It’s not too early to begin thinking about New Years Travel Resolutions. Mike and I have resolved to visit and tour Asia at least once next year. It’s a region of the world that we have barely visited and we are planning to make a trip next year. My Asia travel experiences are limited to the small group tour of India that I went on earlier this year. Mike made his way around some of Japan when he extended a business trip a few years back. And that’s it for both of us, but next year that will change! We have been thinking about where to go for a short trip in Asia and just need to make some decisions.
If you’ve followed Robe Trotting for a while, you may know that doesn’t always come the easiest to us. That’s why we’ve tapped some other travel influencers for a little help. Their travel tips were combined to build the ultimate Asia travel guide for rookies to the region. Now you have a ton of travel experience in one place full of suggestions. We covered a lot of ground in the process: from city to country and islands to mountains and National Parks. We think the end result is a perfect planning guide for any beginner to Asia travel.
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How to Plan a Trip to Asia
When planning any trip, our first few steps are the same. Here’s a quick overview of our planning process. Bookmark this page so that you can refer to it later. Once you select an Asia travel destination, you can return to go through each step.
Step 1: Research Flights
The first step in planning your trip is to research flights. We recommend using a flight search tool and comparing your results with a second search tool. In almost all cases, we find the best deals with Skyscanner. We also do a search in CheapoAir because they sometimes offer better fares on long haul flights.
If you have a good idea of your departure and return dates, this shouldn’t take you very long. Write down flights and airfare options that suit your needs. If you have the benefit of flexibility, check the prices for arriving a day earlier or returning a day later. We have been in this stage and learned that we could save $200 by staying an extra night in South Africa. The extra night in the hotel was under $200 and we enjoyed some more vacation time.
Step 2: Consider a Tour
Small group tours aren’t for everyone, but sometimes it’s just easier to book one. I experienced my first one earlier this year when I spent a month in India with G Adventures. The tour was amazing and I can’t recommend them enough. They have a commitment to sustainable travel and doing good along the way. Throughout the tour, we supported local businesses and nothing about our trip was exploitative. It was such a great experience that Mike and I booked a tour with them to see Africa a few months later. I even recommended them to my sister who spent a month in Europe with G Adventures this summer. Consider a group tour – at least check out their catalog of options HERE.
For someone new to Asia travel, a tour is especially wise. Having a local guide who speaks the regional language can be an unrivaled asset. The beach resorts of Thailand may be easy for English-speakers, but rural regions may be tougher to navigate alone. The same is true in many areas of Vietnam, China, and Sri Lanka outside of the major cities. It’s great to see touristic locations, but a tour will get you to remote villages, mountains, national parks and more.
Step 3: Plan Your Lodging
When it comes to lodging here are a few things to consider. Your hotel standards in North America, Europe and even South America may be different than what you find in Asia. In other words, a 4-star hotel may be more similar to a 3-star hotel elsewhere in the world. There are some exceptions like Tokyo and Hong Kong, but check reviews online when you’re booking. Look for lodging on sites like Hotels.com and read reviews from people who come from your home country to see their reactions. Hotels.com is also wonderful for planning a longer trip because your tenth night is always free.
Step 4: Discover Activities
One of the last steps in trip planning is my favorite – activities, and excursions. Figure out what you want to do each day of your trip. This is nicely planned for you if you elect to travel with a tour group. There will likely be additional excursions for you to select. For example, in India, I did a hot air balloon ride in Jaipur. In Botswana, Mike and I did an aerial safari plane ride and a sunset booze cruise on the Zambezi River.
Some things you may have to research yourself if you travel without a small group tour. A great place to begin that research is GetYourGuide. They offer activities, tours, and excursions in locations around the world. Best of all, they offer free cancelation up to 24-hours before the start. We often book with them to hold our spots and we like the ability to change our mind once we are on the ground in our destination.
Lastly, make a few dinner reservations. You can almost always do this online and book with the added help of Google Translate. You gotta love that Chrome browser!
Step 5: Purchase Travel Insurance
We just always have to be nags and remind you of the importance of travel insurance. It’s a relatively inexpensive part of your trip and you should travel with nothing to worry about. From health issues while you’re abroad or issues with flight cancellations – be protected. We always use World Nomads when we travel and they offer a free quote that you can get right here.
Asia Travel Destinations - Pick Your Perfect Location
Here are some top destinations if you’re looking for an Asian country to tour next year. We received some awesome information about 6 must-see nations in Asian from some cool travel influencer friends. Read what they have to say and see what sparks your interests. Many of these Asia travel spots can be toured for under $100 per day! Get inspired and search for some tour options from G Adventures HERE.
