Asia Travel Bucket List

By Lynn Yen 2024-06-13 11:02:34

The must visit locales to jet off to.

For expats living in Shanghai, the travel opportunities are amazing. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to holiday and sightseeing destinations across the region. Make the most of your time living in Asia by writing a bucket list of all the exotic locales you want to visit while you’re in this corner of the world.

Shanghai is blessed to be a transportation hub with many flight options to international cities taking off at all hours of the day. And with the city’s prime positioning, all it takes is a quick hop, skip, and a jump and you’ve touched down in an exciting new place ready to explore. Plus, you don’t have to worry about jet lag!

There is something for everyone. People whose ideal vacation is lying on the beach in a tropical paradise can visit all the seaside getaways that Asia offers. For people who are culture vultures, and love exploring the must-see tourist sites, there are rich cultural hubs in each location to take in. It is hard to narrow all the unique locales down to just a few, but here are a few destinations that are worthy of a spot on your Asia travel bucket list.





An international cultural powerhouse, Japan has so much to offer, and it’s all just a quick 3-hour flight from Shanghai.

Some great times of the year to visit Japan include the winter for skiing and snowboarding in Hokkaido, Japan’s North main island, and the springtime for cherry blossoms blooming across the country.

For snow aficionados, Hokkaido is the place to go. Blessed with high-altitude snow peaks, and generous snowfall, Hokkaido is a top destination for skiing, snowboarding, and more. The best time for winter snow sports in Japan is November through March, with January cited as the holy grail for fresh powder. The most popular mountain resorts to visit are Rusutsu, Furano, and Niseko.



There are many transport options to get to your ski resort destination. Taking Niseko as an example, you can fly into Hokkaido’s International New Chitose Airport. From the airport, there are extensive bus, train, and car options to take you on your final leg of the journey.

While you are in Hokkaido in the cold winter, book in a trip to warm up in a hot spring or onsen. The Japanese onsen bathhouse has a rich history and culture. Many hotels near the ski resorts will have an onsen.Additionally, the nearby Noboribetsu Onsen sources its water from Hokkaido’s Hell Valley and is located about an hour’s drive from Rusutsu and Niseko.



If the snow and cold temperatures aren’t for you, there is also the magical spring cherry blossom season in Japan. The unofficial national flower, Sakura or cherry blossom, can be seen all throughout the country, with peak blooms occurring around early April. However, the blooms are getting earlier due to the warming of climate change. Search for the latest forecast bloom predictions online for different parts of the country to make sure you are there during the optimal time.



Of course, if you are going to Japan, there is delicious world-renowned cuisine that should not be missed: Kobe beef, sushi, ramen, curry, yakitori, mochi. There are too many to list. Even the convenience stores in Japan like Lawson are known for their culinary prowess. Just bring your wallet and an empty stomach.



During your visit, it is good to keep in mind that Japanese society is known for being polite and orderly. Recently a town near Mt. Fuji, put up a screen to block the picturesque mountain view because of unruly tourists. So while being a tourist and guest in the country, make sure to be on your best behavior.






Mongolia, our neighbor to the North, is the perfect travel destination to immerse yourself in nature and experience a whole new culture.

One of the must-see attractions is the vast, arid Gobi Desert that spans the south of Mongolia and into North Central China. This cold desert of picturesque sand dunes and grasslands is the 7th largest desert in the world. The temperature here can shift drastically with the coldest average temperatures in winter reaching -40 degrees Celsius and inversely soaring in the summer to over 40 degrees Celsius. With the big day and night temperature shifts, the best time of the year to visit the Gobi is during the moderate weather of May or September.


(Photo: Three Camel Lounge)


There are many travel companies like Three Camel Lodge and Mongolian Luxury Tours that offer traditional accommodation in a luxury Mongolian yurt or ger in the desert. They also provide planned activities and excursions in the Gobi and other noteworthy sites across Mongolia.

Some important cultural events to plan your trip around include the Naadam Summer Festival held in July and the Golden Eagle Festival occurring in October.


(Photo: Mongolian Luxury Tours)


Naadam is Mongolia’s biggest celebration of the year. It is a national festival celebrated across the country starting on July 11 and has its roots in the nomadic culture of the Mongols. Participants compete in three traditional games of horseracing, wrestling, and archery. The biggest event takes place in the capital city Ulaanbaatar’s National Stadium, although every town and city across Mongolia holds its own Naadam. Tickets for foreigners to the festival in Ulaanbaatar are difficult to purchase on your own but are available through various tour companies.



Another major cultural event each year in Mongolia is the start of the eagle hunting season in the fall. The main Golden Eagle Festival is held during the first weekend in October in Bayan-Ulgii province in far western Mongolia. Getting there is most convenient with a flight from Ulaanbaatar. The Golden Eagle Festival is a Kazakh tradition where horse-riding eagle hunters compete in trials with their trained golden eagles. The festival is depicted in the documentary “The Eagle Huntress,” which follows a 13-year-old girl as she trains to become the first female hunter in her family. During the competition, prizes are awarded for speed, agility, accuracy, and best traditional Kazakh dress. It is best to arrange travel well ahead of time with a tour company as local accommodation and flights are limited.




Bail, Indonesia


A seven-hour flight from Shanghai will take you to the beautiful tropical paradise of Bali. It is a must-visit for its stunning vistas, rich culture, and welcoming people. Bali, a province in Indonesia, has always attracted foreign visitors from vacationers, digital nomads, surfers, and spiritual wanderers. This place embodies the slow-paced, laid-back island lifestyle.

