Three of Southeast Asia’s Best Quiet Temples
When it comes to visiting ancient temples, Southeast Asia is absolutely the place to be. The downside to these impressive locales are the hordes of tourists that visit some of the better-known temples in the region. Fortunately, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar all have some fantastic temples that don’t attract enormous crowds. Here are three of my favorite low-key temples that I’ve visited.
I was hesitant to include Bagan on the list since it is one of Myanmar’s most visited tourist attractions. However, it still can be a quiet, peaceful place despite all the visitors. Even though it’s on everyone’s itinerary, the massive complex is so vast that it’s easy to find a quiet temple all to yourself. Take your pick, as there are 2,000 temples and pagodas here spread over 42 square kilometers (16.2 square miles).
Beginning in the 11th century, the religious structures were manically built at great cost and at the expense of the rest of the Kingdom of Pagan. These days, there’s very little traffic in the area and there isn’t much development near the temples. Bagan is likened to the Cambodian temples of Angkor, but the temples themselves aren’t nearly as impressive. What makes Bagan unique are the incredible views of the entire area thanks to the flat land and sparse vegetation.
More and more tourists are coming to Myanmar each year, so I expect this place to become crowded and overdeveloped in the coming years. See it in its current state while you still can.
Sukhothai plays second fiddle to the famous ancient city of Ayutthaya. The latter gets all the tourists because of its close proximity to Bangkok and the impressively maintained temples. What Ayuthaya lacks is charm, and Sukhothai has that in spades. This ancient city was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom during the 13th and 14th centuries.
The ruins of Sukhothai, about five hours south of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, are exactly that – ruins. The central area within the ancient city walls are in good condition, but also see the most tourists. The other areas are crumbling, yet there’s so few visitors here that it’s hard not to love exploring the peaceful ruins. Get on a bicycle and you can easily soak in the atmosphere.
My Son, Vietnam
Probably the least known of these temples is the My Son Sanctuary in central Vietnam. This Hindu complex was used as a ceremonial area for the kings of the Champa empire as early as the fourth century.
The structures themselves are in rough shape and some have become overgrown with nature reclaiming the land. The buildings were damaged in the Vietnam War, and you can see the craters left by American bombs. What makes the My Son Sanctuary so great is its bucolic setting. Lush vegetation and streams surround the area, making for an extremely pleasant walk.
My Son is less than an hour away from the touristy old town of Hoi An. Tour groups leave there from My Son regularly, or you can rent a motorbike and make the journey on the decent roads.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?