Southeast Asia has many magnificent cultural and natural sites that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The UNESCO World Heritage List is a system designed to protect the world’s unique cultural and natural heritage. The sites selected for the list often represent important eras in the history of each country and also have a significant impact on the country’s current culture.
For the tourist, a visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site is most often a memorable experience.
We’ve put together less than nine fascinating UNESCO attractions to include in your itinerary when traveling in East or Southeast Asia. See all countries in this region on Countryaah.
Borobudur Shrine, Java, Indonesia
If you’re traveling to Java, Borobudur is a must-see.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The temple was built during the reign of the Sailendra dynasty between 778 and 856 and was abandoned in the 15th century. After this, Borobudur remained in oblivion for hundreds of years.
The temple was rediscovered in the 19th century when locals told it to the British Governor of Java, Thomas Stamford Raffles. At that time, however, Borobudur was completely covered in ash from the eruption of the volcano.
The huge monument is built in the shape of a stepped pyramid, so you can climb to its highest peak during your stay.
Along the way, you will pass many beautiful statues and reliefs that tell of the life of the Buddha. The top offers incredibly great views over lush forests and mountains.
Hoi An Old Town, Vietnam
The attraction of Hoi An city in central Vietnam is its charming old city.
The district has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is a particularly well-preserved example of a 15th-18th century Southeast Asian trading city.
Over the years, the district has left its mark on Chinese, Japanese and European cultures, giving the old city its unique look and atmosphere. One of the city’s main cultural attractions is the famous Japanese Bridge, built as the Japanese style goes by its name.
The bridge was once built by the city’s Japanese residents and was intended to connect with Chinese merchants who lived on the other side of the river in the 17th century. Today, the Japanese Bridge is one of Vietnam’s most famous bridges and a symbol of Hoi An.
The atmosphere of Hoi An’s old town always becomes mysterious towards the evening when many streets are illuminated with beautiful colorful paper lanterns. When it gets dark, you can take especially great photos of the Japanese bridge, the city’s old streets, and many paper lanterns, for example.
Central Highlands, Sri Lanka
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its exceptional natural diversity.
The Midlands is divided into three areas, the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Knuckles Conservation Forest and Horton Plains National Park.
The fauna of the central highlands is rich, and the area is home to leopards, wild boars and samba deer, among others. Also, many rare plant species grow only in this region. The highland landscapes are also enlivened by lush tea plantations and bubbling waterfalls.
On our designated Sri Lankan trips, you can visit Horton Plains National Park, one of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular national parks. One of the highlights of the Horton Plains hiking trip is the stunning “World’s End” Lookout.
World’s End is your cliff, at the edge of which you can see 1000 meters straight down to the ground. The vantage point also offers spectacular views of the mountains of the national park, which are covered with cloud forests. In clear weather you can see all the way to the south coast of Sri Lanka.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The city of Luang Prabang in northern Laos is one of the most important attractions in Laos.
The entire city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its unique architecture. The cityscape shows both traditional Laotian architecture and the European influences of the 19th and 20th century colonies.
A good example is one of the city’s most famous attractions, the Royal Palace Museum, which is a magnificent blend of French and Laotian architecture.
The palace was built in 1904-1909 and previously served as the home of the royal family. Today, the building houses a museum. One of the most important objects in the museum is the Prabang Buddha, which is an 83 cm high golden statue of the Buddha.
Luang Prabang is also surrounded by uniquely beautiful nature, and of the natural attractions, it is worth visiting at least the famous Kuang Sin Falls. If you just want to relax, you can stroll through the city streets while enjoying the atmosphere and stop by one of Luang Prabang’s many charming cafés and restaurants.
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, Japan
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are two small Japanese rural villages located in a remote location and isolated from the rest of the world in central Japan in the so-called Japanese Alps.
The villages are known for their houses built in the Gassho-zukuri style.
Gassho-zukuri means “built in the shape of praying hands,” and the structure of the thatched roofs of houses is reminiscent of the position of a monk’s hands during prayer.
The houses are about 300 years old and also unique in architecture in Japan, which has made the villages a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The villages were founded in the 11th century. It used to be very difficult to travel to the villages due to their remote location and the weather conditions in the area. This is where it snows the most in Japan.
Because access to the outside world used to be quite limited, village communities have been able to preserve their own unique traditions and way of life and thus serve as excellent examples of how culture adapts to its environment.
Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Sukhothai Historical Park is located in central Thailand.
The most significant attraction in Sukhothai Historical Park is the ruined city of Sukhothai. Sukhothai was the capital of northern Thailand (the Kingdom of Sukhothai) in the 13th and 13th centuries. Thai civilization is believed to have originated here in the 13th century.
Today, 190 old and beautiful temple ruins and an old royal palace remain in the park area. The Sukhothai area was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List because many of the monuments in the area have served as important role models for later Thai architecture.
The largest and most popular building among the park is Wat Mahathat, which was built in 1292-1347. The temple once served as the religious center of the kingdom. Here you can see a huge sitting Buddha carved in stone.
The statues, pagodas and temple ruins are well worth a bike ride, which is a fun way to see the park.
The great wall of China
The Great Wall of China is one of the most impressive structures in the world. It is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also one of the seven new wonders of the world.
The Great Wall of China was built over several centuries. Construction began in 220 BC. around the time when separate forts began to be merged into a single defense system, and construction work continued until the reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). Originally, the wall was built to stop attacks from the north.
In reality, the structure is not one long wall, although one could infer from the name. Instead, the wall consists of several different fortifications and fragments of the wall built behind. Today, the actual wall of China is considered to be the section built during the Ming Dynasty. This section is 8851.8 km long, which also includes canals, battle graves and natural barriers such as rivers.
You can visit the Great Wall of China, for example, in Mutianyu, north of Beijing, where one of the best-preserved sections of the wall is located.
Sumatran tropical rainforest, Indonesia
Sumatra’s lush rainforests are an excellent travel destination for those who love beautiful nature and animals.
The rainforest area is divided into three different national parks, whose biodiversity has earned them a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Animals living in the rainforest include the Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant and malay bear, which is found only in Indonesian territory. Many rare plants that are not found anywhere else in the world also grow in the rainforests.
In the rainforests of Sumatra, you can visit Bukit Lawang, for example. Bukit Lawang is located right next to Gunung Leuser National Park. Hiking in the rainforest, you can also happily see the rare oranges of Sumatra, which live only in this area.
Located in Cambodia, Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.
The temple complex has been selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the many incredibly beautiful and well-preserved temples in the area. The temples were built during the heyday of the Khmer Empire in the 800s and 1400s, when Angkor also served as the capital of the Khmers.
Angkor’s architecture and detailed decorations of the structures are reminiscent of Khmer culture, religion, and important symbols. During the Khmer Empire, the decorative motifs used in Angkor spread throughout Southeast Asia.
The most famous temple of the complex and the main attraction of Cambodia is Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious monuments of all time in the world. The middle tower of the temple is 65 meters high and is surrounded by four smaller towers.