First-time travelers to Asia will just love Nepal. It’s where you can see the ancient World Heritage sites in Kathmandu. You also get the Hindu and Buddhist temples, colorful street markets and traditional food. Most of all, you’ll love the kind hospitality of the Nepali people.
This fascinating country in the heart of the Himalayas has the highest mountains in the world! I loved seeing the different ethnic cultures, traditions and festivities and walking through the Himalayan foothills. Most of all, I loved watching the sunrise over the snow-capped ranges when the high peaks shimmer golden and pink.
If this is your first time in Asia and you are on a time limit, prefer an organized tour or just don’t feel confident enough, you can hire a local guide. Nepal Adventure Point is the family-run tour agency we use. I had never trekked before and I’m not super fit but these guys suggested an easy-going itinerary though the foothills. We hiked to Poon Hill and best of all, they obtained all necessary permits and accompanied us all the way.
Hiking’s not your thing or fancy something relaxing afterwards? Then head over to Pokhara – ‘lake city’. It’s a traditional resort in a stunning valley setting framed distantly by the Annapurna Range.
Travel down to the lowlands at Chitwan Reserve. It’s a nature paradise where you can stay at a riverside lodge and watch rhinos bathe in the river. Book some activities and go out into the bush on a jeep safari to spot tigers.
Borneo is a large island in Southeast Asia. It contains part of Malaysia, part of Indonesia and the entirety of the Sultanate of Brunei. Malaysian Borneo is divided into Sarawak and Sabah regions. There are frequent flights from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Java.
Borneo makes a great place for a first time visitor to Asia because of it’s exotic with unique wildlife, it is possible to arrange travel easily, and English is widely spoken. It’s also a nature-lover’s paradise. Although much of the island has fallen to palm oil plantations, there are still areas of virgin rainforest and incredible wildlife endemic to the island.
One of the main reasons to visit Borneo is to see orangutans. They are not the only thing to see, however. Pygmy elephants – the smallest elephants, but still pretty big – are also only found in Borneo. You can also see long-nosed proboscis monkeys, brightly colored hornbill birds and golden crocodiles.
Staying in a river lodge on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah is a highlight. Early morning and late afternoon cruises in small boats along the river in search of wildlife is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The excitement of seeing macaque monkeys swinging through the trees of the jungle or a pygmy elephant lumber out of the undergrowth down to the riverbank will stay with you forever.
You can also stay in the middle of virgin rainforest in Danum Valley at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge and take guided hikes through the jungle to see orangutans, red leaf monkeys and more. A wooden canopy walk puts you on eye level with much of the wild and birdlife, and a night drive to see nocturnal animals such as giant flying squirrels, lemurs and elusive cloud leopards is included.
Sri Lanka is a great country to visit if you’re planning Asia travel for the first time. It’s easy to get to from around the globe. Sri Lanka is a small island which has both wonderful seaside resorts and hill stations up in the mountains. Because of its small size, a 10 days itinerary through Sri Lanka is enough to get a taste of what the country has to offer: adventure and relaxation.
For animal lovers, Sri Lanka has beautiful National Parks. There you can see elephants and leopards in the wild, by going on a jeep safari. For scenery enthusiasts, the train from Kandy to Ella offers stunning view towards the tea plantations often covered in mist. For beach lovers, there are plenty of luxury resorts and Ayurveda retreats which will help your body and mind to rejuvenate.
Sri Lanka is a great place for a first timer in Asia because of how easy it is to get around and how friendly the people are. Also, the country is inexpensive, with easy to find five stars hotels for less than 80$ a night.
Sri Lanka is a country which can be visited year-round for guaranteed good weather. With two monsoon seasons affecting only half of the island at a time, there is always a place that is sunny and perfect for the beach in Sri Lanka.
For first-timers to Asia travel, Taiwan is a great introduction to amazing sights, great food, and incredible shopping finds. Taiwan is a small island roughly ⅓ the size of New York. Even compared to its neighbor Japan, Taiwan is 10 times smaller. Though mini in size, it is packed with things to do and is known for its friendly and hospitable locals.
Your first point of entry will likely be Taipei, the capital city. It is both a fast-paced metropolis and a perfect getaway for rest and relaxation. You can hit up half a dozen world-class bars on a night out. Also, you can just as easily find yourself relaxing in one of Taipei’s many treasured cafes.
My recommended itinerary? Spend an afternoon touring the glamour of the city’s upscale shopping district, Xinyi District. As it gets cooler in the evening, take a short hike up Elephant Mountain for an unparalleled night view of the city and the iconic Taipei 101. Then, explore tantalizing street food options at Tonghua Night Market. End the night on a perfect note with a foot massage. If you have a few more days, however, take advantage of the convenient transportation system and travel around the island.
