Things to Do in Asia
One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Okayama Korakuen Garden was commissioned by regional ruler Tsunamasa Ikeda in 1686 and took over 14 years to complete. Today, the 13-hectare garden is a protected public park and retains its original appearance despite undergoing extensive restoration in the post-World War II years.
Its vast grassy lawn is Korakuen’s most unique attribute, but for many visitors, it’s the traditional Japanese features that draw the most attention, like the immaculately clipped bonsai trees, the blossom trees that bloom with color each spring and the network of water ways bridged by dainty stepping stones and narrow wooden footbridges. Climb to the top of the Yuishin-zan hill for a view over the garden and the neighboring Okayama Castle, gaze out over the central lake from the Enyo-tei tea house, then follow the walkways to discover the plum and cherry orchard, small tea plantation and rice field, and cages of rare red-crowned cranes.
At Zoorasia, a zoo in Yokohama with minimal fencing, animals live in an environment as close to nature as possible. The zoo is divided into seven different geographic and climatic zones, including Asian Tropical Forest, Japanese Countryside, and Subarctic Forest, that house animals belonging to more than 100 species.
Located in Anhui, Mt. Huangshan (aka Yellow Mountain) is considered one of China’s most beautiful mountains and is renowned for its four wonders: a sea of clouds, jagged granite peaks, odd-shaped pine trees, and hot springs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mountain is also one of the most visited scenic areas in the country.
In the town of Ciater, north of Bandung, West Java, warm steamy waters rise from the earth, heated by the Tangkuban Perahu volcano nearby. A number of resorts and spas channel these hot springs into natural bathing pools, some with attractions such as waterfalls, and all offer admission to guests who would like to spend the day lounging.
West Lake (Xi Hu) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a top attraction in the heart of old Hangzhou. With mountains on three sides and plenty of charming gardens, bridges, pagodas, temples, and islands, it’s easy to see why this scenic man-made lake has inspired so many poets and painters through the ages.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site garden that once belonged to the ruling Shimazu clan, the Sengan-en Garden in Kagoshima includes the Shoko Shuseikan Museum and the Iso Residence, used as a summer villa by the Shimazu family. The Japanese-style strolling garden, which dates from the mid-17th century, features streams, ponds, and shrines.
With colossal domes covered in gold leaf, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque symbolizes the wealth of Brunei. Adorned with Italian marble, English chandeliers, and Arabian carpets, the lavish mosque—named after the 28th sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men in the world—is visible from almost everywhere in Bandar Seri Begawan.
The 1974 discovery of thousands of life-sized Terracotta Warriors near Xian was one of the archeological sensations of the 20th century. The figures date from 210 BC and were meant to guard the first emperor of China in the afterlife. Today the UNESCO-listed Terracotta Warriors Museum (Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum) ranks among China’s top attractions.
Built by the Viet Cong in the 1940s as protection from French air raids during the Indochina conflict, the Cu Chi Tunnels extend underground for more than 155 miles (250 km) in the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City alone. This network of subterranean passageways later provided vital access to and strategic control over the rural areas surrounding the city during the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War or the American War), when the tunnels housed living quarters, hospitals, booby traps, and storage facilities for the Viet Cong.
Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and certainly one of India’s most famous landmarks, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to the grandiose and the romantic. Lovingly built from white marble by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, the structure is decorated with carvings of flowers and inlays of precious stone arranged into intricate patterns that can be admired both from its impressive exterior and interior. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see for every traveler to northern India.
More Things to Do in Asia
The Attari-Wagah border is a crossing between India and Pakistan that is known for its Beating Retreat ceremony, which is held each evening as the border closes. Visit at the end of the day to see the guards from both sides march in elaborate military costumes and face-off across the border in front of packed crowds.
With its golden sands and clear water, Nang Yuan Island (Koh Nang Yuan) is the poster child of southern Thailand. Hike the rocky, forested landscape; swim and snorkel in crystalline water; or just relax in relative quiet. Nang Yuan sees only a fraction of the crowds that flock to its neighbors.
Situated in the heart of the old city, the Charminar is the most famous building in Hyderabad and a symbol of the city around the world. This monument was built at the close of the 16th century to celebrate the end of a plague—possibly cholera—that had devastated the region. A small mosque sits on the top floor of the building.
The Yungang Grottoes (Yungang Shiku) are ancient Chinese Buddhist grottoes that reside in the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain near the city of Datong in Shanxi Province. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2001, the Yungang Grottoes are a brilliant display of Buddhist rock-cut architecture dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries.
