With its vibrant big cities, abundant historic and cultural attractions, and diverse natural landscapes, Asia offers more to see and do than most travelers can experience in an entire lifetime. We tried to narrow things down, and pulled together a list of the 50 best places to visit in Asia before you die.
Note that we’ve chosen these destinations and attractions for their cultural significance, beauty, and fun, one-of-a-kind activities. However, be aware that a few are located in regions or countries that are currently the subject of boycotts or ethical concerns. It’s always wise to research each destination, its safety, and potential human rights issues before booking travel.
Thailand’s second-largest city and its de facto cultural capital, Chiang Mai offers beautiful old temples, great street food, and arguably the country’s best night market. While you can easily spend your day hopping from temple to temple, it’s equally easy to just slow down and relax in this northern city.
Our Top Pick for a Chiang Mai Hotel: The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai
With its emerald-hued rice paddies, thick tropical jungles, and Instagram-worthy architecture, Bali has a reputation as a mystical island paradise. While it’s easy to spend most of your time just gawking at the beauty all around, there’s also plenty to do here, particularly if you’re a fan of surfing, rafting, yoga, or daily massages.
Our Top Pick for a Bali Hotel: Samabe Bali Suites & Villas
3. Andaman Islands, India
Although the Andaman Islands are part of India, they’re physically closer to Thailand, with the landscapes to show for it. Here, you’ll find lots of powdery white sand and crystalline waters. While most of the archipelago is off-limits to visitors, beautiful Havelock is open to travelers looking for a peaceful eco-tourism experience.
4. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo has a reverence for tradition alongside its high-tech modernity, so you’re as likely to stumble upon an ancient shrine as a futuristic skyscraper during a visit. The Japanese capital also offers some of the best shopping around, plus you’ll never be far from a tasty ramen shop or sushi restaurant.
Our Top Pick for a Tokyo Hotel: Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills
With its mix of gorgeous old temples and traditional and Gallic architecture, Luang Prabang has long been heralded as Laos’ cultural capital. Get up at sunrise and you’re sure to see hundreds of local monks wandering through the city streets, collecting alms from the devout.
Our Top Pick for a Luang Prabang Hotel: Sofitel Luang Prabang Hotel
Cambodia’s most famous attraction, the incredibly preserved Angkor Archaeological Park offers a glimpse into life under the Khmer Empire. The best-known temple here, Angkor Wat, is the largest religious monument on earth.
Our Top Pick for a Siem Reap Hotel: Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor
In the heart of Sri Lanka’s Central Province, Kandy is best-known for the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The UNESCO World Heritage site got its name because it houses a tooth collected from the funeral pyre of Gautama Buddha. While the temple and its adjacent Royal Palace are reason enough to visit Kandy, there’s also plenty to do in the surrounding area, like hiking, visiting tea plantations, and hitting up spice farms.
Our Top Pick for a Kandy Hotel: Kandy Samadhi Centre
Spread across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives archipelago is known for its white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and abundance of gorgeous resorts, most of which have romantic overwater bungalows. In addition to swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling, visitors can enjoy plenty of educational experiences (many resorts offer marine biology lectures) and rides on traditional Maldivian dhoni boats.
Our Top Pick for a Maldives Hotel: Constance Moofushi
With its white-sand beaches and imposing limestone cliffs, Railay Beach near Krabi is one of the most photogenic parts of Thailand — and that’s saying a lot. It’s also a popular rock-climbing destination, with ample routes for beginner and experienced climbers alike.
Our Top Pick for a Railay Beach Hotel: Railay Village Resort
10. Rishikesh, India
Touted as the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh is the ultimate place to find your zen. This holy town is home to dozens of ashrams, many of which offer residential programs. It also hosts an international yoga festival every year. Even if asanas aren’t your thing, Rishikesh is still worth hitting up for the chance to go on a rafting excursion along the Ganges River, which runs right through town.
Our Top Pick for a Rishikesh Hotel: GANGA KINARE by Holywater Hotels
Although Kuala Lumpur‘s landmark towers are no longer the tallest buildings in the world (a title they held for a brief stint around the turn of this century), they’re still the largest twin towers. Head up to the observation deck in Tower 2 to take in fantastic city views.
