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.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park: My 4th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Tongariro National Park:

In 1993 Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.

You have probably seen images from Tongariro National Park before without knowing it. Mt. Ngaruhoe which is inside the park was made famous as the fictional Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. It is a popular location for skiing and trekking in New Zealand and is one of the highlights of the North Island. It is a day’s drive from Auckland and should be on your list of places to visit if you ever find yourself on the North Island.

How to Tongariro National Park

It is easy to get to Tongariro National Park. The starting point of your journey is in Tongariro Alpine Crossing wherein you will be traversing good quality and paved roads with a stunning scenery. Another starting point would be at Whakapapa ski area at Mt. Ruapehu. Both of these starting points require a travel time of 20 to 35 minutes in order to get to Tongariro National Park.

If you are starting off from Lake Taupo township, the travel time can be up to 1 hour and 35 minutes. All of these jump off points provide a unique view that you can enjoy along the way.

Basic Facts About Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

  • The Tongariro National Park is the first national park in New Zealand (the fourth in the world). When it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it became one of few sites that held dual status as a national park and world heritage site. That is also when it gained international significance and attention.
  • The park showcases the importance of the Maori culture and spiritual associations in the region. Plus, it highlights the volcanic features in the area. It is therefore, a mixed site recognized for its natural and cultural value.
  • There are three volcanoes within the park: Mount Ruapehu (2,797 meters), Mount Ngauruhoe (2,291 meters) and Mount Tongariro (1,968 meters). The volcanic activity and eruptions contributed to the geological formations in this region of New Zealand.
  • The climate in the park is a temperate zone. It also gets a significant amount of rain fall. But temperatures can drastically change even within a day. The average temperature is 13 degree Celsius. In the summer, it can go up to 25 degree Celsius while winter temperature can average at -10 degree Celsius.
  • The Tongariro National Park is visited by approximately 1 million visitors annually.

Tourist Activities

The rich biodiversity in the national park offers plenty of tourist activities in the area. The most popular of these activities is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. More than 70,000 hikers go to this park each year to conquer and complete this hike. It is considered to be one of the best hiking trails in the world as it offers fine views of the Mount Taranaki and Lake Taupo.

In addition to hiking, tourists also love to ski in the park. There are several ski areas in Mount Ruapehu and tourists flock here during ski season that kicks off in July. For non-skiers, tubing and tobogganing are other popular activities.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Zealand.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 11:01 am

Last Call for Lao

Tonight is my last night in Vientiane. While it is a very nice city, there isn’t a whole lot here and I really need to get moving. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a bus to Udon Thani, Thailand which is a 2 hour bus ride over the border. (Knowing my luck, it will turn into a 10 hour ride)

My only concern is that they are only giving out 15 day visas when you enter Thailand by land, as opposed to 30 day visas when you fly in. I don’t think I’ll need more than 15 days, but I’d like to be safe. I’d like to have a bit more breathing room than 2 weeks to do all I want to do in Northern Thailand.

The internet here is much worse than Luang Prabangv which is surprising. It is one of the worst connections I’ve experienced on my trip. I am unable to upload any photos. If nothing else, I should (hope to) be able to do so in Thailand.

If I wasn’t trying to pick up the pace, I would like to have spent more time in Laos. There is a lot here to explore. While tourism is picking up, it is still vastly under appreciated compared to its neighbors.

I’ve eaten well since I’ve arrived in Vientiane. There are “restaurants” set up along ther Mekong. They aren’t much more than tarps and a BBQ, but the food they serve is cheap and good. I’ve had several fish cooked with lemongrass in their mouth and salt rubbed on the skin, frogs, excellent pork ribs, and very cheap Lao beer.

Today I took my camera and visited all the big Vientiane attractions, which isn’t a very long list.

I am reaching a point where I need to start thinking of where I am going to spend Christmas. The only reason is because it is a busy time for hotels and flights. Thailand tourism has been hurt because of the protests, so staying a bit longer in Bangkok might not be a bad idea at this point. I can catch up on all the movies I’ve missed over the last several months too.