Royal Palace and Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

Phimeanakas (“celestial temple”), a Hindu temple in the Khleang art style, is located close to the center of a 5 m. high walled enclosure that once housed the the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom (its tallest scalable temple).  Located north of Baphuon, it was built during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968).  It was then rebuilt, in the shape of a 3-tiered, steep-sided pyramid (a representation of Mt. Meru), by Suryavarman II.

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

The top of this rectangular pyramid, made with laterite and roughly hewn sandstone, originally had a tower which, according to Chinese scholar Zhou Daguan, was crowned with a golden pinnacle.  The edge of the upper terrace had galleries.with windows and balusters, a unique architectural feature

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Gallery at upper terrace

Artistically uninteresting, most of its decorative features are broken or have disappeared and there are only hints of its former splendor. Still, Jandy, Violet and I clambered up, via a narrow wooden stairway at the back, to get to the second and third levels. Here, we had good views of nearby Baphuon.

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Hints of its former splendor

Hints of its former splendor

According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night in the tower to make love to a woman thought to represent a nāga. During that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude.  However, during the second watch,  the king would return to his palace and the queen. If the naga, the supreme land owner of Khmer land, did not show up for a night, the king’s days would be numbered.  If the king did not show up, a certain disaster  would strike his kingdom.

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Interior of gallery at upper terrace

The royal palace’s construction was began by Rajendravarman II.  Fronted to the east by the Terrace of Elephants, it was used by Jayavarman V and Udayadityavarman I and later added to and embellished by Jayavarman VII and his successors. Except for two sandstone pools (once the site of royal ablutions), located near the northern wall, very little remains of the royal palace.

Osang and I at what remains of the tower

Violet and I at what remains of the tower

Bantay Kdei (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Banteay Kdei (meaning “Citadel of Chambers”), located southeast of Ta Prohm and 3 kms. east of Angkor Thom, was used as a Buddhist monastery and was built with soft sandstone from the middle of the 12th century to the beginning of the 13th century by king Jayavarman II. Changes and additions account for Banteay Kdei’s unbalanced layout. Many of its galleries and porches have collapsed and the wall enclosing the temple was built with reused stones. At least two different art periods, Angkor Wat and Bayon, are discernible at Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei

The elements of its original design seem to have been a central sanctuary, a surrounding gallery and a passageway connected to another gallery. The original features of the temple were enclosed by a moat. During the Bayon Period, another enclosure and two libraries were added. The 700 by 500 m. (2,297 by 1,640 ft.) outer enclosure, made with laterite, has 4 entry towers.

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The name “Hall of the Dancing Girls,” a rectangular courtyard to the east, was  derived from the decoration which includes dancers. The second enclosure’s cross-shaped entry tower has three passages.  The two on either end are connected to the literate wall of the enclosure by 200 scrolls of figures and large female divinities in niches. The interior court has a frieze of Buddha.

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A causeway, built at a later date, is bordered by serpents and leads to the third enclosure’s entry tower. It comprises a laterite wall and includes a gallery with a double row of sandstone pillars that open onto a courtyard. Parts of this area have been walled in and passage is limited.

P1210362P1210363Vestiges of the wooden ceiling can still be seen in the central sanctuary. The galleries and halls, which join it in a cross to the four entry towers, are probably additions. Two libraries open to the west in the courtyards on the left and right of the causeway.

Terrace of the Leper King (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of  Angkor Thom and immediately north of the Terrace of the Elephants, we accessed this U-shaped structure from the main road.  This is thought, by some, to have been used as a royal cremation site.

