Life in Slow Motion: 6 of the Greatest World Heritage Sites in Asia

From ancient temples to breathtaking natural wonders, Asia is home to numerous UNESCO sites. The sheer size of this continent—the world’s largest—makes it exceptionally diverse ethnically, culturally, and environmentally.

In this article, we explore some of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites to be found on the continent of Asia that draw visitors from all over the world.

1. Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Russia

On Russia’s eastern fringes lies the Kamchatka Peninsula, a region densely populated with active volcanoes. Lying between the Pacific Ocean and a sprawling landmass, the area’s rivers, lakes, and coastline are abundant in wildlife, including peregrine falcon, Stellar’s sea eagle, white tailed eagle, sea otters, and brown bear.

Described by UNESCO as one of the world’s most outstanding volcanic regions, the interplay between glaciers and active volcanoes compounds the peninsula’s beauty.

In 1996, the United Nations approached NASA’s Earth Observatory, asking whether the Volcanoes of Kamchatka should be granted World Heritage status. The Committee’s response was akin to explorer Stepan Karasheninnikov’s comments about the peninsula in 1755, when he pointed out that no other region in the world has so many hot springs and volcanoes within such a small area.

2. Luang Prabang, Laos

Nestled in a lush mountain valley, Luang Prabang lies at the point where the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers converge. Once the country’s capital before the monarchy acceded to the French in the late 1800s, today European facades fill in the gaps in between ancient red-and-gold-roofed temples.

Luang Prabang is a fusion of cultures, where Buddhist monks draped in saffron robes float serenely past crumbling Colonial facades. Translating as “city of the Golden Buddha Phra Bang,” Luang Prabang comprises an eclectic mixture of attractions.

The Royal Palace was constructed by French colonialists in 1904. The building is an interesting blend of French and Lao architecture, incorporating a grand throne room gleaming with lapis lazuli elephants, mosaic emerald palms, golden robes, and silver rivers.

Dating back to 1788, the palace of Wat Mai is world famous for its gold stenciled hall and intricate bas-relief work.

Luang Prabang

3. Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

Situated on the island of Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park cover 528 square kilometers of ancient rainforest and bottomless caverns. It is characterized by its towering karst peaks: shards of stone that rise up out of the jungle. The sandstone peak of Mulu dates back 60 million years. The mountain also boasts some of the world’s largest caves.

Gunung Mulu National Park is one of just 20 natural UNESCO World Heritage sites worldwide to meet all four qualifying criteria: superlative beauty, biodiversity, ecology, and history. Mulu has been the place of legends since ancient times, attracting tribes from near and far. Today, 96 percent of the park’s workforce are proud Sarawakians.

4. Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto was Japan’s imperial capital from 794 CE until the 1800s. Here, secular and religious architecture flourished, while the city’s gardens influenced countries around the globe from the 19th century.

Incorporating a total of 17 separate sites situated in the cities of Kyoto, Uji, and Otsu, the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto was a thriving center of Japanese culture for over 1,000 years. Kyoto is renowned for its traditional wooden architecture, impressive Buddhist temples, grand palaces, and, of course, iconic Japanese gardens.

5. Komodo National Park, Indonesia

The fearsome Komodo dragon inhabits five Indonesian islands, two of which—Rinca and Komodo—lay within Komodo National Park. Guided treks afford visitors a unique opportunity to observe the world’s largest land lizard at close quarters.

Capable of bringing down an animal three times its size, the Komodo dragon will eat virtually anything, including pigs, deer, carrion, water buffalo, and even smaller members of its own species. Komodo dragons are opportunists, lying in wait for prey to come along before springing up and using their sharp claws and serrated teeth to tear into prey.

Other interesting and rare species that can be spotted in Komodo National Park include the Timor rusa deer, crab-eating macaque, Asian palm civet, saltwater crocodile, Russell’s viper, Javan spitting cobra, blue lipped sea krait, and Timor python.

6. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines

Lying in the Sulu Sea, far from the coast of Puerto Princesa, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is open to visitors between March and June each year. The only way to reach the park is by “liveaboard,” multi-day boat hires utilized by SCUBA divers to reach the world’s most tantalizing reefs.

With just a handful of operators running trips to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, it has remained relatively obscure and off the beaten path, although it is becoming more well-known. The reefs’ crystal-clear waters are also shallow enough for snorkeling in places.

The park is inhabited by a myriad of colorful marine life, including Napoleon wrasse, green and hawksbill turtles, and even the occasional whale shark.

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