Exploring the 17 Most Unforgettable Temples of Southeast Asia

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Uncover the beauty of the best temples of Southeast Asia. Delve into their history, intricate architecture, and the region’s rich cultural tapestry.

Borobudur in Southeast Asia

The temples of Southeast Asia are not only architectural wonders but windows into the profound spiritual traditions that have shaped the region for centuries. It’s an opportunity to enter a world vastly different from our present reality.

Nestled amongst dense jungles, perched on mountaintops, and now bordered by bustling cities, the contrast of the magnificent and intricate temple against its backdrop will spark a feeling of magic and awe inside of you. 

We’ve handpicked the best temples in Southeast Asia, so you can start planning your trip right now. 

Best temples in Thailand

1. Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai Historical Park

Most people add the town of Sukhothai to their Thailand itinerary solely to visit the incredible Sukhothai Historical Park. Give yourself a few days to explore this place. 

Once the capital of Thailand during the 13th and 14th centuries, Sukhothai covers 70 km² and is home to over 200 temples. That’s a lot to explore! 

One of the best ways to traverse the historical site is to hire a bicycle. That way, you can discover the well-preserved ruins of temples and statues without your legs really hating you at the end of the day. 

Don’t miss Wat Mahathat, Wat Sa Si and Wat Si Chum.

2. Wat Phra Kaew (Bangkok)

Wat Phra Kaew Southeast Asia Temple

Bangkok is home to some of Southeast Asia’s best temples, and Wat Phra Kaew is one of them. 

Often referred to as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it’s one of Thailand’s most revered and iconic religious sites. The temple gets its name from the magnificent Emerald Buddha found inside, a statue carved from a single piece of jade (not emerald…slightly confusing, we know!)

Once you’ve taken in the grandeur of the Emerald Buddha, take your time exploring the serene grounds of the Grand Palace.

3. Wat Pho (Bangkok)

golden Buddha Wat Pho Temple in Southeast Asia

Wat Pho, officially known as Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn — good luck pronouncing that — is one of Bangkok’s largest and oldest temples. 

That’s not what the temple is famous for, though. People come from all across the world to see the magnificent reclining Buddha. Stretching 46 meters (151 feet) in length, the colossal golden statue is really a sight to see. 

With the image of the reclining Buddha stored safely in your mind, the rest of the historical site is worth your time. There is an array of courtyards, chapels, stupas and perfectly landscaped gardens that are ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. 

4. Wat Rong Khun — White Temple (Chiang Rai)

Wat Rong Khun Temple in Thailand

It is unlikely that you have ever seen a temple quite like Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, and it is doubtful that you will ever see another one like it.

This unique Southeast Asian temple in Chiang Rai is best described as unconventional. It fuses traditional Buddhist architecture with contemporary art, which explains the pop culture references like images of superheroes and celebrities that can be found inside. 

The all-white exterior of the temple symbolizes purity and enlightenment. Plus, it’s adorned with an intricate mirror mosaic detailing representing the idea of self-reflection. 

But before you get there, you’ll need to cross a bridge over a sea of outstretched hands, portraying desire and temptation. 

As I said, it’s unlike any other temple on this list. 

5. Wat Sri Suphan (Chiang Mai)

silver carving Wat Sri Suphan temple in Southeast Asia

Another temple that is just as much a work of art as a religious site is Wat Sri Suphan. 

This extraordinary temple in Chiang Mai is renowned for its unique architecture, intricate silver craftsmanship, and role in preserving traditional Lanna art and culture. 

The temple gets its other name, the Silver Temple, from its distinctive exterior entirely covered in silver, aluminum and other reflective metals. This array of materials depicts scenes from Buddhist mythology, local folklore and Lanna culture. 

Wandering around this temple can keep you fascinated for hours.

Most beautiful temples in Malaysia 

6. Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur)

Batu Caves, just outside of Kuala Lumpur, is one of the country’s most popular and remarkable sites. You might have seen photos gracing your social media feed of vibrant multi-colored steps overlooked by a towering golden statue… that’s Batu Caves

As well as being very photogenic, the site is a significant pilgrimage site for Hindus. After climbing the 272 rainbow-colored steps, you’ll reach the Cathedral Cave, the largest and most famous of the three main caves at Batu. Inside, discover Hindu shrines and appreciate the panoramic views outside. 

Pro tip: Don’t miss Ramayana Cave! It’s slightly hidden, so easy to forget. It’s hard to truly capture this cave in words. It depicts the mythology of Ramayana and is bizarre, creative and creepy all at the same time. Especially if you’re the only one in there!

