UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia
The Bagerhat area flourished under a local hero named Khan Jahan Ali in the 15th century. Islam was taught and mosques were built. To this day, some of these old buildings still stand and attract a small crowd of local pilgrims and the odd traveller. They are all very simple and humbled looking. Shait Gumbad mosque is the biggest. It is also called the 60 domes mosque, which is a bit strange considering it actually has 77 of them. Other mosques in the area worth exploring are Singar mosque, Bibi Begni mosque and Dargah mosque. The old mosques of Bagerhat is one of the few World Heritage Sites in Bangladesh.
Once covered by the jungle and rarely visited, the temple area of Angkor is now part of the beaten track in Southeast Asia, but for a good reason. These magnificent temples were once the centre of the mighty Khmer kingdom (ninth century to the fifteenth century A.D.) and the main temple Angkor Wat is considered the world's largest religious complex. Remember to read up on Hindu mythology to get a chance to understand its outstanding bas-reliefs or just be impressed by the grand scale. Split your explore time equally between the big ones; Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon (picture) and the minor ones; Preah Khan, Neak Pean, and Preah Ko, which lack in scale but win in tranquillity. If your time permits, add some sites that are a drive out of the way, like Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea.
The Forbidden City was the imperial palace for the Chinese emperor from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) throughout the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The construction of the complex was finished in 1420 and consists of 980 buildings which also functioned as home for the imperial household and centre for the Chinese government. The Forbidden City is located in the middle of the Imperial City, separating it from the inner city of ancient Beijing. The main entrance to the Forbidden City goes through the Tiananmen gate in the south which first leads to the Imperial City which then again leads to the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate. The iconic portrait of Chairman Mao is decorating Tiananmen gate. If anything happens to that picture, a new will be up within minutes.
When you come to Leshan and see the Giant Buddha, you do not doubt the fact that it is the tallest Buddha in the world. At 71 m tall he sits, carved out of the rock face where the Dadu river meets the Min river. The construction started 713 AD and it took more than 90 years to finish him. So if you come to Chengdu, swing by for a visit, for it is one of those sights that fully live up to their reputation. Just do not come on a holiday, where half of Chengdu seems to be out here.
The Great Wall of Simatai shares history with the sections of Jinshaling and Goubeikou, since it is a part of the same defense of the strategic pass of Gubeikou further west. It connects with Jinshanling in the west through a challenging section that is rough and winding with loose bricks. Though the west section is steep at some points, it is nothing compared to the east section. Here, the wall clings to the mountain ridge at an angle up to 80 degrees (earning the name Heavenly Ladder), passes over a natural bridge limiting the width of the wall to only 50 cm (Sky Bridge) before it reaches the high Watching Beijing Tower (986 m), where it should be possible to see all the way to Beijing 120 km away on a clear night (clear sky, in China?). This last wall segment (including Heavenly Ladder and Sky Bridge) is unfortunately off limits due to the obvious danger, so it is not possible to test the claim, but the climb up to the forbidden part is still rewarding - and hard.
The East Qing Imperial Tombs contain 15 tombs hereof five for emperors from the Qing Dynasty along with a long list of empresses, princes, princesses and concubines, including the tomb of Empress Dowager Cixi (she is portrayed in the movie "The Last Emperor"). The largest tomb is also the first which dates back to 1663 and is for the first emperor, Shunzhi, of the Qing Dynasty. Though the complex has some fine elaborated tomb chambers which are open (e.g. the ones for Emperor Qian Long and Empress Dowager Cixi), the most impressive thing about the tombs is the whole layout which follows strict feng shui principles which incorporates spirit paths guarded by statues and the surrounding mountains.
The Naxi people, who inhabit the region around Lijiang, is a branch of the Tibetan people. They are famous for their script, which is the only hieroglyph script still in use today. The old town of Lijiang is charming at first sight, but is a tarted up version of the original one which got heavily damaged during an earthquake in 1996. The layout is a maze of cobbled streets, narrow canals and wooden shops catering mainly for the Chinese tourists. For make no mistake, Lijiang is Chinese tourist territory and others will often found it too groomed, crowded and tacky. Luckily, you can always explore the countryside or keep going north to Shangri-la and Western Sichuan for the real deal.
The Summer Palace is a huge palace park with a man-made lake and hill. It was built in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty and extended over several centuries and served as playground for Empress Dowager Cixi who fixed up the place with the navy's money, wasting silver on extravagant things like the marble boat you can see today. The park is traversed by walking trails that are sprinkled with pavilions, temples, halls and bridges which Chinese garden design are so famous for.
Keep in mind that the Summer Palace is a prime sight for local Chinese tourists and draws millions of visitors every year, so be prepared for Chinese tour groups led by guides with flag and loudspeaker hanging around their necks.
Taishan is the most glorified of China's five sacred mountains and has been a place of worship for more than 3000 years. Emperors ascended to the top to get divine approval and it was also from the top that Chairman Mao declared that "The East is Red". Today, the mountain holds no fewer than 22 temples, 11 gates and about 6500 steps up to the peak. The strenuous walk to the top is 7,5 km one-way and is high on many Chinese's to-do-list, so join the millions that climb the stairs (or ride the cable cars) every year. The whole mountain is littered with view points, pavilions, famous calligraphy and natural sights like rock formations and ancient cypresses. When walking around the different temples, keep in mind that everything has been carried up on human backs, even today.
The Temple of Heaven was originally built in 1420 and used by the emperor (Son of Heaven) once a year to pray for good harvest and favourable rain. It was designed, and redesigned, by all the heavenly rules any human being could think of: Feng shui, symbolism, geometry, numerology... you name it. Nothing was allowed to go wrong when the nation's livelihood depended on it. The temple complex consists of several parts: the Round Alter, the Echo Hall, some smaller halls and then of course the jewel of them all, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The temple complex lies in a huge tranquil park with shady trees and benches, which the tour groups thankfully disregard.