My favorite city of all is Tainan. It’s a southern city a mere two hours away from Taipei on the High Speed Rail. As the birthplace of Taiwan, it’s full of history and old school charm. Here unique Tainan dishes such as the danzai noodle and beef soup are must-trys. Further south is a beautiful beach town, Kenting. Soft sand and rich blue ocean await surfers, divers and beach bums.
Bhutan, the land of thunder dragons was my first trip outside India and therefore claims a special place in my heart. But that is not why I recommend it to everyone. The 5 days in Bhutan for me was like time-travel to simpler times. The whole country’s GDP is probably less than the net worth of some rich Indians, but there is not a single beggar I met on the road. How many developed countries of the West can boast of the same?
Bhutan is a tiny landlocked country in the Himalayas. It has set an example to the world with its sustainable tourism practices. The scenic views of the Himalayan pass, the forests and the architectural grandeur of the monasteries are something you cannot miss. A trek to the Tiger’s Next Monastery will give you the chance to meet the locals, devotees, and nature lovers from all over the world. It is this unmatchable beauty that put Bhutan right at the top of Lonely Planet’s list of best countries to visit in 2020.
Besides all that, Bhutan as a society is quite progressive in terms of gender equality compared to many other Asian countries. It is safe for solo women to travel in Bhutan independently. The people of Bhutan are known to be the happiest on earth, and you’ll know why when you meet them.
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Don’t stop here, browse Lonely Planet Travel Guides for these destinations below.
Thailand and Cambodia - Asia Travel
Thailand and Cambodia have long been favorites for tourists visiting Asia. Browsing these suggestions from travel influencers who have been there – it’s easy to see why! Beaches, mountains, history and hiking — you’ll find it all. Rural villages and bustling, vibrant cities abound. Check out what’s waiting for you in these amazing Asian destinations below.
Then browse Thailand tours HERE.
Also check out small group tours to Cambodia HERE.
Tours to both countries are as low as $46 per day!
There’s plenty to explore and it’s very easy and affordable to get around. The local people are extremely friendly, the city is very safe. Best of all, there are new things to discover around every corner! Something about Chiang Mai is freeing. You feel relaxed from the get go and can spend hours wandering through the tiny streets called sois, discovering incredibly unique shops and cafes. At night, you’ll enjoy the fun bars!
Thailand is one of the easiest counties to explore in Asia for first-timers. If you are wanting to go to Thailand to experience the crystal clear beaches and get photos with those iconic mountains in the background, Railay Beach has all that and more.
Getting to Railay Beach is part of the adventure. It’s technically on a peninsula in the province of Krabi and near the coastal town of Ao Nang. Railay Beach is so remote that there are no motorized bikes or cars in the area. Surrounded by amazing cliffs, the only way you can get to the beach is by boat and be ready to hop off and possibly get a bit wet.
There are some local restaurants on the beach to enjoy during the day, but it’s especially charming especially at night when they create lounging areas out on the sand. It’s lovely to have a chill dinner on the beach and enjoy a starry walk along the water.
There are a variety of resorts on Railay Beach, ranging from budget to extremely high end. Some of the resorts have some really great swimming pools and even some onsite spas for further relaxation. During the day you can enjoy exploring a few of the caves, go rock climbing, and there are even some hiking trails. Then, of course, there is the beach!
There are a few beaches on Railay peninsula, but the best is by far Prah Nang! Railay is also a great jumping-off point for other tours nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi or the famous James Bond Island. Snorkeling, sailing, jet skis, kayaking and all sorts of other fun activities are available on Railay Beach, making it a great destination for first-timers!
South-East Asia is probably the most popular destination for young backpackers. The reasons are obvious: it is a beautiful region, you can travel cheaply and fairly easily. It’s also safe and the culture is amazing, and people are very friendly. No wonder most choose it as their first travels abroad.
Cambodia should be one of the first countries to visit in Asia for all of the reasons above. The starting point is obviously Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city of the Khmer Kingdom. Well-connected through its international airport, Phnom Penh has many accommodation options. Famous are its cheap hostels, where you can have big parties and meet many people who are exploring the city.
The food is also very good, despite being less-famous than the neighboring Vietnamese and Thai cuisines. Street food is everywhere so that it’s not a problem to find something you like. If you are after some international food with local ingredients, head to BKK. That’s where the French influence mixes with local dishes and vice-versa.
