We can’t condense this incredible continent into just twenty-five attractions, but we know that sometimes time is short, and you’ve got to pick and choose. We’ve put together a list of Asia’s most awesome bucket-list items, so, next time you’re scheduling a flight to China or composing your Singapore itinerary, give this a read and make sure you’ve done ’em all.
1. Meet elephants in Thailand
As a human, you love elephants. It’s just a fact. These beautiful, serene animals are the definition of ‘gentle giants’, and a Thai holiday is a chance to meet them face-to-face. Take the time to visit a sustainable elephant sanctuary, and you’ll be able to pat and feed these leathery titans.
2. Explore the Great Wall in China
It’s one of the world’s most famous attractions, hands-down. If you’re going to China, skipping the Great Wall is simply not an option. Just do it already.
3. See castles made of ice in Harbin
When you think of Disney-esque ice castles, you’re probably not picturing a city in the far north of China. Prepare to be surprised, because not only is Harbin downright freezing, it’s also home to a visually-stunning ice festival. If you’ve ever wanted to see a castle literally built of ice and illuminated with pretty lanterns, check out the Harbin Ice Festival.
4. Try Peking duck in Beijing
Yup, Beijing used to be known as Peking, and Peking duck is the city’s most iconic dish. This mouth-watering duck delight is a must, must, must. Although there’s plenty of fancy restaurants offering duck-carving and expensive meals, we say: be adventurous! Try Peking duck at a hole-in-the-wall eatery for a truly authentic experience.
5. Meet snow monkeys in Japan
Um, what? Fluffy-furred monkeys that spend their time bathing in hot springs? Just yes! You can see these adorable animals in their natural habitat at the Jigokudani Monkey Park, in Nagano Prefecture.
6. Visit a Shintō shrine in Japan
Japan is justly famed for its amazing array of Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples. Experience the tranquil ambience of these ancient religious sites, and learn about fascinating Japanese traditions. No matter where you go, there’ll probably be a shrine or a temple nearby, so keep your eyes open.
7. Climb Mt. Fuji in Japan
It’s Japan’s national icon, the spiritual and geographical nexus of Honshū. A Japanese holiday simply isn’t complete unless you’ve scaled the massive flanks of Fuji-san. Even if you’ve done it once before, we recommend climbing again at a different time of year to experience the mountain in a whole new way.
8. Bathe in a Japanese onsen
Getting naked with a bunch of strangers and jumping in a hot tub might sound a little odd, but it’s a fairly common Japanese custom. Time to overcome your inhibitions. Strip off those clothes and start relaxing in these naturally-occurring hot pools.
9. Drink saké in a Japanese izakaya
If you haven’t tried Japan’s famous fermented rice wine, this is your chance. Whether you’re drinking ordinary saké or expensive tokutei meishō-shu, the best place to do it is in a traditional Japanese tavern. Known as izakaya, they’re basically a great place to drink lots of alcohol and meet new people.
10. Visit Bangkok’s floating markets
That’s right – markets, plural. There’s not just one of these colourfully chaotic gatherings, so you’ll have not shortage of options. Vendors sit in long-tailed boats in Bangkok’s canal districts and hawk wares ranging from freshly-cooked food to traditional pottery.
11. Go snorkelling in the Phi Phi Islands
Stunning turquoise waters. Palm-shaded sands. Sheer-sloped rock formations. You’ve probably seen the Phi Phi Islands on a postcard or ten. They’re one of Thailand’s most visually-impressive areas, and definitely worth a visit.
12. Visit Borobudur in Indonesia
Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, and looks like something out of a movie. The massive, multi-tiered building features over 2,672 reliefs and 504 Buddha statues. Oh, and it’s been around since 800 AD. If that doesn’t impress you, we don’t know what will.
13. See real-life dragons in Indonesia
Game of Thrones, step aside. Indonesia has hundreds of actual (slightly small) dragons, living in the Komodo National Park. These massive reptiles have a fearsome reputation, so getting a photo with one is definitely an experience to remember.
14. Stand on top of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore
Yes, yes, yes – we love! This paragon of luxury is an architectural phenomenon with a world-famous reputation. Explore the massive mall, or head up to the incredible SkyPark for sunset – you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city, and a 150-metre infinity pool.
15. Visit the world’s largest cave in Sarawak
Mulu Cave, in Borneo’s Gunung Mulu National Park, is pretty spectacular. The world’s largest cave has a distinctly prehistoric feel thanks to its subterranean rivers, intricate rock formations and soaring ceilings. Even if you’re slightly claustrophobic, you’ll be fine here – the cave is taller than most buildings.
16. Dive with turtles in the Perhentian Islands
Terengganu is famous for its beautiful beaches, and they don’t get any better than the Perhentian Islands. A true diver’s paradise, the Islands are home to adorable green turtles, and you can get up close and personal with these little fellas via a dive or a snorkel.
17. See Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors
They’re definitely Xi’an’s biggest draw, and, although they’re slightly creepy, you can’t pass up the chance to see a literal army of life-sized terracotta figures. Fascinatingly, the tomb they’re protecting (roughly the size of a football pitch) remains unopened – let your imagination run wild!
18. Walk through the Forbidden City in Beijing
So-named because no-one could enter without the emperor’s permission, the Forbidden City is a perfectly-preserved temple complex in the heart of Beijing. It took over a million workers fourteen years to build, so you know that a visit will definitely worth your while.
19. Set foot on the Silk Road
Want to see the best of ancient China? Check out the Chang’an-Tian Shan Corridor, which features dozens of ancient sites, including the Maijishan Cave Temple Complex and the mysterious ruins of Qocho.
20. Explore the Yellow Mountains
You know those mystical-looking pictures of pine trees and cloud-girded mountains you see on ancient Chinese scrolls? They’re all inspired by the Yellow Mountains! This beautiful, unique region is famous for its seas of cloud, gnarled pines, bizarrely-shaped rocks and geothermal springs. Bring your camera, and start exploring.
21. Visit Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta
If visiting the largest mosque in South-East Asia isn’t on your bucket-list, then you need to ask yourself: what am I doing with my life? Built in 1978 to commemorate Indonesia’s independence, its minaret and 45-metre dome are certainly an impressive sight.
22. Cruise the Musi River at sunset
Known as the Venice of the East, Palembang is bifurcated by the massive Musi River. Loved-up sunset cruise, anyone? If you thumb your nose at romance, you can explore the river via ketek or speed boat (yes, you’ll be one of those people).
23. Climb Mount Rinjani
Lombok is famed for its amazing beaches, but Mount Rinjani – Indonesia’s second-highest mountain – is arguably even better. This big guy requires a local guide to explore – a full hike can take a few days. Oh, and did we mention it’s an active volcano? No? Our mistake.
24. Explore Prambanan in Java
Yup, Prambanan looks like it’s CGI from a fantasy movie – it’s that cool. This ancient Hindu complex is composed of towering stone turrets which are simultaneously impressive and intimidating.
25. Drink Bintang in Bali
Okay, okay, maybe this isn’t quite ‘epic’ enough to be on your bucket-list, but drinking Bintang in Bali (and then proceeding to have an awesome time) is kind of just something all humans should do at least once in their lives. Indonesia’s hottest tourist destination is never better than when you’ve knocked back a six-pack of cold ones.