In a world where some of Asia’s most renowned travel destinations have become magnets for tourists seeking picturesque landscapes and cultural immersion, there exists a treasure trove of Asian destinations off the beaten path, hidden gems that are quietly making their mark on the adventurous traveller’s map. As wanderlust-seekers increasingly look for unique experiences and untouched landscapes, these lesser-visited countries and regions in Asia have emerged as the antidote to overtourism.
In this post, we’ll embark on a journey to uncover the hidden jewels of the continent. We’ll delve into the captivating charm of these underrated Asian travel destinations, exploring how they are not only providing travellers with authentic and unspoiled experiences but also playing a pivotal role in reshaping the tourism industry’s sustainability narrative. It’s time to step off the beaten path and discover the vibrant tapestry of cultures, landscapes, and traditions that thrive in the shadows of their more famous counterparts.
Underrated destinations in Asia: the Caucasus region
Contribution by Monica of This Rare Earth
Armenia is a hidden gem in the Caucasus region that offers an authentic cultural experience to travellers who want to avoid heavily visited countries. As a solo traveller, I found it to be a welcoming and safe country with plenty of cultural and historical attractions.
Yerevan, the capital city, should be on every traveller’s Armenia itinerary. The Blue Mosque impressed me with its Persian architecture and rich history. Today, it houses a museum that showcases the cultural diversity of Armenia.
Yerevan’s Republic Square, the main square of the city, features stunning fountains, grand buildings, and monuments that pay homage to Armenia’s history and independence. This square includes the Government House, the History Museum and the National Gallery.
Outside of Yerevan, I visited some smaller, charming towns like Areni, located in the Vayots Dzor province. Areni is famous for its wine production and is home to one of the oldest wineries in the world.
Travelling in Armenia requires some adaptability and patience due to the lack of tourist infrastructure. For example, two rental cars and one hotel cancelled on me, all within hours of the reservations. But for those who love a challenge and can appreciate the quirks of off the beaten path travel, Armenia might be for you!
Contribution by Emily of Wander-Lush
Though it is becoming more popular with each passing year, the country of Georgia can still be considered an off-the-beaten path destination. I first visited Georgia back in 2017 and loved it so much, I ended up moving here.
Georgia is famed for its 8000-year-old heritage of winemaking (archaeologists call it ‘the birthplace of wine’) which, combined with legendary Georgian hospitality, always makes for interesting and fun local interactions. Whether you sit down for a wine tasting in Kakheti or join a local family for a casual meal, drinking wine in Georgia is a must do.
Other highlights aside from wine and food include hiking in the Greater Caucasus mountains. Popular areas such as Svaneti and Kazbegi offer day hikes, while more adventurous travellers will enjoy getting off the beaten path in remote Tusheti, Khevsureti or Racha.
As well as outdoorsy types, Georgia is a prime destination for culture lovers and history buffs. From Dmanisi, where some of the first evidence of human occupation in Eurasia was discovered, to Kutaisi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe that is linked to the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, Georgia is a treasure trove.
Community based tourism is flourishing in Georgia and there are many opportunities to support the local economy as you travel around, be it through staying at a family guesthouse or participating in ecotourism activities.
Underrated destinations in Asia: Central Asia
Contribution by Patricia of Spanish Nomad
Mongolia is slowly gaining the attention of international travellers thanks to their government which has declared 2023-2025 as the years to visit Mongolia. In an effort to promote international tourism, they have recently upgraded their international airport in Ulaanbaatar and granted entry free visas for several countries in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand. However, Mongolia is still an Asian destination that goes largely unnoticed and it certainly deserves to be explored.
Mongolia should be on the bucket list of any traveller who enjoys road trips, the outdoors and doesn’t mind the challenges that come with a lack of infrastructure.
Having lived in the country for four years, I have had the opportunity to experience a variety of unique things to do in Mongolia that you can rarely do anywhere else in the world. The most popular places to visit are the Gobi Desert, Lake Khuvsgul and the Altai Mountains. Distances between these locations are extraordinarily far, so make sure to plan for at least 10 days—ideally 15—if you can.
While Mongolian landscapes are a notable feature of this country, what truly stands out about Mongolia is its unique culture; and that is precisely what made me fall in love with the country. Shaped by centuries of nomadic heritage, Mongolians have a deep connection to their land. Gers—or yurts—are still in use by many people who live in the countryside. If you visit a nomadic family, you will be warmly welcomed with the customary airag or milky tea and you may even be witness to their unique singing and dancing.
