19 Countries, 50 Adventures: The Ultimate Asia Bucket List
Looking for somewhere a little more exciting for your next travel adventure?
Few places are as fascinating as Asia. This exotic continent has a multitude of enthralling historic sites and natural wonders to explore.
My first trip to Asia was an intense experience that I ended up extending for several months on end. Each country was so enchanting that I end up returning to Asia time and time again.
And I’m willing to wager you will, too.
But with so many places to explore in the world’s largest and most populous continent, how could you possibly plan where to go?
Here are 50 unmissable experiences for your Asia bucket list. Even if you can’t hit all 19 of these countries, you’re bound to find some adventures that speak to you.
Asia travel essentials
Before we begin, let’s quickly cover the basics to ensure you can make this bucket list a reality.
Transportation around Asia
A whole smorgasbord of transportation options is available in Asia, from tuk tuks to sleeper trains and everything in between. Try as many different types as possible to get the quintessential experience.
Scoot, Jetstar Asia and AirAsia are the main players in Asia’s amazing low-cost carrier network, each offering dirt cheap fares that’ll have you zipping around with ease.
Your Asia budget
Asia is by far the cheapest continent to travel on Earth, with serious bargains to be found in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Backpackers tend to get by on as little as 25-35 USD per day.
More developed nations such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore will cost considerably more.
English is widely spoken on the Indian subcontinent and the more touristy parts of Southeast Asia. It’s much more difficult to communicate in countries like China and Mongolia, however.
If you’re traveling to China, it’s a good idea to pick up some Mandarin Chinese or possibly (depending on where exactly you’re traveling, another widely spoken variety of Chinese like Cantonese.
The most widely spoken language in Mongolia is (unsurprisingly) Mongolian, with about 95% of population speaking it. If you have a hard time finding a resource for learning Mongolian, your best bet (besides English) would be knowing some Russian.
The climate varies drastically due to Asia’s gargantuan size.
- In Southeast Asia, the monsoon season runs roughly from May to November. March and April are known to be sweltering hot.
- September to November are the best months to visit China. The summers (June to August) are rather hot, while winters (December to February) can dip well below freezing.
- Mid-October through December are the best months to see Japan and Korea’s famous fall foliage, while early April is the ideal time to marvel at their cherry blossoms. Monsoons hit the region around June.
- The rains arrive in the Indian subcontinent between June to September, while March through May is typically scorching hot. Peak trekking season in the Himalayas runs from September to November.
19 Countries, 50 Adventures: The Ultimate Asia Bucket List
Bucket list activities in China
1. Discover ancient dynasties in Beijing
From exploring the Forbidden City to wandering along the legendary Great Wall, China’s grandiose capital has enough history to keep a culture vulture entertained for weeks. Don’t neglect to sample the Peking Duck!
2. Relive “Avatar” in the Zhangjiajie National Forest
Regardless of what you think of the 2009 blockbuster film “Avatar,” there’s no denying the scenery was second to none.
Marvel at the real-life setting for yourself at the stunning Zhangjiajie National Forest.
3. Cycle amidst the misty mountains of Yangshuo
Featuring tranquil rivers, climactic karst mountains and the emblematic cormorant fisherman, the countryside of Yangshuo is a postcard perfect example of old-world Chinese charm. The best way to explore it all is by bike.
4. Marvel at an army of terracotta soldiers in Xi’an
The 8,000 strong Terracotta Army of China’s first emperor is one of the most fascinating facets of the ancient world. More engrossing still is to see this historical treasure first hand.
5. Live the big city life in Hong Kong
Giant Buddhas, sweeping skylines and dizzying assaults on the senses make Hong Kong among the most captivating metropolises on the continent.
Explore all the above via the mid-levels escalator, cable car, ultra-modern subway or Star Ferry.
6. Immerse yourself in Mandarin
Looking to hone your Chinese language skills? A visit to China is the ideal way to immerse yourself in the culture and improve your linguistic cache.
