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UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Breathtaking Treasures of ASEAN (Part 1)

Discover the UNESCO-listed cultural and natural wonders of the Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar

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UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Breathtaking Treasures of ASEAN (Part 1)

Discover the UNESCO-listed cultural and natural wonders of the Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar

Let’s take a look at the vast beauty of the natural landscapes to be found in the Philippines, and the historic cities and archaeological sites in both Thailand and Myanmar.

1. Pyu Ancient Cities | Myanmar

Category: Cultural site
Location: The three ancient cities cover a combined area of over 4,000 hectares, located within an area of almost 9,000 hectares in the dry zone of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River basin in the centre of Burma

The Pyu ancient cities are a new entry on UNESCO’s world heritage list – having received their fully protected status in just 2014. The sites include the remains of three brick, walled and most cities from the Pyu kingdoms – Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra – that flourished in the region between the years 200BC and 900AD. These beautiful ancient cities contain complex irrigation facilities, palace citadels, burial grounds and early industrial production sites, as well as some of the world’s oldest Buddhist stupas. Many of the markings seen in and around these sites are written in the ancient Pyu language, which sadly died out by the 13th century – giving rise to the modern Burmese language.

2. Baroque Churches of the Philippines | Philippines

Category: Cultural site
Location: The four churches are located in Manila, Santa Maria, Paoay (all in Luzon) and Miag-ao (in Iloilo)

The four churches are:
– San Agustin Church in Manila – built in 1571, rebuilt twice, with the current church structure, made of adobe stones, having been built in 1586.
– San Agustin Church or Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, built in 1710.
– The Santa Maria Church or Nuestra Senora dela Asuncion Church in Ilocos Sur was built in 1765 at the top of a hill and once served as a fortress and citadel during many rebellions and earthquakes.
– Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Iloilo was built in 1786.

These four colonial-era churches were built between the 1500s and 1700s whilst the Philippines were under Spanish rule. Since their inception, these 4 churches have acted as cornerstones of Christianity in the archipelago – showing both the political and religious influence of the Church in the country and facilitating the adaptation of Spanish and Latin American architecture to the islands. Each is a superb example of a European church design fused with local materials and decorative motifs which set the path to a new church building tradition in the country. The churches facades, in particular, the San Agustin Church in Ilocos Norte are incredible – imposing and grand, baroque in style and yet with beautiful Chinese flourishes.

3. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park | Philippines

Category: Natural site
Location: In the centre of the Sulu Sea

The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park includes two atolls – the North and South atolls – and is a unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species with countless birds and marine turtles and a vibrant and pristine coral reef which has an incredible 100m perpendicular wall, a collection of lagoons and two coral islands – all of which are completely uninhabited by humans. There is a huge diversity of marine life in the natural park – including whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse, as well as over 350 species of corals and almost 500 species of fish.

4. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras | Philippines

Category: Cultural site
Location: In Banaue, just north of Lagawe (347KM from Manila) on the island of Luzon
For 2000 years, the Ifugao people have tirelessly worked on the slopes of the mountains that shape and contour the Ifugao province in the Philippines, forming an ancient yet living landscape that serves as an exemplary example of sustainable agriculture with traditional techniques. The fields themselves climb the mountains for thousands of feet – enhancing the breathtaking, rugged beauty of the area – to create one of the essential places to visit in the Philippines. Incredibly, the plots are watered with water that is harvested from mountaintop forests above the rice terraces, utilizing the stone and mud systems that have been in place since the time of the original builders.

5. Historic Town of Vigan | Philippines

Category: Cultural site
Location: Vigan is located on the western coast of the island of Luzon

One could be forgiven for believing they have trespassed into some other dimension – where Europe and Asia are one – when walking through the historic streets of Vigan. The city was established in the 16th century and is, by quite some way, the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. Its houses and streets are made from locally sourced terracotta, wood, shells, stone, and lime – molded into a traditional Spanish chequerboard street plan with the main plaza, adorned by a Municipal Hall, a Provincial Capitol and of course, a cathedral. The Mestizo district, however, has much stronger Chinese, Ilocano and Filipino influences in its streets, and it’s not uncommon (in fact, it’s very common) to see a horse- drawn carriage making its way over the cobbled roads.

6. Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park | Philippines

Category: Natural site
Location: On the island of Palawan – 80 kilometres north of the city centre of Puerto Princesa

The Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park is simply mesmerizing. A series of complex emerald-colored limestone caves dip in and out of translucent waters and thick lush foliage meets warm white sands – creating what is one of the most important protected areas in the Philippines. Its most incredible feature, though, is the underground river, which emerges directly into the sea and flows through the aforementioned cave systems. Recent discoveries in the caves include 11 different minerals, crystal rock formations, and a 20 million-year-old Miocene serenia fossil. The Puerto Princesa Underground River was also declared as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

7. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary | Philippines

Category: Natural site
Location: The mountain range is on the southeastern tip of the island of Mindanao

This huge mountain range of 16,000-hectares, with a peak of more than 1,600 meters above sea level boasts the largest pygmy forest in south east Asia, with a field of bonsai trees estimated to be around 100 years old, as well as beautiful green terrains, adorned by the vibrant colours of indigenous plant species that look out to the perfect blues of the Pacific. The Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary also provides sanctuary to a wonderful collection of threatened and endemic flora and fauna species, eight of which – including the Philippine Eagle and Philippine Cockatoo – are found nowhere else except on Mount Hamiguitan. The Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is also one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia – having received its status in the middle of 2014.

8. Historic City of Ayutthaya | Thailand

Category: Cultural site
Location: The city is in the Ayutthaya province in Thailand, located in the valley of the Chao Phraya River some 76km north of Bangkok

Ayutthaya is, quite easily, one of the most beautiful historical sites in Thailand. Wats glow a golden shade of orange in the evening, while staggeringly large depictions of the Buddha sit crossed-legged in line at the Ayutthaya temple. The city was founded in 1350, and was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom (for more than 400 years), though it only really began to flourish between the 14th and 18th centuries, when it became one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a centre of global diplomacy and commerce.

9. Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns | Thailand

Category: Cultural site
Location: In Northern Thailand close to the modern city – Sukhothai

There are three parks within the site – each one a historic town. These are:
– Sukhothai Historical Park in the Mueang Sukhothai District, Sukhothai Province.
– Si Satchanalai Historical Park in the Si Satchanalai District, Sukhothai Province.
– Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park in Mueang Kamphaeng Phet District, Kamphaeng Phet Province.

Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam between the 13th and 14th centuries. Within the parks, there are a vast number of monuments, including wall paintings, intricate decorative features, temple and monasteries, each illustrating the beginnings of Thai architecture – which is exceptionally distinctive from Khmer and other earlier regional styles and is known as the Sukhothai style.

10. Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries | Thailand

Category: Natural site
Location: The sanctuaries are in Northern Thailand and run alongside the western border with Myanmar – 300KM northwest of Bangkok

The Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries are aesthetically beautiful to the extreme – vast and wild, expansive and dense, hilly, lush with forest and crisscrossed by a network of rivers and streams that flow into a large grassland plain. There’s a fascinating diversity of animals here, including some 120 mammals, 400 birds, 96 reptiles, 43 amphibians and 113 freshwater fish – as well as 34 internationally threatened species. The area is one of very few in Southeast Asia which is large enough to support large mammals such as elephants and tigers – both of which are found here. Aside from the flora and fauna, there are some 3,800 tribal people live within the Thung Yai sanctuary, while Huai Kha Khaeng remains uninhabited.

11. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site | Thailand

Category: Cultural site
Location: Located close to the Lao border in the Udon Thani Province in in north east Thailand

Ban Chiang is widely considered to be the most important prehistoric settlement discovered in South-East Asia. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region and of the manufacture and use of metals. The first scientific excavation of the site was in 1967 and uncovered a collection of red colored pottery and skeletons that have been dated to the Neolithic age, the Iron Age, and the Bronze Age. There’s now a museum at the site which houses many of these skeletons and pottery samples – which are in incredibly good condition despite many dating back some 6,000 years – and the remains of the Wat Pho Sri Nai temple.

12. Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex | Thailand

Category: Natural site
Location: The complex spans 230 km between Ta Phraya National Park on the Cambodian border in the east, and Khao Yai National Park in the west

The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex is a vast tropical forest and is an absolute must-visit for any self-proclaimed nature nut that plans on visiting Thailand’s more rustic side. Within its lush, rolling hills, you’ll find a collection of crystal-like waterfalls (try and visit the Haew Suwat Waterfall), deep ravines and perhaps some of the best hiking trails in all of Thailand, along with those that call it home: an incredible 800 species of fauna, including 112 mammal species, 392 bird species and 200 reptile and amphibian species with at least one critically endangered animal – the Siamese Crocodile.

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