Asia is home to hundreds of different cultures in many different countries. As the biggest continent in the world, it is filled not only with the vast majority of world’s population but also countless amounts of cultural sites, ancient traditions, and legacies of kingdoms gone-by. Here are the cultural destinations all across Asia to blow your mind away:
1. Bangkok, Thailand
The cultural world in Bangkok represents Thailand’s position in the world in terms of modernization. The capital city has long been the gateway for Western cultures, which have been blended and adopted by the locals to great extent. There are always magnificent cultural displays in Bangkok, especially in its many grand theaters including the Chaloem Krung Royal Theatre, Traditional Thai Puppet Theatre, Patravadi Theatre, and Siam Niramit. There is also the Jim Thompson Museum which displays countless priceless collection of Asian arts.
- Chaloem Krung Royal Theatre is located in the New Road near Old Siam Plaza. Casual dramas and plays are staged, and sometimes the theatre presents traditional Thai dance performances too.
- Traditional Thai Puppet Theatre is home to the Hun Lakhon Lek puppet show. Hun Lakhon Lek received a Thailand Tourism Award in Recreational Attraction in 2000 from the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand).
- Patravadi Theatre is praised for its extravagant productions. Almost all performances played in the theatre deliver adaptations of classical Asian literatures and unique blends of professional theatrical techniques. It is worth mentioning that the theatre is an outdoor type.
- Siam Niramit is popular for its elaborate and professional cultural performances. Many of the performances depict cultural history of Thailand regions. More often than not, the show is played by more than 150 performers.
In Bangkok, it is easy to get lost in the middle of lavish theatrical performances about how culturally rich the country is. Even when you wander through a busy Chinatown, you can still see live Chinese opera as well.
2. Kyoto, Japan
Japan is an old country proud of its ancient traditions and cultural heritage. It would be easy to tell every visitor that Tokyo is best for a combination of cultural, historical, and plain pleasure tourisms; however, Kyoto is where Japanese cultural masterpieces exist until today. It is safe to say that there are hundreds (some are convinced there are more than a thousand) of Buddhist temples in Kyoto; two of the most popular include Golden Pavilion and Higashi Hongan-ji. Let us not forget that inside the temple precincts, you can also find some of the world’s most magnificent gardens such as Ryoan-ji and Saiho-ji. Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the mother of all shrines, actually houses the entrance gate to Shinto Shrine which offers a spectacle of arcades of vermilion torii across the mountainside.
Many parts of Japan thrive today with their smart adoption of modernity, but the old Japanese ways are still too powerful to abandon in Kyoto. Traditional Japanese townhouses still exists in some areas including the old streets of Gion and Nishijin. Ancient specialty shops offer not only traditional arts but also the atmosphere of Japanese history everywhere you look.
3. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Originally constructed as Hindu temple of god Vishnu for Khmer Empire, the Angkor Wat is now the largest religious monument in the world. For the uninformed, this site is not a single temple, but a temple complex stretching to 1,626,000 meters square. Towards the end of the 12th century, the temple saw gradual shift from Hindu temple to Buddhist temple. The locals are known to be strictly conservative when it comes to ancestral traditions. Cultural practices still dominate the lifestyle of the people; in Cambodia, many of these practices have disappeared. Ancestral rituals and ceremonies are well-preserved and filled with traditional dances and music. Local authorities even have established “code of conduct” for everyone (including visitors) to encourage appropriate traditional dress when they visit Angkor Wat.
4. Jerusalem, Israel
Administered by Israel but claimed by both Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem is one of the world’s oldest cities. It is holy to three major religious groups in the world: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. To say that Jerusalem is a living history is a bit of an understatement; here you can spend overnight in the same lodges where cardinals and Crusaders spent their nights, walk in the footsteps of prophets, and pray in the buildings built by ancient kings and warriors. Cultural and religious sites are spread out for you to explore inside and outside of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is indeed known to the world for its religious significance, but the city also hosts a lot of cultural venues including but not limited to Israel Museum, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Bible Land Museum, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. Together, they make Jerusalem one of the most prominent cultural tourism destinations all across Asia.