Bucket list activities in Cambodia
7. Admire the ancient wonder of Angkor Wat
Few Asian locales are as unmissable as Angkor Wat, a giant Buddhist temple complex that stretches over 160 hectares.
Hire a tuk tuk from your hotel to whisk you between the best sites, and be sure to come at sundown for the best photo opportunities.
8. Discover Khmer culture in Phnom Penh
From towering Buddhist watts to lavish royal palaces and dreary genocide museums, Phnom Penh provides a fascinating insight into Cambodia’s complex culture and past.
Be sure to try the local food, which is both scrumptious and amazingly cheap.
Bucket list activities in Myanmar
9. Gawk at the temples of Bagan from a hot air balloon
The 2,000 or so Buddhist temples dotted around the crumbling city of Bagan can be a little tiresome to visit from the ground.
The solution? Jump on a hot air balloon with a company such as Balloons Over Bagan and marvel at this ancient wonder from the skies instead.
10. Get to know the real Myanmar in Yangon
Burma’s humble capital is a mishmash of exotic sights and sounds that are home to a famously friendly local populous.
Don’t miss the giant gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Asia’s most majestic stupas.
Bucket list activities in Indonesia
11. Hunt for dinosaur-like lizards at Komodo National Park
Get up close and personal with these remarkable living examples of old-world megafauna.
As majestic as the massive reptiles may be, be sure to keep your distance to avoid those venomous blue tongues!
12. Surf and get your zen aligned in Bali
Avoid the throngs of debaucherous holidaymakers in Kuta and head further afield to explore the authentic charms of this captivating Hindu enclave.
Awesome surf breaks, rice terrace packed valleys and an endless array of temples can be found throughout Bali.
13. Get your Buddhist temple fix at Borobudur
Central Java’s monumental Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and it’s one heck of a sight to behold.
Plan to arrive at sunrise for some spiritual serenity combined with an astonishing scenic display.
Bucket list activities in the Philippines
14. Frolic on a white sand beach in Boracay
Boracay is back.
After an extended closure due to excessive contamination, locals have thoroughly cleaned the beaches, and officials have put onerous regulations in place to ensure the country’s premier stretch of sand will remain pristine.
Water sports by day and beachside cocktails by night are the name of the game.
15. Savor the unspoiled tropical paradise of Palawan
For an even more spectacular Pilipino beach well away from the tourist crowds, head to the largely undeveloped archipelago of Palawan.
Turquoise waters, swaying palms and deserted coves appear at every turn.
16. Walk among the chocolate hills of Bohol
Smack bang in the middle of the Philippines lies Bohol, a stunning island famous for its rolling, chocolate covered hills.
Come during the dry season, from late November through May, to appreciate them in all their cocoa-brown colored glory.
Bucket list activities in Malaysia
17. Dance to the rhythm of Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s capital is a regional commerce hub of incredible contrast, characterized by the iconic Petronas Towers that soar over the city.
You’d be mad to miss the divine Batu Caves that rest on the outskirts of town.
18. Take a beach break in Penang
The fun-filled island of Penang attracts scores of Malay and international tourists alike for its eclectic mix of old-world architecture, historical sites and family-friendly fun. Of course, the beaches are rather lovely, as well.
19. Seek out orangutans in Borneo
Spending time with these giant ginger apes is a humbling experience unlike any other.
Visit a refuge center or embark on a multi-day jungle tour to see them in their natural habitat with a company like Orangutan Trekking Tours.
Bucket list activities in India
20. Explore the ancient strongholds of Rajasthan
Few places in the world are as regal as Rajasthan, a striking Indian state filled with kingly palaces and forts.
Embarking on a multi-day camel excursion around the deserts of Jaisalmer is a highlight for many.
21. Venture off the beaten track in Jammu and Kashmir
Intrepid travelers relish in the adventure that is the state of Jammu and Kashmir, from the gentle floating city of Srinagar to the desolate hiking trails of Ladakh.
