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Stray Off Asia’s Well-Beaten Path: 20 Asian Destinations to Discover
Asia is the largest and most diverse continent. With a landmass this vast it actually isn’t that difficult to get off the beaten path in Asia. From Islamic gems in the Arabian Peninsula to some of the oldest Christian nations on earth in the Caucasus, the Silk Road that ties western Asia to the far east, the beaches & jungles of Southeast Asia all the way to the furthest east fringes of the Asian Pacific seaboard- Asia contains a lot.
With cheap flights springing up between Asian cities and fare sales from Europe and North America you can stretch your money further in Asia. One of my favorite parts about travel is discovering places new to me and stumbling on enchanting spots that I may have never wound up if I stuck to a guidebook. If you’re like me and prefer tiny villages and hard to reach (and pronounce) locations then this is the list for you.
Here are 20 places around Asia that will surely win you over…
1. Go Off the Beaten Path in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is the rising star of the ‘Stans. With mountains that rival Switzerland in beauty and relaxed visa policy, allowing many European, as well as the US, Canadian, and Australian passport holders visa-free entry for up to 60 days Kyrgyzstan is easily gaining popularity.
Why visit Kyrgyzstan in 2020?
Kyrgyzstan is gaining traction and is becoming the shining star of Central Asia’s tourism scene. Lonely Planet ranked Central Asia as the top region to visit in 2020, so get there soon!
- Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide
- 34 Photos that will Inspire You to Visit Kyrgyzstan
- A Quick Guide To Jeti Oguz, Kyrgyzstan
- 10 Things to do in Bishkek
- Why Foodies Should Flock to Karakol
- How to Visit Sary Chelek, Kyrgyzstan
- Karakol Travel Guide + 13 Things To Do In Karakol
- How to get to Burana Tower & Tokmok Animal Market
- Osh Travel Guide + 5 Things To Do In Osh
- A Quick Guide To Jeti Oguz
- Kyzyl Art Border Crossing Between Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan
- Karkara Border Crossing Between Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan
2. Caves & Mountaintop Monasteries in Hpa-An, Myanmar
Just 5 hours south of Myanmar’s bustling Yangon sits cute and quiet Hpa-An. Hpa-An wasn’t a place we planned to give more than a day of our time, but we loved it so much we extended our stay!
Rent a motorbike and make sure to explore the surrounding areas. Highlights include climbing up to the Mount Zwegabin Monastery and the Saddan Cave Monastery- you won’t be disappointed.
Bonus tip: Do spring for the boat ride at the end of Saddan Cave- you will not be disappointed!
Start searching Hpa-An accommodations.
Why go to Hpa-An in 2020?
Myanmar has been steadily gaining popularity among Southeast Asia backpackers as the country has begun opening up to tourism. But should you visit Myanmar given the mistreatment of people in the Rakhine Province? It’s really up to you to decide.
3. Explore Oman From North to South
Glitzy United Arab Emirates’ low-key cousin. While the UAE is famous for the grandiose, Oman will wow with its natural wonders and more down-to-earthness. It’s easy to see why Oman is the pearl of the Arabian with its stunning beaches, mountain trekking, wadis filled with crystal clear turquoise water, ancient fortresses, and kind locals.
Why visit Oman in 2020?
The cats outta the bag about Oman and more people are headed there, but it’s still relatively uncrowded compared to its well-known neighbor. Get a rental car and grab a tent as Oman is a perfect camping destination from October to April.
- One Week in Oman Road Trip Itinerary
- The Ultimate Oman Travel Guide
- 11 Best Adventures in Oman
- Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Bimmah Sinkhole
- What It Was Like To Camp In The Wahiba Sands
- The Ultimate Guide To Wadi Shab
4. See Why Iran is Where it’s At
Iran is still not on the radar for many travelers even though it has a reputation of being extremely welcoming and inexpensive (well, inexpensive for those that are not US, UK, or Canadian passport holders that are required to have a guide at all times).
Travel in Iran can be a truly rewarding experience for those that make the venture into the country. With natural wonders, over-the-top architecture, and tasty cuisine, it’s no wonder more and more people are heading to Iran.
Why go to Iran in 2020?
People are beginning to see the other side not portrayed in the media and have taken notice. More tours than ever are being offered in the country and interest by travelers is gaining.
- Iran Itinerary for Independent Travelers
- How to get an Iranian Visa
- How Much does it Cost to Backpack Iran?
- Solo Female Travel in Iran
- A Guide to Iran’s Rainbow Island of Hormuz
- How to get to Kandovan
- Afghanistan-Iran Border Crossing at Islam Qala
- Iran-Iraq Border Crossing at Haji Omaran
- A Day Trip To The Kaluts
- Tabriz Travel Guide + 9 Things To Do
- Two Day Tehran Itinerary + 13 Things To Do
- Esfahan Travel Guide + 19 Things To Do
- Shiraz Travel Guide + 15 Things To Do
- Kashan Travel Guide + 5 Things To Do
- Visiting The Pink Maharloo Lake
- A Perfect Two Day Yazd Itinerary
5. Road Trip Armenia & Nagorno-Karabakh
Steeped in history, littered with views of snow-capped peaks, the jumping-off point into the fascinating Nagorno-Karabakh, a foodie paradise, and straddling the bounds of Europe and Asia. Armenia wowed me from the second I stepped off the marshrutka in Yerevan knowing next to nothing about the compact Caucuses nation.
Why go to Armenia in 2020?
Why not? Armenia has it all! Mountain trekking, beach lazing lakeside, a great arts & music scene, delicious fresh food, endless camping opportunities, and lovely people are just a few reasons. And let’s not forget, Armenia is a dirt-cheap backpacking destination- get there before everyone else finds out.
6. Visit Little Known Koh Phayam & Little Koh Chang, Thailand
Thailand is a well-known tourist destination the world over, with some islands having become so overtaken by tourism the Thai government has decided to shut them down to rehabilitate.
Wanting to get out to some Thai islands that many don’t even know exist? Koh Phayam and it’s even more remote neighbor of Koh Chang (referred commonly to as Little Koh Chang to differentiate between it and the more well known Koh Chang) just a short speedboat away from Ranong are a great alternative.
Koh Phayam has no cars- only walking paths and motorbike taxis and rentals to zip around to the island’s highlights which include quiet beaches and roaming around between cashew trees. Koh Chang is even a little further removed where you can’t expect electricity 24 hours a day and not much more to do than to enjoy the tranquility.
Check out Koh Phayam accommodations here.
Why go to Koh Phayam & Koh Chang Noi in 2020?
Thailand is the quintessential backpacker’s Mecca and an all-time traveler’s favorite. With that said, you can expect crowds on its well-known islands and cultural sites. If you’re looking to get some quiet downtime Koh Phayam and Koh Chang Noi are a great choice.
7. Jungle Treks and Wildlife in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Sarawak has got to be one of the easiest regions of Borneo to visit. Daily flights from Kuala Lumpur connect Kuching to peninsular Malaysia as well as international flights to Singapore.
If you want a taste of Borneo without spending lots of money, and want an easy DIY style trip head to Bako National Park, just an hour away from Kuching.
Shop hotels & hostels in Kuching.
Why go to Sarawak in 2020?
Sarawak really is the gateway to Borneo, and as it becomes better connected has seen a lot more interest. Get there while it’s still a quiet nature-lover’s paradise.
8. Be awestruck in the Hunza Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Most people are put off by the idea of Pakistan from what they’ve seen in western media. While Pakistan does have some regions that are unstable, certain areas have fared well and are welcoming in tourists with open arms.
Meet Pakistan’s northern state of Gilgit-Baltistan. Travel along one of the highest and most exhilarating road trips in the world- the Karakoram Highway, meet people living in traditional ways with little modern influences, and hike around a heavenly slice of the earth in the fabled Hunza Valley.
Why visit Gilgit-Baltistan in 2020?
The beauty of Gilgit-Baltistan is out of this world, and with it being so off the beaten path you don’t have to contend with as many selfie sticks as you may in the Swiss Alps. If planning a visit to the region this summer, try to coordinate it with the Passion for Polo Tournament. It’s held in early July between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit on the world’s highest polo grounds.
If you’re looking to take a winter trip, look into visiting Chitral’s Kalash villages during the Chawmos festivities in December.
- Gilgit-Baltistan Travel Guide
- 12 Stunning Photos from Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan
- Crossing Khunjerab Pass Between Pakistan & China
9. Take a Bike Ride Around Kawaguchiko, Japan
This isn’t the most well-kept secret. Lake Kawaguchi sits a mere 1 hour by bus or train from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Kawaguchiko makes for a great day trip or even overnight trip from Tokyo to get a taste of Japanese life outside the cities.
Make sure and rent a bike out here to cruise around the lake and take in the distant views of Mt. Fuji.
Wanna escape the bustle of Tokyo for a night or two? Check out accommodations in Kawaguchiko.
Why go to Kawaguchiko in 2020?
Japan has long been a popular destination for international travelers. But even under that premise, it’s still possible to get away from the hoards of tourists in even one of the more densely populated places on earth. Kawaguchiko is the perfect juxtaposition to hectic Tokyo.
10. Jungle Trekking in Hsipaw, Myanmar
A great way to experience Shan culture authentically, try wild plants and mushrooms that grow in the jungle and spend the night in a treehouse. Hsipaw really has it all for those wanting some insight into the Shan people’s lives as they sample the many different cultures within Myanmar.
And don’t miss out– the train between Hsipaw and Pwin Oo Lwin goes over the Gokteik Viaduct.
On my 2018 trip to Myanmar we booked our Hsipaw jungle trek with Mr. Bike, who I completely 100% recommend from our experience.
Shop Hsipaw accommodations.
Why go to Hsipaw in 2020?
Hsipaw is still pretty quiet and sleepy. We didn’t even run into another trekking group on our journey. More and more adventurous types are heading to Myanmar and Hsipaw is piquing many interests.
11. See the Other Side in Northern Cyprus
Did you know that Cyprus technically sits in Asia? Geographically speaking, that is. But Cyprus is a fairly complicated island.
The Southern half of Cyprus is governed as its own country and a member of the EU. The northern half of Cyprus was invaded by Turkey in 1974 resulting in the partition of the island and Northern Cyprus then being unofficially governed as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The issue has never come to a formal resolution, but with that said, both halves of Cyprus are now perfectly safe to visit.
But here’s the thing: very few tourists visit Northern Cyprus. Imagine empty beaches, adorable Mediterranean towns & villages, wild donkeys roaming freely, and ancient fortress & castle ruins.
Why go Cyprus in 2020?
Cyprus is a pretty well-known Mediterranean destination, but with a little bit of effort, you can see a whole different side of the island and its culture. Plus Cypriots are some of the kindest people I’ve come across.
12. Uzbekistan’s Silk Road Wonders
If you love history and seeing the conquests of several of Europe and Asia’s most ruthless leaders over time and want to see the Silk Road alive and well- head to Uzbekistan. From desert castles that guarded ancient Khorezm without another soul around in the west to beautifully tiled madrasas and mosques in Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara Uzbekistan will constantly have you amazed.
Why go to Uzbekistan in 2020?
Uzbekistan is attempting to open up to tourism more and more. In 2019 Uzbekistan started letting a number of nationalities enter visa-free or on an e-visa, simplifying the process and making it a helluva lot cheaper. Another great piece of news was in 2018 the Tashkent Metro was declassified as a military installation and photography is now allowed in its ornate stations.
But, Uzbekistan has gotten quite popular and I think it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the Morocco of Central Asia, with every other dress twirling “influencer” clogging up the famed sites, in fact, they’ve already begun to descend on Uzbekistan, en mass.
- Uzbekistan Travel Guide
- Tashkent Travel Guide + 15 Things To Do In Tashkent
- 7 Tips for Solo Female Travel in Uzbekistan
- Tashkent Metro in Photos & Guide
- Khiva Travel Guide + 13 Thigns To Do In Khiva
- Two Weeks in Uzbekistan, a Backpacking Itinerary
- Bukhara Travel Guide + 19 Things To Do In Bukhara
- 30 Best Things to do in Uzbekistan
- Karakalpakstan Travel Guide
- Samarkand City Guide
13. Explore Pint-Sized Sri Lanka
Finally calling an end to the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, the country is picking up the pieces and healing its longtime scars. Sri Lanka is starting to boom as a tourism destination, but head north and you can still find places well off the tourist track. Not to mention, backpacking in Sri Lanka is crazy cheap- whether you’re looking to hire a car and driver and make a custom itinerary for $50 per day, or are going to get by on a shoestring budget of a few dollars per day Sri Lanka can cater to almost any type of traveler.
Why go to Sri Lanka in 2020?
Rainforest & beaches, tea plantations and 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites all jammed onto one small island are reason enough to head to Sri Lanka before mass tourism gets a foothold.
14. Deserts, Yurt Camps & Nomadic Life in Mongolia
Nomadic culture, reindeer herding, yurts, magical night skies, and the famed Gobi Desert are just a few highlights coming out of Mongolia. And with the ability to camp throughout the country it’s easily gaining traction in the backpacker world.
Why go to Mongolia in 2020?
Mongolia will leave you with the feeling of having it all to yourself as it’s one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Try to coordinate with the Nadaam Festival which will be held in July to watch the 3 games of men- horse racing, Mongolian wrestling, and archery.
15. Discover Lombok, Indonesia
Everyone heads to the beaming star next door, Bali. But just a short distance east sits Lombok, an island said to appear as Bali did 30 years ago. With relatively empty beaches and the chance to climb Mt. Rinjani- an active volcano, Lombok can feed the needs of both the beach bum and the adventurous soul.
Why go to Lombok in 2020?
Lombok has been gaining traction as an Indonesian hotspot. Parts of the island are still pretty untouched.
16. Explore the Wine, History & Mountains of Georgia
Another Caucasus gem on the list. Much like its neighbor Armenia, Georgia has a rich history, stunning mountains, and is budget travel friendly. Oh, and let’s not forget Khachapuri- this cheesy gooey Georgian delight is a must-try (please don’t plan to lose weight on this trip!). And wine! All the glorious Georgian wines! Georgia has an incredibly long winemaking history, and trust me, they have it down. Georgian wine is good and even better? It’s pretty inexpensive.
Why go to Georgia in 2020?
Word is spreading about the wonders of Georgia and the Caucasus region. Get in on it before the tour buses start lining up!
17. Where the Mountains Meet the Sky in Beautiful Tajikistan
If you frequent this blog then you probably have read a thing or two about Tajikistan. Tajikistan is quintessential off the beaten path Asia, with world-class trekking available in the Fann Mountains to the wild adventures awaiting you on the Pamir Highway in the Gorno-Badakshan Province, Tajikistan will surely not disappoint. The country really encompasses the best of Central Asia’s nature and fascinating cultures.
Why go to Tajikistan in 2020?
Tajikistan is far from becoming an overcrowded tourist destination. But with that said, travel is becoming easier each and every year with more of the country becoming accessible. In 2016 Tajikistan introduced an e-visa for most western tourists.
Make sure and try to plan your visit to coordinate with the Roof of the World Regatta on Lake Karakul in late July, the Roof of the World Festival also in late July in Khorog to celebrate Pamiri traditions, or the At-Chabysh Festival on July 27 in Murghab that is centered around traditional Kyrgyz horse races and games.
Want to explore Tajikistan? I’ve written extensively on the country check out all my Tajikistan posts here.
- The Ultimate Tajikistan Travel Guide
- Fann Mountians Trekking Guide
- The Ultimate Guide to the Pamir Highway
18. Explore Above and Below the Surface of Palau
World class diving, scenic flights, Polynesian culture and epic Pacific remoteness? Meet Palau.
While Palau doesn’t technically sit on the Asian continent, it sits about halfway between the Philippines and the island of Papua at the crossroads of Asia and Polynesia.
Palau is still well off the tourist trail and travel here doesn’t come cheap. Your best bet for reaching the tiny island nation is to combine it with a trip to Guam or the Philippines. But don’t sweat it- backpacker-style niceties are beginning to crop up in Palau.
Want to save lots on accommodations in Koror? Book a room at Ms. Pinetrees Hostel. It’s where I stayed and I can’t recommend it enough. You can also meet other travelers to split the costs of adventures with here.
Why go to Palau in 2020?
Palau is still a relatively new country- only officially gaining its independence from the US in 1994 and having been under the control of the Philippines, Germany, and Japan throughout its history. Cheaper flights are starting to turn up and even a hostel in Koror, as well as Peleliu, have arrived.
19. Explore Iraqi Kurdistan’s Mountains & Epic Hospitality
First, they told me the Tajiks were the most hospitable people in the world, then I was led on to the Iranians, and then finally I came to Iraqi Kurdistan where hospitality goes beyond anything you’d imagine. Couple that with Iraqi Kurdistan’s dramatic mountain sceneries and you’ve got a recipe for one of the best trips you’ll ever take.
Why go to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2020?
Don’t freak out, Iraqi Kurdistan is under the control of its own regional government and at the time being is relatively safe for travel.
- A Quick Guide to Iraqi Kurdistan Travel
- 10 Day Iraqi Kurdistan Itinerary
- Solo Female Travel in Iraqi Kurdistan
- Iran-Iraq Border Crossing at Haji Omaran
- Erbil Travel Guide
- How to Visit Dore Canyon
- Visiting Rabban Hormizd Monastery in Alqosh
- The Yazidi Temples of Lalish
- How to get to Gomi Felaw
- Visiting the Ancient Assyrian City of Amedi
20. Check Out The Varying Landscapes of Kazakhstan
Despite Kazakhstan’s massive size, coming in at the 9th largest country in the world- most of the country is comprised of the barren steppe. But don’t let that put you off, the country does boast a plethora of different landscapes in certain regions.
One of the most famous being the southeastern region around Almaty. Within a short distance, you can see a bustling city, desert canyons, mountain lakes, and more.
Why go to Kazakhstan in 2020?
Kazakhstan is becoming well-known, and not just for the home of (fictional) Borat. Not to worry though, Kazakhstan is massive enough you feel like you have large areas to yourself.
- Kazakhstan Travel Guide
- 32 Photos that will put Kazakhstan on your Bucketlist
- The Best Things to do in Almaty
- A Tour Through The Almaty Metro Stations
- How to get to Charyn Canyon
- How to get to Big Almaty Lake
- How to get to Kaindy & Kolsai Lakes
- Karkara Border Crossing Between Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan
Want more off the beaten path Asia?
You’ve come to the right website. Not only is Asia my favorite continent, but getting off the beaten path just about anywhere in the world is my absolute favorite! Click here to read more of blog posts from Asia.