Asia is the globe’s most enormous continent, both in terms of population size and land mass. It’s incredibly diverse, home to some of the oldest civilisations on earth, and bursting with incredible landscapes, sights and cultures. Travelling in Asia always brings me immense joy and there are so many tips I can share. Here I’ve narrowed down my selection of the best places to visit in Asia to just 10 – I hope it inspires you for your next trip!
Best places to travel in Asia
From the outstanding Jewel-Changi Airport, which is widely acknowledged as the best in the world, to the mesmerising sites of the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore has a remarkable amount to offer. It’s a great first introduction to Asia, if you’ve not been before, and indeed one of the best places to visit in south-east Asia full stop.
Singapore was part of the British Empire until 1965 and there’s definitely still a colonial feel. But what you’ll really be struck by now is the modernity and intensity of this financial hub. It is fun, it’s energising and there’s lots to see and do.
If you’re looking for quintessential Asian beaches, then Singapore won’t tick that box easily (although there are few at Sentosa Island). However, here you’ll find coastal fun by the bucket loads, themed attractions and some mighty and lush rainforests. Indeed, Singapore is growing its reputation as being a place for thrill-seekers, with places such as Universal Studios Park.
As mentioned, Gardens by the Bay – which is a 100 hectare natural park, is well worth a visit. It even boasts the largest glass greenhouse in the world. It’s a truly remarkable place to explore. While in Singapore, I highly recommend having dinner on the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel – it’s not cheap but it’s definitely a bucket list item. Oh and you can’t leave without having the iconic cocktail, a Singapore Sling!
2. Mount Fuji in Japan
Pinning down just one part of Japan to make this list has been a tough call, but there’s a reason that Mount Fuji is so iconic. Undoubtedly, one of the best places to go in Asia is Mount Fuji with its World Heritage List status and place in Japan’s heart as a holy site.
Mount Fuji is actually an active volcano, even though it hasn’t erupted since 1708. It’s absolutely strikingly beautiful to see in person, and I really recommend hiking one of the four routes to the summit (whilst stopping off for photos, teahouses and shrines).
At the base of Mount Fuji you absolutely must walk through Aokigahara, The Suicide Forest. It may sound ominous but there’s nothing quite like this place on earth. The ground is hardened lava and the forest is dense, with various ice caves dotted around. The result is a landscape which really permeates the soul.
My top tip is to time your visit to Mount Fuji with the spring cherry blossom – it’s an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list!
I’ve written before about Langkawi, a stunning island hugging the coast of mainland Malaysia. As I said then; it is most definitely one of my favourite places and certainly one of the best places in Asia to put on your itinerary.
What makes Langkawi so special to me is that it is Malaysia’s more chilled out and laid back little sister, even though most of the year it’s got quite a lively vibe. Evenings on the beach here will be some of the most memorable you ever have. A sunset catamaran cruise, complete with on board BBQ, drinks and music will lodge itself in your heart as one of your most cherished travel experiences.
The weather here is intense. Humidity rises up and peaks in outstanding lightning displays. One of my favourite memories is ambling along the beach, gentle waves lapping at my feet, with a thunderstorm gathering steam around me.
Other Langkawi highlights include visiting mangrove swamps, riding the SkyCab (cable car) over the dense forest below before walking along the Sky Bridge, beach time and being awed by the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls.
4. Kathmandu, Nepal
For something completely different, take a trip to the top of the world in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. Start point for Everest expeditions, this city is aptly known as the City of Temples and here you’ll be on the front line of Buddhism meeting Hinduism in an intense and eclectic melting pot.
There’s so much to do and experience here that you’ll have to settle for some highlights, unless you’ve got a month or so to spare. Importantly, the World Heritage Site of Boudhanath is worth your attention. Then there’s Swayambhu which is one of the oldest Nepalese temples and home to some cheeky, and somewhat over-confident holy monkeys.
If you’ve got time, Nepal is the place to head into the Himalayas and experience jaw-dropping vistas and memorable hikes, even if scaling Everest is a little out of your league. If hiking isn’t your thing, there are loads of different ways to experience the Himalayas. For example, you can take a flight on a small plane.
Bangkok is a capital city that is competing with itself for attention. You can bustle about on a tuk tuk, visiting sights such as the magnificent temples of Wat Arun or Phra Nakhon; the holy sites of this city are truly awe-inspiring. But then comes night time, the vibe shifts a gear and all of a sudden the place comes alive with a pounding nightlife and vibrant street markets. Indeed, you don’t actually need to plan to ‘do’ anything at night in Bangkok. Simply just be there, and it’s enough.
Other things I really recommend are Chatuchak Weekend Market for an overwhelming onslaught of your senses, the Grand Palace (just because it has to be done and frankly is amazing), and of course a relaxing Thai massage. Want more ideas of what to do in Bangkok? Check out my guide to 10 quirky things to do in Bangkok.
