Category Archives: Temples

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

Wat Pathum Bangkok Thailand

Peace In Chaos

A trip to the heart of Bangkok will take you some of the highest-end malls and to some wonderful parks, and as you walk down Rama I road, you won’t be able to not notice the beautiful white walls and shining gold of Wat Pathumwanaram Ratcha Wora Vihan – or Wat Pathum for short. We stumbled across this Buddhist temple on accident while we were visiting the Siam Paragon Mall, and we saw the tell-tale roofs of a Buddhist temple.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The temple is medium size, though it seems dwarfed by the massive malls and skyrail station beside it. The grounds of the temple stand as a quiet respite to the bustling cosmopolitan surroundings.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The temple was founded in 1857 by King Rama IV as a place to worship near the Sa Pathum Palace. At the time, the area was only simple rice fields, but today it stands in one of the busiest parts of the city.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The ashes of Thai Royal Family members from the line of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej lie at the temple. The temple also served as a safe zone during the 2010 crackdown on Red Shirts anti-government protesters.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

The temple is simple, yet elegant and you can quietly slip away from the city here. If you’re passing by, it’s well worth a visit. There is no entrance fee, but of course, you are always welcome to place a donation at a til box.

Wat Pathum Wanaram

Find It:

969 Rama 1 Rd, Pathumwan,, Khwaeng Pathum Wan, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330, Thailand

~K~

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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Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest (Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana)

While we spent the majority of our one week in Bali in the town of Kuta, we did make a day trip up to Ubud. We really wanted to see a few things there, but ultimately ended up only really getting to see the Ubud Monkey Forest – Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana.

A quick pit-stop to develop some pictures

We started our day off quite early as it was a long ride to Ubud from Kuta. Leaving around 8am, we started off towards Colour Digital Photo Lab to pick up some film Briana had dropped off on an earlier outing to Tanah Lot. It went much speedier this time, since we did not get lost (yet). After getting the film, we then proceeded up towards Ubud.

The ride was relatively easy, although it did require constant checking of the GPS. The roads were always having little turns to them, and nothing was labeled very simply. The best indicator we were going in the right direction was that we were traveling north and uphill. I knew that was the direction of Ubud.

Occasionally, we’d see a sign. I’m pretty sure we technically got lost a few times because the GPS would not know where we were. Luckily, Briana managed to keep up on track and around noon we finally managed to arrive.

Grabbing a bite to eat

We were very hungry, so made a b-line to Earth Cafe. Briana read that it offered good vegetarian options at a fair price so we decided that was where we should go. We were moderately surprised to find that it was the exact same menu as the Zula Vegetarian in Kuta.

Upon finishing our meal, we rode about 3 minutes to the entrance of the Monkey Forest. Parking was a bit confusing, as there seemed to be several lots, all for cars, but none for bikes.

A winding “road” to park

An attendant directed us towards a small alley looking path for us to go. It ended up being a very long and very narrow path through steep twists and turns – a little harrowing, but fun – that eventually put us at the main entrance as well as the bike parking.

Path To Parking
Parking

Get In

We purchased our tickets to enter the temple for 40,000 IDR (~$3.00) each. The first warnings upon entering the park, and posted all throughout as well, is to not have food with you. And if you do have food and a monkey wants it, that food now belongs to the monkey.

The monkeys are fierce, and although they appear cute and fun loving, they are also mischievous little fiends. There were a few occasions they tried to sneak up and grab the bag when we put it down for a rest to grab water.

Paying
Monkey and Baby

All about the monkeys

The sacred Ubud Monkey Forest Sanctuary is populated by over 600 Balinese Long-Tailed Macaques. The monkeys belong to one of five groups, each which occupies it’s own territory throughout the park. The park itself is not that large, and only supports such a large number due to human interaction. As a result, conflicts between the different troops frequently occur. During the dry season, some troops have to cross into other territories to get water.

The monkeys are fed a primary diet of sweet potatoes by staff three times a day, and tourists can purchase bananas to feed to the monkeys. They also received papaya, corn, coconut, and other fruits.

Monkeys Eating
Monkeys
Monkeys Drinking From Water Fountain

Monkey obesity has become a problem for them. They have access to so much food as well as stealing junk food from tourists (such as chips).

Lazing Around
Monkey with Chips bag

The Monkey Forest is very large

The temple complex covers about 27 acres and contains three Hindu temples constructed in approximately 1350 CE. Tourist may not enter the temples themselves, unless they intend to actually pray and use the temples for their intended purposes. But otherwise, you may wander the compounds and look about as you please.