The Terrace of the Leper King

The Terrace of the Leper King

It was built at the end of the 12th century, in the Bayon style, by Jayavarman VI who reigned from 1181 to 1220.  Its modern name is derived from a 15th-century sculpture, discovered at the site (now replaced by a replica) called the “Leper King.” The original statue now sits in the courtyard of the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Osang beside the replica of the statue of the Leper King

Osang beside the replica of the now shrouded statue of the Leper King

The  statue, with thick lips, energetic chin, full cheeks, slightly open mouth, aquiline nose and clear brow,  sits in the Javanese fashion (with his right knee raised) on a platform on the terrace. The position of its missing hand suggests it was holding something. Its nakedness and teeth being shown in a smile are absolutely and strangely unique in Khmer art.

Bas reliefs

Detail of bas reliefs

Mystery and uncertainty surround the origin of its name. Some say it was so called because of its discoloration and the lichen and moss growing on it, reminiscent of a person with leprosy.  It  also said to depict Yama (the Hindu god of death or judgement), Kubera (the god of wealth, an alleged leper) and also fits in with the Cambodian legend of Yasovarman I (Dharmaraja), an Angkorian king who had leprosy.

The false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall

The false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall

The terrace is faced with dramatic bas-reliefs, both on the interior and exterior. During clearing, the EFEO (Ecole Française d’Extreme-Orient) found a second, 2 m. wide laterite wall, faced with sandstone, with bas-relief similar in composition to those of the outer wall. EFEO recently created a false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall.

Terrace of the Elephants (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Terrace of the Elephants

Terrace of the Elephants

The 350 m. long Terrace of Elephants, part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face. We entered this ruins from the road at the east. The terrace, dedicated to Buddhist and replica to the Bayon style of art, was built at the end of the 12th century.

Detail of bas relief

Detail of bas relief

Attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, the terrace was used by Angkor‘s King Jayavarman VII as a giant reviewing platform from which to view his victorious returning army, for public ceremonies and also served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall.

The author and Jandy at the terrace

The author and Jandy at the terrace

As most of its original structure was made of organic material that has long since disappeared, most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. It has five outworks extending towards the Central Square; three in the center and one at each end. The retaining wall’s middle section is decorated with life-size garuda and lions. Towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants, complete with their Khmer mahouts and princes

Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda

Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda

From Hard Rock Café, Jandy, Osang, Violet and I again walked, along the riverside, to Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda, one of the oldest monasteries in Siem Reap in terms of running time. It had a large imposing gateway and a red wall with a base of huge, golden lotus flower (which represents all achievement of all enlightenment) petals and Bayonesque heads on top of it .

The imposing temple gate

The imposing temple gate

This monastery, dedicated to Ang Chang-han Hoy, a revered 14th century monk, and the spirit of Ta Pom Yeay Rat (who provided the land for the temple), ancestor of a rich family in the area, was founded in 1371 AD.  It was also built to spread the Dharma (teaching of Buddha) and to provide lodging for monks.

The beautiful and quiet garden

The beautiful and quiet garden

King Ang Chan (reigned from 1806-1834) came to this temple to pray for victory against his rivals and, when he achieved this, the temple was named Ta Pum Yeay Rath. In the 1940s, it was renamed Wat Preah Promreath.

Golden lotus petals and a cannon

Golden lotus petals and a cannon

An active monastery and a school for monks, it also has stupas (cremation boxes) where the rich and famous have their ashes interred. Enjoying the peace and quiet of the gardens, we noticed a number of odd, garishly painted statues and a large replica of a boat with a monk on top.

Large replica of the monk and his boat

Large replica of the monk and his boat

The revered monk Ang Chang-han Hoy (1358-1456) was said to have traveled 300 odd kms. every day by boat across the Tonle Sap lake, from Siem Reap to Long Vek (near Phnom Penh), to collect alms and then returned, that same day, to Siem Reap to have lunch.

One day (so the story goes), his boat was struck by a shark and cut in half. He continued on to Siem Reap, using the front half of the boat, while the other half ended up at Wat Boribo in Boribo District, Kampong Chang province.

Thanking Buddha for saving the monk, a temple was built at each place.  In Siem Reap, a huge, reclining Buddha was made using wood from the boat.  The golden boat statue in front of the vihear was built by Cheakaro Tong Teourm in 2007.

