If you’ve ever thought about visiting Asia, you’ve realized that it’s a pretty big place with tons of things to see. Every country in Asia has its own unique culture and history with numberless interesting places to visit, making it difficult to pick which places are must-see and must-miss. To help you out, I’ve asked some travel bloggers to share their favorite historic destinations in Asia.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
My thoughts on Angkor Wat:
One of my favorite places in the world is Angkor Wat, Cambodia. We went there for Christmas 2012 and it really was amazing. Dating back to the 12th century AD, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it was later converted to a Buddhist temple in the late 13th century. Angkor Wat has been neglected over the centuries, but it has never truly been abandoned, which is the reason why so much of it is still standing and in fairly decent condition. Restoration efforts were begun in the early 20th century and have continued since, only stopping during the Cambodian Civil War and the reign of the Khmer Rouge. In 1992 the entire Angkor Wat Complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and tourism has increased to a level where ticket sales are now high enough to fund full-time restoration and conservation efforts at the site.
Before going to Angkor Wat, I had heard a little bit about it and didn’t really know what to expect. When my boyfriend showed me pictures while we were living in Malaysia and said he wanted to go there for Christmas, I knew that it was going to be an amazing experience. We spent almost an entire day wandering around the main temple grounds and another two days visiting many of the other temples around the complex. To say it is impressive is an understatement. All of these intricately carved and sculpted buildings were created long before modern tools made such tasks easy. And the height? 699 feet. Wow. Visiting Angkor Wat will leave you in awe of what man can accomplish and definitely entertain you as you explore and marvel at the expansive and intricate structures that dot the temple complex.
Josh and Liz of Peanuts or Pretzels had this to say about Sukhothai, Thailand:
During our travels we have been fortunate to see many incredibly historic places all around the world. But recently we visited a place that really stuck out to us because it was so enjoyable; the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai, Thailand. Sukhothai was founded around 1238 AD and was the capital of the entire Thai Empire for roughly 140 years. In 1991, the historic section of Sukhothai was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located 5 hours south of Chiang Mai, this beautiful and once important kingdom is far less crowded than other ancient sites. This is likely because Sukhothai is a bit off of the main stream travel path for tourists, since it isn’t on the main train line. However, it’s is still easily accessible via bus.
What we loved most about our visit to Sukhothai was the lack of crowds. We arrived at sunrise and there was hardly another tourist in sight (you can’t say that for other ancient cities, especially Angkor Wat!). We felt like we had the whole place to ourselves for hours. And even later in the day when tour groups arrived, there were very few of them and we only encountered small crowds at a couple of the temples.
Adding to our enjoyment was the fact that the temples in Sukhothai are spread out. Renting a bicycle or even a motorbike is an awesome way to explore! We had a great time just riding around and exploring the temples; many of which, we had all to ourselves. While the temples may not be as grand as those at Angkor Wat, they were still incredibly beautiful and the experience was so much more relaxed and enjoyable.
MOTHER TEMPLE OF BESAKIH, BALI, INDONESIA
Shraddha of StreetTrotter had this to say about Mother Temple:
Some places are historic. And then there are some that are prehistoric – just like the Mother Temple of Besakih in Bali, Indonesia. After I tied the knot in April 2014, I and my better half flew to Bali, looking forward to an exotic honeymoon in the tranquil properties and luxury villas that Balinese tourism offers. Visiting a temple was not really on our list, but every single person we met highly recommended the Mother Temple, for authentic cultural reasons. At first we were reluctant, later we were just spellbound.
So imagine walking through the sets of Tomb Raider, amongst dated grand structures, or walking on a site that is build with primitive stone, resembling megalithic stepped pyramids, all dating back to at least 2000 years. The Mother temple is built on the outer slopes of Mount Agung, the prime volcano of Bali, and is also believed to be abode of the gods since ancient times. The entire temple complex is actually a parallel formation of twenty-two separate temples which lead to one another through a flight of steps and maze-like courtyards. Not only for the holy gods, but one should visit this temple for its location, the cool breeze that encompasses it and the view that the place offers.
Even though Bali has numerous temples, a single visit to the Besakih temple alone will give you a deep sense of the spiritual, religious and cultural life of Bali. The best time to visit the temple is during one of the holy festivals that are celebrated as often as seventy times in a year. Don’t forget to tie a local sarong around a waist, carry your camera, visit in the day time for better pictures and buy a tiny bird to set it free!
