. If you want a more leisurely exploration, you can check out the jail at the base of the trail. Hike up the trail and get a wonderful panoramic view of the city once at the top. The hike will take you a couple hours, but is not particularly strenuous. The park here offers many different trails if you’re not quite up for a full hike.

Bongwonsa Temple

If you descend Ansan on the other side of the ridge, you can come down and visit the Bongwonsa Temple. It’s old, and will give you a great opportunity to see an historic and still working Buddhist temple. You can then continue on down the hill and you will come through some roads that offer a great variety of foods to enjoy (the specialize in ox-bone soups here).

Jimjillbang

Your muscles are probably a little sore, and you a little dirty from your day of hiking. Enjoy some relaxation and cleanup time at a Jimjillbang. There are many throughout the city and relatively cheap. You can spend as little or much time as you want here. But you may want to allot a couple hours at least – even more if you’re not on a budget and can afford to splurge on body scrapings and other specialties. Just be aware it’s a public bath! – no privacy.

Day 3:

The Korean War Memorial

Korean War Museum

Often toted as the forgotten war, the Korean War is an important part of Korean heritage and still bears an important of Korean identity. The museum will give you an in depth look at the war and current politics of S. Korea.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Finish off your stay with a visit to the grand palace of the Joseon Dynasty. There’s a lot to see here and will fill the rest of your day.

5 day Seoul Itinerary

View of Seoul

With a week to explore the city, you can really get a good bit of exploration done. I won’t repeat myself here on why/how you should do certain items, I’ll just elaborate on new items.

Day 1:

Milky Bee Ice Cream

N Seoul Tower

Myeongdong

A great shopping and food district on the northern end of Seoul Tower

National Museum of Korea

Day 2:

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Korean War Museum

Itaewon

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Day 3:

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Seoul City Wall

See our blog regarding how to do this excursion. It’s more complicated than most the others, but it’s well worth it, providing a great view of the area. Bring your Passport though, or else you can’t do it.

Day 4:

Kitty enjoying attention

Hongdae

This district offers a lot to see and do. There’s plenty of restaurants and bars. You can even check out a cat cafe here (or a Hello Kitty Cafe). It’s a great place to spend the day just checking out local life.

Gangnam

This is the district the song is named after. While it’s a little overrated, it may be worth it to check it out. There are quite a few high-profile shopping centers here as well as the highly rated Samsung D-light.

Day 5:

Jaunbong Peak

Mount Dobongsan / Bukhansan National Park

Hiking is Korea’s national past time, and this strenuous hike will test your certainly get your lungs going. You can expect to spend the majority of your day hiking. There are various forts and temples along the trail to the top. Spectacular view await you. ~ If a difficult hike is not for you, I recommend the Ansan Trail / Bongwonsa Temple route from the 3 day itinerary.

Jimjilbang

Honorable mentions:

Though I didn’t include them on my list, these places might be worth substituting in if something doesn’t appeal to you:

Giraffe

Seoul Zoo

Changdeokgung Palace

~K~

The Pink Cathedral

During our time in Ho Chi Minh, we made a quick stop by the Tan Dinh Church, also known as the Pink Cathedral. You can find the church situated at 289 Hai Ba Trung street, in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Pink Cathedral

Founding of the Pink Cathedral

The church was constructed in the 1880s during the French colonial period and features architecture in the Roman style. It belongs to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of HCM so it would make sense. While not originally pink, the church underwent renovations in 1957 and was painted a salmon pink outside, and a strawberries and cream pink inside.

Pink Cathedral

Tan Dinh Church is the second largest church in Ho Chi Minh (only behind the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica in District 1).

Tan Dinh ChurchTan Dinh Church
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Visit During Service To See The Inside

When we visited, we were not able to take a tour inside the facility to see the main hall. However, we could see inside just a little bit from the gated doors. We would have liked to go inside but we still enjoyed walking around the grounds.

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It probably would have been neat to experience a service there but we likely wouldn’t have been able to understand the language, anyway.The surrounding grounds, while not particularly expansive, are well decorated and feature multiple stelles and statues depicting various angels, the Virgin Mary, Disciples, and Jesus. We found a few people catching an afternoon nap here as well. It appeared that people were preparing some stands for Tet, which was a few days away.

~K~

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Happy Tet

Jade Emperor Pagoda

While scouring google maps for interesting locations near our apartment in Ho Chi Minh, we found a little Taoist temple not too far away. We had remembered seeing it mentioned somewhere else as well so we made note of it’s location and set off in search of the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Jade Pagoda

Finding the Jade Emperor Pagoda

We made our way down the road alongside the river channel. Upon hitting the bridge we turned down into the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Luckily the walk wasn’t too far, since the traffic was horrendous (as it always is). 

We turned down the side street and began to look for the entrance to the temple. We had read that it could be hard to find, and even many locals did not know about it, despite being in District 1. Within about a minute however, we came to the pink gate of the temple and entered.

Gate to the Pagoda from the inside

The Jade Emperor Pagoda (Phuoc Hai Tu) is a Taoist temple, constructed in 1909 by the Chinese.

It is located at 73 Road Mai Thi Luu, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.

Sound Washes Away

Almost immediately, the roar of engines and incessant honking of horns died away. The temple sat recessed among looming buildings. The front entry walk was canopied by great trees with a boulevard of stone seats leading to the open doorways. Many people were coming and going here.

Birds sat perched upon the center statue in the courtyard, and cats wandered underfoot along the edge of the compound. Can you spot one in the picture below?

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Incense Drifts Amongst the Trees

The smoke of incense drifted about as devotees lit numerous jos sticks and placed them standing up in a pot. Before the front of the door there was fountain and off to the right was a pond with dozens of turtles swimming about. Small shrines lay scattered about the grounds as well.

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Entering into the temple, the incense poured throughout. The hot sun shining thin beams through the thick haze showed intricate wood carvings on the doors, walls, ceilings, and arches. Gilded objects shone, whilst the quiet murmur of prayer floated throughout. The occasional chime or ring of a gong signaled the end to a prayer.

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Many Rooms of Devotion

We walked about the temple interior which was made up of a main central hall, and then several rooms off on each side with smaller altars. Each altar was different, but maintained a motif of intricate carvings and art, dedicated to Buddha. Before each altar, numerous offerings were placed, mostly of fruit, but various other items of consumption lay before them as well.

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Second Floor Views

There was also a second floor we made our way up to. The narrow stairs were almost too small for me to climb, I had to turn my feet sideways just to be able to use them. Up on the second floor, there was yet another altar and a balcony.

We made our way onto the balcony, which overlooked the courtyard and had a large pot of incense burning. We spent a few minutes admiring the temple up here before heading down.

Jade Emperor Pagoda
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Returning to the Streets

Slowly, we made our way out of the temple and back to the front gate. While certainly a small temple, there was something about it that felt more alive and authentic than other places we had visited. Perhaps it was the active use of it? It was dirty, but not in a bad way. It felt used and alive. Our visit only lasted perhaps 45 minutes, but it was worth checking out.

~K~

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