A giant in every sense, Asia is too massive and diverse to conceptualise as a single digestible travel "destination". From the mountains around the Black Sea in the west to the snow fields of Russia's far east, there are more people and cities in Asia than outside of it. 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 offers intriguing destinations for every type of traveller, be they novice or experienced road-warrior. Easier options include ultramodern, prosperous, and largely democratic countries like Japan and the East Asian Tigers of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, in which people enjoy very high standards of living. More challenging are extremely poor countries where people struggle even to get a few grains of rice each day, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Laos and East Timor. Some countries are well-established on the budget tourist trail such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, but other countries strictly restrict tourism to certain regions or types of tourism, such as Bhutan and the Maldives. North Korea and Turkmenistan, easily the world's most isolated and repressive states, take it even further with constantly-watched group tours dedicated to their great leaders. Of course, there are also many countries lying somewhere in the middle, such as the emerging powerhouses of China and India which make wonderful travel destinations in themselves due to their long history, size, tradition and diversity.
| Central Asia (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan)|
Being one of the most closed regions in the world, these countries offer bare, spectacular landscapes and true adventure in the footsteps of Marco Polo and elsewhere forgotten communism.
| East Asia (China (mainland), Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan)|
Contrasts of old versus new, the biggest of mega-cities at the front-end of technological development combines with well-preserved temples and sites of the ancient cultures and philosophies still present in everyday society. The vast, open plains of rural China and Mongolia offer something quite different.
| Middle East (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen)|
Home of the first civilizations in the world's history, and the land where the three Abrahamic religions were revealed, it is now one of the fastest growing regions of the world with increasing development and a rich heritage.
| Russia and the Caucasus (Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia, South Ossetia)|
Russia covers much of Asia, a huge country of vast, empty expanses. The Caucasus is a dense, warm, friendly region, but some parts of it are war zones and are considered unstable.
| South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka)|
The breathtaking roof of the world that is Himalayas in the North, tropical, humid waterways in the South, and some of the most chaotic cities to be found in between.
| Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam)|
Hot and humid, Buddhist monasteries and tropical beaches offer relaxed getaways from the rowdy, bustling cities popular with backpackers.
The precise borders of Asia are fuzzy: a good guide to the Asia–Europe border is the Ural Mountains in Russia. For cultural and historical reasons, some parts of the Caucasus are considered European. The Bosphorus bisecting Istanbul is also regarded as the border between Asia and Europe. Sinai is geographically in Asia but politically a part of Egypt. And at the other side, the continent of Australia (also known as Sahul, Australinea or Meganesia) also includes parts of Indonesia.
- Bangkok—Thailand's bustling, cosmopolitan capital with temples, nightlife and fervour
- Beijing—capital of the People's Republic of China with Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and many cultural sights.
- Dubai—most modern and progressive Emirate in the UAE, developing at an unbelievable pace
- Hong Kong—a truly world-class metropolis with a unique mixed Chinese and British heritage
- Jerusalem—containing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City, this city is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims
- Mumbai—most diverse, busy and cosmopolitan city of India, known for its nightlife and well known as the home of the entertainment industry.
- Seoul—beautiful palaces, great food and a hopping nightlife, Seoul is a frenetic way to experience the Asia of old and new
- Singapore—modern, affluent city-state with a medley of Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influences
- Tokyo—the world's largest city brings a huge, wealthy and fascinating metropolis with high-tech visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan
These are some of the largest and most famous destinations apart from major cities.
- Angkor Archaeological Park—magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire
- Bali—unique Hindu culture, beaches and mountains on the Island of the Gods
- Dead Sea—stay afloat in this extremely salty lake
- Great Wall of China—several thousand kilometres long, its condition ranges from excellent to ruined
- Lake Baikal—the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, containing over one fifth of the world's supply
- Mount Everest—the world's tallest mountain straddling the border of China and Nepal
- Petra—ancient city carved out of sandstone and one of the new 7 Wonders
- Registan—the impressive historic heart of Samarkand, a major trade city on the Silk Road
- Taj Mahal—the incomparable marble tomb in Agra
See also UNESCO World Heritage List#Asia.