What to do in Phnom Penh? First of all, enjoy the good vibes, walk and meet people. Visit the Royal Palace for some Asian architecture, as well as the Wat Phnom for a religious insight. You cannot miss two memorials to the Khmer Rouge regime that killed approximately one-third of the population in the seventies. The museum of Tuol Sleng (S-21), which once was a detention center where prisoners were tortured and treated in inhumane conditions. Also visit the Killing Fields, where many of the “enemies of the State” were killed and buried in mass graves. It is necessary to pay tribute to this difficult historical period while enjoying one of the most animated cities in Asia.
A trip to Asia is never complete for me without visiting one of my favorite destinations Siem Reap. Siem Reap is located in the northwestern part of Cambodia and it isn’t difficult to get to this popular destination. Multiple planes, buses and even trains travel to and from Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is also the gateway to Angkor Wat, the largest and oldest religious monument in the world. Every time I am inside the Angkor Wat complex I feel at peace, like I am exactly where I need to be at that exact time in space. You can easily spend days wandering through the ancient temples scattered throughout the jungles acting out your Laura Croft fantasies.
Angkor Wat is not the only reason I love this city. If you love to get pampered this is the ultimate city for budget luxury. You can spend the mornings exploring Angkor ruins and the afternoons getting pampered by the pool or in the spa. It won’t break the bank and your tired body will thank you.
Siem Reap is safe and it’s easy to get around. All the main attractions are walkable or a short tuk-tuk ride away. Make sure you head to Pub Street which is lined with bars and restaurants. It gets lively at night and a party usually breaks out.
Whatever drives your wanderlust Siem Reap can fill any void. Once you visit you’ll be hooked and keep returning time after time just like me.
Krabi is a region in Southern Thailand that is home to some spectacular scenery and some of the best beaches and most beautiful islands in the world. What better place could there be for your first trip to Asia?
Along with being beautiful, it is extremely well set up for travellers so is a very easy place to get to grips with a new continent. Krabi is a big region and you can enjoy many of the experiences that have made you want to visit Asia.
You can snorkel over beautiful coral, sail past otherworldly karst islands, soak up the never-ending sunshine and party the night away on stunning sandy beaches. There are so many great places to visit in Krabi. The islands are my favourite places to go in Krabi, from the famous Phi Phi islands to stunning Koh Ngai and laid back Koh Lanta there is somewhere to suit everyone no matter what you are looking for.
The mainland is not too shabby either with stunning Railay Beach the highlight of the coast.
It’s not all beaches and islands though, you can climb up 100’s of steps to the Tiger Cave Temple and take in some stupendous views, eat strange bugs at the night market in Krabi town, or walk through the jungle to the stunning emerald pool. Whatever you get up to on your Krabi itinerary, you are sure to have a great time! It will give you a great taste of what Asia has to offer and you are sure to want to come back for more.
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Vietnam - Asia Travel
Vietnam is an exciting destination for travel to Asia. So much so that FIVE of our awesome travel influencers recommended location in Vietnam for first-time Asia travel. Read more about their picks below and find the right place for you. To browse Vietnam tours, click HERE.
Situated on the banks of the Red River in Vietnam, Hanoi steals the hearts of many tourists. I fell in love with it and it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. In my opinion, it’s the perfect place to visit if you’re traveling to Asia for the first time. Hanoi is an easy city to visit because it has an international airport. Exploring the city is also convenient because of Grab, which is similar to Uber.
I also found it to be extremely safe. I walked around at all hours of the night and never felt scared. The city, especially the Old Quarter, is chaotic in terms of traffic. However, the chill cafes and street food vendors will lure you in. I’ve traveled to 85 countries and I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that Hanoians are some of the most hospitable and friendly people in the world. The friendliness of the locals, the coffee, and the delicious street food impressed me the most.
You have to try the Banh Mi at Bánh Mỳ P and Pho at Pho 10. The coconut coffee at Cộng Cà Phê and the egg coffee at Năng Cafe are absolutely delightful. I also loved Hanoi because there’s much to do. Every alleyway has something interesting and unique about it. You can’t miss the water puppet show and don’t forget to take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake while you’re at it. If you happen to run out of things to do, get lost in the Old Quarter. This area is brimming with bars and restaurants. Lastly, don’t forget to take a street food tour so you can experience true Vietnamese cuisine for cheap. I know that you will love this vibrant and marvelous city.
The scenic landscape of Mai Chau, which is roughly four hours from Hanoi, Vietnam, possesses the images found in most travel brochures and postcards. From the local ladies cycling through rice fields in their flowing traditional clothes and iconic conical hat to the minority groups wearing their colorful costumes as they peddle their handcrafted items,
There are many awesome things to do in Mai Chau, so it is the perfect place to go if you are traveling to Southeast Asia for the first time. It will meet your expectations and will not disappoint. You will not be heading back home thinking that you wished you went to someplace more authentic.