Just be sure to keep an eye on current events to avoid getting caught up in a conflict.
22. Visit the ancient world wonder that is the Taj Majal
This majestic monument needs little introduction. I’ll merely state that the gleaming white structure is among the most beautiful edifices I’ve ever seen.
23. Learn about the afterlife in Varanasi
As the spiritual center of the Hindu world, it’s difficult to fathom how a city such as Varanasi could exist.
Millions of pilgrims mingle with near-naked sadhus and sacred cows within this maze of winding streets, most of whom are en route to cremate their loved ones on the shores of the divine Ganges River.
Bucket list activities in Thailand
24. Explore the world’s most visited city: Bangkok
Bangkok was the most popular tourist destination of 2017. And with such an eclectic array of history, culture, and entertainment to savor, it isn’t hard to see why.
Be sure to suss out a floating market, the Grand Palace and the Ayutthaya archaeological site at the very least.
25. Wander around the walled city of Chiang Mai
For the largest city of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is refreshingly laid back.
Spend your days exploring ancient sites, sampling tasty street stalls and haggling for bargains at its numerous open-air markets.
26. Be a beach bum on the Gulf of Thailand
This extensive sun-drenched coastline may well be the epicenter of Asian tourism. From Phuket to Krabi and everywhere in between, you’d be hard pressed to find a more popular selection of seaside resorts than this.
27. Get your party on in Koh Pha Ngan during the full moon
Every full moon, an army of backpackers descends on this normally peaceful island to attend Asia’s wildest shindig: the Full Moon Party.
The insane event has become something of a rite of passage among the younger crowd.
Bucket list activities in Nepal
28. Trek the Himalayan mountain range
From the Annapurna Circuit to the Everest Base Camp trek, Nepal’s heavenly slice of Himalayas attracts a horde of happy-go-lucky hikers each year.
Trek Nepal is a local company offering the above hikes and much more.
29. Kick back in the lakeside town of Pokhara
The picturesque mountaineering stronghold of Pokhara is the perfect remedy for travelers feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of extensive travel.
Opt for a brief paragliding stint to take in the idyllic landscape from above.
30. Get a taste of the ancient world in Kathmandu
Despite the devastating 2015 earthquake, Kathmandu remains a must on any Asian bucket list.
Between the capital and the nearby town of Bhaktapur is a mind-boggling array of enchanting historic sites.
Bucket list activities in Sri Lanka
31. Marvel at the beautiful Sigiriya
This ancient fortress is perched on an enormous rocky outcrop that protrudes above the dense jungle canopy. Sigiriya is among Sri Lanka’s most highly sought-after sites.
32. Stretch out with the Buddhas in Dambulla
Vibrantly painted and intricately carved Buddha effigies await curious travelers at this major religious cave complex. Most arrive from nearby Kandy, the ancient capital of Sri Lankan kings.
Bucket list activities in Laos
33. Chill with monks in Luang Prabang
Buddhism is alive and well in Laos, which can be observed in the countless monks who roam the sacred monasteries of Luang Prabang.
After you’ve had your spiritual fix, head to the nearby multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls for an idyllic nature escape.
34. Tube downstream with the backpackers in Vang Vieng
Backpackers descend en masse to this formerly sleepy Laotian village to indulge in a spot of afternoon river tubing. Then they stop downstream for a tipple in the many riverside bars.
Be sure you know what you’re getting into before ordering a “happy” pizza or milkshake.
Bucket list activities in Vietnam
35. Get to know traditional Vietnam in Hội An
A melting pot of influences, charming Hội An boasts a mishmash of French colonial, Chinese and Vietnamese architectural styles. Its traditional riverfront lifestyle only adds to the appeal.
36. Meet the indigenous hill tribes in Sa Pa
Ethno-tourism is a major drawcard in Vietnam, and few ethnic communities are as intriguing as the Hmong of Sa Pa.
