As of 2019, there are 41 Unesco World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia: 27 cultural, 13 natural and one mixed. Most archaeological sites fall under the cultural category, and are open to tourists. They are:
- Cambodia: Angkor, Sambor Prei Kuk, Temple of Preah Vihear
- Indonesia: Bali’s Subak Cultural Landscape, Borobudur, Prambanan Temple Complex, Sangiran Early Man site
- Laos: Luang Prabang, Plain of Jars, Vat Phou
- Malaysia: Lenggong Valley, Malacca and George Town
- Myanmar: Bagan, Pyu Ancient Cities
- Philippines: Baroque Churches of the Philippines, Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Vigan
- Singapore: Singapore Botanic Gardens
- Thailand: Ayutthaya, Ban Chiang, Sukhothai and associated Towns
- Vietnam: Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, Complex of Hue Monuments, Hoi An, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi, My Son Sanctuary, Trang An Landscape complex
The Unesco World Heritage list has a complete collection of each site, and there is a link to each individual site in the Resources page. In addition to the official list, there are many other sites on the Tentative List:
- Cambodia: Banteay Chhmar, Banteay Prei Nokor, Beng Mealea, Prah Khan of Kompong Svay, Koh Ker, Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Oudong, Phnom Kulen
- Indonesia: Bawomataluo Site, Historical City Centre of Yogyakarta, Kebun Raya Bogor, Muara Takus Compound Site, Muarajambi Temple Compound, Prehistoric Cave Sites in Maros-Pangkep, Sangkulirang –Mangkalihat Karts: Prehistoric rock art area, Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town, Semarang Old Town, Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement, The Historic and Marine Landscape of the Banda Islands, The Old Town of Jakarta and Outlying Islands, Traditional Settlement at Nagari Sijunjung. Trowulan -Former Capital City of Majapahit Kingdom
- Laos: That Luang of Vientiane
- Myanmar: Ancient cities of Upper Myanmar, Badah-lin and associated caves, Inle Lake, Mon cities of Bago and Hanthawaddy, Myauk-U Archaeological Area and Monuments, Pondaung anthropoid primates palaeontological sites, Shwedagon Pagoda on Singuttara Hill, Wooden Monasteries of Konbaung Period in Mandalay
- Philippines: Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension), Batanes Protected landscapes and seascapes, Butuan Archeological Sites, Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, Neolithic Shell Midden Sites in Lal-lo and Gattaran Municipalities, Paleolithic Archaeological Sites in Cagayan Valley, Petroglyphs and Petrographs of the Philippines, The Tabon Cave Complex
- Thailand: Ensemble of Phanom Rung, Muang Tam and Plai Bat Sanctuaries, Chiang Mai, Phimai and the Associated Temples of Phanomroong and Muangtam, Phra That Phanom, its related historic buildings and associated landscape, Phuphrabat Historical Park, The Ancient Town of Si Thep, Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat
- Vietnam: Con Moong Cave, Huong Son Complex of Natural Beauty and Historical Monuments, The Area of Old Carved Stone in Sapa, The Complex of Yen Tu Monuments and Landscape
How does a site become World Heritage?
Sites submitted for nomination must meet one or more of the ten following criteria:
1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservationSource: Unesco “Criteria for Selection”
Only countries (‘state parties’) who have signed the World Heritage convention may nominate a site for inclusion into the list. The process is fairly straightforward, but can be time-consuming because of the depth of documentation and research that is required. First, sites are put into the Tentative List which signals a country’s intention to nominate a site in the future. Next, the state party prepares a nomination file for the site, which includes extensive documentation, research, histories and maps that justifies the site’s inclusion into the list.
The dossier is then reviewed by up to three advisory bodies: the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). Once these bodies have completed their evaluations, the reports are returned to the World Heritage Committee who will make the final decision to accept or reject the nomination. The committee can also choose to defer the decision or request for more information from the state parties. These decisions are announced at the annual World Heritage Committee meeting.
Unesco World Heritage in Southeast Asia
As a region, Southeast Asia still represents less than 4% of the total number of Unesco World Heritage sites. World Heritage status brings prestige, international recognition and a promise by the state party to protect the site through legislation and management. One notable instance where Unesco listing has been controversial was the inscription of the Preah Vihear temple in 2008, a 12th century Angkor temple located on the border of Cambodia and Thailand which caused hostilities between the two countries.
More often than not, tourism and the allure of income, plays a large role in the development of Unesco World Heritage sites in Southeast Asia. In this regard, ancient temple ruins and heritage towns are important tourist destinations that many interests are keen to capitalise on. As a result, over-tourism is a serious problem in archaeological sites like Angkor and Bagan, while in Luang Prabang and George Town, the development of tourist infrastructure and industries threaten the very qualities that made these historic sites ‘authentic’.
Another threat to Southeast Asian World Heritage sites comes in the form of as natural disasters. In 2010, the eruption of Mount Merapi in Java covered Borobudur in a layer of corrosive ash; in 2011, a particularly bad flood season affected over 100 monuments in Ayutthaya; while in 2016, Bagan which was then not yet listed as a World Heritage site was struck by a devastating earthquake, affecting some 400 temples. Repair and rehabilitation work can be costly, and sometimes the monuments are damaged beyond saving. There is a growing awareness for the need of Disaster Risk Management training and contingency plans in this region.
Latest news about Unesco World Heritage in Southeast Asia
- A royal visit, and ruins restored December 6, 2019
- Thai Senate backs Nakhon Si Thammarat world heritage nomination December 5, 2019
- [Lecture] The Plain of Jars of Laos – World Heritage Monuments in Stone December 2, 2019
- Climate Change Threatens These World Heritage Sites November 27, 2019
- Laos Receives World Heritage Certificate for Plain of Jars November 27, 2019
- The official Unesco World Heritage List
- UNESCO in Southeast Asia: World Heritage Sites in Comparative Perspective (Nias-nordic Institute of Asian Studies: Nias Studies in Asian Topics) [book by Victor T. King, Amazon affiliate link]
- List of World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia [Wikipedia]