If you’re a history lover looking for secret travel destinations in Asia, you’re in for a treat. Asia, the cradle of ancient civilizations, many having left behind a treasure trove of historical sites and stunning architectural wonders.
Asia offers a rich array of historic sites, from ancient temples to royal palaces and cultural relics. You can also explore the region’s history through museums, exhibitions, and engage in living history experiences such as cultural festivals, traditional ceremonies, and historical re-enactments.
You might know the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, and the Great Wall, we thought we’d dig up some lesser-known hidden gems that will allow you to feel like Indiana Jones and feed your love for history. Just be sure to consider purchasing travel insurance before you go to ensure you are not left in ruins yourself should your travel plans not go smoothly.
Like Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is one of the three medieval city-states in the Kathmandu Valley. It features a rich history that dates to the 12th century during the Malla dynasty’s reign. The city flourished as a major trade and cultural centre along an ancient trade route between Tibet and India.
The city, easily reachable from Kathmandu, is an architectural treasure trove featuring intricately carved woodwork, pagoda-style temples, and charming red-brick edifices. The heart of Bhaktapur resides in Durbar Square, where you’ll discover the enchanting 55-Window Palace, the serene Vatsala Temple, the majestic Nyatapola Temple, and countless other shrines. Dattatreya Square is known for the Dattatreya Temple, a three-story pagoda-style temple dedicated to Lord Dattatreya.
Beyond its architectural wonders, Bhaktapur pulsates with vibrant festivals like Indra Jatra, Bhaktapur Jatra, and Dashain. The city’s relentless efforts to preserve its heritage are evident, with many historic buildings meticulously restored and strict building regulations in place to safeguard its architectural integrity.
Often overshadowed by Angkor Wat, Bagan features thousands of well-preserved ancient temples stupas, and monasteries. The site covers an impressive nearly 70 square kilometres and dates to the 9th century when it served as the capital of the Pagan Kingdom.
Among its wealth of well-preserved ancient temples, stupas, and monasteries, you’ll find iconic gems like the Ananda Temple, Shwezigon Pagoda, Dhammayangyi Temple, Sulamani Temple, and Thatbyinnyu Temple. Bagan played a vital role in spreading and preserving Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar, and its temples are adorned with exquisite Buddha images, frescoes, and relics.
For the adventurous at heart, there’s no better way to experience Bagan than from above in a hot air balloon. If heights aren’t your thing, explore the wonders of Bagan on the ground by renting an e-bike or hiring a local guide and exploring on foot.
Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, one of the most significant Hindu empires in Southern India. The empire was known for its military prowess and architectural marvels which include Virupaksha Temple, Vittala Temple, Hazara Rama Temple, and the Lotus Mahal.
As you wander through Hampi, you’ll be surrounded by a remarkable natural landscape mixed with massive boulders, rock formations, and the picturesque Tungabhadra River. Hampi was designed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ensuring the preservation of its exceptional heritage.
The Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features the ruins of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. As you explore, you’ll find impressive temples, statues, and a rich blend of Thai, Khmer, and Burmese architectural styles.
This remarkable city, not far from bustling Bangkok, once reigned as the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. For over four centuries, Ayutthaya was the epicentre of politics, culture, and commerce, making it one of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous and influential cities. It thrived as a bustling trading hub and a melting pot of cultures.
Prominent among its historical gems are Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Ratchaburana, and Wat Mahathat, each echoing stories of the past. Be sure to pay a visit to the Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre and Ayutthaya Historical Park Visitor Centre to gain information about the city’s history and archaeological treasures.
The eventual fall of Ayutthaya by 18th-century Burmese forces lead to the establishment of the new capital in Bangkok by King Rama I. You can easily visit Ayutthaya by making a day trip from Bangkok, exploring the historic site by bike or tuk-tuk.
Gaochang, China, is a time-traveller’s dream, with roots tracing back to the 1st century BC. This ancient Silk Road city unveils a fascinating world of ruins encompassing city walls, Buddhist stupas, and a grand palace complex. It was a bustling crossroads for Silk Road trade, connecting China with the Middle East and Europe, weaving together diverse cultures and religions.
