Asia is a continent that offers something for everyone, from Thailand’s magnificent beaches to Beijing’s famed shopping districts and the temples of Hanoi, you’re practically guaranteed to discover your perfect destination.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap has been called the “perfect destination” for first time travelers to Asia. This capital city in northwestern Cambodia is easy to get around, and you’ll find attractions on nearly every corner, with friendly people, lots of history, culture, nightlife, museums, markets and opportunities for relaxing as well as taking part in adventurous activities. When the morning light washes across the temples and ruins of Angkor Wat, the city looks like a breathtaking painting come to life. Its ancient structures are found within one of the largest religious complexes in the world, with this complex and the 12 century Angkor Thom royal city, an expression of the true genius, considered the main reasons to visit. You can also get a fascinating lesson in national history at the Cambodian Cultural Village.
Beijing offers a vibrant mix of modernity and history, and as China’s capital for over 800 years, it’s also home to some of the finest remnants of the country’s imperial past. Its wealth of history includes the ancient, such as the Ming Tombs, a mausoleum of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty; Forbidden City, The Great Wall, originally built between 220 and 206 BC by the first Emperor of China, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, as well as more recent relics like Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world, and Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. The city has several shopping districts offering a mind-boggling variety of goods. In addition to its traditional shopping districts, like Wangfujing Street and Qianmen Street, the lively outdoor markets should not be missed, though the Dirt Market offers the best experience as compared to the touristy Silk Market.
The charming Vietnamese capital is different than other Asian capitals as a graceful collage of cultural influences from the French and Chinese, yet still retaining local Vietnamese ways. It’s aged well, with the well-preserved Old Quarter, a maze of streets more than 1,000 years old set between the city’s famed Hoan Kiem Lake, the Red River and the few walls that remain of the Hanoi Citadel along with monuments and colonial architecture sitting alongside modern developments. Hanoi has not forgotten its past, as the only city in Southeast Asia with an embalmed leader on display – the body of Ho Chi Men lies preserved in a mausoleum, against his own wish to be cremated. Pretty parks, lakes, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of Hanoi, which can easily be explored by taxi.
Seminyak boasts some of the most glorious beaches in Bali along with legendary sunsets. It caters to those who are looking for a luxurious experience with numerous fashionable, upscale eateries and bars along with a sophisticated, laid-back atmosphere. While the smooth stretches of sand are the biggest draw, visitors are also enticed by the indulgent spas and practically endless shopping opportunities. The city seamlessly merges with Kerobokan, immediately to the north, with the many restaurants combining to give visitors some of the greatest variety of style and budget in Bali.
Bangkok is the perfect blend of old and new, East and West, along with the romance of the Chao Phraya River, which is intertwined with the city it flows through. Golden palaces, floating markets and magnificent porcelain-laid spires are just a few of the other reasons to visit. The Grand Palace is a must, as a compound of palaces and temples where you’ll discover Thailand’s most important relic, the Emerald Buddha, a fifteenth-century sculpture that’s actually made of jade. Unwind in the European-style gardens of Dusit after hitting up Siam Square or Pratunam for shipping and don’t miss visiting Phra Nakhon, which hosts the Wat Pho temple of the Reclining Buddha.
Shanghai is China’s largest city as well as its most cosmopolitan, providing the chance to experience the past, present and future all at the same time. It’s also the nation’s most prosperous city and one of its greatest economic and cultural centers. The Huangpu River splits it into two districts: Pudong and Puxi. The Pudong skyline looks like a scene from “The Jetsons,” with its bulbous Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower. On the Puxi side, stroll the Bund riverside district to get a taste of old Shanghai. As a sleepless city, you’ll find plenty to do after dark, including everything from night clubs and bars that are open until dawn, cinemas showing both Chinese and foreign films as well as theaters featuring dance, drama, opera, acrobatics and puppets. Shangai is a shopper’s paradise too, with a wide variety of shopping areas selling anything and everything imaginable.
In Tokyo, traditional collides with pop culture, offering everything from belting out a song at a karaoke bar to reverently wandering through ancient temples. While it’s chaotic, crowded and expensive, everything is incredibly clean and the people are extremely polite. “Cosplay” is popular among young people, and they often use it to pay homage to favorite anime, movie, or comic book characters, which means you’ll see some intricate and impressive ensembles, especially in the hip, edgier Harajuku District. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants here than in Paris – the food is fresh, rich, and delicious – indulge in as much sushi, udon noodles, and wagashi as your belly can handle.
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, is one of the world’s leading financial, banking and trading centers and a gateway between East and West. You’ll find amazing dim sum, floating islands and a one-of-a-kind skyline. Enjoy tea in the elaborate lobby of the Peninsula Hotel, accompanied by music from a string ensemble, view traditional Chinese architecture in Ngong Ping village and then take the tram to the top of Victoria Peak for unparalleled views. The city alsohas more than 200 offshore islands, like Lantau Island, which offers a rare glimpse into the life of rural Hong Kong. After dark, take in the real-life version of Disney’s Electric Light Parade, when Hong Kong skyscrapers come to life at 8 p.m. every night in a magical show set to a stirring soundtrack.
