10 Incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia For That Unforgettable Cultural Trip
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10 Incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia For That Unforgettable Cultural Trip

As part of travel360.com’s own UNESCO World Heritage sites week, we list down some of the most amazing sites in our very own backyard, so to speak.

While there are three  categories to choose from, these sites actually had to go through a stringent qualification process – which we have detailed here. Here, we list down countries in Asia that specifically address cultural properties that made it on to the list here.

You know what’s the best part, though? AirAsia flies to all these locations.

So, once you’ve made up your mind on which site to get a healthy dose of culture, go ahead and book that trip. For now, let’s marvel at these beauties:

1. The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, Japan

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

Up until the 19th century, Kyoto was the cultural centre-cum-imperial capital since its establishment in 794 AD. It consists of 17 component parts situated in Kyoto, Uji Cities in Kyoto Prefecture and Otsu City in Shiga Prefecture.

For more than a thousand years, this site has been the centre of Japanese culture and saw the evolution of Japanese wooden architecture, religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens – which has influenced landscape gardening as well as traditions around the world as we know it.

Most of the pre-modern Japanese architecture (198 buildings and 12 gardens that make up the 17 components) were built and designed from the 10th to 17th centuries, and cover a total of 1,056 hectares.

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2. Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

Image: So Sokun Theary/UNESCO

In the Khmer language, Sambor Prei Kuk is known as ‘the temple in the richness of the forest’. It was identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the Chenla Empire in both the 6th and early 7th century AD. More than a hundred temples are located within the area, and ten are of unique and octagonal shapes.

You’ll be able to see exceptional pre-Angkor decorative sandstone elements around the site, which are known as the Sambor Prei Kuk style. The pediments, lintels and colonnades are indeed such beauties to behold, and made way for the famed Angkor period’s Khmer style.

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3. Hill Forts of Rajasthan, India

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

Located within the state of Rajasthan are six expansive and resplendent forts that showcase the sheer regal power of the Rajput states, dating back to between the 8th and 18th centuries.

This 20-kilometre area, which comprises various hills, the Gagron river, the Ranthambore forests, Jaisalmer deserts, also serve as the perfect example of a kind of architecture that was based on traditional Indian principles: the Sultanate and Mughal architecture. This eventually influenced the Maratha architecture, and became the centre for courtly culture as well as learning arts and music.

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4. Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

Ah, quite possibly one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. Built in the 8th and 9th centuries AD during the reign of the Syailendra Dynasty, a stupa built in three tiers around a hill serves as the main temple, with a pyramid base that comprises five concentric square terraces, three circular platforms and a monumental stupa at the top.

Each of the circular platforms, which have 72 openwork stupas, contain a statue of the Buddha. The entire structure is said to coincide with the conception of the universe, according to Buddhist cosmology (as the universe is believed to be divided into three spheres: kamadhatu – the sphere of desires, rupadhatu – the sphere of forms, and arupadhatu – the sphere of formlessness). The whole structure is a unique blending of the central ideas of ancestor worship combined with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana.

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5. Vat Phou, Laos

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

The Vat Phou Temple complex is included in the Champasak cultural landscape, a well-preserved and planned landscape which was developed between the 5th and 15th centuries during the Khmer Empire – so it is over 1,000 years old now!

Shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity, an axis was used from the mountain top to the river bank, to lay a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks which span approximately 10 kilometres. Two planned cities on the Mekong River banks and the Phou Kao mountain are also part of this site.

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6. Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

There are no Malaysians who aren’t familiar with both our beloved Melaka and George Town – colonial towns located in the Straits of Malacca that serve as testament to well-preserved historical and cultural influences.

Prior to this, these two towns served as trading ports linking the East to the West. Even today, you can see historical landmarks and multi-cultural heritage displays that showcase the combination of the Malay, Indian and Chinese influences with that of Europe.

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7. The Pyu Ancient Cities, Myanmar

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

Almost two thousand years ago, Buddhism was introduced to Southeast Asia, and evidence of that can be seen through the Pyu Ancient Cities. These ancient cities – Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra – created a unique form of urbanisation which consequently influenced other Southeast Asian countries, and are responsible for spreading Pali-based Buddhism literature, architecture and ritualistic traditions that are observed until this day.

As seen through the Buddhist monastic communities, mortuary practice, skilful water management and long-distance trades, these cities show the transformation from long ago (circa 2nd century BCE) to the 9th century CE.

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8. Historic Town of Vigan, Philippines

Image: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent/UNESCO

If you’re looking for the most intact example of Spanish colonialism in Asia, then Vigan is the best reference. Established in the 16th century, Vigan served as an important trading post before the colonial era, and steadily became an amalgamation of cultural elements from China, various parts of Europe and Mexico.

In the city you’ll find St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, the City Hall and the Provincial Capitol Building. The entire area contains 233 historical buildings across 25 streets built with brick and wood, and pitched roofs influenced by Chinese architecture. Aside from the domestic and commercial architecture, the city of Vigan’s public buildings also show multi-cultural influences.

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9. Historic City of Ayutthaya and Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns, Thailand

Image: Francesco Bandarin/UNESCO

Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya served as the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom which flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Characterised by the tall prang (reliquary towers) remains and Buddhist monasteries, it became one of the largest and most developed areas in the world, allowing it to be a centre of global diplomacy and trade.

However, the city was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, and its inhabitants were forced to abandon the city. Its foreign and cultural influences, nevertheless, can still be seen in the surviving art and architectural ruins – as all buildings were decorated with high-quality crafts and mural paintings of traditional Sukhothai styles influenced by Angkor, Japan, China, India, Persia and Europe. It was never rebuilt in the same location, and now remains an archaeological site. Today, the city is located in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya District.

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10. Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam

Image: Raita Futo/Flickr

On the north bank of the Thu Bon River in the Quang Nam Province lies Hoi An Ancient Town, an exceptional well-preserved example of a small trading port which was active from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Despite its decline in the 19th century, the city has retained much of what it was during its prime years – a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures from China, Japan and Europe.

One can see timber-frame buildings, architectural monuments, an open market, a ferry quay, pagodas, family cult houses as well as a fine wooden Japanese bridge with a pagoda on it – dating as far as the 18th century.

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Stay tuned for more content on UNESCO World Heritage Sites on travel360.com!

Professionally a journalist, personally a lover of all things fried chicken, Gogorn (her big black German Shepherd) and ice cream.

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