Buddhism held a prominent role within the city, but the city’s glory days met their end in the 14th century, perishing to the Mongol invasion. Today, Gaochang stands as an archaeological wonder set amidst a desert landscape. Here, you can marvel at well-preserved structures like the Astana Graves—an underground burial site housing mummies, manuscripts, and other artifacts.
One word of advice: if you plan a visit, steer clear of the scorching middle of their summer heat when temperatures can soar to a blistering 50 degrees Celsius.
Malacca, Malaysia, stands as a historical cornerstone in the development of not only Malaysia but the broader tapestry of Southeast Asia. Its story unfolds in the 15th century when it was founded by the Sumatran prince Parameswara.
Soon, Malacca ascended to become the centre of the powerful Malacca Sultanate, controlled the Strait of Malacca and was a key player in regional trade. It later saw European colonial influence thanks on the Portuguese Dutch, and British.
Because of Malacca’s colonial history, it displays a unique blend of European colonial architectural in addition to its Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences. Notable landmarks worth checking out include St. Paul’s Hill, the Portuguese fortress known as “A Famosa” fort, Jonker Street, and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple.
Malacca’s Maritime Museum, which is housed within a Portuguese ship, is another must-see attraction that tells the story of the city’s maritime history.
Gyeongju a “museum without walls” that’s a living testament to history. This city once stood as the proud capital of the Silla Kingdom, a pivotal player in the unification of the Korean Peninsula and a symbol of advanced civilization.
Be sure to visit notable sites including the Bulguksa Temple and the mystical Seokguram Grotto, both celebrated for their exceptional Buddhist architecture, considered masterpieces of their kind in Korea. The Gyeongju Historic Areas are renowned for their exceptional Buddhist architecture and are considered masterpieces of Buddhist art in Korea.
Venture to the large tumuli burial mounds and tombs, like the Cheonmachong Tomb, constructed to honour Silla’s monarchy. You’ll encounter Royal Tombs scattered across the city, each with its own story to tell. Meanwhile, the Gyeongju National Museum beckons, showcasing gold crowns, pottery, jewellery, and precious Buddhist relics.
Northern Thailand’s Sukhothai was the capital of the first independent Thai kingdom – the Sukhothai Kingdom. Founded during the 13th century after gaining independence from the Khmer Empire, Sukhothai is home to well-preserved temples that include Wat Mahathat, Wat Si Sawai, and Wat Sa Si.
These historical wonders are nestled within the Sukhothai Historical Park, featuring nearly 200 diverse historic sites grouped into five distinct zones. You’ll also find cultural festivals throughout the year, such as Loy Krathong, which involves floating lanterns on water to pay respects to the spirits and seek forgiveness.
Sukhothai is considered the cradle of Thai culture and Buddhism. The city played a crucial role in the spread and development of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand.
Located in East Java, Trowulan is considered one of the most significant historical sites in Indonesia and is often referred to as the “Bali of Majapahit.” It became the capital of the Majapahit Empire, one of the largest and most powerful empires in 14th-century Southeast Asia.
Some of the notable archaeological remains within Trowulan include Candi Bajang Ratu, Candi Tikus, Candi Brahu, Candi Gentong, and the Wringin Lawang Gate which is the entrance to the royal palace complex. The Majapahit Temple is believed to have been a royal bathing place, adorned with intricate reliefs that depict captivating scenes from the Majapahit period.
This coastal city of southern Vietnam is home to the Cham people, an ethnic group with a rich cultural heritage. It’s also where you can observe the Po Klong Garai Cham Towers which are well-preserved 13th century Cham temples dedicated to King Po Klong Garai.
The towers feature intricate carvings and Cham design elements, providing a glimpse into the religious and cultural practices of the Cham civilisation. For those with an adventurous spirit, a climb up the towers promises breathtaking panoramic views. There are also smaller towers located near Po Klong Garai which are dedicated to Princess Po Rome, a local heroine who sacrificed herself to save her people.
Phan Rang often hosts cultural performances showcasing Cham music, dance, and rituals. And if you’re curious about the Cham people’s artistic skills, don’t miss the opportunity to visit a Cham pottery village, where skilled artisans craft pottery using traditional methods. It’s a journey into the heart of a rich cultural tapestry waiting to be unravelled.