Singapore has its first Unesco World Heritage site in the Botanic Gardens. We look at the current sites found in Asia and South-east Asia, and highlight some of them.
1. Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat
The city of Bagerhat was founded in the 15th century by Khan Jahan Ali. The city was lost for centuries, protected by the jungle which took back the city in the 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 Mosque, also known as the Sixty Pillar Mosque, is one of 12 mosques and mausoleums in the site and one of the oldest mosques in Bangladesh.
2. Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur
The other religious site with Unesco World Heritage status in Bangladesh is dedicated to Buddhism. The ruins of Somapura Mahavira, or the Great Monastery, is considered "the most spectacular and important pre-Islamic monument in Bangladesh", according to the Unesco World Heritage Site website description.
First established in the 7th century, Somapura Mahavira was a renowned intellectual centre until the 17th century when its influence waned as Islam became more popular. The ruins were only seriously excavated in the 1920s and 1930s.
3. The Sundarbans
The Sundarbans mangrove forest covers 140,000 hectares 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 endangered species such as the Bengal tiger, the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.
1. Angkor Wat
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 7th 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 1863 by French naturalist Henri Mouhot, who published descriptions of the ancient city after an expedition with the British Royal Geographical Society.
2. 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 hilltop temple.
The temple was cited as an exceptional example of Khmer architecture and it is well preserved state, thanks to its remote location.
China has 47 Unesco World Heritage sites. It ranks second in terms of number of World Heritage sites. At No. 1 spot is Italy with 50 sites. Here are 10 highlights from China.
1. Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang
The Forbidden City in Beijing and the 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".
The Houjin Palace, also known as Shenglin Palace, was a secondary capital and was built between 1625 and 1637 by Nurhaci for the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty.
2. Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Qin Shihuang's famous terracotta warriors are the star attraction at his mausoleum, located in Xi'an. There are nearly 200 pits, containing thousands of warriors who were buried to accompany the first emperor to unite China into the afterlife.
The tomb was built in the 3rd century BC and besides soldiers, the complex, which contains more than 600 sites, also has terracotta horses as well as bronze chariots and weapons.
3. Mogao Caves
Located south-east of the Dunhuang Oasis, the Mogao Caves were carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River in 366 AD.
They are also known as the caves of a thousand Buddhas and there is a story that the caves were started when a monk had visions of a thousand Buddhas and was thus inspired to build shrines there.
There are 492 caves, built over a span of 10 dynasties, from the 4th to the 14th century. The murals show the influence of Indian art.
4. Mount Taishan
The mountain was the first destination for Chinese emperors, who climbed the 6,000 steps up Mount Tai upon ascending the throne in order to pray to heaven and earth as well to the ancestors for blessings.
The mountain in Shandong province is also the object of visits by scholars and artists, who have turned to it for inspiration throughout China's history.
There is evidence to suggest the mountain was also the site of early human settlement, dating back to the Neolithic era.
5. Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian
This archaeological site southwest of Beijing has produced many significant discoveries, the best known of which was the ancient human fossil known as the Peking Man.
The area is dotted with natural limestone caves that early humans used for shelter. Human and animal fossils as well as cultural remains have been found here, dating back to five million years.
6. The Great Wall
The only man-made object visible from space, the Great Wall of China was begun in the 3rd century BC by Qin Shihuang. Subsequent generations of Chinese people have added to the wall, all the way to the 17th century AD and it now spans more than 20,000km.
7. Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area
A spectacular scenic site in Sichuan province, this area is known for its gorgeous waterfalls and it is home to endangered species such as the Sichuan takin, a goat-antelope.
8. Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains
Immortalised in various wuxia novels as the home of martial arts clans, the Wudang Mountains are home to a sprawling complex of ancient structures which were built startng in the 7th century.
Located in the Hubei province, the Wudang Mountains have housed palaces, monasteries, nunneries and temples including prefabricated bronze buildings made in 1307. The site is still home to martial arts schools today.
9. Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area
This mountain in Sichuan Province was home to the first Buddhist temple built in China in 1st century AD. It has become one of Buddhism's holiest sites through the centuries, and the star attraction is the Giant Buddha of Leshan. The 71m tall carved in the 8th century is the biggest Buddhist sculpture in the world.
10. Classical Gardens of Suzhou
Traditional Chinese landscaping seeks to recreate nature in miniature, and Suzhou's famed gardens are the best examples of this effort. There are more than 50 gardens in Suzhou, some dating back to the 6th century BCE when the city was founded.
Continually cultivated and maintained through to today, the gardens capture different landscaping styles through the centuries but always adhering to the rule of being inspired by natural landscapes.
