There really is no place in the world like Asia that can make you feel just like Indiana Jones on an adventure searching for lost treasure! Hacking your way through jungles, crawling across deserts and battling secret societies…well maybe not quite but the ancient temples found across Asia are absolutely amazing! We’ve compiled a list with some fellow travel bloggers of 15 amazing ancient temples in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand that you really should check out. Be sure to click on the links to find out more and to check out the contributor’s websites!
1) Banteay Srei
Contributed by: our3kidsvstheworld
There are so many amazing temples in Siem Reap the obvious ones being Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Our amazing tuk-tuk driver (contact details on my blog) took us to a different temple about an hour from Siem Reap called Bantaey Srei. This temple was built in the 10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Banteay Srei is a lot less intact then the previous temples mentioned but the intricacies that set this one apart is the delicate cravings on the structure. It is believed that this temple was built by a female and the carvings were also completed by females. This makes this temple quite unique.
The temple is also carved from a red sandstone, so it appears very different from the main temples and likely the reason it has not stood the test of time like others produced from stone. I think it is definitely worth visiting even just to view the delicate cravings and you get to take in a lot of the country side on the way out to the temple.
2) Ta Prohm
Contributed by: Not Another Travel Blog
If you visit any temple in Cambodia, after Angkor Wat of course, make sure to visit Ta Prohm. Famous for its use as one of the locations in the Tomb Raider film, it's the most atmospheric and impressive temple we visited in South East Asia. Part of the jungle and yet still a recognisable temple structure, its narrow winding corridors, towers of stone and inner sanctuary make it a brilliant place to spend a couple of hours.
Trees intertwine with the stone work and create whole new structures of their own, adding an even more unique and mystical sense to the temple than you'd expect. Dating back to the late 12th / early 13th century the ruins of Ta Prohm are included in the world heritage list in their own right. Keep your eye out for the hidden ‘stegosaurus’ carving on one of the inner walls – did dinosaurs roam the temples of Angkor or is it a case of mistaken identity? These amazing jungle ruins are an incredible sight and are included in the park admission price so there's no excuse not to pay them a visit on your trip to Siem Reap.
3) Badami Cave Temples
Contributed by: Go Beyond Bounds
The Badami cave temples in the Karnataka state of India are a remarkable example of rock-cut architecture dating back to the 6th century. The magnificent rock cave temples carved from the colossal sandstone cliffs are amazingly manmade. The temple complex consists of 4 temples which have beautiful carvings of Hindu divinities on walls and pillars of the hall leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The first temple is the oldest one and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the second and the third are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the fourth is dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras. The temple area offers an awe-inspiring view of the Agastya Tirtha Lake which has few more temples which can be visited through a neighboring village. There is also an archaeological museum in the village which houses some of the interesting artifacts of the history of the Chalukya dynasty who built the splendid rock cave temples. The nearest airport is Belgaum (150 km) and is around 450 km from Bangalore.
4) Ellora Caves
Contributed by: The Travelling Slacker
Ellora Caves were were built between 6th to 10th century. Originally there were more than 100 caves although only 34 are open to public now. Different caves are dedicated to Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sects. The crowning glory of Ellora is the Kailashnath Temple (Dedicated to Lord Shiva) at the cave number 16. It is a massive temple. The sheer size and intricate details inside make it hard to believe that it has been cut out of one single piece of large rock!
It is believed that these caves were developed over several centuries under the aegis of different dynasties. That is why, caves dedicated to different religioins came up, depending on the preferences of their patrons. These caves were in use till the 13th century but they were gradually abandoned with the Islamic conquest of the subcontinent. However, they have managed to survive several centuries of neglect and now they have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5) Shree Meenakshi Temple
Contributed by: Backpack Adventures
There are so many temples in India that I doubted whether it was worth it to make a detour to see the Shree Meenaksi temple in Madurai. According to the Lonely Planet it was, but in India it is easy to get an overload of temples and having to sit 3 hours in a bus to see another one seemed a bit unnecessary. Yet, being relatively so close to this masterpiece and not going also seemed a bit of a waste, so I went. And I was so glad I did. The Shree Meenakshi temple is not just a temple, but a whole complex full of life.
