Packed with wild parks, natural wonders and ancient temples – it is amazing that South-East Asia has so few (just 37) UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We pick our favourites, plus some must-see sights yet to gain recognition.Lying prostrate aboard an old wooden junker, peering out across the emerald waters as jungle-covered precipices rear out of nowhere isn’t the only way to experience Cat Ba Island’s Halong Bay – it remains among the best, though. These limestone karst pillars aren’t unique to Vietnam, but nowhere on Earth is their scale so dramatic, sprouting some 1,600 spines from the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, birthing towering islands and islets out of bounds to all but the native seabirds that have made them home.
The site was first inscribed by UNESCO in 1994. Twenty-something years later, little has changed except how to see them and the increasing numbers of those who have. The slow-screw of erosion has notched hidden caves and dramatic arches into many of its rises. Kayak out for a more intimate look at the likes of Thien Cung, famed for its impressive stalagmites and stalactites; or drift past oysters farms and floating villages – ramshackle constructions linked by trembling walkways – to seek out secret beaches away from the boat-going hordes.