Solo Travel Destinations in Asia
Want to travel alone through Asia? This guide is part four of my solo travel destination series.
In this guide to Asia we’ll briefly cover top tourist destinations in China, Hong Kong, & Taiwan, followed by Japan, Korea, and then head to Southeast Asia to explore Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
As always, I encourage you to challenge yourself, travel sustainably, and use travel as a vehicle for personal growth!
Want to learn how to travel hack? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel.
The juxtaposition of high-tech life and respect for ancient culture makes Japan an incredible place to visit. Japan has lots of crowded fast-paced cities, but extremely polite people make them very enjoyable. Most people forget that this long chain of islands spanning from north to south also has incredible beaches in the south and great skiing in the north. You’ll also be happy to know that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world for solo travelers.
This is why so many millennials travel to Japan.
Fly into Tokyo and taste authentic sushi from the Tsukiji and Toyosu Fish Market and visit the Meiji Jingu shrine. Visit Akihabara’s “electric town”, a hub for J-pop, anime, and manga. Don’t forget to see a sumo wrestling match! Sumo matches at Kokugikan Arena only happen three times per year, so check the schedule and plan accordingly. Be sure to enjoy a night of sake and karaoke, two of Japan’s favorite pastimes.
Visit Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum to see modern art in the former home of a Japanese prince and princess. For a view of the city from above, head up to Roppongi Hills, and go up the Tokyo City View and Skydeck. Visit Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu, where you can walk along beautiful shrines and do the water purification ritual.
After a day of walking around, visit a traditional Japanese bathhouse called a sento. Be prepared to bathe naked with strangers. About half of the bathhouses do not allow people with tattoos, originally intended to keep gang members away.
To get into nature, hike Takaosan Mountain, just outside Tokyo. Another great day trip is to see the great Buddha at Kamakura. For an overnight trip, head to Hahone and see Mount Fuji from Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. If you want to hike Mount Fuji and see the amazing sunrise, plan your visit from July to mid-September, the only time that you can hike the mountain. This area has great onsen baths, traditional inns and spas around a hot spring.
Ride the bullet train from Tokyo to the mountainous region of Kyoto, known for its zen gardens, temples, and bamboo forests. Visit Gion, the Geisha District, the best place to see traditional female Japanese entertainers known as Geishas dressed in their kimonos. Sit in a tea house and sip a matcha green tea. Higashiyama is another neighborhood to walk around, shop, and enjoy local delicacies.
Visit the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku ji, one of the most famous tourist sites in Japan. Another must-see is the Arashiyama Monkey Park and the bamboo forest where you can visit the Tenryu-ji temple. These sites can be crowded, so it’s best to arrive early.
The Heian Shrine is a Shinto shrine, believed to bring you good fortune by the kami gods. This is a great place to walk around and enjoy the gardens. If you are here in the spring for cherry blossom season, it will be truly spectacular. Another great 2-3 hour hike is up the sacred mountain of Mount Inari to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
If you can stay in more rural areas, I always encourage seeing what more traditional life is like. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast… give one a try!
Go to Hiorshima to understand the dark history of this city by visiting the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum and Peace Park. However, know that this area has a lot more to do including seeing the Hiroshima Castle and the Manga comic library. There is a lot to explore in the outdoors around Hiroshima including taking the ferry to Miyajima Island to hike the mountain, a trip to Onomichi for beaches, hot springs, and Mount Senkoji, as well as a hike up Mount Haigamine.
Known for its winter activities, onsen baths, and great skiing, Hokkaido is normally visited for snowsports. Eat seafood near Sapporo and visit Daisetsuzan National Park.
Did you know that Japan also has beautiful tropical beaches? If that sounds appealing to you, make your way down to Okinawa, the “Hawaii of Japan.”
Learn how to recover from jet lag like a pro before your next solo trip to Southeast Asia!
In China, focus on seeing the thousands of years of history, and understand how this modern-day superpower is evolving. China has upbeat cities like Beijing and Shanghai, as well as incredible outdoor locations including the Great Wall of China. When you visit, remember that Google products won’t work, and you’ll probably want to wear a mask because of the pollution. China is, however, making strides to clean up its environment and fight climate change.
