5 Destinations in Asia to Travel to in 2020

Echizen Daibutsu - Fukui, Japan
How to Get Around in Japan: Walking In Shinjuku

2020 has arrived and more people are getting out of their comfort zones and traveling farther. I can’t say I’ve been to a ton of places since I started traveling in 2015, but I’ve been to quite a bit of places in Asia. I mean, I live in Japan, so the easiest place to go from Japan is somewhere else in Asia (and to some places in Oceania). At the end of 2019, I went to a pretty Instagram-famous and highly visited place, but I’d like to include bucket-list destinations in this list not because they’ve invaded everyone’s Instagram feeds, but more so because there’s so much culture to experience there.

I think Asia is quite often overlooked by the average traveler–someone who travels casually, on limited vacation time, and with the goal of relaxing with a dash of adventure. I get it, many destinations in Asia can be far, the languages may be different, the cultures may be completely foreign, and traveling to the region can be quite daunting when you just want to go on a simple vacation. However, Asia is a great region to explore and every country has a rich culture and history that connects each country to one another in some way. 

Many people ask me why I moved to Japan, why Asia? But, my question is why not? Here are five destinations in Asia to travel to in 2020.

Five Destinations in Asia for 2020

Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka, Japan
Manekineko at Gotoku-ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan

1. Japan

The first destination in Asia you should travel to in 2020 is Japan. In 2020, Japan is on everyone’s list of must-see or bucket-list destinations and it’s easy to see why. From the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to Japan’s mix of traditional and modern, Japan is great for all kinds of travelers. There are so many places in Japan that I haven’t gone, and I really want to make it a habit of mine to start exploring around me this year. The people are kind, omotenashi and the customer are king, and all the fancy tech never ceases to amaze. I might be a little biased here, but Japan should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

In Spring, you can see beautiful pink and white Cherry Blossoms and the illustrious sakura rain. In Summer, you can experience Japan’s unique firework culture and summer festivals in a colorful Yukata. In Autumn, you can join thousands of Japanese people for a koyo pilgrimage around the country to see all the autumn leaves change colors right before your eyes. In winter, you can snuggle up in a traditional Japanese house, relax outside in an open-air onsen bath (rotenburo, 露天風呂), or even hit the slopes for powdery-soft snow. Japan has something to offer in every season and magic can be found just around the corner from a crowded city street.

When to Go? The best time to go to Japan to beat the insane heat of the summer and the icy cold of winter is in the early spring, right before Golden Week. In Japan, Spring begins in April and ends around Mid-June. This is when cherry blossom season begins, followed by the Golden Week holidays where basically all of Eastern Asia is on holiday and vacationing in Tokyo. The second best time to visit Japan is from September to the end of November for milder warm weather in Autumn and the season of autumn leaves (koyo, 紅葉).

Where to Go? For your first time in Japan, the best place to start is in Tokyo. You can experience a sumo match, walk along Nakameguro River during a cherry blossom festival, and enjoy a show at a robot restaurant in Shinjuku. From Tokyo, go north for Hokkaido, west or Nagano, or south for Kyoto, Osaka, and Okinawa–all using the JR Pass.

2. India

The second destination in Asia you should travel to in 2020 is India. India has been on my bucket list for years, ever since I was introduced to Bollywood in high school (or maybe it was after the Cheetah Girls’ movie in India during my middle school years). There’s just something about the delicious food shaped by a rich and colorful history that really makes me want to explore to my heart’s content there. Every year I say I want to finally go to India, but something always comes up. Don’t be like me and book your dream trip to India early so that you can get the best and most budget-friendly rates. India isn’t cheap getting to, even for someone like me who lives in Asia, but after you get to India it becomes much cheaper. 

If you’re a solo female traveling to India, traveling to the country may seem scary, but booking with a tour guide may ease your worries. A friend of mine traveled to India solo, but she used a tour guide for her entire stay and felt safe during her vacation there.

When to Go? The best time to visit India is during the winter between October and February for cool and dry weather perfect for exploring India to the fullest, but December is the peak season for travel in India. After winter, India experiences its hottest weather from March until May, but you can catch India’s famous Holi Festival during this time. Although the temperature is high during this season, it is dryer than India’s monsoon season from June to September. 

Where to Go? There are two ways to visit India, through the “Golden Triangle” route that covers Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, or the “Heritage” route that covers Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi. To see the famous Taj Mahal, the Pink City and Amber Fort, the Hawa Mahal and the Monkey Temple, take the “Golden Triangle” route for your first time in India.