 

Inner wall with religious murals

Inner wall with religious murals

The small open-sided temple has small statue of Buddha while the inner walls have a number of murals of religious scenes. The Preah Vihear (main temple), built in 1945, has a vast open hall with a huge seated Buddha at one end. The enormous reclining Buddha, which we failed to notice, draped in a very decorous orange and gold cloth robe, can be found in a pit at the back.

Posing with some monks in the temple

Posing with some monks in the temple

Silver Pagoda (Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

From the Throne Hall, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I proceeded to south side of the Royal Palace complex.  The beautiful Silver Pagoda, built in honor of the Lord Buddha, is the official temple of the king of Cambodia.  Formerly known as Wat Ubosoth Ratanaram, its official name is Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot (“Temple of the Emerald Buddha”), after the green baccarat crystal Buddha it houses.  Its name is commonly shortened to Wat Preah Keo.

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Constructed in 1962, at Queen Kossamak’s command, by King Norodom Sihanouk, it replaced the wooden pagoda built by his grandfather in 1902,  the original aging structure being too weak to stand. During the Khmer Rouge years, more than half its contents were stolen but the pagoda itself was pretty much unscathed.

King Norodom's Statue

King Norodom’s Statue

The Silver Pagoda, is so named because of its 5,329 silver floor tiles, each around  20 cm. (8 inches) square and each weighing 1.125 kg (2.48 lbs), and having a total weight of more than 6 tons. Some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. The pagoda’s construction shows the clear influence of Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaeo, also home to a precious crystal Buddha to which the one in Phnom Penh bears an uncanny resemblance.

King Ang Duong's Stupa

King Ang Duong’s Stupa

After removing our hats and leaving our footwear outside, we were allowed to enter the vihara which houses a rich collection of 1,650 royal gifts received by the Royal family over the years, including artifacts and Buddha images, many of them national treasures.  The pagoda is more a museum than place of homage and no monks stay in permanent residence here. However, on entering the pagoda, we only saw a small area of the temple’s signature  silver tiles as much of the floor was covered by carpets. Photography is also not allowed inside.

Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

On display are gold and jeweled Buddha statues, notably a a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the “Emerald Buddha” of Cambodia) and an impressive, life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha. The latter, housed in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, was created in the palace workshops between 1906 and 1907.  It weighs in at 90 kgs., is dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath, and is decorated with 9,584 diamonds (the largest of which weighs 25 carats).

Reamker Frescoes

Reamker Frescoes

The main building (vihear) is bounded, to the east, by the statue of King Norodom (sitting on a white horse) and to the north by the Mondapa of Satra and Tripitaka, a library housing Buddhist texts.  At the eastern corner is the bell tower, south of which, near the exit, is a model of Angkor Wat. South of the vihear stands 4 structures, from west to east – the chedi (stupa) of King Suramarit and Queen Kossamak, the Dharmasala, the Chedi of Princess Kantha Bopha and the Phnom Mondop (Mount Mondop, where the statue of Preah Ko is situated). The last mentioned is an artificial hill with a pavilion housing a bronze footprint of the Buddha from Sri Lanka.

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

These structures are surrounded by a wall – the oldest part of the palace – covered with 80 m. long, colorful series of frescos depicting episodes from Reamker, the Khmer version of the Indian Ramayana, , one of the great Hindu epics.ainted from 1903 to 1904, its bottom half has faded, throughout the Khmer Rouge years, due to neglect. Some restoration has been done but much of the damage is still clearly visible.

Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd., Phnom Penh.  Open daily, 8 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM.

