Who hasn’t dreamed of taking off on an Asian adventure? From the images we see in the media to the stories we hear from other travelers who have already been, the multicultural appeal of Asia has quickly turned it into the trek of a lifetime for most people.
Whether you want to visit an ultra-modern metropolis like Tokyo or Shanghai, or you’d prefer to visit lesser-known getaways deep in the mountains and forests, you’ll find a unique adventure awaiting you in Asia.
With so many different places, cultures, and histories to tour, it can be a little bit difficult to choose where to begin. You might want some of the tried-and-trues like Seoul, or maybe you feel a little more adventurous.
Like anywhere else in the world, there are some overplayed Asian destinations that have become little more than tourist traps. Most of these cities are the major metropolises and capital cities, where tourists and business travelers alike flock.
For those of you who want to miss out on seeing what everyone else has already seen, we’ve picked 10 up-and-coming getaways on the Asian circuit. While not entirely unheard of, they offer great alternatives to some of the more overhyped cities on this list.
20 (Overhyped) Welcome To The Gateway Tourist Trap - Bangkok, Thailand
If you’re looking for Asian destinations, there’s little doubt Bangkok has come up on list after list of recommended places. The city is popular with tourists itself, but it also acts as a hub connecting many other cities in the region.
Bangkok certainly has its sights, but the city also has an unseemly reputation for attracting particular kinds of tourists. Given the number of tourists who flock to the city, there are also a number of sketchy street vendors and scam artists willing to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Corruption and safety issues cap off the reasons you should skip Bangkok, and go almost anywhere else.
19 (Underrated) Sichuan Roots Still Show Through In Chengdu, China
Chengdu is considered one of China’s 2nd-tier cities, even though it has a population of more than 14 million. In recent years, the city’s been undergoing a transformation, becoming a bustling center for both business and tourism.
Despite its many bids to become a modern tourist mecca, the city’s culture still shows through. It’s an especially delightful destination for anyone hoping to grab some authentic eats, with around 40,000 restaurants and teahouses lining the streets. Along Qintai Boulevard, you’ll find embroiders, calligraphers, and lacquer artists offering up traditional wares.
If you’re craving a more outdoorsy adventure, the Himalayan foothills aren’t far off.
18 (Overhyped) Angkor Wat Isn’t The Only Thing To See In Cambodia
Cambodia, like Laos, is one of the Asian countries that has long been neglected by tourists. Few people can name attractions to see in the country, although it’s home to many. One of the few things that will come up is the historic site of Angkor Wat, which is famed for its intricate temples and unique forest.
Angkor Wat is considered one of the most important archeological sites in all of Southeast Asia, but it’s also one of the only places people think to visit in Cambodia. As a result, it’s become something of an overrated tourist trap. Visit if you must, but don’t forget there’s much more to see and experience.
17 (Underrated) You Won’t Regret Picking Palawan For Your Philippines Vacation
Although Boracay might be overrated, most of the Philippines remain something of an underrated destination. Often overlooked for other islands in the region, the Philippines is maybe one of the best-kept secrets.
You can certainly feel that if you land on Palawan for your next vacation. Palawan isn’t exactly a hidden gem either, as it’s been voted the best island in the world multiple times by various outlets.
It’s easy to see why. There are traditional fishing villages, mountains to climb, and amazing scuba diving opportunities. For the best nightlife, check out El Nido, a great alternative to Boracay with much of the same sorts of attractions.
16 (Overhyped) Singapore’s Ultra-Luxe Feel Can Seem Ultra-Fake
Singapore has started gaining some more international interest, and there’s plenty to like about the capital city. There are also the downsides, and one of the most off-putting things about Singapore is its manufactured feel.
Since the city started developing as a tourist destination, it’s invested heavily in luxury experiences, from hotels to casinos and everything in between. None of these things are native. They’re just being built right over top of the local culture with the intent of getting those sweet tourism dollars.
If you can, head outside of the city, and see some of the country. There’s more to Singapore than luxury hotels.
15 (Underrated) Busan, South Korea Is Your Alternative To Seoul
If your heart is set on South Korea, but you’re not feeling the vibe Seoul offers, give Busan a try instead. Nestled on the coast, this city is renowned for its miles of sandy beaches. It also boasts a busy coastal scene, making it feel more like the Southeast Asian equivalent to cities like LA or Miami.
