Since we have been fascinated by the temples and sacred sites of Eastern religions, we decided to do a collaborative article on some amazing temples from around the world.
Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple) in Bangkok, Thailand
Designed entirely of Italian marble and completed in 1899, it is both a relatively new temple and quite unique. While it holds all of the classically Thai architecture traits, it also seems just a bit different and is a nice, more relaxed visit that the more popular temples in Bangkok. The temple grounds are complete with small streams that pass through, and visitors can buy small fish, turtles and eels to release if they’d like to. The ticket is cheap, only 20 bath and is open daily from 8:30-5pm. A don’t miss temple in Bangkok for sure!
Wat Suwan Kuha Temple in Phuket, Thailand
It is a cave temple close to Phuket in Southern Thailand, built into a limestone cave in a mountainside. It is very atmospheric inside, quite dark but with light filtering through gaps in the cave, and it is full of statues. And a troupe of monkeys have their home in the outer courtyard. You can get to the temple by bus, taxi or organised tour from Phuket, and the entry fee is 10 baht.
Way Rong Khun “White Temple” in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Immediately upon entering the grounds of Chiang Rai’s “White Temple”, you’ll realize this contemporary, unconventional temple stands out, even in a country saturation with places of worship. Ghostly heads hang from trees in the temple gardens, trees of metal keys surround a wishing well, skulls top traffic cones and Thailand’s best “golden toilets” are available to visitors. Upon entering the temple, you’ll pass sword-wielding demons, hungry hands reaching from the depths as you cross a bridge toward the inner sanctuary, where superheroes and cartoons cavort in traditional Buddhist murals and motifs. All these fearful statues and terrifying demons symbolize a traditional Buddhist message–conquering desire, greed and passion to rise to a state of nirvana– but do it in an unforgettably, modern, unique and imaginative way.
The White Temple is 13km from Chiang Rai, Thailand and it is is by far the most unusual and unconventional temple we’ve visited. Whilst in Thailand and other SEA countries, we saw so many temples that at one point we started to feel a little ‘templed out’ and in a way we lost interest in searching for more to visit. The White Temple though was a lovely surprise because it was incredibly different and unique in its architecture, art and design. In fact it’s designed in a very modern way but still sticking to and respecting the conventional Buddhist principles. This temple is all white with many artistic decorations and statues full of mirrors that create nice silvery/glittering reflections. To enter it, there is a bridge to be crossed that goes over a ‘pond’ of sculptured hands reaching out as if they are trying to escape. Inside, to represent the transition to get to the land of Buddha, there are very futuristic murals on the walls with some of the icons we are not used to seeing in a temple, like Superman, scenes from Star Wars and Alien, Neo from the Matrix, Spongebob Squarepants, the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, Bush, Bin Laden and more. Simply incredible! It’s a must go if you are in the area, and it’s FREE to enter too.
We admire Chalermchai Kositpipat (the temple’s designer) for his amazing work and for having the courage to create a religious building in such a modern style that we can easily expect others seeing it as quite controversial for some aspects. The temple is not finished yet, people are still working to complete it and the surrounding structures too.
It’s different from any other temple I’ve been too, but most importantly, it’s a contemporary temple built by a excentric man, which makes it a pleasure to discover. I dare you to find Superman, Batman and other characters within the interior paintings!
Kōtoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Japan
The Giant Buddha of temple of Kōtoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Japan was built in the 13th century. It used to be housed in a great hall of the temple but the hall was destroyed in the 13th century, 14th century and finally in the 15th century. Kamakura is close enough to Tokyo to make it an easy day trip and there are a wealth of Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines in the city, such that the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine was an impressive hilltop structure in Kamakura, Japan (about an hour from Tokyo). This is considered the city’s most important shrine and was also a Tendai Buddhist temple. It was dedicated to Hachiman who was the Shinto God of War and has been at this location since the 12th century. Climb the 60+ steps to the main hall forbreathtaking views of the area. The grounds have museums, ponds, gardens and trails. Many cultural activities still take place here and this is often referred to as “Symbol of the Ancient Capital Kamakura”. We enjoyed our day trip to Kamakura and visiting the shrine was one of the highlights.
