Article cover image

10 Underrated Asian Cities to Add to Your Travel Wishlist

Koh Samui-Thailand

| 16 mins read

With one of the most culturally diverse nations, touring Asian destinations is a fulfilling experience, unique in its own way. From one of the Seven Wonders of the World- the Great Wall of China and the largest religious structure of Angkor Wat (Cambodia) in the world to one of the world's oldest civilisations (Varanasi) in India and the world’s largest coral reef system (the Great Barrier Reef) in Australia, Asia boasts picturesque landscape, diverse culture, thousands of years of human history, breathtaking architecture and a great range of flora and fauna, among many other attractions! 

However, it is also true that when it comes to exploring Asia, most travellers gravitate towards the mainstream cities. A backdrop of that is not just that one is devoid of hidden gems, but there are also chances of major cities becoming overcrowded, especially during the peak season, which can lead to a hasslesome experience. So, here is some light on a few of the beautiful, underrated cities of Asia that you can add to your wishlist. 

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

What was originally established as a fishing village in the 7th century is one of the most enchanting cities in today's world. It was precisely during the 15th and 16th centuries that the city developed drastically under the rule of the Bruneian Empire, and now, it boasts majestic Islamic architecture, well-preserved natural landscapes, the world's largest water village, diverse cuisine, and vibrant festivals. 

Do you know that the city's name, 'Bandar Seri Begawan,' is relatively recent? Yes, in the 20th century, the city was renamed from Brunei Town to Bandar Seri Begawan to honour Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III, who is popularly credited as the architect of modern Brunei. 

Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

Must-See: Although there is a lot to explore in the city, here are a few places that you must tick off, starting with the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, which is also the country's national landmark and reflects the finesse of Brunei's Islamic architecture in its prime time. Further, visit another beautiful architectural complex of Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, marvel at the sight of Istana Nurul Iman (the seat of the Sultan of Brunei), pay a respectful visit to the Teng Yun Temple (the oldest Chinese temple in Brunei), take a refreshing walk in the Tasek Lama Recreational Park and see another iconic site of Kampong Ayer, the world's largest water village. Opting for a guided tour of the village will help you smoothly explore and interact with the locals to connect and enjoy an authentic experience. For history enthusiasts, the Royal Regalia Museum is a great place as it lets you delve into the history of the monarchy. Moreover, remember to visit the Gadong Night Market, where you can shop the local Bruneian textiles and try the locals' favourite dishes (like Ambuyat and Nasi Katok). 

Kampong Ayer

Ipoh, Malaysia

Do you know that the name Ipoh comes from a tree? Legend has it that the locals consider the Ipoh tree (Antiaris toxicaria), an indigenous tree found in the Malaysian rainforest, sacred for possessing unique healing properties. The practice is so old that it has become an intrinsic part of the city's identity, hence the name Ipoh. 

Nestled in Malaysia's Kinta Valley, the city showcases a great blend of historical charm with natural beauty. It has colonial buildings, many cave temples, plenty of nature, and most importantly, stunning limestone hills, which are quite popular among the locals and visitors alike. 

Sam Poh Tong Temple

Must-See: Amongst the myriad of experiences that the city has to offer, the most popular ones are the Perak Cave Temple (housing a 40-foot tall Buddha statue), the Sam Poh Tong Temple (another temple built inside a limestone cave and is the oldest), and the Kallumalai Temple (it is best to visit this temple during the Thaipusam festival, which is celebrated in January and February depending on the Hindu calendar). Ipoh, like other Malaysian cities, is renowned for its culinary delights, of which you must try the Ipoh white coffee. Additionally, stroll through the Mural's Art Lane to get a sense of the city's art scene and explore the vibrant Concubine Lane. The lane gets its name from its history when it was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century and was rebuilt by a mining tycoon who divided and gifted the three lanes of the area to his three wives. It is a perfect place to buy souvenirs, try local delicacies and experience the day-to-day life in the city. Lastly, the surrounding limestone hills offer offbeat hiking adventures. 

