Southeast Asia is known around the world for its gorgeous beaches, stunning scenery, charming temples, delicious food and superior hospitality. However, for architecture lovers, there is an extra reason to love the region: impressive heritage. Just like elsewhere in the world, most of this heritage relates to religious sites. Buddhist and Hindu temples can be seen all around the region, while mosques mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia and churches in the Philippines. There are some very fine examples of “profane architecture” too, residential and commercial buildings that are a testament of the region’s rich history.
All of the current Southeast Asian nations, with the exception of Thailand, were at a point colony of one or several European countries. Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore were British, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam French, Philippines Spanish and Indonesia Dutch. Likewise, the region has historically been heavily influenced by the Chinese and Japanese cultures. However, only a few cities in Southeast Asia have been able to preserve their impressive colonial heritage.
These are our favorite Heritage Cities of Southeast Asia:
Luang Prabang, Laos
The former seat of the Kingdom of Laos, Luang Prabang is a magical place. Hundreds of temples adorned with golden stupas and charming French colonial villas hide behind lush vegetation. The Old town, located in a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and the colonial influences of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Read more about Luang Prabang HERE
Hoi An, Vietnam
The Beautiful city of Hoi An still retains the spirit of an ancient port town, with buildings dating from the 15th to 19th century. Its Old Town is a witness of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese influences. Hundreds of old houses and temples have been restored and opened to tourists. Additionally, Hoi An has an exquisite location on the Thu Bon River, 5 km from the sea, which gives it an atmospheric charm. Unlike other major cities in Vietnam, life here is relaxed, interrupted only by the waves of tourists.
Read more about Hoi An HERE
George Town, Malaysia
To us, George Town is the nicest city in Southeast Asia. With several layers of Portuguese, British, Chinese, Malay and Indian culture plus pretty cool modern graffiti, shops and bars, the city is paradise for those of us who are architecture lovers. As one of the famous Strait Cities, its residential and commercial buildings downtown are the result of hundreds of years of trade between east and west, especially during the British rule at the end of the 18th century. On top of that, lush hills and beautiful beaches surround the city.
More photos of George Town HERE
Malacca City, Malaysia
Very few cities in Southeast Asia boast such rich history and have managed to preserve its architectural heritage as Malacca. A Sultanate in the 15th century, it was later dominated by the Portuguese and Dutch during the 16th century and the British in the 19th century. Nowadays, there are several large scale projects in progress, but it still possesses a distinct traditional charm. In Malacca, several cultures were able to live together in harmony. Fantastic examples of Buddhist and Hindu temples lay next to churches and mosques in a wonderful mix.
Read more about Malacca City HERE
The biggest island in the Philippines, Luzon, has probably the richest colonial heritage. Several important medieval churches dot the island, with the city of Vigan as the crown jewel. The City is great, full of crumbling Spanish colonial buildings and alive, inhabited by charming locals who organize events all the time. Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial town in Asia, blending perfectly with the cultural elements of the Philippines, China and Europe.
Read more about Vigan HERE
Other Heritage Cities of Southeast Asia
Five big national capitals still possess some of their Colonial heritage; Yangon (ex capital), Kuala Lumpur and Singapore British, Jakarta Dutch and Manila Spanish. These are fairly large metropolis so such heritage does not define their character. Our favorite is Yangon, with hundreds of great examples of rich colonial past and its easy going atmosphere. Singapore and KL are the ones that have done a better job at protecting their buildings, plus it’s very easy to move about and enjoy both cities. Behind the chaos of Manila and Jakarta, you will find impressive buildings that are for sure worth visiting.