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Best Places to Visit in Asia

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Updated: 25th October 2015

Backpacking around Asia has been an absolute dream. Here are some of my favourite places.

Angkor Wat

It is no surprise then that Lonely Planet just voted it the number one tourist sight to see in the world and that it topped my own Top Things to do in Cambodia list…

I could tell you how amazing it is in person, how all the hype is true, or, I could let the pictures do the talking.

HOJ AngkorWat Monkey
Angkor Wat Sunrise

I rocked up at stupid o’clock on my first of two visits to Angkor Wat, so much so that my Tuk-Tuk driver took me for coffee at 7/11 on route. Mr Thom was a pretty awesome guy.

Once I had shelled out my $20 for a day pass ($40 for three) and was inside it is fair to say I kinda got side tracked by his conversation and forget why I was there.

I headed to the far corner of the car pack, grabbed another coffee and hung out who Mr Thom and his tuk-tuk driver crew for a little bit too long. I liked these guys, they had good vibes and I didn’t feel I was at a major tourist attraction, just a local coffee shop.

A little word of warning from my coffee error, head there too late or make the mistake of turning around and expect a slightly different view of that historic masterpiece: It is SELFIE STICK INVASION BACK THERE!!! I thought Angelina might have popped back for a cameo…

Angkor Wat Crowds

But, if you get creative you can still grab a good view of that famous Angkor Wat Sunrise (not as creative I hope as the women who went paddling with her TWO selfie sticks and got some serious boo’s, though, credit for multitasking I guess).

The picture above was taken at Bayan Temple by Jeremy of the awesome blog: Travel Freak who headed solo from the group. Gotta say I think he got the quieter dealer and proved that you don’t need the main temple to get an awesome sunrise.

Hands on Journeys Cambodia

Moving on… Once the sunrise has been and gone it seemed most the crowds did too, which although surprising is certainly not something you want to complain about.

The complex is vast and covers over 400 km2, you could easily spend at least a day exploring them all, perhaps even more. However, if you have had a few in pub street the night before and have not slept so you can hit up sunrise then you might have to miss a few out or come back later again in the day.

Best bit? If you are luck you get Monkeys! MONKEYS!!!! In case you didn’t know, I have a serious monkey obsession…

Angkor Wat Buddha

There are also elephants, with big seats to carry around groups of tourists. I swear I can see a tear in his beautiful eye saying ‘Get off me and look at the temple, I am not the attraction here’

Angkor Wat Dont ride Elephant
Angkor Wat Offering

Ha Long Bay

I hadn’t been holding out much hope…

From rip off agents to sinking Kayaks the horror stories of Halong Bay’s well known Junk Boat cruises were nearly as famous as the UNESCO destination itself. Every backpacker I had met around SEAsia seemed to have a story. My friends recommended spending a bit more, enjoying a ‘luxury food’ overnight cruise.

My biggest fear? It wasn’t so much a kayak going down (it’s only water right?) or the food being the equivalent of budget cat tinned crap. It was too many tourists. I’ll never forget my visit to the ‘magical’ Maya Bay in Thailand (yep, the one Leonardo DiCaprio is responsible for making such a hit). The beach was so crowded when we arrived we had to jump ship, water clog our cameras and strategically avoid the beer cans coming overboard from Dave’s Booze Cruise…

If you were expecting another horror story, I’m sorry to disappoint. I booked my tour easily enough from my Hotel front Desk. ‘You really should go for the luxury one’ was the answer. ‘No upgrade. I want cheap, cheap, shit tour’ I replied. I’m sure I could have saved a few bucks if I had hunted around town but it seemed a pretty ok price and my patience with constant haggling in Vietnam was wearing thin.

Like to save $$? Read More: How to do Vietnam on a Budget

For your buck, you get A seven hour round trip on a bumpy but comfortable enough road (The bus was packed, but bearable). A four-hour cruise around the Bay, Lunch, entry to a cave and for a few dollars more one of those awesome Kayaks. All of it was fine, not amazing, but did the job.


Sure, you might be able to do it cheaper DIY. However on the Ha Long Bay Cruise, for the first time I didn’t mind spending a little more to save the hassle. As we cruised off some of those DIY backpackers stood looking on lost, being haggled at from all directions and realising, perhaps, it wasn’t worth the effort.