Don’t forget, one of the main attractions in China is the world-famous styles of cuisine like Cantonese, Sichuan, Beijing, and Shanghai. Bring your appetite, food is cheap!
Be sure to apply for your visa in advance, as China requires this from most countries. China does, however, offer a visa-free 72-hour stopover that I took advantage of. It was a perfect sample of Beijing.
The capital of China is truly an impressive city in terms of size and scope of government buildings, squares, landmarks, and futuristic buildings. Hundreds of years of history exist in the Forbidden City, and walking around Tiananmen Square is mind-blowing. As an American, I was taken aback by the enormous pictures of Mao Zedong, the Communist Revolutionary. The propaganda was everywhere!
The Temple of Heaven is a Beijing highlight where you can check out the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Echo Wall. The Summer Palace and Botanical Gardens is another area to spend some time. If you are looking for a tourist market, check out the Silk Market. Expect everything to be a knock-off brand. For something more authentic go to the Wangfujing Night Market.
For a look at what “old Beijing” looked like before the modernization, check out a neighborhood like Nanluoguxiang and wander down the hutong alleyways. Get ready to see hole-in-the-wall restaurants, people doing tai-chi, playing chess, and doing chores. Enjoy that Peking Duck!
If you are looking for a quick escape from Beijing and a chance to see the Great Wall of China, this is your chance. Badaling is the easiest place to see it, but if you want something with fewer crowds check out these Great Wall options.
Shanghai boasts a juxtaposition between old and new. Upon arrival at the airport, take the Shanghai Maglev Train to the city center at an incredible 250+ miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour). Some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world are found in Shanghai, so if you like heights and observation decks you can go to the top of the Shanghai Tower, the Oriental Pearl, and the Shanghai World Financial Center. Wander through the pedestrian shopping street called Nanjing Road, the best in all of China.
Walk the Bund promenade along the Huangpu River, a true symbol of Shanghai. Take in the history as you stroll past the “museum of buildings”. In Old City, walk by the Confucian Temple, eat hot pot, dumplings, crab meat, and drink huangjiu, a yellow Chinese wine. Travel back in time to the Ming dynasty in the YuYuan Garden, completed in 1577. See the Exquisite Jade Rock, pagodas, and koi ponds.
For some peace and tranquility, visit the Jade Buddha temple, an active monastery where you’ll find monks engaged in prayer, meditation, and chanting.
Other places for solo travelers in China:
China is an enormous country, so I can’t cover it all in this guide, but traveling out to Tibet, Inner Mongolia or Mount Everest is an amazing journey if you can make it that far west. Travel to Guilin to see the Karst Mountains on a boat trip down the Li River. Huangshan Scenic Area is a UNESCO preserve and a great place to hike in the Yellow Mountains. Xi’an is famous for viewing the Terracotta Warriors and exploring the city’s old wall. And finally, on everyone’s bucket list is seeing giant pandas in Chengdu.
This modern urban metropolis is a semi-autonomous region belonging to China, filled with skyscrapers, along the picturesque Victoria Harbor. Hong Kong offers sensational nightlife, food, amazing temples, and excellent options for hiking near the city.
In Hong Kong, get a glimpse of Victoria Harbor and the cityscape from Victoria Peak. Take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car (or walk!) to the Tian Tan Big Buddha near the Po Lin Monastery. For more temples check out the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery, Lo Pan Temple, Sha Tin Che Kung Temple, Man Mo temple, or the Yuen Yuen Institute. For people who can’t get enough of Hong Kong’s vistas, ride the Peak Tram to Sky Terrace 428 for 360-degree views of the city.