Chung Cheng Park (Keelung City, Taiwan)

I still had the whole morning for sightseeing on our fourth and last day in Taipei so I availed of the Northern Coast Tour (Keelung City) offered by Edison Travel Service (NT$1,000/pax).  After breakfast at the hotel, Jandy and I, as well as a 69 year old retired USAF serviceman named Gerald and his wife Leona, were picked up at the hotel lobby by our tour guide.  The sun was already up and shining (this after 3 days of rain) when we boarded our van for the 45-min. drive to Keelung City. Nicknamed the “Rainy Port” (due to its frequent rain and maritime role), Keelung City is Taiwan’s second largest seaport (after Kaohsiung).

Keelung City Proper

From the city proper, our van drove up a hill, east of the city, to Chung Cheng Park (derived from Chiang Chung-cheng, a given name of Chiang Kai-shek).  Situated on the side of Ta Sha Wan Shan, atop a hill off Hsieh Road, Chung Cheng Park (also spelled as Jhongjheng Park) was formerly called Kang Park in the past.  The first immigrants to Taiwan used to fight with each other for land. In order to stop these disputes, they set up a temple for yearly worship. During the Japanese occupation, the temple was in Kao Sha Park  and later moved to Chung Cheng Park.

Entrance to Chang Chung Park

There are three levels in the park. On the first level is a historic cannon fort. On the second level is a Buddhist library, Chung Lieh Temple and Chu Pu Tan Temple.  The temple attracts many worshipers on July 15, the Chung Yuan (Hungry Ghost) Festival, when families lights a lamp in front of their door in order to light the way for ghosts at night.

Chang Chung Park

Our destination was the Kuan Hai Pavilion, on the third level. Here, we  had a scenic view of Keelung City, its excellent 2,000 m. long and 400 m. wide harbor (embraced by mountains to its east, west and south); luxury passenger ships; smaller commercial craft; naval and coast guard vessels: and the azure Pacific Ocean.

Naval and commercial ships

Dock facilities

The city proper

Also here is the 22.5 m. (74-ft.) high, white smiling statue of Guan Yin (the Buddhist message of compassion and peace), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.  The landmark of Chung Cheng Park, it is the biggest goddess statue in Southeast Asia. Inside the statue, Jandy and I climbed a steep stairway leading to the top. From portholes on the sides, we could take in views of the harbor and the city.

Statue of Guan Yin (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy)

For me, Chung Cheng Park is a combination of a Buddhist holy site and amusement theme park. The grounds by the Guanyin statue are crowded with snack vendors and souvenir shops while toy vehicles for children to ride around on, some of them musical, are offered for rent.

The souvenir shop and children’s rides for rent

Behind the statue is a Buddhist temple. We noticed a  backwards swastika, a Buddhist symbol of peace (as opposed to the forward facing Nazi symbol), on top of a bell tower (you can ring the bell for a NT$50 donation). Further downhill are several 3-storey pagodas, a museum and a martyrs’ shrine. Since this park is near downtown, it is popular with city folk as well as tourists.

The backward swastika symbol

Chung Cheng Park: Keelung City, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2428-7664.

How to Get There: take 206 bus and stop at provincial hospital.  The park entrance is on the other side.

Mengjia Longshan Temple (Taipei City, Taiwan)

From Taipei 101, Jandy, Isha and I again walked to the Taipei City Hall MRT Station where we boarded the MRT to Longshan MRT Station.  It was just about dusk when we arrived at the station.  Before exiting, we all bought cups of coffee for take out and, upon exiting, leisurely sipped it while watching a Chinese dance being performed, beside the fountain, at Manka Park.

Gateway of Mengjia Longshan Temple

After finishing our coffee, we all walked over to the Mengjia Longshan (also spelled as Lungshan) Temple in front of the park, one of Taiwan’s most important places of worship.  Surrounding the temple are antique shops, Buddhists article shops, fortune tellers, traditional Chinese medicine shops and paper stores selling paper products that are burned for the deceased.

