Where are the Most Beautiful Buddhist Temples in Asia?

Me at Banteay Srei Temple

One of the things I love most about traveling are the temples in Asia. Even though they’re all Asian, each one retains a uniqueness that sets it apart with its special design and story. I’m always struck by their beauty, the intricate details in the architecture, and the distinct atmosphere each holds. Here are my top five most beautiful temples in Asia.

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Wat Pa Phai
Sri Krishna Temple
Wat Chalermprakiat
Banteay Srei Temple
Kinkakuji Temple

Luang Prabang, Laos

Exploring the Tranquil Wat Pa Phai Temple: A Monk Chat in Laos

At 9 a.m., just as the day’s heat began to rise, I bicycled in the historic town of Luang Prabang, preparing for an enlightening encounter among my favorite temples in Asia. I parked my bike near the steps, a loaner from the Belle Rive Boutique Hotel, covered in pink petals from the flowering bush overhead. Before entering the temple grounds, I pulled out the sweater I brought to wrap my arms, following the Buddhist temple etiquette. As requested by Orange Robe Tours, I arrived 5-10 minutes before the start at the tiny but serene Wat Pa Phai Temple, nestled steps away from the Mekong River. The courtyard, fragrant with lavender and frangipani blossoms, offered a tranquil setting for my monk chat in Laos.

Instead of preparing a list of specific questions, I approached our conversation as a casual chat between a former monk and a curious soul, a unique feature of exploring temples in Asia. However, I was particularly interested in one question: what led you to become a monk in the first place?

Noy, a former monk who devoted nine years of his youth to Buddhist monasticism at one of the revered temples in Asia, chose a different path. When we began our conversation, he assured me that no topic was off-limits. He encouraged me to ask any questions I had, and he would strive to answer them truthfully. Despite not appearing uncomfortable, it was evident that he was not entirely at ease. He later admitted that engaging in casual conversation with people was still something he struggled with after leaving the temple.

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Singapore City, Singapore

Embracing the Streets of Little India and Discovering the Tranquility of Sri Krishna Temple

Waking up with an adventurous spirit during my year exploring my favorite temples in Asia, I found myself in an unfamiliar city, eager to explore before the crowds. The streets of Little India called to me, and I set out alone to immerse myself in its vibrant culture and enjoy a cup of coffee. Under the warm sun, I took a stroll, open to the day’s unfolding surprises.

As I meandered through the lively streets, an enticing aroma guided me to the magnificent Sri Krishna Temple, one of the many temples in Asia that had drawn my interest. Its majestic entrance invited me in, enveloping me in a tranquil ambiance. The morning light filtered through the courtyard, casting a serene glow that heightened the sacred atmosphere. Closing my eyes, I let the music transport me, filling me with inner peace.

The temple’s intricate details and the devotion of its visitors left an indelible mark. Devotees moved gracefully, offering lotus blossoms as symbols of reverence. The fragrant flowers mingled with the melodies, creating an enchanting harmony that deepened the spiritual experience. Exploring further, I entered the inner sanctum, where a shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna stood. Flickering candles and oil lamps cast a warm and inviting light, adding to the atmosphere. Reluctantly, I left the temple’s embrace and returned to the vibrant streets of Singapore. The serene encounter at Sri Krishna Temple had left its mark—a morning of unexpected beauty. As I continued to explore the city’s dynamic streets, the temple’s tranquility remained with me, a reminder of the hidden gems waiting to be discovered in every corner of this captivating urban landscape.

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Lampang, Thailand

Wat Chalermprakiat: A Sky Temple Adventure Off the Beaten Path

Driven by a longing for unique adventures, I found myself captivated by Wat Chalermprakiat, the sky temple nestled among the rugged peaks of Lampang, which quickly became one of my favorite temples in Asia. Despite not being a seasoned adventure seeker, the temple’s allure drew me in. Starting at 8 a.m., our driver, Wat, picked us up from the Chiang Mai Hotel and guided us southeast through calm landscapes. Covering 70 kilometers, we arrived at Wat Chalermprakiat, where the choice awaited us: ascend by pickup truck or conquer steep stairs. With tickets in hand, we embarked on an exhilarating truck ride, navigating a challenging path and eventually completing the hike to reach the temple’s summit. Beyond its striking architecture, the true essence of Wat Chalermprakiat lay in its secluded significance, beckoning intrepid souls to unveil its serene magnificence and connect deeply with Thailand’s spiritual heritage.

