So you’ve cruised around Hạ Long Bay in Vietnam, explored Angkor Wat in Cambodia, gazed at the Taj Mahal in India, and walked the Great Wall of China. What’s next? So much more! Asia is an extraordinary continent that is absolutely packed with wonders. From secret beaches to beautiful towns, here are 11 hidden gems in Asia to get you off the beaten track.
1. Kuang Si Falls, Laos
Made up of a series of waterfalls and mesmerising blue water, Kuang Si Falls is one of the most extraordinary hidden gems in Southeast Asia. Snap some spectacular photos, go for a swim in the lower falls, or hike to the top of the falls through the lush jungle. Or simply relax by the tinkling streams and enjoy nature’s masterpiece. Located a one-hour drive from Luang Prabang, this is an unmissable stop for any trip to Laos.
2. Kerala Backwaters, India
The Kerala Backwaters is a place where tall palm trees and lush coconut plantations surround the labyrinth of canals, rivers, lagoons and lakes in southern India. With 900 kilometres of tranquil waterways to explore, you can spend your days floating on a houseboat or soaking up the natural wonders on land. When you travel to Kerala with Trafalgar, we’ll board a traditional houseboat to cruise the iconic backwaters, complete with a morning yoga session.
Watch the village life unfolding on the shoreline, then learn how the locals grow Kerala’s famous spices at the Kumily Spice Garden. Visit the markets and explore the streets of Kumarakom, a peaceful village on the banks of Lake Vembanad, Kerala’s largest lake. And stop by Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park to enjoy nature walks along Periyar, the longest river in Kerala. You’ll even get to experience a traditional Kalarippayattu performance, where trained Kalari warriors display their ancient martial arts techniques.
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3. Yakushima Island, Japan
Set off the coast of Kyushu and Kagoshima Prefecture, this magical island is a natural oasis. This subtropical island is home to some of the oldest trees in Japan, with some spanning over 7,000 years old. You can go trekking through the mountains or take a peaceful walk through Shiratani Unsuikyo, a lush nature park. You can also spot the Yakushima deer, monkeys and other incredible animals around the island. It even inspired Studio Ghibli’s hit anime movie Princess Mononoke.
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4. Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi is one of our favourite hidden gems in Southeast Asia – and for good reason. Located around two hours from bustling Bangkok, you’ll arrive at a tranquil riverside town surrounded by green jungle, waterfalls and historic sites. We’ll take you there to discover the town’s dark history during World War II when Japanese soldiers used Asian labourers and Allied forces’ prisoners of war to build a railroad to Myanmar under horrific conditions. You’ll see the famous Bridge on the River Kwai and visit moving museums and memorials commemorating those who died here. After getting to know the history of the town, stop by the floating restaurants and shops along the river or get into nature to explore the stunning waterfalls and trails around the town.
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5. Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
If you’re looking for hidden beaches in Asia you can’t miss the island of Koh Rong in Cambodia. Located just off the coast of the Sihanoukville Province of Cambodia, it’s a paradise of dense jungle, waterfalls, white sandy beaches, crystal-clear ocean and coral reefs. It’s a haven for anyone who wants to disconnect and spend their days relaxing at the beach. Or get into the action and join the party at the lively beach bars and restaurants.
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6. Ella, Sri Lanka
Packed with adventure, the little town of Ella is one of our top hidden gems in Asia. Take a scenic train ride through the green countryside then relax with a fresh cup of tea from one of the local tea plantations. Lace up your boots for a stunning walk up to Little Adam’s Peak or walk along the railway to find the trail to Ella Rock. Watch the sunset through Ella Gap or explore one of the many waterfalls dotted around the region. Whatever you do, Ella is sure to be one of your favourite places in Sri Lanka.
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7. Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, Vietnam
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Asia, it doesn’t get much more unique than UNESCO-listed Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park in north-central Vietnam. This breathtaking region is home to winding rivers, jungle-clad mountains, and some of the world’s oldest karst mountains and caves, formed over 400 million years ago. It’s even home to Son Doong Cave, the largest cave in the world. You can explore the ancient caves, kayak along rivers, cycle through country lanes, hike through the mountains, or meet the locals in the nearby town. Best of all, Phong Nha is still a well-kept secret amongst travellers… so get there now before everyone else does!
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8. Koh Lipe, Thailand
Looking for the most beautiful hidden beaches in Asia? You can’t go past Koh Lipe, an island paradise surrounded by sugary white beaches and turquoise waters. Set in the South Andaman Sea in the Tarutao National Marine Park, Koh Lipe offers up excellent snorkelling and diving. There are nearby coral reefs brimming with tropical fish and marine life, and there’s even a shipwreck to explore. There’s also plenty of sandy beaches where you can soak up the sun or trails through the jungle-clad hills where you can hike to find some spectacular views over the island.
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9. Wuyuan, China
Located northeast of Jiangxi Province, Wuyuan is part of some of the most stunning countryside in China. It’s home to around 50 ancient villages, with well-preserved architecture dating back 1,000 years to the Tang Dynasty. Bright fields of yellow flowers, forests, mountains and rivers surround the villages, and you can spend days exploring all the natural wonders. Wuyuan is an off-the-beaten-track gem, perfect for escaping the chaotic cities.
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10. Côn Đảo Archipelago, Vietnam
Imagine white sandy beaches, coral reefs and emerald forests all wrapped up into one stunning archipelago… That’s Côn Đảo! Located off the southeast coast of Vietnam, this group of islands were once used as a brutal prison when the French and Americans invaded Vietnam. Today, it’s a tranquil beach paradise. You can spend your days diving and snorkelling in the clear waters, or head to Bảy Cạnh Island, a breeding ground for turtles. You can also see other endangered species in the protected marine park including dolphins, dugong, the hawksbill turtle and the green turtle. Go hiking through the forest to the Bảy Cạnh Lighthouse for spectacular views. Or learn about the history of the island at the infamous Con Dao Prison or the Con Dao Museum, where you’ll find historic documents and photos from the imperialist era.
11. Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
Made up of over 1,500 islands, Raja Ampat is one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Located in West Papua province in Indonesia, you’ll find jungle-clad rocks towering over the emerald waters. As you cruise the islands discovering sandy beaches, hidden caves and secret islets, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another planet. The islands form part of the Coral Triangle over the equator, so they’re also home to some of the most diverse marine life in the world. It’s a truly magical place.
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Where are your favourite hidden gems and beaches in Asia? Let us know in the comments below!