Top 25 things to see in Asia

Colourful India, Asia

The attractions of Asia are so many and varied it is easy to see why it can become so sublimely addictive for travellers. Amazing landscapes; incredible history; inspiring art and architecture; and such a diverse range of cultures it is mind-blowing.

I’ve done a quick count and I have visited 12 countries in Asia over the past ten years – still a few to cover. Coming up with a top 25 things to see and do in Asia was obviously quite a challenge as there are so many to choose from. But here are my top 25 experiences in Asia. It proved too much of a challenge to put them in any order of preference so they are in no particular order:

1. India: The coloured cities of Rajasthan

Take a tour (on trains and buses of course) through the coloured cities of Rajasthan in India. The spectacle of the wars, honour and extravagance of the Rajputs (now bewilderingly reduced to commoners) is something else. There’s romantic Udaipur the white city, Jodhpur the blue city, Jaisalmer the golden city and Jaipur the pink city.

Udaipur, India, Asia

2. Tajikistan: The Pamir Highway

The Pamir Highway is a high altitude road in Tajikistan that is one of the world’s great journeys. The lush Wakhan valley features fortresses built to guard the silk road, monastic caves, ancient petroglyphs and Zoroastrian fire platforms. Then it’s up, up, up with views of the Hind Kush and across hundreds of miles of high altitude landscape, at or around 4000 metres, with a few brilliantly blue lakes, tumble-weed villages and  herds of yaks.

The Pamir Highway, Tajikistan, Central Asia

3. Nepal: The Gokyo Valley trek

Forget the Everest Base Camp trek – that’s a highway of group trekkers and expedition trains. Take the path less travelled in Nepal’s Khumbu region and do the Gokyo Valley trek. Tranquil villages, good teahouses, spectacular alpine scenery and a view of Mt Everest from the Gokyo Ri peak that is better than that from Kala Patar. Another day trip from Gokyo village up the valley towards Cho Oyu is another wonderful day.

Gokyo Ri trek in Nepal, Asia

4. Cambodia: Siem Reap and the Angkor temples

Siem Reap is the gateway to the famed temple complex of the ancient Khmer kingdom at Angkor. From the enigmatic and serene stone faces of the Bayon to pageants on the Terrace of the Elephants, from the temple mountains to the ruined jungle monasteries entwined with tree roots, you will need several days to do the site justice.

Siem Reap Angkor temples, Cambodia, south-east Asia

5. Malaysia: Malacca

Down on the tip of Peninsula Malaysia, the little town of Malacca (Melaka in Malay) was one of the highlights of my holidays in Malaysia. The Straits of Malacca were a vital commercial shipping route in the period of European colonial expansion and Malacca revels in a variety of rulers and influences. Apart from the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed colonial town centre and Portuguese fort, there’s a colourful Chinatown, brightly painted wooden shophouses and delicious Nyonya food.

Shophouse in Melaka, Malaysia, south-east Asia

6. Laos: Luang Phabang

Luang Phabang  in Laos was the historical royal capital of an ancient 14-15th century kingdom and rejoices in both this and its French colonial legacy. Built around a wooded hill it is full of temples and hundreds of saffron robed novices and monks. There are some very romantic guesthouses and restaurants.

Luang Phabang, Laos, south-east Asia

7. Thailand: Ang Thong Marine Park

This marine sanctuary near Koh Samui was the original inspiration for Alex Garland’s novel The Beach. I know the film was shot around Koh Phi Phi on the opposite coast but Ang Thong is where you’ll find the island with the emerald lagoon in the middle. You can catch daytripper ferries to the Ang Thong Marine Park from the docks at Koh Samui. It takes about an hour to walk over the hill from the outer beach to the secret lagoon.

An Thong Marine Park, Thailand, south-east Asia

8. Uzbekistan: Samarkand

The history and architecture of Samarkand in Uzbekistan will knock your indie travel socks off. Even if you’ve never read James Elroy Flecker or Oscar Wilde, heard of Alexander the Great or Timur, the beauty of the massive Islamic architectural set pieces here will impress.

The Registan, Samarkand, Central Asia

9. Vietnam: Sa Pa and the northern hill country

The hill country of northern Vietnam was the favourite part of my sojourn in Vietnam. The colourful costumes of the different tribes, trekking through the steeply terraced paddy fields and the cacophonous markets are all easy to see and explore from the hill town of Sa Pa.

