If you want a Hawaiian vacation experience that involves a great variety of activities, an urban setting, and a bustling nightlife, the Waikiki area of Honolulu is the place to be. That’s why I chose Honolulu. I’m a city girl. I like having lots to do and the ability to get around via public transportation. Honolulu and Waikiki worked perfectly for me.
The one drawback to visiting Honolulu, though, is that it’s so popular, you have to share it with thousands of other visitors. Waikiki beach is packed during the day, the restaurants are crowded at night. It’s fun, yes, but sometimes it can become a little bit too much. When that happens and you need a moment of serenity during your trip, you’ll want to get out of Honolulu and see the rest of Oahu.
For the serenity you seek, I recommend visiting the Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe. You can drive there or take the public bus, and it is often included on circle island tours. Byodo-In Temple is located in The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, thirteen miles from the Honolulu airport on the eastern (windward) side of the island. It was built in 1968 to mark the Centennial of the first Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii. (This Byodo-In Temple is a replica of the one in Uji, Japan that is a United Nations World Heritage Site).
To reach Byodo-In, you will have to pass through the Valley of the Temples–which is itself a lovely cemetery. As soon as the Byodo-In Temple comes into view, though, you’ll forget all about the cemetery. The sight of the bright red Temple against the lush green backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains is breathtaking. (I literally gasped when I saw it.)
The Byodo-In is a Buddhist Temple, but you don’t have to be Buddhist to visit it. It’s a non-practicing temple, so you also don’t need to worry that you’ll be interrupting a ceremony. (But you still need to remove your shoes before entering the Temple and are expected to be quiet out of respect.) Admission is just $3, and believe me, it’s worth it.
Inside the Temple is a 9-foot golden Amida Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf. It was created by Japanese sculptor Masuzo Inui, and is reported to be the largest carved Buddha outside Japan. It dominates the Temple.
Take your time to wander the grounds. There is a Japanese koi pond with waterfalls, swans, and turtles, and peacocks on site as well. Here, you’ll find a meditation pavilion, a zen garden, and a “Bon-Sho” or Sacred Bell. The bell is a replica of the Sacred Bell at the Temple in Uji. Ringing the bell (using a wood log) is supposed to purify the mind. It is customary to do this before entering the Temple.
If you want some stillness, some peace and quiet, and a place to just be alone with your thoughts, this is it. Everything seems designed to inspire contemplation, meditation, and reflection (except perhaps the gift shop). By the time you leave, you’ll be centered and ready to take on the liveliness of Waikiki again.
Photo credit: Buddha Statue at Byodo-In Temple by jdnx. All other photos are mine.