Best Side Trips in Asia

11 May 2017
Read Time: 5.4 mins

So you’re off to Asia… Double the fun by adding in a little side trip nearby to make your holiday all the sweeter, without even having to tack another country onto the itinerary. Here are a few of our favourite Asian side trips that have proven to be the perfect holiday combo.

Beautiful beach in Phuket framed by palms. Wind down on the sunny shores of Phuket.

Bangkok, Thailand

Best side trip: Phuket

Many savvy travellers pair a Phuket jaunt with their Bangkok holiday. With regular flights connecting these two very popular Thai stops, it makes perfect sense. Once you’ve rushed to and from all the shops and city sights of Bangkok, why not retreat to those powdery, palm-lined shores by the dazzling blues of the Andaman Sea?

In Phuket, it’s all about the beautiful, relaxed beaches and the long list of luxurious resorts. When you’re not stretched out on a beach towel by the shore or the hotel pool, there’s always more coastal beauty to discover; Phuket stretches for 49 kilometres and is Thailand’s biggest island.

Phang Nga Bay is an iconic favourite, with its sheer limestone karsts jutting vertically out of the emerald waters, its hidden caves and lagoons. It’s also possible to do day trips to other nearby gems, like the famous Phi Phi Island and Khao Sok National Park.

But there’s also plenty of local culture to be found. Explore the historic streets of Old Phuket Town, book tickets to a Muay Thai boxing match and venture around to attractions like the Big Buddha, Wat Chalong and other temples. For the party-goers, Phuket is famous for its nightlife too.

Don’t miss:

A beautiful Phuket sunset from Phromthep Cape – or else one of the beautiful elevated bars with a view.

Local woman at temple with incense in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. See more of Vietnam with a side stop in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Best side trip: Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam’s two main cities stand over a thousand kilometres apart but are equally as bucket-list worthy. So tick off the sights in the capital, Hanoi, and then top it off with more national gems and culture in Ho Chi Minh City - or do it vice versa.

Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) immediately captivates with its mix of towering, modern skyscrapers, ancient buildings and beautiful French colonial architecture. Look closer to discover enchanting pagodas and temples, the Reunification Palace and some great museums, like the War Remnants Museum, History Museum and Fine Arts Museum.

Not far from the city, a short day trip will also take you to the hugely popular Cu Chi Tunnels for a taste of war history and the natural beauty of the Mekong Delta. For more recreation, tap into Ho Ci Minh City’s evolved nightlife scene, the stylish coffee shops and local theme parks.

Don’t miss:

The Jade Emperor Pagoda, built in 1909 and brimming with atmosphere.

Sapporo city panoramas with rising lush mountains in the background. Take the trip north to Sapporo, where nature is never far away.

Tokyo, Japan

Best side trip: Sapporo

It’s impossible to resist Tokyo, with its fusion of old and new, its quirky ways and high-tech gadgets. But there’s so much natural beauty to be found in Japan too that simply can’t be overlooked. Take a quick little side-trip off to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, to see the glass and steel give way to a world of green.

Sapporo is your gateway to it all – a city famous for its beer, wintertime skiing and the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. Niseko, a renowned ski resort, is just a few hours away – exactly where you want to be in the snowy months. In the summertime, Mt Moiwa beckons with its mountain hiking trails and cable cars to the summit for stunning views out to the Sea of Japan.

Beyond Sapporo, the rest of Hokkaido flaunts wilderness aplenty and ample opportunity for relaxation. Explore the island’s lush mountains, blue caldera lakes, fields of wildflowers and bubbling hot springs. Stay in beautiful accommodations and chat to locals in this region that’s still garnering attention from the masses.

Don’t miss:

The Sapporo Beer Museum – in the original Sapporo Beer brewery, founded in 1876 and Japan’s oldest beer.

Hong Kong

Best side trip: Macau

Easily the fastest and most popular side-trip from big and bustling Hong Kong is Macau. While there’s certainly no shortage of things to do, see, eat and shop in Hong Kong itself – captivating for all its contrasts – Macau offers a whole new take on the ‘east meets west’ notion and one that goes beyond its reputation as the ‘Vegas of China’.

Better yet, Macau can be done in a nifty day trip. However, to really explore and soak up the colonial charm which still lingers from its days under Portuguese rule, it’s best to spend a night or two.

Start by discovering Macau’s World Heritage-listed historic centre, studded with 20-plus historic monuments, remarkable urban squares, cobbled lanes and pastel-coloured colonial buildings – plus many luxury shops. At the top of the list, don’t miss the Ruins of St Paul’s – a 17th century Jesuit church that burnt down in 1835, leaving behind just a facade dramatically perched at the top of 66 stone steps.

If you’re staying longer, take the trip to the lush Coloane Island and Taipa Island, with its lantern-lit piazzas and gorgeous cobbled laneways. But whether you do Macau for a day or three, you simply must sample the unique Macanese fare – including Macau’s version of the classic Portuguese egg tart and the iconic serradura (sawdust pudding).

Don’t miss:

A trip to the top of the Macau Tower for city panoramas from the 338-metre-high observation deck.              

A church in tropical Kochi. Tropical Kochi offers a different glimpse of India.

Delhi, India

Best side trip: Kochi

Many travellers automatically think Mumbai when considering a second stop after Delhi.

But instead, turn your attention to the far south, to the sleepy state of Kerala. The capital, Kochi (also known as Cochin), promises a welcome change of pace. It’s serene, low-key and presents an intriguing meeting of cultures thanks to the British, Chinese, Dutch, Portugese and Arab explorers, trades and seafarers who once passed through.

They left their mark in the form of ancient mosques, Portuguese houses, a 400-year-old synagogue (and an entire Jewish quarter), a Dutch palace, India’s oldest European-built church – St Francis Church – and giant fishing nets from China, which have become somewhat of a famous local icon.

Kochi is also renowned for its arts and crafts, and plays home to beautiful temples, art galleries, traditional spice shops and fascinating local museums. For the foodies, the restaurants are up there too. Find international cafes and restaurants, as well as plenty of fresh seafood and Keralan flavours with a noticeable Portuguese influence.  

Don’t miss:

A cruise down the tropical winding backwaters on a traditional Indian houseboat for a unique glimpse of local life.

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Tijana Jaksic

Tijana loves new adventures as much as she enjoys reliving old ones. Favourite stops on the map so far include Greece (beyond the islands!), Mexico City (hello ancient ruins and wonderful art), Poland (for the history and off-the-beaten-track finds), Berlin (so artsy and chilled) and Bosnia (ahhh the natural beauty). Choosing is always hard though - that's why her list is so long and she spends her 'real life' time writing about travel until she's out there on the road again.