Borobudur Temple, Central Java, Indonesia
Irina of Are You Happy Travel had this to say about Borobudur:
One of our favorite historic destination is Borobudur temple in Central Java, Indonesia. Borobudur or the temple on the hill is a Mahayana Buddhist Temple from the 9th century and the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Borobudur is built as a large single stupa and looks like a steps pyramid. Borobudur impresses a visitor with its structure, the manner in which the stones are fixed together, the stupas on the ninth level looking like huge bells, the various Buddha statutes and the bas-reliefs depicting scenes of daily life in the ancient Java, mythical spiritual beings in Buddhist beliefs and the biography of Buddha.
The best story out of the ones depicted on the walls of Borobudur is that about the dream of Queen Maya (Buddha’s mother). Queen Maya and the King Suddhodhana did not have children for 20 years of marriage. As per the legend, on a full moon night, sleeping in the palace the queen had a vivid dream in which a white elephant appeared holding a white lotus flower in its trunk, went around the queen three times entering her womb through her right side. Soon after Maya gave birth to Lord Buddha.
The Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Linda of Tripping Blonde had this to say about The Forbidden City:
The Forbidden City, built over 500 years ago, is one of China’s most popular tourist sites. It served as the home to 24 Chinese emperors from 1420 until 1923, ceasing to be the center of political power in 1912. Today, it serves as the Palace Museum.
A grand rectangular complex, it covers 180 acres with over 800 buildings located right in the center of Beijing. It is very recognizable with its high 26 foot walls, watchtowers, and moat. The main entrance is through the Meridien Gate, which is located right across from Tiananmen Square. This is also one of the most popular viewpoints of the Forbidden City and is frequently photographed from the Square.
Being a divine city, access was restricted; no ordinary people were permitted to enter. To do so would result in immediate death. Today, the city is no longer forbidden, and hundreds and hundreds of tourists visit it every day. The main attraction is the architecture. Here, you’ll find the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden buildings. The fine Chinese architecture is evident in the curved rooftops, bold colors, and unique drawings and carvings, all begging to be photographed. The buildings were designed using ancient Chinese symbolism and philosophy, so the layout and colors all represent something, such as, the emperors color (yellow) or heaven (the number 3).
While exploring the complex, don’t forget to peek into the various pavilions. Because the Forbidden City is now home to the Palace Museum, visitors can see the emperor’s Dragon Throne, ornately decorated Buddhas, and other imperial treasures in the rotating collection.
From the magnificent architecture and its sheer size to the rich history and important cultural significance, there is nothing that tops a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site for me.
My thoughts on Bagan:
I can honestly say that Bagan is one of THE most amazing places in the world. Hands down my absolute favorite place in the world. Nowhere else are you going to find over 2,200 temples and pagodas that date from the mid-9th century. When you climb all the way to the top of the temples and look out over the skyline, all you can see for miles are temples, pagodas and payas dotting the landscape. It is beautiful and it is captivating. We spent three days here. One day we rode rickety bikes from temple to temple, the next day we rode in the back of a horse cart and the last day we hired a local and his jeep with no shocks to take us out to Mount Popa so we could visit the temple at the top of a mountain. Bagan is fabulous.
When Bagan was first settled back in the mid-9th century, it was known as Pagan (Puh-gone) and was the capital of the Pagan Empire for over 250 years. It is estimated that at the height of the Pagan Empire, there were over 14,000 monasteries, temples and stupas over 104 square kilometres (40 sq mi). Unfortunately, a series of Mongol invasions that lasted 10 years culminated in the collapse of the Pagan Empire in 1287 and the rise of the Myinsaing Kingdom. Pagan was almost entirely abandoned and was mainly used as a pilgrimage destination until the late 1800s. In the 1990s, the military government began a series of haphazard restorations on many temples, but did not stay true to the original designs or materials, which has prevented Bagan from being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even though there is controversy surrounding the government of Myanmar and the conservation efforts of Bagan, it really is a wonderful place. We met some wonderful people and had a great time trekking across the countryside to visit large temples and small stupas. And, really, there is nothing so magical as watching a sunset from atop the ruins of a centuries old temple.