For tourists, Southeast Asia is synonymous with incredible food that incorporates unique spices, coconut milk and chili, exemplary beaches, affordable traveling and Buddhist shrines juxtaposed to fast-paced urban centers. Although it's frequently grouped as one region, the countries of Southeast Asia are distinct and diverse, as the demographics of many of these countries are a mosaic of languages and minority cultures. The landmarks of the area showcase this diversity and reflect a complex history marked by colonialism and war, as well as an emerging era of capitalism.
Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fuses traditional and European architecture. The town is positioned on the peninsula, in the jungles near the Mekong River. Once the capital of the kingdom of Lan Xang, Luang Prabang served as an important regional Buddhist center and was a city along the Silk Road. Today, this small town is a mixture of terraced and traditional colonial buildings, private residencies and spectacular temples and shrines.
In Vietnam, Hoi An is a well preserved town that was used as an important port city from the 15th to the 19th century. Like Luang Prabang, the architecture of the town fuses together a mixture of styles, including influences from Japan. Buildings include pagodas built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as family homes dedicated to the worship of ancestors, sages and other important local leaders.
Shrines and Temples
Angkor, now a part of the Angkor Archeological Park, was once the capital of the Khmer Empire and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes the overwhelming Temple of Angkor Wat, which has a 213-foot-tall central temple tower that rises over four smaller towers. The temple's architectural history is as layered as the country: originally built as a Hindu temple, it was converted to a Buddhist monastery during the 14th century. Another remarkable characteristic of the site is the three-mile perimeter moat that surrounds the temple.
My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam reflects a unique past. Although Buddhism dominates the country's religious terrain, this site reflects an indigenous culture made up of Hindu followers. My Son was the capital of the Hindu Champa Kingdom, which ruled the region between the fourth and 13th century. My Son is nestled between mountains and a fertile basin bordering the Thu Bon river. The tower temples, made of stone and brick, are engraved with designs that honor Mount Meru, thought to be the mountain home of Hindu gods and the center of the universe.
The Philippines' Intramuros has a frenetic, violent history: the Spanish colonialists begin building the walls in 1590; it took them nearly 300 years to finish construction. Less than 100 years later, the citadel was decimated by American forces during World War II. Although not much of the citadel remains, you can still walk around the perimeter of the wall, which is the most intact elements of this old fortress city.
The Hue citadel in Vietnam, built in 1802, was both the political and cultural capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Its well-preserved monuments make it worthwhile to visit, as well as its breathtaking scenery: the Perfume River snakes through the series of monuments on site. Hue is actually composed of five citadels: Hoang Thanh, Tum Cam Thanh, Dai Noi, Binh Dai and Tran Hai Thanh, which was built later to protect Kinh Thanh, the capital city. Roam through these once heavily defended enclosures and walk through former administrative buildings and the Royal College. Hue also has an on-site museum.
You can't talk about Southeast Asia without mentioning its natural beauty. In particular, the region's coastline is studded with tropical forests, limestone cliffs, stunning drops and glistening beaches. Malaysia's Taman Negara is touted to be one of the oldest tropical rain forest sin the world, at about 130 million years old. You can walk through its botanical jungles and visit the area's villages.
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, in Indonesia, contains two of the most active volcanoes in the country, Mount Semeru and Mount Bromo. While hiking through the region's trails, you'll most likely see smoke rising out of both volcano tops. If you want to spend time swimming, diving and hiking in one of the many famous beaches in the region, island-hop among the more than 150 islands in Krabi Province in southern Thailand. Tourists, rightfully so, frequently remark on the unfathomable beauty of Krabi, which not only includes beaches, but mountains and tropical forests.