Asia is truly an unforgettable destination – with its buzzing cities that never sleep, colourful food, dynamic culture, tropical beaches, historical ruins and opulent architecture, there’s so much to see and explore in this part of the world. Here’s our bucket list of the 5 must-see destinations on this continent…
Halong Bay, Vietnam
These sparkling emerald-blue waters are home to over a thousand small islands, and no trip to Vietnam is complete without sailing around them. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Halong Bay is located in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, in Quang Ninh Province. The name ‘Ha Long’ in Vietnamese means ‘descending dragon’, as dragons play a huge role in local culture. Ha Long Bay is 103 miles from bustling Hanoi, and is accessible by all major forms of public transport and via a private tour.
Many hotels can organise tours to Halong Bay, even directly from the airport. If you’d rather cut down your journey time, which can take four hours, you can also hire a seaplane to get you there in just 45 minutes. Many visitors opt for taking an overnight boat tour of the bay, as this enables them to enjoy snorkelling and swimming, while also allowing ample time for exploring caves. The best time to visit Halong Bay is from March to May, or September to November, as temperatures are more comfortable than in summer and you can also avoid Vietnam’s monsoon season. Some visitors opt for visiting in winter, but bear in mind that temperatures can be very cool and the weather much more cloudy, which could obstruct views of the bay.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Constructed by Suryavarman II (circa 1112–52), Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious building that was built to represent Mt Meru and the home of the ancient gods in the Hindu faith. It is arguably the most iconic and notable sight on a trip to Cambodia, and Cambodians are extremely proud of its heritage. Unlike other monuments in Angkor, it is not maintained and has been left to naturally weather against the elements. It is constantly in use, receiving thousands of visitors every day from all corners of the world. Visitors to Angkor Wat are impressed by the building’s stature and fine attention to detail, with a 800m-long series of highly intricate carvings depicting deities, historical moments in history and mythological stories.
Angkor Wat is constructed from sandstone, sourced from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, located more than 50km away and floated down to the temple site on rafts on the Siam Reap river. It took the labour of around 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants to construct. Despite this, the building was never fully completed.
Tours to Angkor Wat can be easily organised through tour operators and hotels. As it is a religious site to the Khmer people, visitors must dress modestly and cover their upper arms and legs, especially above the knee. Before you visit, make sure you are dressed appropriately and follow the site’s code of conduct, whilst remaining respective of monks who still use the building for religious prayer.
Bali is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia, and home to rice paddy fields, volcanic mountains, white-sand beaches and azure waters. Many visitors flock to this island for its warm climate, friendly people, delicious food and famous religious sites, such as the Uluwatu Temple. Kuta, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur are common tourist resorts, while Ubud is famous for its art scene, yoga and meditation retreats. Bear in mind that religion is of utmost importance and runs through every facet of Balinese culture. Locals often make blessings at roadside shrines and in temples, saluting their gods, which only adds to the intrigue of this magical island. Always ensure that you are modestly dressed, with legs and arms covered, especially when visiting holy sites and temples. This may be a popular beach destination, but don’t assume that you will be accepted for walking around in your beachwear.
It is hard to sum up Japan in just a few sentences. This captivating island is where ancient bygone traditions meet the high-tech of the 21st century. Japan hosts many festivals and annual events to get stuck into, and is home to iconic theme parks, temples, castles, beaches and national parks. Whether you are into art, sports, history, food or nature spotting, you’ll find lots to satisfy your curiosity in this intriguing country.
Visit the fast-paced city of Tokyo for nightlife, entertainment, shopping and a diverse food scene. Or, take the bullet train to Kyoto, which is home to over 1,000 temples, tranquil Japanese gardens and Geisha culture. This is also a must for tea lovers, with plenty of tea rooms to choose from. Or why not take a day trip to Mount Fuji, which offers great views of the city from its majestic slopes.
A fast-forward city with a turbulent past, Beijing is home to a plethora of UNESCO World Heritage sites that are absolute must-sees, including The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, the Ming Tombs, Grand Canal and the Great Wall of China. The many Hutongs (alleys) in the city are also worth investigating, as many are lined with hip bars and cafes that transform into great nightlife spots once the sun goes down.
Getting around this city is fairly simple thanks to its extensive subway network. Be prepared to share your personal space with lots of other people, though! Beijing is home to 21.5 million people, so don’t be afraid to use elbows and stand your ground in queues, as the culture can be very fast-paced and impatient.