How to Avoid Getting “Templed Out”

One of the most common complaints we get about travel to Asian countries is that our travelers have seen about ten too many temples on their trip. Whether it’s Japan, Burma, or Thailand, you have to admit that it’s pretty easy to accidentally overdose on pagodas or stupas or wats.

Everything you can see in this picture is a temple.

Every thing you can see in this picture is a temple. Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

But there are ways to avoid getting tired of temples. Here are some of our suggestions…

1. Ask us to arrange more cultural experiences for your trip

Much of the draw of Asia is the difference between the culture there and our own. While visiting a temple gives you some insight, it’s not the whole picture. That’s where adding a cultural experience to your trip can add a whole new level of understanding.

Balinese Market

Balinese Market

A cooking class or a home visit where you can eat dinner with a local family is the perfect way to learn more about a very universal subject: food. Most cooking classes wind up taking you to markets nearby where you can see folks shopping for their food. But if cooking on vacation doesn’t sound fun or if you just want to make new friends, then a home visit is another great option.

But there are other options like (easy) bicycle tours in central Vietnam, painting classes in Bali with a local artist, checking out traditional dance performance (Bali and Thailand are favorites), visiting the night markets, and so on. Whatever the activity is, we can help you include it on your trip.

2. Find out what’s so special about the temples on your itinerary, then only visit the ones that interest you most.

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Some temples are truly worth seeing. Wat Rong Kun in Northern Thailand is a marvel of traditional and avant garde takes on Buddhist symbolism mixed with pop culture figures like Spider-Man and George W. Bush. The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is particularly beautiful at sunset as the light hits the gold leaf attached by devout Buddhists. Every country has a few temples that are a Must See.

But not every temple is Wat Rong Kun or Shwedagon Pagoda. Sometimes it’s possible to have a unique experience at a less awe-inspiring temple -for example I once met a Burmese rock star at an otherwise unmemorable temple in Bagan- but that’s not guaranteed. If you’re in the middle of your trip and not on a group tour, ask your guide if you can do something else with your day instead of visiting another temple. They might have a suggestion that’s more up your alley. (And if you are on a group tour, you might be able to go off on your own for a bit and explore. Can’t hurt to ask.)

3. Go hardcore and learn about Buddhist or Hindu art and architecture

This may sound crazy, but it could really make all the temples on your trip a little more interesting once you know what that Buddha’s hand gesture means or which version of Shiva you’re looking at. After taking a class on Buddhist art history, I found my appreciation for what I was looking at grew quite a bit. I could identify certain styles and symbols, as well as how to differentiate between a buddha and a bodhisattva. That kind of knowledge has certainly made visiting temples a lot more engaging as I try to decipher what I’m seeing or appreciate the complexity of the region’s particular art style.

Buddha's Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

Not everyone has time to take a class before they head off on vacation, but you can pick up books like Buddhist Art & Architecture by Robert E. Fisher, which will definitely give you insight beyond what you can find in the guide books. Even if you just read the chapter on the areas you’ll be visiting.

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