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Top Asean heritage sites

HERE they are - the top 10 Best Asean World Heritage Sites, chosen by DAVID BOWDEN.

The United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) developed the concept of World Heritage Sites in 1972.

The idea was to develop a framework to ensure protection for the world's greatest cultural, natural as well as cultural and natural sites.

While there are strict guidelines and management policies in place in all 890 sites throughout the world, the list has also developed into a "must see" list for travellers.

These sites are now the places to visit and the South East Asian region has a creditable representation by the member countries of Asean.

Here are some of the region's best Unesco sites. (Also check www.whc.unesco.org for more information and the complete and expanding list of sites around the world).




Hoi An, Vietnam

Like Luang Prabang in Lao PDR, much of Hoi An is a preserved township. Located beside the South China Sea, 30km south of Danang, maritime trade has been part of Hoi An's history for over 2,000 years, with the port being a trading centre for Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Indian, Thai, English and French merchants.

While most maritime trade has declined, global travellers flock here to discover a settlement caught in a time warp. It's like how our own Malacca should be and maybe, like what Penang wants to be.

Wander the old streets or hire a bike to discover building facades that have remained unchanged for centuries. Cars aren't allowed into the centre but brigades of motorcycles keep pedestrians on their toes. The busy river life and active market remind visitors of how the town once thrived.

Travel: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City and then onto Danang on Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com). Stay: Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort (www.victoriahotels-asia.com). Contact: www.hoiantravel.com

Sukothai Historical Park, Thailand

Known as the Dawn Of Happiness, Sukothai is located on the plains of Thailand, 440km north of Bangkok. It was established in 1238 as the capital of the first independent Thai kingdom and typifies the "golden age" of Thai civilisation.

This Unesco site has been meticulously restored and maintained - maybe a little too well restored, some people feel, when compared with say, Ayutthaya which is crumbling.

Sukothai was the first Thai capital where the nation's first alphabet and laws were developed. The Buddhist temples are some of Thailand's best and include Wat Mahathat, Wat Si Sawai (built by the neighbouring Khmers as a Hindu temple) and Wat Si Chum.

Travel: Fly to Bangkok on Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com) and then on Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokairways.com) to Sukhothai. Stay: Sukhothai Heritage Resort (www.sukhothaiheritage.com). Contact: www.tourismthailand.org

Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Malaysia's largest peak at 4,101m is also a hot bed of biodiversity with some 5,000 plant species thriving within the 750sq km park. While the challenge of a two-day climb to the summit attracts adventurous travellers, the cool air and plant diversity also appeals to armchair travellers content to laze in the mountain gardens near the Park Headquarters.

Travel: Fly to Kota Kinabalu on AirAsia (www.airasia.com) and then drive to the park. Stay: (www.suterasanctuarylodges.com.my). Contact: www.sabahparks.org.my




Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

There aren't enough superlatives to describe the world's largest religious site known as Angkor. Hundreds of temples are scattered across the plains of northern Cambodia and interspersed with forests. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat but there are many religious monuments located within the 400sq km Angkor Park that comprises the world heritage site.

Angkor was off limits for decades because of civil unrest in the country but it, and the neighbouring town of Siem Reap, are now the region's hottest destinations. English writer Somerset Maugham visited Angkor in 1923 and observed that it was "embroidered with many beautiful inventions... carvings of an unimaginable variety... they are interminable; they are world famous."

Travel: Fly AirAsia (www.airasia.com) to Siem Reap. Stay: Sofitel Angkor Resort (www.sofitel.com). Contact: www.autoriteapsara.org

Bagan, Myanmar

Situated on the banks of the mighty Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, the Bagan Archaeological Zone covers about 40 sq km of the plains of central Myanmar.

Thousands of stupas and temples dating back over 1,000 years present one of the region's greatest collections of ancient sites. Most temples are in a state of ruin but many of the grand temples such as Ananda, Thatbyinnyu, Gawdawpalin and Shwesandaw have been restored to their original splendour. View the main sites via a horse and cart in a day or so but real Indiana Jones types could spend a week here.

