Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Asia
In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago.
The Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon) is a 100-year-old performance hall with architecture modeled on the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Nha Hat Lon was erected by the French colonial administration at the turn of the 20th century and is a landmark building in Hanoi. It was built in a typical French style with classic gothic features.
In 1997, the modernization and repair of the building was undertaken by Vietnamese French architects, and the decorative designs on the ceilings, arches, walls, and doors were renewed. Home to the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra, the Opera House also hosts the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Ballet, plus both traditional and modern local productions.
No tours of the building are offered but the exterior makes for some good photo opportunities. In terms of atmosphere, the Opera House is best seen at night when it is illuminated by lights.
One of Bali’s holiest Hindu sites (and one of its most popular attractions) is a grotto with a history dating back more than 1,000 years. Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) has uncertain origins, but it's believed that it once served as a sanctuary for Hindu priests to meditate or even sleep.
Goa Gajah's entrance makes a menacing first impression, carved in the likeness of a gaping mouth of a demonic creature. The façade of the cave entrance features several relief carvings of various mythological creatures, and while no one is sure what they represent, local lore says that an elephant was the protagonist of the drama depicted in the carvings; hence, the nickname Elephant Cave.
The courtyard just outside the cave has more recently excavated decorative bathing pools, adorned with carvings of partially clad females pouring water from urns. The cave itself is rather small, a T-shaped space with several small ledges and a statue of Ganesh, added after the cave was excavated.
Considered one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, and elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to grandeur, romance, and historical significance. As India’s most recognizable structure, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory to his favorite wife. Its interior is complete with blossoming and vibrant exotic gardens, reflecting pools, and an impressive mosque.
Although the Taj Mahal has been photographed time and time again, photography does no justice to the majesty of this awe-inspiring tomb. The wells of unfathomable emotion are drawn from its exterior, as the sun from dusk until dawn radiates an exquisite reflection upon its white marble composite, proudly coating itself in divine shades of red, orange, gold and pink.
Nowhere is the tension between North and South Korea more palpable than in the no man’s land known as the demilitarized zone, or DMZ. As the only divided nation on earth, only 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) separate the North from the South in what is the most heavily armed border on earth. The 150-mile (241-kilometer) long zone has served as a buffer since the 1953 cease fire that put the Korean War on hold.
The area is quite safe for tourists and is probably the most fascinating day trip you could possibly take from Seoul. While touring the DMZ, you’ll get the chance to visit the Joint Security Area, also known as Panmunjeom. When the North and South met for peace talks during the Korean War, they met in Panmunjeom, and it is here that you can really feel the tension as North Korean soldiers gaze down at passing tourists from their side while South Korean soldiers stare back.
In many ways, Koh Nang Yuan is the paradisiacal location most people imagine when they think of Thailand. Consisting of three tree-topped islands adjoined by a tan-colored sandbar beach, Koh Nang Yuan is one of the most sought after destinations in all of Thailand. The best part? Unlike nearby Koh Samui or Koh Tao, accommodation options are extremely limited on the island, meaning the crowds remain relatively sparse as well.
Most people come to Koh Nang Yuan on day trips from other nearby islands and snorkeling excursions as well as scuba dives are extremely popular. And although the quick day visits are available, you'd be doing yourself a great favor by coming to the island and spending a night or two. In the evenings and early mornings, you can almost have the entire beach to yourself. During the heart of the day, activities such as snorkeling, zip-lining, and hiking are available.
More Things to Do in Asia
South Korea has become famous among travelers for its freshly caught seafood, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to sample it than at the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan. The largest seafood market in the country, Jagalchi is unique in that its run largely by women who are known as Jagalchi Ajumma. This tradition dates back to the Korean War, when many of the men were off fighting and their wives took over the family businesses.
Walking through the market is like visiting an exotic aquarium, as many of the wares are kept live in tanks to maximize their freshness. You’ll find nearly any type of seafood you could want, including more varieties of shellfish than you knew existed. The market also houses a collection of seafood restaurants where you can bring your purchases to have them cooked up and served to you on the spot.
Xin Tian Di (Xintiandi) is a sleekly restored area of Shanghai, where the more successful of the city's young come to play. It's also a popular strolling area for tourists, who like to check out the 19th century architecture.
The district abounds in shikumen, stone houses that were a popular residential form in the late 19th century and early 20th century city. When the districts that contained these houses were being razed, developers stepped in to save and restore this area. Today the shikumen house galleries, bookshops, antique stores, upmarket boutiques, bars and restaurants. It's particularly ironic that this Westernized playground should be cheek-by-jowl with the Site of the First Conference of the Communist Party of China.
Gamcheon Culture Village spills down a hillside just outside of Busan in a riot of colors. The village, with nicknames like “Santorini on the South Sea” and the “Lego Village,” started off as a relatively poor area until the Korean War, when refugees began setting up homes here. Many of these refugees were members of the Taegeukdo religious movement, a religion at the forefront of the Korean independence movement.