A sense of tranquility within the temple unfolded amidst Lampang’s natural beauty, solidifying its place as one of my favorite temples in Asia. Wat Chalermprakiat harmoniously blended with its surroundings, showcasing the seamless interplay between human craftsmanship and nature’s majesty. Glistening white and gold stupas perched atop mountain peaks, each displaying intricate designs and meticulous carvings, welcomed me. While the temple’s open-air design marked its purpose, its significance stretched beyond worship, inviting us to explore its cultural depth. Adorned walls told Buddhist tales, offering glimpses into Thai heritage and beliefs. A gentle breeze brought life to a wind chime, its soothing melody resonating with the environment and casting a tranquil aura. Wat Chalermprakiat’s allure appealed to the adventurous, providing a serene atmosphere and intricate details that immersed us in Thailand’s spiritual essence.

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

Dreaming of Angkor Wat’s temples since childhood, their timeless allure has left me speechless, which is uncommon. As a history enthusiast, exploring its ancient stones feels like tracing the past, and Siem Reap’s evolving blend of modernity and historical treasures enthralls me. Leading Siem Reap’s top 10 list, Angkor Wat is more than just a single temple; it’s a revered complex scattered across the city, with its iconic west-facing design drawing thousands to witness sunrise over its lotus bud-shaped towers, a spectacle that never fails to amaze.

Bayon Temple and Angkor Thom

Bayon Temple, built by King Jayavarman VII, symbolizes Cambodia’s heritage with its robust architecture and iconic four-faced Buddha statues. At the same time, Neak Pean Temple’s unique interconnected ponds have made it a renowned destination for healing. Bayon’s moss-covered sandstone and intricate carvings make it a must-visit, and Neak Pean offers a peaceful experience with its distinctive design and therapeutic waters.

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Ta Prohm

Anticipating a visit to Ta Prohm, I was beyond excited – and I admit, some of that excitement stemmed from Angelina Jolie’s influence, making it known as the Tomb Raider Temple. However, that didn’t diminish its incredible charm. It was surreal to touch the ancient roots and feel the sandstone walls and blocks from which they emerged. While these three temples can get busy, a skilled tour guide helps you dodge the crowds. Just like Angkor Thom, an hour is ample for exploring the temple grounds, and you might even luck out with crowd-free photos, as I did.

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Banteay Srei Temple

My Favorite Temple at Angkor Wat

When you’re touring the vast Angkor Wat complex during your year in Asia, you’ve got to include a stop at the captivating Banteay Srei Temple, one of my favorite temples in Asia. They also call it the Citadel of the Women or the Citadel of Beauty, renowned for the unique carvings on its walls and its smaller size compared to the other prominent temples around. Getting there isn’t the smoothest ride—it’s about an hour in a bumpy tuk-tuk covering about 37km from the town. But trust me; it’s worth it. If you want to make the most of your day, check out Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre. Then catch the stunning sunset at Pre Rup Temple.

Picture this: Banteay Srei Temple was built in the 10th century AD and made entirely of red sandstone. The level of detail in the carvings is so incredible that you might find a little dust from the temple in your hotel room. Interestingly, unlike the other big temples around, a king didn’t put up this temple. It was hidden away until rediscovered in 1914, adding a mysterious vibe to its story. Now, if you’re like me and want some quiet time during your trip, you might want to try a solo tuk-tuk ride, just you and the temples. It’s a chance to soak in the beauty at your own pace. So, don’t miss out on soaking up the splendor of Banteay Srei Temple and everything the fantastic Angkor Wat complex offers.

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Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto captivated me in the heart of modernity with its timeless allure, especially during our year in Asia. The echoes float through its thousand temples, particularly in the enchanting Gion District, which includes some of my favorite temples in Asia. I was hesitant about changing my itinerary, but I gave in to the city’s pull, deciding on a whirlwind one-day visit via the swift Shinkansen. Upon arrival, I immediately sought direction at the Tourist Center, equipping myself with maps and recommendations.

Venturing out, I mostly explored the city by bus, immersing myself in its fusion of the past and present. Among the iconic places that left an indelible mark was the Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion. Standing majestically beside a reflecting pond, this Zen Buddhist temple is layered in gold leaf, glistening under the sun. The temple’s reflection shimmered on the tranquil water, adding to its status as one of my favorite temples in Asia. The surrounding lush gardens give the entire site a surreal, almost ethereal quality.

I also wandered through Gion Corner, got a glimpse of the elusive Geishas, and ended my day with panoramic views from Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Throughout, I marveled at Kyoto’s seamless blend of tradition and contemporary life. It’s a city where history and modernity live side by side, enriched by its beautiful temples and vibrant culture.

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