Asia has more places of spiritual significance than any other continent on Earth, where India was founder of Hinduism and Buddhism and China loaded with cultural niceties. The ruined cities of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Ayutthaya in Thailand also draw in the crowds where people discern how these magnificent cities must have been.
Lhasa, Tibet As the spiritual home of the Dalai Lama and site of the massive Potala Palace, Lhasa is one of Asia’s most holy and spiritual cities despite the obvious Chinese military presence. Lhasa means ‘Place of the Gods’ due to its high altitude and is thus pretty chilly. Other popular sights include the Drepung Monastery, the Sera Monastery and the Zhefung Temple.
Varanasi, India The City of Light, or City of Temples, is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the Ganges and is the most sacred city in Hinduism. Varanasi also happens to be the home of Lord Kasi Viswanatha and is one of the most historical towns in the world.
Hakozaki Shrine - Fukuoka, Japan The 1,000-year old Hakozaki Shrine is one of the three great Hachiman shrines and features many important cultural treasures, including the plaque above the Tower Gate which was written by the emperor Kameyama during the Mongol invasions. The shrine is best seen during the Tamaseseri and Hojoya festivals when it is full of color and loaded with people.
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Japan Kyoto’s Imperial Palace Park is one of the world’s most delightful recreational areas with some great walking and cycling paths as well as many peaceful areas to meditate in. The most important buildings here are naturally those of the Imperial Palace. The bullet holes on Hamagurimon Gate offer a reminder of Kyoto’s violent past.
Datong, China Another of China’s most spiritual places, the city of Datong is home to dozens of grottos carved into a mountainside featuring thousands of Buddha carvings, paintings and bas reliefs. The carvings were made around the 5th century and range in size from thimble-height right up to 15m.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia Angkor Wat in Cambodia is one of ancient Khmer Empire buildings spread over a wide area and is a haven for the spiritual kind. The temples were built between the 9th and 15th centuries and are spread over a huge area near to the Thai border. Getting here is therefore quite straightforward.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand The Grand Palace and Royal Temple in Bangkok are one of the main attractions in this sprawling metropolis and indeed in the country. The complex consists of numerous attractive buildings including the impressive Grand Palace itself while Wat Phra Kaew houses the much vaunted Emerald Buddha.
Wat Xieng Thong, Laos The Temple of the Golden City in Luang Prabang sits in a peaceful setting against the Mekong and features stunning temple architecture with intricate glass mosaics as façades.
Ayutthaya, Thailand Originally capital of Thailand after Sukhothai, Ayutthaya displays the same type of striking ruined temple architecture built between the 14th and 18th centuries and the whole ancient city is a UNESCO site. Along with the destruction of the temples the Burmese also cut the heads off the Buddha statues and stole all the gold.
Cao Dai Holy See Temple, Vietnam The Cao Dai Holy See Temple to the north of Ho Chi Minh City in Tay Ninh is the spiritual home of the Cao Dai religion. This beautiful structure glitters with gold and is the basis of the tolerant faith which has many beliefs. The paintings and mosaics here are divine and the whole place is most gratifying.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the most important and celebrated temple in the whole of Burma (Myanmar). The main attraction of this rambling site is the big bell-shaped paya in the center of the complex which is adorned with 60 tons of gold and 5,000 diamonds. The best way to tour the pagoda is to hire a licensed guide.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger Nest), Bhutan Bhutan’s most famous sight is the sacred Taktsang Monastery to the north of Paro. The monastery precariously clings to a mountainside and is supposedly the origin of Buddhism in Bhutan (Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown over the mountains from Tibet via a flying Tigress in the 7th century). It’s a two-hour trek from the parking lot to the monastery which is well worth the effort.