Unesco Sites in Asia Essential to Your Bucket List

“As travel becomes accessible to more people by the day, it’s important to stop for a moment and remember exactly WHY we travel.” ~ Alyse.

As the most densely populated region on the planet with 62% of the world’s population, it’s understandable why there are so many magical UNESCO sites in Asia. With traditions, temples and customs dating back to ancient times, adding UNESCO sites to your Asia bucket list may prove tricky – only because there are so many wonderful places to choose from!

Invisible Tourists don’t just visit a destination so they can say “I’ve been there”. There’s so much more to travel than the satisfaction of checking something off a list. For us, it’s a thrill travelling to an exciting new place to gain a better understanding of its people, history, culture and their natural environment. A huge part of that is learning about attractions that have significance to that culture, and why.

Thankfully, in 1946 the United Nations created the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO) with the aim of securing and preserving the world’s cultural and natural heritage. To further question why we travel, I’ve reached out to travel bloggers around the globe to ask them what their favourite UNESCO World Heritage site is, and the reasons behind their decision. Read on for more!

Map: UNESCO Sites in Asia

Here are 20 UNESCO Sites in Asia to Add to Your Bucket List

This seven-part bucket list series explores why adding UNESCO World Heritage listings to any itinerary will make it more meaningful and fulfilling (here’s the entire UNESCO series if you missed the the other parts). Let’s get into Part Three that focuses on magical UNESCO sites in Asia with locations from around:

  • Cambodia
  • China
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam


20 Magical UNESCO Sites in Asia Essential to Your Bucket List | The Invisible Tourist #unesco #unescoworldheritage #asia #unescoasia #asiatravel #bucketlist #asiabucketlist #invisibletourism #culturaltravel #worldheritagesites #unescositesinasia #unescojapan #japan #vietnam #thailand #southeastasia #philippines #malaysia
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Listed alphabetically by country:


Preah Vihear

Contributed by: Stephanie, History Fangirl

When I was traveling in Siem Reap, I was based there to visit Angkor Wat, but I also visited Cambodia’s other two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Temple of Preah Vihear, located near Cambodia’s border with Thailand and Laos, used to be nearly inaccessible.

A border dispute, which resulted in live fire and bullet holes in the temple, and the roads to get there were so terrible that cars could barely drive on them.

However, in recent years the border dispute has been settled peacefully, and the highway has been redone. However, the temple is still under touristed compared to how many people come to Siem Reap for Angkor. Thus, when I was there, I was the only western tourist at the site.

The temple is another example of Angkor-era architecture, and you can stand near the temple and see into Laos and Thailand. It’s a very special place, and it was highly worth the day trip out to explore it.


Temple of Heaven

Contributed by: Samantha, Expat and the City

On my trip to Beijing, I was lucky to visit many beautiful places, including the famous Temple of Heaven. Situated in southeastern Beijing, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a complex of religious buildings that symbolises the relationship between heaven and earth and where emperors pray to the heavens to bring a rich harvest for the year.

The site was built in the 15th century under the Yongle Emperor. What drew me to the site was the exquisite architectural detail of the pavilions and how perfectly maintained the grounds are kept. Also, walking around the large area brings tranquility and peace and you can see many locals practicing tai chi in the early morning.

TIP: It’s recommended to go early morning to avoid the large crowds and tourists.


Group of Monuments at Hampi

Contributed by: Patrick, German Backpacker

My favourite UNESCO World Heritage site is the ancient town Hampi in India with its monuments. Nowadays a small town, Hampi was once the kingdom of a huge empire decades ago. Therefore, the area is full of ancient ruins and temples and a spiritual centre of India.

While Hampi is full of history and culture, the landscape if also very unique and simply beautiful. Hampi is surrounded by huge rocks and rice fields – you should bring enough time to explore the temples as well as the scenery. For sunset, climb up the rocks just outside of town for incredible sunset views of the rice fields and the ancient temples.

Hampi was probably my favourite place in all of India and while it’s a little bit difficult to reach and not on the typical tourist trail, the detour will certainly be worth it!

Taj Mahal

Contributed by: Andra, Our World to Wander

I was always curious to see the Taj Mahal. I was so tired of seeing photos and images depicting it everywhere, that I knew I have to see it with my own eyes.

