Asia is the world’s largest continent by land area and population, home to 4.4 billion people, more than half of the world’s population.
The continent is too massive and diverse to conceptualize as a single digestible travel “destination”. Travel options range widely, from the desert ruins and modern mega-malls of the Middle East to the magnificent ancient monuments and giant mountains in South Asia, from the beach bungalows and jungle treks of Southeast Asia to the mega-cities and technology capitals of East Asia.
Asia gets a tremendous number of travellers, both for tourism and business. Many of the world’s most-visited cities are in Asia, including Bangkok, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Seoul, Singapore, and Tokyo.
Asia offers intriguing destinations for every type of traveller, be they a novice or an experienced road-warrior. Easier options include modern, prosperous countries like Japan and the East Asian Tigers of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, where people enjoy very high standards of living.
Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a mountainous landlocked country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and China to the northeast.
Armenia is a nation, and former Soviet republic, in the mountainous Caucasus region between Asia and Europe. Among the earliest Christian civilizations, it’s defined by religious sites including the Greco-Roman Temple of Garni and 4th-century Etchmiadzin Cathedral, headquarters of the Armenian Church. Khor Virap Monastery is a pilgrimage site near Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano just across the border in Turkey.
Azerbaijan, the nation and former Soviet republic, is bounded by the Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains, which span Asia and Europe. Its capital, Baku, is famed for its medieval walled Inner City. Within the Inner City lies the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a royal retreat dating to the 15th century, and the centuries-old stone Maiden Tower, which dominates the city skyline.
Bangladesh, to the east of India on the Bay of Bengal, is a South Asian country marked by lush greenery and many waterways. Its Padma (Ganges), Meghna and Jamuna rivers create fertile plains, and travel by boat is common. On the southern coast, the Sundarbans, an enormous mangrove forest shared with Eastern India, is home to the royal Bengal tiger.
Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. In the High Himalayas, peaks such as 7,326m Jomolhari are popular trekking destinations. Paro Taktsang monastery (also known as Tiger’s Nest) clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley.
Cambodia is a Southeast Asian nation whose landscape spans low-lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains and Gulf of Thailand coastline. Phnom Penh, its capital, is home to the art deco Central Market, glittering Royal Palace and the National Museum’s historical and archaeological exhibits. In the country’s northwest are the ruins of Angkor Wat, a massive stone temple complex built during the Khmer Empire.
Georgia is a southeastern U.S. state whose terrain spans coastal beaches, farmland and mountains. Capital city Atlanta is home of the Georgia Aquarium and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, dedicated to the African-American leader’s life and times. The city of Savannah is famed for its 18th- and 19th-century architecture and leafy public squares. Augusta hosts the Masters golf tournament.
Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country and former Soviet republic, extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia. Its largest metropolis, Almaty, is a long-standing trading hub whose landmarks include Ascension Cathedral, a tsarist-era Russian Orthodox church, and the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, displaying thousands of Kazakh artifacts.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country traversed by the Mekong River and known for mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries. Vientiane, the capital, is the site of the That Luang monument, where a reliquary reportedly houses the Buddha’s breastbone, plus the Patuxai war memorial and Talat Sao (Morning Market), a complex jammed with food, clothes and craft stalls.
Malaysia is a Southeast Asian country occupying parts of the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo. It’s known for its beaches, rainforests and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences. The capital, Kuala Lumpur, is home to colonial buildings, busy shopping districts such as Bukit Bintang and skyscrapers such as the iconic, 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers.
Mongolia, a nation bordered by China and Russia, is known for vast, rugged expanses and nomadic culture. Its capital, Ulaanbaatar, centers around Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) Square, named for the notorious founder of the 13th- and 14th-century Mongol Empire. Also in Ulaanbaatar are the National Museum of Mongolia, displaying historic and ethnographic artifacts, and the restored 1830 Gandantegchinlen Monastery.
Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the country’s largest city, is home to bustling markets, numerous parks and lakes, and the towering, gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, which contains Buddhist relics and dates to the 6th century.
North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a country in East Asia, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north, at the Yalu and Tumen rivers; it borders South Korea to the south at the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s fifth-most populous country with a population exceeding 225.2 million, and has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. Pakistan is the 33rd-largest country by area, spanning 881,913 square kilometres.
South Korea, an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, shares one of the world’s most heavily militarized borders with North Korea. It’s equally known for its green, hilly countryside dotted with cherry trees and centuries-old Buddhist temples, plus its coastal fishing villages, sub-tropical islands and high-tech cities such as Seoul, the capital.
Tajikistan is a country in Central Asia surrounded by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It’s known for rugged mountains, popular for hiking and climbing. The Fann Mountains, near the national capital Dushanbe, have snow-capped peaks that rise over 5,000 meters. The range encompasses the Iskanderkulsky Nature Refuge, a notable bird habitat named for Iskanderkul, a turquoise lake formed by glaciers.
Thailand is a Southeast Asian country. It’s known for tropical beaches, opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate temples displaying figures of Buddha. In Bangkok, the capital, an ultramodern cityscape rises next to quiet canalside communities and the iconic temples of Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Emerald Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Kaew). Nearby beach resorts include bustling Pattaya and fashionable Hua Hin.
Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia bordered by the Caspian Sea and largely covered by the Karakum Desert. It’s known for archaeological ruins including those at Nisa and Merv, major stops along the ancient trade route the Silk Road. Ashgabat, the capital, was rebuilt in Soviet style in the mid-20th century and is filled with grand monuments honoring former president Saparmurat Niyazov.
Uzbekistan is a Central Asian nation and former Soviet republic. It’s known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Samarkand, a major city on the route, contains a landmark of Islamic architecture: the Registan, a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, mosaic-covered religious schools dating to the 15th and 17th centuries.
Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. Hanoi, the capital, pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has French colonial landmarks, plus Vietnamese War history museums and the Củ Chi tunnels, used by Viet Cong soldiers.