Hawaii Temple in Kaneohe, Hawaii
Hawaii is known for its undulating mountains, crystal clear beaches and aloha spirit. But, do you know a smaller-scale replica of a 950-year-old temple in Japan is located in the island of Oahu? At the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains, the Byodo-In Temple was established to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The sight of a red and white temple surrounded by lush foliage, a large reflecting pool and small waterfalls is truly remarkable. Vibrant peacocks and hundreds of koi carp add a level of serenity to the area. The temple, which is located in Kaneohe, is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission is $3.
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
A lot of visitors think that the Sagrada Familia is the same thing as the Cathedral of Barcelona, but it’s actually officially called the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. This emblematic Barcelona building is famously unfinished, and even though current estimates say it could be done by 2026, there are definite doubts about that! Some residents believe its incompleteness is part of its charm. But not everyone is a fan of the Sagrada Familia – George Orwell referred to it as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world’! Love it or hate it, visiting Gaudí’s ambitious project will definitely give you something to talk about afterward. Current entry prices start from €14.80, though if you’re on a tight budget looking at the spectacular outside is totally free.
Golden Temple, India
Amritsar, in Western India is home to the incredible Harmandir Sahib, otherwise known as the Golden Temple. Sitting in the centre of a sacred pool, the Golden Temple floats majestically in the centre of the huge walled compound. The temple serves as the headquarters of the Sikh religion, an extremely inclusive, friendly and welcoming religion whose fundamental belief is the equality of all people. This is reflected in the kind nature of the people here, many of whom have very little and sleep on the tiled floors surrounding the temple for days just to be close to it. There is no entrance fee, you can store your shoes for free, eat for free and the entire complex is run by volunteers. It really is a wonderful place and the Golden Temple is of course the main attraction, which comes alive when it glistens in the sunlight.
Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, Malaysia
Kek Lok Si Temple is the busiest one on the gorgeous island of Penang for a reason – it’s something really special. It’s a Buddhist temple started in 1890 and a bit like Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia, it just keeps on going. There have been new parts constructed ever since and it’s still going. Kek Lok Si is colorful, crazy and a mix of all kinds of architectural styles, and that’s probably why I loved it. The only down side is that it’s a little too full of stalls selling souvenirs, though at least when I visited there wasn’t any pushy sales action. There is no entrance fee to get into the temple and you can climb the stairs all the way to the top if you’re up to it – I was with my three-year-old so we paid for the diagonal lift to get up the last part of the complex (RM2.50 for adults).
Gangotri in the Himalayas, India
Location: Situated at a staggering altitude of 3142 meters or over 10000 feet above sea level, folded in the wraps of the splendid hills of Garhwal Himalayas in India… is situated one of the most significant temples of Hinduism – Gangotri. What makes it so special, you ask? It’s the location. Seated at the source of the River Ganga, which is considered a living Goddess for the Hindus all round the world, for a believer, Gangotri makes for a dream, the ideal pilgrimage destination. The place, complete with its aura of spiritual tranquility, is magical… Really! Here time stands still… very still! It throws you off in a trance. Even if you do not have the luxury of faith, the town still doesn’t disappoint you with craggy mountains, deep gorges, snow capped Himalayan peaks and the River Ganges flowing in a melody – leaves you mesmerized.
Ticket price: The entry to the temple is free and one can spend any amount of quiet time by the banks of the River Ganga which provides for a beautiful soul soothing experience.
Other information: The Gangotri Temple remains open for just 6 months (May to November) every year as it becomes inaccessible during the harsh Himalayan winter season. The best time to visit is October end just before the Temple closes down for winter as there is practically no crowd at this time.
The Hanging Monastery in Datong, China
The Hanging Monastery is a small Buddhist temple outside of Datong, China. It clings impressively to a wall of rock, half-way up a sheer cliff, supported from the bottom by thin timbers. This amazing and unlikely structure dates all the way back to 491 AD. You feel almost like a bird walking across the cliff face, hanging out over the valley, to peer into the dozens of individual shrines. As the structure is all wooden, you will notice an abundance of fire extinguishers … it would be quite a plummet into the valley if the floor caught on fire! You can take a taxi from Datong to see this unique temple for an admission price of 130 yuan.