Other Unesco World Heritage sites in China:
Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area
Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area
Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa
Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples, Chengde
Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu
Lushan National Park
Ancient City of Ping Yao
Old Town of Lijiang
Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing
Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing
Dazu Rock Carvings
Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui – Xidi and Hongcun
Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System
Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas
Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom
Historic Centre of Macao
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains
Kaiping Diaolou and Villages
South China Karst
Mount Sanqingshan National Park
Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in “The Centre of Heaven and Earth”
West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou
Chengjiang Fossil Site
Site of Xanadu
Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces
Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor
The Grand Canal
1. Complex of Koguryo Tombs
The Koguryo empire, which flourished from 37BCE to the 7th century, was the largest of three kingdoms in ancient Korea. Although more than 10,000 tombs from the empire have been discovered, there are only 63 tombs included in the site. Out of these, 16 tombs are decorated with beautiful wall paintings that are considered representative of this ancient culture.
2. Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong
The 12 components to this site are a testament to the sophistication and cultural values of the Koryo dynasty, which gave its name to modern Korea.
Among the site's structures are a triple-walled defence system, an astronomical and meteorological observatory and schools.
India has 32 inscribed properties. Here are 10 highlights as well as a full list of the sites.
1. Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi
The oldest extant Buddhist sanctuary in the world, Sanchi is located about 45km from Bhopal. The site dates back to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and was a major Buddhist centre through to 12th century AD. The Great Stupa, its most famous building, is the oldest stone building in India. It was abandoned for 600 years before being rediscovered in 1818 by British officer General Taylor.
2. 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 127 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 reflects Victorian technical prowess and ambition.
3. Churches and Convents of Goa
Goa was conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century and its subsequent subjugation also meant Portuguese Christian missionaries used Goa as a foothold to advance into the rest of Asia. The Jesuits were the first to arrive and built impressive towering edifices.
The most famous of which is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which contains the remains of St Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits.
4. Ellora Caves
In these 34 monasteries and temples strung out along the wall of a high basalt cliff in Maharashtra, one can trace uninterrupted 400 years of ancient Indian history from AD 600 to 1000. Besides being a testament of the aesthetics of Indian art, they are proof of the tolerance of ancient Indian society as Buddhism, Brahminism and Jainism are represented in the religious buildings carved out side by side in the natural landscape.
5. Fatehpur Sikri
The City of Victory is a spectacular exemplar of Mughal civilisation and architecture. But it served as the capital of Emperor Akbar (1556 - 1605) for only a decade. Although the great Mughal supervised its construction, he abandoned it to fight the Afghan tribes and decided on Lahore as the new capital.
It was a massively ambitious project which included the construction of an artificial lake, now dried up. And it contains the biggest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid which can accommodate up to 10,000 people.
6. Khajuraho Group of Monuments
Built during the Chandella dynasty (950 - 1050), these sculpture-encrusted temples not only reflect India's religious history (Hinduism and Jainism sit side by side), they are also stellar examples of Indian art.
Only 20 temples remain of the once-capital city of the Chandella dynasty. The Chandella kings promoted Tantric doctrines, hence the abundance of sensual erotic sculptures throughout the temple complex.
7. Red Fort Complex
Emperor Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal ruler, was also the great builder. The Red Fort, an imposing palace fort, 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 also said that one of the fountains spouted rose water.
8. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
Located in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains, these five clusters of caves in sandstone outcrops are natural shelters for early humans. And from cave paintings and pottery remnants, it seems that these caves have hosted humans from the Stone Age. The caves also feature some of the world's oldest stone walls and floors.
9. Taj Mahal
Synonymous with India, the grand white mausoleum built by Shah Jahan to commemorate his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal is a familiar image. The perfect symmetry of the building, with its four minarets flanking the courtyard and octagonal central dome, is set at one end of a garden, affording the now iconic long distant view down the central axis of the pond.
10. Kaziranga National Park
Sprawled over more than 40,000ha in the heart of Assam, this national park is undisturbed by humans. It is home to endangered species such as the one-horned rhinoceros, the Bengal tiger and the black panther.
Other World Heritage sites in India:
Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
Great Living Chola Temples
Group of Monuments at Hampi
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Group of Monuments at Pattadakal
Hill Forts of Rajasthan
Humayun's Tomb, Delhi
The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya
Mountain Railways of India
Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi
Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat
Sun Temple, Konârak
Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area
Keoladeo National Park
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
Sundarbans National Park
Indonesia has eight World Heritage Sites. Here are three highlights and a listing.
1. Borobudur Temple Compounds
Built in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, Borobudur was a centre for Buddhist worship till some time between the 10th and 15th centuries when it was abandoned. It was rediscovered in the 19th century and restored in the 20th century, and now attracts more tourists than Buddhist pilgrims who come to admire its architectural symmetry amid a serene forested landscape.
2. 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 scrub fowl and the Timor deer.
3. Sangiran Early Man Site
Located about 15km from Solo in Central Java, this is a rich fossil site which offers evidence of fauna as well as the hominids of the Pleistocene period about 1.5 to 0.4 million years ago. It is cited as "one of the key sites for the understanding of human evolution".
Other Unesco World Heritage Sites in Indonesia:
Prambanan Temple Compounds
Ujung Kulon National Park
Lorentz National Park
Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra
Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy
Japan has 18 World Heritage sites. Here are five highlights and a listing.
