Looking for some travel inspiration before you explore enchanting Asia? Put these eight countries on your bucket list:
Bordering Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam is a Southeast Asian destination known for its sweeping beaches, meandering rivers, mystical pagodas and bustling cities. Before you start off your exploratory adventure, we suggest trying out a cup of Vietnamese egg coffee (cà phê trứng). Rich and sweet, this treat has been described to like a “liquid tiramisu”. Yum! To enjoy the mesmerising sight of a picture-perfect town, stop by the ancient town of Hoi An – a well-preserved trading port that was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be the best trading destination during the 18th century. The next adventure is an intriguing one, but the claustrophobic amongst us may not be keen to join in. How does exploring the complex underground tunnels of Củ Chi sound?
Next comes Cambodia, a land of intriguing attractions and intricately-carved temples. Even if you’re not up for an early morning, it’s worth the effort to break your habit to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. This magical show – watch on as the rising sun paints the sky in hues of orange, red, pink and purple – is unlike any other. Mesmerising as it may be, the spectacular sunset is not the main draw of this attraction. Pay close attention as you traverse the grounds of this famed temple; its grand scale and intricate details makes this a striking spot not to be missed.
Now, draw in a deep breath. The next attraction on the list is as fascinating as it is horrifying, and isn’t one for the faint-hearted. We’re referring to the killing fields located outside of Phnom Penh. Spanning the size of a soccer field, the land is home to numerous mass graves, and is flanked by trees strung with hanging nooses. If you’re curious about taking a deeper dive into the horrific regime of Pol Pot, a visit to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide will uncover interesting, albeit disturbing, insights.
But let’s move on to a destination that presents a more light-hearted travel experience. Picturesque Sri Lanka (which also goes by the charming name of ‘Pearl of the Orient’) definitely fits the bill. The island’s diverse landscape means that you’ll have it all – the beaches, hills, mountains and more. We’ve been told that the scenic train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is not to be missed. Keep your eyes peeled for the change in scenery as the train ambles on; the city surroundings magically transforms into a lush emerald landscape as the train rolls up the tracks towards the summit.
The list of must-see attractions on the island is an inexhuastive one. We’ll offer two recommendations: outdoor adventurers shouldn’t miss out on a hike up Adam’s Peak, while culture buffs will be amazed by the sights of Sri Lanka’s renowned Cultural Triangle.
This bucket list won’t be complete if India isn’t a part of it. The prospect of exploring this exotic land is an exciting one – this is, after all, a country well known for its myriad colours and cultures. The zen seekers amongst us will want to discover McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala – home of the Dalai Lama. Fill up your days there with visits to the Tsunglagkhang complex and Kalachakra temple (here’s where the Dalai Lama teaches). In between, fuel up with plenty of hearty Tibetan fare.
Discovering the cultures and rituals unique to a destination is part of the allure of travel. As such, a trip to witness the cremation ceremony in Varanasi is one that you can’t miss. Here is a city – the only city in India – where pyres are allowed to burn all day through the week. The demand for funerals here is high, as the city is believed to be a scared location. This cremation ritual is extremely important for a culture that believes in reincarnation. It is believed that placing the ashes of the dead in the Ganges will help their soul to be transported to heaven, and escape the cycle of rebirth.
Kickstart your sojourn in mysterious Myanmmar by visiting the ancient city of Bagan. A trip here promises to be feast for the senses – it is known to contain the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist structures and ruins in the world. It is fascinating to discover that more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, monasteries, pagodas and stupas were constructed in Bagan when the kingdom reached its hight between the 11th and 13th century. A fraction of these structures – numbering at about 2,200 – exist today.
Next on the list is Lake Inle. Floating villages, gardens and markets are set atop the serene waters, presenting a postcard-perfect sight. The Kekku Pagodas – a complex made up of more than 3,000 pagodas – is a mesmerising spot that’s worth a day excursion.
If you’re a frazzled urban dweller seeking respite from the frenetic pace of city livin’, a trip to Bali may do you lots of good. There’s an unexplainable charm about this mystical island that will soothe your soul, calm your mind and imbue you with positive vibes.
Come face to face with the dead when you make a visit to the curious Trunyan Village. Set at the edge of Lake Batur, the village can only be accessed via a boat ride. What draws travellers to this far-flung village is its unusual practice and ritual for the dead. Unlike the Balinese, locals residing in the village do not bury or cremate the dead. Instead, the bodies are laid out in bamboo cages and left out in the open to decay. It is best to visit the village before heading to the cemetery; once you’ve entered the latter, you’ll be considered “polluted”, and will not be allowed to step foot into the village or temple for three days.
Round out your Bali trip on an adventurous note by making a sunrise trek up Mount Batur. The hike is not too challenging (for travellers with a reasonable fitness level), and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views on clear days when you arrive at the summit.
Exotic meals are aplenty in Asia, and it’s no different in Thailand. Wander through the outdoor markets, and you’ll find rows of street stalls selling grubs and insects in all forms. These deep-fried treats may be piled up in large serving platters, or lined up together on bamboo sticks.
We hope your stomach was up for that unordinary fare. Next, it’s time to put your body to the test. In Thailand, this means going for a Thai massage, letting the massage therapist twist and contort your body into unsusual forms. It’s painful for some, but enjoyable for others. If you’re feeling sore from your flight, this treatment might just be the thing you need to get all the knots and tension in your body sorted out.
Get a glimpse into history by making a visit to Ayutthaya Historical Park. The expansive grounds of this attraction is home to striking buildings and numerous ruins – remnants of the once-dazzling capital of Ayutthaya. Notable structures on the site include the Wat Phra Ram Temple, Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
If you’re one who likes it cold, a seasonal destination like Korea might be your cup of tea. Make sure you’re well prepared, particularly if you’re planning to travel here during the winter – temperatures may drop down to a bone-chilling -18 degrees.
Low temperatures and cold winds aside, Korea offers plenty for curious travellers to explore. Seoul, with its busy streets and bustling vibes, will appeal to travellers with a preference for urban landscapes and exciting nightlife activities. But for an unforgettable experience, we recommend visiting the Yeongmeori Coast on Jeju Island. The walk along the jagged coastal rocks is one that unveils gorgeous views of the island’s scenic coastlines and surroundings.
Oh, and an unexpected fishy feast awaits too. Women fishermen, known as haenyeo, cluster in small groups along the coast. They’ll dive into the sea to bring up a catch consisting of a variety of seafood, all of which are washed and served right on the spot. You’ll be eating the seafood raw, unaccompanied by nothing other than some Korean hot sauce and soju. Turning a little queasy at the thought of stomaching this feast? We say: if a meal doesn’t make you feel at least a little bit squeamish, it won’t be an unforgettable experience (yours truly has stomached this feast and survived to tell the tale!).
If you don’t mind your seafood raw, but want them with a bit more flavour, let this plate of octopus tentacles tickle your tastebuds – literally and figuratively.
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