7. Kek Lok Si (Penang)

Head to Penang to see one of Southeast Asia’s most significant Buddhist temples. 

 Kek Lok Si temple in Southeast Asia

Often referred to as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, it’s a masterpiece of architecture, spirituality, and natural beauty.

Being perched on top of a mountain watching over Penang, its location makes Kek Lok Si feel bigger than it already is. The star of the show is, without a doubt, the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a 7-tiered structure adorned with intricate carvings and countless Buddha statues. 

Pro tip: Try to visit during Chinese New Year when the temple comes alive with colorful glowing lanterns. 

Top temple in Myanmar

8. Bagan

Bagan temple in Southeast Asia

Due to Myanmar’s current instability, most travelers avoid Myanmar. If you do make it there, the town of Bagan has to be at the top of your list. 

This ancient city was once home to over 10,000 temples, stupas, pagodas and other religious structures. It was huge, and a significant portion still stands today!

One of the best ways to cover the large area is to hop on a hot air balloon at sunrise and admire the ancient city from the sky. 

Unique temples in Laos

9. Pha That Luang (Vientiane)

monks at Pha That Luang temple in southeast asia

Can you visit Laos without visiting its national symbol? Probably not, so you’ll need to add Pha That Luang temple to your Vientiane itinerary. 

Often referred to as the Great Stupa, this temple dates all the way back to the 3rd century when it began its journey as a Hindu temple. 

Since then, it’s undergone various transformations, becoming a Buddhist stupa in the 16th century and the brilliant, bold icon we know today in the 20th century. 

Try to visit on a sunny day. The way the golden facade shines in the sunlight is something you’ll never forget!

10. Vat Phou (Champasak) 

Vat Phou temple in Laos

Everyone has heard of Angkor Wat, but did you know there’s a temple in Laos that is also a remarkable example of Khmer architecture? And there will be a lot less tourists to bump into here!

Vat Phou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that showcases a brilliant blend of Khmer, Hindu and Buddhist elements. You can see the region’s religious evolution through this Southeast Asian temple. 

As if it couldn’t get much better, the site is located at the base of Phou Kao mountain, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding lush countryside. 

Magical temples in Cambodia 

11. Angkor Wat (Siem Reap)

two young monks in Angkor Wat

Attempting to tick off all the 7 Wonders of the World? Angkor Wat in Siem Reap should already be on your list, then! This Southeast Asian temple has many elements that contributed to its inclusion on this list.

It could be that it’s the largest religious monument in the world, covering an area four times the size of Vatican City. 

Or maybe that every person who visits Angkor Wat is blown away by the power that seems to emanate from this originally Hindu, now Buddhist, temple. 

Get up close and admire the intricate carvings depicting scenes from Hindu epics, mythology, and Khmer history. 

Pro tip: Visit Angkor Wat at sunrise. You can’t beat it!

12. Banteay Srei (Siem Reap)

red sandstone carvings of Banteay Srei temple in Cambodia

We usually think the bigger the better, right? Well, Banteay Srei is one of the smallest temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. 

So why have we put it on the list? This exquisite temple, dating back to the 10th century, stands as a testament to the artistic brilliance of the Khmer Empire. 

The temple was constructed from a unique red sandstone that allowed for remarkably detailed carvings that take you on a journey through Hindu myths and scenes from everyday life during the Khmer Empire. 

It’s one of the best picture books you’ll ever read!

Unmissable temples in Vietnam

13. Tây Ninh Holy See (Tay Ninh)

Tây Ninh Holy See temple in Southeast Asia

Tây Ninh, or Cao Dai Holy See, differs from every other Southeast Asian temple on this list. 


The temple is a spiritual site for Caodaism, a religion that began in Vietnam in 1926. The religion combines teachings from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity. 

As you wander around this brightly colored and ornate temple, you’ll spot the Divine Eye, a giant eye looking at you, a symbol of Caodaism. 

It’s a unique experience and the chance to learn about a new religion. 

Must-see temples in Indonesia 

14. Borobudur (Central Java)

Borobudur temples in Indonesia

Borobudur is one of the most outstanding Southeast Asian temples you will ever visit! 

A visit here will take you on a journey. The temple’s design narrates the story of Buddha’s life and teachings. The pilgrimage path takes you through a series of levels, each representing different stages of spiritual enlightenment. The final destination is the central stupa, symbolizing Nirvana and spiritual awakening.

The sheer size of the temple leaves you feeling insignificant and in absolute awe — it’s the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world!

How they built a huge pyramid-like structure with 2,500 intricately carved relief panels and 504 Buddha statues in the 9th century will blow your mind. 

