Find your center at these temple stays in Asia
SOME people travel for leisure, some travel seeking adventure, and some to get away personal harsh realities.
For the latter type of travelers, finding inner peace and recentering themselves is what drives them to get on a flight and escape for a little while.
And that’s where temple stays open up opportunities.
In certain parts of Asia, temple stay programs exist with the aim to help travelers connect with themselves by giving them a taste of quiet life. And in countries where Buddhism is still widely practiced, some temples have opened up to offer their facilities to curious travelers.
Most temples or monasteries are located in the rural or remote areas (think places near a forest or somewhere up in the hills) so they’re far from the crowds. Even those in town are designed to block out the noise from the hustle and bustle outside.
Temples are often neither gender-biased nor religion-biased. In fact, these centuries-old establishments, with vast tracts of land and beautiful gardens, are for more than just prayer and worship.
In the past, the temples used to offer accommodation for travelers and pilgrims when they would stop at the temples midway through their journey.
Some provide schools for children and in Thailand, the Tham Krabok Temple‘s monks and nuns help people overcome their addictions.
In Japan, temples have begun to offer their facilities for lodging, known as shukubō, for tourists.
The initiative is the brainchild of Japanese startup Wa-Qoo, which sees it as an opportunity following the implementation of the new law for minpaku last month.
Although the law clamps down on private lodging services like Airbnb, it allows private residences and other non-commercial facilities to be used as accommodation, as long as they are registered with the local authorities.
Cue the over 70,000 temples across the country.
“Osaka-based Wa-Qoo said it is teaming up with Japanese e-commerce operator Rakuten and the Netherlands-based travel booking site Booking.com to bring more tourists to the country’s temples,” Nikkei Asian Review reported.
Along with Japan, here are some temple stays in Asia worth considering:
With more than 50 temples in the vicinity, Koyasan (Mount Koya) in Wakayama Prefecture to the south of Osaka is one of the best places in the country to experience temple stay.
The settlement is in the center of Shingon Buddhism, a prominent Buddhist sect which was introduced in Japan in 805.
The original Garan temple complex was built in 826 by Kobo Daishi, a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist.
It has since grown into the town of Koya, featuring a university dedicated to religious studies and 120 sub-temples.
Many of these temples offer lodging to pilgrims.
Koyasan is also the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
In 2004, Unesco listed Koyasan as one of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” World Heritage Sites.
Price: Between JPY9,000 (US$79.75) to JPY15,000 (US$132.92) per person per night, including dinner and breakfast.
Nepal: Kopan Monastery
Just north of the ancient Buddhist town of Boudhanath is the Kopan hill, where the Tibetan Buddhist monastery Kopan Monastery is located.
The monastery is easily recognized as it’s dominated by a magnificent and symbolic Bodhi tree.
For the uninitiated, Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism, achieved enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree.
Kopan Monastery was once the home of the astrologer to the king of Nepal.
In 1969, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international network of Gelugpa dharma centers, bought the property and established the monastery.
Today, the monastery is home to Lamas, teachers, workers, and monks from all areas of Nepal and Tibet.
Its doors are open to visitors who want to stay to attend courses and learn meditation to develop their hearts and minds.
Cost: Dorm beds are US$1.50, private rooms start at US$8.50. Bring your sleeping bag.
Booking: Kopan Monastery.
South Korea: Woljeongsa
Temple stays in South Korea are a dime a dozen, but no two are the same.
Rich in sprawling nature and four very distinct seasons, it’s essential to choose one in a location and with activities that appeal to you.
One of the most breathtaking temples that offer temple stay programs is Woljeongsa, located two hours away from Seoul.
Tucked behind a fir tree forest on the eastern slopes of Odaesan mountain in Gangwon-do, Woljeongsa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
It was founded in 643 by the Silla monk Jajang, and it’s particularly famous for its iconic nine-story pagoda.
The temple’s quiet surroundings allow visitors to embrace the slower-paced way of life while immersing themselves in activities such as meditation, prayer bead threading, having tea with monks, and communal work.
Physical activities such as walking through the fir tree forest and trekking by the Odaecheon stream while experiencing the Buddhist culture will help lead visitors on a journey of self-discovery.
Cost: KRW50,000 (US$43.94) onwards.
Booking: Templestay Center.