Asia is a popular destination among tourists all over the world. Aside from being affordable, it also has so much to offer- from authentic sushi bars in Japan, to beautiful beaches in the Philippines, to magnificent temples in Cambodia. Speaking of temples, these can be found around the entire globe, but most likely when one thinks of temples, one thinks of Asia. It’s like thinking of Canada when you think of maples leaves, or thinking of Italy when gelato is mentioned.
A temple is a place of worship. It is a structure or a building where religious activities such as prayers, offerings, weddings, baptism, and such are being held. There are thousands of temples scattered all over Asia. On your next trip, here are some of the best temples in Asia that you can include in your itinerary.
1. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Previously named as Vrah Visnuloka, Angkor Wat (modern name) means Temple City or City of Temples. This temple complex is the best temple in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. This Hindu turned Buddhist temple stretches over 162.2 hectares (400.8 acres) including its forested area; it houses the remnants of the Khmer Empire.
For its religious and historic relevance, Angkor Wat has been labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being the most recognizable structure in Cambodia, Angkor Wat appears on the country’s flag. It is also the top tourist destination in Cambodia. A lot of tourists backpack from Thailand to Cambodia just to see this magnificent temple.
2. Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India
Lotus Temple, also known as Bahá’í House of Worship, was opened to the public in 1986 and is one of the most prominent attractions in India. Built for the Bahá’í Faith, this flower like architecture has catered to over 100 million visitors since its inauguration date.
Designed like the lotus flower, the temple is made up of 27 marble “petals” clustered in groups of three’s to form nine sides. These nine doors open to a center hall that can hold 2,500 people in total. Because of its unique design, the Lotus Temple has won a lot of architectural awards, and has been dubbed as one of the most visited buildings in the world.
3. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
Standing mighty and proud on a 114 acre Singuttara Hill in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred and most striking Buddhist site in Myanmar. It is believed that Shwedagon Pagoda contains relics of the four previous Buddhas such as eight strands of hair of Gautama, the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, and a piece of the robe of Kassapa.
Also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda and Golden Pagoda, this stupa (hemispherical structure that contains relics) is covered with hundreds of gold plates. It shines as bright as the sun all day long, thus making it hard to miss when you are in the vicinity.
4. Fushimi Inari-taisha, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Fushimi Inari-taisha, which sits on the base of a mountain that stood 233 meters (764.4 feet) above sea level, is the most significant Shinto shrine of Inari. Inari is the Japanese kami (spirit or phenomena worshipped in Shinto religion) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea, and sake among others.
Fushimi Inari-taisha’storri (traditional Japanese gate common in a Shinto shrine) is a popular pop culture sight. It has gained popularity after a scene in the film Memoirs of a Geisha was shot here.
5. Paro Taktsang, Paro Valley, Bhutan
Also known as Taktsang Palphug Monastery and the Tiger’s Nest, this Himalayan Buddhist site was founded in the 8th century as a meditation cave, and was formally built as a monastery in 1692. According to legends, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) rode on a back of a tigress and flew to this part of the mountain from Tibet.
He spent years meditating here, and eventually spent his time introducing Buddhism to Bhutanese. Paro Taktsang is the holiest monastery in Bhutan. Even though it takes about two hours hike to get here, a lot of visitors still visit every year. The monastery sits on a mountain edge, and the rock slopes are very steep. You cannot bring a camera inside, but it is definitely worth the trip.
6. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu, India
Also known as ThiruvarangaTirupati or Srirangam Temple, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is one of the most renowned Vaishnav temples in India that is rich in legend and history.
Built on the island of Srirangam, this Hindu temple is dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Hindu Deity Vishnu. To date, Srirangam Temple, with its Dravidian architectural style, is the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, and is one of the top pilgrimage temples in India.
7. Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China
Temple of Heaven, a Taoist Temple in Chongwen District, Beijing,is China’s largest and most notable existing masterpiece of its ancient sacrificial buildings. This temple complex was annually visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonies of prayer for good harvest. They prayed to the heaven for the abundant harvest they had that year. This also means a bad harvest is interpreted as the heaven frowning on them.
It was said that the temple was constructed in the early 1400s during the Reign of the Yongle Emperor; the same emperor who headed the construction of the Forbidden City. The design of the temple reflects the relationship between the sky and the Earth, which is something they strongly believed at that time. Now, visitors, both local and tourists, can get inside. The temple is accessible via public transportation. As with almost all other temples, the best time to visit the Temple of Heaven is early morning. Aside from being able to get perfect photographs because of a thinner crowd, you will also be able to watch the locals do their morning exercises. Tai Chi (a Chinese martial art which places emphasis on the development and control of the consciousness energy within the body) classes are offered here; most tour packages include a 30-minute tai chi session.
8. Wat RongKhun, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Famously known as White Temple, Wat RongKhun is one of the most visited and one of the best temples in Thailand. With its all white color which signifies the purity of Buddha and glass plasters which symbolizes Buddha’s wisdom and teachings, this temple stands out in Chiang Rai and attracts visitors all year long.The temple looks like a setting of a fairy tale fantasy. Wat RongKhun was designed in a combination of Buddhist and Hindu architecture by a famous Thai visual artist named Chalermchai Kositpipat.
When the original Wat RongKhun was on the verge of extreme deterioration by the end of the 20th century, Chalermchai Kositpipat renovated the temple with funds coming out of his own pocket. It is said that he considers the temple as an offering to Buddha and by doing so, he believes he will be given immortal life. A great portion of the temple was damaged by an earthquake in May 2014, but the reconstruction is currently ongoing. To get to the temple, you may take the bus or hail a cab. The temple is open daily, and gets crowded on weekends and national holidays. It is important to remember to dress appropriately during your visit. Taking photos are not allowed inside some parts of the temple. You need not worry if you would like to spend an entire day here, since snack bars, coffee shops, and souvenir stalls are available.
9. Yakcheonsa Temple,South Korea
Yakcheonsa is a Buddhist Temple located in Jeju Island in South Korea. With an area of 3,305 square meters (35574.69 square feet) , it is considered the biggest temple in East Asia. It also houses an ancient 18-ton Buddhist temple bell. Yakcheonsa is one of the few temples in South Korea that offers a temple stay program since the 2002 World Cup.
Temple stay is a cultural program that is popular in the country. It lets the participants experience the life of Buddhist practitioners, and learn the various aspects of Korean Buddhist culture. They would usually gather, have tea, and listen to the stories told by the monks that reside in the temples. This is a perfect avenue for Buddhist culture immersion.
10. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Bali, Indonesia
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, or Pura Bratan, is a Shaivite temple situated on the shores of Lake Bratan. Built in 1633, this water temple was used for offering ceremonies to the water, lake, and river Balinese goddess named Dewi Danu.
Lake Bratan is also known as the Lake of Holy Mountain because the entire area is fertile and produces an abundant harvest. Aside from the religious aspect to it, a trip to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan would give you the scenic view that makes the journey worth it. The grounds of the temple are well maintained with lovely flowers. You may not be allowed to take a photo inside, but the view of the outside structure is also magnificent.