The most famous lost city in the ASEAN region welcomes thousands of visitors every day. But there’s more to this masterpiece of the Khmer empire than Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Laser scanning technology has revealed the grand scale of long-gone structures under dirt and vegetation within 370 square kilometres of Angkor, making it the largest city in the pre-industrial age. Much of Angkor’s splendour no longer exists, but vestiges of its past remain for you to explore, carefully restored by international experts.
How to get there: Angkor is a short ride from Siem Reap by bicycle, tuktuk or car.
Vat Phou, Laos
In the south of Laos, near the Thai border, a mountainside Khmer temple predates the monuments of Angkor, but remains nowhere as touristy. The temple complex of Vat Phou features amazing carved stone pediments and lintels, a natural spring, and some interesting carved rocks in the form of an elephant and a crocodile. An active Buddhist religious site, it is still under restoration. An uphill climb on uneven steps rewards visitors with wonderful views.
How to get there: Pakse is the base for day trips to Vat Phou. Pakse and Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand are the closest airports, while land transport is available from Vientiane.
Mrauk U, Myanmar
The capital of the Arakan kingdom from the 15th to the 18th century, Mrauk U’s location near the Bay of Bengal made it important for trade. The prosperous kingdom was overthrown by the ethnic Burmese and later became a backwater when the British transferred the capital to Sittwe. Today, the sleepy town is much less accessible than the more popular Bagan. The morning mist rises on hundreds of temples and bell-shaped stupas, making it a photographer’s dream destination.
How to get there: Mrauk U is a ferry ride from Sittwe, the closest city, which is a domestic flight away from Yangon.
Founded in 1350, the Kingdom of Siam’s second capital was magnificent in its heyday, welcoming maritime vessels from the Far East and Europe to its temples and golden palace. At the time, it was one of the finest urban areas in the world, with a well-planned grid layout that made the best use of its location between three rivers. It was burned to the ground in the Burmese invasion of 1767, after which the capital was moved to Bangkok. Visitors flock here to see the ruins, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
How to get there: Ayutthaya is easily accessible from downtown Bangkok by train or minivan.
Hoa Lu, Vietnam
Not to be confused with Hoa Lo, the former prison in Hanoi, Hoa Lu was Vietnam’s capital 1000 years ago, until the Ly dynasty moved the capital to Thang Long, what we know today as Hanoi. Set amidst the limestone karst peaks, verdant rice fields and cave grottoes of Trang An, all that is left of the ancient city are the rebuilt temples. Still, the glorious location is a refreshing respite from the busy metropolis.
How to get there: Day tours of Trang An and Hoa Lu can easily be arranged from Hanoi.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to various destinations in Southeast Asia. For flight info and fares, visit airasia.com.