I wish I’d known about the best places to travel alone in Asia before I set off on my journey.
If I had, my journey would have gone a lot more smoothly. As it happens, I ended up discovering many of the best places quite by accident as I went along. Who knows? Perhaps that was just as well. After all, the greatest adventures are unplanned.
I’ll start by saying that no two countries in Asia are the same. In this sense, writing a blog about the best solo travel destinations on the continent is difficult, because there will always be something I missed on the list. So for that reason, I’ve only listed the places I’ve been to. My main focus in this blog is South Asia and Southeast Asia.
So when I talk about the best places to travel alone in Asia, I am talking about the safest, most affordable and most interesting places I encountered.
It’s hard to define ‘best’ when everybody’s definition is so different. However, there are key things I look out for when selecting a destination.
I look for destinations where there are plenty of things to do and explore. I gravitate towards countries where there is something to suit everybody.
A little bit of the city, some tropical jungles, beaches, ancient villages, mountains, with a dash of parks and deserts thrown in for good measure.
This is not just to appease every type of traveller that happens upon this blog. It is more because I’ve got the type of personality where I like to see a range of different landscapes. Sandy beaches, forests, cities, you name it.
Hospitality is another thing I look out for. As a solo female traveller, I have a strong preference for places where people have smiles on their faces. Welcoming, curious places where it’s easy to meet people.
And of course, like every other woman travelling alone, safety is another big must for me.
I also cover safety in greater detail in my other blog: ‘Is it safe to travel as a solo female backpacker?’.
So just know that when I talk about the best places to travel alone in Asia, I’m taking all of these factors and more into consideration.
There’s not a huge selection of countries here, because otherwise this blog would be a thousand pages long. But I did want to give you an overview. So here goes.
Thailand is a popular backpacking destination, which is why I almost didn’t go. The explorer in me has a taste for the unknown, off-the-beaten track destinations as it were. Thailand is hardly unknown, with its full-moon parties, red light districts and sandy beaches. However, with more than 1430 islands to boast of, you’ll always benefit from an untouched part of the country that few have ever seen.
If you’re into water sports, or underwater activities like snorkelling, diving or white water rafting then there are plenty of islands which allow you to do that. One thing that I really enjoyed doing in Thailand is visiting elephant sanctuaries and helping to wash and care for the elephants. The great thing about Thailand is that there are lots of places that allow you to do that.
In many of the cities in Thailand, you’ll find an abundance of awesome markets where you can buy local clothes and accessories.
When I was in Thailand I was struck by its beauty. It’s beauty was one of the reasons I rated it as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia. People did tell me about how beautiful it was but I never really believed it until I saw it for myself. Think of all those travel brochures showing crystal clear waters, white beaches and exotic wildlife. It really does look that perfect in real life in Thailand.
The most beautiful areas of Thailand are its islands. This is not just because of its sprawling coastline, mountains and beaches. What I particularly loved about Thailand is exploring its wild areas of forest and jungle. I often walked through rows of palm trees, banana trees, ravines, streams and mountains.
One activity that is unique in Thailand is visiting the longneck villages which allow you to see how some of the local tribes live. But there’s a word of warning here. Not all of the kayan long neck hill tribe villages are ethical.
In some of these villages, local people are exploited. However, there are others that allow you to get a real and authentic taste of how these people live. Find out more in my blog ‘A Week In The Mountains With The Kayan Long neck Hill Tribe.’
Getting around is easy too. Thailand has a very good tourist bus network and trains run through every city. All of the things I’ve mentioned above, combined with how easy it is to go off-the-beaten track are the reasons why I’ve put Thailand as Number 5 on my best places to travel alone in Asia list.
I didn’t read any of the warnings before I ended up in Thailand and I ended up getting a private bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. This was a mistake. The bus dropped us all off 50 miles from Chiang Mai and we were forced to get an expensive taxi as a result.
Some people had items stolen from their luggage which was stored in a room beneath the bus too.
My advice is to only stick with the BKS buses no matter how inconvenient it may be at times.
