7 must-go UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia

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    Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Photo: Ryan Altamera on Flickr)

    A UNESCO World Heritage Site status is some sort of a holy grail of travel destinations. Not only does it exalt locations of cultural, historical or aesthetic significance, it also serves as the list of must-go locations for travellers.

    Of the 981 World Heritage Sites in the world, Southeast Asia boasts 33. Yeah, it’s not a big number, but it’s enough to keep you busy. Here are our top selections of World Heritage Sites you absolutely have to see.

    Angkor Wat

    Angkor Wat (Photo by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr)

    Why go?

    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.

    Pro tips

    • Get a local guide to bring you around. They’ve got guides trained in many languages – English, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and many others – and they do so fluently.
    • The guides would usually bring you to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise, and to another temple called Phnom Bakheng to catch the sunset. Do the tour the opposite way – sunrise at Bakheng and sunset at Angkor Wat – if you want to avoid the massive crowds. It really isn’t any less impressive.

    Borobudur

    Borobudur (photo by Johan Wieland on Flickr)
    Borobudur (photo by Johan Wieland on Flickr)

    Why go?

    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.

    Fun fact

    Singapore has one thing in common with Borobudur – both have Sir Stamford Raffles credited as their official founders.

    Halong Bay

    Halong Bay (photo by Lawrence Murray on Flickr)
    Halong Bay (photo by Lawrence Murray on Flickr)

    Why go?

    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.

    Fun fact

    Evidence of pre-historic humans were found in the area tens of thousands of years ago.

    Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

    Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Photo by Ryan Altamera on Flickr)

    Why go?

    Not only is this underground river system incredibly beautiful, it is also located in the “last ecological frontier” of the Philippines – Palawan.

    Fun fact

    Together with Halong Bay and Komodo National Park on this list, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is recognised as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

    George Town

    Centre of George Town (photo by borisindublin on Flickr)
    Centre of George Town (photo by borisindublin on Flickr)

    Why go?

    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.. Another large draw would be the undeniably delicious Penang street food.

    Char kway teow, nasi kandar, assam laksa, prawn mee, chendol… who can resist?!

    Pro tip

    • While Gurney Drive is perhaps its most well-known food place with the widest variety, do walk around the Jalan Penang and Lebuh Chulia areas at night for some golden finds

    Komodo National Park

    Komodo National Park (photo by Robert Scales on Flickr)
    Komodo National Park (photo by Robert Scales on Flickr)

    Why go?

    For the Komodo Dragons, if nothing else. These fascinating critters exist nowhere else in the world. It’s probably also the most “exotic” location listed here. And by exotic, it means “less frequently visited” among the other attractions here.

    Along with Halong Bay, Komodo National Park is listed as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

    Pro tip

    • 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

    Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (photo from Wikipedia)
    Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (photo from Wikipedia)

    Why go?

    These terraces are estimated to have been built about 2,000 years ago by the Cordillera tribes. That’s a pretty crazy engineering feat if you think about how this landscape was shaped using primitive tools.

    Fun fact

    These terraces were the first ever site included under the cultural landscape category in the World Heritage list in 1995.

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