World Heritage Day: Lesser-known Unesco sites in Asia worth visiting

China’s Wudang Mountains consists of a small mountain range that’s home to a famous complex of Taoist temples and monasteries. Source: Shutterstock.

WORLD HERITAGE DAY (otherwise known as the International Day for Monuments and Sites) is held on April 18 each year around the world. The day celebrates cultural heritage, brings awareness to important cultural monuments and sites, and promotes efforts for protection and conservation of the world’s cultures.

It was first proposed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) on April 18, 1982, and approved by Unesco in 1983. The events that take place on World Heritage Day includes visits to monuments and heritage sites, conferences, round-table discussions, and more.

As of July 2017, there are a total of 1,073 World Heritage Sites: 832 are cultural, 206 are natural, and 35 are mixed properties. 55 of these are in danger, such as the 2.5 million-hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Comprising of three national parks – Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park,, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park – the site was listed as endangered since 2011 due to poaching, illegal logging, agricultural encroachment, and plans to build roads.

Other sites in Asia that were previously listed as being in danger include the majestic Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It was de-listed in 2004 thanks to the restoration activities coordinated by Unesco since 1993.

Here are some lesser-known, enthralling Unesco heritage sites in Asia that are worth visiting:

China: Wudang Mountains

Located in the northwestern part of Hubei, the Wudang Mountains consists of a small mountain range that’s home to a famous complex of Taoist temples and monasteries associated with the god Xuanwu. The mountains, one of the “Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism” in China, are renowned for the practice of tai chi and Taoism as the Taoist counterpart to the Shaolin Monastery.

There’s no place quite like the Wudang Mountains for connecting with Taoist history. Source: Shutterstock.

An important center of Taoism, the mountains are popular for Taoist pilgrimages. Its monasteries, such as the Wudang Garden, were made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994.

The Philippines: Vigan Town

On the west coast of Luzon island in the Philippines is the quiet and quaint Vigan town. Established in the 16th century, Vigan town was once the capital of Spanish conqueror Juan de Salcedo’s Ilocos. It’s known for its well preserved Spanish colonial and Asian architecture.  Visitors will be drawn to its cobblestone footpaths, horse-drawn carriages, rustic mansions, and the white baroque Vigan Cathedral.

Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. Source: Shutterstock.

In 1999, Vigan was listed by Unesco as the best-preserved example of Spanish colonial towns in Asia. In 2014, it was also named as one of the New7Wonders Cities.

Cambodia: The Temple of Preah Vihear

Built during the period of the Khmer Empire, the Temple of Preah Vihear is an ancient Hindu temple located atop a 525-meter Dangrek Mountains cliff in Cambodia. It has the most spectacular setting of all temples built during the empire, with a panoramic view that span kilometers-long. An outstanding example of Khmer architecture, it was supported and modified by successive kings since the 11th century, with several architectural styles.

The Temple of Preah Vihear is a stunning ancient Hindu temple surrounded by a beautiful Cambodian countryside. Source: Shutterstock.

Due to its remote location, the site has remained relatively untouched. In 2008, the Temple of Preah Vihear was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Japan: Sacred Shrines in the Kii Mountain Range

About two hours south of Osaka lies Koyasan (Mount Koya), one of the endpoints in the pilgrimage routes of the Kii mountain range. The route goes through Mie, Nara, and Wakayama prefectures, and is full of beautiful forest trails going over and next to waterfalls, shrines, temples, streams, and rivers. Located in the dense forests are three sacred sites: Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan. They’re still very much part of the Japan culture, often visited for ritual purposes and hiking, raking in up to 15 million visitors annually.

This vast natural area with its formidable mountains, rugged coastline, gigantic old growth trees, an abundance of waterfalls and scenic rivers, has been revered and worshiped since ancient times. Source: Shutterstock.

The sacred shrines were listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site back in 2004.

Vietnam: Hoi An

Known as Vietnam’s “well-preserved ancient town,” Hoi An is a former port city located on Vietnam’s central coast. Unesco praises it for being an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. In fact, this is reflected in the mix of eras and styles in its architecture: wooden Chinese shop-houses and temples, colorful French colonial houses, elaborately decorated Vietnamese tube houses, and the Cau Nhat Ban aka the Japanese covered bridge with a pagoda.

Japanese Covered Bridge Hoi An

The iconic Japanese covered bridge dates back to the 18th century and is a beautiful historical piece of Japanese architecture. Source: Shutterstock.

In 1999, Hoi An was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

China: Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha

Classified as one of the “Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains” in China, Mount Emei is located in the Sichuan Province. It’s home to the first Buddhist temple in China, built in the 1st century in the beautiful surroundings of the mountain. The site also boasts the Giant Buddha of Leshan, the largest stone Buddha in the world. At 71 meters tall, the towering statue was carved out of a hillside in the 8th century and looks down on the confluence of three rivers.

The Mount Emei area, including the Leshan Giant Buddha, comprises the place where Buddhism was first established in China. Source: Shutterstock.

Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha were listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996.