Take the Star Ferry from Kowloon Island to Hong Kong Island, or for a more expensive option, sail the harbor on a traditional Chinese junk boat. Speaking stars, be sure to walk along Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront for amazing skyline views. Here you’ll learn more about Hong Kong’s film industry and see tributes to stars like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
To get the best look at culture in Hong Kong, head to the markets. Ladies Market (Tung Choi Street), Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon, and the Stanley Market. Eat dumplings, dim sum, and maybe even snake soup, and experience arguably the hottest nightlife in Asia in the Lan Kwai Fong district.
Hong Kong might be known as one of the most densely populated places in the world, but there are a multitude of options to spend time outdoors nearby. Spend time in nature by visiting Mai Po Natural Area, where to visit you’ll be required to take a tour from the World Wildlife Federation. Hike Dragon’s Back, or Tung Ping Chau, a UNESCO Geopark. Get deeper into the jungle outside the city by hiking in Sai Kung Volcanic Rock and Northeast New Territories Sedimentary Rock Regions.
If you haven’t had enough glitz and glam after Hong Kong, head to Macau, the Las Vegas of China. Macau is technically part of China but has its own currency, passports, and laws.
I’ve been fortunate to book a few 24-hour layovers through Taipei, Taiwan on my way to Asia, and each time I’ve been glad I did. Taiwan is affordable, has incredible food, and has easy access to hiking near Taipei. There is a lot more to explore than you can see in just a stopover, so take some time to explore this under-visited country!
Taipei is a fun city to explore and is famous for the Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world until 2010 when the Burj Khalifa was built. Go to the observatory and then eat at Din Tai Fung for some of the best dumplings in the world. The night markets in Taipei are also world-renown for cheap eats. Shulin Night Market is the most famous, but also check out Snake Alley, Raohe, Tonghua, and Ningxia.
Landmarks around Taipei to check out include Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the National Palace Museum, and several temples including Tianhou, Bao-an and Confucius Temple. During one of my layovers, I hiked Seven Star Mountain, also known as Mt. Qixing, and absolutely loved it. Jade Mountain would be my pick when I return.
Here is my article on what to do on a 24-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan.
Still on my list, outside of Taipei, is Jioufen, a village near the sea, that was once a mining town. This is one of Taiwan’s top historic tourist areas. Visit the teahouses and do some hiking in the nearby hills. The south of Taiwan has beautiful beaches to visit during the summer.
South Korea is a great place to explore as a solo traveler. North Korea… not so much. South Korea has a high-tech culture, deep history, and great food. Even if you only have time for a stopover in Seoul, you can take a free tour from the airport while you are in transit. But, I suggest sticking around--there is a lot to see and Korea is budget-friendly. Public transportation is very clean and well maintained, so consider riding the bus or train whenever you can.
Bring your appetite for Korean BBQ, kimchi (my favorite!), and soju, the local alcoholic libation. To see the trendiest part of Seoul check out the world-famous Gangnam District, yes the pop hit Gangnam Style was written about this place! Want to experience Seoul’s vibrant nightlife? Hongdae and Itaewon will be your two places for an all-night party. For street food and shopping check out Myeong-dong. Namdaemun Market is the best traditional marketplace. Definitely go to a Korean baseball game to see the enthusiastic fans singing K-pop fight songs! It’s a true cultural experience even if you aren’t a baseball fan.
In Seoul, the top attraction is Gyeongbok-gung Palace built in 1495. Ladies, you can rent a traditional hanbok dress and walk around the palace for free--sure to be a hit on social media. Just nearby, visit Bukchon Hanok Village to get a good look at Korean culture. Within the city, you can visit Namsan Mountain Park, where you can hike or take the cable car, and go to the top of Namsan Tower observatory for sweeping views of Seoul.
Outside of Seoul
Outside Seoul, you can find yourself in the peaceful countryside exploring the temples and traditional villages. Escape the city to Bukhansan National Park just north of Seoul. Visiting the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is popular as a day trip from Seoul. Most people visit the Joint Security Area, or JSA.