Asia is the birthplace of ten major religions: namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Jainism and the Bahá'í Faith, not to mention countless other tribal faiths. It is also home to the world's fastest growing cities, a wide range of exotic cuisines, the world's highest mountain ranges and some of the world's most ancient cultures.
Asia is by far the largest continent and as such is extremely varied geographically. Asia contains virtually every possible climate and terrain from the frozen plains of Siberia to the jungles of Indonesia to the deserts of Arabia. Asia's (and the world's) highest point is Mount Everest, along the border of Tibet and Nepal, which rises to 8,848 m (29,028 ft) above sea level. Its lowest point is the Dead Sea, located at the meeting points of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, whose surface is 400 m (1,312 ft) below sea level. Asia's longest river is the Yangtze, which runs 6,300 km (3,915 mi) through China all the way from the high Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai. Its largest lake is the 386,400 km² (149,200 square mile) Caspian Sea, which is surrounded by several Central Asian nations. Asia is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, by Australia to the southeast, and by the Indian Ocean to the south. It is bordered by the Red Sea to the southwest, by Europe and the Urals to the west, and by the Arctic Ocean to the north.
East Asia (China, Japan, Korea) is relatively temperate with distinct seasonal differences. South and South East Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, India, Burma etc.) has a monsoon climate. Generally hot all year round but with a wet and dry season. Most of Asia's rainforests and beaches are to be found here. West Asia (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon etc.) is hot and often dry. Winters can be mild but summer can be extremely hot. Central and north Asia have continental climate with the coldest winters outside Antarctica and hot summers; in some places the difference between all-time highs and lows can be over 100°C.
- See Talk for a more general discussion
It is possible to travel throughout much of Asia with the English language. Some countries place English very highly as an official spoken language (Singapore, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brunei) whereas others require English language instruction at school (Malaysia, China, South Korea, etc.). Elsewhere, English proficiency is rudimentary at best. Please refer to the guide for individual countries for how well you are likely to fare.
It is not possible to list all the languages and dialects you may encounter throughout Asia. We can however detail the major groups you are likely to encounter:
- Turkic - Turkish, Azerbaijani, Uighur, Turkmen, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and several local languages throughout Siberia
- Semitic - Arabic is spoken throughout the Middle East, Hebrew in Israel
- Indo-European - a huge group that includes most of the languages of Europe plus some in Asia
- Iranian - Persian, Pashto and Kurdish comprise another important Middle Eastern language group.
- Indo-Aryan - Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Sinhala and Nepali are found through much of the Indian sub-continent
- Russian, spoken in Asiatic Russia and serving as a lingua franca in much of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It's also the most widely spoken foreign language in Mongolia
- Tajik, spoken in Tajikistan
- Dravidian - the non-Indo-European languages of South India: Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and others
- Sino-Tibetan - The Chinese languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.), Burmese and Tibetan.
- Tai–Kadai - Thai and Lao are spoken in Thailand and Laos respectively.
- Austroasiatic - Vietnamese and Khmer are spoken in Vietnam and Cambodia respectively
- Austronesian - Malay, Indonesian, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano and related languages are spoken throughout the island nations and archipelago of South-East Asia, as well as by the Taiwanese aboriginals. This group also includes many of the languages spoken throughout the Pacific islands.
Asia's busiest airports include Hong Kong (HKG), Dubai (DXB), Beijing (PEK), Singapore (SIN), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Bangkok (BKK), Seoul (ICN), Tokyo (NRT, HND) and Jakarta (CGK). If you're heading to anywhere in Asia, chances are that you'll pass through at least one of these airports whether in transit or as a final stop. Fortunately for those with long transit times, they are some of the best equipped airports in the world, known for their efficient service and ample distractions. Additionally, Shanghai (PVG), Guangzhou (CAN), New Delhi (DEL), Mumbai (BOM) and Chennai (MAA) are major hubs for travel to China and the Indian sub-continent. For the Middle East, Doha (DOH) and Abu Dhabi (AUH) also have reasonably good connections.
If you are coming to Asia by train, you'll likely be coming in through Russia or Turkey, although other options may exist. For an interesting experience, try the Trans-Siberian Railway, or alternatively some of the lines from Moscow to Central Asia.
