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Exploring UNESCO Heritage Sights in Vietnam and Cambodia

Hạ Long Bay, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam

Described as “the wonder between the sky” by the great 14th century poet Nyguen Trai, Ha Long Bay has mesmerized visitors for centuries. This heritage sight is truly a sight to behold, with the bay’s sparkling turquoise waters harboring over 1,600 islands and islets. These towering islets are essentially limestone pillars, eroded over 300 million years, topped with lush jungle growth. Most of the islands are uninhabited and undisturbed, allowing the natural beauty of this spectacular seascape to be illuminated. The legend of Ha Long Bay is no less sensational; “Ha Long” translates to “Descending Dragon” and as the story goes, thousands of years ago the Mother Dragon and her children descended from the heavens to defend the Viet people from northern invaders. The dragons sprayed jade and emeralds to form a barrier against the invaders. Over time, these jewels transformed from glittering dragon teeth to the spectacular islets that are visited today.

Purple Forbidden City, Hue, Vietnam

The Purple Forbidden City in Hue once represented the extravagance and glory of the Nguyễn dynasty; today, the remains of this walled city hints at an intricate and layered history. The Purple Forbidden City refers to the innermost citadel within an enormous, fortified complex, where only the emperor and his closest allies were allowed to enter. The Imperial enclosure was constructed by Gia Long, first emperor of the Nguyễn reign, in the early 19th century. The location of the impressive, citadel complex was chosen in part because of Hue’s status as the beating cultural and political heart of Vietnam. But the specific location of the Imperial city was determined by geography: the hills surrounding the site were believed to represent a protective “blue dragon” and “white tiger” shielding the area. The Purple Forbidden City also lies on the banks of the Huong River and is situated at the foot of the Ngu Binh Mountains, enhancing the royal city’s allure with a setting of pristine natural beauty. Although the royal complex of Hue was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War, the designation of the Complex of Hue Monuments as an UNESCO World Heritage site has prompted support for restorations of the Imperial City. The Purple Forbidden City may not retain all of its former glory, but it is still a wondrous, unforgettable sight to see.

Temple of Angkor Wat, Siem Riep, Cambodia

The magnificent Temple of Angkor Wat is revered for its elaborate architecture, and this monument of northern Cambodia boasts a history that can be traced back to almost a millennium ago. Spanning over 400 acres, Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world. The temple complex contains scores of temples, large water reservoirs, and ancient communication routes; the complexity of the city’s architecture and urban planning is a testament to the great Khmer empire that ruled Angkor for centuries. The name “Angkor Wat” directly translates to “Temple City,” and this remarkable, towering structure was constructed roughly between 1113 and 1150 A.D by King Suryavarman II. Angkor Wat was initially dedicated as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu, a protector deity who was greatly venerated by the king. By the 13th century, the site was converted into a Buddhist complex with statues of Buddha added to the temple’s rich designs. Today, the massive temple towers and finely chiseled artwork of this awe-inspiring sanctuary draws visitors from around the world by the masses.

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