14 Best Places to Visit in Asia
Asia is the largest continent by both size and population-a diverse, multicultural melting pot of some of the oldest civilizations on earth. There's so much to see and do in Asia, it's hard to narrow it down to a shortlist-it could take you months to truly explore just one country.
For those on a tighter schedule or budget, the secret to discovering the best places to travel in Asia is to see a bit of everything-from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to the majestic slopes of Mount Fuji and the architectural marvel of places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Regardless of what you truly want to experience in your travels through Asia, there's surely a spot somewhere to fill that need. To help you plan the trip of a lifetime, take a look at our list of the best places to visit in Asia.
1. Mount Fuji, Japan
Although Mount Fuji is an active stratovolcano, it hasn't erupted since 1708. The stunning snowcapped mountain is one of Japan's "Three Holy Mountains," which are traditionally considered to hold a particular power-Mount Fuji has volcanic power.
If this doesn't sound ominous enough, the base of the mountain is also home to Aokigahara. Also known as "The Suicide Forest," this dense forest growing on hardened lava is home to ice caves, a combination that absorbs sound and creates an eerie feeling of solitude.
While many visitors come here to just photograph this World Heritage List Cultural Site and well-known symbol of Japan, others arrive for the climbing opportunities. Until the late 19th century, women were not allowed to make their way to the summit (which is still considered a sacred site), so visitors of all ethnicities, genders, and ages now arrive to make up for lost time.
There are four possible routes to reach the top of the mountain, and all offer a number of stops along the way in the form of shrines, historical monuments, and even teahouses.
You may also want to plan your visit to Japan around the spring cherry blossoms, another popular tourist attraction.
- Read More: Exploring Mount Fuji: A Visitor's Guide
2. Dead Sea, Israel
The dark blue waters of the Dead Sea touch the borders of both Jordan and Israel. Actually a lake despite its name, the Dead Sea sits at the lowest land elevation on Earth-over 430 meters below sea level. With a salt concentration of around 31 percent-almost 10 times saltier than the ocean -the Dead Sea is so thick, nothing can sink into it, and everyone who walks into it will naturally float.
While the coastline around the lake has become a flourishing spa and resort destination, there is also a large influx of religious tourism in the area. Jericho, the city where Jesus is said to have healed blind beggars, is located just minutes northwest of the Dead Sea-and a number of other cities, including the legendary Sodom and Gomorra, as well as Zoar and Admah, are also located in this area. The area boasts some of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
While the lake is too salty to support aquatic life, there are plenty of animals that call the surrounding desert home-and hikers will run into anything from hares to foxes and leopards when exploring the nature reserves around the Dead Sea.
3. Phuket, Thailand
Thailand's biggest island is also a magnet for visitors-and for good reason. Phuket boasts some of the best beaches in the country, with clean, soft, rolling sands and turquoise waters as far as the eye can see.
Kata, Hat Karon, and Kamala beaches see a lot of tourists during the high season (November to February) but remain sleepy little villages once the rains arrive. Beautiful coral reefs line up the coastline, offering amazing opportunities for snorkeling and diving but also sea kayaking and island hopping.
In between hours of lying under the sun, visitors can head to the white and gold Wat Chalong, the largest and most important Buddhist temple on the island, or climb up a hill to reach the Big Buddha-a 45-meter-tall statue covered with Burmese marble.
The island is also home to a number of unique festivals. The Ghost Festival during the 7th Chinese lunar month is dedicated to ancestor worship, and it entails releasing lanterns into the ocean to help guide lost souls-a sight to behold.
The Vegetarian Festival during the 9th Chinese lunar month is another stunning celebration-which, despite the name, is not so much about food but about purification and putting the body through extreme tests, such as fire walking and hanging from hooks.
4. Beijing, China
One of the most populous cities in the world, Beijing is also one of the oldest. You can get a peek into that history by walking the hutongs of Beijing, the narrow alleyways lined up with traditional homes and courtyards.
China's capital is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Imperial Summer Palace and its gardens, the oldest canal in the world, and the Forbidden City-a palace complex that served as the home of China's emperors for 500 years starting in the 1420s. The Forbidden City-made up of almost 1,000 different buildings-is one of Beijing's most impressive tourist attractions.
The city also offers visitors many unique-looking pagodas and temples, including the 12th-century, eight-sided Tianning Temple, as well as almost 150 museums and galleries.
The Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution and the National Art Museum of China have massive collections and are well worth a visit.
Several sections of the Great Wall can also be found within Beijing, including the wall's most visited site, the 80-kilometer-long Badaling section.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Beijing
5. Hoi An, Vietnam
The ancient city of Hoi An is home to one of Asia's oldest trading ports and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A major commercial stop for trading ships as far back as the 15th century, Hoi An still maintains much of its original architecture in the form of timber frame buildings, colorful French-colonial shutters, and Chinese tiled roofs. Religious buildings, courtyards, and shophouses sit side by side on narrow alleyways all across Ancient Town, Hoi An's historical center.
