The travel experiences in Asia that are great for your mind, body and the 'gram

From riding a hot air balloon over an ancient city to visiting Taiwan’s quirkiest bookstore, here are some of the best photo ops in the region.

Hot air balloon over Bagan
  • Angeline Tse
  • January 2020

Yes, we increasingly seek out things to do that we can share on social media but it’s not just a great pic we’re after. We also want to explore, learn, be surprised, and deep dive into all the wonderful things travel can bring. Well, add these experiences to your bucket list — they’re made for the ’gram and so much more.

1. Take a hot air balloon ride over Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan landscape
Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which reigned from the 9th to 13th centuries.

Bagan is one of those destinations that lives up to its hype (and is totally worth the 10-hour bus ride from Yangon). The capital of Myanmar’s first empire is home to the densest concentration of Buddhist structures in the world. That fact does little to prepare you for the scale of this archaeological site until you’re high up on a hot air balloon — where you get a bird’s-eye view of the 3,822 monuments and a precious glimpse into the magnificence of the ancient city.

READ MORE: 10 things you didn’t know about Yangon

2. Learn about the local way of life in Vietnam’s first street art village

Tam Thanh Mural Village
More than a dozen Korean and Vietnamese artists spent two weeks painting over 100 murals across walls, doors and fences.

Less than a two-hour drive from Da Nang is a rural village that has been revitalised thanks to a Korean-Vietnamese joint project called “Art For A Better Community”. The murals capture the heart and soul of Tam Thanh Mural Village — many are detailed portraits of the small community of close-knit locals going about their day while others are inspired by the surrounding natural beauty. Take a slow stroll through the narrow laneways — there’s so much to discover.

Address: Thanh Niên, Tp. Tam Kỳ, Quảng Nam

READ MORE: 12 things to do in Da Nang (other than visit the Golden Bridge)

3. Be bowled over by the Batad Rice Terraces

Batad Rice Terraces
The best time to visit Batad is October, just after the rainy season has ended and the land is still green.

While most people head to the more famous Banaue Rice Terraces, escape the crowds by travelling an extra hour up the mountain to Batad. (You have to take an overnight bus from Manila to get to Banaue, so what’s another hour, really?) Built over 2,000 years ago by the Ifugao people, sprawling paddy fields are cut into the craggy mountainside, forming a dramatically beautiful amphitheatre. For a panoramic view, take a two-hour hike to the Awa View Deck.

READ MORE: 5 best nature walks for day trips out of Manila

4. Visit a library like no other in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

Wuguan Books interior
Nearly 500 books are on display along the shop’s perimeter, circling a long table of curios and lifestyle products. (Photo credit:

Pull back the heavy curtain and get lost in the magical world of Wuguan Books. It’s disorienting at first — the space is shrouded in darkness, save for the books which are individually lit so they appear as if they’re floating in mid-air. The dark wooden furniture and carpeted floor absorb the sound of footsteps, making you feel like you’re the only person there. And that’s when you understand what’s at work — the space was designed to be a clean break from the outside world. Here, it’s just you and the book in front of you.

Address: Dayi Warehouse Cluster, Pier-2 Art Center, Kaohsiung City

READ MORE: The book lover’s guide to Taipei

5. Travel deeper in Munduk, Bali

Infinity pool at the Munduk Moding Resort
The infinity pool at the Munduk Moding Resort and Spa boasts stunning mountain views.

Munduk is home to some of Bali’s most ’grammable spots including the massive stone gate at Handara Golf Resort and the swing viewpoint at Wanagiri Hidden Hill. But the mountainous region holds many overlooked gems including Melanting waterfall, the tranquil Tamblingan Lake and the imposing 700-year-old banyan tree in the nearby Gesing village.

READ MORE: Your itinerary for the perfect weekend in Bali

6. Soak up the romance of fall in Kyoto

Koyasu Pagoda
The Koyasu Pagoda is said to bless pregnant visitors with an easy and safe childbirth.

Kiyomizu-dera temple is one of Kyoto’s iconic sights but its beauty is unrivalled come mid-November when the UNESCO World Heritage Site is cloaked in the lush, romantic reds of over 1,000 maple trees. The journey begins at the base of the main hall where fortune seekers take a sip from any of the three streams from Otowa Waterfall, each believed to bring luck to different parts of your life. From there, take your time to explore the temple grounds — highlights include the three-storey Koyasu Pagoda and the pitch-black basement of Zuigo-do hall that’s designed to mimic a mother’s womb.

Address: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

7. Ogle the world’s largest alien-searching radio dish

Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope
The telescope is about the size of 30 football fields.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope in Guizhou is the most sensitive listening device on earth. It uses radio waves to look for planets outside our solar system and “interstellar communication signals” — a fancy way of saying “signs of alien life”. Head to the astronomy-themed museum inside to learn about how it works, and then up to the viewing platform for an epic view of the gigantic telescope.

Address: Pingtang, Qiannan, Guizhou

8. Go on a pilgrimage to Vung Tau

Christ the King in the city of Vung Tau
The 32m-high statue took almost two decades to build.

Christ the King in the city of Vung Tau is Vietnam’s answer to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro — in fact, it’s 2m taller. Located about two hours outside of Ho Chi Minh City, it was finished in 1993 and has become an important site for Christians. You can climb the statue to enjoy views of the surroundings but to get the best picture of it, head to the Vung Tau Lighthouse. Go early before the crowds arrive (or at lunchtime when the statue is closed) so you won’t have pesky tourists standing on its shoulder.

Address: 01, Bà Rịa - Vũng Tàu

READ MORE: Ho Chi Minh’s best-kept secrets

9. Take a water buffalo taxi in Okinawa

Yubu-jima buffalo carriage
It takes about 20 minutes to get to Yubu-jima via water buffalo carriage.

To get to Yubu-jima, a small island that’s made up entirely of a subtropical garden, you have to make a 400m crossing over shallow waters from Iriomote Island. You can walk to the island or opt for the novel form of public transportation offered — an old-school carriage pulled by a water buffalo. During the leisurely ride, the guide sings traditional Okinawan songs accompanied by a sanshin, a three-stringed instrument. With the soothing music in the background and the sea breeze in your hair, it’s all the laid-back vibes you’d expect from Okinawa.

READ MORE: Okinawa’s secrets to happiness revealed