Most solo travelers head to the south of the country to Gyeongju to see Korea’s rich history, UNESCO Heritage Preserve, and 31 national treasures. In Gyeongju visit Tumuli Park where you’ll get to see the tomb of the Shilla kings. See Buddhist architecture that is incredibly ancient like the Bulguksa Temple, first built in the year 528 and rebuilt in 751. Here you can learn Sunmudo, the Korean Buddhist martial art, directly from the monks!
Busan is known for the beach, but also has great hiking trails nearby, and is a beautiful city to explore. Climb Jangsan Mountain, and visit the Dragon Palace Temple (Yonggungsa) right on the ocean. You can find flights out of Busan’s airport.
If you really want to live it up, then add Jeju Island to your itinerary. It’s a romantic spot for honeymooners, but also a party town, with plenty of natural wonders to explore. Check out the caves, waterfalls, Hallasan National Park, and climb Hallasan volcano.
Singapore is a great place for a stopover if you are visiting Southeast Asia. I love flying Singapore Air, and there is enough to do here for a few days. Understand that Singapore doesn’t have the character western travelers might be looking for in a Southeast Asian destination. It’s a highly organized society, and everything is clean and high-tech. And yes, there are fines for spitting on the ground and eating on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)! I’m fascinated by Singapore and how this mecca of modern capitalism just became independent of the British in 1965.
Be forewarned, Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia, but not out of reach for most backpackers if you keep your stay to a few days.
Eating and drinking is the number one attraction in Singapore in my opinion, and the Boat Quay is the biggest area to hang out and relax in the outdoor bars and restaurants. Walk down the Singapore River, and you’ll find yourself in Marina Bay, a great place to explore along the waterfront, including Merlion Park, and a cool artificial “supertree” garden.
Take the Sentosa Express train to Sentosa Island, just off the coast of Singapore. Sentosa is popular for beaches, party scenes, the Tiger Sky Tower observation deck, and Universal Studios.
For those who like quieter activities, admire Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore. The Botanical Gardens also offer some solace. Even though this country is known for being one big city, there is actually rainforest still left in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Here is what to do if you need a 24-hour itinerary in Singapore.
Another amazing country for solo travelers, Indonesia has become world-famous for the unique culture on the island of Bali. Indonesia is extremely affordable and one of the best places in the world to spend an extended period of time. I’ve been to Indonesia at least six times, and after each visit, I can’t wait to go back.
While Bali is incredibly famous, don’t miss out on the more off the beaten path parts of Indonesia like Java. There are several cultures to explore in Indonesia, but the most obvious difference is that Bali is a Hindu island with its own language, while the rest of Indonesia is primarily Muslim. Indonesia has temples, rainforest, snorkeling, surfing, volcanoes, monkeys, and more!
Jakarta is Indonesia’s capital city, located on the island of Java, with a population of over 10 million people. Honestly, Jakarta isn’t my favorite city, but if you choose to fly into Indonesia via the capital, it doesn’t hurt to spend a day or two here. Check out Fatahillah Square in the Dutch Quarter for beautiful architecture. I also visited one of the world’s largest mosques, called Istiqlal Mosque. Be sure to dress modestly--I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and was not allowed in… no guns permitted!
The island of Java has so much more to offer than just the city of Jakarta. I suggest starting your trip in Yogyakarta, where there are over 500 Hindu temples in the Prambanan temple complex. Seeing the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s Palace is obligatory! Visitors to Yogakarta love the artistic feel to this city. Be sure to put Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, on your list of places to visit.
Take the train through the Indonesian countryside to East Java. Enjoy the Dutch colonial town of Malang. Check out the Coban Rondo Waterfall and wander around the rainbow village of Jodipan where each house is brightly painted. Hike Mount Bromo, part of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, for sunrise and see the inside of a volcanic crater..
The island of Bali is set up perfectly for solo travelers, so consider it if you are looking to spend extended time abroad. Be forewarned that Bali has become more congested in the last ten years, so do your best to get off the tourist track. Avoid the party hubs of Kuta and Seminyak for the same reasons I suggested avoiding Cancun and Playa del Carmen in my guide to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Please don’t contribute to overtourism.
