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Friday, 22 November 2013

8 Amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Southeast Asia

You don't need to travel across the world to see its most majestic tourist sites. All the sites in the next few pages can be found within Southeast Asia, having been granted the ultimate tourist accolade: World Heritage status by the international body UNESCO. These sites have special cultural and historical significance: they're considered to be massively important to humanity itself, thus the need for special preservation. 

What UNESCO World Heritage Sites can you find in your own backyard (give or take a time zone or two)? Proceed to the next page to start your journey. By Mike Aquino for Yahoo Southeast Asia

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
1. Angkor Temples, Cambodia
The Angkor temples near the present-day city of Siem Reap are all that's left of what was once a massive Khmer empire, laid low by environmental damage and successive invasion from neighbouring empires. Even in its relatively ruined state, the collective Angkor temples are a sight to behold, particularly Angkor Wat: a huge temple complex of both massive height and breadth, delineated by a square moat. 

Angkor Wat was built as a stand-in for the Khmer conception of the Universe: the towers are representative of Mount Meru where the Hindu gods reside, while the moat stands for the oceans surrounding the earth. Its visitors, mostly unaware of the temple's cosmological meaning, stand transfixed at the sheer grace and power of this massive temple complex in the midst of Cambodian countryside. (Photo by Thinkstock)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
2. Prambanan, Indonesia
Candi Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex near Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia, is a work in progress: several earthquakes over the past century have felled the temples more than once, and even now the Indonesian government is trying to put the pieces together.

The temple was first built in 856 and over a thousand years since it first saw light, Prambanan is still quite a sight to behold, even in its half-reassembled state: three sharp spires set off the low-slung jumble of temples in the vicinity. Visitors are permitted to climb the temple of Shiva in the center, where they'll discover statues of the Hindu god and his entourage peering impassively at intruders. 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
3. Gunung Mulu, Malaysia
Gunung Mulu, the second-highest mountain in Sarawak at 2,376 meters in height, bears a secret at its foothills: a massive cave network and karst (limestone) formations amidst thick tropical rainforest. If you can make the grueling trip to this remote spot in Borneo, you'll be rewarded with several days' exploration of one of Malaysia's most beautiful landscapes at your leisure.

Gunung Mulu National Park's caves are nothing to sneeze at; the Sarawak Chamber and Deer Cave are two of the world's biggest cave chambers. The forests beyond the caves retain the rich biodiversity for which Sarawak has won wide renown: 27 species of bats, eight species of hornbill, and a menagerie of mammals that includes the sun bear, the "moon rat", the Bornean tarsier, the bearded pig, and three species of deer. (Image © Tourism Malaysia)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
4. Komodo Island, Indonesia
Adventurous tourists can travel to The Komodo National Park in the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia to see the Komodo dragon in its native habitat. These gigantic lizards, which can weigh up to 300 pounds and grow up to 3 metres long, are dangerous when hungry, and common sense tells you to give these monsters a wide berth. 

The Park was set up in 1980 to protect the endangered dragon from human encroachment (dragons are still prized for their skins); UNESCO World Heritage status was attained in 1991. Today, over 2,600 dragons live in relative safety in the Park, along with wild buffalo, wild boar, the Sunda deer, and over 150 species of birds. The dragons bear electronic tags, but are otherwise left alone by the 70-odd rangers who patrol the islands. (Image © Indonesia Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy)

Vigan, Philippines
5. Vigan, Philippines
The powers that established the town of Vigan in the northern Philippines may have been European, but another heritage is immediately apparent to whoever cares to look. Many of the prosperous traders who inhabited Vigan's well-preserved houses traced their descent from Chinese Hokkien immigrants (the surnames betray their Chinese roots: Syquia and Quema are prime examples). Thus it's no surprise that the houses lining Vigan's impeccably-preserved streets betray Vigan's Asian roots: the tiled roofs and facades show influences from China, adapted for Ilocano climes.

Unlike its counterparts elsewhere in formerly Spanish-occupied Philippines, Vigan remains well preserved, the stone-and-wood houses retaining their old-world charm through the centuries. From the Quema house to the Cathedral of St. Paul to more modern piles like the neoclassical provincial capitol building, a visit to Vigan feels like a quick jump through the Philippines' living history. (Photo by Harvey Tapan)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
6. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Limestone is a wondrously versatile art material when the artist is Mother Nature; such is the case with Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, a body of water dotted with over 3,000 curvy karst outcrops whose collective undulating shape inspired the name ("ha long" means "descending dragon"; you might well imagine the outcrops to be the dragon's back winding in and out of the water). 

This bay is one of the most congested UNESCO sites on the record, as the enterprising Vietnamese do all they can to cash in on the area's natural beauty: hotels, restaurants, and cruise services cram the surrounding towns. Once you're on the boat with nothing coming between you and the majestic view, all that hubbub is easily forgotten. (Image © Mike Aquino)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
7. Hue, Vietnam
The former imperial capital of Hue in Vietnam shone bright in the 19th century before colonisation by the French and successive wars did it in. What survived, though, is still breathtaking to behold: a massive citadel by the Huong (Perfume) River that houses the Emperor's official residence; a pagoda overlooking a river bend; and several intricate tombs, built for Vietnamese emperors. These surviving buildings earned Hue UNESCO World 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia
8. Melaka, Malaysia
The old town at the core of Melaka, Malaysia is all that remains of the European presence that eliminated a once-thriving empire. Believing they could simply supplant the Melaka sultanate that dominated trade in the region, the Portuguese invaded the city and found themselves in the middle of a power struggle that eventually saw the British come out on top.

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