Commentary on the photographs by Jeffrey Miller
(1) Buddha, you look so peaceful and resolute sitting there in Kamakura. Not even a tidal wave could wash you or your presence away. The first time I visited Kamakura was on New Years Day 1990, after rocking in the New Year at the Tokyo Dome with Don Henley, Huey Lewis and the News, Bryan Adams and Michael Monroe. The last time was in 2007. Buddha still looked the same.
(2) It is said in Korea that spirits inhabit the mountains and even the trees. In the Korean Folk Village, a reconstruction of traditional Korean homes and buildings and a way of life over 150 years ago, a tree such as the one seen here would be a common sight in a village.
(3) All that Glitters is Gold indeed, especially the Golden Buddha located in Wat Traimit near Hualaphong Railway Station in Bangkok. Interestingly, the Buddha was encased in plaster to protect it; it was only because of an accident that the golden statue underneath was revealed to the world.
(4) The Path to Enlightenment is not always a straight path, level path. Sometimes you have to walk up a mountain. Wat Phou Champasak in southern Laos near Pakse is noted for its Khmer-influenced architecture. I’ve walked the path many times, and yes, I have been enlightened.
(5) The Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew is one of Thailand’s most prized national and Buddhist treasures; however, Bangkok has not always been its home. It was supposedly “stolen” from Wat Pha Kaew in Vientiane when Siam ransacked the capital city. Wat Pha Kaew in Vientiane sans the Buddha statue still bears the name of that famous statue and was later rebuilt.
(6) Jikjisa Temple outside of Kimcheon, South Korea is one of Korea’s oldest Buddhist temples and noted for its two identical stone pagodas.
(7) Early one cold, Saturday afternoon in December 2003 I roamed around these quiet temple grounds with only the sound of the wind rustling through these lifeless trees and the beating of my heart.
(8) The Path to Enlightenment starts here, through this passageway.
(9) Centuries-old Ta Prohm might have endured the ravages of time but not its symbiotic relationship with these powerful roots. Tomb Raider fans take note—yes, parts of that movie were filmed in and around these ruins.
(10) Pre Rup, part of the Khmer ruins and Angkor Wat complex, is an architectural work of great dignity and immense proportions.
(11) The pink sandstone and small size of Banteay Srei make this one of the more “personal” and “intimate” Khmer ruins to explore in Siem Reap.
(12) The many faces of Buddha in Bayon. Each visage awe-inspiring.
(13) If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one of Angkor Wat has to be good for a least a couple thousand of those words and then some. It was at the end of a full day of sightseeing and Angkor Wat was the last stop on the tour. I wanted to take one last photo, you know the one that would best capture the Khmer ruins for posterity and who knows, the possible photo spread on a blog or website. This was the one I took.
(14) No, your eyes are not deceiving you if you happened to do a double-take when you first look at Patouxai from a distance—it does look a bit like that famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Some of the guidebook literature will tell you that Patouxai is sometimes referred to as the “vertical runway” because the cement used to make it—donated by the U.S. was supposed to be used to make a new runway but don’t let that distract you from what is a most interesting and magnificent landmark in Vientiane. Climb to the top for a great sweeping view of Vientiane when weather and clear skies permit.
(15) That Louang is both a national symbol and a religious symbol for Laos. It is just up the street from Patouxai.
(16) Wat Pha Kaew (sans the Emerald Buddha that I told you about before) is no longer a Buddhist Temple; today it is a museum of some very fine Buddhist statues and relics. Across the street is the equally impressive Wat Si Saket.
(17) Wat Phou Champasak in southern Laos is noted for its Khmer ruins that might have you thinking about Angkor Wat without the crowds and noisy tour groups traipsing through. To be sure, when I visited there in 2007 there were only a dozen or so other tourists climbing up the mountain to visit the ruins. The view from the top is breathtaking and worth every step and bead of sweat to get to the top.
(18) Wat Xiang Thong—I like the way this temple name sounds when it rolls off my tongue but even more impressive is its design. There’s no question why this temple is the centerpiece of Louang Prabang—Shangri-la along the banks of the mighty Mekong. Look closely at the sweeping eaves—they are supposed to resemble the wings of a bird. I visited Louang Prabang in February 2008 and can’t wait to get back there.
(19) Rising up just north of Seoul, Mt. Pukhan or Pukhansan as it is referred to in Korean, is the guardian mountain of the city—and has been for centuries. I used to live in its shadow and first visited there in 1991. I went back several times, but unfortunately never made it to the summit.
(20) Autumn comes to Mt. Pukhan. Actually, Mt. Pukhan is just one of several peaks lo-cated inside Pukhansan National Park. This is one of my favorite photos of the mountain. I took this in 2002 while trekking through the park for a travel article I would write for The Korea Times.
(21) The Korean Folk Village puts on its best autumn colors.
(22) A shrine inside Hase Kannon Temple just down the road from the Great Buddha at Kamakura.
(23) Kuonji Temple is located about an hour outside of Kofu, Japan. The temple, which dates back to 1281, is known locally as Minobu-san after the mountain that is built upon.
(24) The temple is famous for its 287 steps of stone stairs that are often referred to as the steps of enlightenment. I visited here in November 2006.
(25) This is the main hall within the temple compound.
(26) Although many of the buildings have been reconstructed, the temple is famous for its stone lanterns and a 300-year old weeping willow-like cherry tree in front of the main building.
(27) When I visited Kuonji that cold November day in 2006, it was late in the afternoon by the time my friend and I got to the temple. I was lucky to have enough light to capture the vivid colors of the temple.
(28) Originally built in 1603 (completed in 1626) Nijo Castle served as the Kyoto home of the shogun. With its vast moats and towering, steep walls, the castle radiates not only a sense of beauty, but also the defiant air of impenetrability. Lavishly decorated, Nijo Castle in its day served as a symbol of the power and the authority and is one of the more interesting cultural and architectural sites in Kyoto.
