25 Best Places To Visit In Asia For First Time Travelers
Why You Are Spoilt For Many Beautiful Places In Asia
It’s no surprise that Asia as the the largest continent in the world is at the top of a lot of people’s bucket list destinations. It’s one of the best places in the world to visit and provides travelers with a wide choice of diverse experiences. Planning a trip to Asia means an exciting blend of tradition, culture and and modern attractions. You will be captivated by ancient temples, stunning beaches, ultra futuristic towering skyscrapers and picturesque landscapes.
1. Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Like me, most people who want to visit Asia will have the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in the top half of their bucket list. Located on the outskirts of Siem Reap city in Cambodia, it is the largest religious complex in the world with more than a 1000 buildings. It dates back to the 12th century with stunning buildings in the jungle reflecting traditional Khmer architecture and Hindu mythology scenes.
There are also many other temple complexes to explore beyond Angkor Wat to keep you fully entertained. Siem Reap itself provides a good base to explore the fascinating history and culture of Cambodia, with lots of quality hotels, restaurants and nightlife.
2. Beijing, China
China is a country I fell in love with from my first visit in 2014, and I have been back on several occasions since then. Beijing was on my must visit itinerary because of its significance as the capital and wide range of historic and cultural tourist attractions. I wasn’t disappointed and nor will you if you visit.
Top attractions include the spectacular Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the many sections of the truly stunning Great Wall of China. And of course China is one of the best places to travel in Asia to enjoy mouthwatering Asian cuisine.
You can read my 10 Unforgettable Things To Do In China to discover why it’s one of the best places to visit in Asia. You can also see some of the breathtaking beauty of the country in my China East Coast gallery.
3. Guilin and Lijiang, China
Visiting Guilin and Lijiang is also one of the best things you can do if you are planning a trip to China. I personally prefer to have a mix of urban city and natural landscape experiences when I travel. Guilin and Lijiang are 2 perfect places to explore if you love mesmeric scenic landscapes, and will be a highlight of any trip to Asia.
Guilin is famous for its picturesque karst mountain landscapes and the Li River’s which flows gently between the mountains.Taking a leisurely cruise down the Li River as you look at the spectacular landscape is a memory that will stay with you forever. Lijiang, on the other hand, provides travellers with an ancient old town feel with cobbled streets, quaint bridges, and lovely preserved Chinese buildings.
You can have a look at some of the beautiful scenes of Guilin in my China West Coast gallery. I also have articles on Why China is Safe to Travel to and How To Get Foreign Internet Access to help your planning.
4. Shanghai, China
You must visit Shanghai If you’re looking for the best urban landscape in Asia in my opinion. You will understand why the first time you visit the legendary Shanghai Bund at night, when the word wow keeps popping out of your mouth. This long promenade with amazing skyline views of neon-lit modern skyscrapers across the Huangpu River is the most popular attraction in Shanghai.
Other wonderful things to see include historic Chinese and European areas with preserved Chinese and colonial buildings, and many fantastic museums, restaurants and nightlife.
5. Agra, India
No visit in India is complete without visiting Agra to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the majestic Taj Mahal. This imposing white marble mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal is absolutely breathtaking in person. But Agra is more than just the Taj Mahal.
Other impressive places to explore include the Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb (also known as Baby Taj) and Agra Fort with its ornately decorated walls and buildings. You can also visit the famous beautifully preserved red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri which was once the capital of the Mughal empire.
You can have a look at some of the pictures of Agra and other places in my India gallery to help your planning.
6. Goa, India
When people think of India, images of lots of people busily going about their daily activities in a frenetic urban city springs to mind. And after experiencing this hectic environment in the big cities, nothing beats then taking the time to visit Goa for the complete opposite experience. Located on India’s west coast, Goa is a paradise beach destination and one of the most laid back places on earth.
Its golden sandy beautiful beaches are exactly what is needed to relax or enjoy some water sports activities like parasailing and jet-skiing. The city’s historical quarter, Old Goa is also worth visiting. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has a number of ancient churches with colonial Portuguese architectural influences.
