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.

Listen to episode 230 for free in iTunes, or hit play below:

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.

Delicious streetfood at the night markets of Luang Prabang, Laos
Delicious streetfood at the night markets of Luang Prabang, Laos

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.

Suzhou, China

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.

Click here for more information on Suzhou or China tours.

Suzhou canal boat

Battambang, Cambodia

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.

Osaka, Japan

Osaka castle

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.

See the Osaka city guide or things to do in Osaka for more ideas.

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.

Craig and Linda on an elephant, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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.

Click here for more information on Chiang Mai or Thailand holidays.

Varanasi, India

“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.

Washing in the Ganges, Varanasi India
Washing in the Ganges - Varanasi, India

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.

Your thoughts on "Best places in Asia podcast"

  • hum, we seem to have very different tastes after all, maybe you'll hate Osaka ;) - I loathed Chiang Mai and Ho Chi Minh City but I'm a grumpy anti-social person who hates touristy places. My Asian favourites last year were Hanoi and Tainan in Taiwan.

    on January 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm Reply
    • We were sad we couldn't make it up to Hanoi. If we had done, it'd be moving too fast to see anything. Our experiences of Chiang Mai and HCMC weren't very touristy at all; that's part of why we liked them! In Chiang Mai we spent time with expats who had been there for 6+ months, so didn't look at a guide or tourist 'destination' once. In HCMC we were couchsurfing out in the 'suburbs' so spent time there in addition to visiting some of the main things to do. It's amazing how you get different perspectives on the same place. Two nights ago we were talking with a traveller about La Paz, Bolivia: he thought it was the best place in the world, but because we got targeted for about 8 theft attempts in 48 hours, I couldn't leave fast enough.

      on January 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm Reply
  • I think you've hit the highlights of Asia. After we return from China in April, we'll probably add to your list. My significant other fell in love with India while attending a friend's wedding and is begging for us to return.

    on January 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm Reply
    • Awesome! We're looking forward to seeing your ideas.

      on January 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm Reply
  • Wonderful list! Do visit Varanasi. It is what it has been written about, in fact it is much much more. You guys will love it! It is a unique city and can never be summarized or pictured in words or images. I loved the other places mentioned here also, someday may be I will be able to put my feet outside India too.

    on January 28, 2012 at 5:35 am Reply
    • Thanks Arti. We hope you can put those feet outside India as well! Good luck with your preparation!

      on January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm Reply
  • Great list! I am planning my second trip back to SE Asia this year and many of the places you mentioned are on my list! Thank you!

    on January 28, 2012 at 8:06 pm Reply
    • Hi Chrissy! Very cool; where else are you heading?

      on January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm Reply
  • Suzhou is amazing! I was just there with my family last month, stayed in serviced apartments. We took a day trip out to the gardens which was just a 20 minute drive from our place at Fraser Suites Suzhou, and.. Well.. These heritage gardens are unlike anything we've ever seen. But I digress. Lots of great tips, thank you!

    on August 22, 2012 at 11:43 pm Reply
  • How about try the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai or Elephant World in Kanchanaburi. Volunteering your time at these rescue and rehabilitation centres is a fantastic alternative to elephant trekking. :)

    on March 2, 2015 at 11:35 pm Reply

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