There is plenty to be said for plunging into the heart of countries' largest and most activity-laden destinations, but to get the most authentic taste, travelers simply must explore the smaller, less-populated cities and towns to discover their unique charms.
Asia is arguably the best continent on the planet to follow this advice. The contrast between its crammed metropolis’ and breathtaking landscapes is simply incredible. Following the compass in any direction is guaranteed to take travelers through beautiful small cities and here are ten of the best to keep an eye out for.
10 Pom Coong, Vietnam
Take a deep breath. And another one. Now open your eyes and take in your surroundings. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Northern Vietnamese village of Pom Coong, it is likely that every single one of your troubles has simply melted away.
Vietnam has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and Pom Coong is one of the greatest examples. Marvel at the stilt houses, join in the stunning traditional dances, devour sticky rice by the kilo and make friends with the always inviting locals while staying here. And always remember to soak it all in.
9 Ming Kush, Kyrgyzstan
Once a thriving territory of industrial activity, today Ming Kush has the appearance of a city that has been reclaimed by the nature that once merely surrounded it.
While this destination is not for those seeking the indulgences of a five-star resort, it still holds plenty of excitement for travelers, especially those that revel in the exploration of abandoned and crumbling buildings still desperate to tell their tales. Camping under the stars is the way to end a day here although you are also bound to be offered a place under a sturdy roof by friendly locals.
8 Sai Kung, Hong Kong
The thirty-minute journey that joins Sai Kung with the metropolis of Hong Kong leads the intrepid traveler into one of the most charming corners in all of Asia. Historically a fishing village, the tiny town is now one of the preferred destinations for city locals to escape the grind of daily life.
Wander the waterline here to see what is likely to be offered to you for dinner that evening as fishing boats float slowly crawl back from a day’s successful work. The next morning, take to one of the stunning hiking trails departing from the picturesque city powered by the previous evening’s feast.
7 Tainan, Taiwan
Nestled warmly into Taiwan’s southern region, Tainan has harbored a settlement since the 17th century and today wears that history proudly on its surface. A jaunt here allows the traveler to dive into the still-beating heart of Taiwan’s past.
Visitors can stroll through city fortifications that have resisted the ravages of time, towering temples still servicing the locals, homes among the mighty Banyan trees, unique museums and beautiful green spaces filled with artworks of every kind. It is impossible to waste a day in Tainan, everything is infinitely perfect.
6 Ipoh, Malaysia
Resting inland of the popular tourist destinations Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Ipoh has a storied history that tells itself through the twists and turns of the stunning Old Town district.
Visitors will find their days filled with ease as a result of the imposing caves available for exploration and architecturally amazing colonial buildings that make up the city. It is the coffee lovers that will have the best time here however, the area is famous for its creamy caffeine, the greatest way to begin a day in all Asia.
5 Sukhothai, Thailand
While enchanting Thailand certainly does come to life on the busy, vibrant streets of cities like Bangkok, it is in the countryside, where everything happens a little slower, that travelers can get a sumptuous taste of traditional Thai life.
Sukhothai is a fantastic example of this simpler way of life. Home to a breathtaking collection of ruins, temples and mammoth statues, this is a genuine hidden gem of Asia. The food is somehow even better out here, perhaps something to do with being able to sit beside the chef as they handcraft delicious magic.
4 Takayama, Japan
Comprised of narrow streets lined with compact and tranquil wooden houses dating back past the 16 century, Takayama may be small but it is rich in history and full of charming surprises around every turn.
Each morning begins with the sights, sounds, and smells of the Miyagawa Market that spreads out along the gently flowing river through the heart of the city. From there, take to the hiking trails and be left astounded by the historic Buddhist temples that reside in the thick forest that overlooks Takayama.
3 Leh, India
Placed softly in the lowlands of the Indus River Valley, Leh is dwarfed by the huge peaks that surround it, some climbing over 6000 meters into the crystalline sky. The best time to visit falls in the June - September period when the weather is at its most pleasant and activity oozes from every surface.
Tibetan Buddhist culture is alive and well here, with stunning monasteries nearby that warrant a day spent in explorational enjoyment. The locals welcome travelers with open arms and the more time spent with them, the more visitors will take from the unique experience Leh offers.
2 Taebaek, South Korea
Be sure to bring a pair of comfortable shoes when visiting Taebaek because the best way to discover this wonderful city is on foot. The inviting streets weave their way between historic monuments, delicious food vendors, colorful shopfronts and all manner of uniquely South Korean delights.
Nearby is Yongyeon Cave, a natural wonder comprised of four stunning plazas and two waterways that can be traversed by the trusting traveler. At the center of the cave, a water fountain dances to the beat of local music and is one of the more unusually delightful tourist spots in the country.
1 Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia
A sleepy city that lends itself to the quiet life, travelers looking for adventure in Kompong Chhnang can take to the always busy dock on the Tonlé Sap River and jump aboard a boat bound for the nearby floating villages. Always do so with an empty stomach because you will be offered some of the most delicious food on the planet, able to be enjoyed from the comfort of a gently rocking vessel.
A jaunt outside the city limits can also show visitors a landscape laden with rice fields so colorful they appear almost as paintings to the amazed eye. No matter what items find their way onto the agenda, it is always best to rise early here as that is when the city really comes to life.