Asia is the largest continent both by area and population, and it’s home to so many wonderful places that it can be a real challenge to choose the right place to visit. Luckily, we’ve sent out a couple of passionate travellers to do some digging for you. Travel bloggers Alex Waltner and Christine Wedberg have trotted around Asia for three months and they came back with 25 of their best recommendations.
Bali is perhaps the closest place to paradise. It has beaches, surfing, diving, yoga retreats, hillside temples, scenic rice fields, traditional villages and mouthwatering food. It is truly a place where you’ll recharge your batteries.
Venture outside the tourist areas, stay with locals in a village and indulge in the spirituality.
Read more: an insider’s guide to Bali
Jeju Island, South Korea
A natural gem and a tropical island in South Korea? You might not think it’s possible, but Jeju Island is exactly that. It’s home to paradise beaches, canola fields, numerous waterfalls and an entire park plastered with statues representing the male reproductive organ. Yes, that’s not a joke. Also, make sure to taste the local hallabong, a seedless and very sweet type of orange.
Golden beaches and more islands than you can count are waiting here. Phuket is a very popular destination and you can pretty much find any touristic cliche in Phuket, but it’s still beautiful. With places like Phi Phi Islands, Hong Islands and white-sand beaches as far as the eye can see, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks there is plenty to see and experience here. If luxury hotels are what you’re looking for, you’ll find Phuket is rich in offerings.
For a taste of old Japan, go to Kyoto. Here you’ll see splendid temples like the gold leaf encrusted Kinkaku-ji, as well as stunning Zen gardens, welcoming teahouses and numerous torii gates marking the entrance to a temple.
Kyoto is also the heart of traditional artisanship and in historic Gion you’ll find specialty shops selling Japanese handmade paper, lacquerware and ceramics, copper teapots, kimonos, green tea, paper fans, woodblock prints … the list goes on. Alternatively, swing by the Kyoto Handicraft Centre and find a unique memento to take home.
Read more: discover Japan aboard the bullet trains
Sa Pa, Vietnam
In the northern part of Vietnam lies Sa Pa, a beautiful valley peppered with villages and lush rice paddies. Most travellers come here for the trekking. You can book guided tours according to hiking difficulty. Combine your trek with a homestay where you’ll get the chance to share a meal with the locals and visit their homes.
Few places in the world are as fascinating as Tokyo. The world’s largest city is perhaps not exactly what you imagine. Sure, there are some busy areas where you have to keep your wits about you, but you’ll find just as many calmer places rife with something new to experience. Robot cafes, Shinto shrines, narrow alleyways, megamalls, lantern-lit noodle bars, small handicrafts shops, gaming arcades, anime stores, Michelin-starred restaurants at every step – all in the same city.
If there’s only one place you can visit in Asia, put Tokyo at the top of the list.
Read more: explore the city with our complete guide to a week in Tokyo
Vietnam’s capital is a whirlwind of scooters, street vendors and locals zigzagging their way through the busy streets carrying freshly-picked fruit. The Old Quarter is a treasure chest of colonial architecture and you’ll quickly recognise the French influences. Spend some time away visiting the many temples and watch the world pass by from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hong Kong is one of East Asia’s most important financial hubs and a transition port from China to the rest of the world – and nowhere can this global identity be more visible than through its cuisine. Expect delicious concoctions mixing Cantonese, Sichuanese, Japanese and French traditions. No matter what you crave, you’re sure to find it in Hong Kong.
Hop on the double-decker city trams, stop at every market and sample everything from wonton noodles to stinky tofu.
You’ve probably heard some rumours about Bangkok’s street food – they’re all true. The flavours cover the entire palette: spicy, sour, sweet and salty and can be quite intense. All the regional Thai dishes are represented on the streets of Bangkok and with a bit of courage, you can make your way through some of the spiciest curries you’ve ever tried. Spend the evenings away enjoying the view from the many rooftop bars, visit old temples and simply soak up the vibes of a historic city that has turned into a metropolis that never sleeps.
Osakans are known to spend most of their money on food – there’s even a Japanese proverb that roughly translates “Dress into ruin in Kyoto, eat into ruin in Osaka”. Osaka takes food seriously and the vibrant area of Dotonbori is the perfect example. This place is where street food reaches new heights. People queue into the late hours of the night for takoyaki (small gooey balls of batter filled with octopus chunks), okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes made with wheat flour, eggs and yams served with various toppings) and kushikatsu (skewered, battered and deep-fried food).
Angkor Wat & Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is a must-see for most travellers coming to Cambodia, and it’s easy to understand why. Its sheer size is mind-boggling: it’s four times bigger than the Vatican. Combine the visit with a stop in Siem Reap, a backpacker haven filled with party pads, world-class dining, spas, local tours to fit every type of traveller, a vibrant nightlife and great shopping.
