Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Travel Guides & Tips

Top 5 tombs in Southeast Asia that Lara Croft is itching to explore

Do you remember the scene in the first ‘Tomb Raider’ movie, where Lara Croft – then played by Angelina Jolie – wandered around the mystical, deserted ruins of Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm temple, with its overgrown tree roots and moss?

Since the release of the 2001 film, I’ve always longed to visit Angkor Wat and explore its maze of temples, and the same probably goes for many intrepid travelers – over one million tourists visit the enormous temple complex every year.

The movie may have put Angkor Wat on the map, but there are plenty of other fascinating tombs across Southeast Asia for Lara Croft to check out (though hopefully not raid). Bring out your inner ‘Tomb Raider’ at these ancient sites:

Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh | Vietnam

Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
The grand stairs leading up to the tomb.

Located near Chau Chu Village some 10 kilometers from Hue, this elaborate mausoleum was built for Khai Dinh, who was the emperor of Vietnam from 1916 to 1925.

Carved into the steep hillside at the foot of Chau Chu Mountain, the tomb’s blackened concrete exterior gives a somber atmosphere. However, it hides a kaleidoscope of colorful ceramic mosaics inside Thien Dinh Palace, which houses a gilt bronze statue of the emperor and his ornate crypt.  

Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
The bronze statue of Emperor Khai Dinh on his throne in his ornate crypt.

During his rule, the Khai Dinh established close ties with the French government, and this likely inspired the European flourishes in his tomb’s design, designed by the emperor himself prior to his death.

Open from 7.00am – 5.00pm

Admission fee: VND100,000 (Adult); VND20,000 (Children aged 7-12 years old)


The Sunken Cemetery of Camiguin Island | Philippines  

Large Cross at Sunken Cemetery
The large cross marking the Sunken Cemetery, where you can take a boat to visit. Source: walterericsy / Shutterstock.com

You’re going to have to put on a swimsuit, fins and snorkeling mask for this one: as the name indicates, it’s literally sunken into the sea.

Set just off the northwest coast of Camiguin Island in Northern Mindanao, the story goes that in the 1870s, Mt. Vulcan Daan erupted, sinking the island’s then-capital Catarman and its cemetery. Now, there’s only a massive cross to mark where the cemetery once stood.

You can take a boat to the Large Cross and snorkel around the area to see how marine life has conquered the graveyard, covering it with brightly-colored coral.

Large Cross at Sunken Cemetery
The Large Cross at dusk.

The best time to snorkel is either early in the morning or just before sunset. Or if you’d rather stay dry, you can climb to the top of the Large Cross for a nice view of the surrounding blue ocean.

Admission fee: The boat ride to the Large Cross costs PHP20 – PHP50, but if you wish to snorkel, there will be additional costs (e.g. for snorkeling equipment, environmental fees).


Mahsuri’s Tomb | Malaysia

Mahsuri's Tomb
Mahsuri’s Tomb, with a plaque telling the legend. Source: Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com

The famous legend behind this tomb is a tragic one. The tomb is believed to be the resting place of Mahsuri, a young woman so beautiful that the other women in the village were jealous of her beauty. When Mahsuri’s husband left to fight in a war, she was accused of adultery.

Despite pleading her innocence, the village elders found her guilty and sentenced her to death by stabbing. She was tied to a stake, but when she was pierced with the ceremonial dagger she was said to have bled white blood – a sign of her innocence.

With her dying breath, Mahsuri cursed the island with seven generations of bad luck, and it’s said that Langkawi has only recently prospered because the time period for the curse has lapsed.

A replica of Mahsuri's home
A replica of Mahsuri’s home. Source: Shahrin Md Ayob / Shutterstock.com

Now, her tomb has become a historical and cultural complex, where you can learn more about Langkawi’s history and local heritage.

Open from 8.00am – 6.00pm

Admission fee: RM5 (Adult), RM2.50 (Children below 12 years old) for Malaysians with a valid I/C; RM10 (Adult), RM5 (Children below 12 years old) for non-Malaysians.


Wat Phra Si Sanphet Royal Tombs | Thailand

Wat Phra Si Sanphet
The three iconic chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

Built in the late 15th century, Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the holiest temple on the site of the old Royal Palace in Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya, and was considered the capital’s finest prior to Ayutthaya’s destruction by the invading Burmese.

What’s left of the city now comprises Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. If the wat looks familiar, it’s probably because Bangkok’s famed Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is modeled after it.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet
The remnants of a statue at Wat Phra Si Sanphet temple.

The wat was the royal family’s temple, and was exclusively used for royal ceremonies.The site’s three iconic bell-shaped chedis are the only buildings that have been fully restored. The chedis are also where the ashes of three kings were buried.

Located north of Bangkok in Ayutthaya province, the ruins are a 90-minute drive from the capital. But it’s worth the trip, as you can climb up the temple’s stairs for an unforgettable view of the historical city’s remains.

Open from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm

Admission fee: THB50


Gunung Kawi Royal Tombs | Indonesia

Gunung Kawi
The royal candis (shrines) at Gunung Kawi.

Hidden in a lush green valley, Gunung Kawi is an 11th century temple and funerary complex in Tampaksiring near Ubud, Bali. It comprises 10 candi (shrines) that are carved from rock into sheltered niches of the sheer cliff face, which run parallel on both sides of Pakerisan River.

The candi, standing at around 8 meters tall, are an impressive sight. Each one is believed to be dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his family.

The monuments on the east side are thought to be for the king, his queen and their three sons, while the western shrines are believed to be for the king’s concubines.

Gunung Kawi
The archaeological complex is carved out of rock, dating back to the 11th century.

Do note that visitors must follow a dress code by covering their knees and ankles, as well as shoulders and midriffs. A sarong is provided at the entrance if you need it.

Open from 8.00am – 6.00pm

Admission fee: IDR15,000

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A storyteller with an insatiable sense of curiosity. Travel junkie. Card-carrying member of many fandoms. Heavily dependent on caffeine. Loyal cat servant. Former journalist at the New Straits Times and Hybrid News.