Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vihara Sien Temple & Buddha Mountain

 Located about 30km outside of Pattaya is Vihara Sien (a.k.a. Anek Kusala Sala), a rather psychedelic and kitschy Chinese-style temple housing Tang dynasty bronze statues. In the forecourt the giant statues look like enormous chess set pieces. Who built it, when and why is a bit of a mystery; but regardless it’s a nice place to visit for an hour.
After purchasing, Bht 50, an entry ticket one is free to wander the fairly extensive grounds, comprising and outdoor garden/patio and the main building with three floors; filled to the brim with Chinese statues, curios and artefacts. The view from the top floor is really stunning; you can scan the whole surrounding rural neighbourhood.
There are probably as many Buddha images in Thailand as there are people. Unlike most Buddha images, the largest is not a statue, but a cliff face inlaid with gold leaf in the outline of a sitting, Sukhothai-era Buddha. It is 130 meters tall, 70 meters wide, and can be seen from miles away. The image and mountain are alternately referred to as "Buddha Mountain", Khao Chee Chan, or "Phra Phuttha Maha Vachira Utta Mopas Sasada". The mountain is a good place to stop on your way to or coming from Nong Nooch Gardens as it is only 7 kilometers away and just down the road from Vihara Sien. It makes for a great day trip.
Buddha Mountain has a compelling history. During the Vietnam War, the Thai navy was permitted to mine the mountain for stone to be used at nearby U-Tapao Airfield, then an American base. The stone was also used to build a road from Sattahip to Chachoengsao. After the war, the mountain was illegally mined for stone to be sold to construction companies.
In 1976, His Majesty King Bhumibol put a stop to the mining. At his suggestion, his children created the Buddha image to commemorate his 1996 Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of his accession. Experts from the Department of Geological Resources and the nearby Asian Institute of Technology headed up the construction. Using American laser technology, the carving was completed in two days, but months were required to fill the resulting grooves with gold. The cost of the entire project was about 150 million baht (over $US3 million).
Signs point you graciously to the most scenic viewpoint of the image and to the "homage paying area". Directly in front of the cliff face are shrines, elaborate gardens, and a number of terraced pools stocked with lotus flowers. Pains have been taken to make Buddha Mountain a quiet, contemplative place. Entry is free but you may have to battle with some large tour groups for your prime photo-taking spot and serenity!
Next to here is the Silver Lakes Vineyard, with loads of fields full of grapevines, they have an area where you can buy wines, jams, biscuits, cakes and more feature grapes. If you actually wanted to stay in this area or chill out, next door are some quaint guest houses called ‘The Movie Houses @ Silverlake’ where you can kick back and relax on a bed or sofa with your mates, a good DVD and a bottle or two wine.

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