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19 September 2018Last updated
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Five of the best cultural wonders

From ancient libraries to forgotten temples, Karina Sharma picks the most atmospheric historical must-sees and architectural marvels from 
around the world

By Karina Sharma
13 Aug 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Source:Getty Images

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

As the largest monument in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Angkor, and one of the grandest religious complexes in the world, Angkor Wat is truly a bucket-list destination. Used as a location in the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie, there’s something otherworldly about these well-preserved relics of 12th-century Khmer architecture. Get there early to avoid the crowds and drink in the eerie atmosphere of these 100-plus stone temples, many of which are being slowly strangled by sci-fi-looking ficus strangulosa tree roots.

Need to know

Flights from Dubai to Siem Reap via Hong Kong start from Dh3,345 return with Cathay Pacific. A one-day pass for Angkor is Dh69 and the three-day version is Dh147.

 Library of Celsus, Turkey

Library of Celsus, Turkey

Built in AD 117 to commemorate the early second-century governor of Asia Minor, Celsus, this library is 
one of the few Roman ruins found outside Italy. As well as being a marvel of history, it’s an architectural curiosity; the convex facade and fluctuation in column widths (which are larger in the middle than at the end) create an optical illusion to make the building appear even larger than it is. Underneath the main hall is the sarcophagus of the library’s namesake, while at the main entrance stand the virtues of Celsus – four statues symbolising wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and valour. Situated within the ruins of Ephesus – an ancient Greek city 3km south-west of present-day Selçuk in Izmir, Turkey – this is an awe-inspiring sight for culture vultures.


Need to know

Flights from Dubai to Izmir with Turkish Airlines from Dh1,153 return.

Tours of Izmir through Otti Travel from Dh217 per person, with 2.5 hour drive to and from Ephesus and 1.5 hour guided walking tour. www.ottitravel.com/7/info/private-tours.htm

Valley of Kings, Egypt

Valley of Kings, Egypt

The Valley of Kings just west of the Nile River is captivating. Although the pyramids are the burial site of the Old Kingdom’s pharaohs, the New Kingdom pharaohs are buried in the hills of Luxor. Divided into the East and West Valley, 63 elaborate tombs of Egyptian kings and elites have been discovered, including King Tut’s, but archeologists speculate that there might be even more hidden in the valley. The tombs were ornately decorated with religious images and texts and filled with goods that were to aid the deceased’s journey into the afterlife. Although some were ransacked by treasure hunters, many are still preserved. Be prepared for the desert heat but make sure you stay for the sunset view!

Need to know

Return flights from Dubai to Luxor from Dh3,475 with Egyptair. Stay at the Sofitel Pavilion Winter Luxor from Dh296 per night.

 Ajanta Caves, India

Ajanta Caves, India

So we’ve all heard of the Taj Mahal as the top cultural site to visit in India, but south-west of this tourist hotspot in Agra, about 105km away from Aurangabad, is a forgotten wonder just as magnificent. Hidden in the mountains of Ajanta, these 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments date back to the second century BC but were obscured by jungle until the 19th century, when a British officer stumbled on them during a hunting trip. Ornately decorated, the paintings and sculptures inside the caves are said to mark the beginning of classical Indian art. Explore this amazing site to soak up a calm, meditative atmosphere – but avoid the months of March-May when humidity is at its worst.

Need to know

Flights from Dubai to Aurangabad via Mumbai from Dh1,435 return with Air India.

Leshan Giant Buddha, China

Leshan Giant Buddha, China

China has the world’s tallest stone buddha. At a towering 71m, a width of 28m, and with 5.5m-long eyebrows, the Leshan Giant Buddha lives up to its name. Carved into the cliffs of Mount Emei, this statue is one of Buddhism’s holiest sites. Its creation was originally led by a monk in order to calm the choppy surrounding rivers, and its purpose was met when the rocks falling during construction slowed the currents. How they built this almost 1,200 years ago is a mystery, but get the ultimate workout of the year by climbing the hundreds of steps to the top. Sitting on the buddha’s smallest toenail is the perfect photo opportunity, but be prepared for the ultimate photography test: trying to fit the entire statue into your photo!

Need to know

Flights to from Dubai to Chengdu via Bangkok with Thai Airways from Dh2,395 return. A two-day Viator tour of the Giant Buddha and surrounding area, with a night at a nearby monastery, from Dh1,304.

Travel news

GCC resident discount in the Maldives

GCC residents and nationals booking a stay at the boutique resort Baros Maldives will receive a 25 per cent discount. With a variety of water villas on offer and pristine sandy beaches, see www.baros.com to find out more.


Staycation offer at Grosvenor House

For those of us staying in the UAE over the summer, Grosvenor House has an impressive weekend package on offer, including one night’s stay, beach and pool access, and brunch at either Toro Toro or Sloane’s for Dh600 per person. Valid until September 12. www.grosvenorhouse-dubai.com


Luggage

Bag your travel insurance

Italian luggage brand Carpisa will insure your suitcase on all your flights and refund you in case of loss anywhere in the world, up to a maximum of €199 per suitcase. Insurance policies can be activated free of charge within the first month of purchasing a Carpisa suitcase. For details see www.carpisa.it/en/carpisa.-the-insured-suitcase.html.

By Karina Sharma

By Karina Sharma