7 Most Fascinating Asian Battle Sites

War is a horror.

There is no sense in glorifying war, or idolizing those poor souls unfortunate enough to find themselves on the battlefield.

Battle sites are not hallowed ground. In fact, one of the most striking things about visiting battle sites is their eerie sense of normalcy – the ease with which the earth shrugs off the stain of war.

But travelers have a responsibility to confront the legacy of warfare, to bear witness, and to affirm the value of peace.

Let us always remember.

1) Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia, is the gateway city to the majestic temples of Angkor.

The name Siem Reap means “Thai Defeat” in commemoration of the Cambodian victory over an invading Thai army in the 14th century.

Many of the Angkorian temples feature elaborate stone carvings that depict battle scenes in exceptional detail.

As one of the richest cities in the ancient world, Angkor was attractive to invading armies, and was also the scene of bloody rivalries between rival Khmer princes and kings.

Stone carvings of 14th century battles at Angkor by Soham Pablo

2) Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam

Dien Bien Phu was the site of a major victory by nationalist Vietnamese forces over the French army in 1954.

The town is located high in the misty mountains of northern Vietnam, near the border with Laos. Even today it is hard to get to, at the end of a long and winding road.

For the French soldiers who defended the doomed garrison, surrounded by a determined enemy in the last days of the siege, Dien Bien Phu must have felt like the last and loneliest place in the world.

French soldiers defending their doomed garrison in a hill bunker by Tom Winker

3) Plain of Jars, Laos

From 1964 until 1973, the United States dropped the equivalent of a planeload of bombs on Laos every nine minutes.

Many of those bombs fell on the remote Plain of Jars in the north-central highlands, where a Hmong army funded by the CIA and led by the legendary General Vang Pao fought a brutal civil war against communist forces.

Incredibly, this massive bombardment and vicious ground war was kept secret from the American people.

Bomb craters litter the Plain of Jars, as do unexploded cluster bombs, which continue to maim many people each year.

If you visit, be sure to check out the work of MAG and COPE, two NGOs that deserve support for their work in Laos.

Bomb craters litter the Plain of Jars, Laos by Peverus

4) Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa, a tropical island chain in southernmost Japan, is one of the most laid-back places in Asia.

The Okinawa diet is supposedly one of the healthiest in the world, although when I visited I lived mostly on a dish called goya champuru – scrambled eggs, fried spam, and slices of a bitter green vegetable.

At the end of World War II, however, Okinawa was anything but laid-back.Having island hopped across the South Pacific, American forces confronted  over one hundred thousand determined Japanese soldiers, who were dug into the limestone cliffs of the island.

The Battle of Okinawa lasted for 82 days in the spring of 1945, and was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War.

An idyllic island with a bloody past by Guwashi999

5) Putao, Myanmar

I desperately want to visit Putao, a town in Kachin State, deep in the mountains of northernmost Myanmar.

Putao is the last town before the Himalayas rise up to the Tibetan plateau, and is within sight of the 19,000 foot Hkakabo Razi peak.

From 1942 through 1944, British soldiers fought a rearguard battle against the Japanese Imperial Army in Kachin State, aided by local Kachin tribespeople and a small American force known as the Kachin Rangers.

Putao was the only place in Southeast Asia where the Union Jack flew throughout the war.

Today, Kachin State is the scene of a standoff between the military of Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Army, whose soldiers are pictured below.

Fighting continues between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar military. Photo by fredalix

6) Korean DMZ

The demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea is one of the most heavily armored strips of land in the world.

Incredibly, it’s usually possible for foreign tourists to visit the DMZ on daily guided tours.

Although the Korean War might feel like ancient history, a trip to the DMZ is a reminder that the conflict is very much alive.

When the North launched artillery shells into the South in the Fall of 2010, the shock-waves had governments trembling from Beijing to Washington DC.

Tourists visiting the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea by yeowatzup

7) Hiroshima, Japan

Is Hiroshima a battle site?

Was the blinding flash of the atomic bomb on August 7th, 1945, a battle? An act of war? Or simply an atrocity – a brief moment when hell appeared on earth?

These are important questions, and I don’t have the answers.

Go to Hiroshima. Go to the Atomic Museum. Go to the Peace Park. Find a quiet place within yourself, and consider the capacity of humankind.

Consider the capacity of humankind at Hiroshima. Photo by monkist

Have you visited any of these Asian battle sites? What impression did they leave on you?

If you liked this, you might also like: 7 Most Advanced Ancient Civilizations in the World

Main image – Korean War refugee, Wikipedia Commons

5 thoughts on “7 Most Fascinating Asian Battle Sites”

  1. Great article, thanks; gives me a list of fascinating places to see next.

    A couple of other sites from SE Asia some would be interested in would include Parit Sulong in southern Malaysia, where a massacre of 145 wounded soldiers occurred in January 1942, and the Alexandra Hospital in Singapore where perhaps 300 patients and orderlies were massacred in Feb 1942.

    Not strictly a battlefield, but well worth a visit for anyone interested in military history is Hellfire Pass in Kanchanaburi, northwestern Thailand. This has become the iconic symbol for the POWs who built the bridge on the River Kwai and the Thai-Burma Death Railway (all the clues are in the latter name!) where over 100,000 perished in the making of the 415km railway connection.

  2. I visited Siem Reap and besides seeing Angor Wat, I took a motorbike to the nearby villages, and visited the most delightful people living pretty much the same way for the past several hundred years. I also saw too many people with missing limbs as the result of still live land minds. A small make shift war-museum in town donates money to land mine extraction. I encourage everyone to visit. I also crawled through a portion of the Củ Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. I was only down these hot, dusty, narrow tunnel for 15 minutes. How the heck did the Vietnamese stay there for years!? It is sobering to visit a war site, or a war museum, such as the War Remnants Museum, in Ho Chi Min City. Seeing actual torn-up weapons, and photos of the dead, scared, and suffering may help us think twice before reacting with hostility. Thanks, John R.

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