Nagoya, Japan

Often overshadowed by the nearby popular cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city with a dynamic urban and traditional touch. The impressive growth of the city is particularly credited to the automotive sector. However, it is important to note that the city is also steeped in cultural and historical significance. In fact, legend has it that the city's Atsuta Shrine houses Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan! A belief that not only attracts worldwide tourists but also signifies a strong association of the city with the Imperial family.

Nagoya Castle

Must-See: The city has so much variety to offer that, be it the Nagoya Castle, a representation of the city's historical past, or the Nagoya City Science Museum, you will be in a constant state of amazement. During your trip, you must visit the Tokugawa Art Museum (which houses samurai relics from the Edo period), trace the industrial development of the city at the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, take on a spiritual journey to the Atsuta Shrine, spend some quality family time at the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (houses Japan's largest dolphin show tanks), and get acquainted with the food (a local speciality is Hitsumabushi, a rice dish regional to Nagoya), textiles and culture of the city at the Osu Shopping District. Moreover, Japan's nightlife scene is also unique in its own way. Remember to explore the Sakae area, a popular hub of bars and entertainment options. Interestingly, the city also hosts many festivals throughout the day, of which the Nagoya Matsuri (held around mid-October) is extremely popular for its stunning procession of locals dressed in soldiers carrying weapons. It will surely be an experience that will introduce you to the beautiful culture of the city!


Chitral, Pakistan

One of the most culturally rich cities in Pakistan, Chitral's history is as diverse as its landscape. Located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, it was once a princely state and an important focal point, which made it the place of many empires and kingdoms, including the Kalash people, an Indo-Aryan indigenous people known to practice animism and ancestor worship, making them unique from the other communities in Pakistan. Moreover, legend has it that the people of the Kalash tribe are said to be the descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers, further adding a mythical dimension! Today, the city is famous for being able to preserve its local beliefs and traditions, producing unique handicrafts, and magnificent nature set-up. 

Markors in Chitral Gol National Park

Must-See: Chitral offers an array of experiences, ranging from history and culture to nature. When in Chitral, opt for a guided tour to the Kalash Valleys – Bumburet, Rumbur, and Birir. As the name suggests, these valleys will allow you an up-close interaction with the Kalash people. Their Spring Festival, or "Chilam Joshi", is an attractive affair of music, dancing, and traditional rituals. Also, visit Chitral Fort (left in ruins today at the bank of the Chitral River) to understand the political history of the place, marvel at the architecture of the Shahi Mosque, explore the Chitral Museum, escape amidst nature in the Chitral Gol National Park (home to the rare and elusive snow leopard), shop for souvenirs (like the woollen shawls and handmade caps) in the local markets and savour the local flavours of Pakistan by tasting Chapshuro (meat-filled bread) and dried apricots.

Bikaner, India

Surrounded by the Thar Desert, the Indian city of Bikaner in Rajasthan was founded in 1488 AD by the Rajput prince Rao Bika Ji. It is truly an unforgettable experience to walk in the narrow lanes, adorned with traditional houses and architecture reflecting a blend of Rajput and Mughal architectural styles, magnificent forts and palaces, telling the tales of bravery and glory, women peeping out of jharokhas (overhanging balconies), colourful bazaars where the air is filled with the rich flavours of Indian spices and all topped by the warm locals living upto the Indian motto of "athithi devo bhava."