I wanted to understand why the entire world praises it so much. And I was also drawn to it by the beautiful love story behind its construction, a marble mausoleum of love built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz.

The moment I passed its gate and saw it resting in the dawn mist, I knew why it is considered a masterpiece of the world’s heritage. Its majestic sight, the silence surrounding it and its perfect details moved me to tears. You can easily spend hours admiring the Taj Mahal and discovering its architectural secrets.

If it is not already on your bucket list, make sure you put it. But wake up early and try to be among the first visitors as you get to see is standing alone and proud in its garden.

READ MORE: 14 Incredible UNESCO Sites in Australia & New Zealand Essential to Your Bucket List



Contributed by: Sue, Travel For Life Now

We were very excited to go see Borobudur in Central Java. It is the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Indonesia and the largest Buddhist monument in the world. Constructed in the 9th century, it has 9 platforms with more than 500 Buddha statues and about 2700 bas reliefs. Pawon and Mendut temples are part of the Borobudur Temple complex.

Many people visit Borobudur to view the sunset or sunrise. We visited during the rainy season, so this wasn’t possible. Traditionally, people walk each level counterclockwise on the way to the top. The bas reliefs are in good condition and the top level has amazing Buddhas and a wonderful view.

Borobudur is 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city of Yogyakarta. Many people stay in Yogyakarta and do Borobudur as a day trip. We recommend at least doing an overnight in Borobudur and having more time to explore the area.


Daigo-ji Temple Complex, Kyoto

Contributed by:
Kiyoko, Footsteps of a Dreamer

Daigo-ji is probably one of the lesser known UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. Actually, I didn’t even know it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site until almost a year after I have visited! I was drawn to Daigo-ji for it’s simple beauty.

Bentendo Hall is probably the most well known and most photographed building of Daigo-ji, likely due to its setting on a serene pond and the beautiful red bridge that leads up to it.

Daigo-ji is divided into two parts, the lower grounds and upper grounds. You’ll find Bentendo Hall at the back of the lower grounds, and right behind that is the upper grounds, the original grounds of Daigo-ji.

All in all, it can take over an hour to explore the entire grounds, but I recommend spending at least half an hour there to explore the lower grounds.

Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto

Also known as the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji is dubbed the “little brother” of its more famous sibling, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto. Usually a fan of the underdog, I knew I had to visit both siblings and determine for myself which was going to take my breath away most!

There was an enchanting feeling as I walked through the hedged entranceway opening out to the flawless zen garden, its gravel raked in meticulous stripes of perfection. Winding stone pathways, a sparkling pond and tranquil setting brought on a delightful sense of calm.

I was so pleasantly surprised with the exquisite moss gardens and the amazing view over Kyoto from the leafy hillside above.

Easily accessible from the Philosopher’s Path, this shogun’s retirement villa was modelled after Kinkaku-ji in 1482, and despite its nickname it was never actually covered in silver. It’s amazing to think Ginkaku-ji has survived many earthquakes and fires throughout the centuries to be just as beautiful today as it would have been in the 15th century.

I’m pretty sure that Ginkaku-ji will always be my favourite UNESCO site in Asia!

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Contributed by: Sylvia, Wapiti Travel

One of the major events that shaped our world was the nuclear bombing of August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima. A landmark that reminds us of the shocking facts of this day is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  It is the only building that has survived the bombing in a radius of 12km².

The building has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and today it is a symbol of peace that reminds us about the first use of nuclear weapons on a human population.

A visit to Japan is not complete without a visit to Hiroshima and the museum in the Peace Memorial Park. We were affected by the stories of the survivors who not only had to rebuild their city but their entire lives.

Mount Fuji

Contributed by: Jessica, Notes of Nomads

Mount Fuji is such an iconic symbol of Japan that you might be surprised to learn that it didn’t become a UNESCO World Heritage site until 2013!

Mt Fuji is still one of the most beautiful natural sites I have ever seen – so expansive, symmetrical and imposing, and a beautiful snowcap to boot for half the year.

