Travel Tips
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Exploring Asia's Divine Wonders: A Guide to the Top Temples & Shrines

May 17, 2024
Alexis Miller

Asia, a continent rich in spiritual heritage and architectural grandeur, offers a fascinating array of sacred temples and shrines that draw millions of visitors yearly. From the majestic Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the serene Meiji Shrine in Japan, these sites are not only places of worship but also stunning embodiments of cultural and historical legacy. 

Here’s a curated list of top temples and shrines in Asia that promise an unforgettable spiritual journey.

1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Nestled in the heart of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat stands as the largest religious monument in the world. Originally conceived as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, it later transitioned into a Buddhist temple. Its classical Khmer architecture, surrounded by a vast moat, and the central tower symbolizing Mount Meru offers a glimpse into a profound cosmological vision.

2. The Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa), Sri Lanka

Located in the heart of Kandy, the Temple of the Tooth houses the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha, making it one of the most revered Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. The temple complex is renowned for its exquisite Kandyan architecture, featuring intricate carvings and a golden roof that adds to its majestic appearance. 

3. Meiji Shrine, Japan

Amidst Tokyo's bustling cityscape lies the tranquil Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The shrine's large torii gates and traditional Shinto architecture offer a peaceful retreat filled with annual festivals and rituals.

4. Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand

Located within Bangkok's Grand Palace complex, Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is home to a revered jade statue. The temple's ornate details and golden stupas are emblematic of Thai religious artistry.

5. Borobudur, Indonesia

The world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur, is a monumental mandala made of stone, representing Buddhist cosmology. Its relief panels and Buddha statues narrate the path to enlightenment, making it a significant pilgrimage site.

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6. Senso-ji, Japan

Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji, is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The temple features the iconic Kaminarimon gate and a bustling shopping street, Nakamise-dori, offering a blend of spirituality and commerce.

7. Temple of Heaven, China

Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, a complex used by emperors for harvest prayers, is renowned for its circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Its architecture and the surrounding parklands are a favorite among locals for morning tai chi.

8. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Japan

Kyoto’s Zen Buddhist temple, Kinkaku-ji, is famous for its gold-leaf-coated exterior. The reflective pond and surrounding gardens emphasize the temple's serene beauty, making it a picturesque site throughout the year.

9. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, India

In Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, this sprawling Hindu temple is known for its elaborate gopurams and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of the largest functioning Hindu temples, rich in carvings and sacred tanks.

10. Pura Besakih, Indonesia

Situated on the slopes of Mount Agung in Bali, Pura Besakih is revered as the “Mother Temple.” Its 23 different but unified temples offer a panoramic view and a spiritual ambiance that encapsulates Balinese Hinduism.

Respectful Visitation Etiquette

Visiting these sacred sites is a privilege that comes with the responsibility of respecting their cultural and spiritual significance. Here are some general etiquette practices to follow:

Cambodia (Angkor Wat)

  • Dress Modestly: Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Avoid hats inside temple buildings.
  • Remove Shoes: Take off your shoes before entering temple buildings.
  • Respect Sacred Spaces: Refrain from touching statues or sacred objects.
  • Quiet and Respectful Behavior: Keep your voice low and avoid loud conversations.

Sri Lanka (The Temple of the Tooth)

  • Dress Modestly: Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. White clothing is often preferred as a sign of respect.
  • Remove Shoes: Take off your shoes and hats before entering the temple complex.
  • Respect Rituals: Maintain silence during rituals and ceremonies. Do not disturb monks or worshippers.
  • Photography Restrictions: Photography is generally allowed in the outer areas, but refrain from taking pictures inside the inner sanctum where the relic is housed.
  • Offerings: If you wish to make offerings, flowers are commonly used, but ensure you do so respectfully without disrupting the proceedings.

Japan (Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji)

  • Cleanse Yourself: At the entrance, use the temizuya (purification fountain) to rinse your hands and mouth.
  • Quiet Respect: Maintain a quiet and respectful demeanor, especially during prayer times.
  • Bowing: Bow slightly before entering shrine buildings and at the main sanctuary.
  • Donation Ritual: When making an offering, throw a coin into the offering box, bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once more.

Thailand (Wat Phra Kaew)

  • Dress Appropriately: Shoulders and knees must be covered. Avoid tight or revealing clothing.
  • Remove Shoes: Take off your shoes before entering any temple building.
  • Avoid Physical Contact with Monks: Women should not touch monks or hand them items directly.
  • Pointing: Do not point your feet at Buddha images or sit with your legs outstretched towards them.

Indonesia (Borobudur, Pura Besakih)

  • Modest Dress: Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Sarongs are often provided at temple entrances.
  • Remove Shoes: Take off your shoes before entering temple interiors.
  • Respect Religious Practices: Avoid interrupting prayers or ceremonies.
  • General Behavior: Do not climb onto stupas or touch sacred objects.

China (Temple of Heaven)

  • Respect Sacred Areas: Stay on designated paths and do not touch religious artifacts.
  • Quiet and Respectful: Maintain a low voice, especially in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
  • Photography Restrictions: Follow any posted signs regarding photography limitations.
  • Respect for Elders: Give way to elderly visitors and allow them to enter or exit buildings first.

India (Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple)

  • Modest Clothing: Wear clothing that covers your shoulders, arms, and knees.
  • Remove Shoes: Leave your shoes outside the temple entrance.
  • No Leather Items: Avoid carrying leather items (belts, wallets, etc.) into the temple.
  • Gender-Specific Areas: Be aware of and respect any gender-specific areas or rituals.

By adhering to these practices, visitors can ensure their experience is both enriching and respectful, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for Asia's spiritual heritage.

Exploring these temples and shrines offers a profound insight into the diverse spiritual landscapes of Asia. Each site, with its unique architectural beauty and sacred atmosphere, invites visitors to step into a world where history, culture, and spirituality intertwine, creating an unforgettable experience of discovery and reverence.

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