Asia

Top places to go in Asia in 2023

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  • Ayutthaya, Thailand
  • Bangladesh
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Madhya Pradesh, India
  • Palawan, Philippines
  • Si Phan Don, Laos
    • Ayutthaya, Thailand
    • Bangladesh
    • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    • Madhya Pradesh, India
    • Palawan, Philippines
    • Si Phan Don, Laos

    Ayutthaya

    Thailand

    Just north of Bangkok, this storied cradle of Thai civilization offers some of the most splendid architecture in all the nation.

    The Kingdom of Thailand is no stranger to historic settlements packed with centuries-old temples, but Ayutthaya—or Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, in full—just might be the most important example in all of the nation. Once one of the largest cities on earth, the Ayutthaya of yore spent centuries as the capital of the sprawling Ayutthaya Kingdom, a predecessor to modern-day Thailand. This powerful state existed from the 1300s until its destruction at the behest of the neighboring Konbaung dynasty in 1767, and in spite of its violent demise, the contemporary Ayutthaya is rife with spectacularly-ornate structures that have stood the test of time.

    Ayutthaya’s most marvelous attractions are centered around the Ayutthaya Historical Park, a district that earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991. The largest temple in the complex—known as Wat Phra Si Sanphet—consists of three elaborate chedis, and even housed a 52-foot-tall gilded Buddha statue that was destroyed during the Burmese invasion of 1767. While other structures like the verdant Bueng Phra Ram Park and massive Wat Chaiwatthanaram are perfect to experience during daylight hours, the evening brings the opportunity to visit the Ayutthaya Night Market, a bustling commerce hub that’s full of flavorful Thai cuisine.

    In spite of its old age, Ayutthaya is rife with a wealth of modern accommodations scattered all throughout the city. For those who wish to stay in the very heart of the Historical Park, the SALA Ayutthaya Boutique Hotel is a particularly splurge-worthy option, equipped with plush riverside suites and an on-property restaurant with its own outdoor terrace overlooking the water.

    Affordable options abound across Ayutthaya as well, ranging from the night market-adjacent Tamarind Guesthouse to Baan Tye Wang, a charming property with outdoor rain showers, canalside private balconies, and bicycles available for rent.

    Due to its close proximity to the equator, Thailand experiences just three seasons: hot, cool, and wet. The cool season—spanning from November to February—will help you avoid the heaviest rainfall and highest temperatures, but be sure to pack breathable clothing, as Thailand’s cool season can still see high levels of heat.

    Insider Tip

    Seafood lovers take note—Ayutthaya is renowned for its massive river prawns, which are often butterflied and grilled over an open flame with no seasoning added.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Thailand Guide

    Bangladesh

    Bangladesh is a big-things-in-small-packages destination.

    Sprinkled with Mughal and British Raj-era architecture, stuffed with atmospheric bazaars, and famed for its rivers (there are more than 700), Bangladesh is something of a sleeper: plenty worth seeing and savoring but usually overlooked in favor of its behemoth neighbor, India.

    Start in chaotic, cultured Dhaka, visiting the many mosques, palaces, public gardens, and museums. Foodies can take a rickshaw ride down the narrow alleys of Old Dhaka, where street-food vendors whip up a variety of chaats (savory snacks) from their makeshift stalls in a matter of minutes. Try chevon biryani (a rice dish that is loaded with goat’s meat) and borhani (spiced yogurt drink) at Haji Biryani; and succulent kebabs at Bismillah Kabab Ghar. From there, your food odyssey should continue to the iconic Emran’s Heritage Home, which offers only lunch and dinner (prior reservation needed). It is a veritable treasure trove of delectable gems like subdeg (a dish prepared with gamecock) and hilsa (Bangladesh’s national dish). A walk along the Sadarghat riverfront is a bracing remedy to the inevitable food coma that follows.

    Though Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim, Hindu temples and Buddhist viharas (monasteries) are everywhere, offering travelers a chance to tap into the country’s strong spiritual vibe.

    This South Asian country also comes with various forms of nature fixes. Fly northeast to feast your eyes on the rolling tea gardens of Sylhet, and don’t forget to grab the famous seven-layered tea at Adi Nilkantha Tea Cabin in Sreemangal town, a short train ride away. You can also embark on a three- or four-day boat safari through the tiger-stalked swamps of Sundarbans, or take a train ride to the southeast to hike among the forested hills and waterfalls of Chittagong Hill Tracts (add on a wander through the tribal communities of Bandarban and Rangamati). Meanwhile, Cox’s Bazar on the country’s southern edge by the Bay of Bengal—home to the world’s longest unbroken natural beach (a whopping 78 miles)—calls out to be surfed.

    If a glamorous city escape is more your style, check into Le Méridien Dhaka, which has all the bells and whistles of high hospitality: a rooftop infinity pool, six restaurants, rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a tranquil spa. Plus, it’s less than a 15-minute drive away from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Travelers wanting a budget-friendly stay close to the best sites in Dhaka, Sky City Hotel, about a mile and a half away from the historic colonial neighborhood of Ramna, is a good bet.