Even after almost a decade of calling Japan home, it still feels like a privilege when the cloud cover that often obscures the peak disappears, and she reveals herself in all her glory.

For those wanting to see Mt Fuji from around Fujiyoshida town or the Fuji Five Lakes area, winter has the best visibility, but if climbing Mount Fuji is on your list, be sure to time your visit for the climbing season in the summer from early July to early September.

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range

Contributed by: Nick, Spiritual Travels

I have visited many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in my travels, but few have drawn me as much or for as long as the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Peninsula” in Japan.

This World Heritage Site covers not one but many Shinto-Buddhist sites in the wild mountainous region south of Osaka and Nagoya, including the temple village of Koyasan, two sacred mountains, and a network of pilgrimage trails called the Kumano Kodo that lead to Kumano Sanzan, three important temples.

I’ve been living in Taiwan for a decade, and I had traveled to Japan several times before, but only to the major tourist centres like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. When I first heard about these off-the-beaten-track sacred sites, I knew I had to go, and planned a whole trip around them.

Some highlights from the trip included doing a temple stay in Koyasan, soaking in Yunomine onsen on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, and seeing Japan’s highest waterfall from the Kumano Sanzan.


Wat Phu, Champasak

Contributed by: Ben, The Sabbatical Guide

Wat Phu (also Vat Phou) in Laos is the best UNESCO Heritage Site you’ve never heard of, and my favourite in the world. Getting on for 1,000 years old, these Khmer style Hindu temples were linked to their more famous big brothers at Angkor by road.

Whilst the main city is long gone, these mysterious ruins in the mountains remain, spread across six terraces up into the humid jungle. At the base there are two large buildings, fronted by huge barays – artificial lakes typical of Khmer design, and usually formed by building up the banks rather than digging down.

The real rewards however come after climbing 75m up the steep, uneven stairs through the terraces to the top. Not only will you find the main sanctuary, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, but you’ll also be treated to fantastic views back down over the temples and plain beyond.


Georgetown, Penang

Contributed by: Allan, Live Less Ordinary

The last time I arrived to Georgetown Penang, the streets were strewn with red tissue paper of firecrackers and embers of five-foot-tall incense sticks, in celebration of the Chinese New Year. The time before that, young Indian men were piercing and skewering their bodies with spikes and hooks, before joining a pilgrimage to Penang’s Hills for Thaipusam.

And it is this mishmash of multiculturalism, and diversity of celebration, that best highlights the UNESCO World Heritage Site status of Penang’s “unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia”. Where you will find Hidhu temples, next to Muslim Mosques, and Chinese temples.

But it will always be the food, and the diverse mixing pot of Asian cuisines, which keeps me coming back. Where much of it is found around the graffitied back lanes of Chulia Street, an area popular for guesthouses, renovated shophouses and tourist attractions.


Chocolate Hills Natural Monument, Bohol

Contributed by: Slavi, Global Castaway

The island of Bohol is one of the most unique islands in South-East Asia. While the black-sand beaches, curious little tarsier monkeys, and the fireflies trees are certainly a big attraction, the biggest highlight of the island are The Chocolate Hills.

A bizarre hill formation, this UNESCO World Heritage Site got its name due to the rare grass that covers the hills. During the summer grass becomes brown thus giving the elevations their signature chocolate look.

The locals have another version of the Chocolate Hills origin though. According to them, a long time ago, a giant who lived on the island fell in love with a local girl. The giant, however, was fat and ugly, so the girl didn’t love him back. In order to drop some weight, he started taking laxatives thus creating the chocolate hills.

No matter which story you believe in, the sight of the Chocolate Hills is a must view for every traveler, and will surely make your jaw drop to the ground.

Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park
(Underground River), Palawan

Contributed by: Ruben, Gamintraveler

The famous Underground River in Palawan is our favourite UNESCO Site. To reach the Underground River from Puerto Princesa in Palawan, you have to take a van around 2 hours. You can join a group tour and prices costs around $30 USD, you can get little bit cheaper if you can manage to do it your own.

First you will ride a boat around 15-20 minutes heading to a beach with limestones as first stop.After walking across small jungle you will ride a boat inside the river. Around one kilometre between the caves is where you will see rock formations and some old paintings in a guide tour.

