Heritage Unplugged: Malaysia’s Amazing UNESCO Heritage Sites

Heritage Unplugged: Malaysia’s Amazing UNESCO Heritage Sites
"Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to the future generations."

UNESCO In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted a treaty with its sole mission to conserve the world’s cultural and natural heritage. With it comes the concept of World Heritage and its unique universal application that this heritage belongs to all the peoples of the world irrespective of the territory on which they are located. By 2018, the total number of cultural and natural World Heritage Sites numbered over 840 and 200 respectively. And every year there are new nominations added on if they meet the strict selection criteria. Sites listed must develop management plans and adhere to strict guidelines to maintain integrity. Not surprisingly, sites have been delisted before.
"Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration."

UNESCO It has been said that heritage is like the fingerprints of a country. It identifies, and mirrors, the country's cultural, historical and natural DNA and may even be a crystal ball to its future. And Malaysia is no exception. Indeed, Malaysia is amongst the few Asian countries that have garnered recognition from UNESCO. To date, there are four World Heritage Sites in Malaysia. Two are classified as cultural and two as natural. Some may say it is actually five sites, as Georgetown and Malacca are listed under one category, as ‘Historical Cities Along the Straits of Malacca'. Let's take a brief tour of each of these Malaysian heritage legacies.

Malacca: The Living Museum of The Straits
Malacca was founded by Parameswara from Majapahit, around 1400. Since then it thrived as a major pit-stop along the spice route and has been the battleground for control of this trade route. First came the Portuguese, after their capture of Goa, with a 1,200- man fleet and capture Malacca in August 1511. Then the Dutch besieged it in 1641. The Anglo-Dutch treaty made Malacca a British colony for the exchange of Bengkulu in Sumatra in 1825.

Hence, Malacca had all the right ingredients of a melting pot of culture and history with this Portuguese, Dutch, English and also the early Chinese and local influence. The 15th century intermarriages between the local Malays and the Chinese traders resulted in a 'Baba Nyonya' Straits Chinese or Peranakan community that is still exists and unique to Malacca. This heritage of cultural and historical medley can be seen it religious buildings, streets, markets and even the food. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

George Town: The Gem on The Pearl of The Orient
George Town has been described as one of the most intact historical cities in Asia. Unlike Malacca, George Town had a more colonial British history. For those who think that it was named after Boy George here's a bit of historical fact. In 1786 , the island of Penang was renamed Prince Of Wales Island after the heir to the British throne and this new settlement, or town, was named George Town in honour of King George III.

Today , much of the island which is also known as the Pearl Of The Orient has evolved leaps and bounds, yet George Town, being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, is still the classic heritage gem. George Town is a hotspot for cultural buffs in search of well-preserved and intricately restored colonial shop facades lined along many still existing century-old streets criss-crossing the town. Conservation has been always a public impetus as it drives economic activities while ensuring that the town will remain a gem.

Lenggong Valley: Archaeological Haven
This cultural site was listed by UNESCO only in 2012. Discovered in the 1980s, it is a rich site of archaeological investigations till today. Situated along the Perak River valley, this unique Palaeolithic site covering an area of 399 hectares dates back 2 million years and is considered the oldest out of Africa where early man are found in a single locality. Hand axes found in the caves were amongst the oldest outside Africa. It was where South East Asia’s oldest complete human skeleton, the Perak Man, was discovered.

Gunung Mulu National Park: Pinnacles of Nature
Listed as a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, Sarawak's Gunung Mulu National Park is a massive 52,860 hectare (528.64 sqkm) of thick tropical rainforest in the hinterland of the island of Borneo. It is the most studied tropical karst area in the world, with 295 km of explored caves and its Sarawak Chamber is the biggest cave chamber on earth. The most distinctive and visible feature of this site is the haunting white and upright limestone pinnacles at Mount Api. Indeed, this site is an ecological warehouse. What have been found here is amazing! 20,000 species of invertebrates, 87 species of mammals, 8 species of hornbills, 28 species of bats ,25 species of snakes 270 species of birds and 55 species of reptiles. There’s surely more hidden in the caves.

Kinabalu Park: A Natural Ecosystem
Listed as a natural UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, this Sabah landmark is spread across 75,370 hectares of tropical rainforest of which 93% is still virgin. Here is the region’s highest peak, Mt Kinabalu; standing tall at 4,095m. This site is recognised for its exceptional naturally flourishing ecosystem that dates back 15 million years. This is the home of 1,000 species of orchids, 78 species of Ficus, 60 species of ferns and 326 species of birds. We wonder what lies beneath.

There is certainly a sense of identity, and continuity, when there is some heritage to uphold and for all to behold. When you are in Malaysia for your next business events, don’t leave for home without unplugging a slice of the country's rich heritage.
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