Best Asian Countries To Visit For First-Timers

All About Amazing Asia

By Robert Schrader | Published on July 26, 2023

I'll be honest: It's difficult to sum up the best Asian countries to visit. Having spent years of my life on the continent, I've developed a deep love for every corner of it. If it's your first trip, however, I find that a few particular countries offer the most welcoming invitation to discover Asia's charms. Once you get the hang of it by cruising to major destinations like Thailand and South Korea, you'll feel confident — and curious — to explore more deeply on subsequent trips. For now, here's everything you need to know before you embark on an epic journey to Asia.

Believe Thailand's Hype

I felt at home from the first moment I touched down in Thailand — I felt welcome. Welcome to discover the eclectic tastes and aromas of Bangkok's street food stalls, the ornate temples and towering waterfalls up north in Chiang Rai and the myriad islands that dot the waters of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. And I felt welcome, of course, by the Thai people, whether by physical gestures like the wai (bow) or the friendly smile everyone seems to wear in this famously happy country.

This is why Thailand is always first to mind when I'm making recommendations to first-time travelers to Asia. Practical aspects of exploring the Kingdom also contribute to this. A lot of people in Thailand speak English, so even if you don't take the time to learn a few words of the Thai language (though I absolutely recommend that you do), you'll be able to get around easily. Low-cost airlines connect Bangkok to all corners of Thailand cheaply and with amazing frequency, which further invites you to discover and explore.

Thailand is much bigger than it looks on the map, so you can easily spend a few weeks here, ideally split between Bangkok, the northern cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and island paradises like Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and beyond. However, if you want to branch out, fear not. You can travel overland from Thailand to neighboring countries like Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia, while traveler-favorite Vietnam is just a short flight away.

Book Now

Ready to see the world? Book your spot on the Ultimate World Cruise today.

See The Past, Present And Future In Japan

As is the case with Thailand, hospitality makes Japan ideal for the first-time traveler. The Japanese actually have a word for it — omotenashi. This isn't the only reason you should set your sights for Japan, however, even if there's nothing quite like a steaming cup of matcha green tea after your cruise ship pulls into Japan's port. Nor is Japan's only selling point the extremely high level of public safety you'll find here.

Japan's wealth of destinations and experiences are, first and foremost, what places it among the best Asian countries to visit. Explore megacities like Tokyo and Osaka, and then ancient metropolises like Kyoto and Kanazawa. Get up close and personal with iconic Mt. Fuji, before acquainting yourself with the paradise islands of Okinawa or the enchanting forests of the Japanese Alps, which are famous in Japan but almost unknown abroad. I recommend learning some basic Japanese phrases before you cruise there, if only so you have more ways to express your awe!

Another reason Japan should be a priority on your Asia vacation cruise? It's a truly 365-day destination — meaning, you can't go wrong no matter when you visit. I was lucky enough on my first trip there to arrive right as spring's sakura (cherry) blossoms were reaching full bloom. I've since returned to enjoy the reds and oranges of autumn, the deep snow of winter, and the hot, humid summer. After these experiences, I can confidently say: Japan is like a different country in each season.

I love Asia because it pushes my boundaries and takes me out of my comfort zone, though sometimes I crave familiarity and even ease when exploring the continent.

It Really Is More Fun In The Philippines

The Philippines is a country where every experience is a great time, even carting along a winding mountain road in a packed-to-the-gills Jeepney, a vehicle that locals in rural parts of the country use like a bus. Then there are the people: Filipinos exude a love for life that makes every interaction feel unforgettable.

Another aspect of the Philippines that makes it one of the best places to visit in Asia? The variety of attractions, of course. You'll only visit a small fraction of the thousands of islands that comprise the country, but whether you're in North Luzon at the ancient Banaue Rice Terraces or snorkeling amid the perfectly clear waters in the Coron Lagoon of Palawan in the south, you'll feel like you've set foot on another planet, where everything is paradise.