Contribution by Lena from Not Another Backpacker
Tajikistan in Central Asia is the perfect offbeat destination for outdoor lovers and adventurous travellers. The small country is home to stunning mountain ranges, colourful alpine lakes, and plenty of incredible hiking trails – making it a paradise for hiking and landscape photography.
If you’re looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, you should definitely book a Pamir Highway tour to travel across the country.
When I traveled to Tajikistan, my friends and I hired a local driver who took us on a 12-day road trip. During this time, we went hiking in the Pamir Mountain range and visited turquoise-blue lakes and natural hot springs.
However, if you plan to visit this Central Asian gem, know that Tajikistan is not a luxurious travel destination. When we visited remote villages along the Pamir Highway, we noticed that there were not many accommodations to choose from and we often ended up staying in a homestay rather than a hotel.
Additionally, many parts of the country suffer from a lack of internet connection and if you’re female, I recommend you cover your shoulders and knees to show respect for the rather conservative culture.
Still, it’s all of this that makes the country so special. Although I’ve been travelling around the world for seven years, Tajikistan is one of the most authentic and interesting places I’ve ever visited. Get ready for an unforgettable adventure and don’t forget to bring your camera!
Contributed by Raksha Nagaraj of Solopassport
Located in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is one of the most culturally rich countries. Playing an important role in the Silk Route, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean, Uzbekistan is famous for its stunning mosques, mausoleums, and history dating back to the 15th century. Being ruled by many emperors, the country is very diverse and welcomes everyone with open arms. Some of the best cities to visit when in Uzbekistan are Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. All these cities were part of the Silk Route and have stunning architectural and historical monuments.
What makes Uzbekistan more special is that Uzbeks are very kind and caring. They are fascinated by Bollywood, one of India’s film industries, and they treat Indians like celebrities. During my travels in Uzbekistan locals, including whole families, wanted to get their picture taken with me.
Uzbekistan is perfect for travellers who love history and culture. There are so many things to see and learn about their traditions and culture. The country is also great for solo travellers as the locals are always ready to help despite having a language barrier.
One of the best and most sustainable ways to travel in Uzbekistan is by public transport. The country has very modern and spectacular intercity train networks that are fast and efficient. And within the cities, you can easily walk around as all the landmarks are close by and have plenty of green spaces.
Underrated destinations in Asia: the Middle East
Contribution by Suzanne of Suzanne Wanders Delhi
Iran is one of the most amazing and surprising countries I have visited. I spent a month traveling solo around Iran and it wasn’t long enough – it was the most epic trip of my life.
Iran is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, even older than Egypt, and home to many important ruins, like the ancient city of Persepolis (UNESCO). Iran is also incredibly beautiful. There are several mountain ranges, deserts, two seas and stunning Islamic architecture. I did everything from hiking in the Valley of the Assassins, to taking a jeep through the desert and swimming in the Persian Gulf. Iran is without a doubt a truly hidden gem in Asia.
As a solo female, I felt very safe and was always treated with respect. Iranians are friendly and welcoming. I was constantly plied with tea and sweets, being invited to people’s homes for meals, and strangers went out of their way to help me with directions and travel advice. And did I mention the food? Delicious! Lots of meat, but plenty of options for vegetarians.
What about the practical stuff? The infrastructure is solid – reliable Wi-Fi, steady electricity, drinkable water, plus excellent and easy to use transit. I took the metro in several cities, multiple long-distance bus journeys, and a 14 hour overnight train ride. All were inexpensive, efficient and comfortable.
Iran won’t be for everyone – alcohol is banned, and women must dress modestly and cover their hair at all times in public. There are also restrictions on travel for UK, USA and Canadian passport holders–these citizens must travel with a government approved guide at all times. Some social media platforms are banned but a VPN gets around this.
Contribution by Alison of In Scotterati Footsteps
The Omani enclave of Musandam mesmerises me every time with its beautifully layered mountain formations, stunning fjords and villages where time seems to have stood still.
Khasab, Musandam is perfect for slow travellers and those wanting to escape busy, modern life. What is more relaxing than sailing across stunning azure waters in a traditional wooden dhow, watching pods of leaping dolphins before stopping for snorkelling?
For an adrenalin boost, I love a bumpy drive up the rocky Jebel Harim, followed by the serenity of green plateaus higher up. I have yet to try the new zipline, the world’s longest across water, but I can’t wait!
What I love most in Musandam is the wonderful feeling of being disconnected from the world. Leaving a busy metropolis behind, I feel I’m entering another world, an old, unspoilt world.
Curiosity takes me down lanes and mountain tracks, stumbling upon old houses and tiny villages with brightly painted doors in traditional designs on stone buildings, goats wandering wherever they like and children running barefoot.