Buses are usually fairly cheap. Most of the ones you’ll find in Thailand are the Rót aa (air-con buses) which come in a variety of classes, depending on the destination’s distance.
You’ve also got VIP and Super VIP buses, which give you more legroom and space. Shorter journeys may not have toilets on board.
In some areas of Thailand, you may also find the rót tam·má·dah (ordinary fan buses) that stop in every little town for anyone that flags them down.
The buses are a cheap way to get around Thailand and you can comfortably make your way from one end of the country to the other for less than £7 ($10).
Thailand has one of the best metre-gauge rail systems in the world. I know from personal experience, that the best thing about the overnight Thailand sleeper trains is that they drop you off at better times – usually around 8am in the morning (depending on the route).
This makes them a more convenient alternative to buses – which usually drop you off at 4 or 5 in the morning.
The trains are comfortable, safe, cheap & environmentally friendly. To get to some of the islands, you can take trains in combination with ferries. These are slightly more expensive than the buses, with prices averaging out at £16 ($21).
The sleeper trains have bunks you can sleep on, with curtains you can put up and pull across for privacy.
Travelling by ferries in Thailand usually comes in combination with other forms of transport such as buses or trains. If you are taking a ferry/bus combination, this is usually the cheaper option, with fares starting as low as £7 ($10).
Trains combinations are more expensive. In terms of comfort, ferries are usually very spacious with plenty of places to sit. It didn’t seem to matter how many other people were waiting to get on, there always seemed to be enough space.
Taking tuk tuks are a fun way of travelling within the cities in Thailand. Usually you will pay between 30-50 baht (less than a dollar or pound) depending on the distance. A fair bit of negotiation is often needed however because many tuk tuk drivers will try to charge you more.
Other types of taxis will almost universally try to charge you more than the cost of the journey. Therefore, haggling and negotiation will always be necessary. However, I did find that this was less of a problem with uber drivers. Although uber costs are usually higher than the average taxi costs, it worked out to be cheaper as the uber taxis very rarely tried to charge me more than the cost stated on the app.
The food in Thailand deserves a special mention. The widespread availability of healthy, delicious food really helps cement Thailand’s ranking as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia.
Thai red and green curry are the most popular dishes in the country, with meat and vegetarian dishes available. Another favourite was Pad Thai – a stir-fried noodle dish, popular in Thai restaurants.
The fruits are well worth a mention too. I usually started my day with coconut water – straight from a green coconut then I would usually scoop out the flesh to eat afterwards. Fresh pineapple, bananas and papayas were also widely available, along with other fruits.
I put China on my list of the best places to travel alone in Asia because there is so much of it to explore beyond just Beijing and Shanghai. The country is so big, that it can take as long as 48 hours to travel by overnight train from one part of the country to the other.
One thing I quickly learned from taking train journeys across the country was how beautiful it was. During my time in China, I visited rice fields, tea plantations, panda sanctuaries, temples and ancient villages. And despite spending a month there, I’d still barely scratched the surface. There was still so much I hadn’t seen – such as the Beijing wall, the ancient cave systems and other remote parts of China.
You could spend several years travelling China and still only see a fraction of it. The backpacker culture doesn’t seem as crazy in China as it is in other countries across Asia, so many parts of it are still relatively untouched.
Moreover, it is relatively safe. Despite travelling the country extensively by myself, I never felt threatened by anything.
For that reason, China has certainly earned its place as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia.
Read more about my adventures in China in my blog: ‘Rolling Green Hills In China: A Tale of Hotpots and Pandas’.
The most common ways for tourists to get around are by train, bus/metro line or taxi. If you’re travelling long distances, then you may also take internal flights. Air China is one of the cheapest.
The picture you see above is of the inside of a Chinese sleeper train. I found them to be very comfortable and a food trolly would pass by on a regular basis. Sleeper trains also have an endless supply of hot water which you can use to top up your noodles.
The first overnight train I took was from Tibet to Chengdu and it was relatively clean, despite the squat toilet bathroom. The next sleeper train…uugh…not so much… So it’s a real gamble. But if you don’t opt for the cheapest ticket, at least the beds will be comfortable.
