Heading to one of Asia’s hottest destinations on your next holiday? Don't let the trip start and end in one place, double your fun by adding on one of these super side-trips. Spoiler alert - you won't even need to go anywhere extra, most of the side trips are infact already on your international route.
Halong Bay is one of those rare destinations that shines no matter the weather. Some might say that its startling scenery – towering limestone pillars rising from waters tinted a leafy shade of green – is best enjoyed when the sun throws those distinctive colours into sharp relief. However, other visitors find it even more evocative on cloudy days when the mist wraps around the bay’s islands, which seem to loom like the fabled dragon that, according to legend, gouged out this landscape. The best way to experience this UNESCO World Heritage-listed area is on a live-aboard boat. It’s not all drifting about languidly: take a hike in the lovely Cat Ba National Park, home to 32 types of mammal, or head further out to Lan Ha Bay, which flows on from Halong Bay. Just as striking as its better-known neighbour, but with fewer tourists, Lan Ha Bay is a great place for a kayaking expedition.
Hot-foot it to Hanoi
Vietnam’s capital is also one of its most charming cities. From the narrow streets of the Old Quarter to the elegant French colonial buildings, there is plenty to explore.
Get to Halong Bay by flying into Hanoi, then taking a three to four-hour bus trip from the capital.
Ahhh, breathe out. After a three-hour flight, Kerala is the perfect antidote to Delhi’s high-octane impact. Feast your eyes on 50 shades of green in this tranquil province, where a web of rivers and canals spreads out through a landscape of rice paddies and coffee plantations, past pretty villages shaded by coconut groves and into the forested hills of the Western Ghats. Kerala is best known for its canal cruises and yoga retreats, but there is a lot more to see and do in this laidback state. Few Indian destinations have preserved their historic ambience like the port city of Kochi, where an exotic blend of Portuguese, Dutch and English influences is on show, not to mention ancient mosques and a 400-year-old synagogue. If you prefer a walk on the wild side, head to the expansive Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can spot bison, sambar, wild boars and elephants.
Get among Delhi's chaotic charm
There is a surprise around every corner in the bustling metropolis known as the City of Djinns. From Mughal monuments to grand colonial edifices, monkeys scampering over roofs to naked holy men, it’s a gloriously eye-popping, ear‑bursting sensory overload.
Get to Kerala by flying to Thiruvananthapuram via Delhi.
This serene riverside town makes a great base for exploring Cambodia’s tranquil countryside, where you will find quiet villages such as Wat Kor, containing traditional houses made of hardwoods and surrounded by lush gardens. Visitors to the historic hilltop temples of Phnom Sampeau will pass by beautiful statues and lookout points, as well as limestone caves, some with sombre reminders of the country’s recent history. You can also take a trip out to what may be the country’s most unusual tourist attraction: Cambodia’s only winery, the pocket-sized Prasat Phnom Banon.
Explore age-old sights in Siem Reap
This Cambodian town is the gateway to one of Asia’s greatest sights: Angkor Wat and its equally magnificent neighbouring temples, including Bayon and Ta Prohm.
Battambang is a leisurely eight- to ten-hour boat trip from Siem Reap. International airlines fly into Siem Reap.
There are thousands of reasons to visit the northwestern city of Xi’an – if you add up all the soldiers in the Terracotta Army. This extraordinary collection of statues – no two faces are alike – was famously buried alongside China’s first emperor more than 2,000 years ago. Xi’an, a two-hour flight from Beijing, has other attractions apart from its famous clay soldiers, however. One of China’s ancient capitals, Xi’an offers imperial‑era attractions including the tomb of Emperor Jingdi, the Great Mosque and the Big Goose Pagoda. Xi’an also retains its 12m-high, 14th-century Ming-era city walls (the complete circuit takes about four hours to complete), and its labyrinthine Muslim Quarter is a great place to go exploring. Slightly further afield, the five-peaked Huashan mountain is among China’s most revered landscapes.
Lose yourself in Beijing
China’s capital embodies the contradictions that make the Middle Kingdom such a compelling destination. Cutting-edge art and architecture exist alongside ancient monuments such as the Forbidden City and the nearby Great Wall of China.
Get to Xi'an by flying in via Beijing, where most international flights land.
5. Indonesia and Singapore
There is only one hard decision to make on Bintan Island, and that’s which luxury resort you’re going to check into. Each of the island’s pleasure palaces has its own character, but they share a dedication to pampering guests. Their settings are idyllic (think aquamarine waters) and they all give their guests access to essential indulgences such as fine food, sensational spas and immaculate golf courses. If you want to mix it up and fit in a little exploring, that can also be arranged. Bintan is an ancient trading post on the route between China and India, having come under the influence of the Chinese, the British and the Dutch in turn. Its rich collection of relics ranges from Chinese temples to Christian shrines. Throw in a visit to a traditional fishing village, or perhaps a cruise through the mangroves (keep an eye out for silver leaf monkeys and snakes), and there is plenty to keep you occupied. But, with more than 100km of coastline, Bintan is the ideal place to do nothing but simply relax on a pristine beach.