The natural beauty of Mai Chau’s verdant rice fields and towering cliffs is definitely worth the four-hour bus ride from Hanoi’s My Dinh bus station. The bird’s eye view of this charming village from the top of Thung Khe Pass, where the buses usually have a stopover, will confirm this.
To add to the experience, make sure to book a homestay as this will give you a better glimpse of the intricate and colorful culture of the hill tribes of Vietnam. Lac Village is one of the most popular areas for homestays. While you are there, make sure to explore the stunning Pu Luong Nature Reserve, which is filled with hiking trails and cascades. On the way to the reserve, you can also check out Thac Bo Temple and the caves and grottos in the area.
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was the first city in Asia that I visited. As a Canadian, it was quite a culture shock! But looking back, it was the perfect first stop on my Southeast Asia travel. The streets are clean, the sidewalks are wide and there are tons of parks and green spaces. There is a huge craft brewery scene and they love their jazz music too!
There are definitely familiar elements for any traveler from North America. Still, you get to experience the busy, crowded and crazy atmosphere that one expects in Asia. My number one tip for visiting this city is to take a free walking tour on your first morning. Saigon Free Walking Tours is a non-profit run in partnership with the Hoa Sen University and the local tourism board. Student guides lead tourists on a free 3-hour walking tour of the city. Visitors see the highlights while they practice their English-speaking skills. This was valuable for our first day and we got all kinds of local recommendations. We knew what to see and do in the city and all over Vietnam.
The highlight was learning how to cross the street! There is a constant stream of people on motorcycles and mopeds and they do not stop for pedestrians! Our guide showed us that you just have to be brave and start crossing. Eventually, vehicles go around you or adjust their speed so they don’t hit you. Another must-visit site is the gorgeous, pink Tan Dinh Church. I absolutely recommend taking a tour to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. It’s a network of layered underground tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. You even get to crawl through some of them if you’re not too claustrophobic.
Our first visit to Asia was a culture shock but one we loved every second of. We started our time in HCMC, which was absolute chaos, before spending a week in beautiful Hoi An. For a first time visitor to Asia, Hoi An is perfect.
Hoi An is a beautiful historic town that is much slower-paced than many of the big cities in Vietnam. In fact, it can be almost tranquil at times.
Famous for their hanging lanterns, strolling through Hoi An is an experience filled with color, friendly locals and plenty to do. We felt safe and were welcomed everywhere we went to in Hoi An.
You won’t want to miss your chance to wander through the markets, trying local street food and picking up some bargains. They are also famous for affordable tailored clothing, which was a fun experience we had during our stay.
For a luxury stay, there are many resorts along the beach. Many offer complimentary transfers into town. We even had the chance to do a delicious Vietnamese cooking class during our stay.
You can easily reach Hoi An from DaNang International Airport. The easiest way to get around is by booking a private transfer to your accommodation or taxi service at the airport.
We visited Vietnam with a toddler and were able to book a transfer with a child safety seat installed, although make sure you check it is fitted correctly. This was our first international trip as parents and the locals adore children
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Malaysia - Asia Travel
With so much to offer, Malaysia is quickly becoming one of the most visited nations for Asia travel. Malaysia has famous beaches, rainforests and an amalgam of cultural influencer. The locals are friendly and the region is still growing as a tourist destination. That’s why it’s such a hot time to visit Malaysia and find out for yourself what everyone loves so much about this diverse landscape. Don’t take my word for it though! See what these expert travel influencers have to say about their favorite Asia travel destinations in Malaysia. Check out small group tours to Malaysia HERE.
If you new to Asia travel and you are looking to explore one of the world’s most diverse region, Penang is the best city to start your adventure. To begin with, Penang is a true melting pot of Asian cultures: Chinese, Malay, Indian and remnants of European influence. You don’t have to worry about communication though, as English is widely spoken among the locals, especially youngsters and professionals.
While in Penang, you will want to visit the heritage sites at its capital, Georgetown. There you’ll find a mosque built in 19th century (Mosque Keling Kapitan). You will also find the oldest Anglican church in South East Asia (St. George Church). There’s also a heritage building that reflects Chinese architectural styles of the imperial period (Blue Mansion). Georgetown has a beautiful City Hall built by the British, and more than one thousand historic buildings.
As well, it’s worth going out of town, particularly if you are interested in nature. There are beautiful beaches in Tanjung Bungah, Gertak Sanggul, Pantai Kerajut, and Monkey Beach. There are also plenty of hiking opportunities inside the dense rainforest of Ayer Itam Dam, Botanical Garden, Teluk Bahang National Park, and Penang hills.