Bali, to me, is special because of the serenity and deep spiritual connection that Balinese people feel to their island. Practice yoga and get a massage at the world-famous Yoga Barn in Ubud, and visit one of Bali’s many beautiful beaches. In Ubud and Canggu you’ll find people recreating scenes from “Eat, Pray, Love”... People flock from around the world to go on retreats and eat at some of the best healthy restaurants in the world. A few of my favorite places to eat in Ubud are Sayuri’s, Kafe, and Atman. Eat the duck at Bebek Bengil, and eat chicken satay whenever possible.
The best part about Bali is how kind the people are. Those who work in tourism go above and beyond to make sure you have a great time on their island and are truly grateful for the opportunity. Many Balinese people speak good English, and it’s actually pretty easy to pick up a few key phrases in Balinese and Indonesian. This always makes the locals smile when westerners make an attempt to speak their language. Stay with a local family if you can!
Bali has over a million temples, and this is because everyone lives in traditional home compounds and has their own temple at their home! A few of my favorite suggestions for things to do in Bali would be checking out the surf in Padang Padang and Uluwatu beach, hiking Mount Batur (intermediate-advanced) and Mount Agung (advanced) for sunrise, seeing a traditional Kecak dance, and taking part in a water purification ceremony at a temple. Skip tasting Luwak Coffee, touted as the most expensive coffee in the world and produced from rodent feces, because of its abusive animal practices.
Extend your stay to the neighboring islands of Lombok, Nusa Penida, or the Gili Islands.
More of Indonesia
Indonesia is made up of 17,500 islands, so I can’t possibly cover all there is to explore in this massive archipelago, but here are a few more of my top picks! Komodo National Park is part of the Lesser Sunda Islands and, you guessed it, is famous for the Komodo dragon. This is both a marine and land park where you can find thousands of different types of fish, coral, and even 14 species of whales!
Animal lovers will also want to venture to Sumatra to see the endangered orangutans. Please do not feed or get too close to the orangutans, as viruses can cross from humans to these primates. Use an eco-friendly tour company who promotes sustainable practices.
The Land of Smiles! Yes, you will come back from Thailand with a smile on your face… but this country’s nickname comes from the kind people of this Southeast Asian country. If you are traveling to Southeast Asia, Thailand should absolutely be your priority. From here, you can travel to other neighboring countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia.
Thailand has so much to explore, including the city of Bangkok, northern Thailand around Chiang Mai, and the islands in the south of the country. This country is incredibly affordable, allowing you to stay longer, and have even more fun. Thailand has something to offer everyone, from rowdy nightlife on Khao San Road, to serene temples in the foothills near Chiang Mai, to relaxing beaches near Phuket, to rock climbing near Krabi.
Want a primer on dos and don'ts in Thai culture? Check out our guide to Thai culture.
Bangkok can be overwhelming to people, and you may experience some culture shock, but this city is magical and many westerners feel right at home after a couple of days. Keep in mind Bangkok is a very popular city for solo travelers, so there will be no shortage of bars and restaurants catered towards backpackers. I prefer not to spend time near Khao San Road, the main tourist trap. My favorite area to stay is along the Chao Phraya River where you can travel by ferry to many of Bangkok’s best temples and attractions. Baan Wanglang Riverside is a great hotel right on the river and is right next door to the authentic Wanglang Market.
Much of the history in Bangkok dates back to the 15th century. Understand that Thailand is ruled by a monarchy, so you’ll actually be visiting the King’s home when you visit the Grand Palace. See the reclining Buddha, and be sure to go early to beat the crowds. Take the ferry across the river to visit the iconic Buddhist Temple, Wat Arun.
Wander through Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok's largest flower market, and roam the alleys of Old Bangkok. When your feet get tired, remember that Thai massages are world-famous. Even cooler, you can receive or learn to give massages at the Wat Pho Temple.