If you take a train in China, just bear in mind that these can be booked in advance. The best and most reliable websites to buy them from is China Railway and Trains.China.org.The first website is probably more ideal if you speak Chinese!
You can also buy tickets at any of the ticket stations in the city or town you are in. Again, it helps to know a bit of Chinese for this. You may find buying a ticket a little more difficult without any grasp of the language.
If in doubt, take a translator, a language guide or device with a language app. I would often write down the place I wanted to go on some paper and use Google to translate it into Chinese. I then took it with me whenever I wanted to buy a ticket. I also recommend buying a return so that you don’t have to worry about that part of your journey.
On the train, as a minimum take a night towel, toiletries and your own water in your day pack.
This is by far the best way of travelling around Chinese cities. The prices are set and you won’t get ripped off – unless you buy tickets from an unofficial vendor. China has an extensive and advanced metro line network, so it is a very convenient way of getting around.
I often found that taxis would sometimes to charge you five or six times the normal price, even those that are owned by the government. However, if you can negotiate prices then it is still an affordable way of travelling across the city.
Some taxis are in the form of motorbikes, which is a fun way of getting around. When I first arrived in Chengdu, with my very large suitcase (it was almost as big as me), a motorbike taxi somehow managed to get both me and the suitcase on the back of the bike. It was an epic journey to say the least!
Oh man, where do I start with the food? Shall I start with the delicious beer fish stew that you can see above? Seafood dishes like beer fish are a speciality in Guilin. Beer fish is exactly what it sounds like – seasoned fish stew with sauce made partly from beer.
Let’s just say that real Chinese food is nothing like what you get at Chinese restaurants in the West. For example, in the Yunnan province, the food tends to be very hot and spicy. Hotpot was a popular dish there. It was like a kind of soup with spicy vegetables.
In Shanghai, you had the Peking duck which you may have become accustomed to at Chinese restaurants you’ve been to before.
Except that in China it is so much nicer. Then of course, you have the chicken fried rice that’s available everywhere in Asia.
I never expected Nepal to make it on my list as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia. In fact, I really didn’t know too much about Nepal before I booked my trip there.
The main reason I ended up in Nepal is because I wanted to go to Tibet. OK, so let me explain that. Before travelling to Asia, I rang the Chinese embassy in London to find out how to get to Tibet (a place I’ve always wanted to go). I was told I could either apply for a visa in China or Nepal. I don’t know if this is still the case.
I didn’t want to go via China, because I’d already booked my tickets to go to China after returning from Tibet.
So Nepal was the other logical choice. And what a great choice it was! I got my first introduction to Buddhist temples and monuments in the country.
Nepal is famous for the wide variety of hikes that you can do in the country. Some of the most popular hikes include the Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp and Mera Peak, among others. It also has a variety of short treks, such as Namobuddha, Shivapuri National Park and Chandragiri day Treks.
Most of these walks take you through ancient villages that give you a real taste of life in Nepal. These are small, rural mountain villages with rustic guest houses and restaurants, where you can stay overnight.
But the real reason why I rank Nepal as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia is the people. Nepalese people were for the most part, very friendly and helpful. Unlike in some of the other countries, they did not stare too much. They did, however, greet me with friendly curiosity and were very helpful in times of need. Nepal – you rock!
You can read more about my adventures in Nepal in my blog ‘From Naples to Nepal: A Colourful Introduction to Asia’.
Nepal has a well-developed infrastructure to cater to the tourists that trek there. It was relatively easy to travel across the country. There is a very good bus network that takes you between cities. There is also an abundance of tuk tuks, taxis and private cars that will take you anywhere you want to go.
Travelling around Nepal is part of the adventure. Another reason I’ve included it on my best places to travel alone in Asia, is because of the prevalence of safe, affordable transport that gives you a unique opportunity to get a taste of everyday life in Nepal. The scenery is spectacular and it’s all part of the adventure. So sit back and enjoy!
I travelled mainly by bus. Tourist buses come with air conditioning – but I always ended up on the buses where the air conditioning would come and go. But to be honest, it was so hot in Nepal that intermittent air conditioning was still better than nothing.