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 also present an aesthetically-pleasing exterior.
2. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)
There are 17 components to this site, including buildings in Kyoto and Uji cities in Kyoto prefecture and Otsu city in Shiga Prefecture. Kyoto, built in 794 AD, was the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years. Included in this site are the gorgeous temple and grounds of Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and Nijojo castle, with its ingenious nightingale floors engineered with wood hinges that "sing" as an anti-assassin device.
3. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Nestled into a valley surrounded by high mountains, the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama feature Gassho-zukuri houses that earned it 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 houses to cope with the heavy winter snow.
4. Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)
The Genbaku Dome is the only surviving structure near the epi-centre of the first atomic bomb which was detonated on Aug 6, 1945. It has not been touched and remains as it was after the bombing. It is surrounded by a Peace Memorial Park.
5. Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites
This factory and its related sites date from the early Meiji period. Besides the silk mill, which is an example of how Western industrial sericulture techniques were adopted in Japan, the site also includes two sericulture schools and an egg storage site. It shows how Japan implemented mass production techniques in its traditional industries.
Other Unesco World Heritage Sites in Japan:
Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine
Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara
Shrines and Temples of Nikko
Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape
Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land
Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration
Gunung Mulu National Park
Located in Borneo, the Gunung Mulu National Park is cited for its biodiversity and karst features. Occupying more than 52,000 hectares, the park's plant life is particularly rich, with more than 3,500 species of vascular plants and its karst landscape boasts a geologic history dating back more than a million years.
Spread over 75,000ha on Sabah, this park is dominated by Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The mountain means the area is home to a wide range of habitats, from tropical lowlands to sub-alpine forest.
Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca
The two towns, part of the string of Straits Settlements, were cited as the unique products of trade and migration, which melded Asian and Western influences into a multicultural whole. As the Unesco World Heritage Site website puts it: "They reflect the coming together of cultural elements from the Malay Archipelago, India and China with those of Europe, to create a unique architecture, culture and townscape."
Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley
This series of open-air and cave sites along the Perak river offers evidence of hominid activity from 1.8 million to 1,700 years ago. There are Palaeolithic stone tool workshops and Perak Man, South-East Asia’s oldest most complete human skeleton, was discovered here.
The Philippines is home to six World Heritage Sites. We highlight three.
1. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Almost 100,000ha of marine habitats are protected in this site. The park contains three atolls and a large area of deep sea which is home to everything from whales and dolphins to turtles and Napoleon wrasse. There are more than 350 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish, as well as one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.
2. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras
The beautiful sculpted slopes of the Cordilleras mountains are the product of two millennia of continued human occupation. The mountains were shaped by the Ifugao ethnic group, a minority community that has lived here for thousands of years.
3. Historic Town of Vigan
Located at the northeast 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 as well as serving as a trading centre for the Spanish. The town is also a well-preserved example of Spanish colonial town planning.
Other World Heritage sites in the Philippines:
South Korea has 11 World Heritage Sites. We highlight three.
1. Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks
The Haeinsa Temple, located at Mount Gayasan, contains the Tripitaka Koreana. This is the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The Chinese characters are so delicately carved and regular that it could be the product of a single craftsman.
2. Jongmyo Shrine
The Shrine, the oldest Confucian shrine in Korea, also houses the spirit tablets of the rulers of the Joseon dynasty. Dating from the 16th century, the shrine still hosts ceremonies of ancestral worship today.
3. 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 into beautiful natural landscapes. They are notable as they have preserved original buildings as well as folk traditions such as the shamanistic mask dance of Hahoe.
Other World Heritage sites in Korea:
Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple
Changdeokgung Palace Complex
Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites
Gyeongju Historic Areas
Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes
Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty
Thailand has five World Heritage Sites. We highlight three.
1. 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.
2. Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries
The largest conservation area in mainland South-east Asia, these wildlife sanctuaries cover more than 600,000ha at Thailand's border with Myanmar. Within its boundaries are almost all the representative forest types of Southeast Asia. It is also home to many endangered species, including the clouded leopard and the Asian elephant.
3. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
This unprepossessing site is an oval-shaped earthen mound. But excavations have revealed that the site dates from 1,495 BC 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.
Other World Heritage sites in Thailand:
Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns
Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex
Vietnam has eight World Heritage Sites. We highlight three.
1. 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.
2. Hoi An Ancient Town
The trading town of Hoi An contains Chinese, Japanese and Western influences in its architecture. Dating back 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.
3. Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Located in the heart of Vietnam's capital, this ancient citadel was built in the 11th century by the Vietnamese Ly Dynasty. Constructed on the remnants of Chinese fortress, it was the centre of regional political power for almost 13 uninterrupted centuries.
Sources: Ancient History Encyclopedia/Archaeological Survey of India/Encyclopaedia Britannica/ Tourism Cambodia/Unesco/World Heritage Routes/
This story was first published on May 20, 2015 and updated on July 13, 2015.