Omanis are humble and friendly and interacting with them will enrich your experience. Don’t hesitate if someone invites you for a cup of tea.
As Oman focuses on responsible tourism, hotels blend into the environment, heritage is valued and employment for the local people in the tourism industry is a priority.
Musandam is perfect for a short vacation, an add-on to a trip to Oman or the UAE or a relaxing break on a long-haul stopover.
Hidden gems in Asia: The lesser known Turkey
Black Sea Region
Contribution by Kedi of Let’s Travel to Türkiye!
If you’re looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path adventure — complete with rugged mountains, delicious local cuisine, lesser-known historic sites, and local experiences — then Turkey’s Black Sea region is exactly what you need! This geographical region spans more than 1,500 kilometers and is famous for its narrow coastline, clusters of small villages, and famed tea plantations.
Some of our favourite highlights include driving from Amasra to Sinop (a popular route along a Turkish Black Sea roadtrip), seeing the beautifully-preserved Ottoman houses in Safranbolu, relaxing on a sandy beach in Sinop, and climbing up to Kastamonu Castle.
Besides its beauty, the Turkish Black Sea region is also an excellent example of slow travel. It’s still very much under the radar, which means that we enjoyed forming authentic connections with locals, trying traditional food at small mom-and-pop restaurants, and taking our time to really soak in the history and landmarks (instead of just checking them off our itinerary).
In fact, our favourite memory of this trip was staying in a gorgeous centuries-old konak (traditional Turkish mansion) and chatting with the owner about his favourite regional dishes.
We recommend a trip around Turkey’s Black Sea region for anyone who’s interested in getting back to nature (you’ll have the mountains on one side and the sea on the other!), foodies who enjoy trying traditional local cuisine (there’s plenty here!), and those who wish to see the ‘other side of Turkey.’
Best of all, you’ll be contributing to responsible travel practices, as your money will go to local communities and you’ll visit places that need your support.
Contributed by Soumya of Stories by Soumya
The medieval city of Safranbolu in the Black Sea Region of northern Turkey is one of the most offbeat places to visit in the country.
Dotted with picturesque Ottoman mansions, historic mosques, and charming old marketplaces, the world heritage city of Safranbolu is the best place for anyone interested in history and architecture.
Perhaps, the most interesting thing to do in Safranbolu is to marvel at its stunning Ottoman architecture dating to the 17th century. As you stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Safranbolu, you’ll notice hundreds of medieval houses sporting traditional Ottoman designs in stone and wood. Built into the hilly terrain of the Black Sea Region, Safranbolu’s half-timbered stone houses with gabled roofs give the city a postcard perfect view.
Many of Safranbolu’s houses have now been turned into museums and boutique hotels. This process has helped in the restoration and upkeep of hundreds of Ottoman mansions while channelising tourism gains back into the local economy.
My favourite part of the Safranbolu trip was staying at Camlica Konagi, a 300-year-old Turkish mansion now converted into a boutique hotel. It not only gave me an immersive experience of the history and architecture of the place but also introduced me to wonderful Turkish hospitality that I can go back to any time.
Safranbolu in Turkey is a true hidden gem that deserves to be seen and known by people around the world.
Asian destinations off the beaten path in East Asia and South East Asia
Contribution by James Ian of Travel Collecting
The Sabah area in Malaysian Borneo is a great place to visit for nature lovers who are willing to step off the beaten path.
Borneo is famous for being home to orangutans. One of the best places to see them is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a great way to be part of an ethical animal experience. This rehabilitation centre rescues, nurses to health, rehabilitates and releases orangutans back into the surrounding rainforest. For orangutans in their transitional phase, there are feeding platforms where they return from the rainforest to feed and be monitored. It was wonderful to see babies swinging around the ropes set up at the edge of the rainforest.
Another popular place to see them completely in the wild is the Kinabatangan River, where you can find several ecolodges that offer tours along the river. Be sure to pick an ethical company that has silent motors in order not to disturb the animals. I saw not only orangutans, but also proboscis monkeys, hornbills, and even some pygmy elephants from a small boat on the river and it was amazing. Seeing these incredible animals in the wild was the definite highlight of my trip.
Another top thing I did there was my visit to Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley, a protected area of virgin rainforest. The all-inclusive lodge is an ecolodge that hires local guides, so rest assured that the money goes to the local communities. On guided hikes through the rainforest, I saw more orangutans, plus loads of birds and, at night, even a rare cloud leopard!
My other favourite place in Borneo was Sepadan Island, one of the world’s top diving sites. There was incredible scuba diving with barracudas, coral, and thousands of colourful fish.