Yoga, meditation retreats, diving, snorkeling, and surfing are among the popular activities to do while in Bali. The best time to visit is during the dry season that runs from May to September, although year-round warm water temperatures make even the rainy season enjoyable.



As far as transportation goes, renting a scooter has for a long time been the best and most convenient way to get around Bali, but last year saw rules introduced by the government aimed to limit foreigners from renting scooters to curb unwanted unruly behavior.

Since the popular book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and the subsequent movie starring Julia Roberts captured the spirituality of the island’s culture, many travelers venture to Bali for soul searching and healing. Balinese Hinduism is practiced on the island making Bali a perfect place to go to for a spiritual retreat, with many health, wellness, meditation, and yoga retreats offered throughout the year, along with temples and Balinese healers.



Visit the city of Ubud, an hour and a half drive inland from the coast. Nestled among rice paddies and ravines, Ubud boasts art, tradition, and culture. The Ubud Art Market is a great place to buy a souvenir of your trip with vendors selling silk scarves, woven bags, and handmade crafts. Bargaining the price down is custom here, so brush up on your skills. The market is open daily and is situated just opposite the Royal Palace.



While you’re in the area, you can stop by the village of Padangtegal for the Sacred Monkey Forest or the Ubud Monkey Forest which houses around 700 Balinese long-tailed macaque monkeys, 186 species of trees including a century-old banyan tree, and three temples among its 30.8 acres of forest. Keep in mind, the monkeys are used to humans wandering their home so they can be aggressive and get into some serious monkey business.






Thailand, the Land of Smiles, has earned its place as one of the most popular tourist destinations for a reason with the stunning beaches and island paradises, the delicious food, the mystical temples, and the lush rain forests. With affordable plane tickets, visa-friendly policies, and a beneficial currency exchange rate with the Chinese Yuan, it is no wonder that Thailand makes the bucket list.



Great places to visit while traveling to Thailand include the lively beaches of Phuket, the tranquil resorts of Koh Samui, the cultural capital of Bangkok, and the mystical mountains of Chiang Mai. The best time to visit is usually around December to March when the temperature is lower and the rains are less.



Up north you have Chiang Mai, the Lanna Kingdom’s ancient capital. Here it is a great opportunity to spend time with an Asian elephant, a symbol of the country. Many ethical elephant sanctuaries can be found all around Thailand. Elephant Nature Park, which is located about two hours north of Chiang Mai, offers long-stay volunteering, overnight, full-day, and half-day stays. Visitors to sanctuaries are typically able to help feed and bathe the elephants.



The bustling capital of Bangkok is home to stunning temples, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya Historical Park, located an hour’s drive away. (on the cover)



For a beach getaway, head south to Phuket Island on the western Andaman Sea or Koh Samui on the eastern Gulf of Thailand. Thailand’s beaches are tropical paradises that attract many foreign tourists. Koh Samui is even the setting for the upcoming season of The White Lotus which is set in idyllic resort getaways around the world. When comparing the two islands, Phuket is larger with more lively beaches and activities on offer and is a better choice for surfing, while Koh Samui is more relaxed with prime diving and snorkeling spots.

Wherever you go in Thailand, you are sure to leave with a desire to come back and explore even more.






Travel through Malaysia by rail aboard the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express sleeper train. This immersive, slow-paced form of travel is excellent for fully taking in all the sights that Malaysia has to offer. The Eastern & Oriental Express first started operating in Southeast Asia in 1993 when it shuttled travelers between Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand.

Now in early 2024, the Eastern & Oriental Express, operated by the English luxury travel group Belmond, has returned to the tracks and is again welcoming guests to explore Malaysia by train. The updated train routes are amended from the pre-pandemic journey, this time by omitting Thailand from the itinerary. Instead, the new routes take off from Singapore and run through some of Malaysia’s most popular destinations before returning back to Singapore.



Riders have an option between two regular 3-night routes. The Wild Malaysia trip takes guests into the lush tropical rainforests of Taman Negara National Park. There, guests can go on planned excursions including photography, learning about the flora and fauna, and supporting the endangered Malayan tiger. The next stop on the journey is a cultural adventure in Penang exploring the state capital George Town’s Old Quarter and discovering local Peranakan culture and cuisine.

For travelers preferring a beach retreat, the Essence of Malaysia itinerary travels up Malaysia’s West Coast and makes the most of the country’s beautiful beach coastlines with a visit to Langkawi’s Pulau Payar Marine Park for planned activities like paddleboarding, snorkeling, and barbeque. This Essence of Malaysia train route also includes the cultural excursion to Penang’ George Town before returning to Singapore.


(Photo: Eastern & Oriental Express)


Also in December, the Eastern & Oriental Express will get a festive makeover for two special holiday trips planned around Christmas and New Year that take travelers up the West Coast of Malaysia.

On board, the Eastern & Oriental Express’s luxury restaurant serves a menu of modern Peranakan food that is a mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian ingredients. The lushly decorated and redesigned sleeper cars are split into three categories: Pullman, State, and Presidential, and each comes with a private bathroom. After exploring and adventuring during the day, guests return to the train in the evening for a four-course meal and nighttime entertainment in the Piano Bar Car.

This romantic and nostalgic journey by train is a bucket list trip of a lifetime. Prices start from US$3,410 per person for the 3-day trip inclusive of meals, activities, and entertainment. For dates and booking your trip, visit their website.