There is so much more to Asia than cheap beach towns like Phuket or Bali, more than congested megacities with death-defying traffic and it is more than just a stopover point for a quick refuel on your way to somewhere else.
Because the major cities in Asia have so many flights connecting to the rest of the world it can be quite cheap to get there from wherever you may be. And once you arrive the possibilities for a short stay are endless.
The peace and quiet of a rural retreat or tiny fishing village, the excitement of a city filled with food and history, or an island escape, Asia offers it all.
We have been fortunate to experience some amazing places on our Asia travels but we wanted to discover new places as well. So once again we reached out to our travel blogging friends and asked them to tell us about their best places in Asia for a short getaway.
with Matilda from The Travel Sisters.
Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world for a short break. I love Tokyo for so many reasons including the food, the people, the culture, and its efficiency. Not only is Tokyo a large cosmopolitan city with many attractions but it is a mix of traditional and modern.
From the celebrated sakura (cherry blossoms) in the spring to the delicious sushi to catching a sumo match to watching a kabuki performance, there is no shortage of unique things to do.
If you only have 2 or 3 days in Tokyo, walk across Shibuya Crossing (the world’s most famous intersection), people-watch at Yoyogi Park and the surrounding Harajuku area, and make an early morning visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market to watch the tuna auction and have fresh sushi for breakfast. Make sure to also visit one of Tokyo’s many cute and quirky cafes – there are robot cafes, maid cafes, and various animal cafes to choose from.
Chiang Rai, Thailand
with Diana from Czech Souls.
Chiang Rai, situated in the Golden Triangle in the North of Thailand is a small town full of harmony and beautiful sights. It’s most famous for White Temple which is breathtaking and it’s a perfect place for a short break away from busy cities.
In the afternoon, you can sit down and enjoy your coffee in Cat ‘n’ a Cup Cat Café and relax with a cat in your lap. For the next day, head to Phu Chi Fa – a mountain not too far from Chiang Rai, where you can get some exercise while walking up.
Reward yourself by looking at both Laos and Thailand from above. Feel the calmness of this place and enjoy the sunrise and sunset in the mountains. Not a big fan of hiking? Take a bicycle and cycle to one of the Elephant Sanctuaries near the town!
with Sandy and Vyjay from Voyager.
It was a long weekend and we thought it the ideal time to head out into the mountains to spend some time in the midst of nature. We had a couple of days and we wanted to use the time to rejuvenate and recharge our energies in some salubrious surroundings away from the ceaseless cacophony of our city.
We headed out to a hill station called Kodaikanal which is at an altitude of about 2,000 metres above sea level and is situated approximately 463 kilometres from Bangalore, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka in India.
A heady fragrance of pine and eucalyptus assailed our nostrils as we drove into Kodaikanal, the landscape around was soothing to our senses and drew in large gulps of the fresh mountain air. Kodaikanal is a popular hill station and hordes of urban dwellers from the plains make a beeline to it during weekends.
This results in the place getting a bit crowded. However, this time we were staying in a place which was outside Kodaikanal and right in between the mountains in a picturesque valley that was surrounded by potato farms. We spent a couple of days doing activities that were off-beat and we went to places that normal travelers did not go to.
We went for an exhilarating hike up into the mountains, we saw clouds floating by and could almost touch them. We went deep into the jungles of Kodaikanal and spotted some wildlife. We spent some blissful moments at an ethereal lake where time seemed to stand still amidst the stillness of the forest, a silence that was broken only by the chirping of the birds. In short, we spent our time very close to nature and returned revitalized, with memories that would remain evergreen in our minds and hearts.
with Mike from Live Travel Teach.
Taipei is a great place for a short break because it has awesome public transportation, is near the airport, and has LOTS to see, do and eat. Many flights into mainland Asia have a layover in Taipei which is one of the reasons it’s so accessible for a short-term visit.
You can hop on a cheap airport bus to any number of destinations around the city or to the central Taipei station. The first time I went to Taiwan I spent a weekend in Taipei and I hope you get a chance to do the same!
Taipei’s night markets are famous throughout the world and the best part is they are all over the city so it doesn’t matter where you’re staying. Be sure to check out Wulai for a beautiful waterfall and natural hot spring to soak in by the river. There are dozens of hot springs in Beitou district if you want something a little closer to the city.
The Longshan temple is great for anyone looking for a cultural experience with some beautiful architecture. Hikers can head to the Elephant Mountain for a great view of the 101 building and everyone will enjoy Taipei’s delicious food! I highly recommend finding soup dumplings and adventurous eaters should try stinky tofu too.