Travel: Fly to Yangon on AirAsia (www.airasia.com) and then domestically to Bagan on Air Mandalay (www.air-mandalay.com). Stay: Bagan Hotel River View (www.bagan-hotel.com). Contact: www.ancientbagan.com

Luang Prabang, Lao PDR

Luang Prabang in northern Laos is one of few towns that make it to Unesco's prestigious Asean list. The former royal capital located on the banks of the Mekong River, is one of the region's most peaceful towns with Buddhist temples located around every corner. Listed in 1995, there's now a Unesco framework to retain the town's overall aura and magic that dates back 1,000 years.

While somewhat of a backwater for years, Luang Prabang and indeed Lao PDR has become a chic travel destination. Trendy boutique hotels, cafes and restaurants line the narrow streets of this compact township. In between cycling around town, visitors can savour the delights of Lao cuisine alongside the best of French colonial gastronomy.

Travel: Fly to Vientiane on AirAsia (www.airasia.com) and then onto Luang Prabang on Lao Airlines (www.laoairlines.com). Stay: The Apsara (www.theapsara.com). Contact: www.travelfish.org

Borobudur, Indonesia

This significant Buddhist temple of central Java was completed in the 8th Century, abandoned 100 years later, buried under volcanic rubble and then enveloped by forest for some 1,000 years.

Sir Stamford Raffles "rediscovered" the temple in 1814 and it was then restored under Unesco guidance in the 1970s. The spiritual significance of Borobudur, located one hour from Yogyakarta, is most intriguing especially as it's located within the world's largest Muslim nation. While in the area, visit the important Hindu temple of Prambanan.

Travel: Fly to Yogyakarta on Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com.my). Stay: Amanjiwo (www.amanresorts.com). Contact: www.borobudurpark.co.id

Malacca and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia

Malaysia's two significant Straits Settlements and historic ports of Penang and Malacca are a joint Unesco site. Both have been important trading ports for over 500 years and are located along the strategic waterway of the Straits Of Malacca.

Traders from the East and West met here and the architecture and culture reflect local, regional and colonial influences. Many old buildings are preserved but encroaching development is a constant threat.

Travel: Fly to Penang on Firefly (www.fireflyz.com.my) and drive to Malacca. Stay: In Penang, 110 Armenia Street (www.bontonresort.com.my) and in Malacca, The Majestic (www.majesticmalacca.com). Contact: www.tourismpenang.gov.my and www.tourism-melaka.com

Mt Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia

Despite being named after one of the highest mountains in Sarawak, it's the subterranean formations that attract most of the visitors to this 52,866ha national park in the remotest parts of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

Caves here are some of the world's largest, with Deer, Lang, Wind and Clearwater Caves the ones most visited. It's also possible to climb to the peaks of Mount Api and Mulu but this should be only undertaken with experienced guides and a degree of fitness.

Travel: Fly to Miri on Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com.my) and then on MASWings (www.maswings.com.my) to Mulu. Stay: Royal Mulu Resort (www.royalmuluresort.com). Contact: www.mulupark.com

Rice Terraces, Philippine Cordilleras, Luzon, The Philippines

The terraced mountain slopes around Banaue in northern Luzon are considered one of humankind's greatest engineering feats. Some of these terraced rice and vegetable fields, constructed by the Batad people, date back over 6,000 years.

The irrigated fields are located at around 1,500m above sea level and are fed by streams from highland forests. The terraces require constant maintenance and the task is made more difficult as young Batad people head to the cities for more lucrative employment.

Travel: Fly to Manila on Cebu Pacific Air (www.cebupacificair.com) and then drive 10 hours to Banaue. Stay: Banaue View Inn (Tel: 6373 386-4078). Contact: www.visitbanaue.com

Source: Nst-Travel

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