Asia is a large continent with an endless amount of different cultures and traditions throughout. From stunning national parks, beautiful temples, hidden caves, and hidden islands, there is so much to explore. Since it is such a large place, there are also so many spots off the beaten path that not a lot of tourists know about. The places you can discover on this continent are endless if you take the time to look for less touristy, mainstream locations.
Along with Asia’s vast beauty and culture, comes some pretty mysterious and mystical places that may or may not give you the 'heebie jeebies'. Some of these places are well known to tourists while some of them can't even be found on a map. There are many places in Asia that not even the locals know the whereabouts of, as well as a great deal of mystery and curiosity surrounding some of the landmarks that still stand today.
There are some pretty out-of-the-box, bizarre stories and myths that the locals believe to be true, dating back thousands of years ago. From locations that are believed to be the gateway to heaven, to rolling hills created by the tears of a giant… you can't make this stuff up, right? However, even if some of the traditional legends are 'out there', you can’t deny that some of these existing places are downright unexplainable. I’m talking underwater cities, man-made caves built on a vertical cliff, and a massive golden rock perched on the edge of a mountain without falling.
Whether you believe the myths and legends of these countries or simply are interesting in exploring some mysterious destinations in Asia, it is no doubt fascinating to learn about the local history and sometimes, the lack thereof.
20 Phyara Nakhon Cave, Thailand - secluded and serene
You may have heard of this place before, as it’s a more well-known spot in Thailand. However, it’s definitely not overcrowded as its hidden inside a hard to reach cave through rainforest and rocky terrain.
The Phraya Nakhon Cave, located in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park national park, is home to a 125-year old Thai Pavilion. I mean, it’s essentially a stunning gold pavilion nestled inside of a cave, surrounded by lush vegetation, with the opening of the cave shining light down on it through the circular opening (making it look even more majestic than it already is).
This place is probably one of the most mysterious landmarks in Thailand, and the trek up to see it will be well worth it in the end.
19 Wat Rong Khun, Thailand - not your average temple
This place is a favourite for visitors to Thailand, as it’s a lot different than a lot of the temples you will come across throughout the country. This is simply because it is completely white, with no vibrant colours or decorations throughout.
It’s probably one of the most bizarre temples you will come across, with popular Hollywood and musical icons painted in murals and creepy bone and skull sculptures throughout the temple. A visit to this place is enough to give you the creepy crawlies, but ‘The White Temple’ is also a pretty epic place that should not be missed while in Thailand.
18 The Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines - Tears of a giant
The Chocolate Hills are a very popular tourist attraction in Bohol, but it’s not the secret location of this place that makes it mysterious. The unusually shaped hills are a very unique landscape addition to the island, and while the scientific reason of how they were formed has to do with erosion over millions of years, there are many myths that explain how these hills were formed.
One famous story, told by a local, claims they were formed by a giant’s tears that dried up over time, forming the hills we see today. While this is quite an adventurous theory, the spectacular hills attract visitors from all over the world.
17 Mustang Caves, Nepal - But... how?
Being one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries, the Mustang Caves lie in one of the most remote and isolated regions in the Himalayas.
The landscape is unlike anything else found in Nepal, with strangely sculptured rock formations comprised of nearly 10,000 den openings perched more than 150 feet above the ground.
It is unknown who dug them, since whoever did would have had to scale a near vertical rock to do so, a task almost impossible to accomplish by even experienced climbers. No one knows what their purpose was either, with theories ranging from living quarters to burial chambers. A visit to this mysterious spot will definitely leave you amazed, and equally confused.
16 Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Myanmar - balancing on a hair
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a well-known Buddhist site in Burma, where Myanmar’s Golden Rock is perched on the edge of a cliff, almost defying the laws of gravity. It’s unknown how this structure sits so eloquently on the edge without budging, and the sheer curiosity of this is what attracts tourists to witness it for themselves.
Legend has it that the boulder balances on a single strand of Buddha’s hair, which was gifted to the King with instructions to place it beneath the rock shaped like his head. Whether this myth is true or not, you can’t deny that it’s extremely puzzling that this rock has yet to fall off the edge of the cliff.