Bear in mind that the roads are bumpy, so this may not be ideal for those with travel sickness. The journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara can take anywhere between 6-11 hours. A local bus would set you back £3 ($5) while a ‘luxury’ tourist bus can cost up to £23 ($30).
A private car is often much faster than a bus and more comfortable and convenient. This will usually cost between £46-£47 ($60) for fuel and a driver. Drivers will often charge you for a return fare even if you are only going one way – so be sure to negotiate.
Rickshaws are better for shorter journeys. Prepare for a jumpy, bumpy ride as you meander your way throughout Nepal.
These are usually only found in bigger cities such as Kathmandu and Terai.
With taxis on the other hand, most of them have meters. However in my experience, you will need to negotiate the price to get the lowest rates.
If you’re feeling slightly more adventurous, and you are a highly experienced rider, then a motorcycle can give you a much greater level of freedom and is perfect for exploring Nepal’s mountain roads. Scooters will usually set you back around £3 ($4.50-$5 or 500 rupees) a day.
Taking an airplane is the fastest way to get around Nepal. It’s also the most expensive at £76 ($100). Just be aware that most flights are weather-dependent so they can often be cancelled, rearranged or redirected at the last minute.
The national dish in Nepal is Dhal Bhat, which is a traditional meal in Nepal and other parts of the Indian subcontinent. It usually consists of boiled rice, with lentil stew. It is often served with meat or vegetable dishes.
You will find this everywhere in Nepal. I ate it hundreds of times in Nepal. It never stopped being delicious. You will also find plenty of Tibetan restaurants in the country. In those restaurants, you’ll get a chance to sample Tibetan curries and momos. Momos are a kind of filled dumplings. You can get them boiled or fried, and you’ll find these delicious treats all over Asia.
If you want to find out more about how to plan a trip to Nepal, then check out my blog ‘Discover Nepal Effortlessly With My Top Tips’. If you’re a keen hiker and you’re interested in find out more about trekking in Nepal to see some of the sights I mentioned, don’t forget to check out my blog: ‘Short Treks In Nepal: A Selection of The very Best’.
The number one reason I named Myanmar as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia is because it gave me a chance to go off the beaten track really fast. After volunteering in a temple, I was invited to visit a rural village in a part of Myanmar where tourists seldom go. It was magical to say the least. Read more about that village in my blog: ‘3 Incredible Days In a Burmese Village’.
The most popular tourist attraction in Myanmar is Bagan, where you can see temples dotted all over the city. This ancient city is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites with historical ruins everywhere you go. To get into Bagan, the entrance fee is 25000 Kyats which translates as £12.85 in GBP and $16.28 in US dollars.
You will find many cheapskate blogs on how to avoid the fee, but remember that the tourism contributes to the local community in Myanmar.
Besides, taxi drivers in the city will usually drive you straight to a checkpoint where you will need to pay the fee. So be sure to prepare in advance and bring the money with you.
But Myanmar was also amazing because of the river cruises. In Mandalay (one of the major cities in the country) there are so many cheap tours across the Inle Lake. The river tours in Myanmar were some of the most peaceful tours I’ve ever taken.
So if you ever get tired of temple hopping, then gliding across the river and visiting the water villages may be just up your street.
Like many of the other Asian countries featured in this blog, getting around Myanmar was affordable, safe and easy. Of all the countries I visited in Asia, Myanmar was among the most memorable. It is one of the best places to travel alone in Asia, because not only is there a wide variety of things to get involved in, the tourist attractions are unlike any of the other countries featured on the list.
Tourism in Myanmar is not as extensive as it is in other countries, but it still has a well developed infrastructure. Even when you travel on the VIP buses, you are still likely to be sitting among local people and getting a brief taste of everyday life in the country. I loved Myanmar. And I’m sure you will too. Here’s how you get around:
Buses tend to be categorised as different classes, with varying levels of comfort.
The good thing about all of these buses is that they often have frequent rest stops, where you can buy what you need and use the toilet.
VIP buses tend to be spacious, and comfortable with reclining seats. They also come equipped with air conditioning and blankets to keep warm.