Temple Map

There is the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal – the Great Temple of Death. It is the main temple in the southwestern part of the park. Here patrons worship the god Hyang Widhi in the personification of Shiva.

Temple

The Pura Beji, or Beji temple is in the northwestern part of the park and worships Hyang Widhi in the personification of Gangga. It is a Holy Spring for bathing and spiritual cleansing.

Temple

The Pura Prajapati is located in the northeastern park of the park, to worship Hyang Widhi in the personification of Prjapati. A cemetery lies across from this temple, where the dead are buried and then later cremated.

Cemetery
Temple

The park is very mountainous, full of jungles, and contains a ravine with a rocky stream. All of which can be visited.

Jungle
Bridge Over Ravine
Going Down a Path

Very odd statues to say the least

One of the most interesting thing about the temple though, is the statues. We can’t believe that upon prior research, and researching afterwards as well, that we could find no information whatsoever regarding the statues and carvings.

Cow Statue

They are interesting to say the least.

Statue

With many venturing into disturbingly sexual and erotic imagery.

Creepy Sexual Statue
Weird Sex Statue
Weird Statue
Really Creepy Statue
Um...

Others are just downright violent.

Violent Statue
Creepy Statue

The best explanation we could find is that imagery is meant to depict and satisfy demons so that they won’t bring misfortune to the living. But perhaps the artists were just a bit disturbed. We’ll leave the answer up to you. Regardless, we wouldn’t recommend bringing young or impressionable children here…

Pig Sex

The area also has an amphitheater for various shows that may be put on.

Amphitheater

There is also a less dense forested area with information about the trees.

Briana On a Swing

In search of waterfalls

Once we left the forest, we tried our best to find a waterfall about 30 minutes drive east. My phone was almost dead and not wanting to have the GPS work. We got close, but ultimately never did make it. We got a few great shots of a volcano however and a wonderful look into local Balinese life.

I ultimately decided to give up, with the sun beginning to sink and knowing we had a long way to go, and a decent amount of driving in the dark to do. Briana was upset, because she is sure she could have directed us to the waterfall (we were very close admittedly), but it is what it is.

Highway Gate
Rural Bali

Getting back was not quite as simple. We had made some weird turns, but ultimately just headed south towards Denpasar knowing we could figure out how to get to Kuta from there. My phone was dead by this point.

Watch out for cops

The ride went smooth mostly. I got caught by a cop at a check-point, who promptly pointed out my license did not allow me to drive a motorbike. He asked me who rented the bike, and when I replied our AirBNB host, he just sighed and rolled his eyes. He told us, “Get a license tomorrow.” and then shooed us on our way. I really thought we were going to have to bribe our way out of it.

As we approached town, the sun was almost set, and we didn’t know how to get back properly. We pulled over at a Circle K, got a drink and charged my phone for about thirty minutes. It wasn’t much, but it got my phone back up to 20% and gave our sore butts a rest from the bike. We then headed off, through the dark and finally wound up about an hour later back at our AirBNB.

~K~

Monkey Temple Monkey Statue

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

Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple

Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital in the northern part of the country. Existing for over a thousand years, and celebrating its millennium in 2010. While the city is divided into many districts, there are a few that travelers will most likely travel through. One of the most distinct and vibrant of these districts is the Old Quarter or Hoan Kiem District with Hoan Kiem Lake being the centerpiece.

On the bridge

A Magical Sword, a Golden Turtle, and A Dragon King

The name derives from local legend. Emperor Le Loi was supposedly given a magic sword from the Dragon King to help during the revolt against Ming China. Several years later, after victory against the Chinese, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked for the magic sword back.

Concluding that the turtle was reclaiming the sword for his master the Dragon King, Emperor Le Loi returned the sword. The emperor then renamed the lake from Luc Thuy (green water) to Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake).

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A Green Lake of Turtles

Today, the lake remains a vibrant green, with the Turtle Tower residing on a small island near the center of the lake. Large soft shell turtles have been seen in the lake for many years – however they are dying out. The last known wild turtle was found dead in January, 2016. 3 turtles of the species remain.

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Ngoc Son Temple

On a larger island in the northern end of the island resides Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain). The temple was erected in the 18th century to commemorate the 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao who fought against the Yuan Dynasty of China. The temple also commemorates a scholar Van Xuong, and a Confucian Master Nguyen Van Sieu.

