Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the GMS

Proudly contributed by Jens Thraenhart

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural OrganizationUNESCO – has listed more than 1000 historical and natural sites in the world. With 37 sites already listed in Southeast Asia and many more submitted for review, culture, histories and landscapes have been recognized for their unique value for mankind.

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a culturally rich and diverse region counting numerous sites classified by the UNESCO in the World Heritage of Humanity. With some of the world’s most famous sites like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, the GMS is home to 22 wonderful sites that stand out for their natural or cultural value.


Success Story in the Mekong Region

Angkor, Cambodia One of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. In 1993, UNESCO embarked upon an ambitious plan to safeguard and develop the historical site carried out by the Division of Cultural Heritage in close cooperation with the World Heritage Centre. Illicit excavation, pillaging of archaeological sites and landmines were the main problems. The World Heritage Committee, having noted that these threats to the site no longer existed and that the numerous conservation and restoration activities coordinated by UNESCO were successful, removed the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2004.


4 World Heritage Sites in Yunnan and Guangxi (China)

Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas

Consisting of eight geographical clusters of protected areas within the boundaries of the Three Parallel Rivers National Park, in the mountainous north-west of Yunnan Province, the 1.7 million hectare site features sections of the upper reaches of three of the great rivers of Asia: the Yangtze (Jinsha), Mekong and Salween run roughly parallel, north to south, through steep gorges which, in places, are 3,000 m deep and are bordered by glaciated peaks more than 6,000 m high. The site is an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity. It is also one of the richest temperate regions of the world in terms of biodiversity.


 yunnan rivers
  • Location:Lijiang Prefecture, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province
  • Year of inscription: 2003


South China Karst

South China Karst is one of the world’s most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes. It is a serial site spread over the provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan and Chongqing and covers 176,228 hectares. It contains the most significant types of karst landforms, including tower karst, pinnacle karst and cone karst formations, along with other spectacular characteristics such as natural bridges, gorges and large cave systems. The stone forests of Shilin are considered superlative natural phenomena and a world reference. The cone and tower karsts of Libo, also considered the world reference site for these types of karst, form a distinctive and beautiful landscape. Wulong Karst has been inscribed for its giant dolines (sinkholes), natural bridges and caves.

south china karst


  • Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Chongqing, China
  • Year of inscription: 2007


Chengjiang Fossil Site

A hilly 512 ha site in Yunnan province, Chengjiang’s fossils present the most complete record of an early Cambrian marine community with exceptionally preserved biota, displaying the anatomy of hard and soft tissues in a very wide variety of organisms, invertebrate and vertebrate. They record the early establishment of a complex marine ecosystem. The site documents at least sixteen phyla and a variety of enigmatic groups as well as about 196 species, presenting exceptional testimony to the rapid diversification of life on Earth 530 million years ago, when almost all of today’s major animal groups emerged. It opens a palaeobiological window of great significance to scholarship.



  • Yunnan, China
  • Year of inscription: 2012


Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

The Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China covers 16,603-hectares in Southern Yunnan. It is marked by spectacular terraces that cascade down the slopes of the towering Ailao Mountains to the banks of the Hong River. Over the past 1,300 years, the Hani people have developed a complex system of channels to bring water from the forested mountaintops to the terraces. They have also created an integrated farming system that involves buffalos, cattle, ducks, fish and eel and supports the production of red rice, the area’s primary crop. The inhabitants worship the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, forests and other natural phenomena including fire. They live in 82 villages situated between the mountaintop forests and the terraces. The villages feature traditional thatched “mushroom” houses. The resilient land management system of the rice terraces demonstrates extraordinary harmony between people and their environment, both visually and ecologically, based on exceptional and long-standing social and religious structures.

Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan, China


  • Yunnan, China
  • Year of inscription: 2013

2 World Heritage Sites in Cambodia


Angkor is a major Southeast Asian archaeological site. It is composed of the remains of the capital of the Khmer Empire, dating from the 9th to the 15th century. The Angkor site especially includes the famous temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and the jungle-invaded Ta Phrom temple.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Temple

© Photo: jh_tan84

Bayon temple

Bayon Sunrise

© Photo: colin grubbs

Ta Prohm temple

Ta Prohm HDR

© Photo: David Hogan

  • Location: Siem Reap Province, Cambodia
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 40,000 ha
  • Year of inscription: 1992

Note: Google created a special website as a part of its Google Maps “Street View” to enable people to explore the Angkor temples at home on their computers.

Temple of Preah Vihear

Preah Vihear:Ruin in the Sky

© Photo: Osakabe Yasuo

The temple of Preah Vihear is composed of series of sanctuaries dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Its isolation has permitted to preserve its exceptional architecture from the 11th century.

  • Location: Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 155 ha with 2,643 ha buffer zone
  • Year of inscription: 2008


2 World Heritage Sites in Laos

Town of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

© Photo: Benedikt Saxler

The ancient capital of the old Kingdom of Laos, Luang Prabang is a town that gathers traditional Lao architecture and French colonial buildings from the 19th and 20th century in a remarkably well-preserved blend of European and Asian cultures.

  • Location: Luang Prabang Province, Laos
  • Site type: cultural
  • Year of inscription: 1995

Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape

Vat Phou Champasak

© Photo: Alessandra

The Champasak Cultural Landscape was built between the 5th and 15th century under the rule of the Khmer Empire. Various structures are organized in a geometric pattern that embodies the Hindu vision and relationship between man and nature, including two cities, the Vat Phou temple complex and other temples, shrines and waterworks.

  • Location: Champasak Province, Laos
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 39,000 ha
  • Year of inscription: 2001


1 World Heritage Site in Myanmar

Pyu Ancient Cities

Bawbawgyi Paya, of the 5th-7th century Sri Ksetra kingdom, near Pyay, Myanmar 2014

© Photo: caz.vandevere

In the Irrawady basin, the three ancient cities of Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra are remains of the Pyu kingdoms that spanned eleven centuries from 200 BC to 900 AD. With various ruins from royal, religious and production buildings and remnants of an irrigation system, they exhibit a rich Buddhist culture.

  • Location: Mandalay, Magway and Bago, Myanmar
  • Site type: cultural
  • Year of inscription: 2014


5 World Heritage Sites in Thailand

Historic City of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya Historical Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Thailand

© Photo: Oliver Davis

Ayutthaya was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from the mid 14th century until its destruction by the Burmese in the 18th century. The numerous remains of large religious and administrative buildings are as many clues to imagine how splendid the city must have been.

  • Location: Ayutthaya Province, Thailand
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 289 ha
  • Year of inscription: 1991

Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

Wat Mahathat in Morning Light

© Photo: Takashi Mizoguchi

Sukhothai was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam, in the 13th and 14th centuries. The remaining monuments present how various influences and traditions were assimilated in the “Sukhothai style” by the Siamese people to create a distinct culture.

  • Location: Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet Provinces, Thailand
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 11,852 ha
  • Year of inscription: 1991

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries

Banteng, Bos javanicus & Sambar deer, Rusa unicolor in Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary

© Photo: tontantravel

The Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries encompass almost all kinds of forests from Southeast Asia. With more than 600,000 ha situated on the border with Myanmar, the wildlife sanctuaries are home to a vast array of fauna, including several endangered species.

  • Location: Kanchanaburi, Tak and Uthai Thani Provinces, Thailand
  • Site type: natural
  • Size: 622,200 ha
  • Year of inscription: 1991

Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Wat Pho Si Nai Pit

© Photo: Brian Hoffman

One of the most important prehistoric settlement, Ban Chiang gathers evidence of human evolution in Southeast Asia. With artifacts, human and building remains, it displays on of the earliest use of metals and agriculture in the region.

  • Location: Udon Thani Province, Thailand
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 64 ha
  • Year of inscription: 1992

Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex

Sitting Elephant in Khao Yai national park

© Photo: tontantravel

The Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex is a large, protected tropical forest located on the border with Cambodia. Especially important for the preservation of fauna,  it is key to the long-term survival of several endangered animal species.

