5 must-see Asian destinations in 2013

Michele Koh Morollo
Y! Travel Journal

Tired of too-popular beaches and streets? Want to visit something scenic or full of history? Then check out these picturesque cities.

Asia is a diverse and exotic continent, and each country has its own unique culture, language and cuisine. While Shanghai, Bangkok and Jakarta are already swamped with travellers, you’d be glad to know that there’s still much exciting terrain to be seen. So if you’re looking for an Asian destination that’s steeped in old-world charm, we suggest these places for your travel wish list in 2013.

Lijiang, China
This city in Yunnan province has been around for 800 years. It has old-town streets flanked by pretty canals and waterways, and many little shops and cafés. Don’t miss the
Mu Palace – an expansive complex with intricately carved wooden doors, beautiful ancient courtyards and a Taoist temple – and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which offers magnificent landscapes. To get to the latter, you need to hop on a cable car or rent a mule from the nearby Baisha Village.

How to get there: There are many flights to Lijiang from Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Xi’an and most Chinese cities.

Yangon, Myanmar
A former British colony, Yangon is one Asian city that still retains the romance of a bygone era. While it doesn’t have as many luxury hotels, shops and restaurants compared to Thailand or Vietnam, it more than makes up for it with an abundance of stunning old architecture and colourful street scenes.

Make a stop at the famous Shwedagon Pagoda – at 325 ft high, it is over 2,500 years old and is home to sacred Buddhist relics. Also worth visiting: The Chaukhtatgyi Paya, one of the largest reclining Buddhas in the world, as well as the Bogyoke Aung San market, a lively bazaar of souvenirs, Burmese art and gems.

How to get here: There are frequent flights to Yangon from major destinations in Asia.

Pondicherry, India
Does the city look familiar? That’s because it was featured in Ang Lee’s film adaptation of the novel Life of Pi. Located 160 km north of Chennai, Pondicherry used to be India’s largest French colony – which is why tourists may see and feel a strong French influence in the old quarters and streets. It is slow-paced and peaceful, with historical churches and temples, European-style cafés that serve coffee or a cup of chai, botanical gardens for picnics, a beach, and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for meditating.

How to get here: You can go by train, car or taxi from Chennai.

Bira, Indonesia
Scuba divers, snorkellers and beach lovers will rejoice when they discover Bira. Set in the southeastern tip of South Sulawesi – about 190 km by car from South Sulawesi’s capital, Makassar – Bira is an unspoiled beach resort with only a handful of basic hotels and crystal-clear waters framed by rugged cliffs. The villages near the main beach of Pasir Putih are also home to some of Indonesia’s finest traditional boat builders, and you can see them building wooden Bugis-style sailing boats along the shore. The marine life is stunning, and whale shark sightings are not uncommon. You can take a boat from Bira to visit the many nearby islands and dive sites, relax on the white sandy beach, or get romantic with your loved one in one of the many limestone caves.

How to get here: Garuda, AirAsia, Lion Air, Batavia Air and SilkAir fly from Jakarta, Denpasar, Surabaya and other Indonesia cities. From Makassar, it’s about four hours by car to Bira.

Luang Pruabang, Laos
About 425 km from the Laotian capital of Vientiane, this sleepy UNESCO World Heritage Site has remained relatively isolated in the last century. And as it is a small city, the best way to experience it is by foot. Head out in the early morning – you’ll see monks pouring out from the temples and villagers giving alms. Also feast your eyes on historical sites such as the former Royal Palace, temples with gilded roofs, and French provincial style architecture. Take a longtail boat through the Mekong River and visit the Pak Ou Caves for its Buddhist wall carvings.

How to get here: There are flights to Luang Pruabang from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Vientiane and Laotian cities.