A potter in Bikaner

Must-See: Do you know there is a temple in Bikaner full of rats, which are highly respected and revered? At the Karni Mata Temple, it is believed that these rats are the descendants of Karni Mata, an incarnation of Goddess Durga, and so they are fed and worshipped in the temple. Apart from this temple, visit the royal Junagarh Fort, constructed in its present form in the 15th century. The fort hosts an array of courtyards, balconies, and temples. Another royal site is the Laxmi Niwas Palace (which once served as the residence of the Maharaja of Bikaner). Additionally, pay a visit to Shri Laxminath Temple to see exquisite silver artwork, take a refreshing break at the natural haven of Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary, taste the famous local speciality- Bikaneri bhujia (a crispy snack prepared by using a variety of flours) and opt for an immersive experience at the National Research Centre on Camel. The centre offers educational learning on camels, which are intrinsic to desert life in the state of Rajasthan. In fact, every year, the city hosts the Bikaner Camel Festival (expected to happen in January 2024), which attracts thousands of tourists and is a great way to experience the beautiful culture and ways of the state of Rajasthan. 

Audience Hall in Junagarh Fort

Baguio, Philippines 

Do you know Baguio celebrates a month-long flower festival? Annually held in February, the Baguio's Panagbenga Festival (meaning "season of blooming") is a tribute to the flower sector of the city, which also finds its origin in the initiatives adopted to recover from the Luzon earthquake in 1990. It is an extremely beautiful sight to see people dressed in flower-inspired costumes, marching in the streets, dancing and singing, a time when everyone comes under the same sky to celebrate the city's heritage. 

The city was originally established as a hill station by the Americans in the early 1900s to escape from the tropical heat of the lowlands of the Philippines, hence the nickname- Summer Capital of the Philippines

Panagbenga Festival Procession

Must-See: There is no shortage of what one can explore in Baguio; however, if you are on a limited time, here are some experiences that you must not miss: pay a respectful visit to the Baguio Cathedral (Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral), go on a short pilgrimage journey of 250 steps to worship Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, check out the art at the BenCab Museum (showcasing the works of the National Artist of the Philippines, Benedicto Cabrera), and turn to the pages of history at Laperal White House and the Philippine Military Academy. Undoubtedly, the Baguio City Market should be your go-to place for buying fresh produce, flowers, and local crafts. Additionally, the city has enough spots to experience slow travel, like Mines View Park, Burnham Park (where you can also enjoy a boat ride with your loved one), and the city's botanical gardens. Moreover, if you have some free time at hand, the town of Sagada is located just 4 hours away, which is world-known for its tradition of hanging coffins!

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Although Kyrgyzstan is a hidden gem in itself, its capital city, Bishkek, is one of the most beautiful cities on the Asian continent. It is a place where one can see stark contrast and, at the same time, an easy blend of modernity and history. The foundation of the city first began in 1825 when the Khanate of Kokand established a fortress, as it was also an important hub lying on the Silk Road. The Russian forces later destroyed the fort. Eventually, the city was restored, and today, each corner and architectural feature of the city speaks volumes. Walking around the city, one can see wide boulevards against snow-capped mountains and an array of Soviet-era architecture, with the local Kyrgyz people adding a unique character to the city's identity. 

Bishkek City Hall

Must-See: Out of everything the city has to offer, there are a few experiences that you must tick off, like strolling through the Osh Bazaar (which provides an authentic cultural exposure, a bustling traditional market with an array of local crafts, spices, and textiles), tracing the origin of the city at the State History Museum, and visiting the Ala-Too Square (the central hub for national and international events) and the Victory Square (that marks the victory over Nazi Germany). Moreover, for nature lovers, take a day trip from Bikshek to the Ala Archa National Park, a place of spectacular glaciers and waterfalls in the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Also, witness a mesmerising cultural performance in the Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre, have a great family picnic time at Panfilov Park, and stroll through the serene Love Park. The beauty of the city multiplies during its cultural festivities, of which Nowruz or the Persian New Year (March) is an important celebration. 

Osh Bazaar

Bukit Tinggi, Indonesia

Do you know Bukit Tinggi is home to the Minangkabau people, one of the largest matrilineal societies in the world? Apart from introducing you to the unique customs and life of the Minangkabau community, Bukit Tinggi seamlessly weaves cultural richness and traditional housing (with buffalo-horn-shaped roofs of traditional houses, known as Rumah Gadang) against abundant natural beauty. Located in the highlands of West Sumatra, the name of the city literally translates to 'high hill', which is reflective of its geographical position in the green highlands. For anyone considering going offbeat in Indonesia, the Bukkit Tinggi is the right choice. 

