Asia is not only full of eastern promise for unforgettable holidays, it delivers on the promise – and how! Its countries resonate with mystery, intrigue, excitement and romantic allure.
They immerse visitors with the heady appeal of their own exotic cultures, distinct cuisines, energetic cities, wondrous landscapes, fascinating history and gorgeous beaches. And they have been luring Europeans to their shores for centuries.
Land of the Rising Sun, Land of Smiles, Island of the Gods, Lion City: even the descriptive soubriquets of some are enough to tantalise the senses and electrify the mind.
If you haven’t travelled to the Far East before, the most unimaginable treat awaits, and if you have been you will understand just why it leaves you longing to return again and again.
More than living up to its Land of Smiles moniker, Thailand is a country of friendly, welcoming and gracious people who make visitors feel at home. It is also a land of ornate temples and saffron-robed monks, forest-covered mountains, bustling cities, night markets, floating markets, ancient ruins and tropical islands with lavish hotels and exquisite beaches.
Must-see sights in hectic capital Bangkok include its magnificent Grand Palace, Wat Arun Temple and Wat Pho Temple with its huge reclining Buddha statue. Take a long-tail boat trip along the Chao Praya River and go on a day trip from the city to see the UNESCO-listed ruins of former Siamese capital Ayutthaya.
In the mountainous north lie enthralling Chiang Mai, where the remains of its historic walls and moats can be seen along with hundreds of temples, and Chiang Rai, near the border with Laos and Myanmar in an area of hill tribes.
Among mainland beach resorts are cultured Hua Hin, a royal summer getaway for a century, and brash Pattaya, while resort islands Koh Samui, Phuket, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and others cater to everyone: couples, honeymooners, families, party animals and those craving a peaceful utopia.
VIETNAM, CAMBODIA & LAOS
From Hanoi’s French colonial architecture to chic beach havens along its 3,260km (2,030-mile) coastline, Vietnam captivates.
Half a century on from its infamous war the country has undergone a remarkable transformation and tourism developments have flourished in recent years, spawning stylish resort destinations such as Nha Trang, Danang and Phu Quoc Island. But its appeal is far wider, not least in the towering limestone islands of Halong Bay best seen on an overnight motorised junk cruise, relics of the past in former capital and imperial city Hue, and ancient trading port Hoi An, where preserved buildings housing eclectic shops, bars and restaurants line its canals.
Watching the sun rise over the astonishing Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap is on the bucket list for many, and it doesn’t disappoint. The world’s largest religious monument, Cambodia’s crowning jewel spans over 400 acres and is just one of 50 intricately-carved temples to see there, among them the tree root- covered ruins of Ta Phrom, setting for the movie Tomb Raider. A long-tail boat trip on nearby Tonle Sap Lake reveals floating villages and houses built on stilts.
Capital Phnom Penh’s gold-roofed royal palace contrasts the hauntingly-moving Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which graphically depicts the atrocities of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime including the notorious killing fields.
Kick back and relax in the mountain and paddy field scenery of Laos. See the palaces, pagodas and colonial charm of former capital Luang Prabang and take a sunrise balloon flight over the craggy karst hills of Vang Vieng.
CHINA, TIBET, HONG KONG & MACAU
Closed to the rest of the world for centuries, China remains an exhilarating enigma of a destination to visit. However you may imagine it to be, the reality ticks all the boxes and will far exceed it.
Incredible historic sights? Check. Be amazed by Beijing’s Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace, the 13,000-mile-long Great Wall and the Terracotta Army and monumental city walls of Xian.
Natural wonders? Check. China’s vast size encompasses jaw-dropping panoramas such as the iconic karst peaks and limestone caves of Guilin and Yangshuo, the jagged rock pillars of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park otherwise known as the “Avatar Mountains” after the movie that featured them, the waterfalls and crystal lakes of Jiuzhaigou and the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges.
Fascinating culture? Check. China has more than 50 ethnic groups, all with their own colourful traditions and costumes. Exciting cities such as Shanghai juxtapose timeless villages and ancient water towns. See wildlife from pandas to elephants. Taste diverse dishes and even laze on tropical beaches on Hainan Island.
Part of China but with its own identity, Tibet’s ancient monasteries and Himalaya mountain scenery are now accessible by train as well as by plane.
Hong Kong’s gleaming skyscrapers contrast protected natural areas. Its legendary cuisine is best enjoyed from street food stalls. Meanwhile, Macau blends Portuguese heritage with glitzy casinos.
The Land of the Rising Sun’s kaleidoscope of sights, colours and experiences leave visitors spellbound.
After Tokyo’s energising hustle and bustle, take a bullet train to witness tranquil scenery towered over by the conical shape of Mount Fuji. Be wowed by formidable hilltop castles and serene temples, discover Japan’s Ninja heritage and watch the famous women pearl divers demonstrate their tradition before enjoying a seafood meal cooked and served by them in their huts.
Soak up Japan’s rich past in former capital Kyoto, visiting imperial palaces, gardens, temples and shrines by day and enjoying a ritual dance performance by kimono-clad Meiko and Geisha girls at night.
Relax in the beguiling subtropical beauty of Okinawa, see the snow monkeys of Nagano prefecture’s Joshinetsu Kogen National Park bathing in hot springs (onsens), soak in one of Japan’s many onsens yourself and feast on succulent sushi, sashimi, tempura and Wagyu beef.
MALAYSIA & SINGAPORE
Singapore sets pulses soaring with its melting pot of cultures, fabulous shopping, lively nightlife and luxury hotels. One even has the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool from where you can survey the city skyline. Attractions include the Merlion statue that gives the city state its Lion City nickname and lush botanic gardens. Don’t leave without sipping a Singapore Sling cocktail in the bar of the Raffles hotel where it was invented.
Multi-cultural Malaysia tempts visitors with palm-fringed beaches of resort destinations such as Penang and Langkawi islands and the buzz of capital Kuala Lumpur where colonial architecture sits alongside skyscrapers such as the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.
It also takes in the rainforested states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, home to orang-utans, villages where you can stay with tribes living in longhouses and huge caves where millions of bats roost.
INDONESIA & THE PHILIPPINES
Picture-postcard beaches, opulent spa hotels, lively nightlife, beautiful temples, spectacular coastline and tumbling rice terraces – Bali is rightly known as the Island of the Gods.
Indonesia has a wealth of other visitor lures in its thousands of other islands, too, among them Bali’s tranquil neighbouring island Lombok, the cultural riches of royal city Yogyarkarta and Borobudur’s magnificent Buddhist temple and carvings on Java, and the dragons of Komodo Island besides its capital Jakarta, the heart of the Dutch colonial empire when it was called Batavia.
Philippines beauty spot Boracay has cleaned up its act, sweeping away much of the island’s tawdry tourist tat and clamping down on illegal building and pollution dumping. Island hop in Palawan or enjoy the nature and beaches of Bohol and Cebu islands, spiced with a thriller stay in manic Manila where dazzlingly-decorated Jeepney truck buses are the preferred form of transport.