You’ll find a mix of people from Korea and China living in the city, as well as tourists seeking respite from the unrelenting busyness of Seoul. Aside from the beach, be sure to sample the food here. Try Busan-style BBQ ribs, or taste-test some hwae, the Korean equivalent to sashimi.
14 (Overhyped) Tokyo, Japan Is Like A Manic Neon Dream
Tokyo is a city everyone knows, and quite a few people dream of visiting it. It will host the 2020 Olympics, which will no doubt increase the number of tourists adding to the crowds on city streets and riding public transit.
Much has been made about the Japanese capital’s entertainment and nightlife, as well as its shopping and futuristic feel. Nonetheless, Tokyo is also claustrophobic and busy. If you don’t like crowds and neon advertisements, you’ll want to pick another destination for your foray into Japan. To top it all off, Tokyo is expensive. The frenetic energy might make you crave a relaxing beach vacation.
13 (Underrated) Indonesia’s Capital Deserves More Attention Than It Gets - Jakarta
Ask for the top destinations in Asia, and you’ll likely hear Bali and Java. A smattering of other names from Indonesia might come up, but one name will be conspicuously absent. Jakarta, the capital city, generally gets skipped over by tourists.
There’s plenty to see and do in Jakarta, and there’s much for those tourists craving Western comforts. You’ll find familiar luxury brand hotels and chefs serving Western fare in the business district. For a more authentic feel, visit Senopati and Kemang. If you’re an antique hunter, take a look at the Jalan Surabaya market. Cap everything off with a visit to Old Town for a blend of history and culture.
12 (Overhyped) Bali’s Tourism Industry Is Destroying It
Bali, one of the islands of Indonesia, is supposed to be an exotic, tropical paradise. Set against the azure waters of the South Pacific, the island features rich cultural history and abundant natural wonders.
Or it did, until all the tourists showed up. Bali has put too much emphasis on growing the tourist industry in recent years, coming to rely almost solely on it. As it’s grown in popularity, beaches have become overcrowded, restaurants overpriced, and those natural wonders are being destroyed.
If you must see Bali, try to get away from the mainland and explore one of the smaller islands nearby. It will be quieter, and you’ll have a more authentic experience.
11 (Underrated) Hue, Vietnam Has A Majestic History
We’ve already suggested Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh might not be ideal destinations in Vietnam if you’re hoping to get a little bit off the beaten path. If you’re looking for a location steeped in local culture and history, check out Hue.
Hue, located in central Vietnam, was once the imperial seat of power. Here, you’ll find the Forbidden Purple City, a replica of the Royal Theater, and the Imperial City itself, along with the citadel and the tombs of the emperors. You can even attend an imperial banquet!
If you’re ready to relax after touring around the sights all day, there are plenty of natural hot springs and massage parlors around.
10 (Overhyped) You Can Do Better In The Philippines Than Boracay
If you decide to visit the Philippines, you’ll have your pick of several different islands. Each offers a unique experience. One of the most common recommendations, especially for younger travelers, is Boracay.
Boracay has white sand beaches, and it’s renowned for its nightlife. Unfortunately, it’s also overpriced, and it caters entirely to those who want the beach-and-party experience. If that describes your ideal vacation, Boracay might be the perfect location for you.
Those who want a little bit more may opt to explore some of the other Philippines islands. And if you’re hoping for a deal, another island might give you more bang for your buck.
9 (Underrated) It’s Hard To Go Wrong In Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia is probably one of the most underrated countries in all of Asia, so it’s hard to pick just one underrated city. Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital, has to be given top marks. If you’re looking for the antidote to other major Southeast Asian cities, Kuala Lumpur is your best best.
The streets here are much calmer, and almost everyone speaks English. There are many things to see and do, from getting a bird’s eye view of the city from the observation deck of the Petronas Towers, visiting the Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque, or checking out some world-class shopping in Bukit Bintang.
8 (Overhyped) Skip Hanoi, The Capital of Vietnam
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country’s 2nd largest city. With Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), it’s also one of the country’s most overhyped destinations.
Hanoi is famed for its Old Quarter, which mixes cultural influences from the colonial period and tradition. Aside from that, however, there just isn’t much to see or do here. The few attractions the city does have also tend to be closed somewhat randomly, so scheduling is a must. Halong Bay, one of the famous sights, is also considered overrated.
If you plan to stay only a couple of days, skip Hanoi and choose another location. Otherwise, use Hanoi as your jumping off point for exploring more of what Vietnam has to offer.
