As the world’s largest continent, Asia draws a large number of tourists from different parts of the globe. However, after a few visits to popular Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Macau, Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul, you will begin to feel that there’s more to the continent than these global tourism hubs. And you are correct. While these cities usually top tourists’ must-visit lists, Asia has a whole arsenal of less-heralded vacation spots that are just as exciting.
Lesser-known Asian destinations seldom get a mention in travel guidebooks and magazines but they also offer the chance to immerse in fascinating cultures, architecture, cuisines, and diverse landscapes. More often than not, they feature unforgettable sights and attractions that will take you by surprise. These places – away from the maddening crowds – provide for authentic travel experiences. You will not have to worry about having to stand in line for hours in order to see an attraction or jostle other tourists just to get compelling photographs. And because these overlooked destinations are less touristy, food and accommodations are budget-friendly giving you the option to extend your stay. These hidden gems are some of the best spots you’ll get to see in your life and will have you wondering why it took you so long to pursue the off the beaten path.
Below are some of the most overlooked and underrated Asian destinations you need to visit at least once in your lifetime.
Often neglected for more popular destinations like Hoi An and Da Nang, Hue is a small town that was once the capital of Vietnam. This historic city is home to the World Heritage-listed Imperial City in addition to ancient pagodas and tombs. Hue also boasts pristine beaches like Lang Co and Thuan An, two of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam.
Sihanoukville may not be as well known as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh but it, without doubt, offers exciting adventures for tourists to enjoy. Currently being groomed as a major tourist attraction in Cambodia, it is the perfect destination for travellers looking to have different types of adventures, from snorkelling to scuba diving, island hopping, and even day trips to water parks.
Boracay and Palawan are the Philippines’ major travel drawcards but that doesn’t mean other Asian destinations aren’t worth a visit. Batanes, the country’s smallest and northernmost province, is a place that’s definitely one for the books.
Often called the ‘Paradise of the North,’ Batanes is a peaceful oasis that boasts gently rolling hills, expansive grasslands, and splendid hilltop ocean views. Aside from the spectacular landscape, it is also home to myriad historic and cultural attractions, from the classic Ivatan stone huts to 17th century churches and WWII ruins.
Often skipped by many travellers visiting Malaysia, Melaka is a city that’s soaked in history and culture. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is home to historical attractions that will take you back to the days when it was under Dutch and Portuguese rule. The riverside city, definitely one of the most overlooked Asian destinations, also has a vibrant local food culture that offers the best of Indian, Peranakan, Malay, and Chinese cuisines.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
Kandy, a major city in Sri Lanka, may not be as popular as Colombo but it is certainly a destination of great cultural, historical, and religious significance. Not only is it home to Sri Lanka’s most revered relic – the Sacred Relic of the Tooth of Buddha – it was also the ancient capital of the Sinhala Kings, earning it a spot on the esteemed UNESCO World Heritage List.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a rarity in these modern times. It has preserved its cultural authenticity, natural beauty, and local way of life amid contemporary developments. This landlocked kingdom, sitting astride the ancient Silk Road and bordered by India and China, features many attractions like monasteries, fortresses, and breathtaking landscapes.
If there’s one place of interest you should visit in Bhutan, it is definitely the Paro Takstang or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The cliff-top monastery, perched on a precipitous rocky cliff 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley, is one of Bhutan’s most important Buddhist sacred sites.
Located in the Tian Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul is the second largest salt lake in the world. A fascinating feature of the lake is that although it is located within a snow-capped mountainous region, it never freezes. The region is also known for its spectacular views, fresh air, and exotic flora and fauna, making it the most popular vacation destination in Central Asia.
If you want to escape the crowds of Bali but still want to experience Indonesia’s awe-inspiring scenery and fascinating culture, head to Bandung, the scenic capital of the West Java province. It is one of the most underrated destinations in Asia, even with its remarkable collection of picturesque nature spots, volcanic mountains, tea plantations, and cultural places of interest. A must- see in Bandung is the Kawah Putih sulphuric lake, approximately 2 hours from the city centre. Marvel at the stunning pale turquoise and at times whitish waters that give the lake an otherworldly feel.
When in China, forget Beijing and Shanghai and direct your attention to Chengdu, the overlooked capital of Sichuan Province. Popular for its fiery cuisine and robust teahouse culture, the city also houses the 71-metre high, Heritage-listed Leshan Gian Buddha, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and many historic sights and streets.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos’ former royal capital, is a charming town that could easily be Indochina’s most beautiful spot. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it wows visitors with its unique architecture that’s a seamless amalgamation of traditional Asian and European architectural styles. In addition, this severely overlooked destination also abounds in shimmering temples, historic sites, and nature attractions.
Chiang Rai, Thailand
A mesmerizing city with a far-reaching history and amazing attractions like the What Rong Khun (The White Temple) and the Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai is one of the most beautiful places you can visit in Thailand. However, it has yet to receive the attention it deserves as it often gets passed over for more popular destinations like Bangkok, Phuket, and the similarly named Chiang Mai.
Bagan may be one of Myanmar’s most popular attractions but it is a travel destination that so many travellers don’t even bother to see. Often compared to the more popular Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Bagan has its unique charm. Albeit it lags behind in terms of tourist visits, it truly is an enchanting land, chock-full of ancient pagodas, temples, and monasteries, and one that provides opportunities for witnessing ethereal sunrises and sunsets.
Mui Ne, Vietnam
Located in Southeast Vietnam, Mui Ne is a sleepy beach resort town that’s one of the most overlooked travel destinations in Vietnam. It offers a range of attractions from gorgeous beaches, historic structures, charming villages, and undulating red and white sand dunes, to name a few. Mui Ne’s sand dunes, ideal for quad biking and sand-sledding, even have spots great for sunset-watching.
Vientiane, the quiet capital of Laos, is an overlooked travel spot. It surprisingly packs a lot of hidden treasures, from stunning architecture, historic landmarks, and cultural attractions. Although modern in many aspects, it is one of those Asian destinations that still have that intimate, small-town feel that’s a welcome departure from the hustle and bustle of other Asian capitals. Moreover, its delectable local cuisine – infused with French and Asian flavours – will surely keep you hankering for more.
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By: Brendelyn Balaga