LIFESTYLESeptember 29, 2021

One Fascinating Sight to See In Every Asian Country: Central, East, and South Asia Edition

There are waaayyy more things to see than just the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal!

Asia has got it all — a rich history, breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, diverse cultures, and, of course, awesome people. As the home to almost 60 percent of the world’s population as well as countless mountain ranges, seas, deserts, islands, and more, the world’s largest continent is absolutely packed with sights worth seeing.

Note: Please be sure to check local restrictions and follow government policies if you are planning to travel abroad in the near future! Keep in mind that the CDC advises Americans not to travel internationally unless they are fully vaccinated. Even people who are fully vaccinated can still get infected and spread the virus. Your safest bet may be to hold off on traveling for the time being — this list is simply meant to help you learn about the diversity of destinations in Asia and dream about your post-pandemic trips.

Central Asia

Kaindy Lake — Kazakhstan

Kaindy Lake in Kazakhstan
Jonas Satkauskas /

Rising out of the turquoise waters of Kaindy Lake are dozens of dead spruce trees with their branches and needles still perfectly preserved under the shimmering water. This eerie yet calming sight has only existed since 1911, when an earthquake caused a major landslide that blocked off a gorge, enabling the resulting valley to fill with rainwater. Over time, this rainwater was enough to submerge the existing spruce forest, and while the trees are long dead, their trunks have not decomposed and still tower over the water’s surface.

Tash Rabat — Kyrgyzstan

Tash Rabat in Kyrgyzstan
Allan Grey /

Centuries ago, merchants and their caravans traveled along the ancient superhighway of trade, the Silk Road, to sell and trade their goods. Along the way, many small settlements sprung up, including Tash Rabat. Tash Rabat is a caravanserai, a type of roadside inn where travelers used to rest after a long day’s journey. While visiting, you can go horseback riding, admire the scenic view of the surrounding peaks and hills, and even sleep in traditional yurts, or tents, that are pitched nearby.

Wall of Great Tajik Writers — Tajikistan

On the facade of the Writers’ Union building in Dushanbe are eleven life-sized statues of famous Tajik novelists, playwrights, poets, and other writers. These writers span from those who lived centuries ago, such as the 8th-century poet Rudaki to the 20th-century poet and intellectual Mirzo Tursunzoda. Constructed in the early 1980s when Tajikistan was still under Soviet control, the wall and the Writers’ Union building itself stand as lasting examples of Soviet architecture.

Darvaza Gas Crater — Turkmenistan

Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan
Kalpak Travel /

In the middle of the Karakum Desert, there’s a crater full of natural gas that’s been on fire for 50 years. Nicknamed “The Gates of Hell” by locals, this massive fiery pit was created in 1971 when Soviet engineers were drilling for oil and accidentally hit a vast pocket of natural gas. The drilling site collapsed, taking the drilling rig with it and leaving dangerous methane fumes escaping from the crater. The Soviet engineers initially believed that the methane could be burned off in a few weeks, but the gas is still continuing to burn today and has no signs of stopping.

Shah-i-Zinda — Uzbekistan

Shah-i-Zinda in Uzbekistan
Jean-Pierre Dalbéra /

Visit Shah-i-Zinda and you’ll be met with a stunning network of mausoleums covered in brilliant blue tiles. This historical site was constructed over a period of eight centuries, with mosques, temples, tombs, and other buildings having been continuously added throughout the years. The complex began construction in the 11th century as a single shrine to the Prophet Muhammed’s cousin, Qutham ibn Abbas, giving this site important religious significance.

East Asia

Terracotta Army Museum — China

Terracotta Army in China
Kevin Poh /

Over the past few decades, thousands of life-size terracotta soldiers and horses have been unearthed less than an hour’s drive away from downtown Xi’an. These terracotta soldiers are over 2,000 years old — they were originally crafted to protect the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, in the afterlife — and they display an incredible amount of individuality, from their hairstyles to their armor to their beards.

Sagano Bamboo Forest — Japan

On the outskirts of Kyoto, vibrant green bamboo stalks soar into the sky in the Sagano Bamboo Forest. If you’re able to tune out the chatter of tourists and click of camera shutters, you’ll be able to hear the distinct rustling and creaking of the bamboo swaying in the wind, an aural atmosphere that the Japanese Ministry of Environment has even recognized as one of Japan’s iconic soundscapes. The tall bamboo creates a canopy overtop wooden paths that weave through the forest, with pockets of sunlight making their way through the densely packed stalks and leaves.

Khustain Nuruu National Park — Mongolia

Takhi horses in Khustain Nuruu National Park in Mongolia
Tengis Galamez /

Khustain Nuruu National Park is home to the last truly wild horses. While wild horses elsewhere in the world are domesticated horses that have escaped and become feral, the takhi horses in Mongolia have never been tamed. The takhi were once declared “extinct in the wild” after years of population decline, but they have since been reintroduced to multiple locations, including Khustain Nuruu National Park. Catch sight of these sandy-brown horses as well as other species like the red deer, Mongolian gazelle, and Pallas’s cat.