Our Top Pick for a Kuala Lumpur Hotel: The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur
Although the Great Wall of China refers to a series of different walls that collectively span thousands of miles, this ancient fortification is nevertheless one of the most important attractions in the country. Three of the more touristy sections can be found within day tripping distance of Beijing. Visit the Mutianyu section, if you want to take a toboggan ride from the wall down to the parking lot below it.
Our Top Pick for a Beijing Hotel: Fairmont Beijing
13. Taj Mahal, India
India’s most iconic attraction, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, Mumtaz. Come early in the morning to see the marble structure perfectly mirrored in the long reflecting pools that stretch out before it. Or, plan a trip during the days around the full moon when you can arrange a visit to the Taj at night.
Our Top Pick for an Agra Hotel: ITC Mughal, Agra — a Luxury Collection Hotel
If you’re looking for a quiet, laid-back alternative to some of Thailand’s more popular (read: crowded) island destinations, this walkable Andaman Sea islet might just be your ticket to paradise. The shallow waters and white sand make it ideal for families. Plus, it’s just a quick longboat ride away from the nearby Tarutao National Marine Park, where you’ll find some fantastic snorkeling opportunities.
Our Top Pick for a Ko Lipe Hotel: Serendipity Beach Resort
15. Huanglong, China
Officially known as the Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area, this gorgeous section of the Minshan Mountains is known for its forested landscapes interspersed with colorful ponds and lakes and beautiful waterfalls. This area is also home to diverse flora and fauna, including giant pandas.
16. Goa, India
India’s tiniest state, Goa has long been known as a party hot spot, famous for its all-night psychedelic trance parties and a bohemian culture that’s heavily influenced by 1960s culture. While all that’s certainly true, this seaside destination is also worth visiting for its beautiful old Portuguese churches and miles of palm-dotted beaches.
Our Top Pick for a Goa Hotel: The Leela Goa
17. Petra, Jordan
Jordan’s most famous attraction, this ancient archeological site is known for its rock-cut structures that date back to the Nabatean era. It’s worth giving yourself a couple of days to explore this massive complex of temples, tombs, and civic buildings. For a particularly enchanting experience, candlelit visits to the Treasury — at the entrance of the site — are run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
18. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
The inspiration for the conical landscapes found in the animated film “Avatar” came from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in the Hunan Province. This park is known for its pillar formations that were created over millennia of erosion. It’s also home to the tallest outdoor elevator on earth, which holds three glassed-in elevator cars that take visitors up approximately 326 meters (or 1,070 feet).
19. Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s city of Bukhara has been inhabited for over 5,000 years, resulting in a wealth of historic attractions, many of which are beautifully preserved. Don’t miss the Po-i-Kalyan complex, considered among the finest examples of Islamic architecture on earth.
20. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, Iran
Dating back to the late 1800s, the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz certainly isn’t the oldest attraction in Iran, but it’s one of the prettiest. Sometimes referred to as the Pink Mosque, this structure is celebrated for its beautiful colored glass that shoots multicolored hues of light through its intricately embellished interiors.
21. Bethlehem, West Bank
As the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem attracts religious pilgrims from around the world, who come to worship at the Church of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto. It’s also a hit with Banksy fans, who visit to see the elusive artist’s Walled Off Hotel, named for its position facing the border wall with Israel.
22. Halong Bay, Vietnam
This UNESCO World Heritage site lures visitors with its limestone karsts and caves, tropical islands, dense mangroves, and aquamarine waters. Most travelers visit Halong Bay by boat, often hopping on overnight cruises that take them deep into the bay.
Although Bali is Indonesia’s only practicing Hindu island, the granddaddy of all temples, Prambanan, is actually on Java, just outside Yogyakarta. This complex dedicated to Shiva is home to hundreds of beautifully preserved stoned temples, some dating back as far as the eighth century.
Approximately 430 meters (or 1,410 feet) below sea level, the Dead Sea is located at the earth’s lowest point on land. It’s also one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet, making it a great place for a relaxing buoyant float. Fun fact: Despite its name, the Dead Sea is technically a lake — its water sourced entirely from the River Jordan.
