Asia is home to such a rich tapestry of history and culture that culminates in some of the world’s most incredible feats of architecture and construction. When spirituality, creativity and ingenuity combine, it can be a recipe for the building of inspirational structures of wonder, surviving across many centuries and ultimately providing us with a glorious look into the way life was.
With so many amazing sites to choose from on the vast continent, here is a small selection of our must-see recommendations.
Angkor Wat – Cambodia
Angkor Wat temple at Sunrise
Rising from the floodplains of the Mekong River and located a matter of minutes from the provincial capital of Siem Reap in Cambodia, lies the awe-inspiring “Seventh Wonder of the World”, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat translates as “Temple City” – no surprise given it is the largest known religious monument on the planet covering an impressive 208 hectares (or 500 acres). Incredibly, although visibly surrounded by water, the structures of Angkor Wat are actually floating on a swamp.
Built between 800AD and 1300AD, Angkor Wat is a testament to the ancient wealth and power of the Khmer Empire. The constructions themselves represent a miniature reproduction of the universe. The central tower which rises to twice the height of The Tower of London, represents the mythical mountain of Meru lying at the centre of the universe and the surrounding towers its peaks. The outer walls symbolize the edge of the world and the water illustrates the ocean beyond the edge.
An absolutely miraculous feat of construction, unbelievably vast and intricate, its scope and beauty are truly hard to comprehend just from photographs. To visit such a place is considered by many to be as enthralling as visiting the mighty Pyramids of Egypt.
Mrauk U – Myanmar (formerly Burma)
Considered to by some to be “the next Angkor Wat” is another of Asia’s finest examples of centuries old architecture located in Mrauk U in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. Finely crafted temples are spread across a dreamy landscape, an especially wondrous vision from a high vantage point at dusk or dawn and even more impressive up close where their complexity and size can truly be appreciated.
A great example of such a vantage point in Mrauk U is near one of the most famous of the constructions, Ratana-Pon Pagoda. The central bell/dome shaped building (or “stupa”) is known as Yadanabon and towers 61m high over the numerous surrounding stupas. Ratana-Pon translates as “treasure” which local legend has it is contained in the central giant stupa. While other structures in the area show Indian influence the Ratana-Pon is special, being purely Arakanese in design, a style native to the region. There are so many other interesting structures to visit in this area making it well worth the effort.
Where to stay: Mrauk U Princess Resort (boutique hotel)
Wat Phra That Temple Chiang Mai – Thailand
Wat Phra That Temple
The locals say that you cannot truly know Chiang Mai without paying visit to the wondrous Wat Phra That Temple. Sometimes also referred to as Doi Suthep Temple (from the name of the mountain on which it is located), the 306-step climb up to the site is beautiful, flanked by trees and watched over by Naga (snakes) figures. Once you reach the top, brace yourself for sweeping views and incredible, glowing, golden architectural delights at this site dating back as far as the 1300’s.
On a sunny day the golden shine of the temple gleams against the blue sky, providing both a spiritually and literally truly elevated experience. Witness unbelievably ornate facades with intricate patterns of gold and spires that climb up toward the heavens. All in all, the relentless work involved in creating such complex beauty is clearly symbolic of the dedication of those who created this impressive architecture.
Where to stay: Rachamankha (boutique hotel)
Where to eat: David’s Kitchen
Gyeongbok Palace – South Korea
Gyeongbok Gung Palace
At the northern end of Seoul’s main boulevard, stands the Gyeongbok Palace, the “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”. Arguably Korea’s most famous palace originally constructed in 1395, it was formerly the seat of power and the victim of destruction a number of times, most notably by fire during the Japanese Invasion of 1592. Despite such unfortunate events, the magnificence of this palace perseveres and remarkably a number of the most significant historical edifices have managed to survive intact. Luckily, the rest of the complex was beautifully restored in the 19th century, an operation so vast and expensive that it nearly bankrupted the government of the time.
Gyeongbok Palace is not only an incredibly impressive building but its location is simply inspiring. It stands gallantly, shielded by two mountains; Mount Bugaksanand behind, and in the foreground Mount Namsan contributing to the air of regality, strength and natural beauty.
Where to stay: Rak Ko Jae (traditional Hanok)
City Palace of Jaipur, Rajasthan – India
Jaipur, City Palace, Mubarak Mahal
Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan in India is famed for its soft pink walls which embrace the gridded city. Within these walls is the City Palace, a complex comprising of several impressive buildings including the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces and luxurious gardens. The walls and gates to the City Palace are very ornately designed and architecturally the palace reflects an amalgam of European, Rajput and Mughal styles.
Aside from the splendour and beauty of the buildings themselves there is also much more to see here, such as the armoury with one of the most extensive collections of weapons in India, and an art gallery home to an exquisitely hand written copy of the Bhagavad-Gita amongst a number of other sacred scriptures. The palace (the Chandra Mahal) is also still home to some royal descendants and you are able to take a selective tour of certain areas if you would like to.