7. Kerala, India
Kerala, also known as “God’s Own Country” is another wonderful foil to the busyness of India’s big cities. Like Goa it has a number of lovely sandy beaches for you kick back and relax on. The jewel in the crown though of Kerala is the wonderful haven of the serene backwaters of Kerala. This is a network of lakes and canals alongside rich green landscapes dotted here and there with the homes of locals.
It’s a prime attraction where you can take a day or multi-day trip in a traditional thatched houseboat to explore the backwaters. Don’t forget to visit the nearby gorgeous inland landscapes of the tea plantations in Munnar if you have some time to spare.
8. Bali, Indonesia
Bali (also called Island of the Gods) is an unforgettable piece of paradise in Indonesia that will provide you with a fantastic exotic escape. Bali continues to tempt travellers with its beautiful natural scenery, gorgeous beaches, elaborate/majestic temples, rich culture, and warm hospitality.
Visitors can explore cliffside temples like the iconic Tanah Lot, hike to jungle waterfalls and rice terraces, surf world-class breaks, or chase waves at Uluwatu. Culture lovers and those seeking a well body and mind will enjoy the dance and music shows, and yoga retreats and spas in Ubud.
9. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, one of the busiest cities in the world, is an exciting mix of the traditional with ancient temples and the ultramodern with neon-lit skyscrapers. There are many wonderful shrines and temples to visit including Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo. One of the photographic highlights of visiting many shrines are the lovely vermillion torii gates that you pass through to get to the shrines.
Fashion and shopping enthusiasts will love the ultra-cool urban districts like Shibuya with its famous Shibuya Crossing, and Ginza. The Shibuya Crossing is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, and a wonderful experience to enjoy. Have a look at my Japan gallery for photos of some of the amazing places in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.
10. Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto is an absolute must of any trip to Asia, with it’s delightful offer of historic buildings and traditional culture. The city is full of beautiful temples and shrines including Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, and Kiyomizu-dera with its large wooden viewing terrace.
Likewise the gorgeous Japanese styled gardens, like those at Ginkaku-ji, and quaint traditional Japanese style restaurants will keep you entertained. Lastly a visit to Kyoto is not complete without a visit to Gion, Kyoto’s famous geisha district to see geisha’s dressed in traditional kimonos.
11. Okinawa, Japan
Okinawa, is a heavenly island paradise in Japan, offering a wonderful serene blend of nature and rich culture and history. Okinawa boasts some of the best beaches in Asia, with perfect white sands, and amazing crystal-clear greenish-blue waters that are perfect for snorkeling and diving.
Other tourist attractions include Shuri Castle which served as royal palace during the Ryukyu Kingdom, and the outstanding Churaumi Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Japan. The island is famous for people living longer than in most countries, and it’s understandable with it’s healthy and delicious food, and peaceful ambiance.
12. Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, is renown for its modern and historic architecture, vibrant nightlife, and mouthwatering street food. As a photographer, Osaka is photography heaven with it’s rich colours and lifestyle.
Some of the must-visit attractions include the impressive Osaka Castle, the Harukas 300 observation deck for spectacular panoramic city views, and the wonderful Dotonbori district. Food lovers will be in heaven in Osaka especially in Dotonbori with many choices of delicious street food or Japanese courses in beautiful traditional restaurants.
13. Seoul, South Korea
Seoul has a lovely intimate metropolitan feel that makes it a great place to visit if you are considering a trip to Asia. It has a similar ambiance in my view to Kyoto in Japan, with a nice mix of modern skyscrapers and historic Buddhist temples and palaces. The most popular attraction is the stunning Gyeongbokgung Palace which dates back to the Joseon Dynasty, with its beautiful architectural design and peaceful gardens.
It’s a wonderful experience to see the different palace buildings and also the men and women who have dressed up in traditional Korean clothing. Other places to visit include the impressive Gwanghwamun Square, and Bukchon Hanok Village with it’s streets with traditional Korean style houses.
You can have a look at my South Korea gallery to see some of the beautiful sights in Seoul and other areas.
14. Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka
The Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site at the top of a hill. The area has more than 80 caves with 5 main caves containing statues and ancient murals reflecting over 2,000 years of Buddhist history.