The buses often include a free bottle of water with a seatback TV and headphones. I paid £15 ($20) for a 12 hour overnight bus between Inle and Yangon. Staff members also tend to have a good grasp of English.
These buses also have 2+1 seating, meaning that you may be able to grab a single seat for yourself.
If you’re on a tourist bus that has many local people, you will often find that the TV blares for much of the trip. It usually shows local programmes and music shows. Therefore, personal headphones are highly recommended.
You would also be well advised to take a hoodie and some snacks with you for the long journey.
Just remember that if you do travel to less touristy parts of the country (particularly border areas), it is a good idea to have photocopies of your Myanmar visa and passport photo page, which may be demanded by officials.
Most longer journeys feature at least one refreshment stop. These offer you the opportunity to stretch your legs and get a drink and a bite to eat.
These may or may not come with air conditioning. They tend to be significantly less comfortable than the VIP buses. You will often find that the aisles quickly become congested with bags, food and even animals! Often, extra seats will seem to materialise out of nowhere, and you will very quickly get people sitting in the aisles! Therefore moving around on the bus is simply not an option.
Often you’ll have your knees up to your chin for some bouncy hours on Myanmar’s rough roads.
I found that the easiest way to get around Myanmar was by taxi. For example, I travelled from the airport to the temple where I volunteered. The taxi ride was over 3 hours and I paid the equivalent of £6 ($8).
You’ll find many taxi drivers will try to overcharge you. However, the price is still more than affordable for many travellers.
It is also prudent to ask the airport reception desk for recommendations on licensed taxis as these tend to be more legit.
There are also plenty of rickshaws available to move within cities. As you will have noticed so far, rickshaws are pretty much a staple in Asia – and indeed, in much of the world.
In Myanmar rickshaws are affordable and fun. They are a great way to travel in between the temples and see some of the local sights. Unlike taxis, they are better for short journeys.
This is by far the more expensive way to travel within Myanmar. I’m not sure it is more convenient than travelling by bus when it you consider the time it takes to travel to and from the airport.
However, it may feel more convenient and comfortable to get a flight rather than by bus.
I was lucky in that I did some volunteering in Myanmar and I got to taste the local food that is not usually sampled by tourists.
It consisted of curries, samosas, soups and salads, among other things.
Many of the dishes I tried were a kind of Burmese Thali. Thali is a combination of rice, soup, vegetables, curry and chutneys.
There are many different types of curry dishes available, including cauliflower dishes, Burmese Biryani, and Mohinga (rice noodles, covered in fish soup with deep fried fritters).
While you’re there, why not indulge yourself in pork curries, tea leaf salads and potato curry?
You can also find Indian, Nepalese and Chinese foods at various restaurants in Myanmar.
Cambodia definitely deserves its status as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia.
It is a safe and beautiful country with a complex and sobering history. Angkor Wat is the main star of the show in Cambodia. This magnificent temple complex is one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. It stands as an ancient reminder of the historical empires and civilisations that once ruled Cambodia.
Located in the heart of the Cambodian jungle, it extends over approximately 400 square kilometres and consists of scores of temples and reservoirs. Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century and has served both Hindu and Buddhist empires.
I recommend setting aside between 2-3 days to truly explore this magnificent structure. The various temple complexes are unique in their architecture and it feels like there is something new to see each and every time. Some of the temples have stone faces carved into the walls, while others consist of long corridors with giant Buddha statues.
However, if you consider yourself fully cured of temple fever, then there are other places you can visit. Another place is Phnom Kulen, a sacred site and national park that is home to two majestic waterfalls, temples and archaeological spots.
To be honest, visiting this national park fuelled my decision to list Cambodia as one of the best places to travel alone in Asia. It was easy to get to and I met so many awesome people while I was there. It was also very affordable for a single traveller like myself.
If you love the arts, another amazing attraction is the Cambodian Living Arts. This is quite a show. It fuses traditional Cambodian theatre, songs, dance and music in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It truly is a site to see.