Here, adventurers trek through lush rolling hills and rice terrace filled valleys as they interact with colorfully dressed locals who live a traditional existence.
37. Cruise among the pronged peaks of Ha Long Bay
Visiting Vietnam’s most spectacular natural attraction is as easy as kicking back on the deck of a junk boat and watching rain-forest clad islands drift by. Be sure to disembark at its marvelous caves for an exciting subterranean adventure.
38. Learn about the Viet Cong in Ho Chi Minh
Also known as Saigon, this bustling southern metropolis is awash with monuments and museums that provide valuable insights into the most controversial conflict of the 1960s. Merely crossing the street is an exhilarating experience in this hectic town.
Bucket list activities in South Korea
39. Get a taste of 21st-century living in Seoul
Tech-crazy Korea is wholly personified through its capital, Seoul. Make a beeline for Myeong-dong to be blinded by neon glare or Gangnam-gu to kick it Gangnam style.
Elegant palaces and temples abound for those who yearn to reconnect with the old world.
40. Explore the mountains and beaches of Jeju Island
Volcanic panoramas, bustling beach resorts and ominous lava tubes attract scores of Koreans to Jeju Island, the country’s premier open-air wonderland.
Quirky exhibits such as Love Land, an erotic sculpture park, are good for a giggle, as well.
41. Wax lyrical with the locals
Koreans are famous for their friendly and hospitable demeanor. As a result, opportunities abound for language learners to hone their skills via local interaction.
Bucket list activities in Japan
42. Get blinded by the neon lights of Tokyo
Fish markets, steamy onsens and overwhelming neon lights define Tokyo.
Stay in a capsule hotel, eat and drink in a 居酒屋 (いざかや) – Japanese pub and catch a live sumo wrestling show for the quintessential experience.
43. Marvel at Mount Fuji
Japan’s most symbolic landmark is well worth a closer look. Either rocket past on a bullet train, hike around the fringes or make the grueling ascent to the peak.
44. Discover the delights of old-world Japan in Kyoto
As the country’s former capital, Kyoto has a plethora of elegant palaces, gardens and pagodas to explore. Its technicolored fall foliage and springtime cherry blossoms only add to the magic.
45. Practice your language skills with the locals in Japan
Japanese is a challenging language to master. However, the task becomes a lot less daunting when you have a real human to practice with.
Other bucket list activities around Asia
46. Admire the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei
Situated on the outskirts of the capital, this majestic monument to Mohammad is perhaps the most beautiful mosque on the continent.
47. Gawk at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is also referred to as Paro Taktsang or Taktsang Palphug Monastery.
A monumental convent built into a sheer cliff face constitutes Bhutan’s number one attraction, which is quite the achievement for a country that bases its wealth on happiness. Try to visit during a festival for a truly exotic cultural exchange.
48. Explore the seldom visited Pyongyang in North Korea
Utterly isolated from the outside world, North Korea is an intrepid destination that is tantamount to true adventure. Catch an inside glimpse of this mysterious land via a guided tour of downtown Pyongyang.
Check out reliable tours through companies such as Young Pioneer Tours or Koryo Tours.
49. Get a taste of rural life in Mongolia
From secluded yurts to fluffy yaks and throat-singing locals, Mongolia’s vast highlands are an intrepid destination. The Altai Mountains and the Hustain Nuruu National Park are just some of the wonders in store.
50. Appreciate the orderliness of Singapore
The faultlessly polished and seemingly litterless metropolis of Singapore may come as a shock to those accustomed to Southeast Asia’s more rough and tumble locales.
Check out the iconic Marina Bay Sands before dining on a 2 USD Michelin Star chicken at the beloved Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle restaurant.
Note that I’ve only covered the most unmissable highlights—the best of the best.
Asia entails a considerable collection of other astounding destinations, enough to keep a curious traveler busy for a year or more. But with these bucket list adventures at hand, you’ll at least be able to quickly pinpoint the most prominent places to go.