6. Hoi An in Vietnam
As with Japan, it’s hard to pick just one place in Vietnam rather than simply pop the whole country on my list! However, I’m going to force you off the main tourist trail here and send you to Hoi An as one of the best places to travel to in south-east Asia.
This ancient city is relatively unknown and yet it’s a remarkable place to go. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its history has amounted due to it being one of the longest-standing trading ports in the whole of Asia. As such, Hoi An is dotted with old timber framed buildings nestled alongside bright shutters which themselves sit under Chinese tiled roofs. It’s quite an impressive site to say the least.
However, you need to time your visit to Hoi An with one of the Lantern Festivals which are held every full moon. It’s indescribable to witness as all of the electric lights in the Ancient Town area are switched off before lanterns and candles are lit in their place, including floating on boats on the river.
7. Phi Phi Islands in Thailand
If you have in mind quintessential towering rocks, blue seas and golden sand beaches, then the Phi Phi Islands are for you. As I explain in my ultimate Phi Phi Islands travel guide, I actually recommend hopping over to the islands from Phuket or Krabi, unless it is the intense hedonistic tourist vibe you’re after.
However, don’t let the tourist mecca put you off. These six islands are well worth a visit, and there’s plenty to do, see and experience apart from other tourists drinking their gallons of potent Thai cocktails on the largest of the islands, Phi Phi Don – hence they’ve made my list of the best place to visit in Asia!
If I had to pick just one island to visit, it’d be Koh Phi Phi Leh, which is the second largest of the islands. This is actually uninhabited apart from a handful of rangers. This island is home to the immersive Hat Nopharat Thata-Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park. However, what you’re probably really looking for is Maya Bay – the beach made famous by Leonardo Di Caprio in the movie, The Beach.
Maya Bay is every bit as beautiful as you would expect it to be. The white sand flows through your toes, the crystal clear azure blue waters beckon you, and the lush tropical vegetation envelops the whole view. Here’s the place to go snorkelling, explore caves, wonder at rock formations and even go diving if that’s your thing.
8. Angkor Wat in Cambodia
It’s iconic, it’s synonymous with the Far East, and it’s the largest religious monument in the world, but it doesn’t fail to disappoint: Angkor Wat is everything you’d expect it to be and more. Again, this is a bucket list once-in-a-lifetime trip. But for the full wonder, make sure you visit at sunrise and/or sunset. It’s the juxtaposition of light with the eerie ethereal silence that ensures a unique experience.
Make sure you take advantage of a tour as there’s simply so much history to explore here that it’s impossible to get your head round without an expert.
Whilst you’re here, in the Siem Reap area, there’s more to do aside from ancient temples galore (as if that isn’t enough given it covers 160 hectares!). You can experience the local jungle and the abundance of wildlife within, or enjoy experiences such as jeep trekking. Make sure you also leave some time for immersing yourself in Siem Reap with its crazy mix of French and Chinese architecture. Enjoy a croissant as you amble through a rice paddy. It’s something you won’t forget!
9. Hong Kong
Hong Kong has been making it into our headlines for some not-so-great reasons over the last few years, but if you want to experience a different taste of Asia then I urge you to make room for a trip here.
A tiny little island butting up against mainland China, Hong Kong is full to bursting with people, buildings, vibrancy and interest. Yes you can expect to be overwhelmed by skyscraper after skyscraper, but that’s part of the joy of this stunning city.
If being in amongst the hustle and bustle is a little too intense, then head out to Victoria Harbour or up to the top of Victoria Peak, and you’ll get astounding views without quite so many people jostling around you.
Then there’s the fact that Hong Kong is all about juxtapositions. On one hand you’ve got the thrills of Ocean Park and Disneyland, before diving into the nightlife of the Lan Kwai Fong district. On the other you can hop over to Lantau Island, grab a push bike, and visit the spiritual site of the Tian Tan Buddha who stands at a portly 34m high.
10. Jaipur in India
Finally, I have to shoehorn in at least one Indian location or this list would be far from complete. Whilst most people will automatically think of Mumbai, or the capital Delhi, I’d encourage you to ensure Jaipur is on any Indian adventure you undertake.
In fact, Jaipur is really quite different from India’s other major cities, not least because of its pink hue, owing to the colour of the stone. But what catches your breath in Jaipur is the artistry all around you. The architecture is simply incredible, but then the creative vibe hops off the buildings and into everything else too from textiles to exquisitely coloured street food.
A major site in Jaipur worth visiting is the Jal Mahal Palace, which sits resplendently in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, making for incredible photographs no matter what time of day you visit.
Whilst in the area, make sure you visit Galtaji – a complex of temples surrounded by sacred water pools. The marble and red sandstone Amer Fort is a must-do. And you’ll want to see the world’s largest stone sundial at Jantar Mantar.
Of course, there’s no way I can complete a list of the best places to visit in Asia in just one article. However, I hope that this diverse sampling encourages you to find out more about whichever region has piqued your curiosity.