Asia may be the holy grail of gap year travels and backpacking for the last 10 years, but there’s more to the continent than full moon parties in Thailand. From the high rise buildings of Hong Kong to the untouched territories of Borneo, here’s a few of our favourite places to visit in Asia. Glow paint and backpack are not essential.
1. Penang, Malaysia
Just off the northwest coast of Malaysia lies the island of Penang, a hotspot for all foodies thanks to its Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, the island’s capital, George Town boasts multicultural charm and a more chilled out vibe than the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Head to Kek Lok Si, a 19th century Buddhist temple that sits facing the sea, or capture a view of George Town by sunset on Penang Hill. It’s a colourful city where you can find impressive street art decorating its walls and creative coffee shops that wouldn’t be amiss in London or New York.
2. The Rainforests of Borneo
As far as rewarding and unforgettable experiences go, a visit to the Bornean rainforests is one of them. Here, you’ll be able to see Orangutans in their natural habitat and soak up the refreshing atmosphere underneath the trees (which is certainly a welcome break from the high humidity levels that gives personality to Malaysia).
With the dangers of extinction, ensure you choose a tour that focuses on the conservation of the Orangutans and allows you to see them in the wild!
These tours will have a cap on the numbers in the group to not scare the animals, and usually limit the number of cameras or phones per tour group.
3. Hong Kong
Where modern skyscrapers sit alongside old, high rise residential buildings, Hong Kong is a city of two stories, and the class divide defines the city’s feeling. Mongkok is not for the faint-hearted – it’s one of the most densely populated parts of Hong Kong – the Ladies Market is definitely worth a visit. Here, you’ll be able to find Chinese-themed gifts, cheap clothing, jewellery and other bargains. Escape the noisy city life with a trip to Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau Island. Over 50% of the island consists of national parks,with many signposted trails for you to bask in the beauty of its nature. Lantau Island is also home to tourist hotspot, Tian Tan Buddha, – or the Big Buddha – Po Lin Monastery and Disneyland.
For a taste of city life, Singapore will not disappoint but it does come at a price: it is expensive. As Asia’s greenest city, it’ll come as no surprise that nature and greenery come in abundance in Singapore. The nature park, Gardens by the Bay, is probably the most popular. It’s free to enter although you will have to pay to see the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest – both of which are impressive and well worth the ticket price.
Singapore is also home to the world’s first nocturnal zoo – the Night Safari is one of Singapore’s favourite attractions!
Don’t forget the merlion at Merlion Park – an iconic landmark for the country – and if you fancy a spot of shopping, Orchard Road is your best bet.
5. Lombok, Indonesia
With Bali as the tourist hub of Indonesia, there’s no need to view Lombok as second best. It’s an alternative destination that holds its own wow factor. Take a trip to Rinjani National Park where you can hike up Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano. The breathtaking views of the island are next-to-none. With its blissful white beaches, it’s not difficult to see why it’s a popular destination among surfers; a few of our favourites include Tanjung Aan and Selong Belanak.
6. Kanchanaburi, Thailand
You’ve most definitely heard of people holidaying in Ko Samui and Chiang Mai, but Kanchanaburi? Probably not. But its lesser-known status doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit in its own right. Home to the Death Railway built by prisoners of war during World War II, the town is steeped in history. But beneath its dark history, it is blessed with breath-taking waterfalls, temples, lakes and jungle. Take a trip to Erawan National Park; with seven levels of waterfalls, the views are unrivalled. This is definitely one for Instagram.
7. Bohol, Philippines
Often listed as one of Asia’s best diving and snorkeling sites, Bohol is the picturesque beauty that dreams are made of. Whilst the popular Boracay is known for its party atmosphere, Bohol is far more laid back and kinder on the purse strings. Bohol is a secret to international tourists, and yet, it offers some of the most picturesque views in Asia. The Chocolate Hills are a main attraction in Bohol, with two of the 1247 hills converted into tourist resorts, and dolphin watching is also popular with both residents and tourists alike.
No matter what your interests are, and whether you prefer island life to the hustle and bustle of the city, there really is something for everyone in Southeast Asia.
Plan out your trip to see as much of the continent as you can, and you’ll be guaranteed the time of your life.