The Penang International Airport is just 30 minutes drive from Georgetown. It’s well connected to Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) and other Asian cities, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Phuket, Bangkok, Taipei, and Doha. Here’s a bonus tip: November is the best time to visit Penang. As it’s one of the colder months, and you will get to enjoy a quieter Penang a before Malaysian and Singaporean school holiday starts!
Kuala Lumpur was the first Asian city I visited on my solo female travel, and in my opinion, it is one of the safest cities in Asia.
You can get to Kuala Lumpur from many places around the world. What’s more, the capital of Malaysia is a hub for low-cost airlines Air Asia. The city is well connected, and the most important tourist attractions can be reached by metro or taxi.
Once there, it is worth starting the day with the Nasi Lemak, which is a Malaysian national dish made of rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, served with sambal, hard-boiled egg, fresh cucumber, and fried anchovies.
My favorite place in Kuala Lumpur is Petronas Towers and the huge Suria KLCC shopping mall, where you can buy and eat almost anything. The twin towers look beautiful after dusk, so find a hotel with a view of the Petronas Towers. You will not regret it.
Another place worth seeing is Batu Caves. It is worth going there in the early morning when there are not many tourists yet. Batu Caves are a famous pilgrimage center for local Hindus. There are a lot of monkeys that hunt for food, and they can even jump on you if they feel the food. Be careful!
If beaches and waterfalls are your ideas of a tropical paradise, check out the island of Langkawi on Malaysia’s west coast, it’s one of the coolest places to go in Malaysia.
I’m a sucker for beautiful clear water beaches, so it’s hard to pry me off the beach, but there is a lot to do other than laze on the sand and watch the sunset.
There are waterfalls strewn throughout the island: Seven Wells, Durian Perangin, and Air Terjun Temurun Waterfall. Rent a scooter and start exploring. The entire island and the waterfalls are all on Waze (like google maps but better), so you won’t get lost.
For first time visitors, one of the coolest things to do in Langkawi is to get a birds-eye glimpse of the entire archipelago. The SkyCab cable car, one of the highest in the world, glides over the 550-million-year-old Mt. Machincang. The views are majestic. It’s incredibly lush with a hidden waterfall that peeks out like a vein breaking through the jungle.
At the top is the Sky Bridge, the longest free-span, curved bridge in the world. The entire suspension bridge was airlifted to the top of the mountain by helicopter and assembled into its current spot.
Langkawi has an airport, so it is easy to get there from Kuala Lumpur or Penang. It’s not a huge island; it’s easy to explore on your own. However, there is no public transportation, you’ll have to rent a car or scooter, or take a Grab. One thing that makes Malaysia so easy to travel is that almost everyone speaks English, especially in the major traveler hubs.
If you are a first-time traveler to Asia and hungry for adventure, then Gopeng is the ultimate place to go. It is an area located in the state of Perak in Peninsula Malaysia, and a mere two hours drive away from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
What makes Gopeng so incredible is the abundance of outdoor sports available. The most prominent option is the spelunking adventure available at Gua Tempurung – the largest natural limestone cave in West Malaysia. There are four tours available, with the “dry” tours being a walk through vast chambers filled with ancient stalactites and stalagmites.
My favorite part is going on the ultimate, 4-hour Grand Tour where you go beyond the marked routes. Here, your headlight is your own guide and it is the best adventure there is! I’ve been to Gua Tempurung three times and every experience has been different. We slide down 30m slopes, scale steep rocky inclines, crawl through tight spaces, and end up submerged in water as we make our way from one chamber to the next. To learn more about my experiences spelunking in Gua Tempurung, you can read my post here.
If spelunking is not your thing, Gopeng still has plenty to offer. There is the 7km whitewater rafting adventure, waterfall abseiling, tubing and even a Rafflesia jungle trekking adventure waiting just around the corner. All this amidst the lush, pristine rainforest of Malaysia. It doesn’t get better than that!
Just make sure you set aside at least a day for Gopeng. You’re going to need it!
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More Classic and Emerging Asia Travel Destinations
Asia travel is sprinkled with hot spots for the current time and classic destinations that are on everyone’s bucket list. Here are a few destination options that we think fit in those categories. Check out a number of Asia travel options and tours HERE.
Tokyo is one of the best places to visit for anyone new to Asia travel. As the capital city of Japan, Tokyo is easy to reach with two major airports located nearby. It is also one of the safest cities in the world with a low crime rate. Tokyo has an efficient and comprehensive metro system which makes it easy to get around even for inexperienced travelers.