Hill tribes, Sa Pa, Vietnam, south-east Asia

10. Kyrgyzstan: Trekking from Karakol

The opportunities for trekking in Kyrgyzstan are legion – with 93 per cent of the country sitting at over 1,000m the possibilities are pretty much endless. The town of Karakol is a great base for a trekking holiday in the eastern end of the beautiful Terskei Alu mountain range of Kyrgyzstan. Either independently or with a local guide, you can do a number of easy day treks, overnight trips or more extensive expeditions into the mountains. To find out more about hiking and travelling in Kyrgyzstan take a look at my ebook ‘Travels in Kyrgyzstan’.

Kyrgyzstan trekking, Central Asia

11. Hong Kong: Victoria Harbour cruise

There are lots of ‘classic’ things to do in Hong Kong but my favourite is the Victoria Harbour cruise at night. After strolling along the Avenue of Stars and watching the Hong Kong skyline light show, catch a wooden, red-sailed Chinese junk – the Acqua Luna – and enjoy the views from the water over an Asian-style cocktail or two.

Victoria Harbour cruise, Hong Kong

12. India: The Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is the most holy place for the Sikh religion and the beauty of the temple as it seems to float in the surrounding water is really something. It is a serene place with thousands of pilgrims flocking to worship in the tanks. The atmosphere is both colourful and inspiring.

The Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

13. Vietnam: Hoi An

Hoi An is a highly romantic small town in central Vietnam with markets, charming Chinese shop houses and a pretty riverside setting. Enjoy a delicious bowl of Pho at one of the riverfront restaurants, watch life going on beside the river and have a new suit of clothes made at one of the many tailor shops.

Hoi An, Vietnam

14. Thailand: The Bridge over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi

So close to Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a great little town. You can pet tigers, bathe with baby elephants, walk a section of the infamous ‘Death Railway’ where so many Allied POWs and Asian forced labourers died, visit the WWII cemetery and the excellent museum. And of course cross the famous bridge on the train, keeping Alec Guinness in mind. It is Thailand tourist heaven.

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

15. India: Old and New Delhi

From the magnificence of the Red Fort to the bustle of Connaught Place, Delhi does not disappoint. The clash or great wealth and deepest poverty are everywhere, alongside ancient and modern examples of grandiosity such as the Qutb Minar and the India Gate. You could spend a lifetime discovering this city. A favourite Delhi site of mine is Hamayum’s tomb, a lovely instance of early Mughal architecture.

Hanuman's Tomb, Delhi, India

16. Malaysia: Penang

Penang is a must-visit in Malaysia and you should stay in a hotel in Penang for a few nights even if just to eat and eat the to-die-for street stall food. But it also has colonial-era architecture on the waterfront, a fascinating built-over-the-water village and impressive temples in Chinatown, including the magnificent Khong Si temple.

Khong Si Penang Malaysia

17. Uzbekistan: Bukhara

Another fabulous Silk Road city, dripping with history and beauty. The ancient buildings of Bukhara rest in soft golden splendour around serene tanks of green water. Magnificent medressahs covered with majolica tiles in every shade of blue feature unusual (in Islamic art) pictures of swooping birds and a golden phoenix. There are treasures on every quiet street.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

18. India: Himchal Pradesh

Take the ‘toy’ narrow gauge train up to colonial Simla and mingle with the Punjabi tourists enjoying the fresh air in their cardigans along the Mall. Look for Kipling’s Kim in the bazaar tumbling down the hillside. Then catch a bus to Kalka and for a true indie travel experience take a journey on the Kangra Valley train, stopping off in Dharamasala/McLeod Ganj for a few days trekking in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas.

Simla, India

19. Laos: The Four Thousand Islands

Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands in Laos is a landlocked archipelago where the Mekong River spreads out into a 14-kilometre-wide area before crashing through some enormous rapids and becoming a normal river again in Cambodia.  Rent a hut with a hammock and relax on the verandah overlooking the river before taking a stroll through the paddy fields and villages of this delightful backwater.

