There are so many wonderful places to visit in Asia it was almost impossible to round it down to just ten, but here is a list of places that would make your trip to Asia more memorable.
1. Angkor, Cambodia
When the god-kings of Angkor built their temples between the ninth and 14th centuries, they probably never imagined the lost city/temple complex would one day draw visitors from all parts of the planet. The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly Angkor Wat, which took Suryavarman II 30 years to build. Said to be the largest religious building in the world, it’s a feat of architectural flamboyance. No photograph, painting or TV documentary can ever do it justice. Angkor is about more than one temple though, and other must-sees include Bayon, with its stooped corridors, steep staircases and 54 Gothic towers. The atmospheric Ta Prohm, which has been left to the jungle and looks very much like most monuments would have looked when French explorers stumbled upon Angkor in the 1860s.
2. Kampong Ayer, Brunei
A great example of one of the best places to visit in Asia is Kampong Ayer, or Water Village; an area or Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. The collection of 42 villages is home to more than 30,000 inhabitants, some 10% of the country’s population. The villages are built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways above the Brunei River, and Kampong Ayer is often referred to as the “Venice of the East”. An astonishing 22 miles of boardwalks and 30,000 metres of footbridges connect more than 4200 buildings, which include homes, schools, mosques, clinics, a police station and a fire station. Although from a distance the Water Village resembles a slum, it actually enjoys modern amenities, including air-conditioning, satellite TV, internet access, plumbing and electricity. The area is best seen by water taxi.
3. Borobudur, Indonesia
Borobudur, one of Southeast Asia’s most important Buddhist temple complexes, was built three centuries centuries before Angkor Wat and four centuries before the grand cathedrals of Europe. It was thought to have been built on an extinct lakeshore and may have initially represented a lotus flower floating on a lake. Built by King Samaratungga and completed in 824, Borobudur was constructed as a 10-terrace building, with each terrace symbolising a stage of human life. The temple has 1460 relief panels, which reflect the Buddha’s teachings, and 504 Buddha images.
4. Luang Prabang, Laos
No other place quite sums up the ‘old Asia’ the Luang Prabang does. Once the royal capital of the ‘Land of a Million Elephants’, it resonates with a charm, peace and serenity you’d be hard pushed to find elsewhere. At the confluence or the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers, it’s studded with spectacular temples, beautiful French-Lao architecture, stunning sunsets and Lao-French fusion cuisine. Pick of the temples is Wat Xieng Thong, but wander through the dusty streets and dozens of exquisite temple roofs appear between the crumbling French provincial buildings lining the somnolent streets.
5. Penang, Malaysia
The beautiful island of Penang, just of the coast of peninsular Malaysia and Georgetown is the oldest British settlement in the country. Francis Light stepped ashore in 1786 at Fort Cornwallis, which is a good place to start a tour of the place. The Padang, an open playing field surrounded by beautifully preserved buildings, is a feature of colonial Malaysia. Around Georgetown’s Padang are some great examples of British civic architecture, including City Hall, the neoclassical State Assembly building and the Supreme Court. Chinatown, with its twisting streets, crumbling shop houses, bustling street markets, flamboyant temples and clan houses, is a million miles from the grandiose and rather pompous colonial district.
6. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Philippines
For more than 2000 years, the high rice fields of the Ifugao have expressed the harmony between humans and the environment in a cultural landscape of unparalleled beauty. Passed down generations, they are built on higher and steeper slopes than many terraces and follow the contours of the land. The Ifugao complex, which includes stone of mud walls and incorporates an intricate irrigation system, is the only monument in the Philippines showing no evidence of having been influenced by colonial cultures and the only form of stone construction from the pre-colonial period.
7. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore
Singapore is not normally associated with nature and wildlife, but the 81-hectare Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a welcome breath of fresh air in this city state. The only significant area of primary forest left in Singapore, it’s a haven for the remaining wildlife. Among several walks in the reserve, the best is the summit walk to the top of Bukit Timah, where panoramic views await the more energetic. The reserve is inhabited by long-talked macaques, flying lemurs, pythons and birds most visitors have probably never heard of.
8. Grand Palace and Wat Po, Bangkok
Part Siamese architecture, part fantasy palace, the Grand Palace is Thailand at its creative best. The centre-piece of the royal complex is Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, containing the country’s most revered image. The Emerald Buddha is the centrepiece of the BOT (chapel), but at just 66cm tall is often overlooked by visitors dazzled by the array of spectacular ornamentation surrounding it and the extravagance of the temple. Next to the temple are the impressive Royal Palace buildings. Separated from the palace by a small soi (lane) is Bangkok’s oldest and largest temple, Wat Po. It is homes to Thailand‘s longest reclining Buddha and largest collection of Buddhas images. The sculpture is 46 metres long and 15 metres high. The three-metre high feet are adorned with mother-of-pearl inlay, depicting 108 different auspicious characteristics of a Buddha.
9. Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya was the royal capital of Siam from 1350 to 1767, when it was sacked, plundered and largely destroyed by the Burmese. A temple restoration programme was initiated in the 1950s and it gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991. The original city was located on an island surrounded by three rivers and temples are usually described as ‘off’ of ‘on’ island. the Ayutthaya Historical Park covers an extensive area and the best way to get around is by bicycle or motorbike. Must-see temples include Wat Chai Wattanarum, in an attractive riverbank setting; Wat Phra Mahathat, with its much photographed Buddha head entwined with tree roots; and Wat Phra Si Samphet.
10. Ancient Hue, Vietnam
Although possibly best known as the site of the bloodiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the ancient imperial city of hue is one of Vietnam’s most important cultural sites, which makes it one of the most interesting places to visit in Asia. The magnificent Royal Tombs of Ngeyen emperors are one of the many highlights of this intriguing city. Important pagodas include Tien Mu Pagoda, the Hainan Chieu Pagoda and Tu Dam Pagoda, and there is also the French-built Notre Dame Cathedral. The Citadel, where the North Vietnamese flag flew for 25 days during the Tet Offensive, is the heart of old Hue, but was badly damaged in the fighting. The Forbidden Purple City was almost entirely destroyed, but it is still a fascinating place to visit.