Asia possesses some of the world’s most sought-after cultural attractions, many of which have been topping travellers’ bucket lists for decades, perhaps centuries. However, how many of us truly know the wonders Asia holds? The experts at Flight Centre are putting Asia on centre stage and showcasing some of the region’s best cultural sites.
A trip to Angkor Wat, often listed as the world’s number one cultural sight, is a truly unforgettable experience. Built over the course of 30 years in the 12th century, the world’s largest religious monument is known as the earthly abode of ancient gods and the heart of Cambodia. Angkor Wat looks impressive from afar, but seeing it up close allows you to really appreciate the level of detail. Intricate carvings teach of historical and mythological events, and every one of the 3,000 nymphs etched into the walls is unique.
Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most extravagant romantic gestures. Then Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, had it built as an eternal resting place for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, creating what is now considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The story behind it typically plays second fiddle to the incredible architecture and mesmerising decorations.
An incredible amount of history and culture can be discovered beyond that iconic facade. Be sure to read the Quran verses inscribed on the southern red sandstone gateway and admire the thousands of semiprecious stones laid across the central Taj building.
The Ancient City of Bagan
More than 2,200 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries are spread across a 104-square-kilometre expanse in the ancient city of Bagan. In a single visit you can see famous landmarks such as Ananda Pahto with gilded spires, the mysterious Dhammayangyi Pahto, and the world-famous gilded Shwezigon Paya with enormous bronze Buddhas. Sunsets are best enjoyed on a river cruise or from Shwesandaw, a white pagoda with panoramic views of Bagan. You can also organise a hot-air balloon ride, which gradually unveils this remarkable region one temple after the other.
Behind all the ancient landmarks, exotic culture, glitzy metropolises and delicious food, Asia is also blessed with nature unlike anywhere else. From the world’s highest mountain to an emerald bay dotted with limestone islands, here are some of the region’s best natural attractions.
The world of Pandora in the film Avatar has nothing on its real-life inspiration, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. This collection of towering quartz-sandstone pillars rising from subtropical forests attracts more than 20 million people each year. Visitors can walk the main trails and see more than 3,000 unique plant species along with a diverse array of fauna. The park is split into five distinct areas including Tianzi Mountain, which is renowned for the mists and clouds that turn the pillars into floating islands.
Even some of the most experienced travellers haven’t heard of Palau, which is one reason this relatively unknown Asia destination displays so much untouched natural beauty. The archipelago is comprised of about 250 limestone and volcanic islands with lush rainforests. Clear, azure water surrounds each one, giving way to some of the world’s best scuba diving sites. Palau has been given the moniker ‘Underwater Serengeti’, and it only takes a few minutes under the surface to realise why. Popular dive sites bring divers up close to manta rays, Word War II artefacts, shipwrecks, schools of colourful fish, grey reef sharks and more fascinating marine life.
Few places have been photographed as much as the Heritage-listed Halong Bay, famous for its towering limestone karsts and isles surrounded by the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay is dotted with traditional junks and modern cruise vessels filled with travellers exploring the various islands and grottoes for days at a time. There are so many visitors these days that swimming is banned to help protect the environment from sunscreen and other toxins. You can still immerse yourself in the mesmerising nature while kayaking or walking through the many caves such as the otherworldly Hang Thien Cung.