the ultimate travel guide to

Asia

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The beauty of travelling to Asia is the varied sights, tastes, sounds and smells you can experience. From skiing in Japan to sweating it out at a yoga class in Ubud to sampling spicy food at a street parade in Thailand … it’s a true adventure for the senses. We outline all the best of Asia and its countries in our Asia travel guide here.

 

From Tokyo Bay by boat to Nepal like a local and ancient discoveries from Tibet to Sri Lanka, there’s no end to the rich experiences and adventures that Asia has in store.

Best places to visit in Asia

Beautiful Bali is on the hit list for many Australian travellers thanks to the short flight from our shores. Strolling the beachside shops in Seminyak, escaping to the rice paddies in Ubud or partying in Kuta, there really is something for everyone here.

Thailand is another popular spot. Bustling Bangkok is a shopper’s delight while the sun-drenched islands will lure those in search of a beach holiday. To see the more traditional side of Thailand head to Chiang Mai in the mountains.

Japan is officially one of the hottest travel destinations right now. With its rich culture, beautifully refined cuisine and brightly lit capital Tokyo, it’s no wonder so many people are flocking to this part of the world.

For the more adventurous traveller, India might be the place to go. Spicy cuisine, beautiful people, stunning beaches and energetic cities are the order of the day in India.

More than just a stop-over en route to Europe, Singapore has come into its own as a travel destination with its incredible hotel offerings and world class cuisine.

Explore the rich and multicultural nature of Malaysia, south-east Asia’s most colourful of paradises. The term ‘cultural melting pot’ can be too readily thrown about, but Malaysia really does live up to the hype.

Cambodia offers Siem Reap, considered to be one of the world’s most incredible cities, and some incredible hidden beaches and towns along the mighty Mekong.

Vietnam offers travellers scenic treasures in the form of jungle mountain vistas, heavenly beaches and also modern, constantly changing cities where there is every modern luxury while also paying homage to the traditional culture and design of pre- and post-colonial times.

China and Hong Kong are where you’ll find some of the world’s most amazing food. The shopping in this part of the world is also something to write home about.

In Asia, Laos is certainly a highpoint. From the verdant city of Luang Prabang and its spectacular Kuang Si waterfalls, to the peaceful town of Vang Vieng, this is a trip that is as captivating as it is relaxing.

And let’s not forget Sri Lanka – the destination that is now popping up on many a travel mag’s hot list, thanks so it’s unique landscape, stunning beaches, formidable cuisine and broad range of accommodation options.

There really is something for everyone.

How to plan a trip to Asia

Any month you want to travel you’ll be able to find somewhere in Asia with great weather. The only thing to try and avoid weather-wise is monsoon season, and this varies from country to country depending on its geographical location. So our advice is to look up the monsoon season for the country you’re thinking of travelling to and try and work around that.

 

With so many budget airlines flying between Asia and Australia you can land some really cheap flights. Sign up to the carriers like Scoot, Air Asia and Jetstar to keep on top of cheap flight alerts.

 

Some part of Asia require vaccinations and visas as well, so be sure to check out the Australian government’s Smart Traveller website for information regarding your specific destination.

What to do in Asia

If you’re after a high-octane holiday there are all sorts of rugged outdoor adventures to have in Asia, whether it be speed boat rides, wildlife expeditions, hikes, diving, skiing trips or surfing safaris. Alternatively, if you want to simply spend your mornings shopping, your afternoons lying by the pool and your evenings eating at some of the world’s greatest restaurants, Asia can deliver that too. If you’re a history buff, the countries of Asia also deliver some of the most enthralling cultural experiences on the planet.

Beaches in Asia

The geographical location of Asia makes it the ideal place for a beach holiday. Balmy weather and warm waters make this a sun-seeker’s paradise.

Thailand is famed for its islands such as Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan, where excellent resorts abound. Krabi appears to be the next big destination according to latest travel stats and we can see why. It’s nowhere near as busy as the tourist hotspots in Thailand and offers some of its most striking scenery. The area’s stunning natural beauty is a drawcard. Limestone formations soar above the Andaman Sea and white sand beaches are met by turquoise waters. You’ll feel like you’re a world away in a tropical paradise.

Bali is a mecca for surfing enthusiasts (as well as sunbakers in Seminyak and Lombok), India has the beaches of Goa, Sri Lanka will take your breath away with its white sandy shores and the Maldives is one of the most sought-after beach locations in the world.

Malaysia and Cambodia also have their fair share of excellent beaches that are a little more off the beaten tourist track.

