SE Asia has a rich history rife with Hinduism, Buddhism, and fallen dynasties; the perfect recipe for stunning temple complexes. Why? Because of religious monuments and places of worship, often constructed at the behest of the ruling period’s monarch, have historically represented the epitome of architectural beauty. Pagodas that observe the outer reaches of each cardinal direction and golden coated crypts containing Buddhist treasures are just the beginning. Trek down further and take a look through at SE Asia’s most amazing temples.
Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si is fortified atop what’s lovingly described as a “sprawling hill”, chosen for its adherence to feng shui principles. Large ceramic deities reside among the impressive network of archways and temple halls of this Buddhist monastery. The photogenic fusion of Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture makes everything pop, but it’s the 7-story pagoda atop it all which beckons crowds from miles around.
Sri Mariamman Temple
Singapore’s premiere temple is deemed a national monument for its vast collection of delicately crafted figurines. Many of these sit perched upon layered precipices of the ‘gopuram’, meaning grand tower, which overlooks the main gate. It was constructed by immigrants from south India in honor of the Mariamman and her healing abilities.
Central Java, Indonesia
The world’s largest Buddhist temple was erected during the Saliendra Dynasty’s reign in the 9th century. It was built with care for the structure, nine tiers high, has weathered earthquakes and hurricanes. Though many of the five hundred strong Buddha statues have seen their finer features eroded away from natural forces This has prompted several restorations by the Indonesian government to protect the nation’s most prime pilgrimage destination for Buddhists.
Eastern Bali, Indonesian
Indonesia also plays host to Hindu temple complexes, the most sacred of which is Pura Besakih. It’s composed of three temples set high up in Mount Agung. Pagoda’s seven to ten layers lay visible from nearly every vantage point. Pura Besakih has seen miraculous recoveries from earthquakes and even lava flow from a 1964 eruption, the result of which many believe to be divine intervention.
Sealed within its golden base dome are mementos from previous Buddhas, including a water filter, staff, a tattered robe remnant, and eight strands of hair from Gautuma. Or at least, this is the epithet imbibed within Schwedagon’s millennium old history. Due to this, it’s revered as the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, drawing crowds each year to pray at its diamond and gold encrusted stupa—a semi-spherical structure containing ancient artifacts.
Pha That Luang
The capital of Laos possesses a stupa of its own, said to house the rib bone of a buddha. One main spire, 45 meters high, rises out of a nesting of 30 smaller stupas encompassing its base. Melted gold coats the temple’s exterior, literally painting it as a target of raids and invasions since its construction in 1565. Multiple large-scale restorations have ensued, with France contributing immensely to the efforts in 1900 and post WWII.
Ayutthaya Historical Park
These dilapidated ruins sit in the quiet country settlement of Ayutthaya where the Kingdom of Siam once ruled. Thailand’s monarchy and capital has since moved to Bangkok after the Burmese ransacked it in 1767, leaving behind fortress ramparts and multi-tiered altars, all created with millions of tiny red bricks. The famous reclining Buddha statue can be seen lounging on the edge of town.
Wat Arun existed as far back as the 1600s when its surrounding settlement was Bang Makok, now Bangkok. King Taksin dubbed it temple of the dawn due to its countenance when setting against the rising sun. Because of this, Wat Arun is commonly revered as Thailand’s most beautiful temple. It was formerly the most sacred as well since it housed the Emerald Buddha before the capital was moved across the river.
Cebu Taoist Temple
Cebu City, Philippines
Conceived in 1972 by the local Chinese community, this fledgling temple boasts archetypal Taoist style pagodas straddling refreshing botanical gardens. The eaves are decorated by large Chinese dragon statues dressed in vibrant pastel colors that seemingly cover every surface in the complex. It awaits visitors at 900 feet above sea level, giving visitors an endurance test up 81 steps before they can even enter.
Siem Riep, Cambodia
Finally, we reach Angkor Wat, the temple complex to dwarf them all. It spans 400 acres, densely filling space with grand walkways winding through stupa-laden courtyards and palace-like monoliths. Its origins under the Khmer empire denoted it as a Hindu temple, but it gradually became Buddhist around the 1100s. This history lends itself to a great variety of statues representing deities from both Hindu and Buddhist mythology.