Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s most beautiful, colourful and downright weird temples. We’ve put together a list of our favourite Asian temples, from the iconic Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the surreal and colourful Sri Mariamman in Singapore.
Downright Weird Temples
Wat Rong Khun (Chiang Rai, Thailand)
A temple unlike anything else you’ll see in Thailand, this striking all-white structure was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famed Buddhist and artist. Located just under three hours from Chiang Mai, the temple’s distinctive white colour is said to symbolise the purity of Lord Buddha.
Wat Suwan Khuha (Phang-Nga, Thailand)
The cave temple Wat Suwan Khuha is built inside a limestone mountain, with a 50-foot reclining Buddha at its centre. The temple is decorated with ceramic tiles and Buddha images, and out front there’s a feeding ground for monkeys! Make sure you keep a strong grip on your belongings, as these monkeys are highly skilled thieves.
Bagan Temples (Bagan, Myanmar)
The ancient city of Bagan is lined with gorgeous temples, making it a highlight of any trip to Southeast Asia. From the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were built in the area, of which over 2,000 remain today. You can explore them from above with a hot air balloon ride, or save yourself a few pennies and rent a bike.
Sri Mariamman (Chinatown, Singapore)
You can’t miss, Sri Mariamman, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple located in the bustling Chinatown. This surreal temple looks like it was pulled right out of a cartoon, as it is covered with colourful sculptures of gods, goddesses and mythical creatures. Admission is free but if you want to take photos or videos (which you probably will), you’ll have to pay a small fee.
Kek Lok Si (Penang, Malaysia)
Located on the island of Penang, Kek Lok Si is one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in Southeast Asia and is surrounded by scenic views and rolling hills. The best time to visit is during Chinese New Year, when the temple is completely lit up at night. You can drive to the top, but it’s more fun to walk up the many steps, as these are lined with shops and stalls.
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Prambanan & Borobudur (Java, Indonesia)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Prambanan is located in Java, about 17 kilometers from the city centre. This is the largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia and is surrounded by a beautiful park. Go at sunset and catch the traditional Ramayana Ballet that takes place on an open air stage, with the magnificent Prambanan temple as a backdrop. A few hours north west is the sacred Borabudur temple (pictured above), which some say is even more specatcular. It’s the world’s largest Buddhist temple with 504 statues of Buddha and a vast structure reaching 115 ft high.
Wat Pho, (Bangkok, Thailand)
Famed for its giant, 160-foot-long reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is located in the Rattanakosin district of Bangkok not far from the Grand Palace. One of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok, Wat Pho is home to more than one thousand Buddha images. The temple is also houses the national headquarters for the preservation and teaching of traditional Thai medicine and massage, so once you finish exploring the temple, why not indulge in a traditional massage. Top tip: watch out for people telling you that Wat Pho (or other nearby attractions) are closed for the day; these are usually scammers, so just ignore them.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Bali, Indonesia)
Located on the shores of Lake Bratan, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is a water built on multiple small islands. Once you’ve seen the temple itself, you can take a stroll in the surrounding botanical gardens.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Often overlooked by travellers, Wat Phra That is located on Doi Suthep mountain near Chiang Mai. The journey to the top takes 30 to 45 minutes by local taxi from the city centre, but is absolutely worth it for the traditional dancers, elaborate ceremonies, and friendly monks in apricot-colored robes. Wat Phra That also offers some of the best panoramic views of Chiang Mai. Be sure to check out the delicious street food and shops at the foot of the temple.
Cebu Taoist Temple (Cebu, Philippines)
This temple feels as if it was taken out of China and dropped in the Philippines. The entrance is a replica of the Great Wall of China, and the temple is a centre of worship for Taoism, a religion that follows the teachings of Chinese philosopher Lao Tze.
Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat deserves a place on everyone’s bucket list. Located just under 6 kilometers from Siem Reap, this is one of Cambodia’s most famous attractions. Angkor Wat’s popularity means you have to get up early to really appreciate its beauty and get some great photos – but it really is worth it.