7 (Underrated) The Lao Capital Is Still Charming - Vientiane
In a strange twist of fate, Luang Prabang has become the go-to destination in Laos. Visitors claim they love its affordability and peacefulness. Meanwhile, they tend to pass right on by Vientiane, the capital city.
Here, you can check out Wat Si Saket, an ancient Buddhist temple, along with the Victory gate and a Buddhist stupa called Pha That Luang. Once you’ve toured the city, be sure to grab a bite to eat from street vendors. Catch a sunset over the mighty Mekong River before heading to one of the night bazaars and tucking into French-inspired cuisine for dinner.
If that’s not an amazing itinerary, we don’t know what is!
6 (Overhyped) Seoul’s Main Attractions Are Tired
Most people would tell you Seoul is an amazing place to visit, and they wouldn’t be wrong. The capital of South Korea is a blindingly bright and modern metropolis, on par with Tokyo and a little more off the beaten path.
Nonetheless, Seoul’s frenetic energy and shopping won’t save it from becoming an overhyped Southeast Asian destination. The city’s main sights don’t help its cause either. In many respects, Seoul is like a budget Tokyo. Here, you can climb the Namsan Tower and look over the city, with a mountain rising in the backdrop.
Other attractions, such as the palaces and theme parks like Everland, echo the Tokyo experience as well.
5 (Underrated) Kanazawa, Japan Is Still Under The Radar
Outside of a certain set of tourists, Kanazawa is virtually unknown. Take a quick look at Instagram, though, and you’ll see the number of snaps here is quickly growing. Kanazawa isn’t going to be a hidden gem for much longer.
Still, if you want to avoid the bustling, ultra-modern Tokyo and see something much more authentically Japanese, Kanazawa has you covered. The historic city also makes a great alternative to Kyoto’s busy teahouses and crowded temples.
Kanazawa was recently linked to Tokyo via train, so it’s likely the city’s tourism will increase. Book your trip now to beat the inevitable crowds.
4 (Overhyped) Shanghai, China Is Too Cosmopolitan
Shanghai has always been an international sort of city, and it continues to be a major port, even today. China’s largest city is also a major financial center, so you can expect to see the same sorts of suits and shiny skyscrapers you’d find lining Wall Street in New York City.
That’s maybe Shanghai’s biggest problem. You might expect it to be a sort of cultural gateway to China and its culture, but Shanghai doesn’t feel much different than Paris, New York, or London. It’s a busy metropolis that sees visitors from around the world and caters to them. You’ll need to pick another destination if you want authentic China.
3 (Underrated) Kampot, Cambodia Was Once A Household Name
Look at Kampot today, and you might ask what it’s doing on a list of underrated Asian cities. It’s generally more of a quiet town, and its setting in southern Cambodia is more rural than urban. Nonetheless, Kampot was famous during the colonial era.
Kampot was once the most important seaport in Cambodia, but it’s also renowned for its pepper, fish sauce, and durian fruit. Tourists can visit the old rail station, Fishing Island, and a pepper plantation. The downtown center is composed of colonial French architecture.
Kampot is also the gateway to Bokor National Park, and some of Cambodia’s stunning scenery. If you want to backpack or hike, Kampot is a great jumping off point.
2 (Overhyped) Luang Prabang in Laos Is Becoming A little too western
It’s hard to say Luang Prabang, a city in northern Laos, is truly overhyped. After all, Laos as a whole is just barely making it onto the itineraries of many globetrotters.
Yet it seems like Luang Prabang has already sold out to please Western tourists. There are many Western amenities to be found here, including wine bars. If you pause and look around, though, you’ll see a few things feel off. The locals will likely sell you handicrafts, most of which you’ll never see in use in the city. Fashion shows display skimpy outfits that are decidedly at odds with Lao tradition.
Luang Prabang might be quiet and cheap for now, but as tourism increases, it will quickly be one of Asia’s most overhyped cities.
1 (Underrated) Check Out Chiang Mai As An Alternative To Bangkok
If you still want to check out Thailand, but would prefer to avoid Bangkok, there’s good news. There are many other options. A great choice that won’t fly under the radar much longer is Chiang Mai, located in the northern part of the country.
Although art enthusiasts and Bangkok residents looking for an escape from the city have known about this former royal capital for some time, it’s only recently that this city has come into its own as a tourist destination. Tour the famous White Temple or stroll through Warorot Market. Afterwards, try some curry in Wat Gate.
References: Traveller.com.au, AdventurousKate, AussieontheRoad, CondeNastTraveller, GeckosAdventures, IntrepidTravel