Our Top Pick for a Dead Sea Hotel: Herods Hotel Dead Sea
A star attraction of the Philippines beach scene, Boracay draws hordes of tourists with its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. The White Beach part of the island boasts calm waters that are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, while the windier Bulabog Beach on the opposite side of Boracay attracts travelers wanting to windsurf and kiteboard.
Our Top Pick for a Boracay Hotel: Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa
A large portion of the South Indian state of Kerala is dominated by the backwaters, a series of brackish waterways flanked by beautiful tropical foliage. The best way to experience the area is by taking an overnight or multi-day cruise through the waters aboard a traditional houseboat.
Our Top Pick for a Kerala Hotel: Le Colonial
27. Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Defying the popular notion that deserts are always hot, the Gobi Desert is Mongolia’s best-known natural area. This vast, desolate expanse is home to a number of historic Silk Road trading sites. Don’t miss the chance to sleep in a traditional Mongolian yurt, known as a ger.
28. Fanjingshan, China
The tallest peak in the Wuling mountain range, Fanjingshan has long been considered to be sacred by Chinese Buddhists, who believe that the Maitreya Buddha attained enlightenment here. The area surrounding the mountain is one of the most biodiverse in all of China, with thousands of different types of flora and fauna, including the endangered Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys.
Arguably the most cosmopolitan spot in Southeast Asia, Singapore has four official languages and a foreign resident population of nearly 40 percent. In true big-city fashion, the shopping, dining, and entertainment options are a huge draw, as are the city’s numerous public gardens and green spaces.
Our Top Pick for a Singapore Hotel: Raffles Hotel Singapore
30. Dal Lake, Srinagar
Touted as the “crown jewel of Srinagar,” Dal Lake is among Kashmir’s most enchanting natural attractions. Set against a backdrop of the Pir Panjal mountains, this lake is known for its beautiful houseboats (many of which have been converted into homestays for travelers) and floating markets and gardens, which are easily visited from traditional boats known as shikaras.
31. Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu is celebrated for its historic Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas, many of which date back centuries. At the heart of the city, the Durbar Square (a UNESCO World Heritage site) provides a fascinating glimpse into what life was like prior to the unification of Nepal.
32. Lhasa, Tibet
The capital city of Tibet, Lhasa is known for its architecture, particularly the Potala Palace, which was the residence of the Dalai Lama until he fled to McLeod Ganj in India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. It’s also one of the highest cities on earth, with an altitude of 3,656 meters (or 11,994 feet).
33. Kumano Kodō, Japan
The collective name for a number of ancient Buddhist pilgrimage routes, the Kumano Kodō leads across the Kii Peninsula, through beautiful forests and past ancient shrines. While many who embark on the route today are pilgrims, it’s also an excellent place for hikers and seekers of all stripes looking to deepen their understanding of Japan’s ancient Shinto beliefs.
34. Gyeongju, South Korea
With numerous archaeological sites, this coastal city is a must-visit for history buffs. The arguably most noteworthy spot is Bulguksa, a Silla temple complex featuring beautifully preserved halls and pagodas, and the nearby Seokguram grotto, which houses a beautiful Buddha sculpture within its walls.
35. Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan
Built on a cliff overlooking the Paro Valley, Paro Taktsang (or Tiger’s Nest Monastery) in Bhutan is the tiny Himalayan kingdom’s most recognizable attraction. Seeing the monastery precariously perched on granite cliffs is reason enough to visit, but most visitors make the hike up to explore its colorful interiors.
Also known by its previous name, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is characterized by its beautiful architecture that integrates French, Cantonese, and homegrown influences. And although it’s the largest city in Vietnam, it feels surprisingly compact, with plenty of walkable districts and a thriving coffeeshop culture that encourages people-watching.
Our Top Pick for a Ho Chi Minh Hotel: Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel
37. Beijing, China
China’s massive capital city provides an excellent glimpse into the country’s past and present. Here, you’ll find a mix of modern architecture and international fast-food joints juxtaposed against some of the world’s most beautifully preserved historic attractions, including the 15th-century Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, right next door.
Our Top Pick for a Beijing Hotel: The Opposite House
This tiny, walled-off section of Jerusalem is home to many of the city’s most important historic and religious attractions. Here, you’ll find the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock — all within an area that’s less than one square kilometer.
