From China’s The Forbidden City to Thailand’s Grand Palace, studying abroad in Asia is a history student’s dream come true.
Asian nations are becoming more popular among students looking to study abroad, with China and Japan both amongst the top 10 nations for foreign student enrollment. And those opportunities offer a chance to immerse yourself in history few of your peers will ever get to experience.
Here are 17 historical sites you must see while studying abroad in Asia.
This architectural and garden paradise features several structures, the highlight of which is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Perhaps Thailand’s most sacred shrine, a fragment of the Buddha’s body is allegedly still contained in the temple. Want to see more? Wat Arun – or The Temple of the New Dawn – is nearby, and it’s one of the best places you’ll ever watch a sunset.
See The Terracotta Army – Xi’an, China
This incredible set of sculptures was assembled near the tomb of Emperor Qin, with the idea the sculptures would protect him in the afterlife. Whether or not you believe that plan worked, you can visit the museum that now displays many of the more than 8,000 sculpted warriors, chariots and horses that have been unearthed to date in Xi’an. Even though this UNESCO World Heritage site’s wonders were created 2,200 years ago, the Terracotta Army wasn’t actually discovered until 1974.
Walk the city of Gyeongju, South Korea
The best nickname on the list, the “museum without walls” is home to relics dating back over 1,000 years. Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple have both been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Still a significant city in modern South Korea, Gyeongju was the capital of the kingdom of Silla – which ruled a majority of the Korean peninsula – for roughly 1,000 years until the 10th century.
See the Longmen Grottoes – Luoyang, China
If you’re a student of sculpture, this is your spot. The well-preserved Longmen Grottoes – with their stone carvings dating back to the fourth century – are an early artistic marvel. Heavily influenced by Buddhism, the caves feature tens of thousands of statues, including the 57-foot-tall Vairocana Buddha. The area is one the true artistic marvels of Asia.
Take in Ayutthaya Historical Park – Ayutthaya, Thailand
The palaces and temples of what was Thailand’s capital until the mid-18th century are a great reason to take this short trip from Bangkok. More than 100 towers and temples dot the city, along with thousands of Buddhist statues. The city was considered one of the power centers of Asia for over 400 years until the Ayutthaya Kingdom was overrun by the Burmese Army in 1767.
Visit Hoa Lò Prison – Hanoi, Vietnam
This infamous prison was originally established by French colonists before it became one of the most notable sites of the Vietnam War from an American perspective. Known colloquially as the “Hanoi Hilton” – where Senator John McCain spent parts of his five-plus years as a prisoner of war – most of the prison complex has since been demolished and repurposed. However, students and tourists alike can still walk through the museum that sits on the site, which includes some preserved sections of the prison, including a guillotine room.
See the old city of Sukhothai – Sukhothai, Thailand
Bring your nice camera when you visit the Sukhothai, which is both a history lesson and a student photographer’s paradise. Once you’re there, you’ll find history lessons and captivating photo ops everywhere you turn, as the city packs nearly 200 ruins into roughly 27 square miles. That includes 26 temples – among them the impressive Wat Mahathat – and the ruins of the royal palace.
Explore The Forbidden City – Beijing, China
This walled-off enclave in Beijing – which was home to Chinese emperors for more than 500 years – now welcomes more tourists annually than any other site on Earth. It’s huge, too. Consisting of nearly 1,000 buildings and spanning 70 acres. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most notable attraction, with its ornate throne room and dragon architecture. (Seriously, if you like dragons, this is a must-visit on your study abroad journey.)
Navigate the Cu Chi Tunnels – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
To fully understand Vietnam’s wartime history, students need to go underground. The Cu Chi Tunnels are a 75-mile network of passages the Vietnamese used to stage attacks, run communications and resupply troops during the Vietnam War. The tunnels are most notable for how the Viet Cong used them during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Leap from the Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto, Japan
OK, don’t really do that. The expression “jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” refers to the idea that anyone surviving a 43-foot high leap off this historic temple’s balcony would have their wish granted. (This practice was banned in the late 1800s.) This eighth-century Buddhist temple – built into the foothills of Mount Otowa overlooking Kyoto – is one of the Eastern world’s most visually fascinating places. Visit at sunset or during one of the temple’s night illuminations for stunning views of the city. When you’re not looking away from the building, you’ll also find architectural highlights like centuries-old sculptures and a man made waterfall.
Walk The Great Wall of China – Beijing, China
The one item on this list you’ve absolutely heard of, even if you’ve never left your hometown, The Great Wall of China is absolutely worth the visit for any history student. The first sections of this 13,170-mile structure were built in the 7th century B.C. to keep out nomadic groups coming from the north. But the most famous sections were completed as late as the 1600s. Don’t know which part to visit? Start your planning by looking at trips to the Badaling (though it gets extremely crowded) or Mutianyu sections.
Walk the historic city of Malacca, Malaysia
Malacca has preserved much of the spirit that made it perhaps the most important trading port in Southeast Asia in the 1600s. The main attraction is Jonker Street in the city’s Chinatown. It’s a bustling stretch of stores, food stalls and live music that tourists and students won’t be able to resist. In a change up from most of the sites you’ll visit, buildings from when the Portuguese and Dutch controlled trade in the city comprise some of its most popular historic attractions.
Explore the Red Fort – Delhi, India
Four hundred years of prominent events in Asian history have run through this hybrid fortress-palace. Built in the 1630s, it was the final home of the Mughal Empire which ruled over India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Its large red retaining walls are among the only parts of the structure that haven’t been looted or damaged since.
Marvel at The Imperial City – Hue, Vietnam
Built in 1801, this walled-off area inside Hue was the capital of Vietnam from the start of the Nguyen Dynasty until French rule in the latter half of the 19th century. The enclosed city is known for its colorful architecture, including the Can Thanh Palace and East Bastion gate. Bonus: The Imperial City is just a 15-minute drive away from the Thiên Mu Pagoda, a historically important and visually impressive seven-story Buddhist temple built in 1601 that was a popular organizing site for civil and political actions.
Explore the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum – Hiroshima, Japan
The site of the world’s first atomic bomb strike hosts more than 1 million visitors every year and is a must for any student of World War II. It has sections dedicated to life in the city before the bombing, along with a detailed chronicling of the decimation of the attack – how the blast and subsequent heat and radiation affected structures and nature – plus items that were discovered in the aftermath.
Take in The War Memorial of Korea – Seoul, South Korea
The sprawling memorial and museum in the nation’s capital – just 35 miles from the DMZ between North and South Korea – is intended to be a monument promoting peace. It hosts an abundance of military equipment used in the wars – including planes and tanks – along with a limousine once used by then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
Marvel at the Taj Mahal – Agra, India
One of the seven wonders of the world, you grew up reading about it in your history books, so you might as well take in the awe of the world’s most famous mausoleum in person while studying abroad. Built by an estimated 22,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants to house the tomb of an emperor’s wife, the Taj Mahal now hosts more than 6 million visitors a year. Bonus: The Taj Mahal is just a 30 minute walk along the Yamuna River from one of India’s other famous landmarks, the Agra Fort, which preceded the Red Fort as the home of the Mughal Empire.