As you can see Taipei is the perfect spot for a long layover or short getaway but it’ll probably just whet your appetite for all the other amazing places that Taiwan has to offer.
with Bron from Smith’s Holiday Road.
The historical UNESCO city of Malacca, Malaysia is just a 2-hour bus trip away from the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
It is the perfect city to explore for a few days as you take in the amazing architecture, colourful houses, river cruise, and of course the food. Get lost in the small alleyways off the river and discover some beautiful street art, traditional Nonya food and chat with locals who have been living here their whole lives.
Follow the music and head to Little India to enjoy a meal served traditionally on a banana leaf served with a fresh mango lassi. Back on the main street jump in a trishaw for a town tour but be prepared for it to be decorated in Pokemon, Hello Kitty, or Minions and bright lights, and be sure to wave good night to everyone you pass.
with Katherine from Tara Lets Anywhere.
One of the best places for a short break for people in the busy capital of Manila in the Philippines is Mindoro. Mindoro is known for the beaches and loud parties in Puerto Galera, but only a few people know that on the other side of this province, there is a perfect area for unwinding called Bulalacao.
Bulalacao is a municipality featuring several beautiful islands. Here, you can have your accommodation in quiet beach resorts or one of those native huts facing the beach. You can swim and snorkel, visit a secret lagoon, or explore a nature park-like island with winding stairs set on a mountain, which gives great views over the ocean.
I love Bulalacao because it’s very simplistic in beauty and that you can just rest all weekend or do a little bit of fun activity. Either way, it’s perfect for a short break.
Palau Kapas, Malaysia
with Jub from Tiki Touring Kiwi.
Malaysia isn’t usually known for its beaches, but that’s a missed opportunity. While everyone heads to Thailand, I loved spending time on Kapas Island for a few days of snorkelling and lazing up and down the very good-looking beaches.
Located on the east coast of Malaysia, tourist numbers here do not come close to that of the Thai islands. The island life is simple, there are no cars so you have no choice but to walk along the pristine beaches to your restaurant of choice.
The laid-back vibes are addictive and given there is very little wifi on the island, you can’t help but have deep insightful conversations with others on the island.
with Gordon from Short Holidays and Getaways.
The capital city of Vietnam is Hanoi, and it is one of the most exciting cities to visit, even if just for a few days. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a labyrinth of winding alleys and streets. The Old Quarter in Hanoi is the oldest and major commercial district.
The irregular streets are named after the goods and services sold in the street, and these date back about 1,000 years. It is in these back streets that you get to eat traditional Vietnamese food, like Vietnamese BBQ and hotpot, try Vietnamese egg coffee, and where you can stop at a bia hoi corner, and have a beer for 20 cents with the locals. This also gives you a chance to stop and watch the frenetic pace of the city.
With a population of 7.588 million and over 4 million ‘legally registered’ motorbikes, there is an art form to crossing the road in Hanoi so stopping, and watching is a good idea. Hoàn Kiếm Lake is in the middle of the city and where you can see people practicing tai chi every morning. It is also lovely to walk around the lake. On a more somber note, you can pay your respects at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. Hanoi in Vietnam is a perfect city to visit for a short break.
with Verushka from Spice Goddess.
This constantly buzzing city is perfect for a short break and I can vouch for that after doing a 48-hour stint in the city. And boy oh boy did I need more time with so much to see, do, and eat.
With Dubai being the hub of travel in the UAE it is often a stopover flight for many travellers heading off to other destinations. More travellers are now opting to spend a day or two taking in the sights and sounds of Dubai. I love the fact that Dubai is such a fast-paced city with so many things to suit all traveller types from the shopping and culture to the new theme parks which now make it a great family holiday spot.
With late-night shopping in a city that never sleeps Dubai is always happening. A shoppers’ paradise with several large malls and souks there are bargains to be found and haggling is a necessary skill.
One of the best ways to see as much of Dubai in a short space of time is doing one of the Hop On Hop Off Bus tours which is great value for money. Dubai is a perfect destination for a short break, so next time you are flying via Dubai do spend a few days taking in the sights, sounds, and flavour of Dubai.
Ko Lanta, Thailand
with Tasha from Backpackers Wanderlust.
Ko Lanta is the perfect place for a short break when you are in Thailand. Allowing you to get away from tourist places like Koh Phi Phi and Phuket without having to travel far. It is easily accessible by ferry and there is even a bridge now which connects this island with the mainland.
