The sacred sites of the East have entranced visitors from across the globe for centuries. If you love visiting temples, these countries belong on your bucket list.
The former kingdom of Siam is packed to the brim with beautiful temples. In the capital city of Bangkok, you’ll find Wat Pho, home to the incredibly large Reclining Buddha and the national headquarters for preserving Thai medicine. Spend a morning exploring its tranquil grounds and enjoying a traditional Thai massage, and you’ll feel blissfully relaxed. The island town of Phuket plays host to a unique house of worship. Wat Suwan Kuha, or Wat Tham, lies within a limestone cave filled with stunning grottoes and beautiful Benjarong tilework. If you plan on traveling through the northern parts of the country, pay a visit to Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai. Its opulent sanctuary features the famous Lion Buddha, an idol dating back to the fourteenth century. Just a few hours away, Chiang Rai’s White Temple is an unforgettable sight. Also known as Wat Rong Khun, this temple’s unmistakable frosted façade symbolizes the Buddha’s purity and wisdom.
Just as each city in the United States or Europe is anchored by a church, each city in Japan is anchored by a temple. Tap into the energy of old Tokyo by the towering red pagoda of Sensoji Temple. Its awe-inspiring architecture is also some of the oldest in the city, dating back to the seventh century. Adding to the thrumming crowds surrounding this attraction are the hundreds of vendors lining its entryway. If you prefer a more peaceful experience, the Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto is the epitome of a traditional Japanese Zen garden. As you explore the verdant hills behind the main temple, you just may stumble across a secluded waterfall grotto.
Tired of tourist crowds and buzzing throngs of backpackers? Head to the country formerly known as Burma. Myanmar lies just far enough off the beaten path to make your temple explorations a serene way to unwind on your trip. The capital city of Yangon’s skyline is dominated by the soaring gold stupa of Shwedagon Paya. Glittering jewels and sacred relics abound within this stunning, gilded Buddhist temple. Meanwhile, the town of Bagan is teeming with holy sites. Ananda Temple is a particularly popular destination as it’s part house of worship, part museum. Sculpture, wood carving, iron work, and all manner of traditional Myanmar arts are on display.
The vast majority of the temples you’ll find in Southeast Asia are Buddhist, but the world-famous site of Prambanan in Central Java, with its hundreds of shrines, is a veritable textbook of Hinduism. View the epic story of the Ramayana in the walls’ delicate bas relief carvings, along with other tales of the god Vishnu’s various incarnations. Elsewhere in the Javanese jungle, the immense complex of Borobudur holds miles of bas reliefs narrating the life of the Buddha. These stacked stone platforms date from the eighth and ninth centuries, and form the largest temple in the country.