I calculated to be inside for maybe one or two hours, but ended up spending almost my whole day there. This is maybe the only temple with an actual shopping bazaar inside including food stalls. Thousands of people come here every day to celebrate the major events in their lives. Marriages and new born babies. It’s busy and families gather in the hallways for pick nicks. The temple complex is huge and every corridor offers something new and surprising. Still, after several visits to India, this is my favorite temple.
Contributed by: Family in Faraway Places
The Buddhist temple Borobudor in the Java region of Indonesia is located about an hour from Yogyakarta. It is believed to have been completed around 825 CE though there is no record of who built Borobudor or why it was originally built. The site was abandoned around the 14th century though and over the centuries was covered by the jungle and ash from the nearby volcanoes. The story of the great monument lived on in local stories and was rediscovered by Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles around 1814.
Probably the most popular way to see Borobudor these days is to go on a sunrise tour. For an additional fee, guests are able to enter the grounds of the temple around 4:30am before it is open to the public. You make your way up the stone steps in the dark with a small flashlight to guide you. As we waited for the sun to rise we listened to morning prayers being broadcast as fog wound its way around the coconut trees below. Blue hour faded and then suddenly the sky was a brilliant yellow. Absolutely magical!
7) Tanah Lot
Contributed by: Travels with Carole
Located about 12 mi. from Denpasar, the expansive 16th-century Tanah Lot temple complex is scenically set atop an offshore rock. It is one in a chain of seven sea temples along the southwestern Bali coast, each established within eyesight of the next. This one is spectacular at any time of day, but morning light is said to provide the best photos. Sunset is also good for photos, but bus-loads of tourists arrive then and the rock is in shadow. The best way to watch the sun set is fortified by a cold beer or fresh coconut water at one of the bluff-top cafes. Souvenir stalls are plentiful, and hawkers offer interesting items as you walk around–I was especially impressed with the kites. The temple name translates as “small island floating on the sea.” Unfortunately, though I did explore the area surrounding the temple, I missed going into the temple itself. The solution to that is a return trip in the future, at which time I also plan to visit the other six temples in that chain.
8) Mingun Pahtodawgyi
Contributed by: Getting Stamped
When traveling around Asia there are tons of gorgeous temples but some of the best and my personal favorite are in Myanmar. On my 2 weeks in Myanmar itinerary, we spent 2 days in Mandalay in which we hired a private driver one day to bring us around. About an hour drive from Mandalay is the temple of Mingun Pahtodawgyi. Construction of the Mingun Pahtodawgyi temple was started in 1790 but intentionally never finished. In 1839 a huge earthquake hit causing the massive crack running through it. That crack is what stuck out to me, and as soon as I saw a picture of this temple I knew I had to make the special trip out there. The temple is still used today with both locals and tourists visiting it daily. There is no other temple in Myanmar and it's special in its own way. Def put Mingun Pahtodawgyi on your temple bucket list.
9) Shwedagon Pagoda
Contributed by: Foodie Flashpacker
Having spent so much time in Asia you can start to experience temple fatigue. You feel like they start to run together and if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. When I first laid eyes on the Shwedagon Pagoda I was immediately relieved of any previous temple fatigue. It’s truly the most stunning temple I’ve ever seen.
The temple is located in Yangon, Myanmar. Historians and archaeologists agree that it was built between the 6th and 10th centuries. However, legend has it that it was constructed more than 2,500 years ago which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.
The stupa is nearly 100 meters tall and appears to be solid gold, which is actually brick covered in real gold. The crown is covered in more than 5000 diamonds and nearly 2400 rubies. This makes the huge shimmering pagoda a truly impressive site.
Contributed by: RandomTrip
Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, and a must-visit place if you ever visit this amazing country. It is believed it was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BC until the 11th century AD. So you will be admiring some buildings and ruins older than 2000 years!