    For the ultimate secluded getaway surrounded by pristine nature, book a two-story terraced villa at DuSai Resort & Spa in Sreemangal, while travelers with passion for sustainability can opt for Mermaid Eco Resort located close to the beach in Cox’s Bazar.

    November to early March is a fantastic time to travel through Bangladesh as the weather is cool and dry. This is also the time the country is buzzing with festivals and events such as the flamboyant five-day Durga Puja, Dhaka Lit Fest, and Dhaka Art Summit.

    Insider Tip

    The recently opened Padma Bridge has been heralded as an engineering marvel and as the country’s longest rail-road bridge. It would save you much time (about four and a half hours) should you be visiting Dhaka from Kolkata, India, which is one of the common routes for travelers. Bangladesh can also be easily accessed year-round, with new flights on its national carrier Biman Airlines, from Heathrow, Manchester, and Toronto to Dhaka. People should dress modestly, preferably in loose-fitting clothing that covers arms and legs, as a sign of respect for local social mores.

    Ho Chi Minh City

    Vietnam

    History meets modern cosmopolitan in Vietnam’s lively commercial hub.

    The center of Vietnam’s economy and the country’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City’s 24 districts offer plenty to see and eat, from the buzzing District 1 with its cultural attractions to all the street food in District 4.

    Formerly known as Saigon and the “Pearl of the Orient,” Ho Chi Minh City is a gateway to Vietnam’s rich and turbulent history from French colonization to the end of the Vietnam War. Preserved historical sights include the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, a neo-Romanesque and Gothic cathedral built by French colonists in the late 1800s; Cu Chi Tunnels, underground tunnels used by guerrilla troops; and the War Remnants Museum, an often-disturbing look at the atrocities of the decade-long war.

    The city’s skyline is ever-evolving, and though the traffic can be dizzying, there’s no shortage of cafes and watering holes for when you need a break from the buzz. In recent years, Ho Chi Minh City’s burgeoning food and drink scene has begun drawing visitors to stylish rooftop bars and street-side cocktail carts alike. Find European-inflected fine dining and banh mi stalls open late, and experience unparalleled coffee culture in hidden coffee shops–including iced coffee served from vendors’ tricycles. Browse the wares and snacks at Ben Thanh Market, walk along the Saigon River—or take a nighttime cruise for a chance to see the city in a different light.

    New boutique hotels are always opening in Ho Chi Minh City, most recently Fusion Original Saigon Centre, which opened in July of 2022, the first Fusion Original concept from a rapidly-growing Vietnam-based hotel group. The only member of The Leading Hotels of the World, The Reverie Saigon is an opulent and extravagant hotel with a 24-carat gold and emerald Baldi clock, with rooms and pampering service to match its luxury price tag. The rooms offer a view of the city or the river, a deep soaking tub, and heated toilets.

    December to March is the dry season and the temperature is slightly cooler, making it the best time to explore the city.

    Insider Tip

    The Ho Chi Minh City metro is set to open in 2023, but in the meantime Grab and Gojek—Southeast Asia’s answers to Uber—are still the easiest way for travelers to get around. Download either app to hail a ride just like you would use Uber.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Vietnam Guide
    Fodor's Essential Vietnam

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

    Buy the Guidebook

    Madhya Pradesh

    India

    From nature walks and safaris to palace visits and spiritual tours, there is much to discover in this royal, historic Indian state.

    It doesn’t pop up in an Indian itinerary often, and it isn’t as big a crowd-favorite as Goa, Rajasthan, or Kerala, but Madhya Pradesh is a wonderful discovery with surprises every few miles. It is the tiger state of India, with more than 500 tigers at its famed national parks and reserves. Bandhavgarh National Park, Panna National Park, Kanha Tiger Reserve, Pench National Park, and Satpura National Park are spread throughout the state and offer a range of wild activities.

    Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, won’t disappoint you when it comes to food, which has Nawabi influence. Street food is popular in Indore, and the two cities clash over the best way to eat Sehore kachori. The city of Ujjain is a place of religious significance, while the city of Gwalior was once home to many great musicians, and you can learn a lot about Hindustani classical music here.

    This landlocked state is home to masterpieces of architecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khajuraho Temples is one of the main attractions. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, a group of 760 rock shelters with cave paintings dating back 12,000 years.

    With so many rulers leaving behind their footprints, Gwalior Fort, Raisen Fort, Chanderi Fort, and Orchha Fort are also worth visiting. As with many states in India, travelers can stay in palaces once occupied by royalty or that served a royal purpose. Taj Usha Kiran Palace in Gwalior was a royal guesthouse, and Jehan Numa Palace in Bhopal was built by Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum’s son. Ah yes, a fascinating piece of history: the princely state of Bhopal was ruled by four women from 1819-1926: the Nawab Begums of Bhopal are a legend.

    Yearning for meaning? One of the most impressive Buddhist monuments, Sanchi Stupa, is also in Madhya Pradesh. Another secret gem of spiritualism is the 14th-century Chausath Yogini Temple in Mitaoli, which honors 64 yoginis (chausath means 64).