Four Thousand Islands, Laos, south-east Asia

20. Nepal: Annapurna region

From the loveliness of Pokhara beside it’s jewel-like lake, the trekking in Nepal’s Annapurna region is some of the most famous in the world. I did the Annapurna Base Camp trek (10 days) for the most spectacular mountain scenery of the Annapurna Sanctuary. Highlights included lush valleys strewn with bright rhododendrons, sleepy villages and the exquisite Macchupucchre – Fishtail Mountain.

Annapurna region, Nepal

21. Malaysia: The Perhentian Islands

I’m not so much of a beach holiday person but the best ‘paradise islands’ I’ve visited in the sense of white sand, water like pale green glass, lush jungle and a laid-backpacker beach scene was on the Perhentian Islands off the east coast of Malaysia. There is wonderful diving (and diving schools available). It’s quite out of the way and you have to catch a little boat from Kota Bharu to get to the Perhentians so Koh Samui this is not.

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, south-east Asia

22. Kyrgyzstan: Stay in a yurt

Many of Kyrgyzstan’s people still live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, caring for their flocks of fat-bottomed sheep, goats and horses in the high pastures all summer. They live in transportable yurts, tent-like structures made of a thin willow frame covered with thick felt. Staying with a family in a yurt is one of the essential experiences in Kyrgyzstan.

Yurt in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia

23. India: The Taj Mahal

A tourist cliche that deserves all the accolades it gets, Agra’s Mughal architecture is a highlight of India. Make sure you see the Taj Mahal at dawn and leave by 10am as the tour buses from Delhi arrive. And don’t forget to go across the river to see the ‘baby Taj’ and view the mausoleum across the fields from a different angle.

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

24. Vietnam: Old Hanoi

Hanoi, the ancient capital of Vietnam is quite a contrast to the bustling, developed south . The serenity of its lakes and tree-lined boulevards partners with the cramped streets of the old quarter, which is full of traditional shops and workrooms. You could wander here for days and see something bizarre or wonderful every few minutes.

Hanoi, Vietnam

25. Vietnam: Ha Long Bay

I admit was a bit put off by the touristy nature of getting to see Ha Long Bay in Vietnam but cannot deny that it is one of the more wonderful places on the globe. That incredible limestone karst scenery, the golden sunsets, the little floating villages and fruit selling boat people. Pretty nice.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

So there it is, my list of the top 25 things to see in Asia. Do you agree with my selection; have more suggestions? It’s a work in progress so let me know.

No doubt I’ll think of more I desperately want to add to the list tomorrow. And I’m constantly being inspired to see more. It’s incredible, Asia.

By Natasha von Geldern

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About Natasha von Geldern

Natasha von Geldern is the World Wandering Kiwi, a freelance travel writer, editor and inveterate traveller who is passionate about making the pages of the atlas real one trip at a time.

Comments

  1. Great list…even better pics…thanks for sharing!
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..New York City in a Day – Our Perfect Whirlwind TourMy Profile

  2. There’s some very interesting destinations amongst your top 25. I’d love to visit the ‘stan’ countries- they fascinate me. Would Bhutan be included in an expanded list?
    jenny@atasteoftravel recently posted..Udaipur MarketsMy Profile

    • Natasha von Geldern says:

      Perhaps I need to do an Asian ‘bucket list’ to include countries like Bhutan – would LOVE to go there :)

  3. Love this list. I’ve been to a handful of these places and they are definitely amazing! A few others of them I need to bump up on my list (I’m thinking I need to make it out to Central Asia here soon!). Mainland China is underrepresented though!! I might be biased because I’m here now :)

    • Natasha von Geldern says:

      I know, I feel embarrassed I’ve not been to mainland China. It will happen and I’ve no doubt there are many experiences there that should be on a top 25 Asia list! Thanks Erin!

  4. Amazing photos! I want to do them all ;)
    Laurence recently posted..Sex when travelling: location, location, locationMy Profile

  5. A stunning list, and a really nice mix of both the familiar and the unfamiliar in there, the Gyoko Trek & the Pamir Highway have both just shot up my bucket list!