There are so many things to do in Ko Lanta. From exploring the picture-perfect beaches, chasing waterfalls, and watching the beautiful sunsets. If you are looking for monkey friends make sure to check out Mu Ko Lanta National Park. While there walk up to the old lighthouse for never-ending ocean views from the cliffs which drop straight down into the ocean.
My all-time favourite thing to do in Ko Lanta is to hire a scooter and explore the Island. The road basically goes in a circle around the island so it is super easy to find your way around. There are some amazing restaurants perched on the top of cliffs with the most stunning views. You will constantly be pulling over and taking pictures. Make sure to set aside at least half a day for exploring the island by scooter.
A trip to Ko Lanta is the perfect place for a short break with never-ending views, amazing sunsets, and picturesque beaches, what more could you want?
with Miguel from Travelsauro.
Varanasi, also known as Benares, is a holy city and famous pilgrimage site in the north of India. As it is blessed by the mighty Ganga River, the Hindus believe that if you die there, you’ll free yourself from another cycle of reincarnation and go straight to Nirvana.
For tourists, it’s one of the most interesting, unique, and intense destinations in India. It’s a great getaway for two or three days, during which you can stroll its alleys, visit several temples or just sit on the Ghats and watch the world go by.
You’ll see hundreds of gurus, sadhus, and other characters around the Ghats. There are always ceremonies going on, as well as purification baths and cremations. Yes, there are several Ghats whose main function is to burn the dead. The show is open and anyone can watch. Although the ceremony is fascinating, keep in mind that it’s not for everyone’s taste.
I also recommend that you hire a boat and take a ride along the Ganga. Watching the city from the river is probably the best way to truly appreciate its chaos and beauty!
George Town, Malaysia
with Melanie from Adventures in Overland.
George Town is a fantastic place for a short break. Whether you’re travelling through Malaysia or on a long-haul flight and want a few days back down at sea level; it’s a great stopping-off point. It’s easy to get to from larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and won’t disappoint.
Where to start describing it?! For me, George Town has it all. The older part of the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city has long been known as the food capital of Malaysia. What more could you want? Except maybe for it to not be so damn hot, but get up early and wander the streets in the cooler temperature of the morning.
You’ll constantly stumble across quirky street art AND the inner, older city is an architectural gem. Every street in the old part seems to offer you something different. Check out the Pinang Peranakan Mansion museum, take the Penang Hill railway, and be rewarded with an aerial view of the city, do a food tour, and end your day sipping cocktails from a roof-top bar. It really is a wonderful place and has it all. Oh, and it even has a cat cafe!
with Joan from Against the Compass.
Most people in the world know very little about Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. However, what I am going to tell you will, definitely, leave you beyond surprised. After some hectic travels around Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent, the day I got into Bishkek, I could not believe what I saw.
The streets were filled with life, joy, restaurants, and all type of bars, as it turns out that, this Central Asian capital is home to a modern and Westernized society, as well as a big expat community. From sushi stalls to underground pubs and restaurants serving delicious Georgian food, Bishkek is the best place where to have a short break after some long travels.
Moreover, if you like to enjoy the local life, Bishkek is also home to many bazaars and local eateries, where you can get a taste of how local life in Central Asia is. Would you believe if I told you that, I planned to stay in Bishkek for just a couple of days but, in the end, I stayed there for nearly four weeks? Bishkek will not disappoint you.
Hoi An, Vietnam
with Gordon from Short Holidays and Getaways.
Hoi An is one of the most picturesque cities to have a short break or getaway. It is located in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Nam, and the nearest international airport is at Da Nang, just 40 minutes away.
Hoi An is known as the Yellow City, because many of the buildings in this old shipping port are painted yellow giving it a golden glow, particularly in the UNESCO heritage-listed Old Town. It is also known as the city of lanterns, as these adorn many of the streets in the town.
It is also known as the tailoring capital of Vietnam, and most people will leave with at least one item of clothing that has been made in the city. Hoi An is also well known for its food, and it would be remiss not to try a bahn mi at least once.
Tioman Island, Malaysia
with Callan from Singapore N Beyond.
As I am based in Singapore, things do tend to get slightly claustrophobic from time to time. That’s why I love island escapes for a bit of vitamin sea. Tioman Island is based off the East Coast of Malaysia and is a few hours’ ride (both bus and ferry) from Changi, Sultan Ahmad Shah (Kuantan), or Kuala Lumpur Airports.
Tioman is jam-packed with activities, from golf to snorkeling and diving, trekking or just catching some rays by the pool. The tropical crystalline waters are gorgeous, the white/orange sandy beaches are calming and as a tax-free island, the food and drinks are cheap and tasty.
