Asia is home to some of the world's oldest civilisations, as evidenced by the staggering number of Unesco World Heritage Sites in the region. According to Unesco, Asia and the Pacific have 181 cultural, 65 natural and 12 mixed World Heritage Sites. This makes up 23.6 per cent of the total, second to Europe and North America's 47.07 per cent. Ong Sor Fern shares some sites to check off your travel bucket list.
World Heritage Sites: 3
HISTORIC MOSQUE CITY OF BAGERHAT
The city of Bagerhat was founded in the 15th century by Khan Jahan Ali. It was lost for centuries, protected by the jungle which took back the city years after the death of its founder. It was rediscovered in 1895.
It is an important example of Muslim architecture, showing the sophistication of builders as they laid out mosques, mausoleums, bridges and water tanks. The buildings are constructed from baked bricks.
The Shait Gumbad, or Sixty Dome Mosque, is one of 12 mosques and mausoleums on the site and one of the oldest mosques in Bangladesh.
The Sundarbans mangrove forest covers 140,000ha and is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. It borders Bagerhat and was cited for its Outstanding Universal Value.
The forest is home to a wide range of fauna, including the estuarine crocodile, Indian python and endangered species such as the Bengal tiger.
World Heritage Sites: 37
RED FORT COMPLEX
Emperor Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal ruler, was also a great builder.
The Red Fort, an imposing palace, is a marvel of ancient engineering ingenuity.
The private apartments are connected by a water channel, named rather poetically the Stream of Paradise, and baths were supplied with both hot and cold water.
It is said that one of the fountains once spouted rose water.
CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS (FORMERLY VICTORIA TERMINUS)
This great Victorian Gothic monument in Mumbai took 10 years to construct. Designed by Frederick William Stevens, it has been in use for more than 130 years and, today, it sees more than three million commuters every day.
The design of the building, with its dome, turrets and pointed arches, makes references to Indian palace architecture, while the engineering and detailing of the building reflect Victorian technical prowess and ambition.
World Heritage Sites: 22
Considered one of the prettiest castles in Japan, Himeji-jo is also the finest surviving example of early 17th-century castle architecture in the country. Built of wood, its white plastered earthen walls present an aesthetically pleasing exterior.
HISTORIC VILLAGES OF SHIRAKAWA-GO AND GOKAYAMA
Nestled in a valley surrounded by high mountains, the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama feature Gassho-zukuri houses that earned them World Heritage status. These farmhouses feature steeply pitched thatched roofs that look like hands joined in prayer, hence the name Gassho-zukuri, prayer-hands construction. The roofs are very strong and allow the houses to cope with the heavy winter snow.
World Heritage Sites: 3
The sprawling temple complex of Angkor Wat, spread over 400 sq km, is well known to Singaporeans. Built in the first half of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, it is the best preserved architectural masterpiece from the Khmer kingdom, which ruled a large swath of Indochina from the seventh century to the 12th century.
At its height, Angkor Wat was the largest city in the world, with an estimated one million inhabitants. The city was "rediscovered" in the 19th century by French naturalist Henri Mouhot, who published descriptions of the ancient city after an expedition with the British Royal Geographical Society.
TEMPLE OF PREAH VIHEAR
A spectacular clifftop temple dedicated to the Hindu god of Shiva, Preah Vihear had been the object of a territorial tussle between Cambodia and Thailand for nearly a hundred years. In 2013, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Thailand had to withdraw its troops from around the temple.
The temple was cited as an exceptional example of Khmer architecture and is well preserved, thanks to its remote location.
World Heritage Sites: 8
BOROBUDUR TEMPLE COMPOUNDS
Built in the eighth and ninth centuries, Borobudur was a centre for Buddhist worship till between the 10th and 15th centuries, when it was abandoned. It was rediscovered in the 19th century, restored in the 20th century and now attracts more tourists than Buddhist pilgrims. Visitors come to admire its architectural symmetry amid a serene forested landscape.