Bukit Tinggi

Must-See: As mentioned earlier, the meeting and interaction with the local Minangkabau people will be a highlight of your trip. It is better to hire a private local guide who can help you with easy cultural exchanges. Additionally, check out the places associated with the Minangkabau Kingdom, like the Pagaruyung Palace (a replica of the ancient Minangkabau royal palace) and Bukittinggi's cultural center, which sheds light on the larger cultural history of the city. The iconic large clock, Jam Gadang, which was built during the Dutch colonial period, is also a must-see. A trip to any city is incomplete without taking advantage of its local specialities. So, make sure to try the famous Rendang and Sate Padang. Add a touch of nature excursion by exploring Sianok Canyon (which also has a few entrances to Lobang Jepang, a historical underground military complex built by the Japanese during World War II) and the nearby Harau Valley, known for its towering cliffs and rice fields. 

Suzhou, China

An interesting tit-bit about the city is that it is the city of Suzhou, where the famous White Snake fell in love. In a popular Chinese legend, as per the story, a powerful white snake spirit who transforms into a beautiful woman falls in love with a mortal man. Today, this legend finds its mention in many Chinese culture and folklore, adding a mystical charm to the city. 

Often referred to as the Venice of the East, Suzhou is a beautiful city with picturesque gardens, unique architecture and rich cultural heritage; above all, it is the city's traditional waterside architecture, a network of canals and stone bridges that adds a unique charm different than the other Chinese cities. It would be correct to say- it is a perfect combination of historical legacy and modern elegance. 

Shan Tong Street

Must-See: When in Suzhou, explore the Ancient Town with a history of 2500 years and the popular gardens of the city, an exceptional example of Chinese landscape designs. Check out the Classical Gardens of Suzhou (a circuit of gardens that have been designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO), of which the Humble Administrator's Garden, the Lion Grove Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden are a must-visit. Additionally, travel back in time to learn about the city and its craft at the Suzhou Museum and the Suzhou Silk Museum (which, as the name suggests, showcases the city's long association with silk production), marvel at the sight of establishments along the Grand Canal (world's longest artificial river) on a boat trip, witness one of the oldest forms of Chinese Opera (Kunqu opera) at the city's cultural centres, and soak in a beautiful sunset at the famous sunset point on Jinji Lake, while you contemplate on the wonderful experience that the city introduces you to.  

Humble Administrator's Garden

Dalat, Vietnam

Located in Vietnam's South Central Highlands, Dalat is a beautiful haven located amidst lakes, hills and pine forests, giving it the name the "City of Eternal Spring." Since the foundation of the city is credited to the French, who wanted to set up a cooler escape from the tropical heat, the city's architecture and culture are a blend of traditional Vietnamese and European influences. Interestingly, the city is often associated with the famous legend of the Lost City of Gold! It is said that the region still has buried a city that is rich in gold and treasures, adding a mysterious charm to attract more and more people. 

Linh Phuoc Pagoda

Must-See: A hidden gem, Dalat is a city that is a treasure trove of experiences to satisfy all sorts of travellers. When in Dalat, admire the French colonial heritage of Bao Dai Summer Palace (which served as the summer place for the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty), pay a respectful visit to the Dalat Cathedral, see the fascinating design of the Crazy House and Dalat Railway Station, an architectural marvel. A must-visit is the Linh Phuoc Pagoda, an example of Vietnam's craftsmanship, as the mosaics inside are made from broken glass and pottery. Also, get a glimpse of the art of the city at the Dalat Art Gallery, walk through the central market (which allows you an opportunity to immerse in the city's local culture), take a refreshing break at the Tuyen Lam Lake by hiking on its picturesque trails, visit the famous Valley of Love and embark on a thrilling canyoning experience at the Datanla and Prenn waterfalls.