The Yungang caves are divided into east, middle, and western sections. Pagodas dominate the eastern parts, while the west comprises small to medium sized caves. The caves in the middle section feature front and back chambers with Buddha statues at their center. In total, the complex comprises 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 stone Buddha statues.
Renowned throughout Southeast Asia for its antique charm, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An Ancient Town is a must-see for first-time visitors to Vietnam. The pedestrianized streets provide a calming break from chaotic traffic, while the colorful facades of lantern-clad houses harbor history that dates back more than 2,000 years.
The Mutianyu Great Wall was fully restored in the 1980s as an alternative to the increasingly popular Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. The Mutianyu section is farther away from Beijing (about an hour and a half by car) than more popular sections, but it's also significantly less busy and features some fun, modern amusements, such as a cable car, chairlift, and toboggan. The long, flat segment—the longest fully restored section open to travelers—winds along heavily forested hilltops with 23 ancient watchtowers dotting the landscape.
Also known as the “Venice of Shanghai,” Zhujiajiao is the best preserved of the four ancient water towns in the Shanghai area. With a history dating back over 1,700 years, Zhujiajiao is full of lovely canals and waterways, small alleys, picturesque bridges, and ancient buildings, many from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
A huge, 15th-century fortress overlooking the “blue city” of Jodhpur 410 feet (125 meters) below, Mehrangarh (Mehran Fort) is owned by the Jodhpur royal family to this day. The citadel is enclosed by thick, imposing walls and contains a museum, courthouses, gardens, and several magnificent palaces with vast courtyards and elaborate architecture.
Shah-i-Zinda, one of Samarkand’s most popular sites, is a street of tombs containing some of the most spectacular tile work in the world. Established over a millennia ago, temples, mausoleums, and other religious structures have been added over the centuries – mostly between the 14th and 19th centuries – making it a fascinating study in architectural style.
The innermost shrine (and the holiest structure) comprises a complex of quiet rooms believed to be the tomb of Qusam ibn-Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who brought Islam to the region in the 7th century. The Shodi Mulk Oko Mausoleum, one of the most beautiful tombs in the Shah-i-Zinda complex, is covered in majolica and terracotta that needed little restoration when the rest of the complex was aggressively restored in 2005.
The Elephanta Caves are among the most beautiful, historically significant attractions in Mumbai. Situated on an island off the coast, this UNESCO World Heritage Site features multiple rock-hewn cave temples and statues dating back to around the 7th century AD, including a celebrated statue of Shiva in his three-faced form.
By far Mongolia’s most recognizable landmark and one of the world’s largest equestrian statues, the 131-foot-tall (40-meter-tall) Genghis Khan Statue Complex (Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex) towers over the surrounding landscape. Ride the elevator up inside the horse, learn about the Mongols at the museum, shop for souvenirs, or enjoy a snack at the café.
When the Tianjin Eye was completed in 2008, it officially became the first and only observation wheel in the world to be built over a bridge. The 394-foot (120-meter) tall wheel straddles the Hai River above the Yongle Bridge, offering stellar views (on clear days or nights) of this city of some 7.5 million people.
The wheel features 48 passenger pods, each with an eight person capacity. One rotation around the wheel takes about 30 minutes. The best time to ride is at night, when the wheel is illuminated in colorful neon lights, visible from around Tianjin.
Covering 8 acres (3 hectares) of downtown Hua Hin, Vana Nava Water Jungle is one of Thailand’s largest water parks. In addition to around 20 slides and rides, some of which will thrill even adults, the park has a kids’ zone, food options, massage stations, and retail outlets. The adventure area features a ropes course, surf simulator, and climbing wall.
‘Erhai’ (Lake Er) is a 97-square-mile (250-square-kilometer) lake sandwiched between the town of Dali and the Cangshan Mountains in China’s Yunnan Province. Erhai is one of the seven biggest freshwater lakes in all of China and the second largest highland lake after Dianchi.
The local Bai people — one of China’s 56 recognized ethnic minority groups — have long used the waters of the lake for fishing using a rather unusual method. Fisherman train cormorants to catch fish (mostly carp) and return them to the fishing boat. Parks along the banks of the lake offer hiking and cycling opportunities, but most visitors choose to explore the lake by boat. These tours allow visitors to see cormorant fishing in action as well as visit some of the lake’s many islands and temples.