Touring the tallest Buddhist temple, information overload at the museum, and a Chinese New Year gift.

Day 232: Puli, Taiwan. After a quick breakfast we headed out into another hot sunny day.

Today we were keen to visit a large Buddhist temple and monastery we’d read about online, and perhaps visit the neighbouring museum too, time permittng. The temple is 6km north of Puli – a scenic walk past huge fields of sugar cane and other crops, albeit on a pretty busy road.

When we reached Chung Tai Chan temple, we were met by a young Buddhist nun, who kindly offered us a tour of the monastery including a visit to some levels that general visitors can’t access.

Chung Tai Chan is absolutely huge. It’s the tallest Buddhist temple in the world, with 37 storeys, and was completed in 2001 at a cost of US$650 million. It was near impossible to get a photo that shows its sprawling mass without scaling a nearby tree, so we photographed the picture in the guide book instead.

There were five people in our little tour group – besides us, there was a Chinese couple and an Italian guy who spoke very good English but clearly didn’t understand the word ‘silence’ – he chattered away happily in areas where we were supposed to remain quiet. One of the visiting rules is that photos are only allowed on the two lower floors.

The first floor has a central Buddha with enormous statues in the four corners of room. Jim standing next to one in the pic below for scale, shows just how tall they were. These multi-headed figures are there to protect the entrance to the temple.

Then we took the lift to level 5 where there were Buddhas arrayed with gold and a 500 person prayer hall.

After that, we had a quick visit to level 9 where the floors, walls, ceilings and three very plain Buddhas were all in white, making it feel very peaceful.

Our final visit was to level 16, where there’s a full size 6 storey wooden pagoda constructed inside, and a 30m high picture window, where the individual window panes are cleverly designed to withstand earthquakes and strong winds – they have the capability to oscillate 43.9 centimetres. Each floor has amazing sweeping views across the mountains and those from level 16 were to die for. It’s such a shame we couldn’t take any pics.

When we’d finished we returned to the ground level and said our goodbyes. The nun gave us little cards with morals on them, and a poster that says something like ‘Life is evergreen’ – apparently it’s for hanging up at Chinese New Year, which we’ll make sure to do.

Afterwards we walked 10 minutes to the Chung Tai World Museum, part of the same organisation. Again, the museum is absolutely vast – the three huge levels depict different periods of Buddhism, mostly dating from 300CE and later. Level 1 has mostly replicas of Buddha statues from China, level 2 bronze statues and copies of Tripitaka (Buddhist bible) and other prayers, and level 3 displays even more statues. After about 90 minutes we were experiencing severe information overload, so decided to wrap up our visit.

We wandered around in the grounds of the museum for a bit, enjoying the late afternoon sun and yet more magnificent views across the mountains.

We were hoping to visit a giant Buddha statue across the other side of the valley (which is completely separate to Chung Tai), but it was another 4km away, and the 8km round trip would have meant walking home in the dark.

So we walked straight back to town, had dinner at a local eatery, and went home to finalise our plans for the next few days.

Tomorrow we pack up and head to Nantou, a town about 30km west of Puli. And somehow we’ll have to pack our newly acquired Chinese New Year poster without mangling it.

More then.