Our Top Pick for a Jerusalem Hotel: Mamilla Hotel
In Turkey’s central Anatolia region, Cappadocia‘s biggest draw is its landscape, with a large expanse of hoodoos (or fairy chimneys). Although many people come to check out the natural scenery — either on foot or by hot air balloon — it’s also worth stopping by the Churches of Göreme, celebrated for their beautifully preserved frescoed walls.
Our Top Pick for a Cappadocia Hotel: Kayakapi Premium Caves – Cappadocia
40. Mount Everest, Nepal and China
On the border of Nepal and China, Mount Everest is not only the highest mountain in the Himalayas, but it’s also the highest mountain in the world. Although few people have the time or training to ascend it on foot, visitors willing to splash out can take a sightseeing flight that gets within 20 or so miles of the famous peak.
41. Mumbai, India
On the west coast of India, Mumbai may not be India’s capital city, or its largest (both of those honors go to Delhi), but it’s certainly the most cosmopolitan. Formerly known as Bombay, the city is home to gorgeous Raj-era architecture and historic temples, mosques, and churches plus a variety of festivals and celebrations throughout the year, from the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival to Ganesh Chaturthi, which honors the birth of Lord Ganesha.
Our Top Pick for a Mumbai Hotel: The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
With great nightlife, incredible (and affordable) shopping, and arguably the best street-food scene in the world, Bangkok is a must-visit for anyone who loves the vibrancy of big-city life. It’s also home to some of Thailand’s most important cultural treasures, including the holy Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the royal Grand Palace.
Our Top Pick for a Bangkok Hotel: SO Sofitel Bangkok
43. Sumatra, Indonesia
One of the best things about Sumatra is that it offers beautiful jungle landscapes without the crowds of better-known destinations such as Bali. If you’ve ever dreamt of seeing orangutans in their natural habitat, the village of Bukit Lawang in the northern part of the island is one of your best bets.
44. Golden Temple, Amritsar
Officially known as Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple is among the most important pilgrimage sites for people of the Sikh faith. It gets its nickname thanks to its gold-plated exteriors. In addition to marveling at its beauty, it’s worth spending some time at this welcoming gurudwara to learn about the Sikh faith and history.
45. Bagan, Myanmar
Home to the largest archaeological site on earth, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which flourished from the 11th to 13th centuries. You could easily spend days exploring the temples on foot, though many visitors opt to take in an alternative view — by hot air balloon.
46. Lahore, Pakistan
Considered by many to be the cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore is home to numerous historic and religious attractions as well as some of the country’s greatest museums. Don’t miss a visit to the enormous 17th-century mosque, Badshahi Masjid.
47. Hong Kong
With great museums, restaurants, and shopping, Hong Kong is best-known for its urban vitality. However, this global financial hub also has a more sylvan side. You won’t have to travel far from the dense city center to get out into nature, thanks to spots like Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back.
Our Top Pick for a Hong Kong Hotel: Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui
48. Ayutthaya, Thailand
Within day tripping distance of Bangkok, the former Siamese capital of Ayutthaya is one of Thailand’s most important archaeological sites. Founded in 1350, this city flourished for centuries, until it was ultimately destroyed by Burmese forces in the 1900s. Today, it features beautiful old monasteries and temples, some with beautiful murals.
49. Beirut, Lebanon
Once dubbed the Paris of the Middle East, the capital city of Lebanon has been inhabited for over five millennia. Although parts of Beirut were destroyed during the Lebanese Civil War, much of it has since been reconstructed. Today, this dynamic, fashionable city is home to some fantastic museums, great nightlife, and top-notch shopping. Editor’s Note: At the time of publishing, there were active protests in Beirut. We recommend checking travel advisories prior to booking a trip.
Our Top Pick for a Beirut Hotel: Staybridge Suites Beirut
50. Rajasthan, India
This northern Indian state is characterized by its stark desert landscapes as well as ornate, fanciful architecture and plenty of color in the local art and clothing. Even the camels, which are used for transportation and agriculture, are often adorned with bright hues. Here, you’ll also find India’s biggest forts and most whimsical palaces, many of which have been converted into heritage hotels for those who want to spend a night (or a week) like a royal.
Our Top Pick for a Rajasthan Hotel: Taj Lake Palace Udaipur
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