I loved the fact that I could hire snorkeling gear on the beach and within minutes was among beautiful coral and a wide variety of fish. Nemo was found almost instantly! For those who prefer a resort with all the amenities there is Berjaya or you could try one of the isolated bungalows in the northwest, away from the tour groups, my preference.
with Sudipto from Salt and Sandals.
Kerala is truly known as God’s own country. With lush green hills and crystal sparkling backwaters, Kerala offers something for everyone.
But between all the hustle, we take a break to escape to the cool environs of Munnar. This hill station houses some of the best tea gardens in India and offers some beautiful and picturesque locations. The best time to visit is from February to March.
with Aaron from Aaron Teoh.
Tucked in the northernmost corner of the Philippines is a magical, almost surreal island paradise. With friendly locals, just a handful of visitors, and stunning landscapes carved out by the elements over time, Batanes is a perfect place to get away from the crowds and be blown away by nature (figuratively, though the winds can get really strong too).
My friends and I took a 3-day tour of the islands (which can be done in 2), and while the sights were amazing, the duration felt just about right. From the graceful naturally formed Nakabuang Arch set on the white sandy Morong Beach to the undulating pastures at Vayang Rolling Hills, to witnessing powerful waves from the Pacific Ocean crashing high up against the rocky cliffs at Chawa View Deck, beauty is around every corner in Batanes.
Beyond jaw-dropping views, experiences such as having a traditional Ivatan meal or the simple joy of watching flying fish skim across the Pacific Ocean complete the out-of-this-world experience. After all of this, Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is less than a 2-hour flight back to civilisation.
Koh Lan, Thailand
with Steffi from Beach Bum Adventure.
One of my favourite Bangkok escapes is to the island of Koh Lan. It has quiet, white sand beaches and clear warm water and is a great place to get away for the weekend as it is only about 2 hours from Bangkok.
The accommodation on the island is reasonably priced and you can hire a scooter or take a motorbike taxi to visit off-the-beaten-path beaches with barely anyone on them. I’ve eaten some really good local Thai food here and about five minutes walk from the pier you can find great fruit smoothies in the little market, fresh mango smoothies are my personal favourite.
For many people, Bangkok feels a long way from the famous well-known islands but once you do some research, it’s great to know you can visit nearby beaches cheaply and without a long overnight journey.
with Claire from Claire’s Footsteps.
If you’re looking for a getaway from Beijing, why not try one of China’s most significant yet lesser-talked-about cities, Xi’an? Even though Xi’an, like all Chinese cities, is pretty large; it can easily be explored in just two or three days.
Highlights of a trip to Xi’an include walking or biking the city walls, eating some tasty street food in the Muslim Quarter, enjoying the range of cultures and religions by wandering around the Mosque and various temples, and of course, enjoying the spectacle of the Terracotta Warriors.
The warriors are what makes Xi’an special; they are an underground army built to protect the first emperor of China in its afterlife and are certainly a spectacle to behold. But what made Xi’an the perfect short break trip for me was the city’s spirit, the range of different cultures, and the way Central Asia has influenced this relatively Western part of China.
Xi’an is reachable by train from Beijing, taking 13 hours on regular rail and as little as 4 hours for high-speed rail. Shanghai also services Xi’an, with regular trains taking 19 hours and high-speed rail journeys being just 6 hours long. Internal flights are fairly cheap and take just over 2 hours from Beijing and just under 3 from Shanghai.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
with Alexis and Bertaut from World Travel Adventurers.
Abu Dhabi is a great city to spend a few days and get a taste of the Middle East. It is less flashy than nearby Dubai and deserves a visit. We stopped there on our way to the Maldives.
Etihad Airways offers free stopovers in Abu Dhabi so we definitely recommend taking advantage of that opportunity if you fly with them. There’s so much to love about this beautiful capital city of the U.A.E, from its gorgeous beaches to elaborate Arabian palaces. You must visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is a mind-blowing architectural masterpiece.
We stood in awe at the beauty of the mosque and recommend taking the last guided tour and staying for sunset to see the mosque illuminated at night. You also cannot miss Emirates Palace, which is the second most expensive hotel ever built. Go there for an elegant afternoon tea, a cappuccino sprinkled with edible 24-carat gold, or a camel burger. For some history and culture, visit Heritage Village to see a reconstructed desert oasis town.
