Asia is too massive and diverse to conceptualize as a single digestible travel “destination”. Even defining the borders of this continent is difficult – from the mountains around the Black Sea in the west, to the snow fields of Siberia in the east, there are more people and cities in Asia than outside of it. Asia’s and the world’s highest point is Mount Everest, along the border of Tibet (China) and Nepal, which rises to 8,848 m (29,028 feet) above sea level. Its lowest point is the Dead Sea, located at the meeting points of Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan, whose surface is 400 m (1,312 feet) below sea level. Asia’s longest river is the Yangtze, which runs 6,300 km (3,915 miles) through China from all the way from the high Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai. Its largest lake is the 386,400 sq km (149,200 square mile) Caspian Sea, which is surrounded by several Central Asian nations. Asia is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, by Australia to the southeast, and by the Indian Ocean to the south. It is bordered by the Red Sea to the southwest, by Europe and Urals to the west, and by the Arctic Ocean to the north.
Travel options range widely, from the desert ruins and modern mega-malls of the Middle East to the magnificent ancient monuments in South Asia, and from the beach bungalows and jungle treks of South-East Asia to the mega-cities and technology capitals of East Asia. Find out more about regions, destinations, and itineraries below. In any case, Asia offers the very diverse travel options available to the most avid travelers. On one end, there are the ultramodern largely democratic modern countries/territories like Japan and the East Asian Tigers of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea which are very prosperous and in which people enjoy very high standards of living. On the other hand, Afghanistan, Laos and East Timor are extremely poor countries where people struggle even to get a few grains of rice each day. Of course, there are also many countries lying somewhere in the middle, such as the emerging powerhouses of China and India which make wonderful travel destinations in themselves due to their long history, size and diversity. To add to a list of possible travel destinations, Asia is also home to North Korea, which is under one of, if not the most, oppressive regimes in the world. Thailand is a magnet for travelers too, with great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and great beaches.
Regions in Asia
- Central Asia (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan)
- East Asia (China (including Hong Kong & Macau), Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan)
- Middle East (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen)
- Russia and the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia)
Russia comprises much of Asia, a huge country of vast, empty expanses, while the Caucasus is a dense, warm, friendly, but extremely dangerous travel region.
- South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka)
- Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam)
Major Cities in Asia
- Bangkok — Thailand’s bustling, cosmopolitan capital with temples, nightlife and fervour
- Beijing — capital of the People’s Republic of China with the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
- Dubai — most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE, developing at an unbelievable pace
- Hong Kong — Cantonese-Chinese metropolis with a long British heritage
- Jerusalem — containing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City, this city is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims
- Mumbai — most eclectic and cosmopolitan city of India, well-known for the Bollywood film industry
- Seoul — beautiful palaces, great food and a hopping nightlife, Seoul is a frenetic way to experience the Asia of old and new
- Singapore — modern, affluent city-state with a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay and British influences
- Tokyo — the world’s largest city brings a huge, wealthy and fascinating metropolis with high-tech visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan
Other Important Place to Visit
These are some of the largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities.
- Angkor Archaeological Park — magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire
- Bali — unique Hindu culture, beaches and mountains on the Island of the Gods
- Dead Sea — stay afloat in this extremely salty lake
- Great Wall of China — several thousand kilometers long, its condition ranges from excellent to ruined
- Lake Baikal — the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, containing over one fifth of the world’s supply
- Mount Everest — the world’s tallest mountain straddling the border of China and Nepal
- Petra — ancient city carved out of sandstone and one of the new 7 Wonders
- Registan — the impressive historic heart of Samarkand, a major trade city on the Silk Road
- Taj Mahal — the incomparable marble tomb in Agra
Languages throughout Asia
Many languages are spoken throughout Asia, comprising a number of families and some unrelated isolates. Generally, the English language is your best bet if you are travelling around Asia. In the Middle East, Arabic is widely understood, while knowledge of Russian will help you in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Hindi/Urdu will help you in South Asia and Malay/Indonesian will help you in Southeast Asia. Mandarin is spoken by most in China, Taiwan, and to a lesser degree, in Singapore as well.