Chatuchak Market is one of my favorite places to wander and haggle for goods that range from knockoff brands, to up-and-coming Thai clothing brands. The floating market is less authentic, and mainly for tourists, but can be a lot of fun. If you haven’t experienced a Thai night market before, you need to visit the Train Night Market (Rot Fai Market). It is open Thursday - Sunday for excellent food and shopping. Don’t miss pad thai, sweet potato balls (Kanom Kai Nok Krata), papaya salad (Som Tum), and Thai iced tea with milk (Cha Nom Yen).
Khao San Road has the reputation for some of the wildest nightlife in the world. I can only handle this area in short doses, so I’d suggest you walk around after dinner just to get a taste. Keep in mind that street food like scorpions and tarantulas are just for tourists and not authentic Thai food. Be extremely careful about pickpockets in this area at night.
Silom is another great nightlife option in Bangkok, as well as Thong Lo for a more upscale Thai experience.
I recommend heading north on the train to Ayutthaya. Visit this UNESCO Heritage Preserve from 1351 where you’ll see Buddha heads with huge trees that have grown around them. Continue north and stop in the local city of Lampang. You’ll see far fewer tourists and get a much better look at what local Thai life is like.
Here are some tips to getting off the beaten path in Bangkok by Tim, our Manager in Thailand.
Northern Thailand has rich culture and beautiful mountains, and the jumping-off point for it all is the city of Chaing Mai. Try khao soi, a traditional northern Thai breakfast. There are plenty of temples spread throughout the city to check out.
My favorite was the hike up to Doi Stuhep to hear the monks chant their evening prayer and to take in the great view of the surrounding area. If you like to sweat, Chiang Mai is a great hub for jungle trekking. Climbing or just hanging out at the Bau Tong Sticky Waterfall is a great day trip outside of Chiang Mai.
Participating in an elephant conservation program is a highlight of most traveler trips to Thailand. Elephants are wild animals, not domesticated, so keep in mind riding these gentle beasts can be damaging and is strongly discouraged. Here are some responsible elephant sanctuaries around the world.
Chiang Mai has lots of options for hands-on activities, including cooking classes and muay thai boxing. Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport, is excellent for self-defense, and a great workout. It’s a fun cultural experience to train with a Thai boxing coach.
Bring your best negotiating skills to the night market. Chiang Mai has tons of beautiful art and handicrafts to purchase, as well as more excellent street food.
Islands of Thailand
Finally, end your trip by flying to Thailand’s coast to explore the southern part of the country. There is a lot to do in this area besides just relaxing on the beach. National parks like Khao Sok National Park are amazing places to explore the lush tropical jungle. There is also incredible scuba diving and rock climbing on limestone cliffs. Island hopping in a long-tail boat is a must!
I would recommend flying into Krabi and taking a long-tail boat to Railay Beach. This is a tiny peninsula, accessible only by boat with some of the best rock climbing in the world. It definitely has a backpacker vibe, so there will be no shortage of cheap places to stay. Island hop from here on day trips to the uninhabited islands along the coast. Rent a kayak or paddleboard around sunset and see the bioluminescent plankton come out to play after dark.
Phuket and Koh Phi Phi are other areas that are extremely popular with tourists. Unfortunately, areas of the island can be overcrowded, and you’ll see evidence of sex tourism. If you can get to the area of Patong, you’ll enjoy your stay much more. That being said, there are a lot of great things about Phuket like Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Park and all the incredible waterfalls. Sirinat National Park is another place to find great beaches. Bamboo Island of Koh Phi Phi is another gem.
One more island that is popular with yogis and muay thai practitioners alike is Koh Samui. Check out this beautiful island for its laid-back vibes!
Check out our Ultimate Packing List for Thailand.
Vietnam is a beautiful country that experienced a lot of darkness in its recent history. There is a lot to learn about the Vietnam War, but Vietnam’s history dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Vietnam is an inexpensive country, so it’s a country where a long trip won’t break the budget. Many travelers combine their trip to Vietnam with a trip to Cambodia, which we’ll cover shortly.
Here is what to eat in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Fly into Southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City and see the French architecture. Get prepared to eat well because Vietnamese food is delicious. Start off with some pho, Vietnam’s national dish, or banh mi, the world-famous sandwiches. Taking a cooking class is another great way to dive into the culture.
