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8 Picturesque Places In Asia That Will Make You Feel Like You’re On NatGeo

Postcard-perfect holiday destinations




Growing up, I was obsessed with National Geographic. I loved watching their documentaries and reading the magazines – the videos and pictures were just so vivid. From sparkling oceans to ancient cities, the National Geographic channel was my way of going on an adventure from the comfort of my couch. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has yearned to visit all the picturesque sights in the documentaries – so here are 8 places to visit that would make you feel like you’re in a NatGeo documentary.  


1. Explore breathtaking caves in Vietnam



Source: @lost.verse.uni

Vietnam is home to some of the largest caves in the world. Son Doong cave, currently the world’s largest, was only discovered in 2009, and has its own rivers and jungle within the craggy exterior. With huge stalagmites, massive caverns and natural ‘skylights’, Son Doong is natural beauty in its purest form. Much of it is untouched by human hands, due to its sheer obscurity.

You can only enter the cave during the dry season (Feb – Aug), as during the rainy season, the water levels of the river at the cave’s entrance rise too high, making it impossible to cross. Indeed, exploring Son Doong is something for the hardcore adventure seekers – just getting to the cave mouth requires a 1.5 day trek through vast, uninhabited jungle.

However, if you, like me, feel like fainting at the prospect of a 1.5 day journey through the wilds, Hang En cave might be a more achievable prospect!


Source: @hanoicapital

Hang En is the third-largest cave in the world, and is much more accessible than Son Doong. Tours to Hang En are open from mid-Dec to Aug. Located about half a day’s trek from Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Hang En is home to beautiful beaches and crystal-clear pools. You can go for a dip to cool off after your hike, or examine ancient fossils in the cave walls, basking in the simple beauty of the rock formations.

The nearest city to the caves is Dong Hoi City, though you will need to fly in from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. Currently, Oxalis Adventure Tours is the primary operator of tours to both Son Doong and Hang En, as well as to other caves in the area. It is illegal – and also impossible – to access these caves without local guides.


2. Dive into Queensland’s sunken ships 




While most people associate Queensland with incredible natural beauty, few realise that there is an alternative way to experience the vast marine life there – by exploring a sunken ship. I’ve always wanted to see if I could find hidden treasure in ships that have met a watery end. 

Queensland is home to many registered shipwreck dive sites, but the most well-known are the SS Yongala, and the HMAS Brisbane

The SS Yongala has been sunk for over a century, and is teeming with marine life. Think corals of all kinds, clown fish, octopi, eagle rays… it’s hard to not have your breath taken away by their sheer beauty. Dive tours to the SS Yongala are organised regularly, but go for them only if you have diving experience, as the currents can get very strong. The ship is practically an underwater museum as well, containing relics from an era long past. While you’ll be able to swim around the reef and explore the exterior of the ship, you won’t be able to enter it. The interior is protected by the Australian government, in order to preserve the fragile architecture for generations to come.


Source: @professional_dive_services  

But if you want to properly explore a sunken ship, go for a dive at the HMAS Brisbane. The warship, deployed during the Vietnam War and Gulf War, was decommissioned in 2001 and intentionally sunk in 2005. It’s an artificial reef created to promote coral growth and sustain marine life, and is considerably safer to explore. 

The ship still contains relics from its military past, and it is an unforgettable experience to see how Mother Nature has laid her claim to our manmade structures. After seeing gun turrets covered in corals and fish swimming around the former boiler room, you’ll be in awe at what happens when nature takes over. 


3. Meet India’s last surviving lions




Away from the bustling cities of New Delhi and Mumbai, Gir National Park in Gujarat offers you an opportunity to meet the last lions of Asia. 

The Asiatic lions were hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s, and are now considered an endangered species. History has it that they would have been wiped out entirely, had an Indian prince not decided to protect the lions on his hunting grounds in Gujarat. Apart from the lions, you can spot exotic birds, porcupines, boars… the park is home to over 2,300 fauna species, and more than 500 types of plants, so there is plenty to take in. Splurge on a safari jeep ride that lets you get up close and personal to the animals, and have that wildlife adventure without flying  to Africa. 

The park is open from mid-Oct to mid-Jun, while the Devalia Safari Park, also known as the Gir Interpretation Zone, or ‘Gir in a nutshell’, is open all year.  


4. Take a hot air balloon ride over Bagan



Source: @theblondedaydreamer  

Seen by many as Myanmar’s equivalent to the Angkor Wat, Bagan encapsulates the rustic, old-world charm of Myanmar and is home to over 2,200 temples and pagodas. Getting to Bagan requires a domestic flight via Yangon or Mandalay, but it is well worth the journey. 

