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Best History & Culture Vacations - Asia

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1Bangkok, Thailand
For those willing to see and explore, a visit to Bangkok can be a fun and enriching lesson in Thai history and culture. Some key attractions include the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Temple of the Dawn, the Jim Thompson House and the two-century-old Grand Palace, featuring a majestic emerald Buddha.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Shopping
      A mind-blowing delight, Bangkok shopping runs the gamut from ultra-chic malls to energetic street markets hawking everything imaginable. For an experience unlike any other, check out the Chatuchak weekend market, the largest in Thailand and the world, with a staggering 15,000 stalls covering 35 acres.
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2Beijing, China
With a street grid laid out by Kublai Khan in the 13th century, Beijing is filled with history. Tiananmen Square contains a memorial to the Heroes of the People, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum and the spectacular Forbidden City palace. Slightly outside of town, the Ming Tombs are the burial grounds of 13 dynastic emperors.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Shopping
      An exploding commercial giant, Beijing abounds not just with big street markets (avoid the overpriced and touristy Silk Market and instead check out Panjiayuan, sometimes called Dirt Market), but also higher end areas like downtown's Wangfujing, a pedestrian mall flanked by two Western-style shopping centers.
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3Hong Kong, China
A rare combination of age-old tradition and a dynamic modern state, Hong Kong boasts many remarkable historical attractions. Be sure to visit the Peak Tower, the Po Lin Monastery with the largest outdoor bronze Buddha in the world, the Man Mo Temple and the Hong Kong Museum of History.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Shopping
      Hong Kong
      Hong Kong is definitely a destination for the experienced bargain shopper. Tsim Sha Tsui offers the densest concentration of shops in the crowded city. Shoes, watches, luggage, clothes and myriad more items cram shops and stands in the frenetic area. For more elegant attire, try the Central area.
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4Singapore, Singapore
Tourists have shown an increased interest in the past, so Singapore has restored much of its Chinatown district, including the Thian Hock Keng temple, with its impressive warrior door gods and the city's oldest Hindu national monument. The Kranji War Memorial is a tribute to the casualties of the Second World War.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Shopping
      Whether you want to sashay through a slew of gargantuan malls or sidle down side streets in the hopes of a bargain, Singapore is sure to satiate the appetites of the most jaded shopper. Choose from local crafts in Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street, or find upscale attire along Orchard Road.
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5Bali, Indonesia
Inhabited since prehistoric times, an influx of Indians in the 1st century gave the island its predominantly Hindi culture. Bali's exotic and distinct Indian-influenced culture can be experienced during dance performances, near daily festivals or by visiting its horde of centuries old temples.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Beaches & Sun
      With some of the best waves in the world and reliably great weather, Bali is a surfing paradise. Beach lovers can take their pick from a wide array of choices from crowded to deserted, with white sand or black.
    • Romance
      A romantic paradise awaits you on the Indonesian island of Bali. From inviting beaches, terraced rice-fields and lush green highlands to a spiritual Hindu culture and village traditions that have remained unchanged over the centuries, not to mention fabulous resort hotels - this is a mystical experience to last a lifetime.
    • Adventure
      Take in the lush, volcanically active landscape of Bali while whitewater rafting on the Ayung and Unda rivers. Or get the heart pumping off-shore with an ocean-rafting sightseeing and snorkeling tour in boats that reach 44 miles per hour. Surfers hit the island's western side for big-time swells.
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6Shanghai, China
Shanghai's Pudong district looms on the Huangpu's east bank, a soaring, futuristic marvel of a modern city. On the west bank, atmospheric Puxi boasts sights such as the waterfront Bund, with its colonial buildings, and the French Concession, with its bustling, leafy streets and lovely Art Deco architecture.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Romance
      It may come as a surprise that bustling, energetic Shanghai presents any number of romantic diversions. The leafy streets of the charming French Concession on the west bank are a delight to stroll. Traditional Chinese gardens offer peaceful escapes and the waterfront Bund is a thrill to explore.
