The continent of Asia is big; from the steamy jungles of South East Asia to the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, all the way to the scorching deserts of Arabia. The world’s largest continent is quite possibly the most diverse and interesting destinations to travel. Most travelers have heard of Asia’s more popular destinations such as; Thailand, India, China, and Vietnam. But Asia has many secret destinations that retain traditional cultures, incredible food, and are virtually tourist free! Here are a few destinations in Asia that I the Uncharted Backpacker recommend to truly feel like you’ve stepped into another world.
Iran, also known as Persia, has always been known for its beautiful blue-tiled mosques, ancient cultures, and a way to step back in time to the traditional Middle East. Why isn’t Iran as popular as its neighbor Turkey? Travel to Iran comes with a lot of headaches and confusion. The visa for Iran changes constantly, often banning or putting severe restrictions on certain nationalities. The country is also very strict, enforcing Sharia laws such as making women cover their heads and banning photography in certain areas; capturing a photo in the US Den of Espionage could land you in prison!
Visiting Iran you will see untouched deserts filled with mud-built towns, ancient Persian cities that rivaled Alexander the Great, all while puffing on a Hookah and watching the sun set over the most beautiful Persian blue tiled mosques you’ve ever seen.
If you can figure out all the red tape, and follow the rules, Iran will reward you with traditional Persian culture that has barely changed and local hospitality that extends from the heart of every Iranian.
#2 Sarawak, Borneo
The island of Borneo in South East Asia is divided by three countries. The oil-rich southern half resides in Indonesia while the north is cut into three sections. One of the three sections is the Kingdom of Brunei, and the two provinces of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia.
Sarawak province in Malaysia tends to be the most traditional of all the areas in Borneo. While the other nations and provinces boast of their nature, and oil built cities, Sarawak shows its pride through the exotic cultures of its Dayak tribes.
Dayak* Borneo has a magnitude of tribes across it massive interior. The term Dayak refers to these tribes, but each tribe has its own unique name and culture of its own.
Visiting Sarawak you will feel as if you left the modern nation of Malaysia and have become an explorer in search of tribes who live deep in the jungle. The Iban are the most famous of these tribes for their headhunting, Longhouses sporting human skulls, and tattoo covered tribesmen. Forget major sights! The draw of visiting Sarawak will be riding a motorized skinny boat up a jungle-clad river into the heart of Borneo to laze around and drink with the tattooed head-hunters of Borneo!
Known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, this mystical Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom has been tucked away in the northeastern corner of the Himalayas and out of tourist reach for years. Now with the country beginning to modernize, traveling to this remote corner of Asia is becoming more accessible, but because of this ease of access, the King has enforced a heavy daily tariff of 250 US to keep tourist numbers low so that the culture is not greatly affected.
The daily tariff is well worth the cost although as you get to be one of the very few people on earth who can witness a Himalayan kingdom so untouched from the outside world. Even the infrastructure here cannot be built any other way than the Bhutanese way by law!
Bhutan is also known to have the highest gross happiness out of anywhere in the world, perhaps this could be due to the country being the only carbon neutral nation.
So if you can gulp down the expensive daily tariff then don’t miss this mystical magic kingdom that will remain in your mind for many years to come!
Check out tours that Druk Asia has to offer to Bhutan.
Look at a map of Central Asia and you will see many countries that end with Stan. It can be quite overwhelming to remember them all. Each of these “stan” countries is however very unique and different from one another.
Uzbekistan is one of my favorite of the stan nations, this is because of its grandeur mix of mountains, deserts, historical cities, colorful people, and in-depth culture. With historical figures like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Marco Polo leaving their marks here and adding to the complex mixed Silk Road culture. Uzbekistan happens to also be incredibly safe! Very few tourists here ever report even the smallest of crimes.
Wondering why more people haven’t told you to travel here? Well, it could be because Uzbekistan is remote; it’s wedged deep in the middle of Central Asia. There is also quite a bit of red tape involved with Uzbekistan. Until recently visas were very hard to obtain, and even today currency has to be changed on the black markets making costs of traveling here very hard to gauge.
If you’re looking for a true taste of traveling on the Silk Road, then look no further, head to the buzzing historic cities, and bubbly bazaars of the little-visited country of Uzbekistan.
