When it comes to travel and tourist destinations, Asia has tons to offer. It would take you decades - I’m sure of this! - to thoroughly explore them all.
The unique cultures of each country, their respective exotic cuisines, and their natural attractions have kept visitors coming over and over again. Here are my top 10 suggestions for you to help discover some of the most amazing yet accessible destinations in Asia.
1. Tokyo, Japan
Japan has long been a highlight of Asian nations for Americans to visit, but during the last decade or so this popularity has exploded and, as a result, has grown to become far more accessible for you to discover.
Most visitors start in Tokyo, the country’s capital. It makes the most sense in terms of international flights but it's also an incredible experience to enjoy. Tokyo is a fusion of ancient tradition and modern technology.
You'll quickly see for yourself how the ancient traditions are so deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people, that despite their modern inventions they just can't overlook their rich history.
What’s amazing is that they are able to put forward both the old and new in their culture without ruining the other. And this is evident in their architecture, local work ethic, entertainment, and even in their cuisine.
Speaking of cuisine! Just as your eyes ravish on the wonderful sights and activities, you shouldn’t leave Tokyo without eating in an izakaya. Izakaya is a classic eating and drinking establishment, where you can have a sake (rice wine) paired with a bit of simmered tofu, braised pork, fried chicken and more. You can certainy find the most delicate sushi, but there's plenty more to Japanese dining than raw fish! Make sure you try it!!!
2. Seoul, South Korea
Brace yourself for an exciting and one-of-a-kind experience at every turn. The city is vibrant and dynamic. You’ll be amazed at how ancient tradition and modern developments co-exist well without losing the essence of the other, much like Tokyo but perhaps a little... grittier?
Historical buildings like the Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine, and the Changdeokgung Palace are a must-visit. Checking on the latest K-Fashion should also be on your list.
Fashion is now an important city culture just as today's biggest K-Pop Groups, like Big Bang and BTS, continue to make waves in the international stage. You must also try some or all of Seoul’s unique street foods, like the Ddeokbokki (Korean spicy rice cakes), Samgyupsal Gui (Grilled Pork Belly), Gogigui (Korean BBQ), Dakgalbi (Pan Fried Chicken), and Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup).
3. Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei is the capital and one of the most important municipalities of Taiwan. Deep ties with China are plainly evident although perhaps a bit strained as of late, Taipei has rather a character of its own and should be enjoyed completely separate from China.
It’s a bustling city, and yet you’ll be surprised to see a lot of green spaces in its midst. One of the most interesting places that you should visit is the Yangmingshan National Park. It’s not just an ordinary park, huh! Perhaps, it’s the only park in the world that is situated within a city limit anywhere which boasts of volcanoes, hot springs, and sulfur pits (or do you know of any other city to have these features?) .
Another important landmarks that you must not skip is the Night Markets. Taipei is known for its many exciting night markets, where you can find an array of delicious food and other items.
Taipei is also very well-connected; you can easily travel to different local landmarks but also to escape the city and explore a bit further afield - and it never hurts when the local people are so friendly!
4. Hong Kong
Almost an eternal city of change, in some respects. Previously a colony of Britain, the nation's return to China was marked with more than a decade of special recognition as a sort of unique province with different rules and even visa requirements to the rest of China.
Hong Kong today possesses an almost commercial persona and has earned the reputation of having the highest number of skyscrapers in the world. While it ranks seventh in the UN Human Development Index, there's a lot going on in this huge city-state.
The city presents a dynamic cultural landscape that intertwines its Chinese origins, colonial influence, and the contribution of local talents. Because of its massive area, you can just expect a thousand and one things to do in Hong Kong.
Try an exotic take on a familiar theme at Hong Kong Disneyland or enjoy strolling the historic districts, stopping for a bit of retail therapy in the Temple Street Night Market.
Be sure you don't miss the classic views of Hong Kong from Victoria Park! Of course, your visit to Hong Kong is never complete if you don’t try its varied cuisine. Take note that the city is one of the world’s top culinary capitals.
5. Bangkok, Thailand
Most visitors headed to the luxurious beach resort towns of Phuket, Krabi or Koh Samui have to at least make a stop at one of Bangkok's airports on the way in or out of Thailand. Why not add a couple of days there, soaking up more culture to go with your sun and sand!
For younger (or young at heart) visitors, Bangkok is arguably the nightlife capital of SE Asia, with cabarets, nightclubs, themed bars and even whole districts seemingly invented for having a fun night out.
The variety of food is another reason to stop by, with hearty local dishes from street stalls or fine dining on romantic rooftop restaurants, overlooking the skyline at night. Or just grab a snack off the side of your boat in the floating markets!
You'll also struggle to find more temples in one place, with a huge variety of colors and Buddha sculptures of all shapes & sizes.
6. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable landmarks in all of Asia and the first thing that comes to mind when anyone mentions Cambodia. Often remarked as one of the seven wonders, the complex is enormous and new regions are still being discovered.
After all, the country has a very long and rich history that can be traced back to 4,000 BC. The Angkor Wat is a witness to an era of the Cambodian history. And it’s for this reason that most visitors of the present generation choose Siem Reap for their adventures.