Temple Entrance

You can access the island via the Huc Bridge (Morning Sunlight Bridge), a bright red bridge of traditional Vietnamese design. Entry to the temple costs 30,000 Dong each (~$1.50).

The bridge

Small Yet Satisfying

While the temple is small, it certainly has a charm to it. The island is surrounded with Banyan trees, whose roots and limbs seem to form a wall of tranquility from the energy of the surrounding city. You’ll find gardens, pagodas, and bonsai trees surrounding the temple itself.

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Back of the temple
Wandering

There Are Always Cats

Within the temple, there is a shrine, a gift shop, and a small room of information in regards to the turtle and legend. If you’re lucky you’ll come across the island’s resident kitty. We didn’t disturb it as it was sleeping in a loaf when we were there.

Kitty loaf

Need To Know

Surrounding the lake is the Hoan Kiem District, or Old Quarter. Here you’ll find a good many of the cities tourist spots including the Water Puppet Theater and Women’s Museum. As well, you’ll find great food ranging from high-end to street vendor, authentic local to western or corporate.

This district is also a bit on the hectic side. Immediately surrounding the lake is a large sidewalk on to stroll along. However, venture just a bit past it and you’re walking through the traffic. But it’s certainly worth it to discover the many treasures here, including a fabulous street full of art galleries. Just be sure to mind your feet and watch your step.

~K~

The Lake

Temple of Literature

Near the southern edge of Hanoi’s Old Quarter lies the Temple of Literature. This temple dedicated to Confucius was built in 1070 CE. It features on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong banknote.

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Getting Into The Temple Of Literature

The compound is quite expansive, containing five courtyards and ponds. Visitors pay 30,000 Dong (~$1.50) each to enter and see the temple. If you want, you can purchase a map or get a guided tour for an extra fee. We elected to just wander around ourselves.

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First Courtyard

Upon entering, you find the first courtyard stretching for several hundred feet, with gardens to the side. The design is simple, yet elegant. It is quite peaceful. At the end of the first courtyard, you cross through a gate, to which you will then enter the second courtyard.

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Second Courtyard

The second courtyard contains the “Constellation of Literature Pavilion”. The pavilion sits atop four white stilts, and is topped by red circular windows with an elaborate roof. A bronze bell hangs inside and ringing on special occasions. In this courtyard, as in the first, you can find topiaries of the twelve zodiac animals.

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Third Courtyard

Proceeding on, we found the third courtyard – the “Well of Heavenly Clarity”. This courtyard has a large square pond in the center, with two halls on the side housing treasures of the temple. As well, you can find the Stelae of Doctors. in 1484, the King Le Thanh Tong erected 116 blue stone carved turtles to honor talent and study.

The temple has been used since it’s construction for the training of scholars and testing of public officials. Exams were taken here, and those that passed had their names engraved forever upon the stone turtles.

People might take testing a bit more seriously today if our names were going to be engraved in a temple for people to see centuries later. Today 1307 graduates of 82 triennial royal exams are on display, with 82 stelae still remaining.

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Dai Thanh Sactuary

The fourth courtyard houses the Dai Thanh sanctuary. The sanctuary honors Confucius and his four closest disciples as well as ten honored philosophers. There are gift shops in this section of the temple, as well as few snacks to be purchased.

There was also a display of instruments within the building. A few people were testing out the instruments. I ended up trying to play the Dan Bau on display. I don’t know if I was really allowed, but no one got mad. Someone there tried to show me the correct way – I gave up quick because it’s way harder than it looks. Briana wasn’t happy with me getting on the stage and playing around up there. It had been months since I played an instrument though, and my fingers were itching to play.

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The Final Courtyard

The fifth and final courtyard houses the large building with shrines within and a second floor dedicated to the three monarchs who contributed to the foundation of the temple and the academy. The courtyard also houses 25 dormitories, a store house, and a drum room.

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Although the temple is no longer in use for it’s initial purposes, it still operates ceremoniously at times. The most notable of which is before Tet, during which calligraphists will make write good luck wishes Han characters and given away as gifts. Outside of the temple is a public park with many badminton courts to play on.

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The Temple of Literature is a lovely way to spend an afternoon and well worth the visit. Allot yourself about an hour and half to do it justice and take it at an easy pace. There is a lot of walking to do considering the temple is very long and narrow.

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Bonsai Trees

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Cool Banyan Tree

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Rub the turtle for good luck.

~K~

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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).

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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.

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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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