Near Ho Chi Minh City you can crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. From here, cycling or taking a boat down the Mekong Delta is one of the most memorable activities to do in Vietnam. There are villages, rice fields, and Buddhist pagodas to check out through the countryside as you explore the waterways. The Cao Dai temple is another great day trip from Saigon where you’ll learn about a religion that blends Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam.
Here is a two-day itinerary outside Ho Chi Minh City.
The capital of Vietnam is most known for the Old French Quarter. Here, you’ll explore architecture, food, and shop at the Dong Xuan Market. There are plenty of cultural sites to see including the Quan Su Pagoda, one of the most important Buddhist pagodas in the country from the 15th century. If you want an even older pagoda, visit the One Pillar Pagoda from 1049! If you want to experience more history and culture, there is a slew of museums including The Temple of Literature (Van Lieu Temple), Museum of Fine Arts, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, National Museum of Vietnamese History, and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Don’t miss a local puppet show--you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Halong Bay is just a few hours from Hanoi by car. It’s a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World as it’s extremely popular with tourists and has issues with pollution. As I usually recommend, the best possible experience is usually a little more off the beaten track.
Travel to the Halong Bay cruise port where they will take you by boat 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the heart of the bay for incredible photo ops. Look to spend two nights on a junk boat, so you can venture far enough from the port, and really experience the natural beauty of this area. There are several cruises that you can book from Hanoi that usually include transfer to the port (don’t book the $12 one!). Ask what your accommodations on the boat will be like and check the inclusions on the cruise. I recommend finding a cruise that will give you the opportunity to visit Cat Ba National Park, the floating fishing villages, and explore various caves and beaches. If you have more time and want to get further away from tourists check out the neighboring Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. They aren’t replacements for Halong Bay, as each has a very different feel.
Still looking to explore Vietnam? Get to the mountain villages for some trekking in Sapa.
Catch a flight to Cambodia to visit Siem Reap & Angkor Wat. Get off the beaten path in Cambodia for a truly unspoiled experience! One of the best parts about Southeast Asia is the low cost of travel once you arrive, making it perfect for solo travelers on a budget. In addition to the temples, there are amazing jungles to trek, beautiful beaches, and delicious food.
Understand that Cambodia has a dark past and in the 1970s Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge led a genocide that killed well over a million Cambodians. That being said, the people are kind and tourists are very welcome. There is a ton to explore in this country and tourism has helped improve this country’s reputation and standard of living. Cambodia uses the US Dollar, so your money will be going directly into the hands of those who can use it.
Siem Reap is Cambodia’s main tourist hub because of its proximity to Angkor Wat. You won’t want to spend a ton of time in Siem Reap, but take a food tour to understand Khmer food or take a cooking class. Take a full day to explore the massive ruins of Angkor Wat and understand this historic city. If you choose to spend more than one day in Angkor, visit Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Angkor Thom, which are less visited by tourists. The Terrace of Elephants is always a favorite for solo travelers.
Experience the Bat Caves at Phnom Sampov where millions of bats fly out of their caves overlooking magnificent rice fields. Discover Battambang, where you can ride the bamboo train, literally a bamboo flatbed, that takes you for a hair-raising ride to a local village.
If you want to get to the beach in Cambodia, most travelers visit Sihanoukville, a backpacker party town, which is the jumping-off destination for many different islands.
Another country that you should absolutely check out in this region is Laos. Visiting Luang Prabang is on my bucket list and still off the beaten path. Many people visit Luang Prabang after Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“The Pearl of the Pacific” is home to over 7600 islands and is a solo traveler’s paradise. With beautiful beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving, jungle hikes, volcanoes, and amazing food, the Philippines will delight just about any traveler. With so many incredible islands, there are endless choices on where to go, so I’ll try to point you in the direction with the help of my Filipino friends, who are known for their hospitality.
