Cultural Escapes in Asia

Aleta Fimbres 13/07/2012

Banyon in Angkor Wat

Trips of discovery are the best trips of all, so get more out of life and expand your horizons through visiting other cultures.

One of Asia’s most impressive heritage sights, you can still clamber over most of the ruins although the upper levels of Angkor Wat itself are now off limits to visitors, owing to the number who had to be led down with vertigo. Given the sheer volume of tourists that pass through the site every year, it’s only a matter of time before some areas are seated off. You’ll need at least three days to see all the major sights, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and Banteai Srei Temple are the real gems, but you may want an extra day or two to visit the floating village at Tonle Sap or spend an afternoon being kneaded by one of Cambodia’s skilled masseurs.

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A Unesco World Heritage site and Indonesia’s most-visited tourist attraction, this huge Buddhist temple is located between twin volcanoes and two rivers. It lay hidden for centuries beneath volcanic ash and jungle until being rediscovered in 1814. The purpose and origin of this ninth century complex are still unknown. It’s a three-tiered temple compound housing 504 Buddha statues, many in openwork stupas. Stay nearby in Yogyakarta, a center of Javanese fine art, including batik and puppetry.

Kathmandu is a perfect example of east meets west and modern meets ancient. Half the city is most accurately described as a sprawling metropolis, while the other half is characteristic of Nepal’s mystic quality, brimming with jolly monks and die-hard pilgrims. Although contradictory, both elements of the city have much to see. Freak Street (named after the hippies who lived there in the 60s and 70s) is still popular among the free-spirited and fun-loving while the more culturally inspired can head to Hanuman Dhoka (Old Royal Palace) on beautiful Durbar Square. Although there is a tot to see in the city, take a trip to the mountains to see some of the awesome scenery.

The country’s cultural center, boasting every Japanese stereotype you can think of: raked gardens, Shinto shrines, geishas and bamboo. Compared to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, Kyoto is an uncharacteristically tranquil city with 1,600 temples, three palaces, and a surplus of gardens and parks. Unesco has declared 17 of the city’s structures as World Heritage sites making Kyoto a cultural extravaganza. Stay in a ryokan, a tatami-matted guesthouse, for the full experience.

The controversial capital of Tibet was formerly the country’s stronghold against the Han Chinese and home to the now exited Dalai Lama. The recent opening of the Qinghai – Tibet railway has only quickened the process of change undergone by the country and its capital. There is much to see in the city itself, although its Tibetan identity is changing under Chinese influence. Outside the city, Tibet offers spectacular scenery; from the bright turquoise of its sacred takes to the astounding views from its abundant temples and monasteries that cling to the mountainsides.

Described by some as "the soul of the nation," Melaka is one of Malaysia’s most historic locations. As a port, the city is a multicultural melting pot where you titillate your taste buds with the aroma of local cooking, or, take a stroll down tiny streets peppered with heritage architecture that dates back to the Dutch occupation. At times it’s hard to believe you’re in Asia. There’s a fascinating night market where you can pick up a few souvenirs and plenty of places to relax while watching the locals go about their daily business.

Less than two-hours’ drive from Beijing, Jingshanling is a good place to visit the wall as the tourist numbers are much smaller here and it boasts great views of the wall snaking through the mountains on its 6,500km journey. For US$245, including food and drink, you can camp overnight inside a watchtower at the top, check out for details. From here it’s a five-hour hike along the wall to Simatai. Just an hour from the capital, the Badaling section is best avoided unless you enjoy crowds. This section also has a cable car to take you up to the wall.

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