8 Ancient Cities in Asia that Will Transport You Back in Time

8 Ancient Cities in Asia that Will Transport You Back in Time

Time travel is real at these ancient cities in Asia.

In a world where life seems so fast-paced and dynamic, where it appears that places are becoming more and more reachable because of the improvement in access to transportation, we were able to find several places that have been considered as lost. These are ancient cities around Asia that are definitely worth checking out, as they are sure to bring you back in time because of how they managed to survive the test of time and tell their story.

Also read: 10 Severely Underrated yet Stunning Asian Destinations

1. Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An

Image credit: Crazy3108

Not many people know of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, the ancient city of Hoi An has a population of only 120,000. It is historically known as Faifoo and was once a major port.

Centuries have passed but Hoi An has retained its old charm and exceptionally well-preserved architecture. The Thu Bon River has seen its share of busy trade. The trading centre was found in the Town of Cham at the mouth of the river between the 16th and 17th centuries. This was where the Portuguese, Dutch, and Chinese came and traded with one another.

Make sure to visit The Old Town Hoi An. The historic district of the city is well known for its temples, Japanese merchant houses, and modern tourist businesses. There are museums to visit as well. Ride a bike and go around the old beaten path of this old port.

2. Sukhothai, Thailand


Image credit: Oliver Spalt

The ancient city of Sukhothai may be in ruins, but it is still worth the five-hour drive. The first ancient capital of Siam was the seat of power from 1238 to 1438. The site is now a vast park, and going around the “Dawn of Happiness” on foot or by bike gives you a picture of the area’s heyday.

Situated in a rectangular walled complex, what remains of the great capital are the ruins of about 26 temples and the royal palace. Visit the largest of the temples, Wat Mahathat, which served as the main temple of the great city where several relics of Buddha are enshrined. To get to see the white giant Buddha, walk or pedal towards Wat Si Chum Temple.

3. Lopburi, Thailand


Image credit: Christian Rebernik

The “City of Monkeys” is about three hours away from Bangkok. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Thailand. Lopburi was one of the cities of the old Angkor Empire (now Cambodia), and it became the second capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 6th century A.D.

Lopburi is also known by other names, such as Lavo, Luovo, and Lavapura. Divided into old and new towns, visitors won’t be disappointed as there are plenty of things to see. Lopburi is especially attractive to tourists because of the crab-eating macaques that have a run of the town.

One highlight of this ancient city is the Phra Prang Sam Yot Temple or “Monkey Temple.” Heat can be quite a bother, but visiting a beautiful example of Angkor or Khmer Empire architecture can be worth it.

4. Angkor, Cambodia

Popular for its temples, Angkor was the Khmer Empire’s capital city. Amidst the great lake of Tonle Sap and Kulen hills, this ancient city is the site of one of the most popular temples in the world, the Angkor Wat. It is also the site of many photo and movie shoots because of the enchantment and mystery the place evokes.

It has been found that Angkor is a “hydraulic city,” because research has shown that it has a complicated water management network and elaborate infrastructure connecting the temples.

Visitors are welcome to walk around and discover the nooks and crannies of the vast ruins. The awe never ends, with tree roots embracing bricks and boulders of what was once a great city. Many come to take pictures and to touch a part of history, and others wake up in the wee hours of the morning, trek to the walls of Angkor Wat, and greet the sunrise.

5. Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang

The city’s name literally means “The Royal Buddha image,” and its old name was Muang Sua. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has exceptional and well-preserved architectural sites, along with religious and cultural heritage.

The city dates back to 698 CE, from which time it has been continuously been inhabited. As time passed, influences have come and go. Many are attracted to the fact that the area has strong French influences dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries.

The combination of old and new makes the city more charming, with Buddhist temples mixing with modern establishments. A great place to start when visiting the city is Wat Chom Si shrine to pray for a safe passage through the Mekong River while sailing the day away.

Also read: 10 Picture-Perfect Asian Villages You Need to See

6. Bagan, Myanmar


Image credit: Christopher Michel

Bagan is the ancient capital city of the Kingdom of Pagan. Dating back to the 9th to 13th centuries, this was the place where more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were constructed, but only 2,200 of these survive to this day.

The pagodas are the main attraction of this ancient city and are revered by the locals. They are sacred because a typical pagoda has a relic kept inside. Some pagodas are hollow and were built to be a meditation place. Unfortunately, due to the recent strong earthquake that rocked Bagan, some of the pagodas were destroyed. This has broken the hearts of many of the Burmese and people who have visited and loved the beautiful religious symbols.

Bagan has kept its old charm intact, with very minimal western influences. This charm has kept the visitors coming. It is an old world where one would love to stay and reflect.

7. Malacca City, Malaysia

MalaccaImage credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Founded by a Sumatran prince in 1377, Malacca City is the capital of the Malaysian State of Malacca. It is the oldest city in the strait. The city was a hub for traders from different parts of Asia, as well as the Portuguese. Because of this, significant influences from Arabs, Persians, and Indian traders turned the city into a sultanate.

Also read: How to Spend 2 Days in Melaka – A Quick Itinerary

Western influence soon came when Portugal was able to successfully take Malacca. Several wars occurred. The Dutch East India Company soon arrived, and after the Napoleonic wars, the city came under the British rule. Hence, western influences still remain in some of the city’s architectural works. This has kept the city’s heritage and tradition rich. Visitors are able to see this melting pot for themselves by visiting Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, a Hindu temple, as well as the Malacca Straits Mosque.

8. Nara, Japan

ancient cities asiaImage credit: Pöllö

Japan is known as one of the oldest countries around Asia. It is a place full of tradition, and years of shunning Westerners has kept their heritage rich. Nara, the oldest city in all of Japan, is the capital city of Nara Prefecture in the Kansai region. This city was also Japan’s capital between 710 and 794.

Visitors should not miss this city because there are plenty of temples to visit. Along with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, the temples are collectively known as The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara,” which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from temples, Heijo Palace is worth visiting because of its beautiful and well-preserved walls and gardens. Pictures do not give justice to how beautiful the place truly is.

In 2010, Nara celebrated its 1,300th anniversary. This celebration marks the city’s ascension as Japan’s imperial capital.

About Author

James Aquino
James Aquino

After visiting more than fifty international cities in three continents (and still counting), James is on a quest to visit at least two new countries each year. A registered nurse, a stage father, and a grumpy husband, he has always believed that travelling offers something that you will never learn from school. His best advice is to always take pictures along the way, but never forget the stories behind them. Read more of his travel stories and his passion project at The Panoramic Soul.


Related Posts