As you wander through the caves you will see many gods and goddesses, and pictures of the Lord Buddha, bodhisattvas, and other Hindu deities. The ceilings of the caverns are also decorated with elaborate religious motifs that follow the shapes of the rock. It’s a wonderful spiritual and historic experience that is worthy of a visit.
15. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya, also known as the “Lion’s Rock,” is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka and the 8th Wonder of the World. It’s a 5th century fortress built out of a 200m high volcanic rock hill by King Kasyapa, that towers above the jungle floor. It’s a fantastic engineering feat with walls that are decorated with frescoes and an impressive palace at the top of the rock.
A series of well designed stone reservoirs and water pumps use pressure to carry water from the ground to the palace at the top. The top can be reached by climbing the 1,200 steps of a winding stone staircase, and provides fantastic panoramic views. Surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens, Sigiriya is one of the most spectacular natural sights you can see in Asia.
16. Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei, like most of Taiwan is a beautiful low-key vibrant city with lovely modern and traditional attractions including towering skyscrapers and ancient temples. The most famous landmark is the beautiful Taipei 101 building which provides panoramic city views from its 89th floor observation deck.
Other great tourist attractions to see include Elephant Mountain for panoramic Taipei skyline views, the 18th century Longshan Temple and the National Palace Museum. If you like nature, head to the Yangmingshan National Park, with its awesome lush green landscapes, hot springs and hiking trails. Check out my Taiwan gallery for some inspirational images to help your planning.
17. Bangkok, Thailand
Who hasn’t heard of Bangkok! As Thailand’s bustling capital, it’s at the top of most our destination lists and doesn’t disappoint. Whatever your interest from ornate shrines, to vibrant street life and delicious food, there is something for everyone. Some of the most popular places to see are The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew with their exquisite Thai architecture and religious statues.
Other fun things to do include taking a boat ride on The Chao Phraya river, and wandering about in markets like the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Thailand is also about food. And whether you have a bite at one of the many street food stalls or in fancy restaurant in Sukhumvit you are guaranteed a treat.
Have a look at my Thailand gallery for some of the delights waiting for you in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand.
18. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai with its lovely calming vibes is one of the most amazing places to visit in Thailand for natural beauty, culture and history. Located in northern Thailand, it has many things to see including temples like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang in the Old Town area.
Just outside the city is the beautiful Doi Suthep National Park. The most visited place in the park is the heavenly Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple built on the top of a hill. From here you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Chiang Mai. Other attractions include trips to see the local hill tribes in their traditional communities, and shopping and eating street food in the many night markets.
19. Phuket, Thailand
Thailand means beaches, and Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is a very popular beach destination in Asia, known for stunning beaches, water activities, and vibrant nightlife. There are numerous beaches in Phuket including Patong, Kata, and Karon offering sun-seeking travelers many choices for sandy beaches with cool crystal-clear waters.
It’s also a great location for Island hopping to nearby islands like my favourite Phi Phi Island. Another attraction worth visiting is the huge 45m high Big Buddha white marble statue that is visible from most places in Phuket. It’s quite impressive in person and offers a lovely panoramic view of Phuket.
20. Railay Beach, Thailand
Railay Beach, in the popular Krabi province of Thailand, is one of the best examples of a tropical paradise in Southeast Asia. It’s a stunning destination with golden sands and turquoise crystal-clear waters that is perfect for relaxing and sunbathing or indulging in water sports.
The surrounding limestone cliffs also offer some of the best climbing for people who enjoy rock climbing or deep water soloing. You can also take longtail boat trips to other nearby islands with stops along the way for a bit of swimming. All of these activities make Railay Beach one of the most beautiful places in Asia to visit.
21. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, continues to grow in reputation as a top tourist destination in Asia. It offers tourists an interesting mix of luxury and traditional charm, with impressive buildings and natural landscapes.
Stand out places to visit include the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an absolute gem that cannot be missed and the luxurious Emirates Palace hotel. Other attractions include Qasr Al Hosn, the oldest stone building in the city, and visiting the Corniche, with its beautiful beachfront walkways and parks.
Motorsports enthusiasts will want to make sure that they spend some time at the Ferrari World theme park. There are also many opportunities to enjoy the desert with day or multi-day trips involving camel and/or quad biking among the sand dunes.
22. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is one of the most popular countries to visit in Asia for short breaks, offering traveler’s a range of attractions and experiences. It’s certainly one of the most luxurious countries in the world with the spectacular man-made Palm Jumeirah island and its high-end hotels, restaurants, and residences.
The most visited attraction is the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which provides stunning panoramic city views. Other places to visit include the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood and the Dubai Creek which provides a glimpse into local lifestyle. Shoppers will enjoy the massive luxury malls like the Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates.
Dubai is also convenient for desert safari day-trips with the opportunity to see the desert sands closeup with camel or quad bike rides.
23. Halong Bay, Vietnam
You cannot plan a trip to Vietnam without taking the opportunity to visit Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful destination with a landscape of emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. It’s truly spectacular and photos like the one above from my Vietnam gallery, cannot capture the mesmerizing pleasure of sailing in the bay.
The best way to explore Halong Bay is to take a boat cruise through the towering limestone pillars, and to explore floating fishing villages like Cua Van. There are many options for this as day or multi-day trips, on big boats and smaller junk boats. Although it’s pricer, I would highly recommend taking a small 1 or 2 night junk boat cruise. This will give you a more personal experience and you can enjoy the magical sunset and sunrise on the bay as you sip a drink.
24. Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi is an exciting hectic capital city with a lovely blend of culture, architecture and food influenced by eastern Vietnamese and western French colonial styles. The busy Old Quarter with it’s maze of narrow streets, street vendors and locals is the most popular place for tourists.
You can wander around the streets, eat street food, and stroll around the lovey Hoan Kiem Lake and red bridge, especially in the evening period. Other places to explore in the Old Quarter include the Hanoi Bach Ma Temple, and the entertaining night market.
For quieter experiences visit the impressive Imperial Citadel of Thang Long or explore Hanoi’s French Quarter to enjoy the grand boulevards and colonial architecture.
25. Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is a beautiful charming city that provides tourists with a glimpse into Vietnams colonial past. Hoi An is to Vietnam, what Chefchaouen is to Morocco, in that Hoi An conjures up images of one dominating colour. In Hoi Ans’ case this is bold golden yellow, as a lot of the houses in the popular Old Town area are painted this colour.
The picturesque Old Town is a photographers delight whether you are looking for that perfect holiday, stock photography or TikTok worthy shot that excites people. It’s an area filled with beautifully preserved historical sites like the Japanese Covered Bridge, Chinese temples, and French-colonial buildings. It’s beautiful throughout the day but especially at night when the buildings are illuminated by colourful lanterns, and the night market is in full swing.
Check out my 6 Top Photographic Locations in Gorgeous Hoi An guide for some tips on where to get the best photos.
Final Thoughts On The Best Places To Visit In Asia
As you can see from the above, the best places to visit in Asia from Cambodia to Vietnam offer plenty of culture and diversity options. Whether you’re a first-time or experienced traveler, visiting Asia will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
I’m sure that most of the destinations in my list of the best places will end up on your bucket list of places to visit. So have a great time when you go.
Get your copy of my free Your Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist Guide For Your Next Trip to help your planning. And use my Free Personalised Online Travel Checklist tool to make sure you have packed everything for your trip.
Q: What are the best places in Asia for first time travelers?
A: All of the above places in my list are popular tourist destinations for first time travelers and well worth a visit. If you are only visiting one place, start in less hectic places like Thailand or India beaches, or quieter pace of Taipei and Chiang Mai. If you want to try 2/3 places start with a beach to become acclimatised and then head to a city for a different vibe.
Q: What is the best way to experience Asia as a first time traveler?
A: The best way to experience Asia for the first time is to embrace why you went there in the first place. That is jump right in and try new local foods and speak to the local people while you explore the sights. But be conscious and respectful of the cultures you are visiting by reading ahead on the right and wrong things to do. Plan ahead but remember that things sometimes don’t work to plan, so don’t let that spoil your holiday.
Q: What is the best time to visit these best places in Asia
A: It is difficult to say what the best months to visit these countries are as it really depends on what you are after. Generally speaking November to April offers drier more comfortable weather in a number of Asian countries, so are good times to visit. Bali on the other hand is better to visit during April to October.
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