This introductory chapter argues that ruins have not only been an important type of historic site in Southeast Asia but also the preeminent cultural symbol for the region for well over a century. Southeast Asia possesses a wide range of heritage sites and other places with claims to heritage status. Some of these fall under the World Heritage Convention; others have national or local recognition. Many other sites, as well as traditional practices, from cooking to dance and song, are worthy of notice and promotion. The striking thing about the region's city and temple ruins, however, is how long they have held a special place in the world's imagination. Thus, the chapter examines how these ruins captivate tourists the world over, and how the colonial and postcolonial attitudes toward ruins and heritage sites have sparked considerable debate, adding another layer of complexity to Southeast Asia's cultural capital.
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