Filled with contrasts, in Taipei you’ll find peaceful parks encircled by hectic streets and traditional markets right next to some of the trendiest boutiques. It’s old enough to have a fascinating history, yet modern enough to get Wi-Fi coverage everywhere you go.Food lovers will be in heaven, as not only can you eat well, but you can eat very cheaply. Even in eateries that don’t exactly look sophisticated, you’ll find the quality of the food is superior and there are almost an overwhelming number of options. In addition to local Taiwanese dishes, you’ll find regional cuisines from across China along with outstanding Japanese, Indian and even Italian fare.
Singapore, with a cityscape that looks as if it was ripped right out of the pages of a sci-fi book, has become an economic powerhouse over the past half century, with a high standard of living and numerous reasons to visit. It’s considered a shopper’s paradise with its numerous malls, though it also offers magnificent architecture, culture and amazing public art along with a slice of horticultural heaven with its Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens. Many visitors come for the incredible food, with the melding of cultures, cuisine and natural beauty evident in every area of the city. Feast on nasi lemak, a Malaysian dish of coconut rise, anchovies, cucumber and chili paste; bak kut the, a clear Chinese soup cooked with pork ribs and five spices and even delectable British crumpets for tea.
The tranquility of the village of Ubud is a mecca for those who are looking to immerse themselves in nature and culture, with its unspoiled beauty and some of the best spas in all of Asia. Enjoy a famed Balinese massage, aromatherapy, acupressure or reflexology, and take in Ubud’s vibrant arts scene, with a number of fantastic museums and galleries. At nearby nature reserve Monkey Forest Park, you’ll find hundreds of mischievous long-tailed macaques.
Nalaikh, Mongolia and Terelj National Park
Terelj National Park in Nalaikh is less than 40 miles from Mongolia’s capital city and offers a glimpse into nomadic Mongolian life without having to journey for days over rough, unpaved road. While you can take a day trip, one of the best ways to experience it is by staying with a local family and sleeping in a traditional yurt dwelling known as a ger. From there, this vast, largely uninhabited region can be explored on horseback or on foot. Just a few minutes away, you can watch Mongolian cowboys herd their sheep and break wild horses.
Nepal’s capital is surrounded by a valley filled with practically an endless number of historic attractions – in fact, there are seven UNESCO world heritage sites here, including the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath, the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka, Patan and Bhaktapur, as well as the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan. Visitors can enjoy mingling with locals and animals among the monuments of Durbar Square or join mountain trekkers in the Thamel District and shop for cashmere, pashmina and wool scarfs, carpets and paper prints, created by local artisans. Don’t miss sampling the mouth-watering Nepalese dumplings while you’re here.
Hoi An, Vietnam
This city on the central Vietnamese coast is one of the coolest towns in Southeast Asia, with its center a national heritage zone, which means no motorized vehicles are allowed. Stroll the cobblestone streets lined with charming shops and cafés, lit with lanterns and loaded with history. Once a month, during the full moon, the town trades its electric lights for traditional colored lanterns, while performers and musicians fill the streets with song. Hoi An is also the home of some of the best tailors in the entire country – bring a photograph of something you like and they’ll whip it up for you in a matter of hours, at almost unbelievably cheap prices too.
Mumbai is not the place to go if you’re looking to escape crowds and chaos, but there are peaceful moments to be found and a number of other reasons to visit. Take a stroll across the sand at Chowpatty Beach, visit Mani Bhavan, once the home of Mahatma Gandhi. Sample the street food where you’ll find varied, spicy and delicious cuisine and delicacies on nearly every corner. Shopping is an adventure here – meander through the charming stalls bursting with beautiful embroideries and colorful silks to capture the magic of India. Taking a guided tour of Dharavi, made famous by the film “Slumdog Millionaire,” will provide a fascinating glimpse into what life is really like in Mumbai for the nearly one million people who live here.
Seoul is a lively, economic powerhouse, the business and cultural hub of South Korea. Here skyscrapers tower over Buddhist temples. From the N Seoul Tower, built atop a peak in Namsan Park, visitors can take in the entire scene. Enjoy incredible food, with nearly all ingredients locally grown, often featuring grilled cuts of beef and unlimited portions of side dishes, including soups, fresh vegetables and spicy sauces, all served at the table. You’ll also find a thriving nightlife, friendly people and a fascinating culture with a “work hard, play hard” mentality.
Thailand’s largest province has attracted tourists for centuries, as one of the major trading routes between India and China. Today, it’s the country’s premier vacation spot, particularly at Patong Beach, although the region has more than fifteen major beaches with idyllic white sands, all within close proximity to one another, making it easy to find the perfect spot.The glorious sunsets are some of the most magnificent in all of Southeast Asia, lingering long and lazily over the horizon. Coastal restaurants not only offer a breathtaking backdrop, but amazing including fresh-caught seafood, local vegetables, aromatic herbs and spices as well as homemade noodles.
Tiny Boracay Island is becoming an increasing popular tourist spot with Travel & Leisure readers voting it the second best island destination in the world. The center of it all is White Beach, a nearly three-mile picture-perfect stretch of sand lined with eateries, bars, hotels and dive shops. Hop aboard one of the many paraws (outrigger sailboats) to glide across the aquamarine waters. After watching an amazing sunset, you can enjoy live music and fire dancers twirling their batons – long into the night.