Travel

5 incredible Buddhist cave temples

Caves. We sleep, swim, and store wine in them. We turn them into bars, and hotels, and even hire Swiss hermits to live inside. So, it only makes sense that throughout history, people would build spectacular temples to Buddha deep inside caves, as well. And they did.

Here are five worth visiting.

1. Phowintaung Caves -- Monywa, Myanmar

This is one of many entrances to the underground complex -- though it might look like your standard temple cave on the outside, the intricate artwork and sheer number of Buddha sculptures below is certain to impress.

See, didn't we tell you? There are even mini Buddhas painted on the cave walls and ceiling. Correctly guess how many Buddhas are displayed in this temple, and you'll win a lifetime supply of inner piece, enlightenment, and Papa John's pizza. No, that doesn't sound right. 

There's also a golden Buddha sculpted in what's known as the Mahaparinibbana pose, or what we like to call, the horizontal Glamour Shot.

2. Khao Luang Cave Temple -- Phetchaburi, Thailand

Lined with ornate monuments like this one, the entrance to this cave temple is, according to local lore, the threshold to another realm populated exclusively by young maidens.

3. Ajanta Caves -- Maharashtra, India

Maharashtra's Aurangabad district is home to some 30-odd Buddhist monuments built as early as the 2nd Century, as well as a bevy of other sculptures and paintings. Protected by the Archaeological Survey of India -- and named a UNESCO World Heritage in 1983 -- the Ajanta Caves are renowned for housing some of India's most impressive religious art, much of which depicts the Jataka tales.

This mural adorning the north wall -- which dates back to the 7th century -- depicts the king Mahajanaka rejecting a "worldly life" and/or playing it cool whilst being surrounded by a cadre of beckoning babes.

Throughout the complex, the walls of the Ajanta Caves are engraved with Buddhas and assorted sculptures.

4. The Kailashnath Temple, Ellora Caves -- Maharashtra, India

Built by the Rashtrakuta Dynasty between the 5th and 10th centuries, these 34 caves are collectively registered as a World Heritage site, and comprise a mix of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain structures carved out of rock culled from the nearby Charanandri Hills.

5. Bezeklik Caves -- Xinjiang, China

Dating back to the 5th Century, the 77 Bezeklik Caves near Turpan in Northwest China offer gorgeous arched ceiling murals of Buddha and astonishing movie-quality views of the nearby surroundings.

Chloe Pantazi is an editorial assistant on Thrillist's travel team. She once went spelunking with a tarantula in a cave somewhere in the Ardèche. Follow her on Twitter at @ChloePantazi.