On top of Phnom Kulen sits Preah Ang Thom, a 16th century Buddhist monastery famous for its giant reclining Buddha, one of Cambodiaâ€™s largest. The Buddha is carved into the top of the huge sandstone boulder upon which the temple is built. The view from up there is equally magnificent.
Phnom Chhnork is a limestone mountain which rises above the flat plateau outside charming Kampot town. A 203 steps stairway leads up to a cave with a pre-Angkor (7th-century) temple inside. It is built in bricks and dedicated to Shiva, with a stalagmite inside acting as a phallic altar. Phnom Sidaoun, which lies on the same dirt road but a bit before Phnom Chhnork, is a small cave complex next to a working stone quarry. There is a recent image of Buddha and some cave passages. Local kids are happy to act as your local guides. Outside, numbing stone beating is going on, which is all done by hand by skinny elders - it is depressing to watch but is unfortunately part of life in poor Cambodia.
Phnom Sorsia is a small mountian rising from the flat farmland outside Kampot. There is a monastery at the foot and a small colorful temple on the top along with stupas. The mountain also has some cool caves passages where you can see bats. The great thing about this place compared to Phnom Sidaoun, Phnom Chhnork and Wat Kiri Sela, is that it is a working monastery, so there will be young novice monks hanging around. As with the other places, you will very likely be greeted by some young kid who will tag along as your guide - whether you like or not. But they do know the caves, so it might not be such a bad idea.
Hidden inside a hollow mountain, this cave temple is half tourist attraction and half sacred place. You enter the temple through the "dragon's mouth", a cave passage that will take you to the "dragon's stomach", a hidden valley with tall trees. Self-announced local guides will tag along and energetically point out different rock formations. There are a small pond and some newer Buddha statues, including a reclining Buddha which is a remake of the original one the Khmer Rouge destroyed. In the back of one of the caves, a stalagmite is acting as a Buddha statue and is considered equally divine.
The ancient capital of China holds a treasure of more than 51,000 stone Buddha reliefs and figures. Carved into the mountain wall, they range from thumb-size to 17 meters colossuses. The variations are dazzling: sitting, standing, dancing, colourful, worn and smiling Buddhas. Originally all covered, the sandstone has washed away in places leaving the huge Buddha in the blazing sun. These are the oldest stone carvings in China. Monks have carved the many figures as part of meditation in the secluded caves. Here you may come to terms with the concept of the "thousand Buddhas", symbolizing the Buddha's omnipresence through time and space. The surrounding area is covered in coal-dust, true mining-China.
Time spent travelling in Tibet guarantees you will emerge with interesting insights into the rituals of Buddhism. Some of them can be quite confronting such as the prostrating pilgrims you'll see along the roads, who may be years into their pilgrimage. While others, like the monks at the Sera monastery seem a lot more positive. At first you'll be unsure of exactly what they are doing! Are they acting? Are they fighting? Are they dancing? Well, apparently they're debating. However, we are not exactly sure how a discussion about Buddhist scriptures benefits from all the wild hand slapping and gesticulating that goes on in Tibet's Sera Monastery. Regardless of why, it makes for an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
When you come to Leshan and see the Giant Buddha, you do not doubt the fact that it is the tallest Buddha in the world. At 71 m tall he sits, carved out of the rock face where the Dadu river meets the Min river. The construction started 713 AD and it took more than 90 years to finish him. So if you come to Chengdu, swing by for a visit, for it is one of those sights that fully live up to their reputation. Just do not come on a holiday, where half of Chengdu seems to be out here.
If you are curious about Tibetan Buddhism or want relive the sounds, smells and sights from your Tibetan trip, visit the Lama Temple. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Beijing and an important one too. It was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty and survived the culture revolution by being protected by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai - or so it's said. Lama Temple is a full and functional Buddhist lamasery with monks and revolving prayer wheels. There are five main halls, who all have different purposes and Buddha statues. The final hall houses a 26 m (18 m above ground) tall wooden Buddha statue that has been carved from a single trunk of sandalwood. Though many non-Buddhist tourists visit the temple, it still has an authentic feel.
The Potala Palace is Lhasa's special landmark towering high on a hill overlooking the entire city and with mountains in the background. Lhasa, and in particular the palace, is for Buddhists what Mecca is for Muslims. 14 Dalai Lamas have inhabited and ruled the palace, and besides a lot of religious figures, you can see several Lamas' coffins plated with gold- and precious stones on site. The palace is now a museum, and although the current Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, when China invaded Tibet, there is still a sacred presence of history when visiting the site. You have to climb quite a few stairs (and 180 meters) to reach the hallowed halls, and time is limited once inside the chambers of the Lamas.
Serxu monastery (Serxu Gompa) lies 30 km outside the drab town of Serxu (Serxu Xian), in the most northwestern part of Sichuan. It is a big Tibetan monastery surrounded by rows of prayer wheels and a maze of adobe houses for the red cloaked monks, who count to more than a thousand. Across the river, a small cluster of dusty shops makes out the rest of the monastery town. Here, weather beaten Tibetans with gold teeth swag down the street (for there is only one street) in wide brim hats and homemade sunglasses. It is a fascinating place full of character and edge.