A rich tapestry of religion covers Southeast Asia with a peerless heritage and spirituality. Accordingly, its length and breadth is populated by some of the world’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring temples, sacred shrines with storied histories and UNESCO statuses that draw pilgrimages from countless visitors of all beliefs, year upon year.
Spirituality aside, Southeast Asia’s many-splendored temples stand as a testament to their architectural expertise. Vast and impressive, these breath-taking buildings are simply stunning, evoking time periods and eras that have long since passed, but whose impact and cultural influence remain intact to this very day.
Whether you’re visiting Southeast Asia to reinvigorate the spirit or just to appreciate their architecture, we’ve rounded up eight of the region’s most remarkable temples for you to admire. If you’re planning a trip sometime soon, be sure to cross some of these off your list.
Wat Rong Khun
Better known to visitors as the White Temple, we’re starting off this list with one of Thailand’s most well-known, and arguably oddest temple, Wat Rong Khun. A structure that’s unlike anything else you’ll see in the country, it’s a bizarre mish-mash of Eastern beliefs and Western pop-culture icons.
Outside, the striking purity of its whiteness represents the purity of Buddha, before swiftly taking a turn for the bewildering, as figures including Superman, Harry Potter, Michael Jackson and Freddy Krueger can be found nestled amongst swirling flames and demon faces. Though criticised by the Thai government, we highly recommend visiting this one-of-a-kind temple.
One of Cambodia’s most famous attractions, Angkor Wat is a temple complex so vast it stands as the largest religious monument in the world. Originally built in the 12th century, the scale of the complex is such that it could easily take you weeks to fully explore.
Thankfully, there are tours that let you see many of the highlights, and if you can manage to time your visit at sunset, when the sky’s peachy tint cloaks the site in a rich glow, you’re in for a real treat. As one of the final remnants of the Khmer Empire, this UNESCO World Heritage site should be high atop your bucket list when you visit.
Housing a huge 150-foot-long reclining Buddha, Wat Pho ranks as Bangkok’s number one on its list of first-class royal temples, and has a storied cultural significance to boot. The chilled-out Buddha is joined by more than 1,000 other images of the iconic sage, making it the largest collection of its kind in Thailand.
Originally completed in the 16th century, Wat Pho is recognised as Thailand’s first centre of public education, where people could study eight subject areas, including history, medicine and literature. Additionally, Wat Pho holds the distinction for being the birthplace of Thai massage, and yes, you can treat yourself to one after you’re done looking around.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
Built in tribute to the Goddess Danu, queen of water, lakes and rivers, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is situated on the cool, crisp waters of Lake Beratan, the second largest lake in Bali. Buoyed by soft breezes, and 4,000 feet above sea level, its mountainous surroundings provide an enriching, reinvigorating experience for all who venture to seek it out.
Rebuilt in 1633, the temple’s good condition belies its age, which is kept clean by efforts from the local community. Peaceful and relaxing, this is another UNESCO World Heritage site that’s well worth exploring; a visit to the lake also affords you some unbelievable views.
There’s a chance you might have seen this temple before. With its highly photogenic visage, tree roots and branches weaving dextrously through its ruins, and verdant surroundings, Ta Prohm was featured on the silver screen, making an appearance in the first Tomb Raider film from 2001.
Originally founded as a Buddhist monastery and university in the 12th century, it’s an imposing, almost haunting-looking temple, largely thanks to its abandonment in the 15th century which led it being neglected, until the early part of the 21st century. Unique and mysterious, channel your inner explorer with a jaunt through this ancient temple.
A popular pilgrimage for vast numbers of people, Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction. Thought to have been built in the 9th century, the massive grounds of this temple is one huge tribute to Buddhism, consisting of nine stacked platforms, decorated by thousands of relief panels and hundreds of Buddha statues.
At 115-feet high, this UNESCO World Heritage site is another temple whose beauty is magnified when at sunset, bathing the whole area in a warming glow that’s perfect for capturing that picture-postcard moment, away from the rest of the world.
Cebu Taoist Temple
Inspired by the Great Wall of China, the Cebu Taoist temple towers 980 feet above sea level, providing visitors, both worshippers and non-worshippers alike, with a splendid, multi-coloured venue at which to pray, wander around and observe devotees in worship.
Rich in ritual, devotees wash their hands, enter the temple barefoot and light incense. After praying, two blocks of wood are thrown to the floor. If both the blocks face up, then a wish can be made. If not, then devotees will know that it’s not their time to be granted a wish. Don’t forget to check out the dragon statue either, a classic piece of Chinese construction that’ll pose for photos whenever you wish.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
The most recently built temple on this list, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum opened in 2007, but its splendid interiors and detailed exhibits are crammed with a hundred years’ worth of cultural significance.
Housing what is said to be the left canine tooth of Buddha, only monks are allowed into the relic’s chamber, but there are plenty of other highlights, including a theatre that holds performances, talks and film screenings. There is also the roof garden, a superb little hideaway that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore and places you in serene tranquillity with ease.
Fancy exploring the continent’s most iconic places of worship? Head over to Cruise1st’s dedicated Asian cruise page or give our friendly customer care team a call on 1300 989 376.