Asia encompasses 48 countries (if you count Russia and Turkey!) and its scope is epic. There are rainforests, volcanoes, sweeping bays, arid desert, bustling cities and everything in between.
Where does one start? Here’s a bucket list of 10 destinations you have to tick off in Asia.
1) Clamber over the lesser-known portions of the Great Wall of China
Everyone’s familiar with the iconic Great Wall of China, but the glossy picture-perfect image you get is at two locations: Badaling and Mutianyu. A shame as there’s 21,196km worth of wall snaking along the length of China to sniff out.
While much of it has been plundered for building material or lost to the sands of time, you can get a non-tourist experience by seeking out parts of the great wall such as Shuiguan and Huanghua Cheng, both accessible from Beijing. Jiayuguan in Gansu is also impressive.
2) Take the train into Pyongyang in North Korea
Pyongyang station / CC by 3.0 / Frühtau
Asia’s Dark Star. The hermit nation. The DPRK. Where Dennis Rodman goes to for fun. North Korea has often received a bad rep in both the media and in the movies, which all adds to its allure.
Not many people realise you can travel by train from Dandong in China into Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. Organise your visa and travel plans via agencies such as Koryo Yours, Young Pioneer Tours and Explore North Korea.
3) Catch the sunrise from the peak of Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia
Mt Kinabalu in Sabah is Malaysia’s highest peak and while it tragically experienced an earthquake in June 2015, it’s set to re-open on 1 December 2015. This is great news as the summit to Low’s Peak at 4095 metres is tough and thrilling.
You’ll begin your ascent in darkness in time to catch the sun break above the clouds at dawn. Sign up to descend by Via Ferrata, organised by Mountain Torq.
4) Take the Trans-Siberian Train from Moscow to Vladivostok
Switchman at Trans-Siberian Railway / Source
For the most epic of train trips, look no further! The Trans-Siberian is a 9289 kilometre-long train route from Moscow to Vladivostok.
En route, you will pass through China and Mongolia. If you so desire, you can even connect from China down into Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore and west from Moscow into Europe as far as London and Paris!
5) Experience life as a local in the steppes of Mongolia
Get to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia for the start of your life as a Mongolian nomad. A homestay industry has mushroomed and operators now offer everything from horseback and camelback rides to hikes and stays in gers (yurts).
Sample traditional Mongolian fare such as urum (a thick clotted cream) and buuz (dumplings) in the middle of rolling grasslands. The Mongolian hospitality is warm, and you’ll no doubt quickly feel at home.
6) Get overwhelmed at the spectacle that is Varanasi, India
The Taj Mahal might get top billing in India but it’s at Varanasi where you’ll see India in all its true nature, warts and all. Located along the Ganges, Varanasi holds the title as one of the world’s oldest continuously occupied cities in the world. It’s well known for the Ghats that line the Ganges.
These are steps to the river where locals perform ritual ablutions. Pilgrims bathe in the river, corpses are sent on their fiery way and it’s a heady, colourful and overwhelming scene not found anywhere else on earth.
7) Trek through the world’s largest cave in Vietnam
Son Doong Cave / CC by 3.0 / Doug Knuth
The Son Doong Cave in the middle of Vietnam was only discovered by a local in 1991. It was finally rediscovered in 2006 and has since been explored and open for treks. Local tour company Oxalis organises five-day treks through the length of this 9 kilometre-long cave.
Imagine stumbling into the cave’s largest chamber, 200 metres wide, several kilometres long and 150 metres high. It’s a space large enough to fit Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands in inside!
8) Live like a king in Dubai
We all know that Dubai is a city of excess where money unlocks some truly unreal experiences.
Rent a private yacht to explore the coastline, guzzle a US$1300 cocktail served in a Swarovski glass at the Skyview bar and take a helicopter ride back to your pad at the Atlantis The Palm.
If your pockets don’t run so deep, you can still gawp at some modern engineering feats. The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building at 829.8 metres while the iconic sail-like Burj Al Arab is a luxe hotel extending out into the bay.
9) Thrill to a bird’s-eye view of the Bagan temples in Myanmar
Bagan / CC by 3.0 / poida.smith
Catch the sun breaking over the mist-filled horizon before you start spotting the ancient temples dotting the Bagan landscape. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, more than 10,000 temples were built at the height of the Pagan kingdom’s reign.
Today, a hot-air balloon ride across in the morning is one of the best ways to view the lush landscape and awe-inspiring temples. The rush alone is worth waking up pre-dawn.
10) Road trip the length of South Korea
Jeonju / CC by 3.0 / Steve Walker
Most people think of a few things when it comes to South Korea: K-Pop, Jeju Island and Seoul. Yet this country has plenty of other things to offer. One of the best ways for Korea-philes to get under the skin of the country is to hire a car and take a trip from Seoul down south through the length of the country.
Along the way, explore fortresses such as Sangdang San-seong in Cheongju, stay at a temple in Guin-sa, sample Bibimbap in Jeonju where it was created, and chat with fishermen in the islands of Heuksando and Hongdo. You’ll find there’s more to South Korea than shopping and beaches.
Feature Image: Bagan / CC by 3.0 / Christopher Michel