Aside from this architectural masterpiece, Siem Reap has a lot more to offer, including luxury boutique properties to help you relax after your jungle exploits. But you can also get the adrenaline pumping with ziplining, quad bike tours or a balloon ride over the temples.
You can also try the local cuisine or take a cooking class to inspire your own kitchen at home, I definitely recommend taking local transport to explore some of the community life nearby.
7. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Many people still call it Saigon, Ho Chi Minh is a sprawling delight for visitors to explore. But you might call it organized chaos, at least that’s the initial impression of many first-time visitors to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
But the description should be viewed in a positive light. Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and a thriving hub of commerce. It’s full of pulsating energy at every turn, an exhilarating experience you should try! Explore the bustling markets and exercise your bargaining prowess here. But don’t worry about getting into any serious argument. Saigonese vendors are a little more flexible when it comes to the prices of goods.
Of course, it would be knowledge-enriching to look into the local Vietnamese history beyond conflict from the late 20th Century. But if you're looking to learn more first-hand about the Vietnam War, you can find plenty of opportunity in the city or a short day trip nearby.
With regards to food, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint the best. But Ho Chi Minh City offers a wide variety of choices of both traditional food and innovative concepts. Banh mi sandwiches and beef tripe pho may have become more familiar at home in the US, but there's plenty more to excite your palate. If you can find bia hoi (fresh beer!) that's not sold out, you're in for a treat.
8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Sultan Abdul Samad Building, an unmissable sight in Kuala Lumpur
Visit once and you'll just call it KL, Kuala Lumpur is perhaps best known for its culinary delights. A confluence of Indian, Chinese, and local Malay cultures blended (almost) seamlessly in a contemporary British Commonwealth nation, the variety of foods is just awesome.
That means you can explore modern skyscrapers and plenty of tall towers, including the KL Tower or shopping in the mall at the base of the Petronas Towers, then jump from street food to family-secret-recipe market stalls in no time!
You'll want to wear comfortable shoes, discover attractive colonial buildings that stand witness to Malaysia's rich history, such as those found in Merdeka Square or the Sultan Abdul Samad building.
Then leap-frog parks at Kampung Baru or the KL Eco Park, finishing with a spicy dish in Brickfields, the city's Indian district. Or dig deeper into Malaysia's past, visiting the Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery. It's perhaps a little underrated, where you'll see interactive displays and exhibitions that chronicles the country’s surprisingly outsized role in the global economy.
9. Bali, Indonesia
Surfing is an all-time favorite of many visitors in Bali. The island’s tourism industry actually started with this sport.
Bali is the most popular tourist and traveler destination in the whole of the Indonesian archipelago. And it’s no surprise because it has all that curious travelers want to pamper themselves with. You, too, will enjoy soaking in Bali’s beautiful beaches or relaxing in a soothing Balinese massage after exploring the local rainforests or trekking to a waterfall.
Enjoy classic aquatic activities such as diving, snorkelling or white water rafting, but you can also try something more modern including sea walking or canyon tubing!
As a sort of alternative lifestyle haven, there are plenty of options for exploring a lifestyle theme at one of the luxury boutique properties. Yoga retreats being some of the most obvious options.
Dining in Bali is also an exciting experience. The island offers a wide range of choices of both local and international cuisine. There’s always a hearty meal that suits every budget.
10. Boracay, Philippines
Located in Central Philippines, Boracay is an island paradise. It’s the world’s top tourist destination because of its powdery white sand beaches like no other, turquoise water, and excellent fun activities.
Boracay has consistently been the most popular summer getaway for many local and foreign visitors for many years. But just like what happens to any other popular places and things, the “wear and tear” situation plus the heavy commercialization took its toll on Boracay Island. The environmental and sanitation conditions of the island deteriorated, prompting the government to order its rehabilitation.
Boracay created headlines 2018 when it was closed to all tourists, visitors, and residents to give way to a total clean up and rehabilitation. Totally excluding the pressures of visitor mismanagement, the island has returned now, refreshed and much cleaner for the pause.
Today, operations in Boracay Island are back to normal, visitors and tourists are simply asked to be better stewards of the destination to help maintain the beautiful scenery, helping to keep the waters turquoise and avoid the environmental issues from happening again.
Pick one or a close few to tour
Each of these Top 10 are worthy of their own visit, but some destinations do pair well together for a longer discovery of the region - just don't forget how huge Asia is when you're planning!
For example, Bangkok, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh aren't unreasonably far apart and you could easily visit two or more in a single, well-planned itinerary. Likewise Seoul and Tokyo aren't too far apart, with a flight time under 3 hours.
However, it's more than a 7-hour flight to get from Bali to Hong Kong or more than 10 hours to get to Indonesia from Japan! Pick one destination for a more intimate discovery or be very selective of a few you can bundle together on a reasonable itinerary.
Make sure you get the most from your vacation, ask about your travel plans or make new ones with a qualified travel professional in our forums. You can also choose the right travel agent to help you plan a better trip, with less wasted time and fewer stresses so far from home. Enjoy comforts at a recommended luxury or boutique property in Asia or join an escorted tour to meet like-minded new friends!
Now that the world is starting to move past pandemic, we can offer luxury standard custom guided itineraries, too! Find a pro here.