The Chi Lin temple grounds in Hong Kong
The Chi Lin nunnery sits majestically in Hong Kong’s Diamond Hill. The golden pavilion, known as the Pavilion of Absolute Perfection, is juxtaposed with the innumerable grey apartment buildings which surround it. The traditional timber architecture of the temple dates back to the Tang dynasty and are the only remaining buildings of this kind in contemporary Hong Kong. Locals come to escape the metropolis and find respite in the tranquil gardens. For the hungry traveller, a vegetarian restaurant (lunch costs HKD $100-150) is hidden behind a waterfall and covered by spindly trees. The Chi Lin temple grounds are free to explore.
Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto is filled with beautiful shrines and temples, but in my opinion, none can be compared to the beauty of Kinkaku-ji, or the “Golden Pavilion”. Officially called Rokuon-ji, this Buddhist temple has acquired a lot of fame recently and has become one of the most visited places in Japan. Whether you visit during the fall when there are red momiji leaves contrasting the gold, in winter when the gold is topped with pure white snow, in spring with the cherry blossoms, or in summer allowing you to see the beautiful temple’s golden reflection– there is never a bad time to visit this beautiful temple. While it does cost 400 yen to visit, the cost is certainly worth it.
St. Sava Temple in Belgrade, Serbia
This is a Serbian Orthodox church located in Vracar neighborhood of Belgrade. It’s the largest Orthodox church in the world and it’s dedicated to Saint Sava who founded the Serbian Orthodox church. It dominates Belgrade’s cityscape and it’s one of the most important Belgrade landmarks and a tourist attraction. The church looks grandiose and beautiful from the outside, however work on the internal decoration is still ongoing. The ground floor can house 10,000 people. The entrance is free and if you wish you can leave donation. It’s definitely a must see in Belgrade, and you can also check out the post I wrote about the free things to do in Belgrade.
The Holy Spirit Catholic Church (Szentlélek-templom) in Paks, Hungary
The most beautiful church I’ve visited is also one of the most unique that I’ve seen. The Holy Spirit Catholic Church (Szentlélek-templom) is found in Paks, a small town in Hungary on the banks of the Danube. The church is made completely out of wood by Hungarian organic architect Imre Makovecz. The spires, included the expected cross, but also has the unusual shapes of a sun, and a crescent moon. The latter, a symbol of Islam, caused quite a stir in the city when they were unveiled. I especially enjoy the sense of flow and movement you get from the overall design of the church. A visit inside to marvel at the beautiful wooden designs is by appointment only.
The Monkey Temple and Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal
Although mostly famous for it’s amazing trekking in the Himalayas, Nepal is also home of some of the most breath taking temples and Stupas. I heard about the Swayambhunath or Monkey temple for a while and I couldn’t wait to visit it in person. This enormous Buddhist Stupa is located in Kathmandu, at the top of a hill. Surrounded by ancient sacred trees, it’s also called the “sublime trees” in Tibetan. Swayambhunath is one of the most ancient religious sites in Nepal.
Although mostly a Buddhist religious site, it’s importance attracts also Hindus who come to pay respect to this Sacred complex. The stupa consists of a dome where the eyes of the Buddha is looking in all directions with the word Unity in between them. The whole complex is combined of Stupas, a variety of shrines, temples and a stairway of 365 steps that will lead you directly into the temple. There is an entrance fee.. Stay in for sunset, it will take your breath away.
Sri Siva Subrahmaniya Swami Temple in Fiji
An original temple was opened on this site in 1926. This newer version completed in 1994 is now the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere. It features traditional Dravidian architecture and is decorated with wood carvings of Hindu deities imported from India and colorful frescos adorning the ceilings. Entrance is free.
100 Chickens Temple (Baiji Si), in Shangri-la, China
I’ve seen so many stunning temples around the world, it’s difficult to single out one as being the fairest of them all. Thailand’s temples took my breath away with their outrageous colors and ornamentation while those of Japan impressed with understated elegance. So instead I will choose the one which most moved me: 100 Chickens Temple, or Baiji Si, in Shangri-la, China.