    I’m not going to quibble with any of the selections from the countries you’ve been to – but I would suggest some more from countries you haven’t featured:

    Indonesia – Komodo National Park – Dragons above ground, the world’s best diving under the water, definitely one of the world’s natural highlights

    Burma – Bagan – 4,000 temples in a plain the size of Manhattan, this impressed me even more than Angkor

    The Philippines – The Cordillera Mountains – The famous and beautiful ancient rice terraces of Bagan and the caves and hanging coffins of nearby Sagada
    Geoff recently posted..My 7 Links: Revisiting some old favouritesMy Profile

  6. Great list. There are so many of these on my bucket list. Especially the ‘stans’. It’s made me realise how little of Asia I have actually seen. I have been to Bangladesh though and would definitely suggest that as somewhere for people to visit. Possibly an addition to your list?
    Cherina |Quiet Wanderings recently posted..There’s Something About MelbourneMy Profile

    • Natasha von Geldern says:

      Bangladesh – ok both you and Nomadic Samuel recommend it so gotta be good! I know, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Asia.

  7. Beautiful photos & wonderful list. Since I’ve never been to Asia, I love that there’s so much ground to cover. I can start anywhere ;)
    Allison recently posted..#5: Asia Wish ListMy Profile

  8. Great list. I’m looking for to visiting Central Asia soon, and your photos whet my appetite!

  9. How wonderful! Wow, you have been everywhere. I am so jealous. I am currently exploring the beauty of Hanoi :)
    Denise recently posted..Picture Perfect: Pretty Churches in EuropeMy Profile

  10. Wow! I’d have to agree with a lot of things on this list :)
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Chiang Mai, Thailand | Interview with Never Ending VoyageMy Profile

  11. Great list….some more to add to my wanderlust list!
    Tash recently posted..FeistMy Profile

  12. Your pictures make me so jealous!
    Jade – OurOyster.com recently posted..5 Reasons To Discover LaosMy Profile

  13. Nice list. So glad to see you were heavy on the Central Asian destinations, a region so often forgotten. I lived in Uzbekistan for 2 years and go to see quite a bit of the Central Asian Republics. Lots of really amazing, off the beaten track places there.

    You included my favorite places in Malaysia too :)
    Stephen recently posted..Kowloon at Night Stop Motion VideoMy Profile

    • Natasha von Geldern says:

      Hey lucky you! I dream of living in Kyrgyzstan for a spell. There is really so much of, well, everything in that part of the world :)

  14. Great list! We are starting our trip in Japan in Sept and will be traveling around most of the countries on this list (excluding central Asia) so this is incredibly helpful! I had never even heard of the The Gokyo Valley in the Everest Region trek but will be checking that out now! Thanks!
    Vicky recently posted..Chez Billy DC Restaurant ReviewMy Profile

    • Natasha von Geldern says:

      Glad you like it, I guess it will always be a work in progress but I love Asia so much. Definitely recommend the Gokyo Valley trek over the Everest Base Camp trek. You must be very excited and I look forward to reading about your trip :)

  15. Geez, must have been hard to break down all the great sights in Asia to just the top 25! My hat goes off to you, Natasha, you managed to pull it off! Maybe next you could do a top 25 things to do in the world? Haha
    Simon P recently posted..Rural France is a fairytale settingMy Profile

    • Natasha von Geldern says:

      Thanks Simon, it was challenging and I keep looking at it again and thinking maybe I should revise… but it would be difficult to omit anything. It’s a top 50 I need to do really :) That and explore some more of Asia :)

  16. This article is beautiful information. You guys should visit Asia :), there are plenty of holiday spots there. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I wonder why Singapore is not on your list Natasha. It is one of the most sort after destinations of Asia. Singapore is the the best place to visit in terms of its beauty, hospitality and infrastructure.

  18. Stunning photos! I must refer to this for some treks in Nepal next year. Cheers for the info!
    Angela recently posted..WonderwallMy Profile

  19. You have got to visit The Philippines! First on the list would be Boracay Island. DEFINITELY one of the best beaches in Asia, if not the world. There’s also the Rice Terraces (in The Cordilleras), and one of my ultimates– El Nido in Palawan for the best beaches, Coron in Palawan for island hopping and diving, there’s also the Underground river in Puerto Princesa (which has just recently been named as one of the wonders of the world) and how could i forget, Tubattaha Reef! The best dive sites ever.

