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What are some cool cities in Asia to visit?
The continent of Asia is a bustling and diverse area of the world, and is a magnet for first-time and seasoned travellers alike. Abundant with serene islands, beautifully-unique landscapes, long-sandy beaches, tropical jungles, varied wildlife, and tasty cuisines, it’s no wonder that many places in Asia make our travel bucket lists! You might have many islands, towns, and specific sights in mind to visit, but to give you some inspiration on which cities should make the cut, I’ve compiled a list of 7 of the very best cities in Asia to visit! So without further ado, here goes…
1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Personally, I think that Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. Surrounded by jungle-clad mountains and abundant with some of the most intricate temples, Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. The city feels more like a large town, encased in historic city walls and surrounded by a moat. It is home to one of the best night markets in Southeast Asia, and a relaxed vibe permeates every corner of the city.
There are some truly unique things to do in Chiang Mai, one of which is to head to one of the local temples (there are hundreds) which are scattered throughout the city to speak with a monk at one of the Monk Chat programmes. You’ll be able to have a conversation with them about Buddhist life, Thai culture, or anything else that interests you (within reason, of course). Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most famous temples that offers this, but if that doesn’t tickle your fancy then why not visit some other temples, watch Thai Boxing, go ziplining out of the city, or head to Elephant Nature Park?
Tip: If you’re planning on visiting Chiang Mai and will be coming from other parts of Thailand like Bangkok, consider taking the overnight train to add to your Southeast Asian experience!
2. Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi was one of my absolute favourite places that I visited on my 2 week trip to Vietnam, and had a calmer vibe than the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and is located in the north of the country. In the Old Quarter, you won’t find high rise buildings, but instead an abundance of French-colonial architecture with Chinese influence making it one of the best cities in Asia to travel to for a collision of culture. The Old Quarter consists of a network of narrow lanes and alleyways, with streets named after the products and services they once specialised in.
In the middle of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake with Ngoc Son Temple at its centre, which offers a tranquil break from the business of the city. Aside from the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, there are some fantastic things to do in Hanoi, such as to visit train street or eat Pho (the national dish of Vietnam and preferred breakfast option for many Vietnamese people). Hanoi is also the closest major city to Halong Bay, which is a definite on any Southeast Asia bucket list! And you can do some wonderful day trips from Hanoi too, such as to beautiful Tam Coc in Ninh Binh province!
Tip: You’ll need to take some time to perfect the art of crossing the road in Hanoi, given the mass of scooters and cars which whizz in every direction. A top tip is to follow what the locals do, and keep your eyes peeled!
3. Beijing, China
Possibly one of the most famous cities in Asia, the sheer size of Beijing makes it one of the best destinations to travel. The ever-growing megacity is ~15 times bigger than Hong Kong and ~23 times bigger than Singapore. It is a hub for culture, religion and history, and is a city where old and new sit side by side in perfect harmony.
The chic shopping district of Wangfujing sits just to the east of the historic Forbidden City, the roads which surround Tiananmen Square have up to 10 lanes for traffic (or more) and the traditional Hutongs are nestled in amongst modern skyscrapers! Beijing is one of the best cities in Asia to visit for those who want a little bit of everything. The world-renowned city has museums, temples, parks and gardens, malls, cuisine, squares, markets, lakes, monuments and traditional districts.
And don’t be fooled into thinking that Beijing is just a bustling modern metropolis, because serenity can be found in many historic places that are scattered across the city, such as in the Summer Palace, Jingshan Park and the areas surrounding Hou Hai. Of course, one of the main reasons to visit Beijing is to take a day trip to the Great Wall of China, but the city itself is undoubtedly one of the best places to travel in Asia!
Singapore goes far beyond the suave skyline of Marina Bay which you see featured in all the travel guides. It is actually a multi-cultural hive of activity, with various neighbourhoods dotted all round. If you like the idea of having many cultures at your fingertips and want to feel like you are travelling to many countries rolled into one, then Singapore might be one of the best cities to visit for you. Some of the most vibrant areas of Singapore are Little India and Chinatown, and stepping into each is like wandering through a slice of the real thing!
I visited Singapore as part of a 3 week trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Bali (the trip costs are unbelievable for this trip, so be sure to check out the itinerary), but as Singapore is a busy transit hub in Southeast Asia you could easily combine it with a whole host of other Asian countries (or perhaps somewhere further afield, like Australia).
There are many things to do in Singapore by district, and although relatively small, it’s one of those places you’d probably struggle to run out of things to do. From the glitz and glam of Marina Bay to the bustling markets of Little India and temples of Chinatown, there is surely something to please everyone in this city!
Tip: If you’re planning a trip to the city, be sure to check out this where to stay in Singapore guide for the only 5 areas you need to know about when picking your base!
5. Bangkok, Thailand
If you are someone who wants to get a sense of the quirkiness of Thailand and the chaos which defines many of the best cities in Asia, then consider visiting Bangkok. But be warned, if you’re a first-time traveller to Asia then Bangkok might overwhelm you a bit, like it did me on my 3 week trip to Thailand (and I wasn’t a first-time traveller)! The persistent noise, questionable smells, and sweltering humidity coupled with the utter bedlam of the city might make you want to run and hide, but I’d encourage you to be open-minded and stick with it.
I know that I’m not really selling it, but Bangkok truly is one of the best cities to visit in Asia for rich culture, mouthwatering food and eclectic street life. What’s more, Bangkok has some amazing things to do such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun, and you can do some fantastic day trips from the city such as to the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Erawan Waterfalls and the Bridge over the River Kwai!
Tip: Thailand is one of the easiest places to backpack in Southeast Asia, making Bangkok a good starting point for any newbie itinerary!
6. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city where western influence collides with eastern culture, and is a diverse place where modernity intertwines with tradition. The main city of Hong Kong is made up of Hong Kong Island and the Peninsula, but the region spans far beyond this to tranquil places such as Lantau Island. But don’t think you need to travel out of the city to find pockets of peacefulness, because this can be found in places like Lugard Road and Nan Lian Gardens.
What makes Hong Kong such a special place and one of the best cities in Asia to travel is its uniqueness. As I said before, it’s a city where two worlds collide and erupt into a multi-cultural and dynamic bonanza of brilliance. Looking down from the Peak, you’ll see the impressive scale upon which skyscrapers have been jammed into small spaces to create the modern metropolis it is today.
As you meander through Hong Kong, you will stumble across old temples and shrines, historic Junk boats transformed into tourist ships, gardens and parks, chic shopping malls, and skyscrapers encased in traditional bamboo scaffolding. One of the best things to do in Hong Kong is to watch the light and sound show on Victoria Harbour, but there are many other things which just can’t be missed!
7. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Travelling isn’t always falling in love with places at first sight, and Kuala Lumpur was one of the cities I certainly didn’t bond with straight away, but nevertheless is still one of the best places to visit in Asia. The reason it makes this list of best cities in Asia is because it is home to some out-of-this-world sights, which can only be found there.
Two of these are the Petronas Towers and the Batu Caves (more specifically the statue of Lord Murunga which stands at their entrance). Alongside this, Kuala Lumpur has an extremely impressive skyline which is best viewed from the rooftop pool of a central hotel. With the diversity of Singapore, the humidity of Bangkok and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur is a mishmash of everything Malaysian and more!
An urban metropolis, pockets of tradition remain throughout the city – all you need to do is delve a little deeper. There are a mix of things to see and do in Kuala Lumpur, such as temples, mosques, museums, parks, squares, malls, markets and monuments, and although it may not be one of the first cities in Southeast Asia to spring to mind when planning a trip, it’s certainly worthy of a few days stopover!