While we have plenty of history here in Singapore, we don’t quite have anywhere that’s worthy of UNESCO World Heritage status. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t heaps of places in spitting distance – many of our neighbouring countries have beautiful, protected sites that are well worth a look.
The largest religious monument in the world. With over two million visitors, this archaeological wonder should very much be on your ‘things I need to see before I die’ list. It’s that important to Cambodians that it even appears on their nations flag.
Silkair and Jetstar fly direct to Siem Reap, while Singapore Airlines has stop-overs via Ho Chi Minh City and KL
After you’ve spent some time in Hội An (below), it’s time to take an hour motorbike ride out to another World Heritage Site of Mỹ Sơn. Mỹ Sơn is a cluster of abandoned and damaged Hindu temples, built by the Champa dynasty between the 4th and the 12th centuries. Years of neglect and a certain war have left these buildings worse for wear, but the site is truly magnificent and well worth a look if you’re in the reigon.
Mỹ Sơn is an hour drive away from Hội An, with regular bus and tour services throughout the day.
Other temples or buildings
Ban Chiang Archaeological Site – Thailand
Baroque Churches of the Philippines – Philippines
Borobudur Temple Compounds – Indonesia
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Vietnam
Citadel of the Hồ Dynasty – Vietnam
Complex of Hué Monuments – Vietnam
Prambanan Temple Compounds – Indonesia
Sangiran Early Man Site– Indonesia
Temple of Preah Vihear– Cambodia
This is the best example of a (still functioning) fortress town built by Europeans in South Asia. The Old Town of Galle was founded by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century and developed upon by the Dutch 100 years later. It’s European style meets South Asian traditions in this small town, and it’s been brilliantly restored and maintained, which makes for a truly special experience. It’s also cracking for shopping and eating out, which never hurts.
There are daily flights from Singapore to Colombo with SriLanka Airlines, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Once in Colombo, a bus or train ride along the beautiful coast is the best way to get there.
In 1999, this ancient Vietnamese trading centre was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Previously the largest trading centre in Asia, Hoi An is now an area with streets full of lamp shops, tailors, travel agencies and basically any shop you can think of. All sell modern products, while preserving the old flavour of the ancient town.
Silkair flies directly to Da Nang where you can get a US$20 taxi ride, or a US$5 mini bus to Hoi An.
One a little bit closer to home. Being a target of Chinese, Dutch, English and Japanese conquerors, there are many different influences imprinted on the city and its people. Known by Malaysians as the ‘Historic City’, it is really a sight to see all the different ways this small city had been influenced. You only have to go to the Malacca Wikipedia page to read up about all the different colonisation that has gone on in the city.
200km drive away from Singapore, or you can even get the KL bound train and alight at Tampin station.
Other towns or cities
Subak – Bali
Historic City of Ayutthaya – Thailand
Historic Town of Vigan – Philippines
Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras – Philippines
Town of Luang Prabang – Laos
Ha Long Bay
Listed in many top natural wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay is just awesome. The beautiful bay includes more than 1,600 islands, most being uninhabited with amazing scenery. Take a trip out to the bay and experience all the different caves (some tackier than others – colourful lights included for the young ones), or maybe even take a canoe out. Or make your scooter be able to ride on water (Top Gear reference) to see how it will go!
Singapore Airlines, Tigerair, Vietnam Airlines, and Silk Air all fly to Hanoi. Once you’re there you can get a 4 to 5 hour bus the Ha Long, and spend a night or two there. Great shopping in the area too.
Becoming one of Malaysia’s first national parks back in 1964, then becoming Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000, it is described as one of the most important biological sites in the world. It covers 754km² and is home to 326 bird species and over 100 mammal species (not MAMIL – Middle Aged Men in Lycra – fortunately).
Silkair and Air Asia fly daily to Kota Kinabalu.
Other natural spots
Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex – Thailand
Gunung Mulu National Park – Malaysia
Komodo National Park – Indonesia
Lorentz National Park – Indonesia
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park – Vietnam
Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park – Philippines
Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra – Indonesia
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park – Philippines
Ujung Kulon National Park – Indonesia