Remains of ancient empires, monuments to conquerors long gone, unique living museums, incomparable natural biomes and remarkable landscapes – Southeast Asia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are incredibly rich and diverse.
Familiar with Angkor Wat or Halong Bay? These popular destinations just scratch the surface of Southeast Asia’s unique UNESCO sites.
Living Museums and Cultural Melting Pots
Southeast Asia is a vibrant destination for cultural travel. With its many rivers, coasts and crossroads, it is a region which has seen the movement of kingdoms and peoples, the evidence for which can be found all around. For travellers who want immersive experiences, Southeast Asia offers a plethora of choices.
For ancient monuments and charming streets made for wandering, head to the UNESCO World Heritage towns of Luang Prabang, Laos for crisp mountain air, or to Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam for quiet beaches and countryside views. Each exhibits an incredible mix of cultural preservation and authentic local life. (Enjoy Laos culture and heritage on the Leisurely Luang Prabang Discovery experience.)
Peninsular and island nations are also natural melting pots of cultures. Nowhere is this truer than in Malaysia where the UNESCO World Heritage towns of Melaka and Georgetown in Penang exhibit a unique blending of East and West. (Wander the back roads and heritage trails of the Historical Georgetown Tour.)
The Philippines are another excellent example of this where Spanish colonial heritage has shaped destinations like the Historic Town of Vigan and the many Baroque Churches of the Philippines scattered across the country.
Image below: Hoi An ancient town
Ancient Kingdoms and Archaeological Sites
Those who want to go back in time are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to picturesque ruins and fascinating archaeological sites. While there are some obvious hotspots, like Angor Wat, the breadth of ancient kingdoms means that the remains of past civilisations can often be found in unexpected places. (Take in historic scenery on the Biking In Angkor Wat Forest day tour or the 2-Day From Preah Vihear to the Temples of Angkor tour.)
When it comes to Southeast Asian UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is an obvious highlight, but what might surprise some is that the ruins of Vat Phou and the Champasak Cultural Landscape of Laos also offer a chance to walk amongst the ruins of the ancient Khmer Kingdom. (Experience historic Laos with the Vat Phou & Phou Asa Temple Exploration.)
The remains of Siamese kingdoms can be found in Thailand where crumbling brick pagodas and monuments in the Historic City of Ayutthaya or the Historic Town of Sukhothai serve as reminders of the region’s illustrious past. Myanmar’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site to be recognised are the Pyu Ancient Cities.
While often recognised for its cuisine and beaches, Vietnam is actually home to eight heritage sites, six of which are notable for their cultural value. These include the Complex of Hué Monuments which was the royal seat of unified Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty, the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty which dates further back to the 14th century, or the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel, which goes all the way back to the 13th. The My Son Sanctuary and temple complex goes even further back, originating in the 4th century.
Going yet further back in time is possible, not just in Vietnam, but in neighbouring countries too. The Trang An Landscape Complex of Vietnam is not only scenic, it is a rich repository for traces of prehistoric civilisations. The Ban Chiang Archeological Site in Thailand is similarly remarkable showing evidence of the earliest use of metals and agriculture in Southeast Asia, while the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley in Malaysia is home to remains from the earliest continuous human settlements outside of Africa. (Walk through history on the Malaysia 7-Day Heritage UNESCO Trail.)
Image below: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap,
Ecological Hotbeds and Unique Landscapes
Beyond Southeast Asia’s many cultural marvels, this tropical region is also home to stunning landscapes, picturesque nature and unique biodiversity.
While Halong Bay, Vietnam is the most famous example, karstic limestone landscapes exist across much of the region and other UNESCO World Heritage Sites noteworthy for their geology include cave-filled Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (also in Vietnam), beautiful Gunning Mulu National Park in Malaysian Borneo, and Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park in the Philippines, which is particularly known for its coastal cave systems. (Dive into nature on the 5-Day Mulu Caves Pinnacles and Headhunter’s Trail.)
For those who prefer living creatures and abundant flora over landscapes, Southeast Asian sites rich in wildlife include Kinabalu Park, Malaysia’s highest point and home to the mysterious orangutans, Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, a highland region of the Philippines rich in endangered and endemic species, and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, which showcases how equally biodiverse the Philippines is above and below sea-level. Thailand’s Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries and the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex are notable wildlife corridors bordering Myanmar and Cambodia. (Experience the island wilds of Borneo on the 2-Day Kinabalu Park and Poring Tour.)
Not to be left off this list of ecologically notable UNESCO World Heritage sites are carefully cultivated sites and landscapes like the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras or The Singapore Botanic Gardens. (Enjoy the charms of nature touring the Singapore Botanic Gardens By Alphard.)
With sights and experiences to draw every type of traveler – be they culture junkies, outdoor enthusiasts or history buffs – Diethelm Travel’s Southeast Asia tours represent the best of the region and our global heritage. What wonders will you experience in 2019?
Image below: Kinabalu Mountain