If you’re curious about the lesser-known corners in the continent, we invite you join in on this journey as we explore the 10 most underrated destinations is Asia.
Comprising nearly 50 different nations, Asia stands out as the largest and most diverse of the world’s 7 continents. While the thought of Asia usually drifts to the far east, towards the lands of Confucianism and Buddhist temples, or to the idyllic atmosphere of Southeast Asia, the truth is that this vast continent is also the birthplace of Hindu culture, the heart of Islam and the home of the never-ending steppes of Central Asia.
Naturally, in such a diverse universe of destinations, cultures and experiences, not all places get equal attention – which is exactly why we’ve created this blog post! That being said, if you’re curious about the lesser-known corners of this continent, we invite you join in on this journey as we explore the 10 most underrated destinations is Asia.
Note: Given its unique position as a natural border between Europe and Asia, we’ve chosen not to include the Caucasus as part of Asia. If it’s good for UEFA, the it’s good for us!
In what is arguably the most touristy and famous region in the continent, we kick things off with one of the least visited countries – along with Brunei – in all of Southeast Asia! Wedged between the extremely popular nations of Thailand and Vietnam, and with the unforgettable Temples of Angkor to the south in Cambodia, Laos continues to go relatively unnoticed by the overwhelming majority of those traveling in this region.
However, the small nation has much to offer, especially to those seeking a calmer experience, away from the hustle and bustle often found in neighboring countries. In addition to Luang Prabang, the cultural capital of the country, and Vientiane, the actual capital, in Laos, you can also go River Tubing in the lively Vang Vieng, and go check out the Kuang Si Waterfalls, the fishing village of Nong Kiau and the archaeological enigma behind the Plain of Jars.
While Central Asia is widely known for its breathtaking landscapes, gigantic mountain peaks and traditional nomadic culture, Uzbekistan shows a completely different side to the region. After all, Uzbekistan is considered the posterchild of the legendary Silk Road, meaning this is where you’ll find some of the most striking monuments from that glorious era!
To explore the most impressive temples, tombs and monuments in the country, you’ll have to visit the historic cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, the latter located near the border with Turkmenistan. However, if you need to catch a break from the fantastic architecture on display in these places, it’s also a good idea to get acquainted with the country in the capital of Tashkent, explore the scenery in the Fergana Valley and witness one of the biggest atrocities ever perpetrated by mankind against nature in the Muynak Ship Cemetery, on the Aral Sea.
Moving on to the Middle East, a region rich in underrated and unexplored countries, we kick off our list of destinations in this part of the globe in Iraq, the heart of Mesopotamia. Having only started issuing tourist visas in 2021, this is one of the countries that has opened up to tourism more recently. A big step forward, now that the security situation is the most stable it’s been over the last 20 years.
A real treat for the most intrepid travelers, as Iraq is filled to the brim with fantastic sites, from the legendary ruins of Babylon to the deliciously chaotic Baghdad. Further north, near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, Mosul and the ruins of Hatra are worth as visit, while in the south of the country, where most prominent sites are concentrated, a visit to Samarra, Karbala and Najaf is essential. However, if I had to name the single, most impressive place in all of Federal Iraq, I’d have to go with the Arab Marshes, one of the most unique spots I’ve ever visited.
Yet another destination whose name alone is enough to scare off most people, the truth is that security in Pakistan has also improved vastly over the past decade. Besides, and despite the enormous cultural differences and the tremendous logistical challenges with transportation and accommodation, few countries offer such a raw and unspoiled natural beauty, boasting deserts, mountains, lakes and some of the highest peaks on Earth.
In fact, as soon as you venture outside the cities, you will immediately come across some of the country’s jaw-dropping landscapes, especially if you choose to visit the likes of the Hunza Valley, Fairy Meadows or the Swat Valley. Be that as it may, Pakistan also offers its fair share of cultural wonders, which can be found in the former Mughal capital of Lahore, in the historic city of Multan, in the crowded quarters of Karachi or at the ancient ruins of Mohenjo-Daro, home to one of the earliest civilizations in the region.
Back in the Middle East, we now bring you one of the fastest-growing destinations in the region. In fact, with Dubai’s meteoric rise as the world’s most visited city and the estimated growth for tourism in Saudi Arabia as part of Vision 2030, it’s quite likely that Oman will end up riding the same wave of its neighbors.