Phu Quoc is just one hour’s flight south of Saigon, but it’s Vietnam’s most underrated island – full of stunning bays and empty white beaches, bustling seafood markets and sunset bars along its western coastline where simple barefoot restaurants serve fresh seafood to travellers.

The islands of the Philippines are also known for their magnificent beaches (and there’s more to it than just Boracay).

Cultural experiences in Asia

Asia is a destination with an astounding, ancient and fabled history, where traditional cultures collide with bustling, modern cities; with a cuisine so diverse and full of flavour you’ll be watering at the mouth; and whose people are eager to share their land and stories with you.

From traditional tea ceremonies in Japan to exploring the Hindu temples of India and giving an offering to Buddha in China, this is an area teeming with authentic cultural experiences.

Perhaps you’d like to experience geisha culture on a trip to Japan or explore the Temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

In Vietnam you can experience the country’s colonial past, even encountering its famous Cu Chi Tunnels, where many resistance activities took place during the Vietnam War. Cruise down the Mekong Delta, experience the picturesque beauty of Halong Bay and see the beautiful Po Nagar Cham Towers of Qui Nhon.

India is home to some incredible grand palaces and Jaipur is the jewel in the crown of the country. The pink blush of the incredible architecture here will take your breath away.

Home to 10 of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, Nepal has got to be on your bucket list. Spend a day in Kathmandu acclimatising to the Himalayan altitude before getting to grips with local markets, ornate temples and traditional dancing.

The Great Wall of China stretches 8,850 kilometres from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert, built from brick, stone, earth and wood in the seventh century BC to keep northern raiders at bay. Nothing can prepare you for the awe of the Great Wall as it snakes along the mountain ridges as far as the eye can see.

The ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar is home to the largest concentration of Buddhist temples in the world, with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. As many as 13,000 temples and stupas once stood in the area around Bagan, and to this day, more than 2200 standing ancient temples rise from the green plains.

Cities in Asia

If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Tokyo is the city that never unplugs. Bright lights, 24-hour dining opportunities, crazy experiences and colourful characters are absolutely everywhere.

If you love food, head to Kuala Lumpur (affectionately known as KL), where many of the best epicurean experiences in Malaysia – from hawker stalls to high-end restaurants – are ready to be digested.

Seoul has a remarkable cityscape of ancient World Heritage-listed architecture and sparkling skyscrapers, an innovative tech-obsessed culture, amazing cuisine and fabulous street food (hello Korean BBQ), bustling markets, an energetic nightlife and kooky K-Pop culture.

Bustling Beijing will knock your socks off. Areas such as Simatai or Jinshanling are not visited as much and therefore have fewer tourists. Also, the Huanghuacheng area is a particularly scenic area of the wall that can be seen by boat.

Ho Chi Minh City is a frenetic destination of contrasts: bustling alleyways, sleek skyscrapers, tasty street food, first-class dining venues, French Colonial architecture and reminders of the harrowing American War.

Situated on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi is Vietnam’s second largest city and capital. In its heart, the centuries-old Old Quarter is a cultural hotspot.

With 101-hectare waterfront park Gardens by the Bay, Singapore is a picturesque city. Try something different and go to Singapore Zoo in the morning for ‘Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife’, where you’ll eat your brekky with orangutans.

Kyoto delivers Buddhist temples, ancient wooden houses, zen rock gardens and geishas, all nestled within the confines of the neighbouring mountains.

Bangkok’s night markets are the stuff of legends (don’t miss the street food), and Hong Kong is one of the most hyper-lit and compelling cities in the world.

The metropolis of Shanghai is a fascinating city to survey from afar; all those flashing lights and sharp-edged skyscrapers each trying to be taller than the last – but hit the streets (face mask optional) and you will find a modern city thriving on change but still retaining its soul.

Last but not least – from garish to gritty, historic to heart-wrenching, Mumbai will take your breath away with its frenetic energy.

Animal experiences in Asia

Ethical encounters with endangered Asian elephants – where you observe and possibly interact with them but refrain from riding – can be a highlight of visiting this part of the world. Just make sure to do your research when choosing an elephant encounter.

India has some of the richest biodiversity in the world, and the array of animals that call this country home is breathtaking. There are about 400 species of mammals, 1250 birds, 460 reptiles, 240 amphibians and 2550 fish – among the highest species count for any country.

Take a wildlife-watching excursion to one of India’s famous national parks such as Ranthambore, Pench, Kanha or Bandhavgarh. Tigers, elephants, rhinos and eagles are among the animals you might glimpse.