If you love nature, you should definitely visit the Sabah region of Borneo!
Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
Contributed by Victoria of Guide Your Travel
Central Sulawesi welcomed me with its diverse and captivating offerings, making it an exceptional option if you are looking into Asian destinations off the beaten path. The highlights were countless, from exploring the ancient megaliths in Lore Lindu National Park to snorkelling in the pristine waters of the Togean Islands; each moment held a touch of enchantment. One must immerse oneself in the vibrant traditions of the indigenous communities and savour the local delicacies that celebrate the region’s rich cultural tapestry.
Among my fondest memories was sharing hearty laughter with the locals during a traditional dance performance. Their infectious joy and genuine hospitality left an indelible mark on my heart, reminding me of the true essence of travel.
I highly recommend Central Sulawesi to adventurers in search of authenticity. History buffs will delight in the megalithic wonders, while photographers will be able to immortalize the breathtaking landscapes. Those who like to discover new experiences will delight in unique flavours, and indigenous traditions will enchant those with an affinity for cultural exploration. Responsible travellers should favour environmentally-friendly accommodation, support local artisans and respect the environment to ensure the region’s sustainability.
As a responsible traveller, my journey through Central Sulawesi was about exploration and leaving a positive impact. The blend of captivating attractions, warm people, and opportunities for sustainable practices made this destination a haven for those seeking an ethically enriching travel experience.
Contribution by Simon of Backpack Moments
Timor Leste is a tiny, 20-year-old country only 2 hours from Bali that few people know anything about. Neither did I before going there. My 11 days in East Timor showed me how much everyone is missing out. Shall you make the journey to this unusual destination in South East Asia, you will be rewarded with pristine beauty and cultural richness.
I always check out the history museums in a new place. The capital, Dili, will reveal the dark secrets of the Indonesian occupation of Timor between 1975 and 1999. History buffs can rejoice in the archives open to the public inside the Resistance Museum.
Leaving the capital I hitchhiked all across the island. The Timorese people really blew me away with their genuine hospitality unspoiled by mass tourism or organized groups. I was invited for meals with families that barely had enough for themselves and given rides to places where no public transport ever goes.
My best memory was actually a cosmic coincidence. Literally. Just as I arrived in Timor Leste, I found out that the 2023 Total Solar Eclipse happens to run straight through the east part of the country. To witness it was an awesome experience!
The country is also an amazing destination for divers with its magnificent coral reefs and isolated exotic beaches.
Or maybe you’re a coffee-lover? Then you should be thrilled to find out more about the 100% organic (the farmers simply cannot afford pesticides) coffee from the Ermera District.
Overall, Timor Leste is a wonderful combination of untouched nature, post-colonial architecture, flavourful fusion cuisine, and the most wonderful people.
Ha Giang, Vietnam
Contribution by Jackie of Life Of Doing
Ha Giang, located in north Vietnam, is a rural and mountainous area to explore. It’s a hidden gem due to the long 7+ hour journey from Hanoi, the capital, and the limited tourism infrastructure.
Ha Giang is perfect for adventurous travellers who can drive a motorbike, since that is the only means of transportation available around the area. The roads are not in the best condition, so decent driving skills are needed for the twisty roads.
The famous Ha Giang Loop takes 3 to 5+ days to complete. Since I don’t know how to drive a motorbike, I did the Easy Rider way. I sat behind my driver, also the tour guide, and let the breathtaking scenery soak in. I loved watching the vast mountains, endless corn fields, and pretty buckwheat flowers pass by; it was a memorable experience. I finished the Ha Giang Loop in 4 days.
The top things to do in the area include visiting the tall Vietnam flag pole at Lung Cu, driving on one of the dangerous roads in Ha Giang called Ma Pi Leng Pass, and taking a boat ride along the turquoise Nho Que River.
Ha Giang has 20+ ethnic minorities, such as Tay, Dao, and Hmong. The best way to support them is to stay at ethnic minority-owned guesthouses. If visiting Nho Que River, stay overnight at the Hmong Culture Village in Pa Vi Commune. There are many guesthouses with traditional decor to choose from.
Contribution by Emily of Emixglobe
Taiwan is a gem in the heart of Asia that is often overlooked due to its size. Filled with rich cultural diversity and plenty of mouthwatering food, Taiwan really is one of my favourite Asian destinations off-the-beaten path. There are many cities you could explore in Taiwan, but in my opinion, Taichung takes the top for travellers who are looking to experience a little of everything.