Keep in mind that it can be extremely hot in the Philippines, so traveling in December - February would put you there in the coolest and driest part of the year. If you are worried about the language barrier traveling to Asia as a solo traveler, visiting the Philippines is a great choice, as English is one of the official languages. You’ll also see plenty of Spanish words around from the 300 years that the Philippines were ruled by Spain.
Manila is a very busy, congested city that some people feel overwhelmed by, while others learn to love. The great thing about visiting the capital of any country is that you can usually find all the best food from around the country. Get a ride on a kalesa, a Filipino horse-drawn carriage, and head out to eat. Be sure to eat a meal with your hands kamayan-style. Eat pork tocino for breakfast, sinigang, a tamarind-pork stew, for lunch, chicken adobo for dinner, and halo halo, ice shavings with evaporated milk, for dessert. If that wasn’t enough for you, eat a second dessert at Manila’s Dessert Museum! The following day check out Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown for more incredible cuisine.
Hop in a Jeepney, the radically painted local busses, and head to the Walled City of Intramuros, Fort Santiago, and San Agustin Church. For another landmark, check out the Rizal Park, which celebrates Filipino independence.
Escape the city by going to Masungi Georeserve, a rock garden and conservation area in the Rizal rainforest outside of Manila. Check out the trails and ropes course. Two hours from Manila is the town of Tagaytay, home to the Taal volcano. Hike up to see an incredible sunrise! Stick around Tagaytay to visit this Spanish colonial town.
Philippines most famous beach attraction is undoubtedly Boracay. Like most uber-popular tourist destinations, when you arrive, you can tell why people love it, but you’ll also have to work to get off the beaten path. Do your best to get outside White Sand Beach to Bulabog and Diniwid. You can also island hop from Boracay to places like Puka Shell and Tambisaan Beach.
For people who love watersports, there is no shortage here. Kayak, stand up paddleboard, or snorkel the turquoise waters. Take a traditional bangka boat ride or sail and old school paraw boat. In the evening, Boracay offers plenty of nightlife, as this island has earned its reputation as a party town.
If you found the big city of Manila too intense, you’ll be happy to arrive in Cebu City, for a much more charming, laid-back lifestyle. Colon Street features Spanish architecture from 1565 and a night market you won’t want to miss. While the Philippines is Asia’s only Christian country and 86% of the population is Catholic, visit the Taoist temple to understand what religion was like before the Spanish conquistadors.
Some of the best scuba diving departs from Cebu, as plenty of other activities that will get your heart pumping. Cebu Island has a lot to offer, so I’d suggest exploring other parts of the island than just Cebu City. Moalboal is a great part of the island to use as your home base for adventure travel.
Make your way to Badian for some canyoneering. Trek the mountains and rivers of Badian, jump into waterfalls, and slide down natural water slides. Visit Kawasan Falls to hike and splash in the water. Take a day trip to Pescador Island where you can swim with sea turtles and experience the nearby sardine run where millions of sardines swim in a school.
Coron is another great cluster of islands in the Philippines solo travelers should have on their radar. Take a bangka ride, a traditional Filipino boat, to Barracuda and Kayangan lake, awarded as the cleanest inland body of water in the Philippines. Visit the Twin Lagoons, where you have to swim through the sinkhole. Interact with the Tagbanua tribes of Palawan, naturally protected and conserved by the Indigenous Cultural Communities of the Philippines.
Visit Busuanga and during sunset, take an easy hike up to Mt. Tapyas, 700 feet (213 meters) above sea level. After your hot and sweaty hike, relax in the therapeutic waters at Maquinit Springs. These two pools are some of the few salt water hot springs in the world.
Look for the endangered Dugong, endangered sea cow, while in the region. Coron is one of the best places in the world for budget travelers to get scuba certified.
If you are still looking for more islands to explore check out El Nido, just a few hour ferry ride away.
I know, I know, I didn’t cover India, Nepal, Tibet, or anything in the Himalayas or Central Asia… check back here on the Under30Experiences blog for future guides to solo travel!
If you want more on solo travel, check out my book: The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, & Make Travel a Priority in Your Life.