Borneo is also bursting with beautiful wildlife that will take your breath away. Animal lovers will delight in meeting orphaned orang-utans during feeding time at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where you can’t help but feel intimately connected to these magnificent creatures.

You can also get up close and personal with giant pandas in China.

What to eat in Asia

Prepare to take your palette on an adventure because Asia has some of the most incredible flavours in the world.

Japanese

Japan is renowned for its unique cuisine with each region having its own delicacies and seasonal recipes.

From a tempting tempura bar in an old Kyoto geisha district to bustling markets and barbecue joints in the ‘nation’s kitchen’, Osaka, the food options in Japan will make your mind boggle.

Thai

From tummy-filling Pad Thai noodles to the spicy Tom Yum soup, Thai cuisine is globally popular for a reason. Sweet tooths aren’t left out either with mango sticky rice being one of the country’s most popular desserts. Check out our list of six tasty Thai dishes to tuck into for a bit of culinary inspiration.

Malaysian

Food is a big deal in Malaysia, from the durian that locals love to eat despite its pungent odour (it is not unheard of to see the fruit dangling out of the window of a car because it’s too stinky to be inside) to the hot noodle dish char kway teow, the essential ingredient of which is a slightly burnt, smoky flavour known as the breath of the wok.

Chinese

Sure, there may be a few things here that might challenge your palette (chicken’s feet, anyone?) but there are so many delicious Chinese flavours that you just have to dive in and hope for the best. This is where you will eat incredible dumplings, perfectly steamed fish with fresh ginger, deliciously tender duck, spicy Szechuan noodles and crispy greens drowned in oyster sauce. The food is one of China’s biggest drawcards. No doubt about it.

Indian

The thick creamy curries of the north. The super spicy tang of dishes in the south. This is a country that takes its food very seriously, so immersing yourself in these great culinary styles is a superb travel experience.

It’s also a great option for vegetarian travellers, due to the large proportion of Hindus who are vegetarian. There are plenty of cooking courses available if you want to learn the skills yourself, so you can take the heady flavours back home with you.

Vietnamese

Vietnamese food is without a doubt a global food phenomenon. This is largely due its fascinating geopolitical history; which has seen empires, colonisation and revolutions each make their mark on the country’s cuisine.

For this reason, you can’t help but get a taste of the country’s complexity in every single dish. Here a noodle soup is never just a noodle soup, with every city having its own unique role to play in the country’s history. And thus, its flavours. We have a great guide to dining in Vietnam to help you plan your meals.

Accommodation options in Asia

The great thing about Asia is there really is something for every budget. From camping on the beach and sharing high-vibe hostels in Tokyo to splurging on a five-star hotel in the city or a luxury villa on the beach, the options are almost endless.

Backpacking

The fact that Asia has long been a cheap and cheerful destination for many a backpacker has meant there are some excellent hostel options. They really have come a long way since the ‘90s. And it’s not just an option for the youth – increasingly the young at heart are finding hostels are a great place to meet travellers and make friends.

The new capsule hotels are also a great choice for people travelling on a budget.

Luxury resorts

Thanks to all that beautiful coastline and all those beautiful islands, this really is the home of the luxury resort. From the mountains of Ubud in Bali to the islands of the Maldives, Thailand and Malaysia, the number of luxury resorts in this part of the world is remarkable.

Some of our favourites include Oberoi Vanyavilas in India, The Seminyak Beach Resort and Spa in Bali, Vana Belle in Koh Samui, Song Saa Private Island in Cambodia, Dedon Island Resort in the Philippines, and Fusion Maia in Vietnam. Also check out our guide to romantic accommodation options in the Maldives and Phuket’s top five remote resorts.

Hotels

If you’re staying in one of the bigger cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur a hotel might be your best option. There’s a huge range, from the big chain five-star hotels to more boutique offerings.

Favourites include the Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong, The Warehouse in Singapore, Hotel Majestic in KL, The Peninsula in Shanghai, Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi, and The Park Hyatt in Seoul.

In Bangkok stay at Conrad Bangkok for views of the urban sprawl; at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Sukhumvit Bangkok to be in shopping nirvana; at Millennium Hilton Bangkok to experience life on the banks of the Chao Phraya River; and in 2018, go luxe at the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok.

Ryokans

Famous for good Japanese food and drink, relaxation and their hot spas, a stay at a traditional ryokan is an authentic Japanese experience not to be missed. We have a comprehensive guide on finding the ultimate ryokan for your Japan escape and another guide on observing ryokan etiquette.

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