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7Tokyo, Tokyo Prefecture, Kanto, Japan
Tokyo can't be judged from the outside, since those expecting ancient monuments will instead be greeted with modern drabness. The Imperial Palace, still home to the Emperor, shouldn't be missed, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum details the city's history. Sensoji Temple is the city's oldest, and the Tokyo National Museum holds the largest collection of Japanese art in the world.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Shopping
      Shopping amidst Tokyo's infinite options can be dizzying, so knowing the neighborhoods is crucial: Go to Ginza for upscale boutiques and department stores, Akihabara for electronics, Omotesando and Aoyama for high-end fashion, Harajuku and Shibuya for young trendy clothing, and Kanda for bookstores.
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8New Delhi, National Capital Territory of Delhi, India
Capital of India since 1911, New Delhi's stately modern architecture sets a sometimes startling contrast to the twisting streets of Old Delhi. Sites of historical importance abound, from the home where Gandhi lived and died to the complex of Mughal buildings that comprise the tomb of Humayun.
9Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra, India
Once simply a scatter of island fishing villages, today chaotic Mumbai is India's largest city - and one of stark contrasts. The British swaggered in, in 1665, and ruled until 1947. The birthplace of Indian cinema, a slew of film festivals light up Mumbai's myriad cinema screens during the year.
10Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Kinki, Japan
Kyoto was spared from WWII air raids and atomic bombing on account of its outstanding beauty. Only Rome has more designated World Heritage Sites than the former Japanese capital. Old Kyoto's alleys of traditional narrow houses, known as "houses for eels", fill historic geisha quarter Gion Corner.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Romance
      Regardless of season, it's hard not to succumb to romance as you wander Kyoto's atmospheric streets, gazing at the glimmering Kinkaju Pavilion and its lotus ponds and feasting at restaurants over the River Kamo. Glimpse a geisha disappearing down a narrow alley in Old Kyoto as lanterns bob in traditional house doorways.
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11Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Kinki, Japan
The cultural and political center of Japan in the 5th century and beyond, this performing arts hub is a perfect base for exploring Western Japan. The shrines and temples of Kyoto, Nara and Koya-san are within easy day trip distance and the city itself offers fascinating sites, including Osaka Castle.
12Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
Once the center of a mighty empire, the world's largest city and the gateway to the Silk Road, today the Shanxi provincial capital offers intriguing glimpses into its glorious past with sights such as its 7000 terracotta Qin Bingmayong Bowuguan warriors and soldiers and the Tang palace walls.
13Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, India
There is evidence of over two millennia of habitation in Kolkata, the former British colonial foothold on the marshy Ganges and Brahmaputra deltas. The captivating former capital boasts a plethora of ornate, architecturally diverse buildings, lively festivals and a vibrant artistic community.
Remote Bhutan first allowed the world a peek inside in 1974. With four millennia of habitation, the Himalayan kingdom offers a trove of archaeological treasures, including many ornate temples and dzong fortresses. Isolation has preserved the heavily Buddhist-influenced culture of the last Shangri-La.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Adventure
      Pristine, remote Bhutan teems with turbulent mountain torrents and broad rivers that glide slowly past medieval monasteries, hilltop fortresses and terraced fields. Kayak or raft through this Himalayan wonderland or give your legs the workout and mountain bike through profusions of flowers on ancient mule trails.
  • Find: Hotels in Bhutan | Flights to Bhutan
The near otherworldly Himalayan kingdom of Nepal can trace its history back to the 7th century and the arrival of Kirati sheepherders. Today, misty temples perch on rugged ridges, monasteries peer over deep valleys, faded by centuries, and Kathmandu's Old City brims with ancient Buddhist temples and ornate palaces.
  • Also recommended for:
    • Adventure
      When it comes to mountain climbing, Nepal is the big one, but the home of the world's highest peak has got a lot more to offer than mighty Everest and its neighboring summits. The Himalayan kingdom also offers excitements such as the stunning Annapurna trek, wildlife jungle safaris, rafting and paragliding.
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