Asian ports are cruise destinations, and various companies such as Royal Caribbean and Princess run cruises from Australia, while Holland America travels across the Pacific from North America. Freighter travel is another option. Coming from Africa sea piracy is a threat to take seriously. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca has declined, but may still be relevant.
Air travel is a good mode of transport between this large region's many travel destinations. Fares are lower on average than in Europe or America, and low-cost airlines in Asia are rapidly expanding their networks particularly in Southeast Asia.
Ferry services connect China, South Korea and Japan in East Asia. There are also very many international and domestic ferry services for the island nations in South East Asia including the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
There are highly developed train networks in India, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, as well as less developed services throughout South East Asia. Most of these countries, but especially China have also been investing a lot in high speed rail in recent years, and even for longer distances trains might be a worthwhile option not only in terms of views and comfort but also in terms of price and speed, especially if you figure in the time and money saved while you sleep on sleeper services. In Russia as well as India big parts of the country are mostly served by slow rail and it is a superb way to get into contact with locals (bring a phrasebook) or just see the country pass by the window. Both China and Japan are currently expanding their high speed networks, with China even planning to build international links to South East Asia and possibly North or South Korea. South Korea's relatively young network of high speed lines is also planned to expand within the next decades, however due to the political situation, international links are unlikely in the immediate future.
Travel by bus is an option for the budget conscious traveler in most Asian countries, and often a good way to come into contact with locals. Quality of services ranges wildly from luxurious buses on par with or even more comfortable and faster than some trains to beat up old school buses where you might conceivable actually sit next to a live chicken. (Hence their nickname "chicken bus")
As Asia has a high population density in many places and new road construction has not always kept up with growing traffic, congestion is a major problem, especially in urban centers. That being said a car is often a good and sometimes the only way to explore more remote areas. Keep in mind, that bringing a car might necessitate a number of forms and permits and international drivers licenses may also become an issue. Mainland China (excluding Macau and Hong Kong) does not accept international drivers licenses. If you want to go to or through China by car, you need a local drivers license.
- Burma Road
- Istanbul to New Delhi over land
- Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca
- Ho Chi Minh City to Shanghai overland
- Karakoram Highway, China to Pakistan
- Moscow to Urumqi
- On the trail of Kipling's Kim
- On the trail of Marco Polo
- Silk Road
- Trans-Siberian Railway
- Russia to Japan via Sakhalin
- Cruise between the dramatic limestone Karsts, islets and islands, in the emerald blue sea of Ha Long Bay.
- Sleep on board a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala in India.
- Experience the architecture of the Taj Mahal Agra in India.
- Dive in a crystal blue sea in Bunaken, Indonesia to see a colourful coral reef and it's wide variety of tropical fish.
- Climb Mount Everest, the highest point of land on earth (Nepal) or K2, second highest, in Gilgit-Baltistan.
- Explore Borneo, one of the oldest living rainforest in the world, in Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Climb Mount Bromo, Indonesia, an active volcanic mountain that has an amazing scenery during sunrise.
- Take a Tour to Yogyakarta, Indonesia's Cultural hub, and gateway to see the magnificent Buddhist temple Borobudur and Hindu temple of Prambanan.
- Explore Lake Toba, The largest Volcanic Lake in Indonesia and the world.
- Visit Lombok, a popular island east of Bali, with its beautiful white beaches and famous Gili Trawangan island and Mighty Mount Rinjani located in Indonesia.
- Climb Mount Fuji, an icon of Japan
- Asia has a huge number of dive sites from snorkeling to scuba, with much interesting undersea life and quite a few wrecks. For details, see Scuba diving#Asia.
- Visit Cox's Bazar, the longest sea beach in the world, and Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest of the world, in Bangladesh.
Asian cuisine is incredibly diverse, from Turkish kebabs to Arabic pita bread to Indian curry and Chinese noodles, there is really no shortage of different food that you can try. Rice, in its many varieties, is a very common staple throughout Asia. Street food is also available almost anywhere in myriads of variations.
Tea is the most common beverage, especially in both South Asia and East Asia. In tropical areas, enjoy fresh fruit and coconut juices. In some areas, fresh water and clean drinking water may not easily be available. Yoghurt-based drinks are common in some areas, lassi in India and Pakistan and doogh in some western parts of Asia like Iran and Armenia.
