11 breathtaking temples in Southeast Asia to add to your bucket list
Temple hopping while traveling through Southeast Asia is an essential part of getting to know the history and culture of every city you visit. Here is a list of 11 of my favorite temples that you should add to your bucket list:
1. Borobudur Temple- Central Java, Indonesia
Borobudur is the largest single Buddhist temple in the world and is definitely at the top of my list, not only because of the temple’s beauty, but also because of the spectacular volcanoes and green landscapes surrounding it. If you visit during sunrise on a slightly foggy morning, you will never want to leave! Borobudur is located in Central Java Indonesia and the best way to get there is to fly into Yogyakarta airport or Semarang airport. This is one of the less touristy locations in Indonesia, especially vs. Bali and is perfect for people who love to escape the crowds for a more authentic experience. For a truly heavenly stay, I highly recommend Mesastila Resort, where you will wake up to a view of two volcanoes, while sipping fresh coffee from their own plantation. There are also several activities like volcano trekking or horseback riding in the area.
2. Big Buddha – Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui is known for being a backpacker stlye island with some incredible diving spots. The Big Buddha temple is towards the North and should definitely be added to your list if you’re visiting the island. The giant golden statue that can be seen from several miles away is at the top of a cliff with an incredible view of the surrounding area. The colorful stairs with a striking dragon lead up to the platform where the statue is located. You can also find a nice market with loads of handmade souvenirs and food stalls with some delicious street food. For some interesting predictions about your future, visit the fortune teller at the entrance of the temple complex!
3. The ruins of Angkor – Siem Reap, Cambodia
The ancient ruins of Angkor are so magnificent that they will definitely take your breathe away. I still remember my excitement as we were driving to Angkor Wat and I caught a glimpse of the entrance and realized how grand it is even before walking in! What makes the temples even more interesting is that each temple has a completely unique design and feel. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world with so much stunning detail. It’s so grand that you will need at least a few hours to discover all the beautiful corners. After exploring the largest temple, you would think the rest wouldn’t be as impressive, but you will be positively surprised! Ta Prohm, which is a short drive away will make you feel like you’ve suddenly entered the movie set of Indiana Jones. The pictures don’t do it any justice, because giant trees have grown throughout the temple and you won’t realize how huge they are until you feel so tiny standing next to them. Another one of my favorite temples in Angkor, was Bayon, which is mostly known for having massive stone faces facing four different directions. To make the experience even better after walking around in the heat, I recommend staying at Navutu Dreams Resort (read the full review here Navutu Dreams Review).
4. Temple of the Emerald Buddha – Bangkok, Thailand
This impressive temple is located in the Grand Palace in the heart of Bangkok and is considered the most sacred spot in Thailand. The Buddha itself is carved from a single block of jade and no one is allowed to get close to it except for the King. I suggest getting a guide with you to walk you around the whole Grand Palace area which is a huge, colorful and extremely beautiful complex. The dress code is very strict and you will have to cover your knees, so if you’re wearing a dress or shorts, you can rent a cover-up from the entrance.
5. Saraswati Temple – Ubud, Indonesia
I came across this temple when I was walking around solo trying to explore beautiful Ubud city… and I am so glad I did! I had one of those moments where I had to stop and stare for a few moments to take in it’s incredible beauty. The temple has a typical Balinese design and is surrounded by lotus ponds and water lilies. The day of my visit was very rainy, which made the lotus ponds even more magical. There’s a little cafe right next to it and you can sit and enjoy the view while sipping on a cold coconut.
6. Weherahena Temple – Matara, Sri Lanka
The south of Sri Lanka has so much to offer. From beautiful sandy beaches to tropical jungles, wildlife and of course colorful Buddhist temples. My favorite was Weherahena, where a very sweet Buddhist monk walked us throughout the temple and told us the story of Buddha. What stands out in this temple is the huge Buddha statue right in the middle. You climb some stairs up to the terrace, which takes you right to the top of the statue and gaze into the endless green jungles all around.
7. Uluwatu Temple – Bali, Indonesia
Uluwatu is one of the most well known temples in Bali. The temple itself is not as impressive as others, but what is special about it is that it’s set on top of a very high cliff with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean. Another special touch is the very cheeky monkeys jumping around throughout the area. They are super smart and waiting around for tourists to pass by to snatch their sunglasses or anything else they can steal just for the fun of it! The best time to visit is around sunset during a Balinese ceremony. I recommend making a day trip out of it and heading to a lovely beach at Finn’s Beach Club in the morning (about 10 minutes away) and then to the temple in the afternoon.
8. Elephant Cave – Bali, Indonesia
The Elephant Cave temple, also know as Goa Gajah, is a short drive from Ubud center and was built in the 11th century as a spiritual place from meditation. The cave itself is very small from the inside, but really beautiful on the outside with lots of detailed carvings. The biggest carving looks like an elephant, hence the name Elephant cave temple. After visiting the cave continue walking around the temple complex and down the stairs even further to spot beautiful giant trees and flowers.
9. Wat Tham – Phuket, Thailand
Wat Tham, meaning the cave temple, is a hidden gem on your way to visit James Bond island from Phuket. It’s located deep in a cave with a huge reclining Buddha statue that you will spot as soon as you enter. You’ll also find a Buddhist monk sitting inside and reading peacefully. The outdoor area of the temple has a garden with lots and lots of monkeys running around. You can purchase some bananas from the stand and watch them run in your direction all at once!
10. Nengren Temple – Guangzhou, China
What’s special about this temple is that it’s located in the middle of nowhere on top of a famous mountain in Guangzhou called Baiyun Mountain. I spotted it from the cable car that I was taking up to the bird park on the mountain and I just had to visit! You can reach it easily by bus or taxi and enjoy the smoggy views of Guangzhou city from the top.
11. Tanah Lot Temple – Bali, Indonesia
Tanah Lot stands for land in the sea in Balinese and is literally located in the water! What makes it unique is that you can only enter the temple during low tide, because the water blocks the pathway during high tide. It’s also popular to visit during sunset and snap some picture perfect moments.