Honestly, the best cities to visit in Asia all depends on the person. Everybody is different and has their own opinion. For example, people tell me that they absolutely love Bangkok, but I’m sorry, you’re not going to find it on my list. If this list was solely based on food, then absolutely.
Asia is an amazing place to travel because compared to the Western world, it’s so completely different. I mean, the food can be unrecognizable, English is not going to be the most well-known language, the architecture is very unique, and the cultures are much, much older than America and many other ‘new’ nations. It really does offer a completely different perspective that will not fail to open your mind.
I have not been to every single Asian city (Not checked Japan out yet, sorry!), but something tells me that no matter what, these would definitely be some of the best cities to visit in Asia.
5. Shanghai, China
I call Shanghai China’s most modern city, and a lot of that is partly because of the sleek architecture, awesome skyline, and diversity, which I find to be a bit rare in China. The Skyline is nothing like the other cities in China, or the world for that matter. You can’t help but stand at the Bund across the river and just stare at the amazing towers. The streets are a lot cleaner, there are a ton of options when it comes to food, and English is pretty prevalent. I had such a good time simply just walking the sidewalks doing a little bit of nothing. Even the rain couldn’t stop me from enjoying a stroll throughout the elegant French Concession.
Shanghai is on the list, yes, but because it’s become a bit “western” and touristy, I wouldn’t rely solely on it to experience true Chinese culture. If you really want to experience China, add older cities like Beijing or those lesser-known such as Wuhan, where I taught English for a year. Or Guilin, which brings us to the second of the best cities in Asia to visit.
Watch my short video of Shanghai, China!
4. Guilin/Yangshuo, China
When people talk about going to Guilin, they usually mean Yangshuo. At least Yangshuo is where they spend most of their time. And it’s not surprising once you see the beautiful landscape surrounding the small town. The town is heavily guarded by hundreds and hundreds of impossibly karst hills and a winding river known as the Li River. It’s honestly probably the prettiest place I’ve ever been to, and I’m not the only one who agrees. Former President Jimmy Carter made the trip and called it the most beautiful place in the world.
A bamboo boat ride down the Li River is one of the top activities to do here because the ride offers the best landscape views. You’ll also find the exact mountains displayed on the back of the RMB 20 note. A well-known saying here is “No bicycle, no Yangshuo,” So most people tend to rent a bicycle and venture off into the countryside where they can enjoy the scenery and watch the locals at their own pace. While most people tend to stick to the main road, it’s always good to take a few side roads to see what you can find off the beaten path.
Most Chinese cities are hectic, loud, and bustling. Yangshuo is a quiet and laid back place, which is why I think it’s one of the best cities in Asia to visit.
Check out my Yangshuo Travel Guide!
3. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, HCMC, Saigon, it has many names. Vietnam is a major backpacking destination (Check out my Vietnam backpacking guide!), and a lot of people start off here. Saigon is located in Southern Vietnam and is the largest city in the country. It’s a lot more modern compared to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, and it’s even more bustling. The traffic is so crazy where motorbikes dominate the streets. The street food here is so delicious, probably some of the best in all of Asia, after Bangkok.
What makes HCMC one of the best cities in Asia to visit is the rich history. A lot of events during the Vietnam War took place in this city as it was the capital of South Vietnam. The war officially came to an end here when a tank crashed through the gates of the Independence Palace. The building still stands today and is a big tourist destination.
Just down the road is the War Remnants Museum, and it’s probably the best museum I’ve ever been to. It’s pretty tragic, there are a ton of photographs difficult to look at, and it’s scattered with Propaganda. It would be crazy for somebody to come to Ho Chi Minh City and not visit this museum. It offers a perspective other than the American one and really does make you think and understand more. But it’s probably smart to do your research on the war beforehand. For one, it kind of enhances the experience if you know what it’s all about. And two, there’s quite a bit of Vietnamese propaganda inside that I think is interesting to be able to point out.
2. Hue, Vietnam
Hue, Vietnam is simply awesome and fun. Located in Central Vietnam, it’s usually the halfway point in many of the country’s backpacking routes. It’s close to the beach, warm, and the perfect place to rent a motorbike and tour the rice fields surrounding the small city. The huge citadel surrounded by layers of stone walls and wide moats make Hue a lot different from the other Asian cities. It has a medieval feel to it, and the fact that development isn’t cut off from the outer layer of the massive structure is pretty sweet. It means that you can hop on a motorbike and drive down the roads inside the Imperial City.
There aren’t many places in Asia where you can drive alongside an ancient moat and stone wall, so needless to say, Hue sticks with you for a long time.
There is a beach nearby, but it’s not the prettiest in Southeast Asia. But that means no development which means no tourists. So if you’re just wanting to lay out in the sun with a book and a cool view, you can’t complain.
1. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, the city that wasn’t planned in my itinerary.
The original plan after Vietnam was to fly down to Indonesia. I really wanted to see a volcano, and Indonesia was perfect for that. But for some reason, I just said screw it to my pre-planned route and got a flight from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I think Malaysia has a bit of a bad reputation in the Western world. But it is such an awesome place and surprisingly enough, feels nothing like Asia. I’ve never been to the Middle East, but I feel like Kuala Lumpur is more like it than Asia. The city is diverse with a major Indian and Arabic population. It’s clean, filled with awesome architecture, more on the environment-friendly side, and has some awesome AWESOME Arabic food. I don’t think I had a single noodles and rice dish while in Malaysia because the Arabic food was that delicious and common.
This is also a great city to get some shopping done. Bukit Bintang is where you want to be, and if you’re a shisha fan like me, take advantage of it. It’s everywhere and cheap.
Kuala Lumpur’s diversity is what makes it one of the best cities in Asia to visit. It really does get you out of your comfort zone and open your mind. And that’s what traveling is all about.
Remember, this is my list of the best cities in Asia to visit. I’ve missed out on some amazing areas, unfortunately, such as Northern Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the list goes on nearly forever. So if you’ve been to any of those listed above and know of a place even better, don’t keep it to yourself! Let everybody know in the comments below. It’ll also help me plan when I make the decision to travel the countries I’ve missed.