10 Asian Destinations I Loved (Plus 3 I Didn’t)

The diversity found within the continent of Asia is astounding. Having lived in Korea for four years, I was very lucky to be so close to so many different countries. From the beaches in Thailand to the Great Wall in China and Mount Fuji in Japan – there are opportunities for every type of traveler to find something to love in Asia. There are so many places that I love and hope to return to some day, but there are certainly a few that rank the highest in my mind as the top Asian destinations. 

10 Asian Destinations I Loved…

10. Beijing

I have both good and bad memories from Beijing, but I thought it needed to be into the top 10. If you’re not prepared for the cultural differences and high-levels of pollution – you’ll be in for quite the shock. Even coming from 6 months in Korea I wan’t ready. That being said, the opportunities for cultural learning and exchange are so great. Beijing is a place where the even the most touristy of museums and monuments are worth a visit.

If you want to experience culture shock, head to Beijing.
Read about my experience sleeping on 
the floor of 14-hour train to Shanghai.

Great Wall of China

 

9. Ha Long Bay

While not a city, taking an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay was the best thing I did in Vietnam.  This UNESCO World Heritage site is just shy of 4 hours drive from Hanoi, but worth the time expense. The only regret I have is not taking a longer cruise to learn more about the formations and caves and mythology found in the bay.

If you’re into natural beauty, add Ha Long Bay to your itinerary.

 

8. Taipei, Taiwan

Besides having one of the fastest elevators in the world (bumped out of first place by the Shanghai Tower in 2016), Taipei is home to a lot of cool things – both inside and outside the city-proper. Parks, zoos, an annual lantern festival, and geothermal pools are all easily accessible via public transit from the center of town.

If easily accessible nature is what you crave, Taipei may be the city for you.

  

 

7. Kyoto, Japan

Culture plus cutsey. Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan, and has all the historic temples and palaces to prove it. The beautifully preserved historic landmarks are dotted throughout the city, and if you venture a little further west you can break up the palace hopping with a walk through the bamboo forest.

If golden pavilions are what you seek, you can visit one in Kyoto!

 

6. Mandalay, Myanmar

Though at the time I visited, there wasn’t a whole lot of infrastructure, I found it refreshing to visit a place that was still a few years off from being overrun with tourists. Visiting almost anything required a little planning, but it was worth the slight “inconvenience.” I also liked that it was easier to utilize local businesses.

If you’re going ballooning in Bagan, take the boat up to Mandalay for a break from the crowds.
Read on for a few great reasons to add Myanmar to your Asia itinerary.

 

 

5. Hong Kong

Hong Kong has so much to do and see. Big Buddha? Yes. Shopping? Yes. Disney? Yes. Good nightlife? Yes. Incredible French toast? Yes. There was almost too much to do. Considering the size of HK, I hadn’t realized that an itinerary could easily span a full week.

If you’re into choice-paralysis, choose Hong Kong (or if not, still go… but give yourself a good amount of time!)

 

More reading:  Accommodation Hacks

4. Macau

Not even a monsoon could dampen my time in Macau (let’s be serious, it’s a miracle I made it this far without a pun). A former Portuguese colony, Macau has a really interesting mix of both European and Asian architecture and culture. Aside from walking through the MGM Grand, I spent no time in the casinos. The few days I had were spent wandering the beautiful streets and intermittently taking pictures and trying to hide from the rain.

If a bustling Asian metropolis that feels like Europe is your jam, then make Macau happen.

 

3. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I blindly booked 3 nights in Phnom Penh on the advice of someone who said it was “pretty cool.” Though I had panicked that maybe I had given it too much time, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was, in fact, pretty cool. There are lots of things to do and see in the city center – the Russian Market, the Royal Palace, a big clock at Wat Phom. Go a bit further out and you can see the Killing Fields (emotionally draining, but worth it)/

If you want to take in culture by day and a wild time by night, Phnom Penh (and Siem Reap, too!) will suit you for sure.

 

2. Singapore

If I could easily get a working visa, I would definitely live in Singapore. I love cities and I love hot weather, and the combo comes together perfectly in the form of this city-state. Beyond its proximity to the equator, SG is also extremely clean and culturally diverse. Given that Singapore is a giant island, you will never be too far from the water- or a beach.

