When it comes time to planning a vacation, most travelers consider factors like personal interest, cost, and distance. Regardless of mundane concerns, many still dream of jet-setting to faraway locations like South America and East Asia. But in reality, the chance to travel to these locations doesn’t come around too often. In particular, East Asia has become more popular in recent years. Though Southeast Asian locations like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are staples for backpackers looking to expand their horizons, almost half a billion travelers headed to East Asia back in 2019. According to data from the World Bank, that number was up from 277 million the decade before.
Though East Asian locations like China, Japan, and South Korea are some of the more expensive travel destinations in the world, tourists are willing to foot the bill for a culturally immersive experience. From unique food to fashion to architecture, there’s plenty to dive into. With so much diversity, it can be hard to nail down which areas to target while planning an East Asian getaway. Metropolises like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are on the beaten path, leading many to explore lesser-charted areas. Looking to explore some of the region’s hidden gems? Keep reading for three East Asian destinations that shouldn’t be missed.
Once a former Portuguese colony, Macau is now known for hosting millions of travelers from nearby areas like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and tourists from the mainland. Many come to enjoy the area’s casino culture—and though some consider it the Las Vegas of Asia, Macau is actually the world’s most-visited gaming destination in the world.
As such, there are incredibly unique opportunities for travelers. There’s the world’s largest casino resort, The Venetian Macau, as well as some of the world’s most unique architectural feats, such as the City of Dreams’ Morpheus Hotel. And, as is customary with glitz and glamour, Macau’s culinary scene can’t be beaten. The area is home to 30 Michelin star restaurants that cover a variety of traditions, from local southeastern Chinese delicacies to world-class French cuisine. Looking for luxury and a few unexpected surprises? Macau can’t be beaten.
Forget the unending bustle of Tokyo and the lagging public transport in Kyoto. Osaka is quickly becoming Japan’s premier tourist destination for world travelers. First on the list is history, as Osaka was the country’s first-ever capital. A close second is entertainment.
Travelers will first notice the vast range of recreational activities at their disposal, from Universal Studios to the Osaka Aquarium (the best in the country). Much local entertainment is infused with culture, including the Tenjin Matsuri summer festival and the Bunraku Theater for traditional storytelling. Best of all, visitors will find traveling around the city is a breeze with its comprehensive public transportation services. Areas like the Kuromon Market (popular for food tasting), Shinsekai market, and the Minami downtown area are all a short trip away.
Busan, South Korea
Most tourists head straight to Seoul or farther south to Jeju Island. Both are worthy destinations. Seoul is a global capital when it comes to fashion and design, while Jeju is full of breathtaking natural wonders. However, Busan has both of these elements combined. The coastal city is home to pristine beaches and plenty of water activities, whether renting a boat or simply spending a day in the sand. Haeundae, Gwangalli, and Dadaepo are popular beaches that are frequented by locals and tourists alike.
Taejongdae Park, which includes pristine forests that abut the ocean, is another top pick. Further inland, Busan is also home to unique cultural activities. The Songdo cable car is a great way to get an overview of the city and its natural parks and beaches. The Gamcheon Cultural Village highlights local art movements, while temple tours provide a unique look into the region’s storied traditions. Unlike Macau and Osaka, it’s common for tourists to take guided private tours in order to get a closer look at the area, as well as access services like translations and recommendations.