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Ik Chin team

Tour highlight: Northern Thailand – Chiang Mai and beyond

Many of us would have already been to Thailand, to the ever crowded city of Bangkok or one of the beach areas of Krabi and Phuket. This time we would like to recommend the northern region of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. It is not an unfamiliar destination for tourist, the historic cities need not much introduction. Famed for its preservation of ancient architecture and the large night markets filled with local food and handicrafts, it is a great place for a getaway if you would like an escape from the cities.

Many of you would have heard of Chiang Mai’s most famous temple – Wat Doi Suthep. Located up Doi Suthep hill, the temple is considered by the locals as one of the most sacred temples in the country and its stupa enshrines a piece of the Buddha’s shoulder bone relic. Pilgrims can choose to walk up the steps to the temple as a means to cleanse their thoughts before reaching the temple or to take a funicular to its entrance.

If you would be interested in joining us in our upcoming tour, one of the highlight is a night stay in Wat Thaton. Located near Thaton village, this temple is located up the mountains about 3 hours drive away from the city of Chiang Mai. The compounds of the temple stretches over a large mountainous area with a total of 9 levels. Located on one of the levels is a newly built crystal pagoda which houses many Buddha statues. On the top floor contains the Buddha relics where you can offer your prayers.

What we felt most special about the place is its tranquility. Waking up to a mountain top view away from all the noise and disturbances. It is also there where we will engage ourselves in some basic meditation, the perfect activity to make the trip to Wat Thaton complete.

View from Thaton Mountain

Another temple which I would like to bring your attention to is the White Temple in Chiang Rai. Just further north of Thailand lies the beautiful Wat Rong Khun. Covered in white the unique temple has unconventional ways to symbolize the teachings of Buddha. For example the bridge of the cycle of rebirth which represents transcending rebirth into a place free of suffering.  Other temples which might interest you include the blue temple and Chiang Mai’s Silver temple and Wat Chedi Luang.

White Temple Bridge of “Cycle of Rebirth”

Besides temples, also be sure to visit the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai in the Sukhothai Historical Park. One of the 3 sites of ruins from the kingdom which makes up the UNESCO Heritage City. Left with mostly stone foundations and pillars, it is left to your imagination what beauty it had been in the past. Nevertheless, it is still a great photo worthy location.

Sukhothai Historic Park

2 hours away from Chiang Mai is another city of interest – Lampang City. Also known as the horse carriage city, you can find horse carriages being used frequently as a means of transport. You should get the experience touring the city by riding on a horse carriage bringing you to see the older buildings of the city.

Horse Carriage in Lampang

There are many more activities to consider such as trekking, hot springs and gardens. With so much to see and do, you can easily spend more than a week traveling around the Northern Thailand region. Get your friends and family and start planning today!

A holiday for your soul – visiting the Buddhist temples in South Korea

We have all heard of the shopping haven of South Korea. A trip down to the capital of Seoul or to the coastal city of Busan and one will be able to satisfy your fix of cosmetics, clothes, and fashion accessories. For the foodies, you can easily get boxes of snacks from seaweed; chocolates and honey buttered almonds to be shipped back home. With all the trendy fashion and snacks all for grabs, no wonder South Korea is such a popular destination for travel.

However, South Korea is more than just a shopping paradise. Amid this land of countless material satisfaction, lie spots of serenity for soul searchers to gain peace spiritually. Located on these spots are Buddhist temples where fashion trends are left behind for practicality and complex taste buds for the natural. It is the reason to travel to the country for some.

Yakcheonsa Temple at Jeju Island

Brought over from China during the Tang dynasty, Buddhism in Korea mainly comes from the Zen branch of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism focuses on mindfulness through the practice of self-control. This is reflected on the appearance of its temples – clean, tidy and quiet. Despite its spaciousness, one can easily hear the chanting of the monks in the main hall even when you are 300m away. Just as you enter the temple premises, you will be influenced into a calm way of movement.

Buddha Statue at Gakwonsa

While most temples only have history of few hundred years (as compared to those in China), the temples stick to their traditions and rules. We could go on for a long time on the traditions of Korean Buddhism, however, I can introduce the Korea temple stay program as an alternative.

The temple stay program is created by the Buddhist council of South Korea and is jointly taken up by many temples across the country. Through the program, laymen like us will experience living in the temples, learning about their Buddhist traditions and life in the temple. You will be able to participate in activities such as meditation, chanting, tea ceremonies and temple meals. The program has thus far been popular among tourist, the curious and the inner peace seekers.  (You can check their website or talk to us if you wish to know more about the programs.)

As you enjoy the peace and quiet of the atmosphere or praying for good fortune, take some time to enjoy the wonderful architecture of the temples. These wooden structures follow the ancient building techniques similar in China and Japan which do not require a single nail to construct. Painted in various colours of green and blue, it looks different from its Chinese equivalent. If one were to observe, the Buddha statues have a little Korean touch added in its robes and facial hair. Topping up the looks of the temples are the rows and rows of lanterns hung within the main halls and the courtyard which are offered by the devotees. Together, they paint the serene temples in bright colours as in a dreamy paradise.

Visiting the Buddhist temples in South Korea is not just for the spiritual but also for seeking beauty. Beauty is also available in the night as all the lanterns are lit up, illuminating the temple in a sea of colours making them one of the best photo-worthy spots in South Korea at night.

So as you travel in South Korea, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the fashion streets and buying the trendiest of clothes. As you travel down the night markets and getting your hands on the spicy Tteok-bokki. As you sit with your loved ones in a café having a cup of coffee and chatting your hearts out. Remember to leave some time for serenity by visiting one of those welcoming yet quiet temples.