If you’re into heat, cleanliness, and diversity, you’ll like Singapore.
I fell in love with laksa in Singapore. Read about our love story.

 

 

1. Seoul, South Korea

I love Seoul. Actually, I love all Korea. I lived in the RoK for four years, so I may be a little biased, but there is so much to see, do, eat, and hear. Palaces, fortresses, universities, a big river, Namsan Tower, night clubs, late night food, the largest department store in the world – the list is endless. Truthfully, I spent majority of my time in Korea in my small city in the southern portion of the peninsula, but trips to Seoul could never come often enough – its a city that I could never tire of.

If you like things- or if you have a pulse, you’ll adore Seoul.
My Wanderlust origin story really started in Korea.

 

…and 3 I didn’t

One thing any frequent traveler will tell you is that you’re not going to fall in love with every destination. Imagine falling hard for every Tinder date… a w k w a r d. There will always be places that you leave thinking “that was nice, but I don’t think I’ll be returning” – and if you’re like me (and still down with the Tinder analogy) – places where you’re frantically texting your sister requesting an “emergency” call so you can get the heck outta there. Though the following there places are not nearly “fake a family emergency” level, they we’re places that I simply didn’t enjoy.

Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia

I had super high hopes for Bali, and on the first day in Kuta Beach, they were basically crushed. I felt that the picture so many people had painted in my head about it being some fantasy tropical destination were just so wrong – and it was hard for me to enjoy it for what it was: a beach party destination. My travel companions were all hell-bent on finding a reggae bar, and while in principle, I don’t mind them – I thought: “why would I ever to got a reggae bar… in Bali?” To top it all off, I got super sick from… something contaminated. Laid up for almost 2 full days (so I guess it was lucky that I didn’t love it there…). Bali wasn’t a total wash thought….

What saved the trip: Ubud. There is so much more variety in Ubud – we had a wonderful day tour around to see a few temples, we cut through a few small villages and learned about an Indonesian death ritual (our guide had to be home by a certain time to participate in a ritual for his grandmother who had passed away a few weeks prior). We took in a cultural dance show, were horrified by thieving monkeys in the Monkey Forrest and ate lunch on the side of volcano.

 

More reading:  The ONE Question I Always ask Locals

Phuket, Thailand

To be fair, I liked Phuket the first time I visited. It wasn’t until the second pass that I really realized that it was just a major tourist pit. Everywhere was foreign-run and there were heaps of older Western gentlemen creeping on Thai girls (actually, all girls). And…. ping pong shows.

A better option might be… any other place. The Phi Phi Islands are nice, but another super touristy area (albeit, much more relaxing and less crowded given that the boat ride over may act as a deterrent for some). I liked Krabi – it had party, but it also had quiet beaches. And Koh Yao Noi was remote and quiet.

 

HCMC (Saigon), Vietnam

I had a tough time in Vietnam in general, but something about Ho Chi Minh City was particularly not wonderful. Likely a portion of my discomfort had something to do with knowing that the main reason I was there was to experience something that I knew was going to be unpleasant – The War Remnants Museum [formerly known as “The Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” (1975) and “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression” (1990)].

This one is worth the discomfort. Sometimes to grow you have to learn some uncomfortable truths. I was pretty well horrified by the museum, but it forced the reality upon me – and “we” did some pretty messed up things to other humans. There were no real redeeming happenings to help me bounce back from the heaviness of the museum, but I think that it was better for me to sit with my new knowledge for a little while.


  • If you’ve visited Asia, which destination was your favorite?
  • How do you manage when you realize that you’re not-so-in-love with a place?
  • Let’s leave Asia for a sec – tell me about your #1 favorite destination so far!
Posted in Asia, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

20 Comments

  1. We avoided Phuket for that exact reason of it being a tourist pit! Koh Tao also has the same reputation but somehow we found it easier to escape the crazy tourist and find good places – we loved it!

    I haven’t been to many of your favorite places listed but I sure hope I can tick them off the bucket list eventually ! Thanks for sharing your experience !

    • I’ve heard the exact same thing about Koh Tao… I suppose that would make it a happy medium for groups needing to cover multiple travel styles !