It's home of some amazing Buddhist pagodas, from which I highlight the one in the picture, Jetavanaramaya. This big pagoda is supposed to host a piece of the belt of Buddha. It was covered by jungle until 1981, where the restoration work began, which has not finished yet. It is the tallest Buddhist stupa in the ancient world, the 2nd tallest non-pyramid building in the ancient world, and the biggest brick structure in the world
The other amazing place of Anuradhapura I would like to highlight is the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree which is said to be a branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi tree in India, where Buddha achieved enlightenment. It is the oldest living human-planted tree with a recorded planting date (it was planted in the year 288 BC)
11) Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic)
Contributed by: 5 Lost Together
Most world travelers wouldn't recognize the name of Sri Dalada Maligawa temple in Sri Lanka by its official name. Located in UNESCO world heritage site Kandy, the temple is better known for what it houses: a tooth of the Buddha. Generally referred to as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, this temple attracts both Buddhist worshipers and tourists. While the outside of the temple is rather ordinary, inside you will find ornate carvings and statutes and lavish hallways. The main attraction of course is the tooth relic, in which you can only see the casket it is contained in. Go during puja (3 times a day) to experience the reverence cast on the tooth and this temple and preferably with a guide who can explain the history of the temple. You may not understand the puja, but the beating of the drums, passion of the worshipers and sizable crowds create a dizzying atmosphere. After experiencing the frenzy of the puja and getting a glimpse of the tooth casket, relax and enjoy the picturesque lakeside setting of the most important temple in Sri Lanka.
12) Prang Sam Yot – The Monkey Temple
Contributed by: Jonistravelling.com
Prang Sam Yot, AKA the Monkey Temple, is one of the coolest ancient temples in Thailand. It's located in Lopburi, a former Thai capital just a couple of hours by train from Bangkok. The temple dates back to the Khmer era and is the headquarters for a massive gang of monkeys who patrol its grounds in search of food. If you're carrying food or even just rustling a plastic bag, you'll soon have company. There are also many other ruins in Lopburi, including temples and palaces. The monkeys don't just stick to the temple either — they roam the streets, climb through windows and cross roads in massive convoys. It's an entertaining place to visit and can easily be combined with a trip to Ayutthaya. You could visit both as a long day trip from Bangkok but it's better to spend a few days in this area. This lets you explore early in the mornings and late in the afternoons and escape the heat and day trip crowds.
13) Si Satchanalai Historical Park
Contributed by: Surfing the Planet
The Si Satchanalai Historical Park is a less known annex of the Sukhotai Historical Park, but a must-visit place when you are in Central Thailand. It is found at a 2 hour bus drive from the latter. Si Satchanalai was founded in the 13th century as a second center of the Sukhotai Kingdon and the crown price used it as residence in the following centuries. The ruins of Si Satchanalai might be less spectacular than those of Sukhotai, but you have a good chance to visit them almost on your own in a more rural and somewhat mysterious environment.
When you get off the bus coming from Sukhotai, you can rent a bike to explore the area with a map included. Some of the most important sights to visit are Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng, a temple on top of a small hill with great views and Wat Chedi Jet Thaew, which resembles a lot to the Sukhotai temples. The most charming part of the Si Satchanalai Park is Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, an impressive temple with several sitting Buddha statues.
14) Sukhothai historical park
Contributed by: Grabbing Life by the Balls
Sukhothai Historical Park, which encompasses three different sites in the ancient Thai capital, is a hidden gem. About half-way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it receives only a small fraction of the visitors of better known temples in SE Asia. The central site, which is the most extensive and impressive, is easy to explore on foot or by bike, with few crowds. The temples were built in the 13th and 14th centuries and the site includes over 190 ruins. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and costing only 100baht (less than US$3) for a day pass, Sukhothai is better value than the Angkor complex in Cambodia will ever be. Renting a bike from one of the vendors across from the ticket booth is the best way to get around, and only costs 30 baht for the day (less than most hotels charge). Insider tip: Be there on a Saturday night when they light up the main temples with candles (included in your day pass).
15) Wat Maha Tha (Ayutthaya)
Contributed by: Gamin Traveler
The Wat Maha That or Temple of the Great Relics is located in Ayutthaya's city center – a temple built during the 14th century (1374 during the reign of King Borommaacha). The temple was a residence of Thai Buddhist monks and was burnt in 1767 during the Burmese War. In 1935, Wat Maha That was registered as part of Ayutthaya World Heritage Historical Park, and in our opinion, a definitely must-see when you are traveling in Ayutthaya. You can visit it even if you're in Bangkok. The trip is around one hour and a half from the capital by train. People like to see and take pictures to The Head of The Buddha in a tree trunk with roots growing around. Apart from it with, the complex is really interesting to walk around and has been very well conserved. The visit can last around an hour.
What are your favorite ancient temples in Asia?
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