Right in the middle of Taiwan, Taichung is the ideal city for travellers looking for a taste of both bustling cities and slower and more immersive experiences. One of Taichung’s charm lies in its diverse landscapes. Taichung offers many beautiful sceneries like the picturesque Sun Moon Lake, or the Gaomei Wetlands where locals often go for the most beautiful sunsets. And because Taichung is located right in the middle, it is super easy to go on day trips to neighbouring cities; the Historic Streets of Lukang is undoubtedly the most in Taiwan.
One thing to note that is Taiwanese drink shops and food stalls use single-use plastic, which is extremely bad for the environment! I always make sure to have my own water bottle with me when I’m buying drinks to avoid the excess plastic, reusable utensils like my own chopsticks from home, and also collapsible lunchboxes to avoid producing too much waste when eating out. Many locals and travellers don’t even notice how much waste they produce because it’s so common, but you really do help the environment enormously with simple actions like these. Most drink shops will even have a discount if you bring your own water bottle to fill your drink with!
Underrated destinations in South Asia
Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Contribution by Gladis of Happiness On The Way
When you think of Sri Lanka, the images of lush tea plantations, ancient temples, and pristine beaches will pop up. But did you know that the country’s northernmost tip — Jaffna — looks like an entirely different place? Jaffna is an off the beaten path destination in the country that deserves a spot on every traveller’s radar.
Jaffna is known for its incredible Hindu temples that will leave you in awe of their intricate architecture and spiritual ambiance. The Nagapooshani Amman Kovil, located on the charming Nainatheevu island, will give you quite an experience of Hindu rituals.
It’s really peaceful. Devotees are really immersed in their worship. During my visit, I was fascinated, although a little puzzled, as I thought they’d sacrificed a bird — as it turns out, it was all part of a unique ceremony. And yes, the bird was thankfully still alive after the ritual!
But Jaffna isn’t just about temples; it’s also blessed with beautiful beaches. The northernmost point, Point Pedro, offers breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean, making it an ideal spot to catch the sunset and feel the sea breeze.
What sets Jaffna apart is its distinct culture, influenced by its proximity to India. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different world. Jaffna opened its doors to travellers only in 2009, so you’ll experience a genuine slice of local life. It’s a perfect destination for history buffs, photographers, and spiritual travelers.
Embrace the slow travel mindset, immerse yourself in the culture, respect their rituals, and let Jaffna’s hidden gems unravel before you.
Contribution by Sundeep and Bedabrata of Delhi-Fun-Dos.com
Jhaltola in Uttarakhand, India, is one of many hidden gems in the north of the country. Being advocates of slow travel, we booked our stay at the eco resort The Misty Mountains, which farmed organic vegetables for their curries and pickles, used dried wood from surrounding forests for fire, and had no television set. It was a glorious experience.
Every morning, we were greeted with the most gorgeous view of Himalayan peaks from our window. Walking through the serene and calm village took us through some unique architecture decorated with local Aipan wall art. We went to the workshop of the cooperative Avani to see how traditional skills such as basket weaving, wool knits and weaves dyed naturally were produced for commercial purposes. We also trekked up to the solitary Lambkeshwar Shiva temple, soaking in all the mountain breeze. Last but not least, we enjoyed the healthy yet flavourful local Kumaoni cuisine, which we were not too familiar with.
Visiting Patal Bhuvaneshwar was the climax of our trip. This was like a natural cave temple formed with stalactites and stalagmites that resembled various Hindu idols. Bearing reference to religious texts of the 12th century, Patal Bhuvaneshwar was a goosebumps adventure.
The nearest railway station to Jhaltola was Kathgodam. We took the Kathgodam Shatabdi from New Delhi and reached in 5 hours. Thereafter, we drove for about 7 hours.
Jhaltola is perfect for mountain-lovers, culture buffs, and offbeat travellers. An eco-friendly lifestyle has effortlessly sustained here. Snow-clad Himalayas, pine and oak trees, quaint hilltop temples, cave shrines, treks, crafts, weaves, and local cuisine; we created solid memories in Jhaltola.
Final thoughts on these underrated destinations in Asia
As you reflect on the hidden treasures we’ve uncovered in these underrated Asian travel destinations, I encourage you to consider adding one of them to your travel bucket list. By choosing to explore these lesser-visited regions, you become a part of a responsible and sustainable approach to tourism that celebrates authenticity and preserves the rich mosaic of cultures for generations to come. So, embark on a journey of discovery, not only for yourself but for the remarkable communities you’ll encounter along the way, and leave a lasting mark of goodwill on these lesser-known corners of Asia. Your travels can be a force for positive change, and these destinations are the perfect canvas for your adventures.