Asia is, arguably, the world’s most diverse continent. From Hinduism in Nepal to Shinto and Buddhism in Japan, you can discover the diversity of Asia with cheap flights now connecting its many cities and countries. Visiting some off-the-beaten path places in Asia carries indisputable advantages, such as fewer crowds, and is a great way to explore the world in ways a select few do.
1. Taitung, Taiwan
Taitung, which means “Eastern Taiwan”, is truly a cultural gem waiting for you to discover it – Luye Gaotai and Orchid Island especially so.
Located on the east coast of Taiwan, Taitung County is known for its dramatic coastline, lush greenery and picturesque mountains. One of its geological wonders is the East Rift Valley, which runs between the Central and Coastal mountain ranges from Taitung to Hualian, which is the ideal place for the Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta (pictured above).
This festival is held from June to August annually at Luye Gaotai. You can get a glimpse of colourful hot air balloons floating through the air or ride them through the sky to have an amazing panoramic view over Rift Valley and the mountains around them. On the hot air balloon, you will likely be surprised the borderline surreal experience of floating in the sky.
Orchid Island, which is a tiny island off the east coast, is the best destination for exploring Aboriginal culture of Taiwan. Taiwan was once home to aboriginal locals, who share a similar ethnicity to those of peoples native to Hawaii. Here you can get close to the genuine Yami customs and interact with Yami people instead of watching a commercial cultural show. Apart from the culture, you can also rent a motorbike to exploring this island on your own, or go snorkeling and swim through a maze of coral in the big coral reef.
Well-known for its sky-high happiness index and a reputation as one of the world’s happiest places, Bhutan is now starting to receive a lot of attention from all around the world. Bhutanese people believe that the quality of life is based on cultural well-being and spirituality instead of materialistic pleasures. So they prioritize equality, natural conservation and cultural preservation over economic development. With its approach to tourism ruled by the slogan ‘low volume, high quality’, crowds are the last thing to worry about when planning a trip to Bhutan – come, travel, and breathe the pure Himalayan air undisturbed by swarms of package tourists.
Being one of the most recognizable spots in Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest includes a small group of buildings precariously standing on a cliff 900 meters of the ground. The spectacular natural scenery around the location makes it even more stunning.
During the climbing journey to Tiger’s Nest, you will enter a temple, leaving your cell phones and other electronic equipment at the gates. You will be invited to sit quietly and meditate for a while. The silent mediation is believed to help any worries become more clear and peacefully drift out of your mind.
The ideal time to immerse yourself in Bhutanese peace is from October to December, when skies are sunny and the air is fresh. It is not suggested to go during monsoon season from June to August, as heavy rain happens frequently and mountain views become unclear with thick clouds.
3. Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, an enchanting city located in the north-western part of Cambodia, is often overlooked by travelers. If you are willing to spend a few days here, you will discover the charms of this amazing city.
Since the mid-1990s, Cambodian railroad redevelopment has been a work in progress. Sadly, only little progress has been done, and a lot of the railroads are left unused. Therefore, the bamboo train, called the “norry” – in reference to “lorry,” was born from the creativity of Cambodian people and has started running on the unused railroad.
People, livestock and crops are shuttled on the wooden platform, which is supported by a metal carriage and powered by a small engine. Along the quirky railway, you can not only enjoy an entertaining ride, but also embrace the picturesque rice fields throughout the journey. Keep in mind that the makeshift train can run at the speed of up to 50 km/h, so hold on tight!
At around 5 pm, while the sun is sinking towards the horizon, millions of bats leave the cave and form a steady stream flying into the sky every day. To witness this moment, the best spot is at the entrance to the bat cave. To-date, you can still easily find a viewing sport, as Battambing hasn’t been occupied by the crowds of tourists just yet.
If you want to experience the authentic food and genuine culture of Nepal, Sanhku village is the ideal place to go. Located in the southern suburb of Kathmandu, this village perches on a slope embracing Kathmandu from the south. Local food and freshly fermented rice wine await you here, and the local people also welcome visitors with kindness and hospitality.
Here you can experience an entirely different culture, in which people rely more on manual labor than machines. On the village road, you can easily encounter incredibly strong people making their way home while carrying woodblocks weighing over 50 kg on their backs. The tough living conditions may be somewhat of a cultural shock initially, but resilience and generosity of the locals is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Places worth visiting in Vietnam are not only Hanoi and Ha Long Bay: there are a lot of gems waiting for you to explore them, from uninhabited islands to breathtaking mountain ranges.
Located in the northern part of Vietnam, its tallest peak – Fansipan Mountain – does not only offer a glimpse of Yulong Mountain in China, but also a breathtaking panoramic view over mountain ranges running along northwestern Vietnam. Would you like to meet local hill tribes, like Giay and Hmong? Sa Pa, a town in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain of northwest Vietnam, is your ideal place for enjoying their hospitality. Here you can get a tour of local homes, try on pieces of traditional garb, savor the flavor of authentic regional dishes or even try working the farmlands.
Consisting of eight small islands off the coast – one of them a recognized UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve – Cham Islands are a paradise for relaxing, snorkeling or scuba diving. At the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, you can even find a variety of colorful corals and marine life. For pleasant water temperatures and sunny weather, the best time to visit Cham Islands is from March to September.
Read more of our editors’ reports on Asian journeys.