How to Get in Asia
Asia’s largest airports by number of intercontinental connections include Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mumbai and Singapore. For the Middle East, Dubai is by far the largest hub, with Doha and Abu Dhabi also having reasonably good connections. If you are coming to Asia by train, you’ll be likely coming in through Russia or Turkey, although other options may exist. For an interesting experience, try the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Due to the vast distances and expanses of water separating Asia’s different regions, air travel is likely to be the preferred mode of transport between the regions many travel destinations. Fares are lower on average than in Europe or America, and low cost airlines in Asia are rapidly expanding their networks particularly in Southeast Asia.
Best features of Asia
- Amazing natural wonders of the world.
- Birthplaces of all ten of the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Jainism and Bahai.
- Famous buildings.
- Unique cultures.
- Dynamic cities.
- Rare species of flora and fauna.
- Beautiful islands and beaches.
- Friendly people.
What you can do in Asia
- Cruise between the dramatic limestone Karsts, islets and island, in the emerald blue sea of Ha Long Bay.
- Sleep on board a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala in India.
- Learn scuba diving in some of the cheapest diving schools in the world.
- Climb Mount Everest, The highest point of land on earth (Nepal and China).
Stay Safe in Asia
Safety in Asia can vary wildly, but it is a safe place in general. Nearly all tourist attractions on the continent are far from conflict, but there are a few regions in which conflict and/or general lawlessness exists. The most obvious examples are Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries wholly under foreign occupation and in a state of war against insurgent groups, Taliban, Al Qaeda and numerous other armed forces. These countries are considered no-go areas and should be completely avoided by travellers (if one absolutely must go, consult War zone safety and the authorities of your country before you go). Yemen could also be added to the list of no-go countries, due to a very high threat of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, tribal violence and general lawlessness.
Other countries in Asia generally can be visited, though some countries have regions and areas that should be avoided. The Middle East is generally known for its political tensions, and while true for some part, most of the region can be visited without any major risks. The Gaza Strip is effectively a war zone between Palestinian factions and the Israeli army, where kidnappings of foreigners have occurred. Israel has coped with missile attacks as well as suicide bombings by Islamic militant groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Lebanon and the West Bank (Palestinian National Authority) generally cope with an unstable political situation and internal conflict. and Some regions of the Caucasus are considered dangerous due to active insurgent groups, particularly the North Caucasus (Chechnya), Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Iran and Pakistan cope with a low-level conflict in the Balochistan region against Baloch insurgents. More dangerously, Pakistan is active in a full-scale war in the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, both of which should not be visited. Kashmir, claimed by both Pakistan and India, is also a region with tens of thousands of casualties since 1989 due to political strife and insurgency. In 2009, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India has resurfaced, particularly in Chattishgarh and other parts of Eastern India. North-Eastern India also copes with dozens of insurgent groups, some of which have armed factions.
Southeast Asia is a major travel region and most of it is perfectly safe to visit. A notable exception is East Timor, which continues to face sporadic internal ethnic and political tension and related violence may occur. But even in some popular countries, there are some areas that should be avoided. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the south of the Philippines is effectively a war zone with several Muslim and communist rebel groups fighting with the Philippine army. It was declared the world’s most hazardous area for journalists in 2009 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. 18 reporters died in a massacre in Maguindanao that claimed the lives of almost 60 people. Thailand, the most visited country in Southeast Asia, is perfectly safe, with the notable exception of Deep Southern Thailand where fighting between the Thai military and Islamic insurgent groups still continues to this day.
Indonesia is also a very diverse country, which has led to armed groups fighting for independence in Papua. Maluku is relatively safe now, but has seen periodic eruptions of violence occur in 1999-2003. Indonesia also copes with Islamic extremist groups throughout the country. Bali, the most popular tourist destination of the country, dealt with Islamic terrorist attacks in Kuta in 2002 and 2005. The island can still be visited, but avoiding large gatherings and crowded night clubs could be advised.
East Asia is probably the safest area in the continent, but political tensions also exist in this region. You might want to avoid the border between North Korea and South Korea as these two countries are technically still at war with each other. China, a vast and diverse country, is surprisingly safe for its size, yet the restive provinces of Tibet (and its accompanying counties and prefectures in neighboring provinces) and Xinjiang are often restricted to foreign travelers at any hint of trouble.
Stay Healthy in Asia
Many areas of Asia, especially Southeast Asia and South Asia, are humid tropical, thus have certain risks attached to it – such as dengue fever and risk of malaria. Consult the country articles for specific information.