You can go as far as one kilometre only because you might run out of oxygen while you’re there. Another reason why you should visit the UNESCO site apart from its stunning waters and views? It is part of the newest 7 wonders of nature!


READ MORE: 14 Alluring UNESCO Sites North America Essential to Your Bucket List


Galle Fort

Contributed by: Yulia, The Foodie Miles

Galle Fort is Sri Lanka’s sweetheart. I have not met a person who didn’t like this little oasis of all things European in the tiny Asian island. From narrow cobblestone streets to colonial buildings to good western food (something not too common outside of Colombo, the capital of the country), Galle Fort has everything to make you fall head over heels in love with it.

The Fort was first built in 1588 on the southwest coast by the Portuguese, and later fortified by the Dutch during the XVII century. In 2004 the Fort withstood the Boxing Day tsunami which damaged a lot of the coastal area in Sri Lanka.

Today, Galle Fort is a great place to spend a relaxing day walking around, shopping for souvenirs, and enjoying good food. Some of the main attractions inside the fort include the Dutch Reformed Church, the Meera Mosque, the Lighthouse, and the Old Dutch Hospital.

The latter used to be an actual working hospital, but has been recently renovated to house restaurants and boutique shops. A perfect spot to have your lunch or late night drinks with ocean view.



Contributed by: Kavita, Kavey Eats

Ayutthaya is a small city not far from Bangkok, best known for the large number of ruined temples and palaces scattered within the town centre. Founded in 1350, the city was once the capital of the Siamese kingdom, and a centre of commerce and global diplomacy for the region.

Enormously wealthy, with many grand buildings, the beautiful city was invaded by the Burmese in 1767 and they brutally destroyed the city. Following this, even after Ayutthaya was retaken, the capital moved to its present-day location. Unusually, most of the ruined temples were left alone and the city rebuilt between and around them.

Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, these ruins are enormously atmospheric, the now-bare and time-worn brick structures beautiful in a distinctly different way to their heyday when much of the brickwork was plastered and ornately painted.

Most people visit Ayutthaya for a day trip from Bangkok, but if you can spend at least one night, you’ll be able to enjoy more of this beautiful city. My top three temples that I recommend you visit are Wat Chai Wattanaram, Wat Mahathat and Wat Kudi Dao.

Historic Town of Sukhothai & Associated Historic Towns

Contributed by: Maire, Temples and Treehouses

Sukhothai in northern Thailand is an ancient city that was the Thai capital in the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s famous for its ruins, temples, monuments and Buddha statues, which are scattered over a wide area known as Sukhothai Historical Park. The entire park area is a UNESCO world heritage site.

I wasn’t expecting Sukhothai to be as impressive, or as beautiful, as I found it to be. And I was also shocked at how quiet it was. Even though I visited in January, in peak tourist season, there were never more than a couple of other travellers at any of the incredible famous sites, and at some of them I was able to explore these iconic Thai treasures completely on my own.

I’ve since been to Cambodia to see the temples of Angkor Wat, and although those temples are on a much grander scale, for me the beauty and stillness of Sukhothai wins through.

TIP: If you can, visit on a Saturday and stay overnight. The park stays open until 10pm on Saturdays only, with some of the main areas lit by floodlights, so you can watch the ruins at sunset and then illuminated in the dark.


Complex of Hue Monuments

Contributed by: Emily, Wander-Lush

When I relocated to Vietnam for work in 2017, one of the first places I wanted to re-visit was Hue. Established as the capital of unified Vietnam in 1802, Hue is one of the country’s most important cultural and religious sites.

The UNESCO-recognised Complex of Hue Monuments centres on the Imperial City. You could easily spend a day exploring the enormous grounds, with its residence halls, temples, libraries, and undercover walkways. Beyond the centre of Hue, the surrounding countryside is dotted with more important monuments.

The three tombs of Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, built to honour various dynastic emperors, all feature incredible stone and glass mosaics, sculpture gardens, and vast mazes of pagodas and ponds.

If you’re a history buff or you’re into your architecture or design, Hue is a must-visit. Base yourself in town and hire either a motorbike or car and driver for the day to take in all the highlights.

