Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Giant Buddha of Leshan: As great as our disappointment


The Giant Buddha of Leshan: As Great as our Disappointment

I still remember the first time I saw a picture of the Giant Buddha on the internet. It was so surreal, that I’ve made a promise to myself, that one day, I would visit this place, doesn’t matter how. As a matter of fact 'this place' is located in China in the city of Leshan, 160 km from Chengdu. And part of the mysticism disappeared when we found out we could go by high speed train. But nothing would prepare us for what we would find there: for better or for worst. Along the majestic statue sitting peacefully at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers, a flood of Chinese tourists, like we never seen before, took over the small staircases that leads to the Buddha's feet. That’s the ultimate trial for any Buddhist monk: how to maintain the calm and patience in the face of unbridled tourist euphoria.

A Little History

The construction of the giant Buddha began in the year 713 AD led by a Chinese monk named Hai Tong. Back in those days, numerous boat accidents caused by the turbulent waters at the confluence of three major rivers, troubled the life and the economy of the local population, which attributed these disasters to the presence of a water spirit. What could be better to calm down such a spirit, than the largest Buddha statue the world ever seen? The monk hardly knew the stones removed during the excavation would eventually reduce the water flow, ultimately facilitating the passage of boats. Unfortunately Hai Tong did not live to see the finished project, which took 90 years to be completed.

The Trip

At 7:30AM we caught the bullet train in Chengdu and in less than an hour, we were already in Leshan. Right at the exit of the train station we took bus 3 that left us at the entrance of the Complex. Admission was 90 CNY (15 USD) per person, including the access to the Scenic Park, with more than 30 temples. Surprisingly, after 10 minutes of moderate ascend we were already at Buddha’s head. Once we’ve got there, we didn’t know exactly where to go as there were no signages in English. Since we had been warned about the possible chaos due to the large number of tourists, after a quick visit to Lingyun Temple, we decided to get in the line to the circuit that would take us to Buddha's feet. That's right, first you get up, and them down, and up again. And here is where trouble started.

The first hour waiting in line was okay, as the queue was organized by metal fences. But once you start the descent, there is no more line, and everyone begins to push and shove their way through. Wait a minute, where was the fire? And there we were, Maxi and I, two canned sardines in the midst of a crowd of rude Chinese and their respective selfie sticks. Eventually, after nearly two hours of hard time, we reached the bottom. The view was amazing. Standing from Buddha’s feet you can really sense the grandeur of the monument which, with its 71 meters high, is the world's largest Buddha sculpture.

It’s clear that some hardcore restoration work has been going on, especially on the face. It has been said that the statue was in pretty bad shape due to high pollution levels that came with the development of the region. Thanks to the original water drainage system, consisting of hidden gutters and channels running behind the head, arms and ears, the Buddha didn’t deteriorated even further over the past 1300 years.

But what really made our trip though, were the Scenic Park and the beautiful pathway towards Wuyou Temple. In short, Greenery Mountains jam packed with ancient pagodas, monasteries, caves and old bridges. 

The walk was long and uphill, but totally worth the effort, as we could experience a peace and serenity that we haven’t found at the Giant Buddha. No wonder this was the first place where Buddhism was established in China. The Hall of Arhats was the highlight, with its hundreds of statues of Buddha Sakyamuni disciples.


1. Try to get there as early as possible, and go straight to the queue that leads to Buddha's feet. Do not worry about the temples, as you can get back to the starting point after seeing the statue. But if you do arrive during peak hours, we saw an Italian group descending by the exit staircase (at Buddha’s right side). I do not know if they managed to get to the bottom or were stopped by security, but we found an excellent idea to skip the crowds.

2. Reserve at least a full day for this trip and be sure save enough time to visit the entire complex.

3. You can also see the Buddha from the river, and have a panoramic view and shots with other sculptures and the guardian figures, that are virtually impossible to see from the mountain. The boat ride costs about 70 CNY and, in our opinion, seems like a tourist trap. The current is so strong that the boats cannot stop for more than a few minutes in front of the statue. Nonetheless is still an alternative for those who want to avoid the crowds, the steep climbs, narrow staircases and the nasty queue.

4. High speed train tickets have to be booked with at least one day in advance. Otherwise it is also possible to return by an intercity bus, which takes approximately 3 hours. Buses leave from Xiaoba Bus Station in Leshan direction Xinnanmen Bus Station in Chengdu, every 30 minutes.

Was it worth it? Find out at the video below:

The Giant Buddha of Leshan


  1. it is always amazing to read about your take on different corners of the world. it has deeply motivated me to get on foot too. keep us updated

  2. yes agree. We need some time to stop over to see around the details on the structure and other things Small Yoga Buddha Statue