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Old Asia - where to best experience Asia's past in the present

15 June 2017

Old Asia - where to best experience Asia's past in the present

When it comes to planning your Asia trip there is probably one or two pondering thoughts you might have. The first one to many consists of exotic, tropical and sun-bleached beaches with parallel oceans with a lighter shade of blue than a clear summers day. The second pondering thought you might have, is about cultural Asia, the authenticity, the temples, the old towns and the cosy pockets of civilisation that once did and still do exist.

We want to talk about the latter. Not every country is fortunate enough to consist of this anymore. With places like Singapore as modern and clean as day, and Thailand’s tourism dramatically rising creating more luxurious areas for travellers, it’s only some places that still preserve it’s originality character and  charm. So, if you’re interested in the real Asia and the old Asia, have a look below of some places to consider.

Myanmar (Burma)

If Angkor Wat represents Cambodia, then the equivalent in Myanmar is the Bagan Temples. Situated in Old Bagan (or Bagan archaeological zone), there are over 2,000 Buddhist monuments and temples, and around 4,400 including pagodas. Dating back to the second century AD, Bagan still impressively preserves its original and authentic surrounding temple structure. You can see the rustic red brickwork for miles on end that gives you an indication of the size of the empires that once ruled. This UNESCO heritage site is a cultural kids playground, as you can make it from one temple to another as you please.


Vietnam has the strongest growing economy in Asia at the moment, but thankfully old Asian style is still ever-present. The capital Hanoi has over 36 streets that make up the Old Quarter, which can be dated back to the 11th century. Here, you’ll find a network of old-aged lanes with hundreds of soup, coffee, food or consumer shops, some of which are charmingly small. Throw in the school of bikes weaving themselves in and out of the streets, the street hawkers at every corner and the dozens of markets that sell just about anything, you see Hanoi as it is now and as it was in the past. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is UNESCO heritage certified and the centre soul of the city.


Despite the devastating earthquakes of recent times only back in late 2015, Bhaktapur based in Kathmandu Valley is slowing gathering pace again amongst tourists. The historical UNESCO site, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, was almost flattened due to the quakes but with still the exterior outline a structure in place, work has almost been immediately began in reconstructing its interior. Still, Bhaktapur during the 14th and 16th century was one of the most powerful Kingdoms in its vicinity, which is still celebrated and cherished today. Multiple celebratory events and festivals are held here across its several squares. To indulge in Nepal’s old past can be experienced here especially, whilst the nicknames of Bhaktapur are ‘City of Culture’ or the ‘City of Devotees’ give true representation to what this place is.


In Taiwan, old streets exist rather than old towns, and in comparison to the rest of the countries on the list, these pockets of Taiwan were created a lot more recently. Still, wandering through them is exciting, with so many to choose from across this small country. From the mid 1800’s with Dihua Street a prominent trading centre for medicine and fabrics, to Xinhua Street in the 1920’s that was a main place to buy wholesale fruit. Lukang Old Street dates back to the 1600’s and is remarkably well preserved with authentic historical sites still there. These Old Streets are dotted across much of Taiwan for you to indulge in and explore.


Cambodia doesn’t have any old towns as such, but with Angkor Wat based just outside of Siem Reap and it being the most visited religious attraction in the world, dating back centuries, it’s impossible for us to leave this one out. This temple complex is still standing proud with it’s stone carved pillars and structures. You should really take 3 days to explore here, learn about the history, take some photos and then just get lost between these old-age hallways. That’s not all; recently archaeologists seem to have found extensions to the site that already exists, so watch this space for the largest religious site in the world becoming even larger! Visiting Cambodia would be inadequate without visiting Angkor Wat.


Including India in this piece isn’t without warrant because there are so many old cities and town we could have chosen to represent India’s authentic past still preserved today. Hampi, is an ancient town that was home to the Vijayanagar empire in the 14th century but the town itself originates back to the 7th century. Some of Hampi, almost looks untouched and un-moved since its creation. With huge boulders scattered across the villages vicinity, cows still roaming the back roads of the inner centre and an abundance of intricate temples, Hampi is difficult to miss if you’re keen for a cultural kick of old India.