To get there, we followed a poorly-marked path through a field filled with grazing yaks until we reached a tall staircase carved out of mud. A paved staircase pointed the rest of the way up. It was slow going due to the high altitude, but our effort definitely paid off. We were rewarded with an expansive view of charming old-town Shangri-la and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Colorful prayer flags flowed across the hills while chickens and pigs meandered around the grounds hunting for food. Aside from a lone caretaker, we were the only ones there, and for once it was surreal to be in the world’s most populous country and so completely alone.Much of Shangri-lahas now sadly been lost to fire. Its tragic destruction makes my memories of the place even more special. You can read more about Shangri-la and the temple here.
Garni Temple in Garni, Armenia
In a land full of Armenian Monasteries and Churches, it seems slightly out of place and odd to find a Greek style Temple in amongst the dominated Christianity. This peculiarity is one of the things that attracted us to visit Garni and we loved it. Garni Temple is situated out in the countryside, down a hill from the small village of Garni which is about 40 minutes drive from Yerevan. You pay 1000 Armenian Dram to get inside – this place is a UNESCO listed World Heritage spot too. It’s in remote countryside and sparkles in this dreamy landscape. Within the area of Garni Temple, you can admire the stunning views, go inside the main temple, which dates back to the 1st Century! The most remarkable thing about the Garni Temple is that it’s a Hellenic Greek Temple which survived the Christianity revolutions in Armenia and still stands, proud and pretty to this very day. There are also some souvenir stalls within and some strolls and walks around the nearby countryside. You can read my full report on visiting Garni Temple.
Beer Bottle Temple in Isaan, Thailand
Nearly everyone that travels to Thailand visits at least one temple, and mostly likely lots of temples. But there are some truly remarkable temples that are completely off the beaten track that not many people get to see. On such temple is Wat Lan Khuat in Khun Han, in Isaan, which is in the north east of Thailand. The temple is known locally as the Beer Bottle Temple or the Million Bottle Temple.
The Church of the Savior on Blood in Saint Petersburg, Russia
The Church of the Savior on Blood is located in the very centre of the city, easily accessible from the Nevsky Prospect metro station. It took its name after the murder of tsar Alexander II, who was killed in 1881 in the place where the church stands today. The Griboyedov Canal, which leads to the church, used to be named the Catherine Canal (after Catherine the Great), but as it often happened, the name was changed under the communist rule. Admission: 300 rubles (c. 7 euros).
Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia
My absolute favorite temple in the world is Ta Prohm inside of the ancient city of Angkor in Cambodia. One thing not everyone knows is that ‘Angkor’ is the name is an ancient city, not to be confused with its main temple, Angkor Wat. The city has five main temples and once had around 1 million inhabitants, making it the largest city of its time in the early 1200s. Ta Prohm was created over eight hundred years ago, so it actually pre-dates most of the trees that exist today. That has caused them to grow through the bricks producing one of the most spectacular views in the world today. The movie Tomb Raider was filmed here because of its true ‘ancient ruins’ look. Ta Prohm is bundled with your entrance into Angkor which costs $20 for a 7 day ticket.
Wat Palad in Chiang Mai, Thailand
I had been directed into a temple built within the jungle, enshrining elephants and dragons, the worldly and unworldly side-by-side. Streams poured out of the hills, culminating into a large rock waterfall overlooking the Chiang Mai skyline. Dogs roamed freely and, above me, a large spider clung to its capacious web. Small bridges and footpaths joined statues of Buddhas, dragons, worshipers, candle-holders and stone carvings. I could sense the connectedness of this temple, its people and the earth. It had been built under the pretense of harmony, and I could feel it.
Kaesong Temple in Kaesong, North Korea
Kwanŭm-sa is a Korean Buddhist temple located within Taehung Castle on Mt. Chonma near Kaesong, North Korea. The site is one of the National Treasures of North Korea.
Sravanabelagola Jain temple in Bangalore, India
The huge monolithic idol of Gommateswara Bahubali, located on top of a hill called Vindhyagiri, was built nearly 1000 years ago.
Considered to be the world’s largest monolithic statue,situated at the village of Sravanabelagola near the Indian IT hub of Bangalore, this idol should be a must visit on any traveler’s visit to India’s IT city.