So, was it impressive? Yes. Was it as boat packed and touristy as I was expecting? No.

Had I been spoilt visiting Raja Ampat the month before? Sadly, Yes. If I hadn’t, perhaps I would have found it that little bit more amazing.

Ha Long Bay Junkboat


Istanbul is one of a few cities that I fell in love with; it’s also a place I can’t give you specific reasons why. When I first visited, I wrote about how it was a place to be, rather than visit, where hours upon hours of walking around, soaking up the atmosphere and drinking tea brought me so much joy.

The architecture is incredible, for sure, the monuments are mesmerising, and the magic of being at a point where two continents meet is truly special. But, the magic of Istanbul for me was in eating corn in Taksim Square, watching stray cats play, listening to the call to prayer as the sunset, sipping on a mint tea, or finding a little place on a back street to eat Balık Ekmek (a fish sandwich) whilst taking in the general buzz.

The Sultanahmet part of the city will draw you in, with Egyptian and Roman ruins, Byzantine architecture and Christian mosaics in the Hagia Sofia, but the city stretches out, with countless places to just wander and admire completely with an energy, unlike many other places I’ve been. In total, across three visits, I’ve spent 7 days in Istanbul, and I still would love to go back, so embrace now as a time for slower travel and stretch out that city break.

Don’t miss: The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque for architecture, a visit to the Basilica Cistern for historic waterworks, a cruise along the Bosphorus River for a different angle and the Grand Bazaar for shopping.

Istanbul is one of those places I doubt will ever spit you out but simply chew you back up into its electric life whenever the time comes to return again. The history haunts the streets, the future glides past you with each modern tram, and the call to prayer lifts you up as the scent of sweet corn lulls you in.

Istanbul is everything a city should be and – more importantly –everything you want to return for. As your eyes dart from one grand building to the next, let them wonder. The young boy chases a pigeon with glee whilst his sister shrieks with excitement at the corn truck. The mother looks torn with a smile at which one to follow.

Spending what seems like an eternity staring at the ceiling of a Mosque or palace. Trying to fathom the intricate detail above you that your eye just can’t consume in its entirety. It is the little details in Istanbul that will have you hooked if you allow them. Piecing together the art, the stories and the architecture into understanding such a strategic point that bridges the east and west of this world.

The history and the empires that had called this city home all present themselves alongside the real moments, such as a young boy enjoying the simple pleasures of chasing a bird on a Saturday afternoon. The yellow taxis come to a standstill in the square; drivers laugh with each other whilst grabbing a refreshment from a nearby stall. Modern trams slide by quietly as they catch the reflections of Mosques that tell stories. People drink wine, oh the wine, did you know Turkey has an amazing wine region?  Go wine tasting in Turkey; you’ll see what I mean.

If all cities could deliver old and new together so boldly, yet so effortlessly, in the way that Istanbul could, then I doubt anyone could ever say, ‘I am just not a city person’. Old faces, young smiles, busy markets and small cobbled paths lead you to a handful of men laughing and smoking shisha. The scent of Kebab lingers as you search for that next cup of fragrant Turkish tea. The blue sky lights up the Blue Mosque, and you really don’t want the day to end.

The call to prayer echoes through the city; out of a small door, you can see the man whose lungs carry the call through the wind around you. The crowded attractions somehow manage a return to purpose, to keep their roots true, to somehow still feel real even with the onslaught of selfies and confused dress codes.

Istanbul is electric. Electric – it’s the first and last word that comes to my mind when I have to describe it. The verdant gardens, that Bosphorus river, the flattering red flags, the shades, the shops, the tea… everything wraps up into one bundle of power that explodes around you.

Even after sunset, in the rare spots where there is a stillness of the night, it’s electric. Cats pound the cobbles with you until – often very quickly – you’re in controlled chaos again. If you visit Istanbul, then do yourself a favour and take it slow. A weekend was never going to be enough, and I could have easily spent a week wandering those lanes, sipping on tea and catching the last light of the day lingering on the rooftops and minarets.

Kochi Castle, Japan

Far removed from the controlled chaos of Tokyo or the over-touristed red gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, the Kōchi Prefecture of Japan provides a much more relaxed, nature-inspired destination to visit in Japan. That said, there is no shying away from mixing modern with tradition in this outward-looking nation, and the teamLab digital art installation at Kōchi Castle is a prime example.