One of the other things I loved about Cambodia is the river tours. I ended up in a boat with a local woman who was singing as she weaved the rickety canoe in and out of the water trees as we sailed along the river. We passed riverside villages and I got a chance to explore some of the water markets and restaurants, where I tried crocodile meat for the very first time.
The rest of the day was spent peacefully gliding along the river as the sound of the singing lady filled my ears.
My point is that while Angkor Wat is hyped as one of the best destinations in Cambodia, there’s something to be said about those peaceful moments by the riverside. A rather grim yet important attraction are the Cambodian Killing Fields. More than 8000 skulls, arranged by sex and age, are visible behind the clear glass panels of the Memorial Stupa, which was erected in 1988.
The Killing Fields tour also includes audio headsets, which retell the stories of those who survived the Khmer Rouge. It features a chilling account by Him Huy, a Choeung Ek guard and executioner, describing some of the macabre techniques used by the guards.
The site is well signposted in English about 7.5km south of the city limits.
It is easy and cheap to travel to some of the most popular and off-the-beaten track attractions in Cambodia. It is yet another reason why the country earns its place as one of the best places to travel in Asia.
The easiest ways to travel between cities in Cambodia is by tourist bus. They can be booked easily via a local travel agent. Be careful though, some agents will promise you a ride on the VIP bus, make you pay for it and then give you a significantly less comfortable tour.
This happened to me when I took a ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. The agent who warned me of this widespread practice was the same one who basically scammed me. He was a British man that set up a business in Cambodia. However, other agents from Cambodia did the same thing. Buyer beware.
Another way to travel within cities in Cambodia is by tuk tuk. Travelling in this way usually isn’t expensive, but you do have to haggle and bargain a bit. If you want to hire a tuk tuk for the day in Siem reap, it usually costs between £15-£23 ($20-$30).
I believe that travelling by motorbike or scooter is a much cheaper option than a tuk tuk. And you don’t have to be a particularly experienced motorcyclist either.
I’ve never driven any kind of vehicle in my life, apart from a pushbike and I was very nervous on the roads. However, a group of travellers at a hostel I stayed at convinced me to hire an electric bike (which is not that much faster than a pushbike).
If you’ve ever cycled before, then you’ll very quickly get the hang of riding an electric bike.
It cost me the equivalent of £3 ($5) and off I went. With a motorbike or electric bike you have the complete freedom and discretion of exploring the local temples at a significantly lower rate. It also means that you have a little bit more flexibility over the time you can leave the temple complex.
It is worth noting however that when you rent a motorbike, or electric bike, you will still need to be careful to return it by the time frame agreed with the agent. This is usually before 8pm in the evening. However, don’t quote me on the exact timings, it is always good to double check with the people you rent from.
The food varies depending on where you are in Cambodia. I’ve eaten everything from chicken fried rice, to curries and fried crocodile.
One of my favourite curries was the Khmer Curry, a less spicy alternative to those found in Thailand and India. It usually consists of chicken, creamed coconut, fish sauce, garlic, diced potatoes and herbs. It’s often eaten with rice or bread.
Another speciality is the green mango salad. This healthy delight usually features fresh chilli, fish sauce, sliced green mango, sliced tomatoes and shallots, cucumber, mint and peppers.
Street food includes things such as pork and rice, while other national favourites include Lort Chat – fat beef noodles, with bean sprouts and broccoli.
These are just a selection of tasty treats on offer at Cambodia.
Choosing just five of the best places to travel alone in Asia was a tough task.
But the thing about the countries I have chosen is that while they have mainstream tourist appeal; they also have unusual and off-the-beaten track activities that will give you a truly memorable voyage.
The destinations in question are also affordable, relatively safe and easy to travel around for the lone explorer.
I hope I have given you some food for thought when it comes to choosing your next destination in Asia.
While some of the highlights I’ve listed may not satisfy everybody, the point is to give you a general overview of the kinds of things on offer.
I feel confident that if you are ever lucky enough to visit the countries in question, you will understand why I list them as 5 of the best places to travel alone in Asia.
You’ll notice that I didn’t include accommodation considerations in my blog. That in itself is a minefield. However, I recommend that you read my quick guide on How to Choose The Best Hostel.