Still, and considering its many attributes, Oman would nonetheless become a cult destination, regardless of the nations it shares borders with. After all, how many countries of similar size do you know that can offer the chance of visiting historical cities and forts (Muscat, Nizwa and the Bahla Fort), spending the night in the desert (Wahiba Sands), watching turtles nest and hatch in their natural habitat (Ras al-Jinz), swimming through caves and valleys (Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid) and discovering fjords as impressive as those of Norway (Musandam Peninsula)? I’ll help you – it’s only Oman!
Considering the recent headlines about the regime’s repression and the constant infringements on women’s rights in the country, Iran shows that a people should never be mistaken for their government. In fact, in the Iranian case, where democracy is little more than a mirage, official authorities are utterly despised by the vast majority of the population. The country has a bad rep and Iranians know it – which is why they always make sure to welcome outsiders with unparalleled hospitality!
Plus, Iran is the cradle of Persian civilization, having played a key-role through some of the most important empires in history. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it houses some of the most fabulous monuments and mosques you’ll have gaze your eyes upon. From the iconic domes of Isfahan to the colorful stained glass of Shiraz, along with the bustling bazaar of Kashan, the enchanting alleys of Yazd, the grand palaces of Tehran or the legendary ruins of Persepolis – the list of places to visit never seems to end (and these are just the country’s most popular destinations)!
Just a quick disclaimer before we head to our next destination: considering the situation the country has been going through over the past 3 years, with an ongoing civil war and a military junta taking over the government, this is the only destination on the list where we do not recommend any travel at the moment. However, in the brief period of peace and stability that oversaw the arrival of tourists (2011-2020), Myanmar seemed poised to become one of the “coolest” destinations in Southeast Asia, and a refreshing alternative to the overwhelming stats of neighboring Thailand.
The tourist boom was short-lived, but the country ended up leaving a mark on those fortunate ones to visit, with most travelers showing their admiration and awe for the mystical landscape of Bagan, the glow of the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo, the floating villages on Inle Lake, the former imperial capital of Mandalay and the Buddhist and colonial monuments of Yangon. A destination to keep an eye on once things are back to normal!
If Uzbekistan is the epitome of Central Asia’s cultural wealth, then Kyrgyzstan holds a similar distinction when it comes to natural diversity. That’s quite the feat, considering the neighboring nations of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan boast pretty impressive natural attractions themselves!
That being said, and beyond being a part of the awe-inspiring Pamir Highway, considered the world’s most beautiful road trip, the land of the Kyrgyz people also offers visitors the chance to explore the Ala-Archa National Park, the extraordinary Issyk Kul Lake and the Naryn region, where you can find a blend of stunning landscapes and a strong nomadic culture. For a more cultural dive into the country, make sure not to miss out on the capital of Bishkek, the Osh Bazaar, the ruins of the Burana Tower or the historic village of Karakol.
The fourth and final middle eastern destination on our list, Lebanon is the country that would probably benefit the most from the foreign currency tourists bring into its territory, especially given the nation is facing one of the most aggressive inflationary spirals in history. Nevertheless, and even if we gloss over any ethical considerations, Lebanon is an extremely fun destination, unanimously considered the most liberal in the entire Muslim world.
Here, you can experience one of the world’s best cuisines and find the best nightlife in all of the Middle East in Beirut, a capital that can be just as charming as it is rough and unforgiving. As for the most common tourist sites, exploring the ruins of Baalbek (among the best in the world) in a must, as is wandering through the historical cities and archaeological sites of Byblos and Tyre, venturing into the Jeita Grotto, navigating the endless chaos of Tripoli and discovering the country’s Christian historical legacy in the monasteries of the Kadisha Valley.
Finally, we cap off our compilation of underrated destinations in Asia with the small island nation of Sri Lanka. Truth be told, this is probably the most popular country on this lust, with tourism growing substantially in 2023. Popular for a reason, right? Well then, Sri Lanka happens to offer the perfect mix of the exotic and natural beauty of Southeast Asia and the strong Indian cultural influence, minus the chaos and the scams.
As for the must-visit places in the country, the hardest part is actually choosing between the ancient royal capital of Kandy, the tea plantations of Ella (the train journey between these two is one of the most beautiful in the world), the colonial charms of Galle, the beaches in Tangalle and Hikkaduwa, the archaeological sites of Anuradhapura, Pollonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the landscapes of Adam’s Peak and the natural parks of Udawalawe, where you can see elephants, and Yala, where you can go on a leopard safari. On second thought, why choose?