Spanning more than 17 million square miles, the world’s largest continent is home to over half of the earth’s population. This is Asia: a beautiful, diverse, dynamic place that’s home to many of the world’s oldest civilizations — and some of today’s most influential, culturally rich cities.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.
The country best-represented among the best cities in Asia is Japan, with three cities in the top ten — no surprise, to our editors at least, considering it was Travel + Leisure’s Destination of the Year for 2018. Two of them, Tokyo and Kyoto, are well known, popular stops for U.S. visitors on the Japan “tourist circuit.” But one is a newer development: Osaka, a city of 3 million that, though home to temples, museums, markets, and nightlife, hasn’t made the list in recent years. Many respondents noted the friendly people (“more so than Tokyo”), the shopping, and, of course, its distinctive cuisine. Wrote one reader, “The food is where Osaka shines!”
But unlike Japan’s major metropolises, many urban centers on this year’s list of best cities in Asia don’t bear much resemblance to the bustling, concrete jungle idea of “city.” Udaipur, last year’s No. 1 City in Asia, is better known for its historic palaces and interconnected lakes than it is for skyscrapers. Ubud, in Bali, is dotted with farms and temples, and Chiang Mai, while the largest city in northern Thailand, is experienced by most visitors as a gateway to the region’s dense forests and mountains. Siem Reap, a main stop for travelers headed to Angkor Wat and other Khmer empire complexes, was also a favorite; wrote one visitor, “There are always festivals and events happening, and we love the market and street food stalls. Having the most famous temples in the world just a few miles away is a giant bonus.”
9. Siem Reap
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 86.21
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.42
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.95
2. Chiang Mai
1. Hoi An
There’s a lot to love in this central Vietnamese port town, but the outlook hasn’t always been so sunny — a decade ago, many feared Hoi An was on its way to becoming a glorified tourist trap overrun with rowdy groups and trinket sellers. Lately, though, the city has been experiencing a resurgence of locally rooted arts and culture, manifesting itself in the form of new, regionally focused restaurants, experimental cocktail bars, young-gun designers, and boundary-pushing boutiques. Young people from Hoi An are staying in Hoi An — and some are even moving there. It’s even making its name as a beach resort area, spearheaded by the 2016 renovation of Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, on an undeveloped stretch of coastline just outside town. Our readers have nothing but love for this place; one respondent wrote, “People are friendly and ready to share their culture,” while another wrote they had “the best food in Vietnam” during their stay.