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July 25, 2017

Six sparkling Asian gems

You don’t have to travel too far from home to explore these Unesco World Heritage Sites

MELISSA ANNE TAN

THE world is full of wonders — both natural and man-made — worth conserving so that future generations may continue to enjoy and be enriched by them.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) plays this important role, describing its mission as encouraging “the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity”.

Find out why these six places in Asia have been picked by Unesco:

Luang Prabang, Laos

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1995, Luang Prabang lies at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers in the mountainous region of northern Laos.

The richness of Luang Prabang architecture is a result of a mix of styles and materials. The buildings are traditionally made from wood, while the temples are in stone, with the exception of one- or two-storey brick houses that reflect the town’s colonial history.

Why you should visit

Besides its rich history and culture, Luang Prabang is also known for the handicrafts and street food sold at the daily night markets.

When to visit

November to January, or September to October for the dragon boat races on the Nam Khan river — a must-see!

 

How to get there

You can fly direct from Singapore to Luang Prabang International Airport.

Hubei Shennongjia, China

Inscribed by Unesco last year as a World Heritage Natural Site, Hubei Shennongjia is one of three centres of biodiversity in China.

The forestry district in Hubei province protects the largest primary forests in central China, and is home to a number of rare animal species — namely the Chinese giant salamander, Sichuan snub-nosed monkey, clouded leopard, common leopard and Asian black bear. It includes 11 types of vegetation characterised by a diversity of altitudinal gradients.

Renowned in the history of botanical research, Hubei Shennongjia was the target of international plant collecting expeditions during the 19th and 20th centuries, with over 500 new species recorded between 1884 and 1889.

Why you should visit 

This is a great opportunity to see rare animals like the Asian black bear and the Sichuan snub-nosed monkey in their natural habitat.

When to visit

March to May, September to November.

How to get there 

Fly from Singapore to Wuhan, then take a bus to Muyu Town, where the tourist centre is located.

You can then arrange a trip to the nature reserve.

Admission fee 

You can buy single tickets for each of the six scenic areas or a combination ticket for all six parks.

Combo tickets offer better value as they are valid for five days and allow multiple entry. Prices range from 60 yuan (S$12) to 140 yuan for a single park, and 130 yuan to 269 yuan, depending on whether it is low or high season. Children below the height of 1.2m enjoy free entry.

Historic City Of Vigan, the Philippines 

Established in the 16th century, Vigan — a city on the west coast of Luzon Island — is a well preserved Spanish colonial town with a unique fusion of Chinese and European architectural styles.

Inscribed by Unesco in 1999 as a showcase of a European trading town in South-east Asia, Vigan’s multicultural influences are reflected in its culture, public buildings and townscape.

The street plan mimics the traditional Hispanic checkerboard and opens up into two adjoining plazas — Plaza Salcedo and Plaza Burgos.

This is where you will find St Paul’s Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, the City Hall and the Provincial Capitol Building.

Why you should visit

Experience life in a colonial town, and ride a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) over the cobblestone streets.

When to visit 

December to February, due to cooler temperature and less rain. Better yet, visit when the city is in celebration mode — the Christmas holidays, New Year, Vigan City Festival, Holy Week and Viva Vigan.

How to get there 

Vigan City is located 408km from Manila. Fly directly to Laoag, the capital of the province of Ilocos Norte from Singapore, then take a 90-minute taxi ride to Vigan City.

Alternatively, fly to Manila and take an eight- to 10hour bus ride to Vigan City.

Tropical Rainforest Heritage Of Sumatra, Indonesia

Why travel all the way to the Amazon when you have the tropical rainforest of Sumatra nearby?

This massive rainforest — comprising Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park — has a significant role in the long-term conservation of many endangered species, including around 10,000 plant species, 580 bird species and over 200 mammal species, including the endemic Sumatran orangutan.

Inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2004, the rainforest also provides biogeographic evidence of the island’s evolution.

Why you should visit 

Explore a rainforest at least once in your lifetime to be amazed by the sheer beauty and diversity of its flora and fauna.

When to visit 

May to September, especially during June and July.

How to get there 

Fly from Singapore to Medan, the capital of Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, then arrange for a bus or hired car to take you to the entrance to Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang.

All tours usually start here, and it is also the gateway to Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

Admission fee

 Rp 150,000 (S$15.90) per person for tourists.

Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University), Bihar, India

The ruins of the Nalanda Mahavihara site, located in Bihar in north-eastern India, were inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Cultural Site last year.

On the site are the remains of a Buddhist monastery and an academic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE. Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent, with buildings — residential and educational — that included shrines and monasteries, as well as important artworks in stucco, stone and metal.

Why you should visit 

Walk in the footsteps of those who sought knowledge at this ancient seat of learning. If you have a secret wish to don a fedora and be like Indiana Jones, now is the time to indulge your archaeological fantasy as you explore Nalanda’s impressive ruins.

When to visit 

November to March, when the weather is cool.

How to get there 

Fly from Singapore to Patna, Bihar’s capital, then take a bus or train to Nalanda (a journey of about 95km).

Admission fee 

Rs 200 (S$4.50) per person. Free entry for children below 15 years.

Temple of Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, this ancient Hindu temple lies at the top of a high escarpment on the border between Cambodia and Thailand.

Dating back to the first half of the 11th century and comprising a series of sanctuaries connected by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800m long axis, the temple is a masterpiece of Khmer architecture.

Due to its remote location, the site is particularly well-preserved.

Why you should visit 

The site is exceptional not only for its quality of architecture and stone carvings but also for how the temple’s design is adapted to the natural surroundings while maintaining its religious function. It is a good opportunity to visit the temple, previously inaccessible due to decades of confl ict.

When to visit 

November to May, although the most popular time is the cool season, from November to February.

How to get there 

You can book a day tour to Preah Vihear from Siem Reap in Cambodia, or hire a private car or minibus.

Admission fee 

US$10 (S$14) per person for a four-wheel drive to take you to the top.

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