UNESCO SITES IN ASIA
By Ian Robert Knight
There are about 1073 UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world as of January 2018. It would be an admirable goal to see all of them in a lifetime, but that seems unlikely. Maybe if you aimed to see just a dozen or two, it would be easier? How about ten UNESCO sites in Asia? With that in mind, here are ten UNESCO sites that you can visit on an adventure with Photo Workshop Adventures in Asia.
First off, what is UNESCO, exactly? We say the word so easily, but maybe most people aren’t even sure what the acronym stands for. The full name is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. To be selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the landmark or area must have cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and must be legally protected by international treaties. All ten of these UNESCO sites in Asia are considered important to the collective interests of humanity.
1: Angkor, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia
For many people, the primary reason to visit Cambodia, is to visit the massive Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap. Indeed, it is a truly special place, and one that takes a long time to truly explore it. Although you can see the highlights pretty quickly, much of the 400 sq km city is unvisited by most tourists. If you do manage to get to Angkor, try to get to some of the smaller temples that see few footprints, but are just as interesting.
2: Historic City of Ayutthaya, Ayutthaya Province, Thailand
Thailand has so much to offer, with amazing food and culture, beautiful beaches and golden temples. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the country has been around for millenia, and has endured many centuries of tumultuous growth. The Historic City of Ayutthaya is a great example of the rise and fall of several dynasties during its history. Ayutthaya was once the capital city of the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand) from 1351 to 1767. The ruins of Ayutthaya are still fascinating, and worth the time to stroll through.
3: Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
The beauty of Ha Long bay cannot be understated. Regardless of the season, the weather, or the method you see it, Ha Long Bay would be one of your most powerful memories of Vietnam. Most people book a traditional Vietnamese junk boat, and blissfully sail for a few days, taking in the sights at a leisurely pace. Some prefer to fly over it for a completely different view. But no matter how you see it, it’s bound to be memorable.
(Other readings on Vietnam: Hanoi – A Day in the Life)
4: Hoi An Ancient Town, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
For most people who visit Vietnam, Hoi An would be one of the places that they photograph the most. With its iconic soft yellow walls, its slow moving canals, and the many beautiful woman strolling through the streets in Ao Dai dresses, you just can’t beat it. It’s a photographer’s dream, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, all in one location.
5: Himeji Castle, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
Japan has so much history, incredible architecture, and unique culture. It’s quite easy to spend months in the country and not completely see it through. The Himeji Castle, in the mid-central prefecture of Hyōgo, is a classic historical building. It’s undergone several restorations over the centuries, after being built originally in the 1300’s. You can tour the interior, right up to the top floor, which yields some spectacular views of the sprawling city that surrounds it.
6: The Forbidden City, Beijing, China
When you’re in Beijing, it’s hard to resist visiting this sprawling museum in the centre of town. It was once the palace of 24 different Emperors in China’s old dynasties, but now it serves as a massive walk-through historical site. The entire site is about 180 acres, with about 70+ palaces and almost 1000 buildings. It takes a good 2 to 3 hours to walk through, but you’ll come away with some pretty spectacular images.
7: The Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China
This complex in central Beijing is considered a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design. It’s not that big, at only 1 square mile, but it packs a strong impact in the minds of Beijingers. It was constructed about the same time as the Forbidden City in the 1400’s, and opened to the public in the early 1900’s. Today, it serves as a hugely popular inner-city park where people come to relax, walk for pleasure, or do their morning exercises. One thing for sure though – you’ll forget about all the pressure of the big city when you spend time here.
8: The Great Wall, Northern China
This particular World Heritage Site certainly has to be the biggest one in the group. At 5500 miles long, it’s pretty hard to miss. It can even be seen from space, supposedly. You can easily see part of the 327 miles of the wall that sits in the district of Beijing, by journeying out of the city for a few hours. There are many stretches of the wall that are in great shape, and are easily traversable, even for those in less than ideal shape.
9: Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
Gardens are a big deal in China, and the city of Suzhou takes the passion for gardening to a new level. This is not just one garden, but a collection of 69 gardens (currently) created between the 11th and 19th centuries. All of the gardens are National Heritage sites, and nine of them have the special significance of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
10: South China Karst mountains, Guangxi Province, China.
Certainly one of the most topographically interesting places in all of China are the karst limestone mountains scattered throughout southern China. They are similar to the limestone peaks surrounded by the sea in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay. These peaks rise sharply like stalagmites from the ground. There are many clusters of peaks in this part of China, covering almost 1200 square miles.
You could take a lifetime to see all of the more than 1000 UNESCO sites in the world. It’s not practical, really. But bite-size chunks of more manageable collections can be done quite easily. Join us on any of our trips in SE Asia, Japan, or China, and start adding to your UNESCO bucket list.