The most amazing man-made structures in Asia
Faster, higher, longer and older: there’s no doubt Asia plays the one-upmanship game when it comes to architectural statements. It’s hard to believe that in 1999, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers broke the US’ hold on skyscraper glory. Those towers have long been surpassed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, but the newest, pointiest addition to the Asian architecture scene is Shanghai Tower. Opened in September, the world’s second highest building measures 632 metres.
GARDENS BY THE BAY, SINGAPORE
Another hotbed of modern architecture, Singapore gleams with man-made marvels, with the fantastical Gardens by the Bay rivalling the voraciously Instagrammed SkyPark infinity pool – the largest of its kind in the world – atop the three-legged Marina Bay Sands skyscraper.
Wreathed in mysticism, Asia’s ancient spires of faith are hidden in jungles, or secreted away high in high mountains. The world’s largest Buddhist monument, Borobodur, was built in the 9th century in central Java, Indonesia. Like its peer in Cambodia, the Angkor complex, it was gouged from voracious vines centuries after its significance had faded for the local population.
TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY , BHUTAN
Fading into obscurity was never an option for Taktsang Lhakhang. Bhutan’s favourite pin-up, the Tiger’s Nest monastery can be reached only by a steep trek up the side of the Himalayas, but the birthplace of Bhutanese Buddhism hasn’t been out of the country’s consciousness since its heroic construction in 1692.
South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is again in the 2017 must-visit lists, and has proven a pro at balancing old and new, with Namdaemun, the country’s first National Treasure and the 14th-century South gate in the Fortress Wall of Seoul neatly balanced by Dame Zaha Hadid’s curved aluminium Dongdaemun Design Plaza on the east wall of the city centre. Not content to sit on its laurels, Seoul’s 17-metre high Skygarden overpass, dubbed the High Line of Asia, opens April 2017.
PALACE OF THE WINDS, INDIA
Turrets, fluted columns, curlicues and ramparts, the Rajasthani desert city of Jaipur has an overload of architectural beauty, but Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, wins for its outrageously elaborate facade. Built in 1799, over a thousand windows allowed the women of the royal household to observe life, unobserved.
Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Uzbekistan
In Central Asia, Uzbekistan’s stupendous Bibi-Khanym Mosque was built in 1404 by Tamerlane. A statement of power (that needed elephants to help construct it), it was the largest mosque in his world, thought time didn’t save it. Today’s replica recreates its turquoise domes and elaborate mosaic-clad columns.
Wedged modestly between the ancient world and skyscrapers, Asia’s shophouses are enjoying a revival in fortunes, with a slick of bright paint from Singapore to Vietnam’s Hoi An, Penang in Malaysia, Phuket Old Town and Bangkok’s Old City. Downstairs for trade, upstairs for family, a covered corridor at the front for cool perambulations free from the lashing rain and burning sun of the tropics.