(29) If you had to list the top attractions in Bangkok, Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha would be at the top of the list. In a word: Impressive. In another word. Awesome.
(30) I’ll never forget the first time I visited Wat Pho in 1992. You can read all the literature you want on it and gaze at all the photos in guidebooks and magazines, but there is no way to appreciate just how amazing The Reclining Buddha is until you view it up close and personal.
(31) One of the largest and most important temples in southern Thailand is Wat Phra Ma-hathat in Nakhon Si Thammarat. The temple is noted for its towering chedi that rises 78 meters over the temple compound.
(32) One of the ancient capitals of Thailand and the Kingdom of Siam is Ayutthaya, located about two hours north of Bangkok. Like other ancient sites in Thailand such as Sukhothai in the north, Ayutthaya is literally a museum without walls. Designated as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, one can literally and leisurely spend a few days exploring all the ruins and marveling at Thailand’s past. The three chedi (pagodas) of Wat Phra Si Sanphet are one of the city’s more impressive landmarks.
(33) Of all the tourist and cultural attractions to visit in Bangkok, none is more impressive than Wat Phra Kaew is or as it is sometimes referred to in travel literature and guide-books, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Such a name sounds both exotic and alluring especially given some of the temple’s statuary such as the mythical Kinnaree—half woman and half bird—which are found throughout the temple.
(34) Monkey demons from the epic Ramakien are some of the more photographed statuary in Wat Phra Kaew. Almost every time that I’ve been to the temple, there have been throngs of tourists wanting to have their photos taken standing in front of or along side of these mythical creatures.
(35) A close up of a giant demon, Thotkhirithon, stands guard near one of the entrances to the temples’ inner compound. Although demons inside a religious compound might seem a bit of a misnomer are actually there to scare away demons.
(36) The giant demon, Thotkhirithon, stands guard near one of the entrances to the temple's inner compound.
(37) Of all the places one can visit while staying in Vientiane, one of the quirkiest, yet most interesting attractions—bar none—would have to be Xieng Khuan, or Buddha Park. Located approximately 25 kilometers southeast of downtown Vientiane on the Me-kong River, Xieng Khuan or “Spirit City” is just as much a monument to one man’s ec-centric and perhaps bizarre ambition as it is an impressive collection of massive ferro-concrete sculptures dotted around a riverside meadow.
(38) Xieng Khuan was designed and built in 1958 under the direction of Louang Pou Bunleua Sulilat, a self-styled holy man who took Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and merged it—in a somewhat cryptic whole with mythology and iconography.
(39) Located across the street from Wat Pha Kaew in Vientiane, Wat Si Saket is the oldest temple still standing in the city. Interestingly, it was built in the Siamese Buddhist style of architecture with a surrounding terrace and five-tiered roof rather than in the Lao style, which most likely kept it safe from the invading Siam army in 1827 when Vientiane was sacked.
(40) This pumpkin-shaped structure (which you can enter and climb to the top) might have you thinking about Dante’s Inferno but you can walk up to the top for a bird’s eye view of the park.
(41) Although the brontosaurian reclining Buddha and strange edifice resembling a pumpkin—with what looks like a dead tree sprouting from its crown—near the park’s entrance are two of the park’s more obvious attractions, there are statues of every conceivable deity in the Buddhist/Hindu pantheon.
(42) Of the five palaces located in Seoul, Changdok Palace exudes a charm and aesthetic beauty all its own. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Changdok Palace is the largest palace in downtown Seoul.
(43) Chongmyo Shrine was built at the same time as Kyongbok Palace to hold the ances-tral tablets for the kings of the Chosun Dynasty. Since then, all but 2 of the kings and their queens are enshrined here. According to Confucian tradition, the royal family would perform elaborate rituals here 5 times each year to pay respect to their royal ancestors. This is the main shrine hall, Cheongjeon.
(44) On the island of Kanghwa, west of Seoul, is a very large and interesting stone struc-ture that from a distance, looks like a rock table. Known as a “dolmen” or “goindol” as it is called in Korean, it is a kind of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones in the ground that support a large flat horizontal stone, which serves as a roof.
Dolmens are found throughout the world in Asia, Europe, and North Africa; however, Korea has the greatest number of dolmens in the world. Indeed, Korea is home to approximately 30,000 of these tombs (including about 3,000 found in North Korea) or about 50 percent of the total number of dolmens in the world.
(45) Located in central Suwon, about an hour south of Seoul, Hwaseong Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fortress encircles the older part of Suwon and lives up to every syllable of tourist hype.
(46) Former President Bill Clinton once referred to Panmunjom as the scariest place on Earth. As one of the world’s last Cold War vestiges, it feels very much like that. Actually, Panmunjom, where the armistice negotiations took place during the Korean War is a few clicks north of the Panmunjom you might see on the news. I’ve been there over 20 times since 1996—on tours as well as covering various events/stories for The Korea Times. The Bridge of No Return was where POWS crossed at the end of the Korean War and where members of the USS Pueblo were repatriated across in December 1968
(47) Although Hwaseong is noted for its walls, towers and gun emplacements, there are numerous pavilions interspersed along its stone perimeter.
(48) I was on assignment for The Korea Times to write a travel article about Baekyangsa Temple, which can be translated as the “white sheep” temple. According to temple lore, a white sheep had come down from the mountain and listened to a sermon. It was so enlightened that it was able to ascend into Paradise. Must have been one heck of a sermon!
(49) Colorful sweeping eaves of Changdok Palace.
(50) Stopping by a snowy Kyongbok Palace on a late winter day in 2004. Enough said.