The largest of four regions on Shikoku Island, the Kōchi Prefecture is awash with crystal clear rivers, forests as far as the eye can see, and a coastline that has evolved through thousands of years of aggressive oceans. In the capital of the prefecture of the same name, Kōchi Castle stands proud above the modestly sized city compared to megalopolises like Tokyo.

There is a reason this castle, one of around a hundred in Japan, is so unique. Once upon a time, some five thousand castles could be found across the country, and Kōchi Castle is one of the best-preserved you can find here nowadays. Construction of the Castle dates back to 1601, but following a tragic fire that near destroyed it, it was fully restored to all its glory during the Edo period.


India’s Golden Triangle


After a quick pit stop in Delhi post arrival, the first stop is the historic pink city of Jaipur, so named after the red brick work and paint. Here we visited some of the most beautiful architecture in the country.

Amer Fort or Amber Fort is a great example of Hindu design but the fantastic views of the city below and its surrounding wall are two more reasons to visit this impressive site. Janta Mantar is made up of 13 architectural astronomy monuments. It is incredible to witness this huge sundial and understand how in years gone by people could gauge time. Palace of the Winds otherwise known as the Hawa Mahal is one of the most breathtaking buildings I have ever witnessed. Constructed of red sandstone it was originally built so women of the house could see outside activities without being seen themselves. Maharaja’s City Palace in Jaipur is a beautiful complex of various buildings. Somehow, I got separated from the group here and on trying to find them inadvertently ended up with an armed guard showing me the kings private quarters… sometimes you just have to get lost right?The Water Palace or, Jal Mahal, situated within the serene lake of Jaipur is a beauty to behold, which is good as access to the public has stopped and this building now sadly sits empty.


Agra has a slower pace than other cities, which sounds crazy given the amount of tourists which flock here annually but it is for that reason that it is better cared for. Fatehpur Sikri located outside the main city of Agra, the complex was constructed in the 16th century and now consists of various palaces and mosques. It was perhaps my favourite place we visited as the span of architectural styles and history here was by far the most interesting. Taj Mahal – I think we all know this one, but if you want to see some of the best tips for photographing and exploring it check out my Taj Mahal guide. Agra Fort if you haven’t guessed yet, is another fort! The towering walls on the outskirts of Agra hide beautiful gardens and palaces. Sadly, construction work had much of it closed off on our visit.


Delhi, the capital of India is a mind-blowing sensory over load. Loud, brash and in your face it gives you a glimpse into the chaos, crowds and pollution of this giant of a city, here we took the time to see some of the best attractions in Delhi. Qutb Minar is the highest red-brick tower in the world. Built in the late 1100 it is a victory monument to the fall of a Hindu state. Jasma Majid is one of the largest Mosques in India, built by the Mughal empire this towering building not only is a place of worship but heading to the top of its towers gives you a panoramic view of Delhi below. Water Lilly Temple is a strange and modern place of worship, often compared to the Sydney Opera House. It’s a church dedicated to the Baha’i faith which is a relatively new, and intriguing religion. Delhi Red Fort I’ve gotta be honest, I was completely ‘Forted’ out by this point! Another impressive Mughal emperor and his palace, protected from the outside world.

Luang Prabang

The charming white-washed streets were broken up by the gold-topped temples, Monks and novices donning shades of orange and stalls serving up incredible food at even more incredible prices. Well cared for dogs danced around children playing happily along the streets.

Sitting alongside the Mekong river, pristine and free of rubbish, Luang Prabang suddenly didn’t feel like Asia at all.

It is often refered to as the cutest city in Asia for this very reason. It seemed all most too good to be true. But was it?

Lao Mekong River

It’s a bit of a nothing town for ‘must visits’, not to say that’s a bad thing. The town itself being the main attraction means wandering aimlessly, my favourite thing, was exactly how to kill the next few days.

Exploring Temple after Temple, the ornate gold patterns and purple flowers contrasting beautifully in the sun. Wandering the Mekong and crossing the bamboo bridges to the more real side of the river, where chickens roamed free, walls were not white washed and locals went about their day-to-day life without any need to entertain the tourists.

Laos Mekong Sunset Photo Essay

When sunset came we all ascended to the temple at the top of the tower. Crowded and wanting to find a better vantage spot I headed to the edge of the river. The boats were ferrying locals across to their home villages, the last lights of day danced merrily on the water and silhouettes highlighted a photographers dream.