Most people come here for a layover, but it definitely deserves more credit as a destination. With a land mass two-thirds the size of Hong Kong, island city-state Singapore still manages to balance the concrete jungle with green spaces. Look up and spot the lush gardens on top or on the sides of skyscrapers. Just outside the city, you’ll find Singapore’s biggest green lung: the Unesco-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Nepal means Himalaya Mountains for most of us. This grandiose mountain range includes some of the world’s highest peaks, and major rivers like the Ganges and Indus rise in the Himalayas. Nagarkot is known as one of the best spots for Himalayan viewing directly from your hotel balcony. Located a mere 32km from Kathmandu, this village is packed with hotels lined along a ridge; this allows for some broad views of eight ranges, including Everest.
Seoul, South Korea
Home of K-pop, stylish boutiques and the latest technology trends, Seoul will keep you busy and provide a non-stop stream of impressions.
Over the last decade, the city has tried to move away from its industrial past and create more innovative recreational areas such as the eye-catching Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park, the new City Hall and the landscaped parks alongside the Cheong-gye stream and the Han River. Though the city has a clear modern feel, you can still find traditional temples and palaces such as the Bongeunsa Temple and the Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Read more: a guide to a week-long trip in Seoul
Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos is among the few places that still maintain the old traditions, and Luang Prabang with its gilded wats, saffron-robed monks and traditional Lao wooden houses set against a backdrop of soaring mountains is the perfect place to hide away from the world for a while. The practice of Buddhism is still widespread in this area and is seen as a way of life, not just a religion. If you’re interested, you can participate in a Tak bat ceremony where Buddhist monks collect alms in the morning.
This is the Japanese version of Hawaii. Even Pikachu wears a Hawaii shirt in the Pokemon store. Okinawa is a tropical island with beautiful beaches, palm trees, turquoise water and stunning coral reefs … the perfect setting for diving and surfing. Another treat is the mineral-rich salt that some believe to be the reason behind the longevity of the local population. Make sure to eat your dose of this wonder salt, perhaps in the form of an Okinawan delicacy: salt-flavoured ice cream.
Honeymooners have been visiting the Maldives for a long time, and there are some great reasons behind that. The beaches and water are out of this world. It can’t get dreamier than this. If luxury resorts are your kind of thing, the Maldives won’t disappoint you. Perfect white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and a colourful marine life … no matter which island you choose you’ll get all three. Every resort is its own private island and there over are 100 to choose from. The only problem you’ll face is trying to choose one.
Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
For a sand and beach break, try Koh Rong Island. Because of the pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters you could easily think you’re in the Maldives. The only difference is that you won’t see any overwater bungalows. Oh, and it’s visibly cheaper to visit. So what are you waiting for?
Pint-size Boracay Island might look small, but it packs no less than 13 beaches. White Sand is no doubt the most popular; if you’re looking for perfect sand and a beach party that goes on until the early hours of the morning, this is the perfect spot for you.
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Want to experience the old and genuine Thailand before tourism? In the northern part of the country that’s still possible to a certain point. While Chiang Rai is a favoured destination among tourists, you can still get a local feel. The night market, for example, is also frequented by locals, not just tourists. Prices are way lower than the south, and you can have a delicious meal for two for less than £2.
Cebu & Bohol, Philippines
If you’re looking for a bit of diving, kayaking, paddle-boarding and beach relaxation off and on the beaten path, Cebu and Bohol are your go-to places in the Philippines. Not to mention the opportunity to see one of the most adorable animals around – the wide-eyed tarsier.
A foodie paradise, Penang is one of Asia’s melting pots of eastern cultures. Its beating heart is George Town, a Unesco-listed site brimming with Chinese shophouses, churches, Indian shrines, Buddhist temples, mosques and grand British colonial architecture. Hire a trishaw peddler and take in a slice of this multicultural society.
Varanasi is one of the holiest places for Hindus and the Ganges is the spot where all pilgrims come to wash away their sins and cremate their loved ones. Visiting Varanasi is both spectacular and intense – the rituals of life and death happen in the public spaces, so come prepared to have all your senses challenged a bit. While this might sound a bit too real, remember that Varanasi is home to a wonderful yoga and vegan community – so if you’re looking for a bit of nurture for mind, body and soul, you’ll fall in love with Varanasi.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Rooftop pools and bars with grand views over the city…what’s not to like? Kuala Lumpur makes for a wonderful layover destination. Spend a couple of days browsing for designer bargains in the many megamalls and indulge in the delicious freshly cooked food at traditional kopitiam (coffee shops). Relax by the pool in the evenings and let it all sink in.
It’s no mystery why Kerala goes under the name “God’s own country”. Its dreamy backwaters take you through lagoons alongside palm groves, wildlife sanctuaries are home to elephants, exotic birds and even tigers, and the magnificent kathakali temple rituals combine music, dance and some extravagant costumes – just a few of the things that make this place something of a different world.
Add the flavours of cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger, and your holiday is complete.
Read more: a cross-country adventure from Goa to Kerala