Our modern world has amazing sights that even the most visionary thinkers could not imagine a mere century ago. In contrast, there still exist places with buildings and monuments that are hundreds of years old and demonstrate craftmanship and artistry that you could never recreate today.

My wife and I have been fortunate to have visited some of these places over the last 20 years. Here is a sampling of 4 of them, all UNESCO World Heritage sites.

NOTE to readers: Some of the pictures below are small. To see a larger more detailed image, right click to save in a new tab and then open the tab.

Angor Wat

Angor Wat, just outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia, refers to both the central temple and the entire complex of several temples. It is the largest religious site in the world covering 402 acres. We visited in 2002 when about half a million people visited each year. Prior to Covid that number had increased to 2.6 million. We were there in April, before the tourist season, so it was not overly crowded.

The central temple was built over 28 years in the early 12th century. It was a Hindu temple. Later, other monuments were built including the Bayon and Angor Thom and the religion moved from Hinduism to Buddhism by the end of the century. The site was then abandoned for reasons that are not known. Over the years some people did visit but the site was gradually reclaimed by the jungle.

In 1860, with the help of French missionary Father Charles-Émile Bouillevaux, the temple was effectively rediscovered by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot. He brought attention to this amazing area in a publication in which he wrote:

“One of these temples, a rival to that of Solomon and erected by some ancient Michelangelo, might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”



A temple with roots growing over it

In the 20th century, the site was gradually reclaimed from the jungle and restored. Of course, no work was done during the Cambodian civil war but it resumed slowly afterwards, once numerous mines were removed. Even in 2002, it was forbidden to go anywhere off the site due to unexploded mines.

We spent 3 full days in the area. We would start at sunrise and end at sunset with a few hours break in the middle of the day because it was very hot. We also took a half day boat trip on Lake Tonie Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. There are numerous boats serving all kinds of functions from floating bars to “stores” selling everything. It is an enormous floating village, much larger than the floating market in Bangkok.

My daughter, Tara, with one of the
many Buddha images at the Bayon

This was taken about 7 am before the crowds arrived.
Her dress was custom made in Vietnam which
we had visited before coming to Cambodia.

Angor Wat at sunrise

My recommendation is allow three days and use a guide with a car and, if allowed, go for sunrise shots of Angor Wat and then scoot over to the Bayon which will, hopefully, be almost deserted. It is so much better early in the morning with a little mist rising and no people.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu in Peru is much smaller than the other places covered in this article and there are no huge temples but it is incredibly picturesque and it is surrounded by mountains making one wonder how it could have been built in such a remote location on a mountain ridge 8,000 feet above sea level. Archaeologists believe it was built as a royal estate by the Inca ruler Pachacutec in 1420. The site was abandoned in 1530 at the time of the Spanish conquest. While the local people always knew it was there, it was only rediscovered and popularized by historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. He was looking for the Inca capital and locals took him to Machu Picchu.


Visitors usually stay at Cusco which has a higher altitude than Machu Picchu and acclimatize for a couple of days. Energetic hikers can take a 4 day walking tour to the site arriving at sunrise. We took the train. From the train station you take a bus up to the entrance. You can stay in the small town of Aguas Calientes at the end of the train line or at the luxury hotel, Sanctuary Lodge, right at the entrance. The advantage of staying at the hotel right beside the entrance is that you can stay at the site till sunset and arrive at sunrise. Most visitors leave at 3pm to take the last bus/train and arrive at about 10:30 when the first train/bus arrives. We had the site almost all to ourselves after 3pm and before 10:30am. I also suggest a guide. We booked one after we arrived at our hotel.


Tikal is the ruins of an ancient Mayan city dating back to 4th century BC but it reached its apogee between 200 and 900 AD. It is in a rainforest in Guatemala. Guatemala at the time (2009) was not the safest country and that may still be true today. We were visiting Belize and took a small plane to Guatemala and then public transit to a hotel close to Tikal. We took a guide and spent the whole next day touring the site with very few other tourists around.

Smallest plane we have ever been on

On the plane going there we had only one other couple with us. On the one going back we were alone with the pilot and the plane was not much bigger than a small car.

Doris, the co-pilot

With my wife as co-pilot, what could possibly go wrong?


On the flight back the pilot pointed down and circled some other small ruins in the middle of the jungle. I later deduced that it was Yaxha, the site where a season of Survivor had been shot.


Hampi is located in southern India and is really off the beaten path. It can only be visited in the dry winter season and is about 10 hours by train or car from any major city. We were visiting India and had a car and driver so we drove. While 10 hours is a long drive, the sights of people along the road, farming, milling wheat, selling and so on was fascinating. We stayed in the best place in the area which was a modest 2 star “resort” with 16 cottages. It was called Hampi’s Boulders. The entire area over a great distance is full of boulders of all sizes. When got close our driver called to find out how to get there. They sent someone on a motorcycle and he led us through a cornfield.


The next morning the hotel driver took us to a river crossing where we took a small boat across to the main temple called, Virupaksha. It happened that the day we were there was a Hindu holiday and the temple ruins were packed with pilgrims. However, after visiting we continued on the main ancient street lined with ruins of old shops and at the end we arrived at another temple and met our driver who took us to other key sites. Aside from the main temple we managed to stay ahead of the tour groups.

The area around Hampi had people living there from about 200 BC but the development of the monuments, temples and villages that we see today date back to the 14th century. By 1500 AD the city was the second largest in the world after Beijing.

A final request

As always, allow me to ask you to forward/share this article with those who might be interested and urge them to subscribe. My blog is free and will never have advertising but unless enough people get others to subscribe, it will be hard to get a critical mass. Hundreds of you are already on my mailing list but thousands would be much better.

1 Comment

  1. Bill, you are as Bright and Insightful as you were when we first met 65 years ago. Doris is OK as the Co-Pilot as long as you were not the Pilot. Luv your articles. Allan

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Picture of Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Steinberg has a BSc from McGill University, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, and was a professor at Concordia University. He was Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years and led the demerger battle. He was was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and is currently President of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association.

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