15 Hanging Coffins, Philippines - unexpected addition to a nature walk
Located in the charming town of Sagada, the name of this place doesn’t exactly beat around the bush. Yes, there are quite literally hanging coffins perched on the edge of rock formations.
While this practice is not commonly used by the locals today, traditional burial practices once involved burying the deceased in hanging coffins along the sides of cliffs. The belief is that moving the bodies higher up brings them closer to their ancestral spirits. And lucky for us, there are still some standing to this day.
It was viewed by the locals as a safer place to go to rest, while any foreigner visiting would no doubt be creeped out by this unexpected addition to their nature walk.
14 Sand Dunes, Vietnam - endless sea of fiery-coloured sand
Those who have visited Vietnam have likely taken a visit to the sand dunes in Mui Ne. The trek to the dunes begins with a stroll through the unique wonder known as the fairy streams. The stream consists of a thin layer of water that gives the appearance of walking on water, surrounded by unique rock formations that make it seem like you are walking atop Mars. Soon after, the rocky backdrop turns into an endless sea of fiery-coloured sand.
It seems bizarre that this place exists in a place such as Vietnam, adding to the magic of this unexpected phenomenon.
13 Yonaguni Ruins, Japan - a long-forgotten civilisation
This Atlantis-like ancient city, located in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, is a mysterious underwater pyramid structure nestled in the depths of the ocean. While this underwater city was once thought to be a natural creation, further research found that it’s actually the remnants of a long-forgotten civilisation.
The crazy part is, it was only discovered in 1995, meaning it was unknown to the world before this time. So, how did this place just disappear without a question? Since its discovery, it has attracted a ton of fascination by divers who are eager to explore the remains of this secretive world.
12 Fengdu Ghost City, China - Gateway to the afterlife
Do you believe in ghosts? Located in the province of Chongqing, the ancient “City of Ghosts” is known to be the gateway to the afterlife. This myth traces back nearly 2000 years, where two imperial officials retreated to the mountains and became immortal in the process. The two men were named Yin and Wang, which when combined to Yingwang, means ‘King of Hell’, hence why the place is full of shrines and temples dedicated to the afterlife (and the underworld).
Whether you believe in the stories or not, this place will definitely give you a feeling of eeriness throughout your time here… it’s not for the faint at heart!
11 Plain of Jars, Laos - We're still confused...
The Plain of Jars is a hilly area in central Laos that is home to over 2000 mysterious stone jars throughout the fields, with no one really knowing how they got there. Some believe they were part of an ancient burial site, while others think they were used to brew rice wine.
To this day, the jars’ origins and purposes are still puzzling. The site of the jars was actually heavily bombed during WWII, so it is another mystery how so many of these sculptures are still intact. While we may not know much about them, it is still a highly deserving place to visit to experience the mystical rock formations for yourself.
10 Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia - the world's largest religious site
Angkor Wat is up there as one of the more popular places to stop by in Siem Reap, a stunning gold temple nestled on the water’s, covered in vines and surrounded by trees. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is so precious to Cambodia that it landed a spot on the country’s flag as a national symbol. This empire was once home to King Jayavarman, therefore was a place of wealth, royalty, and exotic and colourful patterns.
While there is no mystery revolving around this place, it is the largest religious monument in the world that is worth a visit to experience the rich history and beauty of the structure.
9 Erawan National Park, Thailand - It's beautiful too
Erawan National Park is a popular swimming destination in Thailand (one of the most visited in the country), with the waterfalls said to resemble a mythical three-headed elephant. The park is not only full of stunning nature but is also considered one of the most religious sites in Thailand because of the many caves that have ties to Buddhism.
There are five main caves that are accessible to explore, full of paintings done by civilizations of that time and some with ancient burial grounds. You will surely be amazed by both the natural wonders and vast amount of wildlife in this park, but also the amazingly interesting history present here.
8 Magnetic Hill, Ladakh, India - defying gravity
This road in India is a phenomenon that defies gravity… or at least it seems so. The layout of the hilly landscape create the appearance of a hill going upwards, however in reality the road is actually a downhill road. Weird, right?