Alcohol is widely available throughout South East Asia and East Asia. Often the larger cities or tourist areas have a modern nightlife scene. Alcohol is illegal in some parts of India and in some countries in the Middle East. While beer is commonly available in the countries that serve alcohol it often uses rice as the basic grain which affects taste somewhat. Another common beverage - especially in Japan Korea and China - is "rice wine" (technically closer to beer as it contains more starch than sugar) sold and produced under various names and in with a range of variations on the basic recipe.
Depending on where you are everything from a tent with only the most basic facilities (if any) to a full blown five star hotel is available. Prices tend to reflect that.
Due to the vast size, safety in Asia varies wildly. It is a safe place in general and most tourist attractions on the continent are far from conflict, There are, however, some regions in which conflict and/or general lawlessness exists. The most obvious examples are Afghanistan, Syria, and big parts of Iraq. Afghanistan's government controls only parts of the country and also Iraq is in a state of war against Al Qaeda, ISIL and various other armed forces. There is a full scale civil war in Syria. These countries are considered no-go areas and should be completely avoided by travellers (if one absolutely must go, consult War zone safety and the authorities of your country before you go). Yemen could also be added to the list of no-go countries, due to a very high threat of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, tribal violence, and general lawlessness.
Although much of the Middle East can be visited without any major risks, it is known for its political tensions and there are no-go areas, for the moment especially Syria. The Gaza Strip is at times a war zone between Palestinian factions and the Israeli army, and kidnappings of foreigners have occurred. Israel has coped with missile attacks as well as suicide bombings by radical militant groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, but mostly in areas close to the Gaza Strip and Lebanon (and attacks from Lebanon happen only occasionally), and by far the biggest threat in most of the country is from dangerous drivers. Lebanon and the West Bank (Palestinian National Authority) generally cope with an unstable political situation and internal conflict.
Bahrain has experienced some political violence in the past, so check on current conditions before you go.
More dangerously, Pakistan is active in a full-scale war in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, both of which should not be visited. Kashmir, claimed by both Pakistan and India, is also a region with tens of thousands of casualties since 1989 due to political strife and insurgency. In 2009, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India has resurfaced, particularly in Chhattisgarh and other parts of Eastern India. Northeastern India also copes with dozens of insurgent groups, some of which have armed factions.
Southeast Asia is a major travel region and most of it is perfectly safe to visit. A notable exception is East Timor, which continues to face sporadic internal ethnic and political tension and related violence may occur. But even in some popular countries, there are some areas that should be avoided. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the south of the Philippines was an area of conflict between the government and the Muslim separatist movement but it should now end because of the preliminary peace agreement signed in Manila in 2012). The rest of the country, specifically Luzon and the Visayas, are very safe, just like the rest of Mindanao (including the Davao and Cagayan de Oro areas). Thailand, the most visited country in Southeast Asia, is generally safe with the notable exception of four deep southern provinces, where fighting between the Thai military and Islamic insurgent groups still continues. Indonesia is a very diverse country, with armed groups fighting for independence in Papua, while Maluku is relatively safe now.
East Asia is probably the safest area in the continent, but political tensions also exist in this region. You should be aware that North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war and hostilities could in theory resume at any time, although the border between them is still a worthwhile tourist destination in its own right (check current situation if you plan a visit). China, a vast and diverse country, is a relatively safe destination, yet the restive provinces of Tibet (and its accompanying counties and prefectures in neighbouring provinces) and Xinjiang still often bar foreigners at any hint of trouble.
Refer to the specific country pages and the authorities of your country for more information. As a precaution, always know the address of embassies, and notify in case of any issues faced.
Being the largest continent by far, practically every thinkable natural disaster is a risk at least somewhere in Asia. The area approximately along the Silk road plus the countries bordering the Pacific are prone to earthquakes. Especially in South and Southeast Asia monsoon rains often result in massive floods. Tropical storms (typhoons and cyclones) are a risk in much of tropical Asia during Northern Hemisphere summer and autumn. Smog and dust storms often occur especially in the northern part of China, making it very unpleasant for people with breathing difficulties.
Many areas of Asia, especially Southeast Asia and South Asia, are humid tropical, and there are health risks attached to travel in those regions. See tropical diseases and the country articles for specific information.