Ten Unknown Towns in Asia You Must Visit Before You Die

The great thing about living in the world’s largest and most populous continent is that there will never be a shortage of varied things to see. But beyond the likes of Taj Mahal, the pulsating city streets of Tokyo and Singapore or the temple ruins of Angkor Wat; there is a treasure trove of less known locales that are just as worthwhile to visit.

If you’re looking for amazing places to visit in Asia but want something less crowded, consider these places. You won’t regret it.

Khiva, Uzbekistan

fantastic view of the skyline of khiva from the minaret

Khiva is akin to a city lifted from the Arabian Nights. A sweeping view of the sand-colored skyline from the Islam Khoja Minaret is all it takes to sink into the charms of this middle-of-nowhere town. During the medieval ages, Khiva was notorious for being hard to get to, which still rings true today. It’s no surprise why it’s still relatively unknown despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of all the silk road cities I visited during my trip to Uzbekistan, Khiva is hands-down my favorite.

How to get there: Khiva is so secluded that it’s a 20-hour car ride from Tashkent, the capital. But if you choose to fly, you can get there in an hour or so.

Kaesong, North Korea

former temple of literature turned into museum in kaesong

When people hear of Kaesong, the first thing that comes to mind is the joint venture facility that South Korea has with the North. Few realize that Kaesong is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a newly-minted one at that!). But then again, I suppose heritage areas would be the last thing the general public would think of when they hear about the DPRK. This being said, if there is a place in North Korea that has tourist old town potential, it’s definitely Kaesong.

How to get there: Usually included as part of the regular North Korea itineraries, provided that the itinerary includes a trip down the DMZ. Kaesong is less than an hour’s drive from there.

Taal Town, Philippines

basilica of st martin of tours in taal, said to be the largest church in asia

A few hours’ drive from Manila, Taal is more known for its namesake volcanic lake than the town immediately south of it. What’s there to see? Well, Taal probably has the finest collection of intact colonial mansions in the Philippines south of Vigan. The church here is also said to be one of the largest in Asia and boasts of a rectangular-shaped facade that’s quite unlike any other. Coming here, there’s also the added benefit of having less crowds – I was in Taal for a day trip in December 2012 and it seemed as if there were no other tourists there at the time.

How to get there: Taal is around a 2.5 hours drive south of Manila. Otherwise by public transport, it’s possible to take a bus from Manila to Lemery (a nearby town) and get further transportation to Taal which is just 9 kilometers away.

Taiping, Malaysia

early morning calmness at the lake gardens of taiping

Taiping, the wettest city in Peninsular Malaysia, is home to one of the country’s most serene sights. The Taiping Lake Gardens is a deserving reason to stop in this town in the state of Perak.  Just a few minutes walk from here, one also finds a choc full of both crumbling and restored colonial architecture, due to Taiping’s tin mining legacy. Today, Taiping is an easygoing if not relatively un-touristed town and a worthwhile stop if you’re transiting to/from Penang.

How to get there: Taiping is about 1.5 hour drive from Penang or 1 hour drive from Ipoh.

Qazvin, Iran

still waters of avan lake in qazvin
By Bahador in Flickr / CC by 2.0

Qazvin, one of Iran’s most picturesque towns due to its location just south of the Alborz Mountains, offers a unique blend of heritage sights as well as jaw-dropping landscapes within just a few kilometers drive. Most people come here to see Alamut Castle as well as Avan Lake (pictured above), an oblong-shaped lake nestled amid alpine-like scenery just an hour’s drive from Qazvin town itself.

How to get there: From Tehran, Qazvin is around 2-hours trip by bus.

Mtskheta, Georgia

winter wonderland in mtskheta

The town with the unpronounceable name, Mtskheta is a fantastic place to visit in Georgia especially during the winter. Compared to many Georgian cities which may still exhibit an impersonal Soviet feel, Mtskheta looks very traditional. The people are friendly and some of the restaurants here serve excellent Georgian dumplings. The churches here are also some of the holiest in the country, with one of them said to contain the crucifixion robes of Jesus Christ. If you’re in Tbilisi anyway, Mtskheta makes for an ideal day trip.

How to get there: Mtshketa is around 40 minute matrushka (minivan) ride from Tbilisi, the capital.

Shirakawa-go, Japan

the houses at shirakawa-go
By Tokyo Times in Flickr / CC by 2.0

Located along the borders of Gifu and Toyama prefectures in Japan, the historic village of Shirakawa-go is another one of those places that seem to have jumped out of a fairy tale. With houses constructed in the “prayer hands” style consisting of thatched and heavily slanting roofs, you’d half expect to see Goldilocks or one of Hans Christian Andersen’s characters inside those cottages.

How to get there: Take a bus or train to Takayama, from where there are buses that will take you direct to Shirakawa-go

Paro, Bhutan

iconic bhutan – the tiger’s nest monastery

There is perhaps no more iconic image of Bhutan than that of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched precariously on a cliff face around 3,100 meters above sea level. Although the image of the structure is well-recognized, the valley and surrounding town on which it sits is not so often known. Paro, the main international gateway to Bhutan and host to many other formidable sights, is definitely a must-see while in the country. The valley is massive (by Bhutan’s mountainous standards) and features richly decorated buildings that are among the most impressive in Bhutan.

How to get there: Paro International Airport, the main gateway to Bhutan is situated here. The sights are scattered all throughout the valley, with the main concentration being in Paro town itself.

Dili, East Timor

relaxing by the beach at cape fatucama in dili

Dili is not your usual “captivating” town. The city center is filled with ruined buildings, slightly potholed streets, and beyond that the roads quickly turn to dust tracks. Despite that, Dili boasts a very scenic coastline and a rugged, mountainous interior just behind it. A few kilometers off the city, you can find beaches such as the one pictured above where you can just relax the entire day. Overall, the city’s got a nice laidback vibe.

How to get there: From Dili, the only international connections are to Bali, Singapore or Darwin. It’s also possible to make it overland from West Timor in Indonesia.

Bamiyan, Afghanistan

the verdant and legendary valley of bamiyan
By Hadi Zaher on Flickr / CC by 2.0

Bamiyan used to be a much more popular town back when the Buddha statues were still standing. There was heightened awareness about the place when the Taliban decided to blow these irreplaceable treasures into bits in 2001 but attention has subsided over the last few years.

Even though the Buddha statues no longer stand in Bamiyan, it is still a spectacular place thanks to its geographic location being nestled in a valley and with wheat and barley fields adding color to the landscape. The town is especially scenic during autumn when the trees turn into various shades of brown and yellow. During winter, the surrounding mountains turn into ski fields for intrepid tourists and locals.

How to get there: Bamiyan itself is a safe destination though getting there isn’t always so. It’s a 240 km (about 5 hours) drive from Kabul and the road situation changes from time to time so it’s better to check first before going.

If you know of some relatively unknown towns and cities in Asia worth visiting, comment below and let us know about it!

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Bino

Bino

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    • Bino says

      Khiva is a lot farther away than the cities you mentioned, but IMHO has the most “Aladdin-like” old town so definitely worth the trip!

    • admin says

      Hi there! I got it thru a travel agency based in the -stan countries. It was a relatively easy experience. They handle everything.

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