Bangkok, Shanghai, Tokyo—they’re all on your bucket list, of course. But while you’re planning (or, er, just daydreaming about) your big Asian adventure, consider a few lesser-known cities before they become the next hot spots. Here, ten Asian cities you’ll want to know about now, before everyone else does.
10 Asian Cities to Visit Before Everyone Else Hears About Them
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Nestled next to uber-popular Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai, a city brimming with stunning nature and architecture. Located in a mountainous region in north Thailand, Chiang Rai has lower temperatures than the rest of the country, but it’s still wet and tropical—ideal for travelers looking to hike lush jungle paths and meet locals (many treks into the mountains include visits to hill tribe villages, communities that have lived and farmed in the region for centuries). Be sure to check out Wat Rong Khun, also known as the white temple, for a truly mystical experience. And don’t forget to try some traditional northern-style Thai cuisine, which relies less on coconut milk and more on bitter spices and juicy pork than southern-style dishes. We recommend the kà-nŏm jeen nám ngée-o (rice noodles in pork- and tomato-based broth).
Where to stay: Why not wake up to a jungle view from a mountaintop hotel and end the day hanging out with elephants at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort?
When a city is a go-to retreat for locals, you better believe they’re onto something. Shōdo Island is home to Shodoshima, a town full of olive groves that feels more like a Mediterranean village than what you’d probably expect. Aside from the olive trees growing throughout the city, Shodoshima is replete with rural rice fields and soothing hot springs. Hop in a gondola for a spectacular ride over the Kankakei Gorge (and be sure to have your camera ready and rolling), then visit Choshikei Monkey Park where wild macaques roam the hillside.
Where to stay: The Bay Resort Hotel is a luxurious spot with large suites overlooking the surrounding blue sea and emerald mountains. It also happens to offer olive oil massages.
Dutch travelers once referred to this port town on Indonesia’s Musi River as “The Venice of the East.” No offense to the Dutch, but Palembang’s 120 or so canals and streams make the city noteworthy all on its own. Shop the many floating markets and vendors along the Musi River, and visit the towering Kemaro Temple by boat during the day. At night, stroll along the Ampera Bridge, which was built in 1965 and is one of Palembang’s most iconic structures. For a wild history lesson, hit up the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Museum and then nosh on some pempek, an ancient fishcake delicacy from the region’s Srivijayan Empire days.
Where to stay: Sip fresh-squeezed juice at Hotel Santika Premiere Bandara’s infinity pool before trying traditional Indonesian cuisine at the four-star resort’s Belida Restaurant.
Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle seems like the best destination for the bohemian traveler—or, at the very least, a visitor hoping to stumble into cultural experiences and local art by simply meandering down narrow cobblestone streets. This city on the coast boasts tons of cute cafés and artisans selling unique wares. It’s also the home of Galle Fort, a current UNESCO World Heritage site that was built by the Portuguese in 1588. Unawatuna Beach is a must-visit, as the waters are bright blue and fishermen on stilts can be seen towering above the ocean hunting for grub. Like much of Galle’s history, the cuisine tends to be a hearty blend of Western and Asian dishes. If authentic Sri Lankan food is what you’re after, hit up Lucky Fort Restaurant for its infamous ten curries meal.
Where to stay: The Amangalla has been hosting travelers for about 150 years and the colonial-style rooms are full of antiques. Have no fear—it’s definitely a modern luxury resort complete with spa services and a yoga pavilion.
You’d think the capital city of any Southeast Asian country would already be a hot spot for tourists, but Vientiane is an oft-overlooked vacation destination. Its high chill factor might make it a less go-to spot than Thailand or Vietnam, but if serenity is what you seek, you shall find it in Vientiane. Take a luxurious walk along the Mekong River bordering Thailand or hop in a tuk-tuk (a motorized pedi-cab) to Buddha Park, a stunning expanse of greenery full of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. At night, local crafters set up shop in red tents along the river to sell handmade souvenirs.
Where to stay: The Ansara Hotel is a boutique hotel in the heart of the city, full of traditional Laotian decor, complimentary breakfast and an upscale French restaurant, La Signature, on site.
