Dive into the rich history of Asia by exploring these 12 ancient kingdoms.
The remains of ancient Asian kingdoms from Vietnam to India, China, South Korea, and Indonesia are decorated by remains, palaces, forts, and temples. These sites reveal extraordinary tales of wars, spirits, jewels, and powerful empires that expanded and expanded until they collapsed.
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WHERE: My Son, Vietnam
Vietnam recently completed an impressive rejuvenation of My Son Sanctuary, the capital of the Champa Kingdom, for more than 900 years up until the 1200s. The meticulous restoration work done to more than 70 towers, temples, and halls has made My Son one of this nation’s best historic sites.
A Hindu kingdom, Champa was a long-term powerhouse of South-East Asia. Beyond this history, the location of My Son makes it an appealing attraction. Not only is it just 25km from Hoi An, but these beautiful royal remains are enhanced by nature.
WHERE: Hyderabad, India
India is such a colossal country (covering more than four times the land area of Texas) that it makes sense that it was once divided into an array of competing kingdoms. In Hyderabad, tourists can explore two engrossing sites that reveal the magnificence of the long-gone Golconda Sultanate.
Although Golconda wasn’t that large, it was supremely rich due to owning India’s finest diamond mines. This wealth is evident at the recently restored Qutb Shahi Tombs, a stunning necropolis of more than 40 mausoleums housing the remains of Golconda’s elite. Alongside it is the similarly impressive Golconda Fort, a hillside citadel that was this kingdom’s headquarters in the 1600s.
WHERE: Chiang Saen, Thailand
In the heart of what’s now known as the Golden Triangle, a notorious drug smuggling region bordering Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, is a former kingdom that’s little known even here in Thailand. Chiang Saen, at first glance, appears no different to many of the peaceful towns that flank the Mekong River in northeast Thailand.
Until you delve into its western outskirts to find the remnants of temples, monasteries, and palaces from a kingdom born in the 1200s. This is the Wat Pa Sak Historical Site. Its archaeological remains and Chiang Saen National Museum reveal that this was the birthplace of the Lanna Kingdom, which is most famously tied to tourist hub Chiang Mai.
WHERE: Bali, Indonesia
Resort-laden Bali is one of Asia’s most heavily-touristed locations. Yet an ancient kingdom manages to fly under the radar despite being located near the popular destination of Ubud. In the town of Semarapura are the adjoining Klungkung Palace and Semarajaya Museum.
The former is a cluster of historic pavilions, and the latter is a facility that bulges with artifacts and artworks. Together they teach visitors about Bali’s Klungkung kingdom. From the 17th to 19th centuries, Klungkung ruled a chunk of southern Bali before finally being colonized by the Dutch.
WHERE: Kaifeng, China
A massive country defined by enormous metropolitan areas, China has dozens of big cities. Once upon a time, the largest of them all was Kaifeng, the capital of a fearsome kingdom called the Song Dynasty. Almost 1,000 years ago, this was reputedly the world’s most populous city.
Nowadays, it’s an underrated tourist destination. Those travelers who make the effort to visit this former Royal hub will appreciate Millenium City Park, a vast assortment of temples, halls, and bridges, all positioned around pretty gardens and lakes.
Singapore is recognized the world over for its futuristic tourist attractions, like the colossal Marina Bay Sands building and neon-lit Gardens by the Bay. Overlooking these, this modernity is a forested hill home to the ghosts of a forgotten kingdom.
As tourists roam this leafy expanse, Fort Canning Park, they pass the open-air tomb of Iskandar Shah. He was the Sultan of Singapura, an Islamic kingdom that commanded this land centuries before the British arrived. Back then, this hill was named Bukit Larangan and hosted an Imperial palace.
WHERE: Patan, Nepal
In the south of the Kathmandu Valley, not far from Kathmandu’s tourist district, travelers can walk the streets of an ancient kingdom. Historians had to research almost 1,800 years to investigate the origins of the Patan kingdom.
It was then that this city, now called Patan, was established as the epicenter of the Lalitpur kingdom. This settlement became the hub of Nepal’s Licchavi, Thakuri, and Malla dynasties, all of which had their turns ruling this region. Tourists are attracted by the complex woodwork and stonemasonry of its royal palace, Krishna Temple, Kumbheshwar Temple, and Mahabouddha Temple.
WHERE: Manila, The Philippines
Manila’s finest tourist site is a large citadel built in the 1500s by the Spanish. Named Intramuros, it’s surrounded by walls and former military posts and boasts many attractive old colonial churches, mansions, and a theatre that reveals the story of a tiny kingdom called Maynila.
That theater is named after Rajay Sulayman, the Muslim ruler who controlled this area when the Spanish invaded in 1570. Sulayman managed to repel the Europeans and protect his kingdom. But in 1571, the Spanish again swarmed into this settlement along the Pasig River that abuts Intramuros, killing Sulayman and conquering his territory. Tourists can learn this history at Manila’s National Museum and see monuments to Sulayman at Rizal Park, Intramuros, and Manila Baywalk.
WHERE: Vientiane, Laos
Embedded in the cityscape of Laos’ two most-visited metropolises – Vientiane and Luang Prabang – are traces of a kingdom that once held sway over most of this nation. In fact, the birth of Laos as a country is widely seen as coinciding with the establishment of this kingdom called Lan Xang.
From the mid-1300s to the early 1700s, Lan Xang was ruled first from Luang Prabang and then the current national capital, Vientiane. In the latter city, tourists can visit several pretty temples tied to Lan Xang, including Pha That Luang and Wat Sisaket. They can do the same in Luang Prabang at glittering Buddhist complexes Wat Visoun and Wat Xieng Thong.
WHERE: Trowulan, Indonesia
In Trowulan, about 45km inland from the coastal city of Surabaya, a trove of archaeological remains represents what’s left behind from a fascinating kingdom. As tourists can read at the Trowulan Museum, between the 13th and 15th centuries, this was the thriving headquarters of the Majapahit Kingdom.
This Hindu dynasty presided over a large area of Indonesia before dying out as this country slowly became controlled by Islamic powers. One of Majapahit’s final strongholds was Bali. Tourists to that tropical island can visit remnants of this kingdom, such as Pura Besakih, Pura Sada, and Pura Maospahit temples.
WHERE: New Delhi, India
Few cities on the planet have a history as layered and absorbing as Delhi. It is, in effect, an amalgamation of many ancient settlements, each of which replaced the last across the centuries. Amid these layers of urbanization sits the remains of the Tughlaq Dynasty.
An influential Islamic kingdom based in Northern India commanded this territory for almost a century until 1420, leaving behind stunning attractions like the Feroz Shah Kotla fort. This large archaeological complex in central Delhi dates back to the 1350s. Visitors can wander its tree-lined remains to see fortifications and ruins of ancient mosques.
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand is an ancient nation, dating back almost 800 years to the establishment of Sukhothai, its first capital. While subsequent capitals Ayutthaya and Bangkok are both on Thailand’s tourist trail, another kingdom is all but concealed within the mammoth sprawl of the latter city.
Perched on the western bank of Bangkok’s Chaophraya River is the small Thonburi palace and several Buddhist temples remaining from the Thonburi Kingdom. After Ayutthaya collapsed, King Taksin formed Thonburi. It lasted just 15 years before being superseded by Bangkok, with a new royal hub created nearby on the western side of that same river.