Every full moon cycle, Hoi An celebrates the Lantern Festival, which honors ancestors through light. On the night before the full moon, all the lights in the Ancient Town are turned off, and colorful lanterns and candles are placed on windows, inside houses, and on boats lazily floating down the river.
Visitors at other times of the month can walk Hoi An to discover the Museum of History and Culture (originally a pagoda dedicated to the Goddess of Compassion, Guan Yin); the 17th-century covered Japanese bridge; and the Old House of Tan Ky, a preserved 18th-century merchant's house.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hoi An
6. Hong Kong
Over 7.4 million people from all over the world occupy the small 1,104-square-kilometer island of Hong Kong, making it the third most densely populated place in the world. Despite having one of the world's highest per capita incomes, income inequality has become one of Hong Kong's main issues, and lower-income families often live in crowded tenement buildings. The buildings themselves have become tourist attractions, as many are historic structures dating back over a century.
Hong Kong also has the largest number of skyscrapers in the world at 355-an impressive 75 more than the city in second place, New York. A good number of these are located around Victoria Harbor, a popular tourist area with one of the most stunning coastal skylines in Asia.
For the best views, visitors can climb to the top of Victoria Peak, HK's highest hill and home to a leisure and shopping complex with an enclosed viewing terrace looking over the city below.
Hong Kong is home to a Disneyland park, as well as Ocean Park, an amusement park with rollercoasters, thrill, and water rides.
The cobble-stoned streets that make up the Lan Kwai Fong district have a considerable large number of upmarket restaurants and clubs, while Lantau Island attracts tourists looking for the more spiritual side of Hong Kong. Lantau is home to the 34-meter-tall Tian Tan Buddha statue (one of the largest sitting Buddha statues in the world), waiting at the top of a steep hill.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hong Kong
7. Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia
The resort town of Siem Reap is better known as being the gateway to the Angkor region and the magnificent temples left behind by the Khmer civilization. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century and stretches over an area of over 160 hectares.
Siem Reap itself is an exciting mix of Chinese and French colonial architecture-a place where traditional Apsara dance performance spaces mix in with French bakeries, galleries, and rice paddies.
In between visiting great cafés and taking day trips out to the temples, take some time to explore The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center, which chronicles the ongoing threat of landmines and what's being done to completely eliminate them.
If you have a couple of hours before your visit to Angkor Wat, the Angkor National Museum is an excellent way to learn more about the archeological ruins and the stunning civilization behind them.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Siem Reap
Singapore only gained full independence from the UK and became a sovereign state in 1965, but this brand-new country is now a financial powerhouse and one of the most fun countries to visit in Southeast Asia.
Because of its size and location, Singapore doesn't have a lot of beaches-unless you count the three beaches on Sentosa Island resort, small but with soft white sands and protected lagoons with clean blue waters-but it makes up for it with themed attractions, lush rain forests, and lively coastal fun.
From its own Universal Studios park and a 50-meter bungee jump from a tower over the beach to the Marina Bay Sands resort and its rooftop, which includes an infinity pool and a skybridge, Singapore has quickly established itself as a thrilling destination.
But this island-state also has plenty to offer in the form of greener entertainment, starting with the magical Gardens by the Bay, a 100-hectare nature park with the largest glass greenhouse in the world, two cooled conservatories, and plenty of artistically designed trees and flower areas.
Singapore's nature-themed Jewel Changi Airport has been recognized as one of the best in the world-it features not only the world's tallest indoor waterfall, but also an indoor suspension bridge 23 meters up in the air, four slides, and a butterfly garden.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Singapore
9. Kingdom of Bhutan
Bhutan is a landlocked country surrounded by the Himalayas, Tibet, and parts of India. A nation of steep mountains, green valleys, and swift rivers, Bhutan is home to 7,570-meter-tall Gangkhar Puensum, the world's highest unclimbed mountain.
Some of the most beautiful sights in the country are high up, perched on cliffs-Tiger's Nest Monastery is a good example, set over 3,000 meters up in the mountains and only reachable after a grueling hike.
In an effort to protect the biodiversity and historical heritage of the country, free travel throughout the country isn't allowed. This means all foreign visitors arriving in Bhutan must travel on a pre-paid package tour organized through an approved operator. While some agencies will offer pre-arranged stops, others will work with you to help you see what you're really interested in-places worth a visit include the fortress and Buddhist monastery ruins of Drukgyal Dzong, the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (home to the rare black-necked cranes), and a number of dzongs or religious fortresses.
10. Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepal's capital and largest city is also known as the "City of Temples." A melting pot of Hindu and Buddhist religious influences, Kathmandu is full of stupas-including Nepal's holiest Buddhist site, Boudhanath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Swayambhu, home to holy monkeys and one of the oldest temples in Nepal. Both those looking for a religious experience and camera-toting tourists can find much to appreciate in a city where spirituality touches almost everything.