15. Prambanan (Yogyakarta)

Prambanan close up at temple

Not too far from Borobudur, located just outside Yogyakarta, it’s possible to visit both temples on the same day. Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. 

It’s fascinating to compare the different designs and architectures of the two religious sites. Built in the 9th century also, the complex is dedicated to Trimurti, the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. 

With 240 temples to explore, Prambanan is a world of adventure and learning. 

16. Pura Tanah Lot (Bali)

Pura Tanah Lot (Bali) temple

Pura Tanah Lot is magical, but its ocean backdrop, crashing waves and picturesque sunsets take it to another level. 

The temple is situated on a rock formation just off the coast of Bali. You’ll have to wait until low tide to get there without getting wet. As if by magic, the sea parts, revealing a rocky causeway to the temple.

Dedicated to the Balinese sea gods, many visitors come here to worship the gods and receive blessings. Some people just come for the out-of-this-world photo opportunities. 

Colorful temple in Singapore

17. Sri Mariamman (Singapore)

Sri Mariamman Singapore temple

In a city overflowing with modern wonders, it can sometimes be easy to forget its history. Head to Singapore’s Chinatown if you want a taste of that…and we’re not talking about the food. That’s another treat. 

There, you’ll find Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore

Built in 1827, the temple is a stunning blend of South Indian Dravidian and Singaporean influences. It features vibrant sculptures and a towering gopuram (entrance tower) adorned with ornate carvings. 

Weather in Southeast Asia 

doorway to Buddha Sukhothai Historical Park

Southeast Asia’s vast expanse ensures there’s good weather somewhere year-round. It’s just about finding it!

Typically, the dry season spans from November to April, making it the prime time for visiting. This period offers minimal rain and comfortable temperatures but is also the busiest and most costly.

It’s important to note that not all Southeast Asian countries stick to this weather pattern. Indonesia’s and Borneo’s dry seasons are from April to October, and Malaysia’s coastlines follow their own rhythms.

For most, the rainy season sticks around from May to October.

Packing list essentials for visiting Southeast Asia’s temples

close up Buddha Sukhothai Historical Park

For all of your Southeast Asian packing essentials, check out this ultimate packing list. On top of that, you might need a few extra things to make sure you’re comfortable on your temple adventures: 

  • Comfortable walking shoes 
  • A sunhat 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Suncream 
  • Local sim card — so you can Google any questions about the temple on the go. 
  • Camera 
  • A sarong — not for the beaches, but to be respectful and covered at the temples.

Map of Southeast Asia 

Southeast Asia is home to thousands of temples, hidden in jungles, squashed in now busy cities and even in the sea. Temple hopping will take you all across Southeast Asia. 

How to get to Southeast Asia 

close up of a silver carving at temple in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a top travel destination with well-developed infrastructure, making it accessible to travelers. International airports are abundant, and transportation systems are typically reliable.

Most visitors arrive in Southeast Asia by plane, starting their journey in bustling streets filled with tuk-tuks, honking taxis, and buses shuttling passengers around.

Buses are a popular and practical choice for exploring the region, offering affordability and decent comfort. In countries like Thailand and Vietnam, sleeper buses make long journeys more manageable, allowing you to catch some sleep along the way.

Trains and boats also play a significant role in regional travel, particularly for island-hopping adventures in Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

Top temples of Southeast Asia to visit 

Sukhothai Historical Park Southeast Asia Temple

Armed with your list of the best Southeast Asian temples, you can hit the ground running and start learning about various religions, architectural styles and the region’s history. 

Fortunately, these temples have stood the testament of time and still provide that window back in time. 

If you’re worried about getting “templed out,” why not combine your temple adventures with waterfall ones? Check out where to find the best waterfalls in Southeast Asia


What is the biggest temple in Southeast Asia?

Angkor Wat takes the crown for the biggest Southeast Asian temple, with the temple complex covering nearly 400 acres. It’s also the biggest religious monument in the world. 

What are the two most important temples in Southeast Asia?

There are certainly a lot more than two important temples in Southeast Asia, but two of the most famous are Borobudur in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 

What is a Thai temple called? 

Temples are called wats, which means enclosure. 

Posted December 6, 2023
Kate Woodley
After a 2-year career break travelling the world, Kate quit her job as a Management Consultant and went all in on digital nomad life. She continues to travel, working as a freelance writer and inspiring others to travel through her Instagram, Maskedtravelsx. Kate also shares her love of travel by running group trips to unique destinations — Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan etc. Where life will take her next? She has no idea!