India Rishikesh Yoga in an old hotel


The top 10 Asia travel experiences you must have

Published October 10th, 2014

Whether you’re an Asia newbie or a long-time visitor to this chaotic continent, you’re guaranteed a jaw-dropping experience with each holiday here. Travelling around Asia is a bit like a #nofilter post on Instagram – it can be a bit dirty, confronting and in your face – but there’s also pretty amid the gritty. A non-Photoshopped travel experience that’s all the more memorable. To get you amongst the cultural nuances, ancient traditions, modern cities and authentic rituals, here’s our list of the top 10 Asia travel experiences you must have.



A full moon party on Koh Pha-Ngan

If this doesn’t rank on your partay bucket list of all time, it’s best you just collect your seniors card right now. Think multiple sound systems and bars spilling onto Haad Rin beach with revellers from all around the world sucking down buckets of the local energy drink, Thai whisky and god knows what else. Expect to step over bodies before it even hits midnight. Not in town for the full moon shindig? Don’t worry – there’s quarter moon parties as well!


Diving in Cebu

The Philippines is a mecca for scuba, lying on a ‘coral triangle’ with more reef fish, coral, sea snakes, turtles and sharks than you can aim your GoPro at. Cebu is smack bang in the middle of the Visayas island archipelago and a fave backpacker and diving destination for its white sandy beaches and hard and soft corals, sponge-covered walls and drop-offs. You can’t really go wrong anywhere here, but pro divers tip Moalboal, Bantayan and Malapascua for the best vis and variety.



See the sun rise over Angkor Wat

With saffron-robed monks gliding around the tree-choked ancient Hindu-cum-Buddhist temple city, World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and your Instagram dream come true. Expect tourist throngs, so set aside at least half a day to do this wat some justice. There’s so much detail in the apsaras (over 3,000 of them) carved into the walls alone. Best time of day to visit? The complex opens at 5am so get up early to salute the sun.


Taking a longboat along the Mekong

The nourishing ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam offers a glimpse into a traditional way of life as it has existed for centuries in these river communities. The muddy fertile waters of the Mekong River are the lifeblood of this region, so get amongst the impossibly green rice paddies, floating markets laden with tropical fruit and take tea with the locals. A traditional wooden junk is the only way to get around – sleep onboard for the full experience.



Stay in a yurt in Mongolia

It’s no longer enough to just stay in a tent at a music festival, hipster events are now all about the yurt – a traditional round dwelling that’s the completely portable home of nomads on the Central Asia steppe. Also known as gers, get one up on your bearded festival compadre by staying in a yurt in Mongolia instead of Byron Bay. Things to do in a yurt: cook a Mongolian barbecue, drink salted tea made with horse milk, stay out of the wind.


Learn kung fu at the Shaolin Temple

If the moves you’d like to perfect could split a plank of wood in half, skip the yoga and sign up to learn kung fu at the Shaolin Temple (yes, the home of the famous kung fu monks) in Dengfeng City in the Henan province of China. Learn the way of the fist, weapons and more from the resident monastic order where you can stay in a dorm, eat like a warrior, follow the Four Treasures of Shaolin and practice your discipline.



Do yoga in Rishikesh

If you’re (semi) serious about your downward dog, you’ll want to strike an asana in the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh. The spiritual centre part, located on the Ganges River in India (mega symbolism alert), is Swarg Ashram, while backpackers favour the High Bank and whitewater rafting and trekking in the Himalayas. Book a retreat to learn yoga and meditation from the gurus and achieve namaste nirvana.


Spot the komodo dragons at Komodo National Park

These prehistoric throwbacks are notoriously cranky – biting the toes of celebs and being the menacing animal du jour for Bond villains (buh-bye hairless cat), so of course you need to see the komodo dragon in its natural habitat. The reptilian giants skulk around their own volcanic islands, Rinca, Komodo and Padar, known as Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara Province in Indonesia. Just keep your toes to yourself – these lizards weigh around 70 kilos!



Look after the baby elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Baby elephants. If this doesn’t melt your jaded travelling heart, how about caring for orphaned baby Asian pachyderms in Sri Lanka? Go on, you know you want to. Guests of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in the Kegalla district, halfway between Colombo and Kandy, can watch the gentle giants on their twice-daily baths, get up close with an elephant herd, and have the opportunity to bottle-feed the under-threes. Awww!


Drink lao-lao in Laos

Depending on who you believe, tossing back a shot of lao-lao (a Laotian rice whisky that’s about 45 percent alcohol, drunk by the bucket and under US$1 per bottle) containing snakes, scorpions or insects and medicinal herbs will help trekkers on their journey or the animal in the spirit will infuse the drinker with its, err, spirit. Chok de! If this is not to your taste, maybe try lao hai (jar alcohol) – a sweet rice wine sipped from a earthen jar (hai).


Keen to see more of Asia? Our mates at Busabout have just launched flexible tour options to Southeast Asia, starting in 2015, with local guides for the best insider tips in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma.


Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.