There are plenty of temples to choose from in the ancient Jiangsu province city of Suzhou. The Old Town district alone is freckled with beautiful examples of Buddhist and Taoist complexes that ooze a particularly spiritual ambiance.
The modern Suzhou Industrial Park District, though mostly focused on luxury mall culture and being seen wearing (or eating) the hottest new thing, plays host to one of the most interesting hidden gems of local history. Perched on the edge of Yangcheng Middle Lake’s Ring Road, itself a great place to take in typical Suzhou lake-life, Chongyuan Temple makes up part of a huge complex that overlooks the calm waters of the lake.
One building sits separate from the main complex, accessible only by a stunning bridge over lily pad-clogged waters. Its pointed, many-eaved roof distinguishes it from the regular collection of buildings, as does the strangely hexagonal island it sits upon.
Inside stands a 108-foot-tall statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin carved from a single boxwood tree. It’s a dizzying experience, looking up through several floors as the gilded goddess of compassion towers above you and ascends through the building. She seems to look out over the lake longingly, perhaps because she has been hidden away inside such an imposing building, unlike most statues of her immense size.
You’d think she’d be best put out on display in the world, but since the temple complex has already been destroyed and rebuilt three times since its original inception in the sixth century, it’s no wonder she would want to stay hidden.
Know Before You Go
The temple is open daily.