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Lonely Planet’s travel community recently got together to rank 500 of the world’s greatest sights – discover some of the top finishers from the vote right here


When all the votes were counted, it was clear that the number-one sight in Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate Travelist’ had won by a landslipe. So, how did Angkor Wat do it? Even in a region as gifted with temples as Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat is something out of the ordinary: an image of heaven on Earth, hewn from thousands of stone blocks and carved foor-to-ceiling with legends from Hindu epics. Even better, Angkor Wat is the crowning glory in a complex of more than a thousand Hindu and Buddhist temples, shrines and tombs that forms a virtual city of spires in the jungles of Cambodia. International fights drop into nearby Siem Reap, so it’s hard to describe Angkor as ‘undiscovered’, yet every visitor who steps among the ruins, where tree roots tear through ancient walls and the heads of forgotten deities poke out from between the vines, feels like an adventurer peeling back the foliage for the first time. Few experiences can match arriving at the ruins of the Bayon at dawn and watching dozens of benevolent stone faces appearing slowly out of the mist like heavenly apparitions. Angkor Wat itself is a massive representation of the sacred Mt Meru, executed with such grace that it might have been made in the presence of the divine. Travellers feel similar emotions when exploring the overgrown 12th-century ruins of Ta Prohm (pictured). Angkor is a powerful reminder of the ambitions of human creativity, and the very Buddhist realisation that nothing material is eternal, and that given time, all will be reclaimed by the jungle.


Second place in our list goes to a natural wonder stretching for more than 1,500 miles up the northeastern coast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef hardly needs an introduction. But here are some facts: this is the world’s largest network of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish. Some 30 kinds of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been spotted here, along with six species of sea turtles and 17 kinds of sea snake. If that doesn’t convince you to make the trip to Oz, there’s this: the reef may not be around for much longer, at least in its present state of glory. Rising sea temperatures have been bleaching and killing the coral, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. But for now, the reef is a psychedelic underwater playground for divers and snorkellers. Even above the surface, and closer to the Queensland coast, this vital ecosystem enthrals all who visit, with abundant bird life found on its countless tropical islands and beaches.


Just a handful of votes separates the second and third spots in the list. But they could not be more different. Gawping down at Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate after a four-day hike along the Inca Trail is a rite of passage for travellers to Peru. But it’s not the outrageously dramatic Andean setting, nor the way that the ancient Inca city clings to impossibly precipitous slopes that makes Machu Picchu so mind-blowing – it’s the fact that no-one really knows what happened here. There are theories aplenty – from royal retreat and temple for virgins, through to alien landing pad – but they remain just that. Theories. Today, you can wander wide-eyed around the mountain metropolis in a liberating knowledge vacuum, forming your own ideas.


Every country has its must-see monument; in China, that monument covers a signifcant part of the country. The Great Wall of China is not just one wall but an awe-inspiring maze of walls and fortifcations stretching for more than 13,000 miles across the rugged landscape of the north of the country. Constructed in waves over more than a thousand years, the Great Wall ultimately failed in its objective of keeping barbarian hordes out of China, but it became the defning symbol of the Ming Empire, which ruled the country between 1368 and 1644. It’s a myth that you can see the Great Wall from space, but when confronted by the sight of this endless structure stretching off into infnite distance, it seems almost impossible that this wouldn’t be true. A few rugged souls trek the entire length of the wall, but even if you pick just one section, you’ll be humbled by its aura of indestructibility. Which part you choose to explore depends on whether you’re after imperial grandeur (the sections nearest Beijing, such as Jinshanling, pictured), military precision (in Gansu) or timeless desolation (in Inner Mongolia).

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