Asia is the largest continent in the world; with 48 countries that each have their own rich history and culture. To this day, many cities like Tokyo have managed to retain their heritage and merge it with a certain modernity, while some countries like Cambodia and Vietnam choose to leave ancient cities completely untouched to preserve them. If you’re planning to travel to Asia, be sure to brush up on your location of choice’s history, as well as adding these must-see locations to your bucket list:
Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is probably the most famous ancient city in Asia. Translating to “temple city” in the Khmer language, it was built as a Hindu temple in the first half of the 12th century. It was dedicated to the god Vishnu, and History.com explains that the temple’s design was supposed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods. However, by the end of the same century, it started to be seen as a Buddhist temple as the region slowly turned to Buddhism. Angkor Wat became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and now welcomes more than 500,000 visitors every year.
Vigan is the capital city of the Ilocos Sur province in the Philippines. It boasts some of the most well preserved Spanish-era architecture in the country and beautifully restored cobblestone streets in Calle Crisologo. When you enter Ilocos Sur it feels like you’re stepping back into the past; it’s actually the best preserved Spanish colonial city in Asia. The St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral and Plaza Salcedo also have the appearance of 18th century buildings despite having been repaired due to earthquakes and fires. It’s worth taking a food trip here as well, starting with the fresh empanadas sold at the night market.
Currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this historical city houses a population of only 120,000 people. Hoi An is found in the Quang Nam province in Vietnam. Historically known as Faifoo, it’s a well preserved Southeast Asian trading port that dates back to the 15th century. It controlled the spice trade between Indonesia, China, Portugal, and the Netherlands, and it still embraces its local and foreign influences. The Old Town Hoi An district is famous for its temples and Japanese merchant houses. Hoi An is also a haven for foodies, and you can start by trying its famous coconut coffee.
Officially a city-state, Macau is renowned as the Gambling Capital of the World. However, beyond its lavish casinos and breathtaking hotels, this small region is also teeming with history. Macau was Europe’s only Chinese colony, and Poker.org shares that this has created a modern blend of historical Portuguese and Chinese cultures. For one, you can see 19th century European-style architecture in the popular Mandarin’s House, a historic residential complex. Macau is also home to the oldest fusion cuisine, dating back 400 years. So it goes without saying that it’s a place that’s perfect for history lovers.
The capital of the Nara Prefecture, Nara is the oldest city in Japan and is considered the cradle of Japanese culture. Planetware.com shows that the area is rich with historical buildings and treasures — attracting more than a million visitors every year. If you plan to visit the shrines and temples, take the time to check the Manyo Botanical Garden, too. Also called the Kasuga Taisha Garden, it sits besides the Kasuga shrine and houses at least 150 kinds of flowering plants — including the Japanese andromeda, and Japanese iris and wisteria. It’s worth noting that there are special stone monuments that reference poems related to each plant.
Traveling to a different country is always an enjoyable experience, but you can make it even more enriching by educating yourself about its history along the way. For more tips on how to choose your next destination, check out our blog post on Nuvutraveler.com.