It’s completely impossible to create a definitive list of the best places in Asia… It’s so big, so varied, so fascinating.
This list comprises the places we’ve loved the most, and the places we’re most fascinated by. We’d love to hear your recommendations too — so let us know your favourite places in the comments.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The most beautiful city in Laos, Luang Prabang seems to marry a romantic view of the east with modern life in one easy sweep. Travellers can arrive by river and then wind as high up the hills as they wish.
The UNESCO-listed old town is home to truly original craft markets, delicious morning food markets, and a myriad of emerging cafes and bars to fit the mix of expats and travellers. Laos has only been ‘open’ to visitors since the mid 1990s, but in Luang Prabang you can see the best of what tourism money can do.
Its canals have given Suzhou the name the “Venice of the Orient”, but today it is known for the Suzhou gardens: stunning gardens built by the aristocracy in pursuit of aesthetic perfection.
Suzhou can form a day trip from Shanghai, but we highly recommend taking a few days here to explore the rich cultural offerings of the city, rather than skipping through and seeing only the main sites.
A fun diversion between the main destinations of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Battambang is a place to chill out and relax. It’s also home to a fabulous tuktuk tour, taking you to the country’s only winery, temples rebuilt from the desecration of the Pol Pot era, a bat cave at dusk, and the genius of the bamboo train.
Read more on Cambodia.
This little city is somewhat cheaper than Tokyo, but still offers all the entertainment you can find in the Japanese capital. Like many Japanese cities, it suffered severe damage in World War II, but several important buildings remain — like the Osaka Castle.
As Steffi wrote, “Osaka is famous for three things: its friendly, straightforward (by Japanese standards) locals that speak a particularly colourful dialect known as Osaka-ben; its good, cheap and plentiful food; and its night life and entertainment.” That’s reason enough for this Japanese city to be top of our list when we visit.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The bustling, scooter-filled city of Ho Chi Minh is something to behold! Electrical wires tangle, crossing the road is an exercise in faith, and everyone’s vision of a chaotic South East Asian city is fulfilled.
The city itself is fun to explore and filled with pho — a delicious noodle soup that’s second to none. There’s plenty to do, no matter if you want to search the markets, party hard, explore wartime history, or go further back to colonial French or pre-European settlement.
Want to travel Indochina? Explore our Asia travel advice.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is an excellent getaway from the big cities. The compact central city is easy to navigate by foot or scooter; there’s fantastic food — in restaurants, from street vendors and the fresh food markets; and the place’s history is fascinating too. Once the capital of Thailand, that honour moved to Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and then Bangkok, as it is today.
The city is a great stopping-off point if you are moving towards the border with Burma, China, or Laos, but you might just find yourself stuck there, as a growing community of expats have found.
“The city is a maze of narrow lanes and quaint alleyways which are filled with colourful shops selling interesting items, people walking up and down, and even the occasional cow roaming aimlessly around. Clearly Varanasi is a city with a heart — everyone finds a place here,” wrote Arti in her piece on what some claim as the world’s oldest city.
It certainly appealed to Indie Travel Podcast writer Kurt too: Once in Varanasi, any backpacker will quickly learn that this ancient city embodies the best and worst aspects of India today. Watching hundreds of pilgrims come slowly down the ghats (long series of steps) to bathe in the Ganges, is a spectacular sight. Being on the river at 5am for sunrise adds to the experience – the sun compounds the drama. It is as if the sun comes up in slow motion on purpose, to gradually reveal timeless sights and sounds.”
Go on… Have a listen:
It’s somewhere we’d love to visit. How about you? Where do you think are the best places in Asia? Let us know in the comments.