The diversity found within the continent of Asia is astounding. Having lived in Korea for four years, I was very lucky to be so close to so many different countries. From the beaches in Thailand to the Great Wall in China and Mount Fuji in Japan - there are opportunities for every type of traveler to find something to love in Asia. There are so many places that I love and hope to return to some day, but there are certainly a few that rank the highest in my mind as the top Asian destinations.
10 Asian Destinations I Loved...
I have both good and bad memories from Beijing, but I thought it needed to be into the top 10. If you're not prepared for the cultural differences and high-levels of pollution - you'll be in for quite the shock. Even coming from 6 months in Korea I wan't ready. That being said, the opportunities for cultural learning and exchange are so great. Beijing is a place where the even the most touristy of museums and monuments are worth a visit.
9. Ha Long Bay
While not a city, taking an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay was the best thing I did in Vietnam. This UNESCO World Heritage site is just shy of 4 hours drive from Hanoi, but worth the time expense. The only regret I have is not taking a longer cruise to learn more about the formations and caves and mythology found in the bay.
If you're into natural beauty, add Ha Long Bay to your itinerary.
8. Taipei, Taiwan
Besides having one of the fastest elevators in the world (bumped out of first place by the Shanghai Tower in 2016), Taipei is home to a lot of cool things - both inside and outside the city-proper. Parks, zoos, an annual lantern festival, and geothermal pools are all easily accessible via public transit from the center of town.
If easily accessible nature is what you crave, Taipei may be the city for you.
7. Kyoto, Japan
Culture plus cutsey. Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan, and has all the historic temples and palaces to prove it. The beautifully preserved historic landmarks are dotted throughout the city, and if you venture a little further west you can break up the palace hopping with a walk through the bamboo forest.
If golden pavilions are what you seek, you can visit one in Kyoto!
6. Mandalay, Myanmar
Though at the time I visited, there wasn't a whole lot of infrastructure, I found it refreshing to visit a place that was still a few years off from being overrun with tourists. Visiting almost anything required a little planning, but it was worth the slight "inconvenience." I also liked that it was easier to utilize local businesses.
If you're going ballooning in Bagan, take the boat up to Mandalay for a break from the crowds.
Read on for a few great reasons to add Myanmar to your Asia itinerary.
5. Hong Kong
Hong Kong has so much to do and see. Big Buddha? Yes. Shopping? Yes. Disney? Yes. Good nightlife? Yes. Incredible French toast? Yes. There was almost too much to do. Considering the size of HK, I hadn't realized that an itinerary could easily span a full week.
If you're into choice-paralysis, choose Hong Kong (or if not, still go... but give yourself a good amount of time!)
Not even a monsoon could dampen my time in Macau (let's be serious, it's a miracle I made it this far without a pun). A former Portuguese colony, Macau has a really interesting mix of both European and Asian architecture and culture. Aside from walking through the MGM Grand, I spent no time in the casinos. The few days I had were spent wandering the beautiful streets and intermittently taking pictures and trying to hide from the rain.
If a bustling Asian metropolis that feels like Europe is your jam, then make Macau happen.
3. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
I blindly booked 3 nights in Phnom Penh on the advice of someone who said it was "pretty cool." Though I had panicked that maybe I had given it too much time, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was, in fact, pretty cool. There are lots of things to do and see in the city center - the Russian Market, the Royal Palace, a big clock at Wat Phom. Go a bit further out and you can see the Killing Fields (emotionally draining, but worth it).
If you want to take in culture by day and a wild time by night, Phnom Penh (and Siem Reap, too!) will suit you for sure. What do I mean by a wild time? Read a bit about my first, semi-unsuspecting time with "happy pizza" in Cambodia.
If I could easily get a working visa, I would definitely live in Singapore. I love cities and I love hot weather, and the combo comes together perfectly in the form of this city-state. Beyond its proximity to the equator, SG is also extremely clean and culturally diverse. Given that Singapore is a giant island, you will never be too far from the water- or a beach.
If you're into heat, cleanliness, and diversity, you'll like Singapore.
I fell in love with laksa in Singapore. Read about our love story.
1. Seoul, South Korea
I love Seoul. Actually, I love all Korea. I lived in the RoK for four years, so I may be a little biased, but there is so much to see, do, eat, and hear. Palaces, fortresses, universities, a big river, Namsan Tower, night clubs, late night food, the largest department store in the world - the list is endless. Truthfully, I spent majority of my time in Korea in my small city in the southern portion of the peninsula, but trips to Seoul could never come often enough - its a city that I could never tire of.
If you like things- or if you have a pulse, you'll adore Seoul.
My Wanderlust origin story really started in Korea.
...and 3 I didn't
One thing any frequent traveler will tell you is that you're not going to fall in love with every destination. Imagine falling hard for every Tinder date... a w k w a r d. There will always be places that you leave thinking "that was nice, but I don't think I'll be returning" - and if you're like me (and still down with the Tinder analogy) - places where you're frantically texting your sister requesting an "emergency" call so you can get the heck outta there. Though the following there places are not nearly "fake a family emergency" level, they we're places that I simply didn't enjoy.
Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
I had super high hopes for Bali, and on the first day in Kuta Beach, they were basically crushed. I felt that the picture so many people had painted for me about it being some fantasy tropical destination were just so wrong – and it was hard for me to enjoy it for what it was: a beach party destination. My travel companions were largely hell-bent on finding a reggae bar, and while in principle, I don’t mind them – I thought: “why would I ever to got a reggae bar… in Bali?” To top it all off, I got super sick from… something contaminated. Laid up for almost 2 full days (so I guess it was lucky that I didn’t love it there…). Bali wasn’t a total wash thought….
What saved the trip: Ubud. There is so much more variety in Ubud – we had a wonderful day tour around to see a few temples, we cut through a few small villages and learned about an Indonesian death ritual (our guide had to be home by a certain time to participate in a ritual for his grandmother who had passed away a few weeks prior). We took in a cultural dance show, were horrified by thieving monkeys in the Monkey Forrest and ate lunch on the side of volcano.
To be fair, I liked Phuket the first time I visited. It wasn’t until the second pass that I really realized that it was just a major tourist pit. Everywhere was foreign-run and there were heaps of older Western gentlemen creeping on Thai girls (actually, all girls). And…. ping pong shows.
A better option might be… any other place. The Phi Phi Islands are nice, but another super touristy area (albeit, much more relaxing and less crowded given that the boat ride over may act as a deterrent for some). I liked Krabi – it had party, but it also had quiet beaches. And Koh Yao Noi was remote and quiet.
HCMC (Saigon), Vietnam
I had a tough time in Vietnam in general, but something about Ho Chi Minh City was particularly not wonderful. Likely a portion of my discomfort had something to do with knowing that the main reason I was there was to experience something that I knew was going to be unpleasant – The War Remnants Museum [formerly known as “The Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” (1975) and “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression” (1990)].
This one is worth the discomfort. Sometimes to grow you have to learn some uncomfortable truths. I was pretty well horrified by the museum, but it forced the reality upon me – and “we” did some pretty messed up things to other humans. There were no real redeeming happenings to help me bounce back from the heaviness of the museum, but I think that it was better for me to sit with my new knowledge for a little while.
- If you've visited Asia, which destination was your favorite?
- How do you manage when you realize that you're not-so-in-love with a place?
- Let's leave Asia for a sec - tell me about your #1 favorite destination so far!