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12 must-see World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia

Searching for a bit of heritage on your well-deserved vacation? ASEAN turns 50 this year and with 37 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there has never been a better time for exploring the rich heritage of Southeast Asia. From clambering over the temples of Angkor, slurping noodles in Georgetown or riding a horse-drawn cart in Vigan, Skyscanner shows you 12 of the best World Heritage Sites in the ASEAN region– all under five hours’ flight from Singapore - so you can plan an unforgettable Southeast Asian weekend getaway!

Indonesia

1. Borobudur Temple

Situated on a fertile plain in central Java ringed by smoking volcanoes, mystical Borobudur is one of Southeast Asia’s greatest sights. Plan to get here for dawn and see the temple emerging from the darkness before exploring this 1,200 year-old Buddhist temple complex in the cool of the early morning. Once you’ve had your fill of the temple, explore the bustling traditional markets of Yogykarta and Solo, pick up some authentic batik and catch an all-night wayang performance to cap off your Java vacation.

Sunrise with buddhist temple in foreground

Enjoy a spectacular sunrise at Borobudur

2. Cultural Landscape of Bali

Dating back to the 9th century, the water temple complexes of Bali were designed to connect the spirit, nature and the human world in harmony. To see this manifest itself in physical form and for spectacular photographs and tranquil vibes head to the beautiful Pura Taman Ayun, a stunning temple complex surrounded by Bali’s most beautiful rice terraces. Continue your peaceful break with a soothing massage or yoga workshop in the cool hills around Ubud for a blissful Bali weekend getaway.

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Cascading rice paddies in Bali

Find peace in the temples and tranquil rice paddies of Bali

Vietnam

3. Thang Long Citadel

The Thang Long Citadel complex in Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital, contains the city’s first royal palace built by the country’s ruling dynasties. A short walk from Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the foundations of this citadel can be seen alongside the palace’s North Gate and the iconic Flag Tower of Hanoi. Combine your heritage visit to Hanoi with an exploration of the city’s ancient quarter which is packed full of cafes, street food stalls and fantastic boutiques stocked with fun and quirky souvenirs to bring home.

Old house with shutters and bike propped against wall

Take some time to explore Hanoi’s ancient old quarter to see the city at its best

4. Hoi An

Effortlessly charming, Hoi An is Vietnam’s most graceful town and a must-see on any holiday to central Vietnam. The town is blissfully free of much of the noise pollution that blights many Vietnamese cities and whilst your ears adjust to the heavenly peace, your eyes will be pleased with the rows of heritage shophouses, ancient temples and Hoi An’s attractive riverside setting. Borrow a bike and pedal out of town to be pleasantly surprised by long white beaches and timeless villages.

bowl of noodles on a table with green leaves

Try out some of Vietnam’s great noodle dishes in peaceful Hoi An

Philippines

5. Vigan

Vigan is one of Luzon’s oldest towns and is packed with Spanish colonial charm. Take some time wander cobbled Crisologo Street, enjoy a ride on a kalesa, a traditional horse-drawn carriage, and poke your head into some of the grand colonial mansions to take yourself drifting through bygone years. It’s not all history though, so treat yourself to a swim at Mindoro Beach Resort and head to the Vigan Public Market to hunt down local treats including longganisa sausages and bagnet crispy pork.

Spanish colonial building lit up after dark

Vigan is home to a selection of beautiful Spanish colonial buildings

Cambodia

6. Angkor Wat

The incredible Angkor Wat temple complex is surely Southeast Asia’s best-known heritage sight. This sprawling complex can take days to explore, so read up in advance to be sure of visiting the temples you’re most interested in seeing. Must-see temples include the beautifully restored Angkor Wat, root-covered Ta Prohm and the spectacular and grandiose Bayon. Nearby Siem Reap is a fun town to hang out in for a few days with its French colonial architecture, cheap massages and interesting festivals to check out.

Temple doorway covered in roots

Ta Prohm is one of Angkor’s most spectacular temples and great for living out Tomb Raider fantasies

Thailand

7. Ayutthaya

Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya has a proud history as Thailand’s second capital, which by 1700 was the world’s most populated city with 1 million inhabitants. In its heydey, the city attracted visitors from around the world who marvelled at the city’s gilded palaces, crowded temples and merchant ships from Japan, Europe and India. Today, the best way around is to hire a bike and explore the magnificent ruins, popping into ancient temples and wandering the foreign settlements. Don’t forget to stop by the floating market to pick up a spicy treat or two.

Vendor serving noodles on a boat

Grab lunch at a floating noodle stall when you visit Ayutthaya

8. Sukothai

Thailand’s first capital, Sukhothai was established over 800 years ago and is now one of the country’s finest heritage sites with lovingly restored temples and palaces in the Sukhothai Historical Park. Explore the park by bike or rent a tuk-tuk and enjoy sights such as Wat Mahathat with its seated Buddha and forest of pillars, and be sure to bring your camera to snap the superlative scenery from Wat Sra Sri.

Thai temple with Buddha surrounded by pillars

Grab a bike and pedal around Sukhothai to get the most out of your visit here

Malaysia

9. Melaka

Despite its diminutive size, Melaka punches well above its weight in heritage. Once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, empires once fought over this strategic port. In modern times, visitors can take a ride on a psychedelic trishaw, eat chicken rice balls or try delicious assam pedas, and explore the shop houses, mosques and temples of the old town. Plan your visit for a weekend, when Jonkers Street is closed off to traffic and becomes a lively market echoing to karaoke from the clan halls.

red walled historic building in Melaka

Melaka is littered with amazing historical sites

10. Georgetown

Penang’s Georgetown is packed with heritage architecture from colonial grandeur to traditional shophouses. Visitors come to Georgetown to soak up the charms of yesteryear whilst savouring the opportunity to try Malaysia’s best-known street food treats from wok hei infused char kway teow to addictive nasi kandar. Once you’ve had your fill, head to the beaches of Batu Ferringhi and laze away your days or take a walk in Penang National Park where you should keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles and dolphins.

Chinese historic blue-walled building with trishaw outside

Soak up the charms of yesteryear in historic Georgetown

Laos

11. Luang Prabang

Cool your boots with a chilled stay in Luang Prabang, the sleepy town sitting at the confluence of the mighty Mekong and Khan rivers. Luang Prabang is blessed with 33 gorgeous wats, stunning French colonial villas and some of the best quality and best value French cuisine in the region. The surrounding countryside is a veritable adventure playground with crystal clear waterfalls, caves, mountain biking trails and cloud covered mountains dotted with friendly villages.

Wat with sunset behind

Photogenic and charming Luang Prabang has 33 beautiful wats to explore

Myanmar

12. Pyu Ancient Cities

The ancient Pyu cities of Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra are Myanmar’s first entry in the UNESCO Heritage Site list and are home to the remnants of some of the world’s oldest Buddhist stupas. Grab a bike and explore the ancient fortresses and temples. These ancient cities are not well-visited by tourists so enjoy interacting with locals and maybe offer to teach a lesson or two in a local school to really get the most out of your off the beaten path Myanmar vacation.

Ancient ruins of temples spreading into background

Get well off the beaten track with a visit to the ancient Pyu cities

Singapore

Don’t forget to explore Singapore’s very own UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fantastic Botanical Gardens. Bring a picnic mat, find some shade and spend hours watching the garden’s comings and goings for a blissful day out in our very own garden city!

Victorian style garden

Chill to the max with a day out at our very own UNESCO Heritage Site, the beautiful Botanical Gardens

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Published in March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.

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