    From boutique stays to five-star palaces to tented accommodations, Madhya Pradesh has a room for every traveler. Lemon Tree will open a new 15-villa property at Kanha National Park next year, while ITC is bringing its trademark hospitality to Jabalpur with 124-room WelcomHotel Jabalpur. Bagh Tola in Bandhavgarh is an unpretentious jungle lodge 15 minutes from the Tala zone of the park. Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board has turned Sheesh Mahal in Orchha, built for King Udait Singh, into an eight-room heritage hotel.

    Winter is the best time to visit Madhya Pradesh, so book your tickets between November and February. The parks open in October after monsoons, and the drop in mercury makes it pleasant to see unshaded historical sights and palaces.

    Insider Tip

    If you want to immerse yourself in the ragas of Hindustani classical music, definitely attend the four-day Tansen Samaroh in Gwalior in December that pays tribute to the revered 16th-century musician Tansen. It is one of the oldest music festivals in India.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's India Guide
    Fodor's Essential India

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

    Buy the Guidebook

    Palawan

    Philippines

    The very definition of eco-luxury, Palawan is one of the Philippines’ most magical islands where underwater worlds meet lush jungles.

    Palawan is the Philippines’ westernmost and largest province; a long thin archipelago comprised of several islands and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. As climate change becomes an even bigger problem in the world, 2023 may be the year to really think about the effect your travel has on our planet and visit more sustainable destinations. The capital and main city in Palawan, Puerto Princesa, was the first carbon-neutral city in South East Asia and is still one of the only few in the region. Not only that, but it is, in fact, carbon-negative. Known as “The City in the Forest,” Puerto Princesa is surrounded by dense trees, and much of it is solar-powered, including the world’s largest solar-powered off-grid shopping mall.

    But of course, the province’s main attractions lie away from the city, along its dazzling coastline, punctuated by dreamy powdery beaches, lagoons, and swathes of jungle. And underneath the waves lie some of the best diving and snorkeling locations on the planet, where underwater coral cities teem with life. One of the main highlights in Palawan is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the longest navigable underground river on Earth at 8.2 kilometers (5.1 miles). Small boats take visitors along the river into the heart of the mountain through the cathedral-like cave system.

    Palawan has many accommodation options, from small-budget beachside shacks to luxurious eco-resorts. In Puerto Princesa, the budget Puerto Pension is a lovely, unique choice where everything is made of traditional rattan and wood. There’s also an outdoor hot tub in the garden. Most people take a day trip to the Underground River from Puerto Princesa, but if you stay overnight, you can’t beat the friendly Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort, where thatched chalets sit right on the seafront. If you’re after true barefoot luxury, book yourself into one of the four exclusive El Nido eco-resorts, some of which are situated on their own private islands.

    Palawan has two separate seasons–wet and dry. The best time to visit is in the dry season between October and May, when you can avoid the heavy monsoon rains. Although this season is also very hot and humid, there are plenty of beaches so you can cool down in the sea.

    Insider Tip

    Just north of the main island–a ferry ride away–lies the island of Coron, home to some spectacular wreck dives in Asia.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Philippines Guide

    Si Phan Don

    Laos

    Retreat to a laid-back island life in landlocked Laos, which boasts the world’s widest waterfall.

    Si Phan Don, or The 4,000 Islands, is a cluster of small islands on the Mekong River in Southern Laos that offers a rare glimpse into a relatively untouched Laotian river life. The area’s main attractions include the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia, Khone Phapheng, the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, and remnants from the French colonial days like the abandoned steam locomotive that is now displayed near the bridge between Don Det and Don Khon, two of the main islands in Si Phan Don.

    One of Si Phan Don’s main draws is that it is an invitation to slow down and relax. Instead of rushing to tourist attractions, bicycle past rice fields, kayak down the Mekong River, and watch the fishermen at work; enjoy a day on the beach, then settle in a hammock by the river with some local rice whisky, lao-lao. Recent developments have resulted in more reliable electricity and internet service and more things to do, including tubing and the Mekong Fly Zipline—running a set of seven zip lines over another powerful waterfall, Li Phi, also called Tat Somphamit.

    Si Phan Don has long been a backpackers’ hub with a slew of guesthouses that start from less than $10 a night, such as Sayyaphone Guesthouse. Sala Done Khone offers a range of lodging from a French colonial villa to floating bungalows with a deck right on the Mekong River. For a more luxurious stay, head up about 60 miles upriver to La Folie Lodge on the island of Don Daeng, with its river-view wooden bungalows and sandy beaches. Be aware that Don Det is known as the backpackers’ party central, so those wanting a quieter stay should stay on one of the other islands.

    Many of the smaller islands are underwater during the rainy season and the remaining roads become muddy for bicycling, so it’s best to travel during the dry season from November to March.

    Insider Tip

    The infrastructure in Si Phan Don is continuously improving, but ATMs are still few and far between, so be sure to take out some cash on the mainland before heading here.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Laos Guide