  • Location: Saraburi, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Nayok, Prachinburi, Sa Kaeo and Buriram Provinces, Thailand
  • Site type: natural
  • Size: 615,000 ha
  • Year of inscription: 2005


8 World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

Complex of Hué Monuments

Approaching Forbidden City's gates, Hue, Vietnam

© Photo: Loboalpha

Hué was the capital unified Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, center of political, cultural and religious influence of the Nguyen dynasty.  With several buildings remaining along the Perfume River of the old Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, Hué is the landmark of the imperial Vietnamese history, arts and architecture.

  • Location: Thừa Thiên–Huế Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: cultural
  • Year of inscription: 1993

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay (Aug 2015)

© Photo: Horace Cimafranca

Gathering more than 1,600 limestone islets in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is an iconic seascape of verticals cliffs and jungle spread across the sea. The site’s beauty is famous around the world, and it is also a haven for biodiversity.

  • Location: Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: natural
  • Size: 150,000 ha
  • Year of inscription: 1994

Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An -9

© Photo: J Durok

The commercial activity of the port of Hoi An made it an important trade center from the 15th to the 19th century. Local and foreign traders have left their marks with numerous buildings that make up an exceptionally well-preserved ancient town with diverse influences.

  • Location: Hội An, Quảng Nam Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 30 ha with 280 ha buffer zone
  • Year of inscription: 1999

My Son Sanctuary

My Son - Danang, Vietnam

© Photo: James Tan

Developed from the 4th to 13th century, the My Son Sanctuary regroups the remains of several temples. This site used to be the political and religious capital of the Champa Kingdom, which was located on the coast of Vietnam and traced its cultural heritage from Indian Hinduism.

  • Location: Duy Phú, Duy Xuyên District, Quảng Nam Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 142 ha with 920 ha buffer zone
  • Year of inscription: 1999

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave - Động Thiên Đường

© Photo: lien

The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the oldest karst formation in Southeast Asia. With 65 km of caves and underground river, the park hosts a very complex karst landscape with significant geomorphic features.

  • Location: Bố Trạch and Minh Hóa districts, Quảng Bình Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: natural
  • Size: 85,754 ha
  • Year of inscription: 2003

Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi

Imperial Citadel

© Photo: Eugene

When the Dai Viet kingdom got its independance from China under the Ly dynasty, it built the Thang Long Imperial Citadel which remained its political center for 13 centuries. The central sector of the Citadel embodies a unique culture from the Red River area, influenced from the North by China and from the Champa kingdom in the South.

  • Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 18 ha with 108 ha buffer zone
  • Year of inscription: 2010

Citadel of the Ho Dynasty

Ho dynasty's citadel, Vietnam

© Photo: Loi Nguyen Duc

The Citadel of the Ho Dynasty dates back to the 14th century. Reflecting the spread of Neo-Confucianism in that period, it was built according to the Feng Shui principles in a plain between the Ma and Buoi rivers along an axis between the Tuong Son and Don Son mountains.

  • Location: Tây Giai, Vĩnh Lộc District, Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: cultural
  • Size: 156 ha with 5,079 ha buffer zone
  • Year of inscription: 2011

Trang An Landscape Complex

Non nước Ninh Bình

© Photo: Đỗ Việt Cường

Situated in the south of the Red River delta, the Trang An Landscape Complex is a breathtaking area of karst limestone peaks piercing out of low cultivated valleys. Area of cultural significance as it has inhabited for more than 30,000 years, human traces in Trang An provide significant information on the Neolotic, Bronze Age, up to the historic era. It is also the site of Hao Lu, ancient capital of Vietnam from the 10th and 11th centuries.

  • Location: Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam
  • Site type: mixed, natural and cultural
  • Year of inscription: 2014


UNESCO logoHere is the full list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For more information about them, other sites submitted for review or information on its activities, visit the website of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO.


Source: Curated by Jens Thraenhart (MTCO)

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