Calling all culture vultures, city slickers, shopaholics and foodies. From colourful marketplaces and heaving food halls to lush green spaces among glittering skyscrapers, the vast and varied wonders of this frenzied island state offer something for everyone.
Fly from Australia into Singapore. Bintan Island is a two-hour ferry ride from there.
White sandy beaches and balmy weather never go out of style; add a healthy serve of massages and fabulous food, and Phuket is hard to beat. Go exploring in Phuket Town, where historic shophouses are being reinvented as cute cafes; spend a day in Phang Nga Bay, kayaking through limestone caves and visiting floating fishing villages; or get away from it all in Sirinat National Park, where beaches such as Nai Thon remain uncrowded.
Feel the buzz of Bangkok
Spicy street food and air-conditioned shopping malls, gold-plated temples and sky-high bars: Bangkok’s contradictions are part of its charm.
Phuket is an hour and a half flight from Bangkok.
7. South Korea
Blessed with both golden sandy beaches and snow-capped mountains perfect for skiing, Busan has a lively student population and a calendar of international events, including a film festival and an art biennale, not to mention Korea’s largest fish market, Jagalchi, which draws food lovers from across the world. The civilised charms of Busan are on display in chic neighbourhoods such as Dalmaji, set on a curving bay flanked by pine-clad slopes, where art galleries and elegant cafes sit alongside serene Buddhist shrines. Also worth checking out: the colourful Gamcheon Culture Village, The Bongsudae (beacon fire station) on Hwangnyeongsan Mountain, and the Buddhist carvings at the Seokbulsa hermitage. Also book yourself in for a session in Asia’s largest bathhouse, Hur Shim Chung, where the cypress baths are made from 4,000-year old trees.
See old meet new in Seoul
From serene temples to bustling night markets, modern shopping malls to traditional bathhouses, South Korea’s capital delivers a kaleidoscope of experiences.
Fly to Busan via Seoul from most Australian capital cities.
It’s a rare visitor who doesn’t fall head over heels for George Town, Penang’s old-world capital. Trishaws jostle for space in its crowded streets, while quirky street art provides a cool edge. The city’s retro appeal has been bolstered by a boom in funky cafes and bars, and a street food scene that’s hard to beat. The island’s beaches are justly famous, and some of the country’s most indulgent resorts are clustered around the beaches of Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah
Find your cool in KL
Kuala Lumpur is one of Asia’s most underrated cities, its idiosyncratic flavour summed up in its striking skyline, where minarets contrast with skyscrapers.
Reach Penang by flying in via Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.
It’s Japan, but not as you know it. The group of islands that makes up Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost region of Japan, and is different from the rest of the country in all sorts of ways, from the subtropical climate to the distinctive Okinawan cuisine, which blends influences from China, Korea and Southeast Asia. There is plenty to explore on the area’s biggest island, Okinawa-hontō, from the impressive Churaumi Aquarium to scenic spots such as the Hiji Waterfall and the sacred site of Sefa Utaki. Further afield, the Yaeyama Islands – with their jungles, mangrove swamps, beaches and excellent diving – are the place to unwind.
Embrace Tokyo time
In the city that never sleeps, you can admire the costumed kids in Harajuku and the neon lights of Shinjuku, before breakfasting on sashimi at Tsukiji fish market.
Okinawa is a three-hour flight from Tokyo. There are direct flights from many Australian capitals to Tokyo.
10. The Philippines
Yes, Bohol Island – just a short ferry trip from Cebu – is another fabulous destination for water-babies, with coral reefs and inviting beaches. But the island has other attractions as well. Its most famous inhabitants are the extraordinary tarsiers, the world’s smallest (and, arguably, cutest) primates: small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, yet agile enough to leap five metres in a single bound. You can try your luck spotting them in the wild in the Rajah Sikatuna National Park; for guaranteed sightings, the Tarsier Research & Development Center is your best bet. Other ways to spend the days include visiting the ancient cave paintings on Lamanok Island, swimming in an underground lake in Hinagdanan Cave and hiking the extraordinary dome-shaped Chocolate Hills.
Live the beach life in Cebu
Cebu is the Philippines’ best-loved holiday destination, famous for its pretty beaches and the superb diving on offer.
Bohol is a two-hour ferry ride from Cebu. Fly to Cebu via Manila from Australia.