1. Pha That Luang: Vientiane, Laos
Believed to date back to the third century, this Buddhist temple (That Luang Village, Xaysettha District) is recognised by its 45m-tall, three-tiered golden stupa, which is reportedly decorated with some 454kg of gold leaf and surrounded by 30 smaller stupas. The palace and small temple in the immediate vicinity are just as awe-inspiring, with hand-painted murals depicting Buddhist teachings.
Experience it: Visit during the three-day-long Boun That Luang Festival (November 14 to 16), when pilgrims partake in colourful processions and religious ceremonies.
2. Crystal Mosque: Terengganu, Malaysia
A fusion of steel and glass, Crystal Mosque, so named for its shimmering appearance, opened in 2008 as the centrepiece of the Islamic Heritage Park. While the façade is modern, the mosque retains elements of traditional Islamic architecture in its design, such as graceful minarets and elaborate latticework. At night, a light display illuminates the domes and minarets in multicoloured hues.
Experience it: Take a walk around Islamic Heritage Park, which features replicas of famous mosques around the world, including Masjid al-Haram in Saudi Arabia.
3. Church of Saints Peter & Paul: Singapore
Built in the tropical Neo-Gothic style popular during the colonial era, the Church of Saints Peter & Paul reopened last year after an extensive restoration. Step into the 147-year-old Roman Catholic Church, and admire the sunlight-drenched space, high, vaulted ceiling propped up by beams with trimming, and kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows. The lotus detail on the plasterwork adorning the exterior columns hints at its Chinese roots.
Experience it: Open to all, regardless of religion, the church’s adoration room is a serene spot for a moment of contemplation.
4. Wat Rong Khun: Chiang Rai, Thailand
Commonly known as the White Temple, this alabaster head-turner captures the imagination with ornate sculptures and carvings. Conceived and built by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the surreal Buddhist temple has an exterior crafted in plaster embedded with pieces of glass that glitter in the sun. In the main building are vivid-hued murals depicting traditional Buddhist imagery as well as familiar figures in pop culture, such as Harry Potter and Michael Jackson.
Experience it: Drop by the workshop to watch artisans carve and assemble the sculptures and decorations.
Built in the mid-9th century, the Hindu temple complex and UNESCO World Heritage site is home to more than 500 temples, many of which are still standing – a testament to the sophisticated stonework of their builders. Incorporating the towering spires typical of Hindu temples, the complex was designed to mimic the holy mountain Meru. Many of the temples here are decorated with reliefs depicting scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
Experience it: Stay for the evening ballet performance of Ramayana on an open-air stage with the temples as a backdrop.
6. Shwedagon Pagoda: Yangon, Myanmar
Estimated to be built sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries, the 99m tall pagoda shimmers, thanks to the 27 metric tonnes of gold leaf and countless precious jewels that adorn it. The unique octagonal stupa sits on a square plinth and is encircled by 68 smaller pagodas, making it one of the most impressive Buddhist monuments in the world. Visit during sunset to catch a glimpse of the jewel encrusted pagoda tip glimmering in the sunlight.
Experience it: Drop by the small museum close to the west entrance, which has a collection of Buddha statues and other ornaments. There’s also a scale model and close-up photographs of the stupa for those who want a closer look.
7. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, this mosque (Jln McArthur) was completed in 1958 and at 52m in height, is the tallest building in the city. Constructed on an artificial lagoon that perfectly reflects the image of the mosque in its still waters, this lavish example of a modern Islamic mosque is built with only the finest materials, including Italian marble for the floor and walls, chandeliers from England, carpets from Saudi Arabia and a gold Venetian mosaic roof. The ceremonial stone boat in the lagoon is a replica of a 16th-century royal barge and provides a good vantage point for photos of the mosque.
Experience it: Visitors cannot enter the prayer hall but the mosque’s surroundings are still atmospheric during evening prayers, making it a good time to visit.
8. St George’s Church: Penang, Malaysia
Built by the East India Company, St George’s Church, which was completed in 1818, is South-east Asia’s oldest Anglican Church. Said to be modelled after St George’s Cathedral in then-Madras (now reverted to Chennai), the church was built in the Georgian Palladian style which was common for public buildings of that period. Its most eye-catching features are its grand Doric columns at the entrance and its octagonal steeple. The church has undergone two major restorations, the first after World War II and the second in 2007, and it is listed as one of Malaysia’s 50 National Treasures.
Experience it: The church’s Heritage Centre houses an art collection that includes watercolours, ink sketches and photographs of the building through its 200-year history.
9. Pura Taman Ayun: Bali, Indonesia
Taman Ayun (Jln Ayodya No.10, Mengwi, Kabupaten Badung), which translates to beautiful garden, is an ancient royal water temple built in 1634 by the Mengwi kingdom. The temple grounds – an interesting fusion of styles including Balinese and Chinese architecture – comprise a number of multi-tiered shrines with intricately carved walls, and a courtyard that is surrounded by a moat. Smack in the centre of the courtyard is a fountain with nine water jets to symbolise the nine main gods of Balinese Hinduism.
Experience it: Join travel company Viator’s full-day Bali Water Temples tour, which includes visits to Tanah Lot, Pura Taman Ayun and Ulun Danu, with commentary on the temples’ history courtesy of a professional guide.
– TEXT BY KAREN TEE
PHOTOS: TPG & ALAMY (CLICK PHOTOS), 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.