Holidays are not just about what’s new or trending. It can be just as exciting to learn about the past. Asean is a region with a wealth of cultural history, so here are some top tips on where to delve deep into that rich past.
World heritage caretaker Unesco has already recognised 37 unique sites to be protected for their vital contribution to Asean’s heritage.
The stunning architecture of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is perhaps one of the most iconic. This breathtaking marvel offers an impressive look at the legacy of the once flourishing Khmer Empire, and delivers a sense of reverence for the scope of construction which, almost a thousand years on, still speaks to the vision of one of South-East Asia’s most powerful civilisations.
Cambodia is also home to the Bayon Temple, a 13th century architectural masterpiece, and the equally impressive Ta Prohm Temple, both recognised as Unesco heritage sites.
There are other less well-known locations which also offer a glimpse into the Khmer Empire’s legacy. The Preah Vihear Temple sits astride the Thai/ Cambodia border, and has been an unfortunate site of conflict in recent years. But with a marked decrease in tensions, of late, this beautiful 11th century temple once again offers visitors the chance to enjoy a stunning, well preserved piece of history, and one which boasts commanding views. The temple sits atop a 500m cliff overlooking the Cambodian plains, delivering a second awe-inspiring vista to admire besides the majestic architecture.
It’s a misconception that the region’s cultural heritage is limited to ancient feats of architecture. Great museums like Singapore’s National Museum stand ready to pick you up and whisk you away to live and breathe the history of days gone by. In taking a look at the sometimes difficult path that led to the vibrant young nation of Singapore today, visitors can appreciate not only the challenges of the past but the ample civic pride enjoyed by the modern nation.
Officially opened in 1868 and housed in a stunning 19th century colonial mansion, Indonesia’s national museum offers an engaging experience. When in Jakarta, take the time to appreciate the beautiful setting along with a detailed tour through the nation’s past.
Heritage does not always have to be about something left behind. A great deal of the region’s most impressive cultural history can still be enjoyed today. The legacy of the Philippine’s colonial past of the 16th and 18th centuries is still alive in the world’s fifth largest Christian nation, embodied by the epic splendour of the nation’s four Unesco-protected Roman Catholic churches – in Manila, Santa Maria, Paoay and Miagao. These baroque masterpieces by Chinese and Filipino craftsmen offer a unique interpretation of traditional European styles, and are well worth a visit.
The vibrant multi-cultural heritage of east meets west can be enjoyed right here in Malaysia, too, in the Unesco listed historic cities of Malacca and George Town
These beautiful reminders of the countries’ rich trading past provide a fairy-tale historical backdrop to exciting, modern Malaysian cities. Just two hours from Kuala Lumpur, Malacca offers up a rich history to enjoy. You can explore the charming Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, and go on a journey through the lives and history of Malaysia’s Peranakan heritage. Alternatively, head to the Cheng Hoong Teng Temple, Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple nestled amidst enticing rustic streets. Or perhaps take a cruise on the river, or enjoy the sights and sounds of Jonker Street, with the smells of the night market evoking images of the region’s dynamic trading past.
George Town, Penang’s colourful multi-cultural capital, is another impressive cultural offering. Step back into history at the stunning Pinang Peranakan Museum, admire the architecture and décor of this hundred-year-old mansion, and immerse yourself in the history of the Straits Chinese community that existed a century before.
If you like a bit more spice with your history, George Town provides heritage tours with a more culinary leaning, not just showing you the sights but letting you sample the delicacies of a dynamic city. Surely there’s no better way to appreciate a changing culture than with some of its delicious cuisine?
Finally, enjoy the sights of George Town’s history alongside a sprinkling of modern life with a walk through the town’s heritage streets, such as Lebuh Muntri and Lebuh Armenian, where historic buildings now offer up refurbished shops and trendy cafes.
If you’re in the mood for something more spiritual, you can stroll down Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, otherwise known as the Street of Harmony, where different houses of worship stand almost side-by-side.
Wherever your holiday takes you, the rich heritage of Asean is ready to deliver something special.