My advice when planning your trip? Pace yourself. Although the Philippines is well-connected by plane from its capital Manila, it's much bigger than it looks on the map. Pick a couple of islands to explore down south (maybe big-box Boracay or off-the-beaten path Siargao, in addition to Palawan), and then some non-beach destinations like Bohol's Chocolate Hills or Ta'al, a unique landform near Manila that comprises a lake inside a volcano inside another lake!

South Korea Punches Above Its Weight

It's difficult to find someone who doesn't regularly partake in Korean culture, whether that's enjoying a chart-topping television series on Netflix or chart-topping hits by K-pop superstars. However, while the opportunity to step into your favorite show or music video is part of what makes South Korea one of the best countries to visit in Asia for first-time travelers, my own love for the country is far deeper than that.

When I think about travel in Korea, I first have to make a distinction: There's Seoul, and then there's the rest of the country. An ecosystem more than simply a city, sprawling Seoul is a wonderland of food, shopping, culture, architecture and, well, soul. It's best to cruise to Seoul and spend as long as you can here, whether you're traipsing through historical attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace or eating bibimbap amid the futuristic streetscapes of Myeong-dong and Itaewon.

As awesome as Seoul is, it's but one reason that Korea ranks among my favorite places in Asia. If you're an urban-minded traveler, board a high-speed KTX train to Busan (insider tip for K-culture aficionados: No zombies here!) and spend some time in this underrated port city. Otherwise, head east and explore amazing hiking in Seoraksan National Park, or fly south to Jeju, a volcanic island some call the "Hawaii of Korea" for its biodiversity and warm climate.

Hong Kong And Singapore: Cherries On Top

I love Asia because it pushes my boundaries and takes me out of my comfort zone, though sometimes I crave familiarity and even ease when exploring the continent. When this urge strikes, I usually board the next flight to one of two places: Hong Kong or Singapore. While these cities are incredibly different from one another, they're both destinations defined by multiculturalism whose staggering wealth makes them a great place to rest and recharge.

The first time I visited Hong Kong, what struck me was its diversity. As I strolled beneath the neon lights of the bustling Kowloon district, it seemed like every person I passed was from a different country! Other appealing reasons to add Hong Kong to your Asia trip include cheap electronics shopping on offer in Mong Kok, the amazing view from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island and the ease of discovering delicious Cantonese cuisine — think roasted duck and pork-filled dumplings — as you wander through Hong Kong's storied streets.

Singapore is similarly eclectic — this tiny country has four official languages! One way to spend a day in Singapore is by exploring each of the city's ethnic enclaves, from Little India to Chinatown to Arab Street to Kampong Glam, home to Singapore's Malay community. You can also enjoy the city-state's diversity in terms of the activities you prioritize. Spend your afternoon shopping along Orchard Road and visiting the lush Singapore Botanic Garden. As the sun sets, ascend to the rooftop of the futuristic Marina Bay Sands Hotel for a cocktail with a view, then end amid the otherworldly "trees" of the spacey Gardens by the Bay.

First Asia, Then The World

Once you tick the best Asian countries to visit off your bucket list, what comes next? Certainly, they'll inspire you to return to Asia in the future and dig deeper. For some travelers, however, Asia constitutes but a few stops on a comprehensive World Cruise, which, as its name suggests, circumnavigates the entire planet. Whether your first Asian excursion inspires you to go global or simply to dig deeper into Asia, I promise you: It's the start of something beautiful.

Written By

Robert Schrader is a writer, photographer and one of the web's original travel bloggers. In 2009 he launched his blog Leave Your Daily Hell, which has taken him to nearly 100 countries, and has since spun off niche sites focused on Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Italy. Robert seeks to inform, inspire, entertain and empower travelers through his work, which has been featured in in-flight magazines and digital media outlets around the world. He's excited about travel's post-pandemic rebirth, and in particular the cruise industry's comeback!

Get Royal Deals, Sign Up Today

Previewing: Promo Dashboard Campaigns

My Personas