The Batu Caves Hindu Shrine in Selangor, Malaysia
When it comes to exotic Asian temples, then the Batu Caves shrine in Selangor, Malaysia would certainly be in the “must visit” toplist. Although this Malaysian religious site isn’t very old, the atmosphere there is unparalleled and visiting it can be the experience of a lifetime. It’s a mysterious place that creates and uplifting feeling… The Batu Caves shrine is the largest Hindu shrine outside India. It’s not ancient, but has a strong vintage feel and it’s also a thrilling scenic place (a great location for taking photos), as we can find out (along with other information) from Escape Hunter, the mysterious incognito traveler. The site is not remote and you don’t have to hike through dangerous jungle, expose yourself to snakes and dangerous spiders to get there. It takes roughly half an hour to reach it from central Kuala Lumpur’s KL Sentral station, by train. Entry is free and taking photos isn’t a taboo like at some religious sites. If you haven’t been to India, this Hindu shrine will be your little piece of India in Malaysia.
In fact, this temple complex is composed of multiple small shrines, buildings and statues. If you arrive by train, coming out from the Batu Caves station, you will first encounter Hanuman’s statue (a Hindu deity who has a human body with light green skin and a monkey face) before getting to the gigantic golden Lord Murugan statue – the prominent attraction there. The gigantic statue is more than 42 meters high. Lord Murugan with a warm smile does indeed have a great view from up there! But it’s actually the caves where the most important shrines are found. You will have to climb 272 steps to reach up there and you’ll encounter nasty monkeys along the way. They might provoke you aggressively, proceed with caution. The monkeys can cause terrible wounds with their sharp long teeth, they are also tricky little thieves. They love snatching cameras, sunglasses, small bags – usually shiny objects… They also spread diseases… keep a safe distance. Although the Batu Caves temple was established in 1891, the immense Lord Murugan statue was only added in 2006. It shines in the Sun’s light, guarding the entrance to the caves. Murugan is actually the Hindu god of love, war, wisdom.
During the Thaipusam Hindu Festival, daring members of the Tamil community perform ritualic skin and flesh piercings – the scenes might seem horrific to those who aren’t used to this. Besides walking around, admiring the delicate details of the architecture, contemplating the colorful statuettes on the individual shrines, you can also buy unique souvenirs that you won’t find in Kuala Lumpur (for instance). Any visit to Kuala Lumpur should include the Batu Caves. It’s close, it’s cheap getting there, it’s free getting in, but most importantly – It’s an unrivaled mysterious place that doesn’t resemble other temples.
The combination between: the location (the temple is based in and around caves), the monumental golden statue of Murugan and the roaming nasty monkeys make it so unique. Today, the Batu Caves is the among Malaysia’s most well-known temples, it’s also on the list of the country’s most advertised travel attractions. If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Malaysia!
Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China
It was founded in the first half of the 15th century and surrounded by historic pine woods. It symbolizes the relationship between earth and heaven, the human world and God’s world, which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony.
Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia
This is the most spectacular temple on the island of Bali. The inner sanctum of the temple is perched majestically on the edge of a steep cliff that towers above the legendary surf breaks of southern Bali.
Ulun Danu in Bali, Indonesia
It was built on the lake and its scenery is amazing and unique. Locals will pray from the temple on shore and go all the way out to the temple on the lake by crossing two bridges.
Ranakpur Jain Temple in Udaipur, India
The 15th century temple, located 90km/56mi north of Udaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is one of the five major Jain pilgrimage sites. It was built with light-colored marble and features three stories, numerous halls and domes, plus over 1,400 intricately carved pillars. Non-Jain visitors are not allowed in the center part of the temple, but the entire complex includes several shrines, so get your money’s worth by walking around. The marble floor stays cool even on the hottest, sunniest days. Here’s a photo of me inside the temple, after receiving blessing a happy life from one of the priests (for a small donation, of course…).
Entry fee for foreign visitors: 300 rupees, plus a camera fee (if applicable). Shoes and any leather items must be removed prior to entering the temple.
Have you visited one of these? Which one made the strongest impression on you? What temple is missing from this list?