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EVERY YEAR, thousands of Buddhist devotees travel to some of the most stunning sacred sites to meditate and pray in conjunction with Wesak (or Vesak).
For the uninitiated, Wesak is a festival that commemorates the birth, enlightenment (Buddhahood), and death of Gautama Buddha. For Buddhists, it is the holiest day of the year.
It is traditionally observed by Buddhists and some Hindus in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia and the Philippines.
In China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, it is simply known as “Buddha’s Birthday”.
A Buddhist monk decorates a temple for Buddha’s Birthday celebrations in Changwon, South Korea. Source: Shutterstock.
Sometimes, different countries celebrate Wesak on different dates.
For example, this year, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia will observe it on May 29, while South Korea has celebrated it on May 3.
Whether you’re a devout Buddhist or a curious traveler, here are some of the most majestic spiritual places in Asia.
Thailand: Wat Rong Khun
Dubbed as “The White Temple”. Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai is more of a religious art piece than a historic site, but it’s still a marvel.
Owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Thai visual artist who designed and constructed it, the temple is spotless to a tee, symbolizing purity.
Still a work in progress, when completed, its compound will have nine buildings, including the existing ubosot, a hall of relics, a meditation hall, an art gallery, and living quarters for monks.
It is expected to be fully completed in 2070.
Indonesia: The Borobudur Temple
Built in the 9th century, the Borobudur temple was once abandoned in the 14th century before it was rediscovered in the 19th century.
Located along the scenic mountain ranges of Central Java, the Mahayana Buddhist temple consists is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.
After restoration in the 20th century, it earned its rightful inscription as a Unesco World Heritage site.
A tourist attraction, Borobudur remains a popular destination for pilgrimages.
Taiwan: Fo Guang Shan Monastery
Built into the mountain, the monastery of Fo Guang Shan, also known as “Buddha’s Light Mountain”, is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan.
Situated just outside Kaohsiung, the monastery is home to a 35-meter tall gold Buddha statue that is flanked by exquisite pagodas.
Fo Guang Shang museum’s Jade Buddha Shrine is purported to hold Buddha tooth relics, believed to have been saved from Tibet.
Its official motto reads, “May the Buddha’s Light shine upon the ten directions. May the Dharma stream continuously flow towards the five great continents.”
Nepal: Swayambhunath Shrine
Located atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, Buddhist Newars (a form of Vajrayana Buddhism practiced by the Newar people) believe the Swayambhunath Shrine is the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
The complex is home to a stupa and some shrines and temples that date back to the Licchavi (an ancient kingdom which exited from 400 to 750 CE) period.
A Tibetan monastery, museum, and library are more recent additions. as well as shops, restaurants, and hostels.
In 2015, Kathmandu was violently shaken by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake, but to the locals’ surprise, the Unesco World Heritage shrine withstood it.
Vietnam: Perfume Pagoda
Legend has it that over 2,000 years ago, a monk meditating in the area discovered the Huong Pagoda (Perfume Pagoda), a vast site of Buddhist temples and shrines.
Built into the limestone Huong Tich mountains, the center of this site is the Perfume Temple.
The Perfume Temple is located inside the Huong Tich Cave, where the stalagmites and stalactites are believed to contain special powers.
Today, the site draws large numbers of pilgrims from across Vietnam during Wesak and tourists all year round.
Hong Kong: Tian Tan Buddha (The Big Buddha)
Sitting amidst the lush mountains of Launtau Island in Hong Kong is the 34-meter tall Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha.
Completed in 1993, it is one of the five large Buddha statues in China, with its right hand raised to give blessings to all.
There are also three floors beneath the statue and one of the most renowned features inside is a relic of Gautama Buddha, which consists of some of his alleged cremated remains.
If you’d like to see the relic, you’d need to purchase an offering for the Buddha.
Luang Prabang: Wat Chom Si
Luang Prabang, which means Royal Buddha Image, is the ancient capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos.
Home to 58 villages with 33 belonging to the collective that earned Unesco World Heritage status, it was the royal capital of the country until 1975.
Luang Prabang is exceptionally famous for its many Buddhist temples and monasteries.
The tourist highlight of the city is Wat Chom Si, a temple that sits on Mount Phu Si in the heart of the old town of Luang Prabang.
Myanmar: Temples of Bagan
The dry, dusty plains of the Mandalay region of Myanmar is covered in 2,200 Buddhist temples that date back to the 11th century.
Built by the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar, the site used to have over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries.
The 2,200 temples and pagodas that still survive to the present day makes for an incredible landscape.
For surreal views, jump into the basket of a hot air balloon at sawn and soar above the domes.
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