Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Asia
Nowhere is the tension between North and South Korea more palpable than in the no-man's-land known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. As a divided nation, only 2.5 miles (4 km) separate the North from the South at what is the most heavily armed border on earth. The 150-mile (241-km) zone has served as a buffer since the 1953 cease-fire agreement between the United Nations and North Korea that put the Korean War on hold.
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.
Bangkok’s glittering Grand Palace is one of the most popular attractions in the Thai capital. Built in 1782, this sprawling 54-acre (21.8-hectare) complex served as the royal court and administrative seat of Thailand for 150 years. Today, while it continues to host royal Thai functions, the palace also impresses swathes of visitors with its intricate golden-spired architecture and cultural history.
A Balinese Hindu site, the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is populated by some 700 long-tailed Balinese macaques that live in and around the forest. The monkeys are believed to protect the area and the three Hindu temples within—Pura Dalem Agung, Pura Beji, and Pura Prajapati—from evil spirits.
From the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea, the jungle-shrouded limestone cliffs of Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands rise majestically, giving way to white-sand beaches and lush green jungles further inland. Longtail boats putter between the islands, collectively known as Koh Phi Phi or Ko Phi Phi, surrounded by turquoise waters and colorful marine life.
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.
With its heady smorgasbord of street food, gold merchants, wooden shophouses, and ancient Chinese temples, there’s never a dull moment in Bangkok’s Chinatown, also known as Yaowarat. Exploring the bustlingsois (side streets) of the city’s oldest district is a must on any trip to the Thai capital.
The twin 88-story steel and glass buildings known as the Petronas Twin Towers (or Petronas Towers), completed in 1996, are icons of Malaysia. Designed to symbolize courage and the country’s advancement, the two towers are connected by a double-decker Skybridge between the 41st and 42nd floor—the world’s highest two-story bridge of its kind—to form the shape of an “M” for Malaysia.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is renowned for its spectacular scenery. One of the most popular tourist attractions in northern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is home to sparkling emerald waters, more than 1,600 towering limestone islands and islets, caves, and traditional floating villages.
The 42 karst islets of Ang Thong National Marine Park (Mu Koh Ang Thong) in southern Thailand comprise a picturesque seascape spanning more than 95 square miles (246 square kilometers). These limestone pinnacles harbor secluded powdery beaches, sheer cliffs, and caves, and are home to myriad birds, monkeys, dolphins, and other wildlife.
More Things to Do in Asia
One of the oldest, largest, and most revered temple complexes in Bangkok, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) is a must-see for all visitors to the Thai capital. The central attraction of the temple complex is its namesake statue—the gold leaf covered reclining Buddha—but don't let it distract you from the site's other treasures, including its 95 pagodas, carved narrative panels, and opulent main altar.
A Singapore landmark, Merlion Park is named for its centerpiece, the Merlion statue, which spouts water into Marina Bay. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the Merlion is the national icon of Singapore. The park is also popular with locals, who come here to play and relax along the waterfront.
For subcontinental color, cuisine, and atmosphere, head to Singapore’s Little India, one of the island’s most vibrant districts. Shops, restaurants, street vendors, and colorful Hindu temples line the streets of Little India, making it an excellent place to take a walk. The culture and community center of Little India, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is the neighborhood’s most important Hindu Temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali.
For many visitors, Singapore’s Chinatown is the sightseeing focus of the city, home to traditional shophouses, temples, and cultural heritage. Take a wander down the atmospheric streets, dropping into shophouses to see what’s for sale. Admire the rooftop dragons of Thian Hock Keng Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, and the festively gaudy Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple, covered with colorful cows and depictions of the gods. Of course, Chinatown is also the place to go to for great food, especially along Smith Street.
Bali’s first beach hotel opened back in the 1930s on Kuta’s epic sweep of golden sand and metronomic surf. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Australian surfers popularized the place, and today Kuta Beach is the epicenter of Kuta, Bali’s liveliest and most touristic district. If great waves and beach boys float your boat, Kuta won’t disappoint.
Easily one of Bangkok’s most visually striking landmarks, the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) towers over the Chao Phraya River. Its colorfully decorated spires are the star features—the temple’s central prang stands 260 feet (79 meters) tall and is intricately decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain.
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, Ko Taen, and Ko Tan) 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. Koh Tan also has a thriving population of monitor lizards, a boardwalk through a mangrove forest, a quaint local temple, a handful of local restaurants and a cluster of bungalow-style accommodations.
Arguably the most beautiful and easily the biggest of Seoul’s five main palaces, Gyeongbokgung (also known as the Northern Palace) is one of South Korea’s must-visit attractions. Built in the 14th century, this is the oldest Joseon Dynasty palace in the nation, and it’s right in the heart of Jongno-Gu, the most culturally happening part of Seoul. Come for 600 years of history—and one brilliant changing of guards ceremony.
Gamcheon Culture Village spills down a hillside in a riot of colors just outside Busan. The village, nicknamed “Santorini on the South Sea” and “the Machu Picchu of Busan,” was once an enclave for refugee members of the Taegeukdo religious movement. Today, the neighborhood attracts visitors with its steep cubicle houses, galleries, and cafés.
In a city and country known for its colorful markets, none stands out so vividly as Pak Klong Talad Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat). Stalls feature local and imported fresh-cut flowers piled high: delicate orchids, bunches of colorful carnations, fragrant roses, lilies, forget-me-nots, and more. Vendors also sell flower arrangements and hand-strung garlands.
The mountainous border regions of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand come together in the exotically named Golden Triangle—a haven of Buddhist architecture, lush forest, and colorful riverfront villages. Located in the Chiang Rai province at Thailand’s northernmost tip, the Golden Triangle is thick with wonders, both natural and man-made.
The Old Quarter, a triangular area surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, has been the cultural heart of Hanoi for nearly 2,000 years. Daily routine starts early and builds to a friendly bustle in this ancient neighborhood, where streets have distinct character and are named after the crafts once made there, such as silver, silk, and paper.
Every great city has a river, and Bangkok’s is the Chao Phraya (Mae Nam Chao Phraya). Alive with traditional long-tail boats, passenger ferries, and cargo boats, the Chao Phraya River is the lifeblood of the city. It winds past both ancient temples and modern high-rises, offering a unique, local perspective on the Thai capital.
Pilgrims from Nepal and India flock to Pashupatinath Temple, the holiest Hindu site in Nepal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Pashupatinath is also where many Hindu Nepalis come to die and be cremated.