  2. I agree with the 3 places that you didn’t like, I loved Phuket when I was visited it in my early 20’s but I don’t think I’ll enjoy it now that I’m in my early 30’s. I’m not up for drinking and partying anymore.

    The War Remnants Museum depressed me but I think it should always be a part of an HCMC itinerary.

    • Totally. I was with a Canadian friend who didn’t quite get why I was forcing myself to do something so uncomfortable. I knew there was an educational gap there (lots of WW2 stuff in school, but not much about Vietnam….), so I needed to know what I didn’t know.

  3. Totally agree with Phuket, too touristy for me! I loved Thailand as a whole though. Oh and loved Kyoto and Singapore so much! I need to make it back to SE Asia, there is so much more to see!

  4. God, being an Asian, I was waiting eagerly to know that on destination you did not like. Thank god, it is not India! However I loved HCMC, not during my first visit, but the second one. So French, so Vietnamese!

    • Good to know that you liked HCMC on the second go! I would like to try to go again to see more of the city (and perhaps with a better travel companion lol)

  5. I’ve never been to any other countries in Asia apart from India, so this list gives me a really good idea of which destinations should bubble up my bucket list. I’ve been really questioning Bali…I’ve heard so many good things about it (in fact, only good things) which is a little scary when no one seems to have a negative opinion. But I’m glad that I got to know that Kuta Beach is a bit of a beach party destination beforehand (I’m way too introverted for parties so thanks for the heads up. I think I’ll just visit Ubud). Is a lot of Bali’s charm centered around nightlife culture?

  6. 1. OK Since I’m Asian myself I have to exclude my own country of Malaysia because I would be biased. Excluding Malaysia, I’d say… I liked visiting the Angkor complex the best. Could easily have added more days. Next best was Koh Sukorn, which is a very local Thai island that does not really have accommodation catered for non-Thai speakers.

    2. Usually I just rough it out and try to find something (*cough* Bali *cough*). Or just zero out and let the place give me something that is different from what it’s ‘for’.

    3. Number #1 fave is – perhaps oddly – the Peak District in Derbyshire, England.

  7. Love this list, I’ve only started my Asian adventures recently so this has given me some ideas for further travels! I’m dying to visit Seoul, it’s up high on my list. I think Taipei is probably one of my favourite cities in the whole world, it really is a beautiful place!

  8. I’ve only been to one place on this list and that’s Singapore. I wasn’t there for very long so I don’t have a comprehensive view of it, but the parts I saw were really beautiful. But really humid. Getting around outside was a bit of a feat. Pinning this so that I can see more Asian destinations.

  9. I’ve been to quite a few places mentioned on your list and I absolutely understand what you mean about Bali. The first time I visited Kuta and Seminyak beach, I wondered the same thing. Bali is beautiful but because of increased tourism or development, it has lost the ‘exotic’ side to a certain extent.

  10. I agree with you the most on Phuket. The places around Bangla Road are sleezy and just extremely touristy. However, if you visit beaches further along the coast apparently it can be really beautiful.

  11. Pinned your post! .. Actually, I have been to most that you have recommended and I agree 100%.. However, I think you should reconsider Saigon and Phuket :). They are definitely great places – Do give them another chance 🙂

  12. I’ve been to several of these destinations but not all of them. I totally agree with you about Beijing. Much of Asia is ruined by pollution. I also spent time in Ubud and loved it too. Luckily for me I skipped he beach entirely.

  13. Interesting take on Saigon. I actually loved exploring the city. A little challenging at first but once you get beneath all of that, it’s quite amazing. Loved Singapore, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap. The place I’d really like to visit is Taipei. So much to see and explore in Asia!!

  14. Thanks for sharing! It was interesting to read your opinions about the different places.

    I share your love of Seoul! Whenever I’m away, I miss it more than I get homesick for the UK – especially the food!

    I wasn’t really a fan of Vietnam. I have travelled a lot by myself but I felt that I was constantly being scammed during my time there and had to always be on the defensive which I found exhausting after a while and made the trip quite annoying. I mean, that kind of thing happens everywhere but it was allllll the time. In Hoi An, I even had a cab driver drive off to the middle of a field and try to lock me in the car so after that, I cut my trip there short and went back to Korea. Maybe I’ll give it another chance in the future, who knows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *