Don’t Leave Asia Without Trying These 16 Activities

These quintessential travel experiences are well worth doing a second (or third) time around. And for those you haven’t tried yet, why not tick them off your bucket list this year?

Balloons at sunrise over Bagan.

1. Ballooning over Bagan
The best way to grasp the immense scale of Bagan—a trove of 2,000-plus ninth-century Buddhist monuments on the banks of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River—is from above. Hot-air balloons glide over red-brick temples and gilded stupas; when you book with Balloons Over Bagan you’ll be met with flutes of champagne upon landing.

2. Camping out in the Steppes
Nothing says the great outdoors quite like the vast grasslands of Mongolia, where overnighting in a ger is, well, de rigueur. The round, felt-covered tents have been an iconic part of Mongolian nomadic culture for centuries, and today can be experienced at far-flung homestays and more upscale camps like Jalman Meadows, best booked through veteran outfitter Nomadic Journeys.

Angkor Wat at sunset.

3. Temple-hopping at Angkor
More than two million people visit Angkor Wat annually to watch the sun rise over the world’s largest religious monument. Avoid the crowds and explore Angkor’s lesser-visited sites on a cycle tour, with a side-trip to the Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum to ogle a two-meter sandstone statue unearthed by archaeologists last year.

4. Cruising the Irrawaddy
Take a leisurely look at life along the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar’s longest waterway, aboard Belmond’s beautiful teak-cabined river cruiser The Road to Mandalay. The trip between Bagan and Mandalay includes temple tours, market visits, and such on-board diversions as sunrise yoga, cooking classes, and history lectures.

At Ranthambore in Rajasthan, the 68 resident Bengals include a number of playful cubs. Photo: India Tourism.

5. On Safari in India
India is home to nearly half of the world’s wild tiger population, with about 2,000 of the big cats spread across its national parks. At Ranthambore in Rajasthan, the 68 resident Bengals include a number of playful cubs spotted here in recent months; base yourself at a plush tented camp like Aman-i-Khas or Oberoi Vanyavilas and expect your naturalist-led safaris to also include sightings of leopards, sloth bears, nilgai, and striped hyena.

6. Driving the Great Ocean Road
From ancient rain forest to banging surf breaks, the Great Ocean Road in the Australian state of Victoria is one of the world’s most epic stretches of asphalt. Southwest of Melbourne, the National Heritage–listed 240-kilometer route from Torquay to Allansford takes you past celebrated attractions including Bells Beach and the Twelve Apostles, with plenty of noteworthy restaurants, cafés, and lodges along the way.

The Eastern & Oriental Express.

7. Riding the E&O
When the journey is as important as the destination, the only way to explore Southeast Asia between Bangkok and Singapore is aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express. The luxurious carriages marry the glamour of golden-age train travel with flavors of the Orient, not least through pop-up culinary experiences featuring Aussie chef Luke Mangan and Thai culinary star Ian Kittichai, taking over the galley in March and November respectively.

8. Swimming with Mantas
Every year between May and November, thousands of manta rays pass through the Maldives’ Hanifaru Bay on their annual migration, joining whale sharks attracted to this UNESCO-protected marine biosphere to feed on plankton. Book the Ocean Discovery package at Anantara Kihavah for the chance to snorkel with these incredible creatures in their watery playground on the resort’s doorstep.

The stupas and bas-reliefs of Borobudur in Central Java are a stunning backdrop for Waisak processions.

9. Following a Buddhist Pilgrimage to Borobudur
Join saffron-robed monks in Indonesia at the world’s largest Buddhist monument on Waisak Day (May 29), the full-moon celebration of the sage’s birth, death, and enlightenment. The stupas and bas-reliefs of Borobudur in Central Java are a stunning backdrop for Waisak processions, which see pilgrims meditate, chant sutras, and release glowing lanterns into the sky.

10. Island-hopping in Thailand
Koh Tapu (James Bond Island) and the stilted fishing village of Koh Panyee are among the highlights of any cruise around the immense limestone peaks that dot southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay. You won’t want the dreamy scenery to end, and thanks to the new safari tents at 9 Hornbills on Koh Yao Noi, it doesn’t have to.

Kinabalu’s 4,095-meter summit.

11. Climbing Mount Kinabalu
Malaysia’s highest point is also among the world’s most important biological sites, with the surrounding Sabahan jungle home to an estimated 6,000 plant species, 320 different types of birds, and 100 mammal species. You’ll see many along the new 1.1-kilometer Kota Belud Trail to Kinabalu’s 4,095-meter summit, one of two scenic routes opened here in recent years.

12. Going Wild with Orangutans

Nothing can quite describe the excitement of seeing the jungle rustle and an orangutan appear. Increase your chances of spotting one of these critically endangered primates at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah’s Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, where more than 200 orphaned and injured apes are nursed before returning to the wild.

A ski plane on New Zealand’s Tasman Glacier.

13. Gliding onto a Glacier
There are plenty of breathtaking experiences to be had on New Zealand’s South Island, not least the bird’s-eye perspective of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park offered by Mount Cook Ski Planes. A 35-minute flight will see you swoop over the Hochstetter Icefall and land on the ancient ice of the Tasman Glacier, the largest of its kind in the country.

14. Cruising Halong Bay
Few experiences are as romantic as sliding past the karst outcrops of Vietnam’s World Heritage-listed Halong Bay aboard a traditional junk. Do it in style on a Heritage Line cruise: the company’s two luxurious boats in the bay will this year be joined by Ginger, launching with 12 teak suites, a spa, and a rooftop pool.

Come October, Tsukiji market will finally relocate to a new waterfront location southeast of the city.

15. Seafood Spotting at Tsukiji
For decades, bleary-eyed travelers have risen before dawn to attend the 5 a.m. tuna auctions at the world’s largest and busiest fish market. If you haven’t ticked this classic Tokyo experience off your list yet, now might be the time: come October, the market, which has been operating here since the 1930s, will finally relocate to a new waterfront location southeast of the city.

16. Walking the Great Wall
No visit to China is complete without wandering the Great Wall, which stretches 21,000 kilometers across the country’s north. Within easy reach of Beijing is Mutianyu, the longest fully restored section open to tourists and dotted with 22 watchtowers. New restaurants, cafés, and boutique lodges—like eco-conscious Brickyard—at the base make it easy to linger.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“100 Essential Experiences”).

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