For this third annual Best in Asia list, Lonely Planet’s inhouse Asia experts have named “eclectic” and “vibrant” Busan, South Korea, as the number one destination while the jewelled architecture and ancient cities of Uzbekistan are in second place; and in third comes Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, “a supercity that somehow keeps getting cooler”. Thailand’s Chiang Mai comes in at the sixth place.
“Asia is such a vast and diverse continent for anyone dreaming of an escape,” Lonely Planet’s Chris Zeiher says. “Our experts have combed through thousands of recommendations to pick the best destinations to visit over the next 12 months.”
“From Nagasaki in Japan, to Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka,” Zeiher continues, “this is a lineup to inspire a multitude of travellers – whether they’re based in Asia, or maybe have already visited some of the region’s heavy-hitting destinations.”
Here are the 10 best places to visit in Asia.
1. Busan, South Korea
A stunning confluence of scenery, culture and cuisine, Busan packs an eclectic offering of activities to suit all travellers from hike hills, Buddhist temples, sizzling hot springs to seafood feasts at the country’s largest fish market. Poised to steal the spotlight, Busan is East Asia’s culture city for 2018 and will be at its most vibrant with colourful events showcasing the country’s cultural heritage, from street art festivals to traditional dance shows.
Change is afoot in a country that has remained largely closed off to the wider world due to tight control following the end of the Soviet era. Uzbekistan has long held sway over travellers’ imaginations, with its dreamy mosaic-clad mosques and Silk Road lore and in 2017 took huge strides in opening up to tourism by announcing visafree and evisa schemes. The new air routes and extensions to its shiny high-speed rail line make access to its arsenal of jewelled architecture and ancient cities easier than ever.
3. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The southern supercity of Ho Chi Minh City somehow keeps getting cooler. Ageing apartment blocks are being colonised by vintage clothes stores and independent coffee shops, innovative breweries are fuelling one of the best craft beer scenes in Southeast Asia. The eclectic venues are also strengthening the local music scene. The long-standing attractions are the War Remnants Museum and a pioneering street food scene. This buzzing Asian megalopolis is in no danger of going out of style.
4. Western Ghats, India
The Western Ghats offer an atmospheric mirror to Shimla and Darjeeling, with added jungle appeal coffee, tea and spice plantations, charmingly dated colonial outposts, thundering waterfalls, and a steampowered mountain railway. These rugged hills are Unesco listed as one of the top spots for biodiversity in the world, protecting the neelakurinji flower, which blooms only once every 12 years and will be painting the hills in purple livery from August to October 2018.
5. Nagasaki, Japan
For most, Nagasaki is synonymous with the tragic atomic bombing of August 1945 but remarkably, the city has converted the catastrophe into a call for peace, exemplified by the tranquil Nagasaki Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum. However, Nagasaki’s identity transcends one violent act visit a new foreigntrade museum housed in Japan’s oldest church, or pass the verdant harbour towards the hiking routes that snake through the surrounding volcanic hills.
6. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, feels plucked from the pages of history, where visitors browse stalls of antique jewellery among archaic alleyway yet despite this, a young, creative population has taken up residency in Chiang Mai bringing an exciting buzz alongside majestic chedis (stupas) are cafes known for their latte art, muralwalled fusion cuisine restaurants and the newlyopened, awardwinning Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum.
7. Lumbini, Nepal
For decades, Lumbini was somewhere travellers flashed through en route from India to Nepal, unaware they had passed within yards of the birthplace of the historical Buddha. Today, Lumbini is on the ascendancy with a new international airport under construction offering a safer route into Nepal, and evermore temples are springing up”. Despite these developments, the town’s cardinal draw will remain its tranquillity.
8. Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
This surf town on Sri Lanka’s east coast has managed to retain its cool as holidaymakers swarm the rest of the country’s ancient citadels and hikerstrewn hill stations. Barefooted boarders sprawl outside vegan cafes but if the turquoise swells can’t tug you in, Arugam has grown its onland offering with beachside bars and makeshift music festivals; plus a handy proximity to Kumana National Park, home to leopards, elephants and crocodiles.
9. Sichuan Province, China
Farflung villages, towering skylines, giant pandas and fiery cuisine make Sichuan Province a microcosm of modern China. It provide diverse experiences from surveying the Le Shan Grand Buddha, climbing Emei Shan, riding the first section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway to visiting timefrozen Tibetan villages and spotting the mushrooming of luring brewpubs and boutique hotels in cosmopolitan Chengdu.
10. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
New flight connections have made Komodo National Park more accessible than ever. Aside from laying eyes on the illustrious Komodo dragon, visitors to this ceruleansilhouetted archipelago can hike to hallowed viewpoints on Padar, sample laidback beachside living on Kanawa and dive with a mindboggling array of marine life in the reefs. A nature enthusiast’s nirvana”.
Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia 2018 is available online, with accompanying articles to each destination, at lonelyplanet.com/bestinasia. Visitors to the website also have the opportunity to enter a competition for a chance to win either a trip for two to Busan, South Korea, or a camera drone package from DJI.