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Joyous Feast in Batam 6-7 Janurary 2018

Happy New Year everyone! 2018 is here! How has everyone started their year?

For us at Ik Chin, we started the year of 2018 with the spirit of giving. Based on the wishes of our previous trip to Batam in 2017, we wanted to let the lower income locals enjoy a good meal. Therefore, we once again landed on this island with a mission. Many of us who frequent to the Island in Riau would have been there for the shopping, massage and the amazing food. While we still managed to get some of those during the tour, this time, our main purpose was for charity.

Joyous Feast in Batam

Our 2 days 1 night trip started straight on with our main event – a charity lunch with the locals in another of the Riau islands, Memory Island. In order to get there, we had to take another boat from a private harbour in Batam. The ride took about 30mins before reaching the harbour of Pulau Ngenang (the Indonesian name of the Island). There, the locals whom we have invited have gathered in the large field located next to their local primary school in song and dance. I for one did not expect to see such a set up for this event. Tables were set up by the locals where they sold some of their handmade handicrafts, snacks and drinks. Seats and a temporary shelter was set up for our arrival. We were each served 1 of their freshly cut coconuts as drinks. Such warm hospitality did not feel like we were the ones giving but on the receiving end instead.Batam dance performance

Selling snacks

The locals selling some snacks during the event

After some introduction and a dance performance by the local children, it was finally our turn. We have ordered 1300 packs of food to be given to the locals for lunch. These food was prepared by a local restaurant from the main island of Batam and shipped over. Besides that, we have also prepared 600 pails to be given to each family. In each pail contains daily necessities such as rice, sugar and snacks enough to provide the family for about 1 week. With the help of the village chiefs, coupons for the items were handed to the locals and they used them to exchange for food and the pails. Despite the hot weather and the lack of shelter, everyone of us worked tirelessly to give the food and the pails, powered by the smiles and laughter from the locals. The giving took us 3 hours and by then everyone’s faces were burning red from the sun.

600 Pails

Water bottles

Some extra gifts we got for the children from Singapore

We spent some time to tidy up the place while some of us joined them in their song and dance. Satisfied with our clean up work and seeing some of the villagers returning back to their homes, we took our leave by boat with the warm goodbyes and well wishes of the locals and village chief. The event took half a day and by the evening, we were comparing the new tans that we have all gotten. At night, most of us went for a well deserved body massage to prepare for another day of community work at a local temple before returning back to Singapore.

Giving Joyous Feast Batam

Our theme of this trip was to create a good start to the New Year for the locals. What we gave was not much. A simple meal by Singaporean standards but it was enough to put smiles on their faces. By giving them a joyous feast to enjoy with their loved ones at the start of the year, it represents our best wishes for them to have a good year ahead with their friends and family. Though our contribution might only go as far as a few days, our efforts were recognised by the local government. Since our first visit in 2017, the local government has made efforts to improve the conditions of Memory Island. They have since created a walking path from the village to the harbour and also make the island cleaner. Apparently, even the smallest of contribution can make an impact.

An initial count of the number of residents in Memory Island and the nearby islands were about 1600 which we were intending to cater to. However the recent counts during the coupon distribution amounted to about 1200. This was due to some of the residents staying in Batam for work. On the actual day, attendance however was lesser than 1000 with the absentees asking their family/friends to collect the food and pails on their behalf. We found that some of the locals from neighbouring islands could not join due to various reasons. They do not have the money to afford the boat ride while some others do not have decent clothing to wear.

The traditional fishermen's house

The traditional fishermen’s house

The locals of the island cluster around Memory Island are originally fishermen who live their lives at sea. They were then settled on to the land by the government who provided them with the homes. Unfortunately for us, we did not have the chance to visit their homes during the trip.

Here, we would also like to thank everyone from our friends, tour members and their friends and family for the contributions to make this trip possible and be as successful as it was. Thank you for allowing the Joyous Feast event in Memory Island to come to fruition. Let’s all continue to sow the seeds of giving!

To all our readers, have you started giving for 2018?

Chiangmai temple
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Why do we go overseas for Buddhist pilgrimage?

Northern Peak of Mt Wutai

Northern Peak of Mt Wutai, the mountain dedicated to 文殊菩萨 Manjushri Bodhisattva.

Why do we go overseas for Buddhist pilgrimage? Is it not the same if we do our prayers back in our own country in local temples or at home even? I guess that is one of the questions I have always been thinking of. Even though I am working in a travel agency which has been doing Buddhist tours for all this years, this question still comes back to me now and then. Having the opportunity to lead some of the Buddhist tours, took those chances to reflect on this burning question that I have.