Stroll through New Bagan to interact with the locals, visit a family-run lacquerware store for unique souvenirs, and rent a bike to explore the various archaeological beauties in the area. Or, head to Old Bagan and wander through the footsteps of the ancient Burmese as you walk through remmants of the former capital’s city walls, or climb to the top of an ancient pagoda for an intoxicating view of the numerous temples. 


Source: @fannyfalkenberg

For a truly panoramic view, get on a hot-air balloon instead! You’ll get a 360-degree view of the numerous temples in Bagan that seem, at the same time, both symmetrically similar and yet distinctly unique. Pagodas stretch into the distance, as far as the eye can see, painting a beautiful sight that you cannot get anywhere else. 


5. Sail along the Li River in Guilin




There’s a saying in Mandarin: 桂林山水甲天下, which literally translates as “Guilin’s mountain and water scenery is the best under heaven”. 

One of the most picturesque places in China, Guilin is home to beautiful limestone mountains and sparkling rivers. With lush green forests and rice paddy fields, Guilin is known for the layer of mist that shrouds the scenery, adding a touch of mystique to the view. 

Rather than going on a river cruise, opt for something a little more old-school – sail down the Li River in a motorised bamboo raft.



Boat rides can be booked from many places in Guilin and Yangshuo, but I’d recommend going through your hotel to be on the safe side. Ensure your tour includes the stretch of the river between Xingping and Yangdi – it’s the most beautiful part of the river. 

You can get to the city of Guilin easily by plane – there are many flights from Singapore on airlines such as Cathay Pacific, though most include a stopover. 


6. Go snorkeling in Raja Ampat 


In the classic Disney film The Little Mermaid, Sebastian the Crab tells us that things are much better under the sea. I don’t know how much I agree with him, but for us people with feet, there’s a whole new world to explore beneath the surface.

The Raja Ampat Islands, located in Indonesia’s West Papua Province, are a haven of unspoiled beauty. A popular spot with divers, Raja Ampat is only recently emerging as an alternative tourist destination. The islands are home to a complex marine ecosystem, and are regarded by experienced divers as having the highest diversity of marine life in the world. 



Snorkeling in Raja Ampat is the experience of a lifetime. I personally have harboured dreams of being a mermaid, so being able to swim with schools of fish amongst the corals is the closest I’d be able to get. Fun fact: 75% of all known coral species in the world can be found in the blue waters of Raja Ampat. 

Click here for our full review of Raja Ampat!


7. Hike up Taipei’s tallest mountain




If you’re in Taipei and have had your fill of the city, do something off the beaten track – visit Yangmingshan National Park, located just outside of Taiwan’s capital. 

Yangmingshan National Park is easily accessible by buses throughout Taipei, though most people recommend taking a bus from either Beitou or Xinbeitou MRT Stations. There is plenty to do in Yangmingshan, whether you’re an avid hiker who loves the trails, or a casual tourist just looking for some sights. Many of the paths are clearly marked out, with paved trails and signboards pointing you in the right direction. Steps are everywhere here, so you’ll definitely get a good workout.


Source: @lizzychutw

If you have the time, head up to the peak of Mt Qixing, the tallest mountain in Taipei. A shuttle bus from the main Yangmingshan visitor centre brings you most of the way up, and the views are spectacular. Mt Qixing is a dormant volcano, and plumes of sulphurous smoke still billow out from the mountain as a reminder of its explosive past. Hold your breath if you need to! 


8. Watch turtles hatch in Bundaberg



November – March is turtle nesting and hatching season in Queensland, and Bundaberg is at the height of the action. 

Head over to Mon Repos to see a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Observe the mother turtles crawling ashore from November – January to dig their nests and lay their eggs in the sand, or watch the tiny baby turtles emerge from their shells into the big bad world we live in from January – March. 

Under the cover of night, these little guys wriggle out and return to the ocean, and it’s an enthralling experience to witness the miracle of life in a far quieter place than the delivery ward of a hospital. If you’re there during nesting season, you may be asked to lend a hand to help relocate eggs that have been laid too near or too far from the sea, ensuring optimal conditions for the baby turtles to hatch and survive. 



January is the best time to head to Bundaberg to witness both the nesting and hatching of turtles –  if you’re lucky, you’ll see both in a single night! 

Bundaberg is a town that really loves their turtles – if you visit during the season, you’ll see everything from turtle-themed merchandise to gelato coloured green in honour of the shelled reptiles. There are even efforts made to “cut the glow” and reduce the number of bright lights at night – an effort to help baby turtles make their way back to the deep blue sea. 

Check out our full guide to watching turtles hatch, as well as what other fun things you can get up to in Queensland.  


Live the NatGeo life




Instead of going to the usual vacation spots the next time you’re planning a getaway, go somewhere out of the norm and have a documentary-esque holiday. 

These places are rich in history as well as beauty, so not only will you have some beautiful photographs to take home as mementoes, it will be an eye-opening and educational experience for sure.