Waterfall of Cleaning Your Heart

Built in 1738 (during the Qing Dynasty), on a much smaller scale, as the spiritual center of Han settlers from the Jinjiang, Nan’an and Hui’an districts of Quanzhou County, Fujian, China, the temple has been destroyed, either in full or in part, by numerous earthquakes and fires. Nevertheless, Taipei residents have consistently rebuilt and renovated it. From 1919-1924, it was renovated, in large scale,  under the direction of famous architect Wang Yi-shun, a master of temple building in Fukien.

The Fore (or Front) Hall

On June 8, 1945, during World War II,  it was hit by American bombers, who claimed that the Japanese were hiding armaments inside. The whole main hall and a part of the right annex were damaged and many precious artifacts and artworks were lost in the ensuing fire. The fire somehow  missed the statue of Avalokiteshvara (in Sanskrit) or Guanyin (short for Guanshiyin which means “observing the sounds of the world”), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (only her toes were singed), even though the iron railing around her melted.  After the end of the war, a few months later, the temple was again rebuilt.

The main deity Guanyin with 2 bodhisattvas (Manjusri at the left and Samantabhadra on the right)

On August 19, 1985, Longshan Temple was designated as Taipei City’s fourth official historical site (after the Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, National Palace Museum and Taipei 101). The temple, one of the oldest and largest in Taiwan, has also been declared a Secondary National Heritage Site.

The temple courtyard packed with worshipers

We entered the temple’s gateway and, at the courtyard, noticed a small, man-made waterfall (the Waterfall of Cleaning Your Heart)  on one side and a lucky dragon fountain on the other.  The temple was already packed with locals either praying, reciting religious chants, lighting candles or burning incense sticks. They worship a  mixture of Buddhist, Taoist and folk deities such as Guanyin (also called Kuan-in), the main deity, Buddha, Matsu and other divine spirits. Thus, it is often called “meeting place of the gods” for the wealth of deities worshipped here. We didn’t see any Western tourists.

A bronze dragon pillar, the only one of its kind in Taiwan

The resplendent Longshan Temple,  with southern Chinese influences commonly seen in older buildings, is an emblematic example of Taiwanese Classical architecture.  Facing the south and mixing traditional Chinese siheyuan (“four-building courtyard”) with palace architecture in its design, it has a fore hall, main hall, a rear hall (added around the end of the 18th century) and a left and right wing.

Yuan Tung Grand Hall, the main hall

The Yuan-Tung Grand Hall, the main hall, is the center of the whole complex.  It houses the statue of Guanyin. The rear hall is divided into 3 parts.  The center is for the veneration of Matsu, the goddess of marine voyage, the left is dedicated to the gods of literature (or patrons of examination for civil service in the olden days) and the right is for Lord Kuan, the god of war.

The Rear Hall

The octagonal ceiling in its fore hall, the clock tower roof, and the circular ceiling (with its 7-layered spiral plafond) in the main hall are exceptionally elegant.  Its doors, beams and poles are also beautifully decorated.

Exquisite and elaborate carvings

A treasure trove of folk art, its fore hall is graced by a pair of unique bronze dragon pillars while the main hall has four pairs.  The walls and ceilings are covered by exquisitely delicate sculptures as well as many Chinese poems, verses and lyrics on signs, adding a touch of literature. The temple walls are graced with paintings of vivid creatures while stone statues of mystical creatures guard the temple grounds.  The wall and the roof  are joined without the use any nails or braces made of metal.

A phoenix figure on roof edge

The temple roof, representing the pinnacle of mosaic art in Taiwan, is covered with overlapping tiles and is decorated with figures of dragons, phoenixes and other auspicious creatures, all decorated with porcelain, clay, and shards of colored glass.

Drum Tower (West)

Bell Tower (East)

Two 2-storey buildings, one housing the bell on the east and a drum on the west side of the courtyard, between the fore hall and the main hall, have conic, hexagonal roofs with double eaves that forms a converse “S” curve, the first such roof design in Taiwan.