3. Mongolia

The third destination in Asia you should travel to in 2020 is Mongolia. The Land of Blue Sky, with a mix of cultures from China, Russia and Turkey, is a country that is not on your average bucket list, but it should be. It’s a country that showcases the true mix between Eastern and Central Asia, and it is a country shaped by the people’s nomadic lifestyle. 

As a mischievous kid, I used to stay up late way past my bedtime and watch the travel channel. One of the places featured was Mongolia. I’ve always told myself that I’d love to stay in a Ger (Yurt), experience horseback riding, and really experience a place unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been and Mongolia fits that description perfectly. If you find yourself in Mongolia, you can join a tour and trek around the Khogno Khan Uul Nature Reserve and Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, experience one of the many festivals in summer and autumn, or ride horseback around Khovsgol Lake.

When to Go? The best time to go to Mongolia for the most sunny days and lush greenery is during its summer, from June to late-August. After August, September and October not only offer days of mild-yet-warm weather, but also colorful autumn colors.

Where to Go? When visiting Mongolia, you’ll probably become familiar with its capital city, Ulanbataar, as that is where you’ll land. From there, you can visit the national reserve and parks near the city. After exploring nature near the capital, travel to the Gobi Desert and northern Mongolia for another taste of beautiful and expansive Mongolian nature.

4. Sri Lanka

The fourth destination in Asia you should travel to in 2020 is Sri Lanka, To be honest, I never really thought much about visiting Sri Lanka, but after seeing tons of beautiful photos on Instagram, I started to turn my attention to the island country a bit more. Located next to Southern India in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a perfect beach destination for relaxation in nature and sunset parties. If you’re not perfecting your tan on Sri Lanka’s white beaches, then dare to try the street food which is heavily influenced by neighboring India.

When to Go? If you’re going to Sri Lanka for sunny beach relaxation, then the best time to visit is from December to March. Monsoon season occurs between April to September in the west, and from November to March in the east.

Where to Go? When in Sri Lanka, check out Kandy for some of the country’s most famous historical sights, Ella for hiking and waterfalls, Mirissa for beach relaxation, and Yala National Park to see leopards in elephants in the wild. Also, if you visit an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka, be sure to avoid riding elephants and visiting unethical sanctuaries. An ethical sanctuary to visit is Elephant Freedom Project, but be aware that some view bathing elephants, something offered at this sanctuary, to also be unethical. For an Instagram-worthy 5-hour adventure, take the famous blue train from Kandy to Ella for $1.50 USD.

Wat Arun Ratchavararam, Temple of Dawn - Bangkok, Thailand
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

5. Thailand

The fifth destination in Asia you should travel to in 2020 is Thailand. Thailand is probably not on any big-name lists this year, but when I look back on my time in Thailand, I have some of the fondest memories. From haggling in the night markets, seeing beautiful elephants at a sanctuary, to even eating a cricket in Chiang Mai, Thailand holds a special place in my heart. The southeast Asian country, neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam, is a mix of beautiful beaches, bustling city life, and a great destination for those on a budget. You can experience a Thai cooking class, visit an ethical elephant sanctuary, and see stunning temples all without breaking the bank.

When to Go? The best time to visit Thailand for a sunny vacation is between November and March. During that time, the weather is not too hot and not too rainy either. If you can’t make it out to this bucket-list destination during that time, the second best time to go is between March and May, but that is Thailand’s hottest season. 

Where to Go? When I visited Thailand, I went to Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Both cities have their perks, but I loved staying in Chiang Mai. Even though there are many tourists in Chiang Mai and you can certainly feel the influence of high tourism in the area, I still felt like I experienced Thai culture. If you want to relax on a beach, try the popular Phuket or Koh Phangan and off-the-beaten-path beaches like Koh Lipe. Interested in a little more culture? Try visiting Sukhothai, a town full of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

A Full View of the Tegalallang Rice Paddies

Special Mention: Indonesia

Located in southeast Asia near Singapore and Malaysia, Indonesia is a majority Muslim country while one of its most famous islands, Bali, is mostly Hindu. This gives the long chain of islands that make up Indonesia a great mix of Asian, Hindu and Muslim culture that sets Indonesia apart from other countries in that area of Asia.

I’ve just been able to unwind and look back on my time in Bali and I already know I want to visit there again. Bali was all the rage in 2019, and I’m sure the famous island destination will continue to be the rage well into 2020, but for my next trip to Indonesia, I think I’d like to see more beyond Bali. When visiting Indonesia, I suggest you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Borobudur, watch the sunrise over Mt. Bromo in Java, explore Flores and the Komodo Islands, and do a homestay with a Balinese family.

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