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Top 10 Cultural World Heritage Sites

There are the top 10 World Heritage Sites of cultural significance I’ve visited so far on my trip, which Includes East Asia, the Pacific, SE Asia and Australia.

10) Temple Complex of Prambanan – Indonesia

The main temples of Prambanan

The main temples of Prambanan

Prambanan is only about 20km from Borobudur, but it is centuries apart. Prambanan is a Hindu temple dating back before the arrival of Buddhism. It was recently damaged in the earthquake of 2006, but still is an impressive early Javanese Hinduism. Some of the architectural styles you can find at ruins such as My Son or Angkor can also witnessed at Prambanan. The one/two punch of Prambanan and Borobudur make a trip to Yogjakarta a must-do if you are ever traveling to Bali or Jakarta.


9) Willandra Lakes Region – Australia
Ancient wombat bones sticking out of the ground in Mungo

Ancient wombat bones sticking out of the ground in Mungo

The center of the Willandra Lakes Region is Mungo National Park. Mungo could easily have been placed on the list of natural sites, but I placed it on the cultural list because it is the home of the earliest known modern human remains on Earth. Many archeological finds which generate attention claim to find human ancestors which date back millions of years. However, they are not homo sapian, they are just related to us. The bones discovered in Mungo are humans like you and me. Found on the shore of an ancient lake which formed during the last ice age, the remains at Mungo show humans engaged in cremation as well as the debris from their life on the shore of the lake. When i was there, the temperature was around 43C (110F).


8) Shrines and Temples of Nikko – Japan
Shrine with autum colors in Nikko

Shrine with autum colors in Nikko

Nikko is a small mountain village about 2 hours out of Tokyo by train. In the hills and amongst the pine trees you will find the temples of Nikko. Nikko is home to several Shinto and Buddhist shrines. The main temple area is about a 20 min walk (uphill) from the train station and you can easily spend several hours amongst the various temples. The most famous thing from Nikko are the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys which are a carving on one of the temple buildings.


7) Gyeongju – South Korea
Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju

Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju

Gyeongju is to Korea what Kyoto is to Japan, a former royal capital. The big difference is that Korea has been the victim of many more wars over the years, so what is remaining is much less than what you will find in Japan. In addition to the many royal burial mounds, Gyeongju is home to the South Korean national museum, which has an excellent display of Korean artifacts and overview of Korean history. A very short trip from Gyeongju is another World Heritage site, the Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple.


6) Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara – Japan
Todaiji Temple in Nara is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world

Todaiji Temple in Nara is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world

Before Tokyo there was Kyoto, and before Kyoto there was Nara. Nara is smaller and doesn’t have quite as many temples as Kyoto, but in many respects is more impressive. The Todaiji Temple is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the largest Buddha statue in Japan: The Daibutsu. You will also find very tame red deer roaming around the city, which you can feed as well as many other smaller temples. Nara is a also a very short train ride from Horyuji Temple which is the home of the oldest wooden buildings on Earth.



5) Borobudur – Indonesia

Borobudur is so big, I couldnt fit it all in with the widest lens I have.

Borobudur is so big, I couldn't fit it all in with the widest lens I have.

Having been to Angkor, I have a much greater appreciation for Borobudur. The largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur was lost to all but the local residents until the beginning of the 20th Century. It was buried under volcanic ash and forest overgrowth. It is still being restored by the Indonesian government. Borobudur is one of the most under appreciated monuments in the world and deserves to be on any list of top attractions in the world.


4) Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto – Japan
The orange gates of the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto

The orange gates of the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto

If you can visit only one place in Japan, it would have to be Kyoto. Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan and probably has more history per square meter than anywhere else in Japan. It was well represented on my Seven Wonders of Japan list. There were several highlights for me including the Fushiri-Inari Shrine with its countless orange gates, the Golden Pavilion, and the Todai Temple. Kyoto has undergone many changes over the last several decades and many of the old houses have been destroyed to make way for modern buildings.


3) Rice Terraces of Banaue – Philippines
Ifugao Woman at Rice Terraces

Ifugao Woman at Rice Terraces

When you are at Banaue, you will find it hard to believe that people actually made this. All around you the entire mountain side has been sculpted into rice terraces over thousands of years. They are still being used by the same people for the same purpose today. In the promotional material they describe it the largest construction created without forced human labor (probably referring to the pyramids).The only downside the Banaue is that there are about 20,000 people who live there, all strung out along the road, most of whom live in shanties. The growth in the area is sort of an eye sore, but there are still plenty of areas where the terraces are as they were long ago. It is nail biting eight hour bus ride from Manila. There are other places in Asia where you will find hillsides with rice terraces, but nothing close to the scale you will find in Banaue.


2) Rapa Nui National Park – Easter Island, Chile
Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

If you know what Easter Island is then it should come as no surprise that it is on the list. The most isolated island on Earth, Easter Island about 2,000km from the closest spec of land, and 2,500km from the nearest inhabited island. Nonetheless, people migrated here and created a civilization unlike any other. Much of the “mystery” surrounding Easter Island comes from the fact that the island’s population was destroyed by civil war, disease brought by Europeans, and enslavement by Peruvians. In addition to the famous stone maoi, there was also a bird man cult which developed on the island after the destruction of most of the maoi. The only flights to Easter Island are from Tahiti or Santiago, Chile.


1) Angkor – Cambodia
Ruin temple at Angkor

Ruin temple at Angkor

If you go look at Google Earth and zoom in to Cambodia, you will quickly find Angkor because many of the moats can be easily seen in the satellite photos. Look for the big rectangles. You could spend a week visiting temples and still not see everything there. Visiting Angkor gives you an appreciation for the size and scale of the Khmer Empire, something which is almost never mentioned in history as it is taught in the West. Angkor did not make the list of the New Seven Wonders I think, only because the list was determined by voting and Cambodia has fewer people than India, China or Brazil.

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Comments

  1. I’d pick Easter Island as my top choice!
    But Nikko, Nara, Kyoto… and various other places in Japan hold fantastic ancient attractions that most people don’t know about.

  2. Liam Walker says:

    Great list! I’d only would add any of the amazing World Heritage Sites found in Mexico!
    Kind regards!
    LW

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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