The Unmissable Temples of South East Asia

The temples of South East Asia are ancient wonders with many legendary stories to tell, often surrounded by stunning landscapes and sometimes enveloped by nature. Exploring these iconic temples provides a sense of wonder which makes travellers pause, close their eyes and take a deep breath to soak in the aura of the site.  
Built as far back as the 10th century, these spectacular temples have inspired travellers from all over the world to embark on a journey through exotic Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Here are our top picks of the unmissable temples of South East Asia.  

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A temple that is on the list of every traveller, the World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat is a remarkable sight. It is one of the largest religious monuments in the world and one of the most spectacular temples in Cambodia, and yet somehow, this massive over 400-acre temple complex managed to lay hidden for several hundred years, only to be rediscovered by a French explorer who described it as “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome”.  

It is thought, the construction of Angkor Wat took 35 years, 300,000 labourers and 6,000 elephants, according to discovered inscriptionsIt was,of course,built without the aid of mechanical machinery, as there was no such technology available at that time. The complex was built as a symbolic representation of Mount Meru, the sacred five-peaked mountain standing in the centre of the Hindu universe where it is said the three Hindu chief gods - Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer), and Hindu demi-gods (Devas) reside.

In Khmer, the Cambodian language, Angkor means "city" or "capital city", and Wat means "temple grounds". So, Angkor Wat translates to "Temple City" or "City of Temples". Originally built as a temple for the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat was eventually converted to a Buddhist site a few centuries later. Today, the intricate 3,000+ bas-relief carvings and other depictions of Hindu mythology on the sandstone walls astound 500,000 visitors each year.  

Prasat Kravan, Cambodia 

Prasat Kravan is a small 10th-century temple consisting of five reddish brick towers on a common terrace. The temple was dedicated to Vishnu in 921CE according to inscriptions. Its exterior is striking for its classical lines and symmetry. The sanctuary's interiors are remarkable for the large bas-relief depictions of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Prasat Kravan was partially restored in 1968, returning the carvings to their former glory. 
Scenic exclusively uses Prasat Kravan for a mystical themed gala dinner. Under the glow of candlelight, Scenic guests are transported to ancient times. The spectacular Scenic Enrich event includes a three-course meal of traditional Khmer cuisine with free-flowing drinks and a magical performance with Apsara dancers. 

Ta Prohm, Cambodia 

Ta Prohm is a mesmerizing temple with a most impressive jungle take-over. The neighbouring jungle is alive with sounds and the ongoing battle between nature and architecture is what appeals to many as the temple ruins are firmly embraced by the vast root system.  
After appearing in the Tomb Raider film with Angelina Jolie, it became one of the most popular of Angkor temples for visitors to explore. Ta Prohm was built as a Buddhist monastery and university and construction is dated to 1186AD, but it is considered to have been added to and embellished over a period of several years. 

Temple of Literature, Vietnam 

Home to the oldest university in Vietnam, the Temple of Literature is an ode to education. Dedicated to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, the temple was built in 1070 and serves as the ideal escape from the chaos of Hanoi. Vietnamese history has been scripted by the brilliant minds that graduated from the university. Admission to the prestigious institute was reserved for noble families but was eventually opened to gifted minds from all classes. 
The five courtyards of the temple with trees, animal sculptures and small ponds add to the charm of a bygone era. The stone turtles in the third courtyard bear the names of the scholars that have passed the royal examinations and until recently, it was considered good luck for students to rub their heads against the turtles. This practice is now banned to preserve the sculptures.

My Son, Vietnam 

My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples in central Vietnam, a short drive from Hoi An and Danang. The complex, located in a lush jungle valley, was constructed between the 4th and the 14th century by the Kings of Champa, an Indianized kingdom of the Cham people and are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. My Son was once the most important intellectual and religious centre of the Kingdom of Champa. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century by the French, who restored parts of the complex. 

My Son is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina, but sadly, a large majority of its architecture was destroyed by US bombing during a single week of the Vietnam War. Of the approximately 68 structures, around 20 have survived. Its UNESCO World Heritage status has ensured the ongoing protection and preservation of area. 

Wat Xieng Thong, Laos 

Wat Xieng Thong is one of Laos’ oldest temples, constructed in 1560. Up until 1975, Wat Xieng Thong was a royal temple and the location where former kings of Laos were crowned. It is an important gathering place for significant national festivities. The original temple narrowly missed destruction during invasions and wars several times. It remains largely in its original form, but much-needed renovations took place during the 1960s, including repairs to the roof, gold leaf gilding and gold lacquering restoration.  

While the oldest, it is also one of the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang. The sweeping roofs of the ordination hall show the typical Luang Prabang architectural style. The front ends of the canopy are decorated with complex gold designs on a dark background.  The columns are a rich lacquer-like black with gold stencilling. There is an elaborate tree of life mosaic, intricately carved walls, small halls and stupas that contain Buddha images and a 12-metre-high funeral carriage. Wat Xieng Thong is strategically situated close to where the Mekong joins the Nam Khan River, acting as a gateway to Luang Prabang itself. 

Start planning your journey with Scenic and explore these locations with your dedicated Tour Director and expert local guide.