Essentially, cars driving along this road will appear as if they are rolling uphill when in fact they are driving downhill. Locals once believed that the road served as a gateway to heaven, and those who deserved to go were pulled up the path directly into the afterlife. The more practical theories claim that there is a magnetic force in the area, with others saying it's simply an optical illusion.
7 Mount Emei, China - way up in the clouds
Ever wanted to live in the clouds? Well at this destination, that dream will become a reality. Get ready for an experience that will take you 3080 metres above sea level, quite literally above the clouds.
The golden temple and structures surrounding it as magical on their own, but become even more spectacular with the cloud mist surrounding them. This summit is quite popular among tourists, so it’s best to head up in the early morning to avoid the crowds. It’s also the best time of the day because you’ll experience the sun rising in the distance, with the golden temple shining by the sun’s first beam of the day.
6 Phnom Kulen, Cambodia - completely untouched
This place is so far off the beaten track that you definitely won’t find it in any guidebook…even some of the locals are unaware of its existence! There is a ton of tourist attractions at the bottom of Mount Kulen, however it’s what lies at the top that is worth visiting.
This place is so untouched by tourists that some of the temples don’t even have names, hence why it’s a good idea to find a local guide to take you up and tell you all about the mythical stories and legends of these structures. You could get lost in this park for hours discovering all of the hidden temples throughout.
5 Mount Koya, Japan - eternal meditation?
The founder of Shingon Buddhism entered into eternal meditation at Mount Koya, known as Japan’s most sacred Buddhist site. The founder’s remains still present in his tomb today (although it is not accessible to the public), where monks bring meals and fresh robes daily as if he is still in his everlasting state of meditation.
Since it has never been open to the public, there is a lot of speculation about the whole story. It seems that this mystery is one that will never be solved, since the founder dates back to 838 B.C., meaning that no one has ever been too curious to find out since then.
4 Tianmen Mountain, China - The gateway to heaven
This mystical mountain, located in Tianmen Mountain National Park, is home to a massive cavern opening that is believed to be the Gateway to Heaven. While you have to get through 1000 steps to reach the top of the mountain (or take the newly built cable lift), what is waiting for you at the top is a beautifully constructed temple once you reach the ‘sky door’, as they call it.
This park is also home to one of the most dangerous, winding roads in the world, with never-ending curvy switchbacks along the edge of the mountains. The road has 99 curves, symbolizing the 9 different palaces in heaven. While this is just a local story, it’s quite an experience visiting this heavenly mountain.
3 Trunyan, Bali - bones on display
The village of Trunyan, located on the island of Bali, has some extremely unique (and some may say strange) traditions surrounding burial practices. Since this village is home to the original Balinese people, these customs date back to the beginning of their culture. The people of Trunyan do not believe in burying the dead, but instead lay them in bamboo cages to decompose.
Years later, the skulls and bones are then displayed on platforms. The village has become a more recent tourist attraction due to their interesting traditions, with the area only accessible by boat.
2 Bokor Hill, Cambodia - once a major battleground
Located in Kampot, Bokor Hill is home to an abandoned city that was once a major battleground. You can explore churches, temples, and palaces that are now completely abandoned, but still strongly standing. It is definitely apparent that the war had a huge effect on this area due to bullet-strewn walls and explosion damages, which is quite a humbling thing to experience.
Since this old city is situated on the top of a mountain, the views overlooking the ocean are insanely beautiful, allowing you imagine the vibrant life this city must have had years and years ago.
1 Masuda-No-Iwafume, Japan - mystery yet to be solved
Located in Asuka, a certain rock structure nestled in the forest has left so many locals with confusion over what it’s purpose once was. Not only is the purpose unknown, but the material of it makes it almost impossible to have been built by ancient technology.
Its appearance consists of a carved mound with two holes in the centre, going through to the ground. The structure also does not fit with the style of the Buddhist shrines and temples in the surrounding area, which adds to the confusion of its origin. To this day, the rock formation remains a mystery that has yet to be solved.