Gaya Travel Magazine loves the towns or cities enlisted as part of the World Heritage Sites due to their enduring heritage, culture, quaintness, nostalgia and photogenic quality. When being in South East Asia, how about discovering the UNESCO Heritage Towns/Cities located within the ASEAN region for lessons on the destination’s history and intimate vibe?
With colonial government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka showcases palpable heritage beginning from the early 15th century Malay Sultanate, followed by Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation that give unique character to the city’s architecture and multi-cultural populace. Situated only 160 kilometres away from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka’s UNESCO core heritage zone covers from the iconic A’Famosa and Malacca Club building (now houses the Proclamation of Independence Memorial) to the atmospheric Jonker Walk and Jalan Masjid (where Kampung Hulu Mosque is located). The whole area oozes with history filled with remnants of old Portuguese fort and church, crimson-coloured Dutch edifices, British colonial architectural influences, pre-war shophouses, ornate Peranakan-style guesthouses, thriving galleries, antiques and curio shops, trendy restaurants and laidback bars.
Located 360 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur, Penang island grew after the arrival of British East India Company’s Captain Francis Light in 1786. Light saw it as a promising and profitable trading port, which eventually flourished when many hopeful merchants, traders and labourers from across the seas arrived to seek riches. In honour of King George III, he established Georgetown as the first settlement on the island with four thoroughfares (Beach Street, Light Street, Pitt Street that is now called Masjid Kapitan Keling Street, and Chulia Street) that are used until today and impressive British colonial edifices, rendering the conurbation romantic and atmospheric. Similar to Melaka, Penang is also home to the wealthy Chinese Peranakan community, besides Indians, Malays, Arabs and Burmese. There also used to be thriving communities like the British, Armenians, Germans, Jews, Japanese, Thais, Portuguese and Eurasians on the island, but are no longer visible.
Luang Prabang is 440 kilometres from Vientiane, Laos’ capital city. Charming, tranquil and dreamy, the town of Luang Prabang boasts Lao and French heritage architecture, temples, saffron-robed monks and laidback lifestyle. Situated 700 metres above sea level and surrounded by mountains, the town transports travellers to the bygone era when Indochina was still under French rule.
Only 85 kilometres away to the north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya became the second capital of Siam after Sukothai beginning 1350 A.D. Due to its proximity to the great civilisations in China, India and the Malay archipelago, Ayutthaya prospered as a trading post and even received merchants from as far as France in the early 1700s. Invaded by the Burmese in 1767, travellers can still see the splendour of ancient Ayutthaya through the elegant remains of what used to be temples, palaces, monasteries and reliquary towers.
Being among the largest and most prominent South East Asian port between the 15th and 19th century, Hoi An was an important trading centre that drew Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indian merchants, resulting in a cultural confluence, made evident from the various architectural designs bearing indigenous and foreign influences that can still be seen on the buildings and along the streets of the old town. Hoi An is around 800 kilometres from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi and 30 kilometres from Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city.
No other town in the Philippines evokes old-world allure as much as the provincial capital of Vigan, 408 kilometres north of Manila. With its unique blend of Asian design with European architecture and planning since Spanish rule, the Vigan’s old quarter consists of over 180 ancestral homes, administrative buildings, baroque religious structures and public squares.
For more information on World Heritage Sites, visit whc.unesco.org.