There are so many reasons to visit Tokyo. You’ll find fascinating culture (a mix of traditional and modern), the delicious food and many quirky and unique attractions. One attraction not to miss is Shibuya Crossing which is the world’s busiest and most famous intersection. If you enjoy more unique experiences check out one of the many themed cafes and restaurants. Try the famous Robot Restaurant or drive a go-kart on the streets of Tokyo, dressed in a superhero costume. If you want to experience traditional Japanese culture, you can watch a sumo wrestling tournament or practice. You could see a kabuki performance or stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).
If the city gets too hectic and you want to enjoy a bit of nature head to one of Tokyo’s large parks and gardens. Some favorites are Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and Ueno Park. They are also two of the best places for cherry blossom viewing in the spring. Foodies will also love Tokyo! In addition to dining at one of its many excellent restaurants, make sure to visit the fish market for fresh sushi.
Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia is one of our favorite places to visit on the whole island. Not only is it known across the world for the incredible surfing and sunsets but it also is home to one of the most significant cultural dances in Indonesia. Being only an hour ride from Canggu and Kuta it’s a must-see when visiting Bali.
In most cases, if you aren’t already staying in Uluwatu on your trip to Bali you will be staying in either Canggu, Ubud or Kuta. The good news is that they all are only about an hour from Uluwatu. The best way to get there would be by scooter (60,000 IDR per day ), that is of course if you are comfortable enough to ride one. If not you can also hire a driver for the day ( 600,000 IDR for 6 hours ) or use GoJek grab.
Uluwatu is full of incredible things to do. From the countless white sand beaches to the famous Uluwatu temple there are many reasons you shouldn’t miss traveling here. Some of our favorite things to do in Uluwatu are:
- Uluwatu Kecak & Fire Dance at Uluwatu Temple
- Surfing at Suluban Beach
- Sundays Beach Club
- Soak up the sun at Nyang Nyang Beach
Uluwatu is home to countless beaches, surf spots and pool bars to catch the sunset at but nothing will beat Karang Boma Cliff. This is by far our favorite place to not only grab a quick Instagram picture but sit down and catch the sunset over a beautiful cliff. It’s well known but for some reason every time we went there was no more than 10 people there. It’s a great way to end the day after exploring all the gems of Uluwatu.
Shanghai, the world’s largest city with over 24 million people, is a municipality in east-central China. It’s one of the most influential economic and financial cities for international trade in East China. This makes it super easy to reach.
Shanghai is one of China’s most multicultural cities and is really popular with expats. It’s therefore no surprise that it would top the list of best destinations for first-time Asia travel. Although new visitors to Shanghai will no doubt experience some culture shock, it’s a bit easier to start in Shanghai. That’s due to its international atmosphere. You’ll see gorgeous temples and beautiful parks, right next to western franchises, like Starbucks and McDonalds.
The standout area is the infamous The Bund, a river-facing line of grand Art Deco colonial buildings. It feels more like Macau or Europe than China. The thing I loved to do in this bustling metropolis was walk around various districts, get lost and people watch. I found some really amazing sites by just strolling around the back lanes of Shanghai like old uncles selling cicadas in glass jars.
One of the most popular things to do in Shanghai is ascend the Shanghai Tower. At 128 floors and 632 m high, it’s the second tallest building in the world. The observation deck is on the 118th floor and it’s exhilarating. Go on weekdays or in the morning to beat the crowds. The Fairmont Peace Hotel and Pudong Development Bank are two more gorgeous sites. They are grand and glamorous if you’re a fan of design and architecture. After popping into the very phallic Oriental Pearl Tower, have some drinks at the French Concession. Try The Odd Couple bar for pre-drinks and Lion for an over the top Chinese dining experience.
The Philippine island of Bohol is a perfect place for your first trip to Asia. The island is just off the larger island of Cebu in the Central Visayas. People are friendly and there are plenty of things to do in Bohol so you will have a ball! The most popular tourist attraction is the Chocolate Hills. 1500 round hills spread across a green area of 50 square meters. Some of them are up to 120 meters tall. In the dry season, the hills turn brown and look like chocolate balls, thus the name. There are plenty of activities for the adventurous like quad biking through the Chocolate Hills.
Bohol is also home to numerous caves and incredible waterfalls like Pahangog Falls and Ingkumhan Falls. You can explore many of them on a day tour or with a private driver. The intrepid can get a scooter around the island and chase waterfalls, visit the bamboo bridge and the Mahogany Forest. You can do activities like zip-lining across Loboc River, paddleboard, or go on a boat cruise.
