Southeast Asia had its fair share of ancient cultures leaving traces all over the continent.
Get your cameras ready for our four absolutely-must-see ancient monuments in Southeast Asia:
Top 4: Shwedagon Paya (Burma/Myanmar)
The Shwedagon Paya (also called Shwedagon Pagoda) is Southeast Asia's most impressive stupa. Visit the pagoda just before sunset, when the large golden dome reflects the sunlight and puts it into a dark, orange color.
Unlike other temples of this caliber, the vast majority of visitors here are worshippers and not tourists, and you should follow them in a clockwise direction around the stupa.
In its current form, the dome was built in 1769 and rises 98 meters above its base. Worshippers constantly apply gold leafs to just about everything in the pagoda; the total amount of gold is estimated between 9 to 60 tons – amazing.
Top 3: Borobudur (Indonesia)
Borobudur looks like a small version of Angkor Wat, and it is evenly impressive. Okay, you just need half a day to see this temple (we recommend 3 days for Angkor Wat and surrounding area), but it is well worth your trip. Best of all, you have far less people around you, because Borobudur is still somewhat off the beaten tourist track.
Combine your visit of Borobodur with a tour of Yogyakarta and with the Hindu Prambanan temple nearby.
Top 2: Bagan (Burma/Myanmar)
Thousands of temples emerge from the plains around Bagan in Myanmar/Burma.
Many compare Bagan to Angkor Wat, but it has a very different style and atmosphere. There are many more, small temples scattered around everywhere in the area - approximately 2200 temples and stupas.
Most of them are too small to be noteworthy, but every here and there, an impressive structure stands out. The most beautiful is Ananda Pahto, which was built between 1090 and 1105 and measures 53 meters along each side. Shwesandaw Paya is famous for sunsets because its top terrace offers an unobstructed 360 degrees view of the whole area.
Our Winner: Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
If you only visit one temple in Southeast Asia, make sure it is Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Without doubt the cultural highlight of your trip, the whole area is dotted with temple complexes, all subsumed under the name Angkor Wat Archaeological Park.
While Angkor Wat is the biggest and most famous temple in the park, we argue it is not the most beautiful. Banteay Srei has the most detailed stone carvings, while Ta Prohm and (even more so) Beng Mealea provide the real Tomb Raider feeling. Bayon might be the most impressive temple in the park overall, with its 216 heads carved out of stone, looking at you.
You should plan three full days to explore the area, from sunrise at Angkor Wat in the first morning to sunset over the rice paddies on your way back from Beng Mealea on the third day.
Want more highlights?
When you have enough of temples and monuments, check Southeast Asia’s other top highlights:
Agree or disagree with our selection of temples and monuments? Want to suggest another? Let's discuss!