Photo: Kanuman/Shutterstock

13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia

China Indonesia India Japan Cambodia Sri Lanka Nepal Philippines Turkmenistan Uzbekistan Vietnam Insider Guides
by David DeFranza Apr 7, 2009
Asia is home to dozens of UNESCO-recognized sites. Here are 13 of the most spectacular:
1. Huang Shan (China)

Photo: Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock

Huang Shan, or the “Yellow Mountain,” is one of China’s major tourist destinations. The area’s granite peaks rise out of the forests and clouds, creating a scene reminiscent of an ancient Chinese landscape painting.

More than 50 trails and several cable cars allow travelers to explore the mountains and climb to various peaks, and many visitors spend the night in guesthouses on or near the mountain summits to see the sun rise over this incredible range.

2. Great Wall (China)
Great Wall of China view

Photo: aphotostory/Shutterstock

Though the debate over its visibility from space continues, none could contest the inspiring beauty of the Great Wall when seen from one of its towers. The stone ribbon rises and falls over mountain peaks and seems to stretch into eternity.

The most popular and fully restored sections of the wall become crowded in the tourist season, but there’s still an opportunity, at places like Simatai, to experience the Great Wall in solitude.

3. Kunya-Urgench (Turkmenistan)

Photo: LMspencer/Shutterstock

Urgench, once among the greatest cities of the Silk Road, was razed by Genghis Khan in one of the bloodiest massacres in history. Today, what remains of the city, notably the Törebeg Hanym Mausoleum and the Gutluk-Temir Minaret, stand in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape.

The ruins make this site an excellent destination for travelers interested in Asian history and Islamic architecture.

4. Taj Mahal (India)
Taj Mahal

Photo: RuthChoi/Shutterstock

Considered the greatest example of Mughal architecture, it is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Could any trip to India be complete without seeing the Taj Mahal?

5. Dambulla Cave Temple (Sri Lanka)
Golden Temple in Dambulla Sri Lanka

Photo: Nila Newsom/Shutterstock

There are many cave temples throughout Asia, but Dambulla, located in the center of Sri Lanka, is held as one of the greatest. Since the end of the first century BC, these caves have been associated with a Buddhist monastery and now contain dozens of statues and paintings depicting Buddha, Sri Lankan kings, and various Hindu deities.

6. Kiyomizu-dera (Japan)

Photo: Ikunl/Shutterstock

Of the many incredible Shinto and Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan, Kiyomizu-dera stands out as an impressive example of Japanese woodworking (not a single nail was used in the entire temple) and for its commanding position overlooking the historic city.

Visit in the autumn or spring and time your entrance for the end of the day, just before sunset, to understand why this is considered one of the most beautiful temples in Japan.

7. Borobudur (Indonesia)

Photo: Kanuman/Shutterstock

Located in central Java, Borobudur is a major site for Buddhist pilgrims in Southeast Asia. With hundreds of statues and carved reliefs, Borobudur presents an impressive collection of Buddhist art, detailing core cosmology, laws, and mythologies of the religion.

8. Chitwan National Park (Nepal)

Photo: Em Campos/Shutterstock

Most travelers in Nepal focus their time on exploring the Himalaya. With access to such high and beautiful mountains, it’s easy to forget that a large part of Nepal is tropical.

A visit to Chitwan, Nepal’s oldest national park, allows travelers to experience another side of the country. Hiking, canoeing, and elephant safaris help visitors explore the park, which is home to Indian rhinoceros and Bengal tigers, among other species.

9. Banaue Rice Terraces (Philippines)

World heritage Ifugao rice terraces in Batad, northern Luzon, Philippines.

The terraces in Ifugao province in the Philippines are thought to be over 2,000 years old and are referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by many Filipinos. Following the contours of the mountainsides, the terraces cover more than 4,000 square miles and are a great example of a “living cultural landscape.”

10. Potala Palace (Tibet)

Photo: Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock

The former residence of the Dalai Lama towers over the old town in Lhasa, Tibet. With more than 1,000 rooms and 10,000 shrines, the 13-story building is an incredible archive of Tibetan Buddhist art, history, and religious artifacts.

11. Angkor (Cambodia)

Photo: Sakdawut Tangtongsap/Shutterstock

The more than 1,000 temples around Angkor, the former seat of the Khmer Empire, are the finest surviving examples of classical Khmer architecture. Angkor Wat itself is the single largest religious monument in the world.

Of course, travelers in Angkor are unlikely to be alone; the area receives more than two million visitors every year.

12. Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
Halong Bay

Photo: Stephane Bidouze/Shutterstock

The limestone karst formations of Ha Long Bay jut dramatically out of the sea, creating a distinctive and beautiful landscape. Travelers can explore the region by boat, staying at the floating houses that make up the area’s fishing villages.

Ho Chi Minh once said of Ha Long Bay, “It is the wonder that one cannot impart to others,” meaning, like all of these spectacular sites, you must see it for yourself to truly understand its magic.

13. Samarkand (Uzbekistan)

Photo: monticello/Shutterstock

Occupying a central position on the Silk Road, Samarkand was designated a World Heritage Site because it is a “crossroads of cultures.” The Registan, or ancient center of the city, and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque are landmarks well worth visiting.

Though it is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Samarkand remains a vibrant community and a center of Islamic scholarship.


The Asian continent offers an unbelievably rich array of options for travelers. Check out 7 Classic Adventure Spots in Asia, or puzzle over the continent’s 10 Most Exotic Foods.

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