Bohol also has incredible beaches. Visiting the neighboring island of Panglao and its Alona beach is a must. The white-sanded beach is spotted with beach bars and restaurants. Off the beach are some incredible snorkeling and scuba diving spots.
Bohol island really has it all. It is even home to the Philippine Tarsier, one of the smallest primates on earth. You should know, these creatures are far from ideal pets. Stay away from people or sanctuaries that let you take photos with or hold them. Sanctuaries themselves are questionable, because Tarsiers are nocturnal and are disturbed by the noise from visitors.
You knew I was going to jump in with my two cents, right? One major destination for Asia travel is India. The most popular destination to tour in India is three northern cities called “The Golden Triangle”. There you will find the current and ancient capitals, the iconic Taj Mahal and so much more.
The route begins in Dehli because it’s so easy to reach for most travelers. In Dehli you get to experience the beautiful chaos of Northern India and crowded Dehli. There are attractions you could classify as must-see. Make sure to visit The Red Fort of Dehli, Jama Masjid Mosque and Chandni Chowk Bazaar. Mosque.
From there, Golden Triangle tours normally head to Agra. Make time to see Agra’s own Red Fort and catch a glimpse of The Taj Mahal from inside the citadel-palace. Then make your way to the amazing site of India’s World Wonder, the Taj Mahal. It’s a bucket list experience for sure!
The tour finished in Jaipur, or The Pink City. My favorite attractions in Jaipur were The Water Palace and The Amber Fort. The city is charming, beautiful and you appreciate the calm after touring Dehli and the crowded Taj Mahal.
Check out Golden Triangle Tours HERE.
Luang Prabang was my favorite stop during my first trip to Asia. Luang Prabang is the perfect stop for travelers hoping to deviate from the standard Southeast Asia backpackers’ route. It’s still very accessible for tourists and is a growing destination – the word is getting out! For good reason. The city is home to a UNESCO-protected historical center, a sprawling night market, and gorgeous views of the Mekong river. I arrived in the city by boat for my five day adventure. Travel like the locals and take a two-day tour down the Mekong from Northern Thailand to reach the city. Luang Prabang also has an airport and is accessible by bus.
First-time travelers to Asia will love wandering through the ornate temples and historical buildings in the center. It’s a very safe place to get lost. The city feels a bit untouched by tourism, particularly outside the historical center, while still providing plenty of amenities to guide your stay. Explore the nightly crafts market, tour the UNESCO museums, or donate food to the local monks by participating in the daily alms giving ceremony at sunrise.
For travelers with a bit more time, I recommend taking a longboat across the river to explore Ban Xang Hai village. And consider stopping by Big Brother Mouse English school to volunteer for an hour or so. The school is always looking for native or fluent English speakers to practice with their students.
I loved my time in Luang Prabang. I felt like I could still get an authentic feel for the city and Laos people, even with a short visit. The city does not disappoint.
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This Post Has 10 Comments
Super thorough and well-researched! Thanks for the insight, the articles leaves no space for mistakes and offers everything you need to know (and more) when planning a trip to Asia. I will definitely consider this even for second and third-time visits.
I loved reading this! It can be pretty overwhelming when planning an international trip for the first time as there’s so many choices to make, so thanks for sharing!
I’m actually more interested in Central Asia, but Vietnam has been on my list for ages as well.
What an amazing comprehensive guide that would help many people not sure of where to go or what to expect in so many of these countries. Thanks for a great post.
I love your post, it’s really nice and helpful
have you been traveling to Indonesia? I think you have to visit Indonesia because in Indonesia you will meet whit many amazing places
Thank you for the insights, I wish I would see something like this post before I went to Sri Lanka alone. But anyway, it was an adventure and as you mentioned this country here too – it is one of the places that I would recommend for first-timers in Asia.
I’m very anxious to go to Asia by myself because there’s so much of a cultural difference but I do want to go! This guide is very helpful so thank you!
I’m actually planning a trip to Thailand, so this is so helpful! I agree with your points around taking a guided tour. You really get to see so much more of an area when you’re with a guide, and I always feel like I learn more when I’m with someone who really knows the culture and history of a place.
A thorough, well researched and a useful guide for first time travellers to Asia. Such a great selections of books to choose from to accompany our trips. Excellent.
Absolutely agree with your tips, especially travel insurance. I’m not a fan of group tours though, I prefer to do my own thing by myself. I do agree about comparing the flight prices on skyscanner and cheapoair. I always do that. Also, I look up all activities on Getyourguide just to see what’s there to do but end up booking with local operators instead because it is always cheaper that way. In hotels, agoda is really good in Asia, better than booking dot com.