Travel Inspiration

Bucket List Busters: Best Things to do in Asia

Bucket List Busters: Best Things to do in Asia

Deciding on what the best things to do in Asia are is akin to choosing whether to have a starter or a dessert at dinner – a near impossible task. Asia’s menu of a mouth-watering 49 countries does little to make the decision any easier either. Fortunately, we have a team of travel experts who have taken a bite from them all. Whether it be the celestial carvings of Cambodia’s Angkor Complex, the jungle-clad outcrops of Halong Bay or the holy waters of Varanasi, Asia truly has something for everyone. And as the largest continent in size (a whopping 17,226,200 square miles) and population (roughly 4.68 billion) in the world, it is literally impossible to run out of things to do. Deciding where to start can be head scratching and chin-rubbingly difficult though, so we’ve made a list of bucket list busters to get you started. Here is our experts’ list of the best things to do in Asia…


  1. Do Angkor Right
  2. See Kyoto in Bloom
  3. Eat Pray and Love in Ubud
  4. Sail Halong Bay
  5. Climb to the top of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
  6. Visit Varanasi


Do Angkor Right


The Khmer people didn’t do things by halves, and Angkor is proof of that. Comprised of more than 1,000 intricately decorated temples, including the mighty Angkor Wat – the world’s largest religious building – Angkor is far more than just an example of architectural ambition and spiritual devotion. With the grandeur of the Taj Mahal and stature of Machu Picchu, it is both a symbol of national pride, history and pilgrimage. But with great beauty comes great numbers…of tourists. 2.6 million a year to be precise. They can be escaped though. Head to the quieter East Gate to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, get the fascinating half-smiling faces of Bayon Temple to yourself over lunch and swap Phnom Bakheng’s popular sunset spot for Ta Prohm, with not another iPhone in sight.

Sakura in Kyoto


See Kyoto in Bloom


See Kyoto the way it deserves to be seen – during spring Sakura season. Yes, you may have to book a year in advance and yes, you’ll probably have to share the sight of bursting pastel pink blossom with a few thousand other astonished eyes but trust us, it’s worth it. Take a stroll down the blossom-lined Philosopher’s Path, pause at Maruyama Park for views over koi-filled ponds and painstakingly manicured gardens for hanami (flower-viewing parties), and lose yourself in the narrow walkways of the historic Higashiyama neighbourhood. And when you’re ready to escape the crowds, head to the Shimogamo district’s Kamigamo shrine, which is always pleasantly crowd-free.

Bali, Indonesia


Eat Pray and Love in Ubud


Nestled in the jungle in the heart of the island, Ubud is Bali’s cultural and spiritual hub. Home to organic cafes, scenic yoga studios, craft shops, markets and galleries, Ubud offers both a masterclass in global tourism and traditional Balinese culture. It’s one of the reasons why film producers and writers have been snapping it up for so long. But take a walk away from the town and it’s as if you have the island to yourself. Cycle along paddy fringed paths (à la Elizabeth Gilbert), stop by the sacred Saraswati Temple for a deep dive into Hindu history and perhaps discover more than just the pigeon position on yoga retreats hidden in the town’s dense forest.


Sail Halong Bay


Say hey to Halong Bay. Flanked by looming limestone cliffs and rocky islets that rise from emerald waters, there is no denying this UNESCO-stamped beauty of its looks. Even in spite of the multiple wars and invasions it has begrudgingly hosted over the years, the bay still manages to feel miraculously untouched. In fact, the further you sail out of the main thoroughfare, the more secluded it feels. Charter a boat to Bai Tu Long, which is every bit as beautiful as its famous neighbour, or head out on a day trip to the small islands of Lan Ha Bay. Dock by picturesque beaches and pause for lunches at sleepy fishing villages for bites of Cha Muc (squid cakes) and glasses of Ngán Wine. Sound idyllic? We think so too.

Tiger's Nest, Bhutan


Climb to the top of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery


Discover what your lungs are really made of on the epic 1,700 ft trek up Paro Taktsang (or the Tiger’s Nest as it’s more commonly known), Bhutan’s most famous Buddhist monastery. Legend has it that this cliff-clinging holy house came to be after Guru Rinpoche landed there on the back of a tigress. Despite its vertigo-inducing location, the hike up to the top is surprisingly gentle (and sturdy). Follow millions of fluttering prayer flags strung over the rocky path, stop at scenic prayer wheels for a cup of tea – naturally – and let the monastery’s spiritual breeze greet you as you reach the top. While we don’t suggest taking Guru Rinpoche’s approach and spending three years, three months, three days and three hours meditating in the cave, a few hours in the company of its fantastic frescoes, glistening golden walls and reposeful monks will make you see why he did (and why it is one of our best things to do in Asia).


Visit Varanasi


There is a reason why Varanasi makes almost every list of things to do in Asia. The holy city of Hinduism, Varanasi is the India of your imagination. From the Kashi Vishwanatha temple and its awe-inspiring 50-foot gold-plated spire to serene Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon, it’s no wonder that this age-old city attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over the world. But it is the Ganges, to the city’s east, which makes the city such a spiritual hotbed. Believed to wash away sins and bring bathers closer to spiritual enlightenment (particularly at later stages of life), the river and its Ghats (steps) can host up to 200 public cremations a day. This city isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you’re after a truly unique and powerful experience, where magic and spirituality feel so real you can reach out and touch them, Varanasi is the place.


Header Image by Samantha Faivre