Mansu Hill Grand Monument — North Korea

Mansu Hill Grand Monument in North Korea
Thomas M. Rösner /

In North Korea’s capital city, Pyongyang, two enormous bronze statues of former North Korean leaders stand at a staggering 20 meters tall. To foreigners, these statues highlight the intense cult of personality surrounding the ruling Kim family, but for North Koreans, this site is considered one of the most sacred in the country. Kim Il-sung, who was the first leader of North Korea, holds his arm outstretched, and his son and successor, Kim Jong-il, is depicted wearing a parka. All visitors to the monument are expected to lay flowers at the feet of the statues and bow to show their respect.

Bukchon Hanok Village — South Korea

Bukchon Hanok Village in South Korea
dconvertini /

Seoul doesn’t just have the hustle and bustle of a thriving metropolis — there are many historic areas in the South Korean capital as well, including Bukchon Hanok Village. This 600-year-old village is home to hundreds of hanoks, or traditional Korean houses, that have been preserved over the centuries. Many of these hanoks have been repurposed into cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants, and even art galleries, but others remain homes to South Koreans to this day.

South Asia

Bamiyan Buddhas — Afghanistan

Carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley are two huge hollows that had once held the largest statues of the Buddha west of China. These 6th-century statues, which had been 53 and 35 meters tall, were bombed with dynamite in 2001 by the Taliban, motivated by their drive to destroy all pre-Islamic “idols” and their disdain for the international outcry for saving the statues. The empty cavities serve as reminders of the loss of such ancient and monumental cultural artifacts.

Sundarbans — Bangladesh

Sundarbans in Bangladesh
Mamun Srizon /

If you’re looking to spot crocodiles, wild boar, monkeys, and even the elusive Bengal tiger all out in the wild, then the Sundarbans are your place. This incredible area is the largest mangrove forest in the world, encompassing almost 4,000 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) and lying in a lush delta formed by the convergence of multiple rivers. Take a boat tour and drift downstream to see if you can catch sight of one of the 400 Bengal tigers that call the Sundarbans home.

Paro Taktsang — Bhutan

Paro Taktsang in Bhutan
Arian Zwegers /

The Paro Taktsang temple complex clings to a cliffside overlooking the Paro valley. Only accessible by a steep, mountainous trail, Paro Taktsang’s location is steeped in legend. According to these legends, Padmasambhava, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet in the 8th century, meditated in the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours. The cave later became a holy meditation site, with an entire monastery eventually being built around the cave. Though the climb may seem intimidating, the view from above and within the monastery is worth the trek.

Meenakshi Amman Temple — India

Meenakshi Amman Temple in India
Melissa Kumaresan /

The Meenakshi Amman Temple, located in the heart of the city of Madurai, is instantly recognizable. Its 14 multi-storeyed gopurams, or gateways, are covered in thousands of colorful stone figures that hint at the grandness of the inside of the temple. The site draws over a million visitors each year to celebrate the divine marriage between Meenakshi (the Hindu goddess Parvati), the namesake of the temple, and Sundareshwar (the Hindu god Shiva).

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque — Iran

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Iran
Steven Su /

Walking into the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque is like stepping inside of a kaleidoscope. Its stained glass windows transform the halls into a dazzling display of hues and patterns, and the walls themselves are covered in stunning multi-colored tilework. The Nasir al-Mulk Mosque dates back to the Qajar Dynasty in Iran, with its construction taking place between 1876 and 1888. Today, the mosque has been nicknamed “The Pink Mosque” for its abundant use of rose-colored tiles.

Banana Reef — Maldives

Fish swim in coral reef in the Maldives
yang wewe /

Below the shimmering waters of the Maldives is a whole other world full of lively schools of fish, unusually-shaped coral, and other marine life. Experience this world for yourself by diving into the Banana Reef, so named because of its curved shape when seen from above. The Banana Reef is very popular for divers, with the region ranging in depth from 5 to 30 meters, but even those swimming at the surface can see barracudas, sharks, manta rays, and more.

Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple) — Nepal

Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple) in Nepal
Meghraj Neupane /

Located atop a hill a few miles west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is an ancient stupa, or a dome-shaped Buddhist shrine, that dates back to the 5th century — one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal. A pair of Buddha’s eyes is painted on each of the four sides of the white-and-gold stupa to symbolize his wisdom and compassion, and, true to its name, the temple is also home to hundreds of holy monkeys that are playful yet well-behaved.

Mohenjo-Daro — Pakistan

Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan
Saqib Qayyum /

The city of Mohenjo-Daro (“Mound of the Dead Men”), home to the Indus Valley Civilization, was one of the world’s earliest major cities. It was built around 2500 BC, and with a sophisticated water and sewage drainage system, an orderly street grid design, and a peak population of about 40,000, it was among the most advanced cities of its time. Despite all of this, Mohenjo-Daro was abandoned around 1900 BC, with the reasons why still not totally clear. Today, the remnants of the 4,500-year-old engineering and architecture of the city are still impressive.

Sigiriya — Sri Lanka

Sigiriya in Sri Lanka
Amila Tennakoon /

Amid the forests of Sri Lanka is a massive column of rock that rises well above the trees surrounding it. Atop this rock is an ancient stone fortress that the Sri Lankan king Kashyapa I built as his capital city: Sigirya, the Lion’s Rock. Though Sigiriya was abandoned after King Kashyapa’s death, the intricacies of the site are well-preserved, including two enormous lion paws carved out of stone that guard the entrance to the city. Elaborate gardens also flank the fortress and are one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

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