Ha Long Bay

Contributed by: Cerise, Enchanted Vegabond

Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam is on the itinerary for every visitor to Vietnam! Spectacular karst limestone islands dot the emerald green water making this UNESCO World Heritage site exceptionally scenic and beautiful. Made up of 1,600 individual islands, the karst towers are pristine and uninhabited.

I first visited Ha Long Bay about 10 years ago. We adopted our daughter in Vietnam and as new parents, we traveled to Ha Long Bay for an overnight cruise to soak up as much of Vietnam’s natural beauty as possible. Since then, we have been back several times at different times of the year. I find the area so serene and the geological features unique!

Over 5 million visitors come to Vietnam’s most popular tourist attraction. Getting to Ha Long Bay is best done from Hanoi where many tour operators offer day trips and overnight cruises. I highly recommend booking an overnight cruise for an unforgettable travel experience. Sunset in Ha Long Bay is stunning, and kayaking and hiking are possible around a few of the islands.

If like me you enjoy collecting experiences instead of things, you’ll want to make sure a visit to Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay is on your list!

Hoi An Ancient Town

Contributed by: Tom, TripGourmets

Hoi An, which was once known as Faifo, is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. It has a history stretching back more than 2,000 years and was once the principal port of the ancient Cham Kingdom.

It was granted UNESCO world heritage status because of its perfect fusion of different cultures (Cham, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and later European) over time. It was once an international commercial port. Because it was abandoned after the French left, it managed to avoid bombing in the Vietnamese-American war. It is now an exceptionally well-preserved traditional Asian trading port.

Things that make the town so charming and fairytale-like include the architecture of the traditional Chinese-style warehouses, the beautiful Japanese bridge, the many lanterns that are lit as soon as it gets dark, and the scenic rice fields just outside of town.

The highlight however is undeniably the Lantern Festival, which is held along the riverbanks of Hoi An Ancient City twice each month.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng

Contributed by: Chantal, Alleen op reis

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is a national park and UNESCO Site in Vietnam about 500 kilometers south of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city. The park was inscribed on the list in 2003 and initially covered 85,754 hectares. In 2015 a greater section of the park was added to the list and now it covers a total surface area of 126,236 hectares.

The landscape consists of tropical forests and limestone. The geological diversity is unbelievable, a large number of caves (around 300!) and underground rivers can be found in the area. In 2009 the largest cave of the world was discovered here. Stalagmites up to 80 meter high have been found, the tallest ever encountered.

A 4 day expedition to this cave costs about $ 3000. Luckily entrance to other caves like Paradise Cave is a lot more affordable. The village of Phong Nha, near Dong Hoi, is the perfect base to explore the area.

Which UNESCO sites in Asia will you add to your list?

So that’s a wrap for some of the most magical UNESCO sites in Asia! After finding out why each world heritage site holds significant meaning and are our bloggers’ favourites, are you planning on adding any to your Asia bucket list you hadn’t thought about before? Let me know!

If you enjoyed this article, catch up on other continents with my full UNESCO series here. I’d also love if you’d come and join me on Facebook, follow me on TikTok, Instagram or don’t forget to pin it to Pinterest!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist

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Featured image & first pin image credit: Nick Kembel, Spiritual Travels

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  1. An exciting post with very nice information. In this list, we see some places which were built in the ancient and middle ages. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great list. I have been to a few of these and there are some that have been on my bucketlist for awhile. I think the top of my list is Halong bay. There are just so many amazing UNESCO sites

    1. There are, aren’t they?! Asia has so many amazing UNESCO sites. Vietnam is now high up on my list of places to visit – Incredible landscapes and rich cultural heritage!

  3. Hey this is a really great list! It’s a shame that I’ve lived most of my life in Asia but I’ve only been to four. Also it’s great that UNESCO does this cause it somehow puts political pressure for governments to take care of the places, so many great sights have fallen into disarray from lack of conservation efforts.

    1. I totally agree, Lauren. Anything to help preserve our different cultures in this world rather than have them forgotten is a wonderful thing!

  4. Fascinating post! Have you had a chance to visit Dunhuang and the Mogao Caves in China? That is a fascinating UNESCO site!

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