UNESCO World Heritage Sites are some sort of a holy grail of travel destinations. Not only are they exalted locations of cultural, historical or aesthetic significance, they also serves as the list of must-go locations for travellers.
Of the more than 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed, Southeast Asia boasts 33. Though not a big number, it’s still enough to keep you busy. Here are our top selections of sites in the region that are easily accessible to you.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Built in the 12th century, this temple ruins is one of the most beautiful on Earth, and is mentioned in the same breath as other famous ruins from ancient civilisations such as the Mayans and Incas.
We would highly recommend getting a local guide to bring you around. Their guides are trained in many languages – English, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and many others – and they do so fluently. Transport would also be provided, so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting around.
One of the essential must-sees is watching the sunrise from Angkor Wat, and then to another temple called Phnom Bakheng to catch the sunset. But if you absolutely HATE crowds, do the tour the opposite way – sunrise at Bakheng and sunset at Angkor Wat – it’s just as good.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and one of the greatest monuments of the religion. It also contains the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.
One lesser-known fact about this temple complex is that it has one thing in common with Singapore – they both have Sir Stamford Raffles officially credited as their founder.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The beauty of Halong Bay transcends time, with its thousands of limestone karsts and islets shaped from 20 million years of weathering. Halong Bay is also listed as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.
Halong Bay is from a time so ancient that evidence of pre-historic humans from tens of thousands of years ago were found in the area.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, The Philippines
Not only is this underground river system incredibly beautiful, it is also located in Palawan, often said to be the “last ecological frontier” of the Philippines.
Together with Halong Bay and Komodo National Park on this list, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is recognised as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
George Town, Malaysia
If ancient ruins and landscape isn’t your thing, then the unique architectural and cultural city of George Town, Penang may just be the right place for you. Often said to be one of the food capitals of Asia, one of George Town’s biggest attractions is their street food offering. Char kway teow, nasi kandar, assam laksa, prawn mee, chendol… who can resist?
While Gurney Drive is perhaps its most well-known food centre with the widest variety, it is also a tourist trap and often doesn’t have the best of what Penang has to offer. Do walk around the Jalan Penang and Lebuh Chulia areas at night for some golden finds that we guarantee are much better.
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Visit for the unique Komodo Dragons, if nothing else. These fascinating critters exist nowhere else in the world. It’s probably also the most “exotic” location on this list. And by exotic, it means “less frequently visited” among the other attractions.
Along with Halong Bay, Komodo National Park is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
While it’s possible to visit the national park at any time of the year, April to December remains the best time due to the dry season and more comfortable temperatures.
Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, The Philippines
Amazingly, these terraces are estimated to have been built about 2,000 years ago by the Cordillera tribes. That’s a engineering feat of epic proportions if you think about how this landscape was shaped using only primitive tools.
Interestingly, these terraces were the first ever site included under the “cultural landscape” category in the World Heritage list in 1995.