Located 120 miles west of Kathmandu and within roughly 15 miles of the Annapurna Mountain Range (home to three of the world’s ten highest peaks) is Pokhara. Considering its trade roots and the fact that visitors could only access it by foot until the 1960s, Pokhara is the adventure traveler’s ideal South Asian destination. To no one’s surprise, mountain climbing and hiking in the Annapurna range is a huge draw, but don’t overlook paddle boating on or paragliding over Phewa Lake. Check out Devi’s Falls (ideally just after monsoon season) and the World Peace Pagoda, which offers a stunning panoramic view of the city, lake and surrounding mountains. Pokhara is super laid-back, which is no surprise considering the many yoga retreats available to visitors.
Where to stay: Staying in the mountains of Nepal calls for some serious glamping, which The Pavilion Villas offers, and then some. Natural spring pools, insane views and fireplaces, oh my!
Calling all vegetarian yogis looking for their next meditation vacation. Rishikesh, also known as the Yoga Capital of the World, banned the consumption of eggs, fish and meat in 2004. Delicious vegetarian Indonesian, Israeli, Indian and Chinese cuisine abounds in this Himalayan town. Cross the Lakshman Jhula hanging bridge into Swarg Niwas to see the Shri Trayanbakshwar Temple, a giant orange-hued temple straight out of a Wes Anderson fairy tale. Nightlife isn’t huge in Rishikesh, which makes sense for a place revered for mindfulness and serene walks on the banks of the Ganges River.
Where to stay: Head to Aloha on the Ganges for a truly otherworldly resort experience. Choose from suites with views of the mountains, Ganges River or extensive gardens on the grounds, and be sure to visit the spa for the region’s authentic Ayurvedic rituals.
Koh Kood, Thailand
Forget the pristine (and crowded) beaches of Phuket. If tropical seclusion is your goal, Koh Kood (also spelled Koh Kut) is your island. There are very few transportation options around the island beyond scooters, and many of its beaches are actually tricky to get to, which means you might have to earn your relaxation, but it won’t be interrupted by hordes of tourists. Don’t miss the enormous, 500-year-old Makka Tree in the city center or the incredible snorkeling opportunities along Koh Kood’s coastline. White sand, coconut groves, aquamarine waters and quaint fishing villages. Should we…keep going?
Where to stay: Near Khlong Chao beach is High Season Pool Villas & Spa, a five-star hotel with a focus on environmentally-friendly practices and private sunbathing terraces.
Kê Gà, Vietnam
The village of Kê Gà sits on the west coast of Vietnam, about a four-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. If local seafood and bungalows along quiet beaches are your idea of a great vacation, look no further than this historic seaside town. Chow down on fresh scallops and oysters—and don’t be afraid to indulge in some of the region’s more traditional fare, like mực một nắng (sun dried squid) and bánh hỏi lòng heo (pig chitterlings with vegetables and rice vermicelli). Take a boat to the island of Hon Ba to climb the steps of the Kê Gà Lighthouse, built in 1889 and perfect for outstanding views of the ocean and rocky coastline.
Where to stay: You don’t have to choose between private plunge pools or views of Kê Gà Bay at The Princess D’Ân Nam Resort and Spa. Rent a villa for a romantic getaway, and be sure to splurge on a couple’s massage.
Kranji is your South Asian ecotourism destination. It’s a rural suburb 14 miles from Singapore’s bustling city center but a world of difference away. Named after a fruit-bearing tree, Kranji is home to tons of farms, fisheries and wildlife. Bollywood Veggies, one of the most popular farms, is run by a husband-and-wife team and includes cooking classes and a food museum (yes, please). There are orchid farms and a wetlands reserve right on the water separating Singapore from Malaysia. Be sure to visit during the farmers market, which is only held four times each year.
Where to stay: Try to stay on a farm (when in…Kranji). The Gallop Kranji Farm Resort offers villas and suites, not to mention tours of bee farms, aquaponic fish farms and herb plantations.