Things to do in Asia
From crowded cities straining at the seams to austere ashrams and religious retreats where all you can hear is your inner monologue, Asia has everything for the curious traveller. Mega metropolises like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Bangkok and Tokyo pulse with a vibrant energy where everyone is on the move and nothing is permanent. These burgeoning superpowers are where global trends incubate at a dizzying speed and permeate pop culture faster than you can say ‘Gangnam Style’.
From modern to traditional, a reverence for ancestors and cultural rituals uncovers archaeological burial grounds, exquisite temples, entombed warriors, centuries-old crafts, intricate cultural practices and feats of ancient engineering that sit among futuristic skyscrapers, fashion-forward style and cutting-edge technology. Tiger economies stop for sacred cows, elephants stomp down highways and chickens ride on the local bus for ‘only-in-Asia’ holiday moments.
Get out of the cities to discover sun-drenched beaches and remote locales in so-hot-right-now destinations like Sri Lanka, Laos, South Korea and Bhutan before everyone else catches up. From dense tropical jungles, swollen river gorges, windswept deserts, beautiful beaches, pristine diving spots and cloud-piercing peaks, Asia’s natural attributes are just as enticing as the non-stop-shopping spots.
Whether your holiday plans revolve around the beach and bar, full-on religious festivals and cultural sites, trekking in the wild or up-close encounters with endangered orangutans in Borneo, cute-as pandas in China or rehabilitated elephants in Thailand, Asia is an affordable and unforgettable foray away. Here’s some of our fave spots and travel inspiration in Asia to get you started.
There's cities; there's even megacities; and then there's Asia's supercities. While international metropolises like London, New York and Paris have that buzz you can only get in the 'big city', they've got nothing on the seething mass of humanity you'll encounter in Asia that's equal parts infuriating and intriguing.
From huge pachyderms that roam the busy streets of Bangkok to sunnies-stealing monkeys hanging around temples like adolescent gangs, some of your best photo ops and holiday anecdotes will come from your encounters with various Asian animals.
For lazing in the sun, scrunching your toes in the sand, swimming in warm waters and seeing colourful marine life for next to nix, subtropical Southeast Asia is hard to beat. Luckily, there’s no shortage of beaches and islands to escape to in Asia, whatever your vacay style.
Spanning 6,350 kilometres, the sheer spectacle of China’s Great Wall never ceases to amaze. One of the most accessible and popular sections, Badaling, is close to Beijing. Head here all year round to see the countryside change colour with the seasons and marvel at the awe-inspiring structure.
If you want to see the real Asia, head to the markets. These retail environments have been at the centre of communities for centuries for a daily debrief, leisurely bevvie and a live chicken, bag of fresh noodles or a box of incense to go. There's a market in every city and town in Asia ranging from the touristy to the truly eye-opening.
Where the mighty Mekong meets the sea is Vietnam’s so-called ‘rice basket’ sustaining lush, verdant fields and a multitude of villages. Traverse the canals and waterways by boat to chance upon floating fruit markets, riverside towns, fish farms and the everyday life of the Mekong Delta.
With myriad religions, cultures and traditions in the fascinating and colourful continent of Asia, each city or country has its own standout place of worship. From the wats of Thailand and Cambodia to the pagodas of Myanmar and Indonesia, and from the mosques of India, Malaysia and Pakistan to the temples of China, Japan, Tibet and Korea, there’s no shortage of religious sites to admire.
A long time ago (in the 19th century), East met West in Shanghai and the love affair spawned the vibrant and attractive metropolis that’s now home to over 23 million people. Historically the most Western of China’s destinations, this cosmopolitan city takes the old and the new in its confident stride, straddling high-tech towers and traditional teahouses in its decidedly upmarket footwear.
Life in the 852 (that’s Hong Kong to you) is all about split personalities. There’s the 99 years of British rule versus 15 years since the China handover. A polluted city juxtaposed with the fresh-air environs of the beaches, natural areas and outlying islands.
From relaxation to full-throttle adventure, there's no shortage of things to do in Bali. The hard part is dragging yourself away from the pool bar long enough to do it. But once you do, it will be more than worth it.
Spicy, sweet, sour and salty; the hallmarks of Thai cuisine are appropriate descriptors for the country’s capital as well. As one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia, Bangkok is a metropolis of many contrasting flavours.
Phuket is up there with the best of them. A hedonistic playground to rival that of Spain's Ibiza and America's Las Vegas. Like Bangkok on water, the bustling island is no stranger to a bit of chaos, crowds and wild nights.