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The Most Popular Travel Destinations in Asia

The largest and most populous continent intrigues with its natural splendor, eye-catching architecture, rich culture, and culinary delights.

Tokyo, Japan city skyline.Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Tokyo

Cosmopolitan, clean, and visually striking, Tokyo is an urban paradise—a confluence of past and present with a mix of gleaming skyscrapers, imperial palaces, and ancient shrines. Spend your days exploring world-class museums, heritage sites, and Japanese pop culture in Harajuku, and your nights belting out karaoke in Shibuya or slogging back soju at pint-sized pubs in Golden Gai. It’s no secret that Tokyo is a gastronomic powerhouse with more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other place on the planet. But that’s just a piece of the dining mosaic. You can savor sushi prepared by legendary chefs or noodles from unassuming corner shops—and both will be the best you’ve ever had. This is the most affordable time to visit Tokyo.

Grand palace and Wat phra keaw at sunset bangkok, ThailandTravel mania/Shutterstock

Bangkok

Thai tourism is booming with more than 20 million people flocking to Bangkok in 2017—not that we’re surprised. This exuberant metropolis is brimming with ornate shrines, golden palaces, and floating markets. A jumble of street carts, no-frills joints, and elevated eateries, it earns its tasty reputation in spades. And when the sun goes down, Bangkok really comes alive. Its notorious nightlife comes in many forms, from ritzy rooftop lounges and racy go-go bars to basement nightclubs and flamboyant shows. And already low prices coupled with a favorable exchange rate from baht to dollars means you can spend a little and get a lot. On a budget? Check out these cheap vacations that still feel like VIP adventures.

Singapore skyscraper, Singapore skyscraper central business district and financial building of Singapore city at night, Singapore.Avigator Thailand/Shutterstock

Singapore

Singapore is a financial center with a reputation for polite residents and pristine, well, everything—and it’s bent on keeping it that way with anti-littering campaigns, strict enforcement, and steep fines. There’s plenty of gorgeous green spaces at the Botanic Gardens and the Gardens By the Bay. You can shop till you drop at the Orchard Road malls. For those OK with heights, the observation deck at Sands SkyPark promises spectacular views. And seeking out a spot to sink your teeth into something delicious doesn’t require much effort.

Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing, ChinaLukiyanova Natalia frenta/Shutterstock

Beijing

There are populous urban areas and then there’s Beijing. China’s capital is home to 21.7 million people, plus seven UNESCO-listed sites—the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian, as well as parts of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. In the center of the city is Tiananmen Square, where many political demonstrations and protests have taken place over the years. The National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong are there too. Fun fact: Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world.

Top view of Kuala Lumper skyline at twilightf11photo/Shutterstock

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur may be best known for its Petronas Twin Towers, but this lively capital has so much to offer. Its colonial-era landmarks, such as the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, are some of the most charming in all of Asia. Sri Mahamariamman, the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, is a history lover’s dream. This high-octane culinary haven delights with its contemporary kitchens and food stalls. Designer boutiques and high-end department stores attract fashionistas from near and far. Bonus: Malaysia tops our list of wallet-friendly travel destinations for 2018.

Kyoto, Japan cityscape in Higashiyama historic district.Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Kyoto

Tokyo’s older, more laid-back sister has more Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, castles, and cultural institutions (hello Nishi Market and Gion geisha district) than you could possibly hit in a single trip. And frankly, it would be foolish to try, because not only would you come up short but you would have spent all your time scurrying from one site to the next instead of actually experiencing all that Kyoto has to offer. Wondering where to stay? Skip the hotel in favor of an authentic ryokan such as Matsui Honkan or Yadoya Manjiro. Don’t miss these hidden gems you can only see in Japan.

Twilight sunset at han river seoul koreasayan uranan/Shutterstock

Seoul

Seoul, and really South Korea itself, is a story of triumph. In the 1960s, South Korea had a GDP on par with the poorest countries in Africa. Today, it’s the 11th largest economy in the world and its capital is a metropolis of futuristic skyscrapers, K-pop, and technical innovation. Amidst the modernity, colorful traditions continue to thrive. Tile-roofed houses line the lanes of Bukcho, Buddhist temples abound—the most impressive being Jogye-sa—and Changdeokgung Palace is a stunning example of ancient architecture. No wonder Seoul is getting more popular by the minute.

Ho Chi Minh City view at nightTonkinphotography/Shutterstock

Ho Chi Minh City

Want French colonial landmarks in Asia? Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is home to Notre-Dame Cathedral and the 19th-century Central Post Office. Bến Thành Market is overflowing with food, handicrafts, and souvenirs. The incense-filled Jade Emperor Pagoda, War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, and Giac Lam Pagoda are musts. Don’t leave without touring the fruit orchards, paddy fields, and marshlands of the Mekong Delta. And make sure to avoid these stressful vacation mistakes.

skyline of macau by the seaRichie Chan/Shutterstock

Macau

Dubbed the “Las Vegas of China,” Macau is famous for gambling, but if playing the slots isn’t your thing you certainly won’t be bored. This high-energy hotspot brings the party with a dizzying array of entertainment and nightlife options. More than just palatial resorts, giant casinos, and sky-high towers, Macau is a melange of cultures; where ancient Chinese temples and manicured gardens meet Portuguese tile-paved streets and colonial facades. And with 19 Michelin-starred restaurants, you won’t go hungry.

Panorama view of Tran Quoc pagoda, the oldest temple in Hanoi, VietnamVietnam Stock Images/Shutterstock

Hanoi

From picturesque temples and pagodas to vibrant markets, Hanoi is a feast for the senses. Despite modern developments, history remains on display throughout. Stroll the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. Visit the creepily fascinating Hoa Lo Prison turned museum. Ogle impeccably preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture at the Temple of Literature, the former site of a Confucian academy. Escape the city for an afternoon of exploring the emerald waters and islands of Ha Long Bay.

Sunset over Victoria Harbor as viewed atop Victoria PeakRonnie Chua/Shutterstock

Hong Kong

Hong Kong beckons with its iconic skyline punctuated by I.M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower, culinary cache, and pictorial appeal. Notable attractions include Victoria Peak, Man Mo Temple, and Po Lin Monastery. Hungry? Sample sweet and sour pork or freshly steamed dim sum. From neon-lit Causeway Bay to Temple Street Night Market: If you want to indulge in some retail therapy, there’s no better place. Hong Kong also puts on an epic New Year’s Eve celebration.

Herd of elephants bathing in the jungle river of Sri Lankagivaga/Shutterstock

Sri Lanka

There’s an almost infinite amount of reasons to visit Sri Lanka. For starters, it’s blessed with white-sand beaches and verdant tea plantations. This tropical island also boasts exotic wildlife—elephants, leopards, sloths, and buffalo—beautiful national parks, and luxury resorts. No joke: There’s a Ministry of Crab in Colombo. Needless to say, this under-the-radar foodie destination won’t stay a secret for long. Before you book your flights, find out the best time to travel Sri Lanka—and other top vacation spots.

Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay Cohn is an avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents and writes about travel for Reader’s Digest as well as USA Today, Fodor’s, Travel + Leisure, Brides and PureWow. Beyond travel, she covers a variety of lifestyle topics including beauty, wellness and design. Her work has also been published on Well+Good, Elle Decor, Martha Stewart, Domino and Mindbodygreen. Follow her on Instagram @lindsay_cohn