Brother Phil and I arrived last night in Siem Reap and spent our first day visiting temples. This is the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, a large area enclosed by a moat that was established in the 12th century and served as the capital city of the Khmer empire of the time. I learned a great deal today – more than I could absorb really – about the tensions between Hinduism and Buddhism that characterized much of the history of the Khmer civilization and are reflected in the construction of temples like this one and the sculptures and bas-relief carvings that decorate the temples. This trip is a short visit (three and a half days) to an area filled with ancient temples and ruins – enough time to get little more than a taste. And of course, some of that time will go to shooting photos.
Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam bear a resemblance to pagodas in China with one significant difference – the dragons decorating the roof tops. Virtually every pagoda in Vietnam has dragon decorations on the roof tops; they give Vietnamese pagodas their distinctive style. As far as I know, Buddhist temples elsewhere have nothing comparable. Late afternoon light on a crystal clear day has the roof top dragons at this small temple almost glowing. The Chinese characters say something like “golden hall of the ancestors”, but I am not sure of the Vietnamese name of this Da Nang pagoda.
A friend visiting from Thailand and I took a day trip to My Son, a UNESCO world heritage site about 80 km south of Da Nang. My Son was an important temple complex of the Champa Kingdom that existed in central and southern Vietnam from roughly 300 to 1700 CE. The Cham civilization was Indianized and the temples at My Son celebrate Hindu deities. For many years the Cham and the Vietnamese moving south from the area surrounding modern Hanoi contested the central part of what is now Vietnam. The Vietnamese eventually prevailed and the Champa Kingdom disappeared. The Cham people were assimilated into Vietnamese society, influencing the development of Vietnamese culture in the process. The temple pictured is one of a group of structures built in the 11th to 13th centuries CE.
The Bửu Đài Sơn pagoda, which is located across from the beach north of downtown, is one of Danang’s lesser known Buddhist sites. There were several Vietnamese inside when I visited, but not a foreign tourist in sight. I could not find any English language information about this place when I searched online. The place catches your eye when you ride by and this time I decided to walk inside. Bửu Đài Sơn is a good example of the extent to which Buddhist temple architecture in Vietnam has taken its cue from China. The design of the building is clearly Chinese in origin, very different in appearance from the many Buddhist wats I visited in Thailand. The fat Budai, sometimes called the Fat Buddha or Laughing Buddha, sitting in front of the temple also originated in China. The magnificent dragons decorating the Chinese styled roof of the temple are, however, distinctly and uniquely Vietnamese. I am finding this often to be the case in Vietnam: whether it is the way people behave and interact, traditional architecture and design or cultural patterns, there is broad similarity with China and things Chinese, but the details are very much Vietnamese, often delightfully so.
The centerpiece of Wat Chedi Luang, which according to its Wikipedia entry, means the temple of the big stuppa is this enormous stuppa in the center of the temple complex. Construction was begun by one of the Lanna kings in the 1300s, though the stuppa was not completed until the mid-fifteenth century, only to be damaged by an earthquake one hundred years later. A restoration was undertaken in the 1990s, though this has been the subject of controversy as some claim new elements in the reconstruction are in the Central Thai style, not Lanna style. Well, it’s all Thai to me. I felt quite fortunate to get a group of young monks in the foreground instead of a crowd of Chinese tourists.
In addition to being a very striking building, the library at Wat Phra Singh is an example of classical Lanna architecture, or so I have read. Before the modern Thai state began to take shape in the late 18th century, a Lan Na kingdom centered in Chiang Mai ruled much of the northern part of what is now Thailand. The history is complex and I certainly only know the barest outline. But Lanna as a tradition (and a marketing buzzword) is alive and well in Chiang Mai today – Lanna architecture, Lanna style, Lanna cuisine, Lanna massage, et cetera, et cetera… Be that as it may, Wat Phra Singh has one cool library building.
Wat Phra Singh is a large, wealthy temple complex in the center of Chiang Mai’s old city. I walked in when the apprentice monks were being led by elder monks in chants in the largest of the temples. I wanted a picture or two, but about the time I got ready to point and shoot, the chanting stopped and everybody got up and filed out of the temple. I did, however, get a number of images of the grounds, of which this is one.