(Nearly-)Religious Experiences in Asia

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

If you’ve traveled in Asia, what’s your favorite destination? Share a story of one of your best experiences in Asia, or tell us about a place you love.

really? you’re going to make me choose? i’ve only recently started traveling to Asia (other than a couple trips to Hong Kong growing up, as that’s where my parents are from): Beijing/Great Wall in 2010, the Angkor Region of Cambodia last August, and Japan in November. each of those alone was amazing, and i’m not sure i can pick just one to highlight, especially since my options are limited and those destinations were chosen with the intent of having stories to tell.

there are three places, though, that i could spend countless hours in:

Bayon

all y’all must get tired of me talking about this, but this is my favorite temple in the Angkor area. it’s like being surrounded by a couple hundred Faces of Boe, but a lot less creepy. in fact, there’s this serene benevolence that adds a palpable sense of mysticism to what otherwise would be “any ol'” Angkor temple.

Bayon

 

Hakone

i did the Hakone Round Course as an overnight trip on my way from Tokyo to Kyoto. i am not sure what it was — the funicular, the ropeway with soaring views of Mount Fuji, the steaming mountainside of Owakudani (eat those black eggs!), the breathtaking Open Air Museum filled with modern sculpture, or the pirate ship ride across Lake Ashinoko — my first impression of Japanese countryside and fall foliage after being in the urban jungle of Tokyo was absolutely breathtaking.

PROTIP: if you want a treat, take advantage of Fujiya Hotel’s Special Hospitality Plan for non-Japanese passport holders. they have a very small (5?) number of rooms set aside for just $133 per night (based on the number of years the hotel has been in existence, so it will change annually). not only do you get to spend the night in a historic grand hotel, but a morning walk in their Japanese garden is a great way to start your day. also, they had the most amazingly fast (free) in-room internet. even up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains i got speeds faster than i could ever get at home.

From Owakudani to Ubako, Mt. Fuji in the distance

One of a handful of stray kitty cats I saw near the lake

 

The Okunoin Graveyard and Torodo Hall, Koyasan

walking the two-kilometer path through the forest cemetery (the largest cemetery in Japan) during the day and again at night are two soul-moving pilgrimages. midday, being surrounded by 200,000 tombstones amongst towering grand old trees filtering the sunlight, finally reaching the Hall of Lamps (after passing through many clearly-significant religious sites and devout adherents paying their respects), your heart is filled with awe. at night (be sure to go once during the daytime beforehand so you’re not caught by surprise at the length of the trek), with dim lights illuminating the path every now and then, you’re not filled with dread and fear as much as you are with a sense of reverence and somewhat otherworldly spirituality. combined, it is possibly the closest this devout atheist could ever say he has felt to a religious experience in his life. if you go, definitely stay overnight at a temple: lodging like no other where they serve you food like no other (quite yummy)!

The cemetery

An old mausoleum

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6 thoughts on “(Nearly-)Religious Experiences in Asia

  1. Totally agree, everyone talks about Angkor Wat (and Ta Prohm of Tomb Raider fame) but the Bayon –with Buddha facing all four directions–blew my mind.

    The Tian Tan Buddha also had the same effect on me. I’m no Buddhist but there’s something about a giant outdoor buddha sitting on top of a mountain. 🙂

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