You can also take a desert safari for dune bashing, sand boarding, falconry, camel rides, belly dancing, and a barbecue around a campfire. Abu Dhabi is perfect for a short visit because there’s enough to keep you entertained but not so much that you feel pressured to squeeze in everything.
with Ferna from Everywhere With Ferna.
Hpa-an is such a natural beauty in the South Eastern part of Myanmar, which is a 5 hours drive from Myawaddy (a border town in Myanmar). It is a good location for a quick visit, staying overnight and seeking a little stopover before traveling another 15 hours to Inle Lake or to anywhere in the country.
Since traveling by bus will take a longer time to my main destination-Inle Lake, an immigration officer I met upon entering Myanmar, gleefully recommended Hpa-an for a short stay. I decided to pull all things that can be done in this small, non-touristy place for 24 hours. Arriving at this town surrounded by amazing picturesque landscapes had given me an abundant introduction to the country.
They have various caves, like the Kawt Goon Cave or Kawgoon Cave which has a thousand tiny Buddhas carved on the roof and its ceiling. Aside from Kawt Goon, the largest cave in town which is Saddan cave was really interesting. One of the best experiences I had was the moment the thousands of bats comes out from their cave at 6 PM during sunset.
Above all, the interaction with the locals was beyond my expectation, they are the kindest human being I met. I would recommend taking a visit to Hpa-an when in Myanmar for an authentic experience.
Hong Kong, China
with Nathan from Foodie Flashpacker.
While living in Chiang Mai many people chose to take visa runs to the surrounding countries. I chose to instead twice visit Hong Kong.
The city has so much to see and do but because of the sky-high prices a short break is a great way to spend a bit of time getting to know the city.
The famous skyline, the incredible foods, the interesting history, the insane nightlife– all of these factors make Hong Kong a great choice for a short break and will leave you wanting to plan your next visit.
with Natalia from My Trip Hack.
Pokhara is a unique destination that combines fantastic landscapes, trekking getaways, cultural experiences, and adventurous activities. I’ve stayed in Pokhara for a few days as a part of my Nepal trip. I loved it so much that I came back for a longer stay after a few years. There is something mesmerizing about the atmosphere of this place!
The city is built around a big lake (Phewa) and is surrounded by mountains. Whether you go to the non-touristy part of the city or spend time at the lakeside, you are ensured with some great views around. At dawn you can see the snowy peaks of Annapurna Range. They look so majestic! There are numerous cute-themed cafes serving cuisines from different parts of the globe.
Pokhara is also a budget and backpacker-friendly destination, where you can get your way around starting with 10 USD a day in a less touristy area of the city. I’ve worked from several cafes and guest houses – the internet was just great.
This city has fascinated me with the quality of experience it offers and the value for money. In my opinion, Pokhara is a great destination whether you are looking for an adventurous or a relaxed stay!
with Erin from Traveling Thru History.
One of the best places I’ve had a short break is Langkawi. When we lived in Malaysia my boyfriend was working and I was a full-time online college student. Any time he had time off from work we’d go somewhere, cram as much in as we could, and then come home.
During a break between terms for me we went to Langkawi to relax and unwind because we were both just so stressed out and needed a short break of something fun. The island is small enough to not be super crowded, yet large enough to offer a variety of activities.
We tend to do a lot of different things in a short span of time, which can sometimes be exhausting, but the nice thing about Langkawi is that there’s a lot to do, but not so much that you can’t take your time and enjoy a little bit of everything over a few days. We visited some cultural/historic sites, did a snorkel tour, rented a scooter to explore the island, ate at fun restaurants, hit the tourist market, checked out several beaches, and saw some amazing sunsets.
Even though I’m normally a history nerd who loves all the historic sites best, one of my favorite parts about our time in Langkawi was snorkeling with black-tipped reef sharks and hearing all the fascinating legends about the islands while out on the snorkel tour. I loved learning more about the island while doing something relaxing at the same time. That’s pretty much what Langkawi feels like. Having a relaxing time doing a lot of great stuff.
with Reasons to Visit.
While most people head to Borneo in the north for their chance to experience Orangutans and other amazing wildlife in the wild, there is an alternative that is on the radar of very few Western travellers.
Kuching is in the south of the island and the capital of the state of Sarawak. As well as opportunities to see the aforementioned wildlife you will also find a slower-paced way of life, cultural experiences, and some of the cheapest and best food in Malaysia.
We found very few Western tourists during our visit which suited us perfectly. It gave us a chance to watch and interact with another culture as the people go about their daily lives without having to “play it up” for the tourist dollars. It is a fantastic spot for something different in Malaysia.