VACATION IDEAS

Photos: World's Most Striking Temples

The worship of stunning architecture is universal, regardless of your religion. These 13 temples range from a gold-plated structure in India to a striking white tower that reaches up to the blue skies of Southern California.

  1. Just outside the city of Siem Reap, in northern Cambodia, lies Angkor Wat, a vast complex of ancient temples so breathtaking they've become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national symbol.

    (Danilo Mongiello / Dreamstime.com)
  2. Visitors flock to Angkor Wat during sunrise and sunset for the best photos of the towers—an iconic view featured on Cambodia's flag.

    (Kelvintt / Dreamstime.com)
  3. An example of Cambodian Khmer architecture—with three rectangular galleries, central towers, a moat, and elaborate bas-relief carvings—Angkor Wat is the best-preserved of the region's temple complexes

    (Meisterphotos / Dreamstime.com)
  4. Initial construction began on the Harmandir Sahib (aka the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, India in 1588; the signature external gold plating and marble were added in the early 1800s.

    (Luciano Mortula / Dreamstime.com)
  5. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India is surrounded by a sacred lake known as Amrit Sarovar, or Pool of Nectar.

    (Amabrao / Dreamstime.com)
  6. The island village of Rameswaram, in southern India, has become a major pilgrimage destination thanks to the famous Ramanathaswamy Jyotirlinga Temple, dedicated to the god Shiva.

    (Courtesy flickrPrince/Flickr)
  7. The most breathtaking feature of the Ramanathaswamy Jyotirlinga Temple in Rameswaram, India are the corridors; the interior ones run between colonnades and sandstone pillars.

    (Axiom Photographic Limited / SuperStock)
  8. Centered around a triple-gabled circular structure that points to the sky, the Temple of Heaven complex in southeastern Beijing, China was built in the early 1400s by the same Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle who oversaw the creation of the Forbidden City.

    (Zhiwei Zhou / Dreamstime.com)
  9. White marble gates mark the entrance to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

    (Lijuan Guo / Dreamstime.com)
  10. Beijing's Temple of Heaven features the iconic Hall of Prayers for Abundant Harvest, a colorfully painted three-story circular wooden structure constructed without the use of nails.

    (Courtesy Saad Akhtar/Wikimedia Commons)
  11. Topped with a pure-gold paste roof, main temple at Ta'er Monestary in Tibet is filled with silk brocade banners, gold and silver lamps, and important relics. 

    (Knet2d / Dreamstime.com)
  12. The complex at the Ta're Monastery includes more than 30 temples.

    (Chenyun Fan / Dreamstime.com)
  13. Considered one of the most important monasteries in Tibet, Ta'er (also known as Kumbum), was founded in 1560 as a place of meditation.

    (Hungchungchih / Dreamstime.com)
  14. Taktsang Palphug Monastery, also known as Tiger's Nest, is a Himalayan Buddhist complex that clings to the face of a 10,000-plus foot granite mountain looming over the upper Paro valley.

    (Courtesy Thomas Wanhoff/Wikimedia Commons)
  15. Today, the Tiger's Nest complex in Bhutan includes a monastery, residences, four temples, and meditation caves.

    (Eitan Simanor / Alamy)
  16. Standing about 325 feet high, Shwedagon Pagoda and its multi-tiered stupa in Yangon, Myanmar are topped by a 76-carat diamond and covered with real gold donated by generations of Burmese people.

    (Luciano Mortula / Dreamstime.com)
  17. Visitors to Myanmar's Shwedagon Pagoda will find giant statues of mythological lions, a 19th-century bell, and various shrines and prayer pavilions, along with a steady stream of monks and worshippers.

    (Edwardje / Dreamstime.com)
  18. Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar is one of the most sacred sites for Burmese Buddhists.

    (Juriah Mosin / Dreamstime.com)
  19. Constructed between 1998 and 2008, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand looks like the winter palace of some fairy tale queen, with its intricately carved all-white structure and elaborate, icicle-like towers.

    (Lovingyou2911 / Dreamstime.com)
  20. Thailand's Wat Rong Khun is known as the White Temple; the color represents Lord Buddha's purity.

    (Wimammoth / Dreamstime.com)
  21. Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat built Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

    (Kamonrutm / Dreamstime.com)
  22. Not a single nail was used in the construction of Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    (Steve Allen / Dreamstime.com)
  23. The main hall at Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto features 139 tall pillars, and houses a statue of the eleven-faced, thousand-armed god Kannon, and spacious terraces that jut out over the surrounding hillside.

    (Wei-shiuan Chung / Dreamstime.com)
  24. Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera complex also houses shrines to various gods, including Jishu, the god of "matchmaking," plus 200 stone statues of Jizo, protector of children and travelers.

    (Naomi Hasegawa / Dreamstime.com)
  25. Built in 1633 on the western shores of Bali's Lake Bratan, for which it is named, the Hindu temple of Ulun Danu Bratan pays homage to the god Shiva as well as local lake and river goddess Dewi Batari.

    (Dibrova / Dreamstime.com)
  26. Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is one of the most iconic and photographed spiritual sites in Bali—which is saying something on an island renowned for its pious destinations.

    (imagebroker.net / SuperStock)
  27. Lake Bratan and its goddess watch over fertility, so many ceremonies are conducted at Ulun Danu Bratan Temple in the name of fertility and prosperity.

    (imagebroker.net / SuperStock)
  28. Baha'i House of Worship (also known as the Lotus Temple) in New Delhi, India features 27 free-standing "leaves" arranged to form nine sides.

    (Klodien / Dreamstime.com)
  29. Three separate, winding entries lead to the colorful, multi-tiered Taoist Temple set 984 feet above sea level on the island of Cebu, one of the top vacation spots in the Philippines.

    (Travel Pix Collection / Jon Arnold Images / SuperStock)
  30. Built in 1972, the Taoist Temple in Cebu, Philippines has a chapel and wishing well, plus elaborate dragon carvings and panoramic views over downtown.

    (Henry Westheim Photography / Alamy)
  31. Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Malibu Hindu Temple was built in the traditional South Indian style, with a carved flat-topped tower; unlike many in India, though, this example is all-white instead of colorfully painted.

    (Allstar Picture Library / Alamy)

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