Few places in the world inspire such personal reflection as the temples of Asia. Buddhist, Hindu and countless other Eastern religions felt a mysticism and deep connection to these sacred areas, some of which are still in use as holy sites today. Take a moment to read up on the 10 most spiritual landmarks of Asia and, maybe, find your next destination to reflect:
1. My Son Cham - Hoi An, Vietnam
Constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries and dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Shiva, the My Son temple complex has been abandoned for ages and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though only a handful of the original 70 structures still stand, these temple ruins, surrounded by lush jungle, is still an enthralling experience.
2. Shwedagon Pagoda - Yangon, Myanmar
Also known as the Great Dragon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda, this gilded stupa dominates the Yangon skyline. Considered the most sacred of Buddhist pagodas in Myanmar, it is believed to house the relics of four previous Buddhas, including strands of Gautama’s hair.
3. Boudhanath Temple - Kathmandu, Nepal
When Tibetan king, Songsten Gampo, converted to Buddhism sometime after A.D. 600, and, according to legend, the king constructed the stupa as an act of penance after unwittingly killing his father. Each of the 13 levels of the spire represent the stages of human life one must pass through in order to achieve nirvana.
4. Angkor Wat - Siem Reap, Cambodia
Cambodia’s most iconic temple and the ultimate expression of Khmer ingenuity, Angkor Wat was built as the physical representation of the Mt. Olympus of Hinduism, Mt. Meru. The temple has been the source of debate for scholars for centuries as the west-facing orientation pointed toward Angkor Wat as a tomb, however, it is now believed that the complex served as both temple and tomb for Suryavarman II.
5. Bagan Pagodas - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
This once magnificent city served as the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Not only is Bagan an excellent location to witness ancient monuments from various points in history, the area is also an amazing example of the development of architecture through several centuries. There are many pagodas and temples to visit here, so allow yourself plenty of time to visit the main attractions, such as Ananda pagoda.
6. Borobudur - Java, Indonesia
One of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world, the Borobudur Temple Compound, the three tiered construction of the main temple is a perfect representation of the Universe in Buddhist cosmology. The temple was in use from its construction until sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries, when it was abandoned. Re-discover and restoration has helped bring this Buddhist and dynastic monument back to life.
7. The Ganges River - Varanasi, India
While millions flock every year to the Ganges River’s sacred waters, the city of Varanasi has an equal appeal as the spiritual capital of India. The winding streets are lined with some 2,000 temples and the River offers a sacred place to bathe away their ailments or perform funeral rites.
8. Wat Rong Khun - Chiang Rai, Thailand
Commonly known as the White Temple, this Buddhist-style temple should be revered as more of a contemporary art exhibit than a spiritual destination. Even still, owner and artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, hopes to convert the area adjacent to the temple into a center of learning and meditation. The progress continues on this offering to Lord Buddha, however Wat Rong Khun will not be completed until the year 2070.
9. Mt. Koya - Osaka, Japan
This small, secluded temple town is known as the center of Shingon Buddhism, a Buddhist sect introduced to Japan in 805 A.D. This is one of the best areas of Japan to overnight in a temple lodging, known as a shukubo, where you can have a taste of the life of a monk. The original monastery has since developed into the town of Koya, featuring a university for religious studies and 120 sub-temples.
10. Wat Pho - Bangkok, Thailand
Both the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho is also well known for the giant statue of a reclining Buddha. At 150 feet long and 49 feet tall, it is the largest Buddha statue in Thailand. The reclining Buddha is decorated with gold leaf with mother-of-pearl inlays on both the statues eyes and the soles of its feet.