Today, few of the 10,000 residents are still believers, but it remains a popular destination for visitors who come to see the multicolored cubicle houses stacked one on top of the other up the hill. Wander through the narrow alleys and streets, and you’ll stumble across murals, art installations and old houses converted into galleries or cafes.
Also known as the Don-Rak War Cemetery, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery commemorates victims of the building of the Burma Railway during World War II.
Located on Saeng Chuto Road, the main road of the city of Kanchanaburi, the cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and contains the graves of Australian, British and Dutch POWs who were forced into labor by the Japanese, who controlled the area at the time of the Burma Railway construction. A nearby privately funded museum, the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, contains interactive displays describing the history of the railway and the prisoners who died building it. The city of Kanchanaburi is easily accessed by rail and bus from Bangkok, and the war cemetery is located about a 5 minutes walk from the city's main station. The central Bangkok railway station has trips to the Burma Railway and stops to let visitors view the cemetery.
During the height of World War II in 1943, the Japanese Imperial Army used forced labor — both Allied prisoners of war and Asian laborers — to construct a rail line between Thailand and Burma to aid in the transport of troops and supplies. The railway stretched for 258 miles (415 kilometers) between Bangkok and Rangoon. Conditions for the workers were abhorrent, with long hours and sweltering heat. By the time it was finished 12,621 Allied POWs had died, as well as tens of thousands of Asian civilian laborers.
In 1947, after the war had ended, the Death Railway closed. A decade later the portion running between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok reopened, and today visitors can learn about this dark period in history by traveling the very same rail from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The portion of the original Death Railway that passes along the Wampo Viaduct offers spectacular views.
Located in the heart of Shanghai, People’s Square (Renmin Guang Chang) is the home to the city’s municipal government headquarters and, more importantly, serves as a major landmark and meeting point in Shanghai.
What was once an elite horse racing venue before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 is today a hotspot of cultural attractions. Within People’s Square, you’ll find some of the best museums in Shanghai, including the excellent collection of Chinese art housed within the Shanghai Museum and the impressive Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, where visitors are treated to a look at Shanghai’s past, present and future. The Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai Art Museum and the all-glass Shanghai Grand Theater are also worth a look. The park within People’s Square offers cultural insights of its own, especially early in the mornings and on weekends when locals come out to practice tai chi, exercise or play card games.
The Old Quarter is the cultural heart of Hanoi where the pulse of life has constantly beat for nearly 2,000 years. Daily routine starts early and builds to a friendly bustle. Streets have distinct character and are named after the crafts once made there - silver, ladder, silk, paper.
St. Joseph's cathedral rings for mass regularly throughout the day, follow the bells to check its Neo-Gothic style. Huyen Thien Pagoda is another of the many temples peppered around this part of town. The Old City Gate is one of four original entrances to the heart of the Royal City to survive over a thousand years.
Take time to sample the spirit, atmosphere and shopping on offer here - nothing says Hanoi like its Old Quarter.
Anyone who’s experienced either of the Disney Magic Kingdom resorts in the United States will feel a sense of déjà vu when walking in to Hong Kong Disneyland. The Disney franchise has stayed true to form with a topnotch amusement park experience combining a few classic attractions, like Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise with some new offerings, like the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop in the newly opened Toy Story Land. The park is split into six themed areas: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Adventureland.
Weekdays have the lightest crowds, but no matter when you visit, remember to pick up a Fast Pass for the big attractions.
Built in 1570, Humayun’s Tomb was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent, earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The construction of the tomb, ordered by the widow of Mughal emperor Humayun over a decade after his death, marked the beginning of an era of Mughal architecture, a style characterized by symmetry, scale and intricate decoration. This sixteenth century tomb went on to inspire the design of the Taj Mahal more than 100 years later.
The red sandstone and marble structure sits within a symmetrical square garden divided into four parts. The garden, dotted with small pools joined by channels, also contains several other tombs of important figures, including Haji Begum -- the wife who built the tomb and mother of Emperor Akbar -- and Isa Khan Niazi, an Afghan noble. While it’s possible to visit Humayun’s Tomb on your own, you’ll do yourself a great service by bringing along a guide who can tell you more about the history behind each structure.
Many travelers visit Hongdae, the area surrounding Hongik University in Seoul, for its nightlife, the best in the city. On weekend nights, the district comes alive as Seoul’s youth come out in force to dance, drink and generally have a good time. With dozens of bars and clubs within a few block radius, Hongdae offers a little bit of everything, including easy-going taverns. Dance clubs where the music rages until the sun comes up, underground karaoke dens and themed cocktail bars.
If you’re in Seoul on the last Friday of the month, called Club Night locally, you can pay a flat fee to enter about a dozen different clubs, with one drink on the house in each. It’s a good deal even if you only plan to visit a few of the bars. While the city’s best nightlife spot, the area around Hongik University is quite charming by day as well, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays when markets spring up selling Korean handicrafts and souvenirs.