Fo Guang Shan Giant Buddha ©Solange Hando
Located near Kaohsiung on the south west coast of Taiwan, Fo Guang Shan, the largest monastery on the island, is home to over 100 monks and nuns engaged in education and charitable work.
Like monasteries in Kathmandu, it is welcoming place. Guests of all faiths can visit for the day or stay the night in Japanese or Western-style rooms, ranging from simple, with air-con and en-suite, to more upmarket. Booking is essential as accommodation may be scarce during retreats and conferences.
Rooftops and Domes in lush grounds, Fo Guang Shan ©Solange Hando
Spreading across five peaks, the grounds are all flowers and trees, lotus ponds, quaint bridges, moon gates and temples and shrines scattered in luxuriant greenery.
Even when day trippers arrive, heading up the hill in golf-style buggies, there's always a quiet spot to relax and gaze at the view, from the myriad Buddha lining the way to the main peak to the Kaoping river meandering across the plain far below.
Helping in the Garden ©Solange Hando
Wander around and you find Fo Guang Shan full of surprises, here a stone cherub having fun in the garden, there a calligraphy hall, as respected as a shrine, or the main temple with three large golden Buddhas on the altar and 14 800 little ones around the walls.
A Good Deed for the Day ©Solange Hando
So what can visitors do?
Have an amazingly quiet night, join in dawn prayers, if they wish to, and feast on the best vegetarian food in Taiwan, most popular the auspicious noodles and the traditional hot pot.
Then you can watch a nun feeding the fish for luck, visit the museum and the cultural centre where local artists exhibit their work free of charge, or try your hand at calligraphy (booking required).
Shop in Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan, ©Solange Hando
The shop sells refreshments and souvenirs and there's a chance to learn about Humanistic Buddhism, a modern concept based on the value of work and involvement in the community.
Everyone here has a job on site, be it showing visitors around, teaching in the college, caring for the old or working in the orphanage. The monastery also provides employment for locals who tend the gardens or work in the kitchens.
Floating Candles in the Pure Land Cave ©Solange Hando
But the pride and joy of Fo Guang Shan is the Pure Land Cave, a slightly disneyesque representation of heaven with talking birds, moving statues and atmospheric lighting. The idea is to encourage a good life on earth, not through fear of hell but the promise of beautiful things in heaven.
It's a good place to leave a donation, make a wish and light a candle. Let it float away on the water before returning to the real world and the giant Buddha glowing in the sunset on the hill top.