KOMODO NATIONAL PARK
The biggest monitor lizards in the world inhabit these volcanic islands. There are some 5,700 komodo dragons on the islands, which are also home to other animals such as the orange-footed scrubfowl and the Timor deer.
World Heritage Sites: 4
GUNUNG MULU NATIONAL PARK
Located in Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park is cited for its biodiversity and karst features.
Occupying more than 52,000ha, the park's plant life is particularly rich, with more than 3,500 species of vascular plants.
Its karst landscape boasts a geologic history dating back more than one million years.
Spread over 75,000ha in Sabah, this park is dominated by Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea. It is home to a wide range of habitats, from tropical lowlands to sub-alpine forest.
World Heritage Sites: 13
The oldest Confucian shrine in South Korea also houses the spirit tablets of rulers of the Joseon dynasty.
Dating from the 16th century, the shrine still hosts ceremonies of ancestral worship today.
HISTORIC VILLAGES OF KOREA: HAHOE AND YANGDONG
Hahoe and Yangdong are exemplars of traditional clan villages dating back to the Joseon era, with buildings set in beautiful natural landscapes. They are notable as they have preserved original buildings as well as folk traditions such as Hahoe's shamanistic mask dance.
World Heritage Sites: 5
HISTORIC CITY OF AYUTTHAYA
Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese kingdom and it flourished between the 14th and 18th centuries. Laid out in a strict grid format, the city is located on an island surrounded by three rivers which connect it to the sea. This connectivity turned Ayutthaya into an important hub for both trade and diplomacy.
BAN CHIANG ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
This unprepossessing site is an oval-shaped earthen mound. But excavations have revealed that the site dates from 1,495BC and shows evidence of some of the earliest settled agrarian occupation in South-east Asia. There is evidence of wet rice agriculture and domestication of farm animals as well as signs of ceramic manufacture and bronze tool-making.
World Heritage Sites: 6
RICE TERRACES OF THE PHILIPPINE CORDILLERAS
The beautiful sculpted slopes of the Cordilleras mountains are the product of two millennia of human occupation. The mountains were shaped by the Ifugao ethnic group, a minority community that has lived there for thousands of years.
HISTORIC TOWN OF VIGAN
Located at the north-west tip of Luzon, this town was founded in 1572 by Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo. It was the northernmost settlement established by the Spanish and crucial to trade with China. The town is also a well-preserved example of Spanish colonial town planning.
World Heritage Sites: 53
MAUSOLEUM OF THE FIRST QIN EMPEROR
Qin Shihuang's famous terracotta warriors are the star attraction at his mausoleum in Xi'an. There are nearly 200 pits containing thousands of statues which were buried to accompany the first emperor into the afterlife to unite China.
The tomb was built in the third century BC and, besides soldiers, the complex - which contains more than 600 sites - also has terracotta horses as well as bronze chariots and weapons.
IMPERIAL PALACES OF THE MING AND QING DYNASTIES IN BEIJING AND SHENYANG
The Forbidden City in Beijing and Houjin Palace in Shenyang were the seats of imperial power in China for 500 years. The Forbidden City was cited as "a priceless testimony to Chinese civilisation during the Ming and Qing dynasties". Houjin Palace, also known as Shenglin Palace, was a secondary capital and was built between 1625 and 1637 by Manchu leader Nurhaci for the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty.
World Heritage Sites: 8
HA LONG BAY
The spectacular scenery of Ha Long Bay, with its abrupt islands, is the result of a limestone landscape that has been eroded and drowned. The pillars, caves and arches are typical of a mature karst landscape that has seen minimal interference from human hands.
HOI AN ANCIENT TOWN
The trading town of Hoi An contains Chinese, Japanese and Western influences in its architecture. Dating to the 15th century, the town features 1,107 well-preserved timber frame buildings, with brick or wooden walls, arranged in tight rows along narrow pedestrian streets. There is also a fine wooden Japanese bridge, with a pagoda on it, dating from the 16th century.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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