Samaneras in line during a dana ceremony

Samaneras in line for a dana ceremony in Mahaganthayon Monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar

During these trips, we visited temples, did prayers and chants, made charitable acts such as donations and offerings to the monks and the poor. At the end of the day, we would also transferred the merits to all beings around us. As Buddhist, these activities may not seem unfamiliar as we do them even in our home country, our local temples or even at home.

Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum

Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, Kaoshiung, Taiwan

However I did notice something each time when we are overseas and it made all the difference.

Pilgrims at the Ramabhar Stupa

Pilgrims at the Ramabhar Stupa, the cremation site of the Lord Buddha in Kushinagar, India

Being miles away from our home and our normal lives, we have manage to leave most of our troubles behind. With our work being left on hold (at least we try to), with our household duties being done by our loved ones at home. With fewer worries and distractions to fill our hearts, we are able to put our best efforts and concentration to focus in prayer. Praying and at the same time cultivating ourselves to be a better person spiritually. The heart is calm. The people during such pilgrimage are able to overcome their inner demons and show the very best of themselves. Their hearts filled with joy and happiness being accompanied by people with similar feelings. It is always at such moments when I would be moved by their sincerity and faithfulness.

As I wipe off the tears forming at the corner of my eyes, I know then the reason why we hold our prayers overseas. Quietly, I placed my palms together and prayed…

 Maitreya Bodhisattva statue at Thiksey Monastery

Maitreya Bodhisattva statue at Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, India

Thank you for reading my humble thoughts on this. I am sure there are many other reasons that motivate each and everyone for going for such trips. What are your thoughts on going overseas for a pilgrimage? Please feel free to leave a comment below to share your thoughts with us!

All your comments are valuable to us! Who knows, your sharing might actually give us more insights. With these new insights, you may be able to help direct this little travel agency towards creating more happiness and more successful Buddhist pilgrimages for everyone in future.

With thanks.

Naejangsan Baekyangsa
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Add on a templestay to your holiday in South Korea this autumn!

Planning to visit South Korea during the autumn season to enjoy the foliage? Naejangsan is the most popular national park for the viewing the fall’s scenery. With the famous waterfalls of Dodeok and Geumseon in the vicinity, you could easily spend a relaxing full day immersed in nature and the beauty of autumn.

Naejangsan's Baekyangsa

Naejangsan’s Baekyangsa Temple

What would be interesting is to stay 1 night within the national park. We are now introducing a 1 night templestay program in Baekyangsa located within Naejangsan National park.

Templestay programs vary from the free style program to the temple life experience program to suit your needs depending on how you would like to spend your stay in the temple. For those looking to just breath the fresh autumn air in the national park of Naejangsan, you can opt for the free style program which includes free time for your own activities. While those looking to try out temple life can have try out all the activities in the temple life experience program. Activities like ringing the temple bells and making of the prayer beads will keep you occupied for the entire stay. Also, there is a special program for those who have a Saturday to spare, you can learn to cook Korean temple food with their head chef Sunim Jeong Kwan.

baekyangsa kitchen

Learn to cook temple food with Baekyangsa’s head chef Sunim Jeong Kwan

Enjoy the beauty of the crimson maple leaves and clean air for your coming trip to South Korea! Enjoy some clean eating with vegetarian temple food while you are at it too. Experience a templestay in South Korea today! It will definitely be a rejuvenating autumn you will find hard to forget.

The templestay program fare can be enrolled with us starting from a fee of $90. Click here for more information on the programs available. 

Laos
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Laos – It’s a magical place

About 270 days may have passed but I  can still remember the wonders of Laos. It was during my constant interactions with holiday goers that I found that while many have heard or thought of going to the country, they are still anticipative on what they will experience there. It is like a veil has been cast over Laos, keeping it mysterious and magical. Here, with my opinion, I hope to be able to let you in on its magic. Maybe, you will be travelling to Laos for your next holiday. As a first time traveler into Laos, cialisfrance24.com we spent 8 days, visiting Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang and Vang Vieng.

Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos. Like many other capital cities, Vientiane is the most urbanized city in the country. However, do not expect to see tall skyscrapers or office towers in the city. You will find rows of shop houses, street vendors and markets when you walk down the streets instead. Vientiane is home to 2 iconic monuments which I personally enjoyed visiting the Patuxay Monument and That Luang both worthy to be the National icon of Laos.

Laos Patuxay monument day & night

Patuxay monument in the day & night

Modeled after the Arc de Triomphe of France, the Patuxay monument has exquisite wall art and a marvel of a view at night. If you visit in the day, you can go to the top to view the city scape.

 

Laos That Luang

That Luang in Vientiane

That Luang the stupa made of gold, a grand site to take in. Under the late afternoon sun, it glimmers in glory.

Luang Prabang

Laos Luang Prabang View Resort Pool

Enjoy at one of the luxurious resorts in Luang Prabang

The UNESCO heritage town of Luang Prabang is the place for tourist. A little vacation town along the Mekong River with resorts ranging from 2 stars to 5 stars. For those looking for some pampering, you can book yourself into one of the 5 stars resorts to enjoy some spa treatment and their recreational amenities. Besides, the town also offers many interesting activities like offering alms, cruising along the river, trekking and even cooking classes. With a culture similar to Thailand, you can expect to find many Thai like cuisines and night market shopping.

 

Laos Luang Prabang Morning Market

The local morning market

Laos Kuangsi Waterfalls

Enjoy a visit to the waterfalls during the year end

Some things that I feel that you cannot miss while you are there, a visit to their Morning market, night market and visiting the famous Kuangsi Waterfalls.

Xieng Khouang

Laos Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars

The mountainous province of Xieng Khouang is best known for the Plain of Jars, a large piece of land with stone jars of various sizes scattered all over with its origins still unknown. A mysterious site to explore with a little bit of danger. Laos is known as the most heavily bombed country in the world and many were left undetonated. While there are huge efforts to remove these bombs, there are still many at large, posing a risk to the unsuspecting people. At the plain of jars, you can see areas demarcated by tapes, signifying the danger areas which not been cleared of bombs. That is probably the closest I have been to bombs in my life!

Laos Plain of Jars bomb crater

The journey by road to Xieng Khouang is really long (about 6 hours) and winding as we drove along the mountain roads. It is best for you to pack some motion sickness pills if you are prone to it. Though the ride was tough, I was distracted by what I found the most beautiful ride in Laos. Along the way, just sit back and appreciate the great nature with all the mountain top views of the enduring mountain range and valleys.

Laos scenery along the way

View from one of the toilet stops along the road

Vang Vieng

Laos Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon, the water playground

The last town I visited was Vang Vieng, a small riverside town for those looking for an active holiday. The town offers water activities such as tubing and kayaking along the river. You can also take a dip in the Blue Lagoon which also offers zip lining. For those with a higher budget, you could also enjoy a hot air balloon ride to catch a scenic sunset beyond the rocky surroundings. It is one of the things I wish I had done when I was there. For those interested in culture or history sites, Vang Vieng does not offer much. However, you can visit the numerous caves some of which were used as Buddhist temples.

Laos Sunset Hot air balloon

Wishing i was taking that ride too

During the evening, the riverside comes to life as a place to go to enjoy the night. There are plenty of outdoor dining option which allows you to sit along the river and enjoy a drink and some barbecue with your friends and family.

Laos Vang Vieng Dinner by the river bank

Dinner by the river bank

With the tons of things I could do and see and with food that is easily liked by my Singaporean palette, Laos is definitely a country I enjoyed thoroughly. A place where you will not see the tall metal building, you can easily forget the fast paced life of Singapore. With just the right amount of technology to keep you connected to people back at home (yes they have wifi). It is definitely my pick to enjoy a laid back holiday not too far off from home.

…and just when you think you have seen all the tricks there is in Laos, there is always Southern Laos where there is more magic waiting to wow you.

 

Check out our available tours to Laos here. If you would like to know our 8 days Laos itinerary, you can check it here. Itineraries are available on a 2-to-go private tour.

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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 Thailand: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai and Lampang. 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.

Northern Thailand Chiang Mai

Wat Doi Suthep

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.

Wat Thaton

If you would be interested in joining us in our upcoming tour to Northern Thailand, 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.

Northern Thailand Thaton

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.

Northern Thailand Chiang Rai

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.

Northern Thailand Sukhothai

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.

Northern Thailand Lampang

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!

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A holiday for your soul – 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 Buddhist Temple

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, you 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.

South Korea Gakwonsa Buddha statue

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 you 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.

Buddhist Temple lanterns

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.

If you are interested in joining others in this experience, check out our available tour here.

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