5. Petra, Jordan
Petra serves as archaeological and historical city in southern Jordan. Thanks to its rock-cut architecture and well-preserved cultural heritage, UNESCO has regarded the city as one of the most precious cultural properties. Petra is also known as Rose City thanks to the color of the stone out of which it was carved. In approximately 312 BC, the city served as the capital of Arab Nabataeans. Today it is now the symbol of Jordan and most visited attraction in the country. To understand the cultural significance of Petra, you will need to get a grasp of its geographical location. It lies in the basin among the mountains which form the large valley stretching from the Dead Sea and Gulf of Aqaba on the slope of the biblical Mount Hor. Since 1985, Petra has been one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
6. Damascus, Syria
The historical and cultural sites in Damascus date back to different period of history to the point where it is now impossible to excavate all the ruins of the old cities which lie up to 8 feet below modern level. Among many cultural attractions in the city, one of the most popular is the Damascus Straight Street (also commonly referred to as Via Recta). During the Roman Damascus Period, it extended to more than 1,500 meter; today it is filled with the Souk Medhat Pasha (a covered market) and street of Bab Sharqi. There is also the Grand Mosque of Damascus, one of the oldest in the world, yet it remains in use today. Another highlight is Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque where the tomb of Zaynab bint Ali is placed.
7. Tehran, Iran
Royal complexes of Saadabad, Golestan, and Niavaran are located in Tehran. They were built under the reigns of Iran’s last two monarchies. To really appreciate the cultural heritage of Tehran, you may need to visit the city’s numerous museums including National Museum, Cinema Museum, Carpet Museum, Safir Office Machines Museum, Reverse Glass Painting Museum, Abgineh Museum, and Museum of the Qasr Prison. In the event you need to take a break from bombardment of cultural bewilderment of Tehran, the best places to visit are the Museum of Contemporary Art where the works of art by Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh, and Andy Warhol are displayed, and the Iranian Imperial Crown Jewel filled with one of the world’s largest jewel collection.
8. Beijing, China
The historical and cultural heart of Beijing is the Forbidden City. It is a massive palace compound which was home to the emperors of Qing and Ming dynasties. Inside the Forbidden City, you will find imperial collections of Chinese art in well preserved in the Palace museum. Even the imperial gardens are still in existence today (and in great conditions) such as the Beihai, Jingshan, Zhongnanhai, Shichahai, and Zhongshan. The Beihai Park is considered the masterpiece of gardening art. Other popular cultural sites are Big bell Temple, White Cloud Temple, Fayuan Temple, Wanshou Temple, Dongyue Temple, Tanzhe Temple, and Miaoying Temple.
9. Agra, India
Taj Mahal is main attraction in Agra, but the cultural heritage goes beyond that single architectural masterpiece. Mughal Empire has left monumental amount of cultural legacy from the fascinating tombs and burial chambers in the city; don’t forget about the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, and Mughal Heritage Walk. Many people will regard that the hordes of crowds in the marketplaces as intrusions, but it actually is part of the cultural treats. Other cultural sites include Moonlight Garden, Mankameshwar Temple, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
10. Tana Toraja, Indonesia
Among all cultural attractions in Asia, Tana Toraja in Indonesia is quite peculiar. Until early 20th century, most of the locals were animist, and their cultures are preoccupied with death. While other aspects of their lifestyle are changing as time goes by, the funeral ceremonies remain intact; it is vital aspect of the tradition and it does not seem to change. During a funeral ceremony, a large number of pigs and buffaloes are sacrificed. The ceremony is also filled with traditional dances as well as lashings of drinks and food. The landmarks, in addition to boat-shaped roofs, are the hanging graves in steep cliffs. Biggest funerals are often held in July to August. Visitors are welcomed to attend the visitors, as long as they behave accordingly. Professional guide is essential to make the most of the cultural experience.
One thing that makes the previously mentioned cultural tourism places stand out from the crowd is the fact that most of the ancient traditions are still practiced today by the locals. Apart from the architectural and historical sites, the people cherish the old-ways as much as they praise the modern world. The unique blend between cultural heritage and modern lifestyle is a must during your visit in Asia.