When Genghis Khan left the Steppe on his venture to conquer Asia he probably never knew what mark he would leave on the country of Mongolia. Today if you mention Mongolia the only thought you will receive is that it happens to be the home of this former warlord.
Mongolia has so much more to offer than reminiscing on the Golden Hordes of Genghis Khan. Mongolia is home to some of the last remaining Nomadic peoples on earth! In the far west, you can see Nomads who still capture baby eagles to train them and hunt fox from horseback while in the scorching desert of the Gobi camel herders roam from green pastures to mountain valleys depending on the seasons.
Mongolia is quite possibly one of the last Asian adventures that remain on this planet. The majority of the country is not even inhabited making nature excursions at their most primal.
Travel here is rough! Be prepared for harsh weather, terrible or non-existent roads, and plenty of areas to which there is no knowledge of travel ever happening before. Meeting with Nomads can be just as difficult, as the Nomads tend to be very remote requiring an expensive tour or transport to be the option.
Even with all the pain and suffering, you must go through to see Mongolia, it’s well worth the effort to see it. Whether it’s the Nomadic Tribes, deserts, mountains, or horseback adventures, Mongolia will not leave the adventurous disappointed.
#6 West Papua, Indonesia
The island of Papua is split between the Oceanic Continent and the Continent of Asia. West Papua being in Indonesia allows it to be part of this list!
West Papua is where adventurers and researchers go to make a name for themselves. With so many lost tribes and remote jungles filled with unknown plants and animals, Papua takes the cake. Papua’s mountain interior is the most accessible part of the Island. Making adventures to remote tribal communities affordable and accessible to the inexperienced travelers. Head into the steamy jungle river areas of Asmat or the tree house villages of Korowai and it will take much planning and time.
Much of West Papua is completely undiscovered, and it’s not hard to truly feel like you are in one of these areas. The downside to traveling here is the cost. To really get off the beaten track you will be required to join a tour or expedition. These trips usually end up costing thousands and can take weeks of hiking!
Choose to brave the Papuan wilderness on your own takes some serious planning, and courage, but the rewards to venturing into the unknown are plenty.
If cutting a trail with your machete through uncharted jungles to tribes who until recently stopped practicing cannibalism interests you then it’s time to look at coming to the beautiful island of Papua!
Since the paranoia of 911 and terrorism took hold of the world, Pakistan dropped off the list as one of Asia’s ultimate tourism destinations. This is sadly one of the results of bias media, and false accusations of the west. Pakistan today is still a safe destination in which travel is not only possible, but I would strongly recommend!
Pakistan is a hidden gem. The hospitality of its people is remarkable, the mountain scenery is majestic, and the culture here remains true and authentic. The days where travelers can ride atop a bus into the Hindu Kush in search of Alexander the Greats lost tribes still remains. Climbing some of the world least summited mountains or just sipping tea in a Peshawar bazaar with Pashtun locals, it’s a travelers dream.
The visa may seem difficult to obtain when you search it, but it could not be easier. Just apply at the embassy in your home country and they will gladly help you through the steps to get a visa for here. The borders between China and India are open, even though rumors will tell you they are not.
No more excuses it’s time to put the effort in and make your next trip Pakistan!
#8 Sri Lanka
This beautiful Asian island nation has been out of the travel radar for decades due to its violent civil war. Now with the civil war gone and finished Sri Lanka is ready for travel once again. Few signs of its terrible past remain, nowadays locals will greet you with warm hospitality and curiosity.
Apart from Sri Lanka’s incredibly diverse culture, it also has perfect white sand beaches, remote hidden jungles, and mountain scenery that will shock your friends back home. Sri Lanka also served as a viable trade route for the Dutch and Portuguese who left their mark there with beautiful architecture, and a railway system that has not changed since they built it.
I’ll never forget sipping on Sri Lankan tea in a beautifully built Colonial house in the mountains of Kandy, all while giant vampire bats flew above me screeching for the oncoming dusk. Sri Lanka’s festivals also left an impression on me; they dazzle you with an eruption of colors and maddening sounds. These intriguing spectacles are not to be missed on your journey here.
Sri Lanka is definitely an adventure waiting to happen, but don’t hesitate because this is no secret, Sri Lanka has already been topping the charts in Lonely Planet’s top countries to visit!
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