Sitting at an elevation of over 1,400 meters above sea level, Kathmandu is a popular gateway to the Himalayas and to nearby destinations like the Ancient City of Patan.
Climbers from all over the world arrive here to set off on their 15-day-long Everest Base Camp trek, but overnight trips around the city are also popular to catch sight of the Himalayas in all their splendor. Even those without a love for adventure can find much to see and do in the capital-from impressive markets to historic monuments to plenty of colorful festivals throughout the year.
It's even possible to get an up-close look at the splendor of the Himalayas from above, as many tour companies offer short flights over the snowcapped mountains.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Nepal
11. Jaipur, India
New Delhi and Mumbai might be India's best-known cities, but Jaipur takes home the "most beautiful" prize. Known as the "pink city" because of the unique color of the stone used to build many of the structures around, Jaipur is also home to a community of artisans. Here, craftsmen produce everything from block printing and blue pottery to shellac work; stone carvings; and Bandhani, the unique art of decorating tie-dye textile by plucking sections of it with the fingernails.
Many of the most breathtaking attractions in Jaipur are architectural marvels, including the stunning Jal Mahal palace, which sits in the center of the Man Sagar Lake.
Many other monuments and pink structures are located within 10 kilometers of the city, including the ancient temple complex Galtaji, built right into narrow hills and surrounded by sacred kunds (small water pools). The world's largest stone sundial at Jantar Mantar and the 10th-century red sandstone and marble Amer Fort are also just outside the city and attract many visitors.
12. Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang and 33 of the villages surrounding it are part of the UNESCO Town of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site. Together, these sites are home to an incredible mix of cultural and architectural heritage that has shaped Laos through the centuries.
The Wat Xieng Thong or "Temple of the Golden City" is a good example of this-a 16th-century structure showcasing stunning examples of Laos arts and crafts but also a historically significant place where all Laos kings were once crowned. Right in the center of town, Mount Phou Si is home to Wat Chom Si and offers one of the best views over the town once you get to the top.
Luang Prabang is best explored on foot or on a bike, getting lost in the narrow alleyways where temples, houses, and colonial buildings all mix in a harmonious atmosphere.
Just outside the city and reached by driving through sloping, lush hills and rice paddies, there are a number of natural sites worth a visit. The Pak Ou Caves, which sit over the Mekong River and are home to hundreds of miniature wooden Buddha statues, and the three-level Kuang Si Falls are popular day trips from Luang Prabang.
13. Bagan, Myanmar
An ancient city and one of the top heritage sites in the world, Bagan was once the capital of a powerful kingdom. Today, Bagan and Angkor are the two most important ancient religious sites in Asia, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The Bagan Archeological Zone extends over a 41-square-kilometer area and is home to more than 3,000 pagodas, stupas, and other religious structures tucked away amid dense forests.
Exploring the temples and ruins is a big endeavor and can be done on foot (small sections at a time) or on a rented bike. Shwe Gu Gyi is one of the few temples that can be climbed and offers some of the best views-perfect for photo backgrounds. Otherwise, Nyaung Laphat hill and Sulamani hill are a must-visit to watch the sunrise and sunset over the temples.
To see Bagan in all its glory, however, you can't beat taking a hot air balloon ride over the temples.
Outside the Archeological Zone, Bagan is famous for its lacquer and sand paintings, both of which you can find at local markets in most villages. Bagan town also has a busy night market and a traditional Burmese market (Mani-Sithu Market), and you can catch a boat tour or a cruise from the town's central jetty.
Thatbyinnyu Pahto temple-the tallest in Bagan at over 200 feet-is another must-visit, and so is Gubyaukgyi or the Great Painted Cave Temple with its 12th-century frescoes.
14. Bali, Indonesia
Bali is best known for its stunning golden beaches lined with swaying palm trees and blue-green waters, but this Indonesian island has a lot more attractions to offer visitors. Not that the beaches shouldn't top your must-visit list-the glorious stretches of sand at laid-back Crystal Bay, the undeveloped White Sands Beach, or the serene Sanur with its untouched village-feel are some of Bali's best destinations.
In addition to sun, sand, and sea, Bali also offers a unique cultural and historical landscape filled with temples, including ancient pilgrimage temple Tanah Lot (famous for its sunsets); Gunung Lebah and its scenic jungle surroundings; and Pura Goa Lawah, considered one of the six holiest places of worship in Bali.
For more active pursuits, consider a hike up the 5,633-foot tall active volcano on Mount Batur, especially at sunrise. Or visit the many terraced rice paddies that line up the Bali countryside. The Tegallalang Rice Terraces in Ubud are particularly scenic.
Map of Places to Visit in Asia
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Runners-Up for Best Places to Visit in Asia: The number of places to visit in Thailand is almost too extensive to list, but Koh Samui and Chiang Mai are two standouts. To see some of the most incredibly scenery in China, head to Guilin and Yanghuo for a cruise down the Li River and drift along beneath the limestone mountains lining the river's edge. Or simply relax at a lodge in Yangshuo.