I skipped sunset the next night and headed to Big Brother Mouse, a great charity which works with schools and writes school books. Each morning and evening they host a drop in session for other language speakers to practice with locals of all ages and help them with homework and improving their languages. I felt so privileged to be surrounded by a group of young people who genuinely had a thirst to improve their skills.

Laos Temple Photo
Laos Temple Photo

Rising early for Sunrise I headed to witness the famous arms giving ceremony. To put it shortly, it is when the Monks collect their food donations for the day. I have seen it before in parts of Asia and always found it an uplifting experience before getting around Laos..

By the end of my three days though I couldn’t help but feel I was in a Disney show. My love for the city on first arrival remained, but also now sat alongside questioning. I knew this wasn’t the Laos I was expecting.

I headed to bed. My mind made up. I took a deep breath. ’I’d like to cancel my flight to Cambodia’. Was I crazy? Did I really just abort my pre-paid, ‘once in a lifetime’ visit to Angkor Wat…

I had no intention of leaving now. I would be able to extended by another week before my flight on to Australia which financially wasn’t an option to cancel. I can’t remember the last time a country made me change my plans so dramatically that I wrote of another one. But Laos had and I was not complaining.

Laos Temples Luang Prabang
Laos Mekong Sunset Photo Essay

Before heading South I ventured to the impressive and dream like waterfalls of Kuang Si nearby. The natural beauty shone through, only interrupted by the odd westerner in a bikini or shorts ignoring the local signs asking us, the guest, to be respectful of the countries ways.

Laos Waterfall

‘Not to Vang Vieng?’ The tour office employee questioned me again.

I was skipping it, although it can’t be denied its beautiful to the eye I was after a different experience right now. I didn’t want to be near other back packers or tubing along a river. A few months earlier and I wouldn’t have been able to skip it though.

I learnt this year a really valuable lesson: You will never go everywhere, you will never enjoy everywhere and you should only aim to go somewhere you want to go.

Vang Vieng wasnt one of those places, and I have learnt it’s just ok to say that.

Vientiane Laos


I somehow ended up having a three night vacation in a city that was a mere pit stop. I was too ill to face another night bus, nor was it fair to be snuggling up to a stranger in my current state (Yep, my 12 hour bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was in a shared, tiny bed). So I booked an extended stop and relaxed.

This capital city is small with limited entertainment. A surprisingly good food scene coupling Asian with French cuisine on every street and the sun still on side I could have killed my days dining and wandering had my stomach not been telling me otherwise (See: Don’t eat salad)

Vientiane Laos Palace

It’s a dusty town, it felt less energetic than Luang, less keen to impress and more settled on just functioning. I felt the facade was going down, although still tidy the rubbish and dirt seemed more in line with its neighbours.

For all my illness I had a great time here. I achieved nothing other than losing weight, but there was a charm to this city I imagine so easily skipped on a stopover.

So it was time for another one of those bus Journeys. Pakse in the south was to be my next stop.

Champasak Palace Hotel


The Champasak Palace Hotel, a real palace of a day gone by. At first it appeared an eyesore, but on second glance I knew I had to spend a night here. The views from the balcony soothed the long night of no sleep laying next to a stranger.

The Palace itself in disrepair, too big with too little custom to manage the up keep. The rooms basic but adequate. But, who wouldn’t want to stay in a Palace?

Pakse felt more alive than Vientiane to me, focused around the main road running through it there seemed more energy in the air and more tourists than I was expecting. But it was just a mere stop as I was here to explore the Bolaven Plateau.

Laos Waterfalls Photography

The Bolaven Plateau

The Plateau, an area with mountains in the clouds, waterfalls of all sizes and minimal tourists in sight is best discovered on Scooter/Motorbike or by car; I was ready to visit the real Loas beyond the touristy hotspots.

With quiet and relatively good condition roads, I hired my scooter. It wasn’t until the mud paths, back lanes and trying to find what I was looking for later in the journey did I realise I was too off-path for my wheels.

8 replies
  1. Kristin says:

    Wow – phenomenal pictures! And I love that you are anti-riding, too! It’s a message that needs to keep spreading. There are just so many better ways to see the elephants.
    Happy traveling! :)

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