  20. I have seen your top 2 and thought I had done it all, I seriously need to widen my Eastern knowledge!

  21. Awesome post — so many wonders in Asia – we haven’t even scratched the surface there…
    Andrea recently posted..Visit To a Supermarket in NorwayMy Profile

  22. Another vote for Bagan, Myanmar!

  23. Nice post..awesome clicks..sometime do visit South India…:)

  24. Wow, fantastic round up of interesting Asian orientated things to do here, nice one! It’s not all the usual classics too. Four thousand islands in Laos look interesting!
    Tom Summerfield recently posted..My First Book Has Officially Launched On Amazon – Backpacking Europe: The Everything GuideMy Profile

  25. I have traveled to about half of your destinations and I do agree. May I suggest Myanmar (Burma). My favorite area is Bagan. You must take the hot air balloon over the town. From just a hundred feet up you can see thousands (more than 5000) temples of all different shapes and sizes and vintage’s. It is something you will never, ever forget. Oh and look for horse cart taxi #41 – great young man with really good English skills and an in depth knowledge of the history. Recommended hotel – Bagan Thandae Hotel (inside the old city wall, right next to a museum).

  26. Interesting list, thank you :)
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Maon Kurosaki – Vanishing PointMy Profile

  27. i’d love to see what didn’t make the cut
    Hogga recently posted..Why Everyone Should Go Eat a PeckerMy Profile

  28. Some day I’ll make to Asia. Everything is so exotic and different from where I am from in America.
    David Moran recently posted..The Cotopaxi Volcano in EcuadorMy Profile

  29. I’ve only seen 8. I thought it would have been a few more. Can’t wait to get back to Asia and do some more exploring!

  30. Holy moly, now that’s a list! Considering I have only been to SE Asia yet, there still seems to be a lot on the list indeed. Impressive collection and a lovely “virtual flip-book” for Asia. However, I was surprised to see none of the brilliant street art for Penang…
    Oliver recently posted..IntuitionMy Profile

  31. Great record. Your images make me so jealous! I’m looking for to going to Main Japan soon. This content is wonderful information. You people should check out Japan. there are a lot of vacation areas there. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  32. Have you considered visiting Sri Lanka? Its a beautiful country with beautiful beaches, a lovely hill country and a large variety of natural and cultural attractions scattered all over the island. The Cultural Triangle is a must see for history geeks, it’s a tour all in itself, and there are superb hotels in the area as well. I enjoyed Uga Ulagalla, a lovely hotel that’s been LEEDS green certified.

  33. I would remove Malacca and the bridge over the river kwai from that list and add:
    – Taroko Gorge (Taiwan)
    – Bagan (Myanmar)
    – El Nido (Philippines)
    – Kyoto (Japan)

    But that’s just the one Im thinking right now, there’s a lot missing… Asia is the best place on earth to travel.
    Mat recently posted..14 choses à faire absolument au Sri LankaMy Profile

    • Thanks Mat, I need to get to Taiwan, Myanmar, the Philippines and Japan to update my list clearly. Burma is actually a scheme for the end of the year in fact. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I agree, Asia is addictively wonderful.

      • If you start your trip in Yangon and only want to see the big 4 (mains attractions) I would suggest you find a place to visit between Yangon and Inle, or manage to do it during the day: it’s a very long trip by night and you dont see the scenery.

        Concerning this article I forgot to add three places you MUST visit in Asia:
        – Zhangjiajie (China)
        – The yellow mountain (or Huan Shan in China)
        – The terracota soldiers of Xian (China)

        If you skip China during an asian tour, that would be a big mistake.
        Mat recently posted..12 choses à faire et voir absolument à BangkokMy Profile

  34. What a list! There are many that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet, but I hope to be able to visit them some time.

  35. Wow! Amazing list! But may I add Mount Fuji? I live in Japan so I’ve seen it many times, but unfortunately have never climbed it. I’m really looking forward to the possible chance that I may climb it though. But great list! I can’t wait to see more from you!

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  1. [...] not sure what there is to see? If you’re in search of inspiration, this article about the top 25 things to see in Asia has a great rundown of the highlights. It includes a number of places you may not have heard of and [...]

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  3. [...] There is an island in the Philippines with white-sand beaches surrounded by pristine seas that could rival the beauty of world famous Boracay. This is Guiuan, Samar, an island near Homonhon, where Ferdinand Magellan first set foot on March 16, 1521. Perhaps it should be on the WWK list of the Top 25 things to see in Asia! [...]

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