Best Places to Visit in Asia
Researching great destinations for Asian travel is like listing the number of species of fish in Australia’s Barrier Reef – there are SO many places that are worthy of a visit! However, there is a significant overlap in the opinions of those who have traveled to Asia as to which destinations are the best (not always the most popular or famous.)
- Hong Kong is close to the top of everyone’s list as there are so many things to see and do. Take a ride on the Star Ferry in Victoria Harbour to enjoy the fantastic view of Hong Kong’s skyline – then ride the tram up to Victoria Peak for a bird’s eye view of this vibrant city. The view is especially impressive at night. Ride the “Ding-Ding” tram through the backstreets to get a real feel for the city and its people. Visit the Wai Tong Sing Temple – a place of worship for three different religions, Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Unless you’re traveling with kids, you can skip Disneyland (this is China for heaven’s sake!) but visit the Ocean Park theme park to see the pandas. Visit the Hong Kong Museum of History to learn about the long list of Chinese dynasties and the eventual British colonization of the island. Ride the Central-Mid Levels escalator, the longest outdoor escalator in the world and a good way to get around the city for free! Have your picture taken by the Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery. One of the main reasons people visit Hong Kong is to shop, and there are plenty of places to do it! Stanley Market, Mong Kok Ladies Market, and Pacific Place are some of the most popular. These shopping areas are also loaded with small restaurants and bars where you can experience Chinese cuisine at its finest. Cultural experiences include lion and dragon dance parades, fireworks and light shows which enhance Hong Kong’s lively nightlife.
- Siem Reap, Cambodia is the home of the Angkor Wat Temple made world famous by the Tomb Raider film and games. Take the Grand Circuit Tour which includes other temples besides Angkor Wat and visit the Angkor National Museum for a deep dive into the archaeological history of the region. Visit the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake to get a feel for how the local people make their living as fishermen. Attend the Cambodian Circus for great entertainment including acrobatics and traditional dance and music reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. If you’re into the bar scene, try tuk-tuk bar hopping or a trip to Pub Street for live music.
- Follow the Golden Triangle path between Jaipur, New Delhi, and Agra. Each of these cities is well known for fabulous architecture, and because the monuments here are so famous, accommodations are plentiful, English is spoken everywhere and transportation is easy and affordable. In Jaipur, the “pink city,” visit the Amer Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Hawa Mahal, and the Royal Tombs at Gatore Ki Chhatriyan. The City Palace with its four unique gates is especially ornate and beautiful. In New Delhi you’ll find India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid, and the striking arches of the Red Fort. You can relax here in the Lodi Gardens and enjoy the spice bazaar at Khari Baoli. Humayan’s Tomb is believed to be the inspiration for the much larger Taj Mahal. The National Gallery of Modern Art is also located in New Delhi. Agra is probably the most visited of the three cities as it is home to the Taj Mahal, the temple known around the world as a monument to the world’s greatest love story. Other places to visit are the Agra Fort, the Itimad-Ud-Daulah (known as the “Baby Taj”), the Elephant Conservation Centre, and the Kinari Bazaar markets. Walking the market streets here is an experience in itself as the odd buffalo or working elephant can often be spotted making its way among the shoppers.
- Kyoto, Japan, strikes a perfect balance between modern conveniences and technology and reverence for the ancient traditions and history of the Japanese people. It is home to many temples and shrines, each with distinct characteristics. The Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) has three different floors, each with its own architectural design. The amazing rock garden at the Ryoanji Temple is popular with photographers as is the Kifune Shrine in Kibune Village where you can buy fortune telling paper that reveals your fortune when placed in the sacred pool of the water deity, Kami. The Torii at the Fushimi Inari Shrine welcome the visitor with over 10,000 brilliant vermillion gates that lead through forested areas to the top of the shrine. Other attractions include the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, the Nijo Castle, and the Monkey Park in Iwatayama, home to Japanese snow monkeys. Spend some time in Gion, the Geisha District, for a Kabuki show, shopping opportunities and excellent restaurants and teahouses.
- Getting away from destinations that seem to be overpopulated with tourists, Bhutan is one of the few places on earth that is virtually untouched by western culture – no Starbucks or KFC here! – the ancient culture and mysticism that is the hallmark of Bhutan is evidenced by the number of monasteries, temples and historic shrines that you will encounter. The most famous of these is the Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang) that perches on the side of a mountain near the city of Paro. Despite its remote location it is still a working monastery. Other highlights include the National Museum of Bhutan (also in Paro), the massive golden statue of Buddha high above the city of Thimpu, and the Motithang Takin Preserve. The takin (Bhutan’s national animal) is a large goat-like beast that may have been the inspiration for the “golden fleece” of Greek mythology. Punakha is popular with outdoor enthusiasts and photographers. White water rafting on the Mo Chhu River can be challenging, and crossing the Punakha suspension bridge high above the river is a definite adrenaline rush! An unusual museum is the Chimi Lhakhang Temple, dedicated to phallic imagery designed to protect against evil spirits. The Jigme Dorji National Park is popular with bird watchers, as its wide range of mountain elevations make it attractive to a stunning variety of rare birds and other animals.
- Laos is another country that remains virtually unspoiled by western influence. The beautiful French colonial architecture in its cities contrasts with misty mountain peaks and dense jungles that contribute to its natural beauty. The Bokeo National Reserve is located along the Mekong River and was created to protect the rare black-cheeked gibbon. Visitors can enjoy guided hikes in the preserve to observe gibbons in their natural habitat, discover hidden caves and waterfalls, and enjoy breathtaking scenery. Accommodations are in the world’s highest treehouses, overlooking the jungle canopy. Visit the city of Luang Prabang where you can explore the Pak Ou Caves in the morning and take a bamboo weaving workshop in the afternoon. The hike to the top of Mount Phousi will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the city and the river below. Another scenic spot is the waterfall at Kuang Si Falls – a series of stunning turquoise falls that descend the hilly terrain and end in larger pools that beg you to jump in for a cooldown. The Vieng Xai Caves in northeastern Laos reveal the fascinating history of citizens who escaped bombing during the Secret War by living for years underground in total darkness.
- If all the sightseeing is beginning to wear you down, why not spend a few days at the beach? One great spot that hasn’t yet been invaded by tourists is Pangkor Laut, Malaysia. Stay in an overwater bungalow and enjoy kayaking, snorkeling, diving and some fantastic sunsets on Coral Beach. Take a trek through the jungle to see the many hornbills and monkeys that favor the island. Visit the floating mosque, Masjid Al-Badr, and the garden maze at the Fu Lin Kong Temple. Visit one of the many fishing villages for a tasty meal of fresh-caught fish and a delicious bowl of nasi lemak (richly flavored rice). You can get around the island safely by scooter as there is very little traffic – ideal for a few days of relaxation.
If visiting Asia is on your bucket list, let Travel Leaders plan an itinerary for you that will give you a sense of the variety of cultures and interesting histories of the ancient countries of Asia.