Mengjia Longshan Temple: 211 Guangzhou St., Old Town Center, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2302-5162. Website: http://www.lungshan.org.tw. Open daily, 6 AM-10:20 PM. Admission is free.

Shandao Temple (Taipei City, Taiwan)

At the end of our half-day city tour, Jandy and I opted to visit the renowned Taipei 101 Building, once the highest building in the world, with Isha also joining us.  After Reto and Gabriella were dropped off at their hotel (they were leaving Taipei in the afternoon), Mr. Pang dropped us off at the Shandao Temple MRT Station where we were to take the MRT to Taipei City Hall Station (free shuttles to Taipei 101 can be taken there).

Shandao Temple

Next to the MRT station is the elegantly simple Shandao Temple, the largest of Taipei’s Buddhist temples.  We made a short visit here first.  Established in 1926 by Sera Yoshinari and Tamura Chigaku, two monks from the Japanese Pure Land School, the temple was originally called the “Pure Land School Taipei branch site.” After the defeated Japanese left Taiwan in 1945, the Taipei City government’s Department of Education expropriated the site.

Mercy and Kindness Building

The Shandao Temple originally comprised the Mahavira Hall (Precious Hall of the Great Hero), the Amitabha Hall (Maitreya Hall), the Hall of Observance and  the Merit Hall. In 1986,  the 9-storey Mercy and Kindness building was constructed over the original site of the Hall of Observance. Its 4th floor houses the Taixu Library while the 5th to 7th floors contain a museum of Buddhist history.  The museum’s collections include Buddhist artifacts from  the Northern Wei and Song Dynasties  to the present. The Amitabha Hall was converted into a 7-storey building in 2002.

The Three Treasures Buddhas at Mahavira Hall

We visited the Mahavira Hall, converted into a 10-storey building in 2003.  Its structure and feeling is very different from those built by the Taiwanese, the austerity and solemnity being the biggest differences.  Its pared down architecture is truly a soothing change from the bright colors and opulence of other temples. Inside its main hall, large enough to accommodate several hundred people, are the Three Treasures Buddhas.

Shandao Temple: Zhongxiao East Rd., Section 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei, Taiwan.  Open Tuesdays-Sundays, 9 AM-5 PM.

Tung Ho Zen Temple (Taipei City, Taiwan)

Jandy and I woke up by 6:30 AM as our half-day city tour was scheduled this morning.  After our buffet breakfast at the Golden Ear Restaurant, we proceeded to the hotel lobby to await the arrival of our tourist guide, Mr. Pang of Edison Travel Service, who arrived by 7:45 AM.  We boarded a van and made short stopovers at 2 hotels to pick up Swiss couple Reto and Gabriella Conrad and Ms. Ishani Dave, a Marketing & New Product Development  Manager at Hannover Milano Fairs India Pvt. Ltd.

Tung Ho Zen Temple

The first item in the tour itinerary was a visit to the century-old Tung Ho Zen Temple, a Soto Zen monastery.  The temple was first started in 1908 and originally covered an area of 4,500 pings (14,850 sq. m.).  It then consisted of the Soto Zen Center, the Kuanyin Zen House, the Taipei Junior High School and the bell tower. The bell tower (designated a municipal historic landmark in 1997) and the Kuanyin Zen House are the only two remaining buildings in the area of the complex that has gradually shrunk to 700 pings (2,310 sq. m).

Interior of temple (in the foreground is the censer or incense urn)

The Kuanyin Zen House was renamed as Tung Ho Zen Temple in 1946, about the same time that the complex and the land it was built on were donated by the Japanese colonial owners to the temple’s former master, the Master Hsin Yuan.  Upon the death of  Hsin Yuan on March 1970, aged 89, the central government took over the complex a month later.

Interior of temple (at right, a devotee prays to the goddess Mazu)

Tung Ho Zen Temple: cor. Linsen South Rd. and Jenai Rd., Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan.