Dreaming of meeting locals in Laos, lunching in a Balinese rice field, or sipping tea in South Korea? These far-flung experiences are within reach on our new Asia tours—and they’re even more life-changing than you might imagine!
To hear just how magical an adventure in Asia can be, we connected with staffer Tom, who helps design our trips as a Senior Market Analyst. He raved about the exclusive, off-the-beaten-path experiences that make our new tours stand out from the crowd, and shared why the Asian countries we visit should be on your travel radar. Read on to see where our new Asia tours can take you, and why they should be on your wish list.
Drumroll please… our new Asia tours are:
1. South Korea
Why this is one of the top Asian countries to have on your travel radar
If you want to be one of the first to visit a brand-new place in our tour portfolio, put our new South Korea & Japan: Seoul to Tokyo tour on your bucket list. “South Korea has a lot of cultural cachet right now thanks to Squid Game, K Pop, and anything in the movies, and that’s translating into growth in travel,” said staffer Tom. “It’s definitely a newer phenomenon for companies to offer South Korea tours. Previously it was very rare for a non-Asia-specific tour operator to offer tours of the country.”
Top places to visit in South Korea
- Gyeongju. “This is a former capital of Korea, and it’s still a cultural capital,” said Tom. “You can consider it a center of history. This is where travelers will see temples, have tea ceremonies, and visit with Buddhist monks.”
- Busan. “Seaside Busan is a commercial capital and it’s very modern, but it also has some temple sites to experience,” said Tom. “A highlight in this area is taking in panoramic sites of the city on our Busan Harbor Cruise & Korean Barbecue Dinner excursion.”
- Seoul. “A highlight in Seoul is definitely our Kimchi-Making Class & Dinner excursion, where travelers learn how to make the traditional fermented dish.”
- The DMZ. “This is a demilitarized zone on the border between South Korea and North Korea, where travelers can learn about the history of the Korean War,” said Tom. “I think it’s very important for U.S. travelers. It’s like the forgotten war—people might have family members who fought in it, but might not know a lot about it. Our History of the Korean War: DMZ Visit excursion will also bring travelers to an overlook where they can see North Korea, and then down into the Tunnel of Aggression, which the North Koreans cut underneath the border for a planned invasion in the seventies. There are four of those tunnels across the country, and this is one you can actually enter.”
Why this is one of the top countries in Asia to explore
Of all the shining places to visit in Asia, Japan is right there at the top. The Land of the Rising Sun has it all: ramen noodles worth writing home about, bustling cities that are rivaled by white-sand beaches, and culture galore. The best part? There are so many amazing things to do in Japan and reasons to visit, and our new South Korea & Japan: Seoul to Tokyo tour will take you to whole new corners of the country.
“Japan was one of the last countries to reopen for travel post-COVID, and it’s now seeing explosive demand for next year and the year beyond,” said Tom. “Even beyond Kyoto and Tokyo, this buzz is shining a light on different areas that aren’t as well-known among North American travelers, like Fukuoka on Kyushu Island, Nagasaki, and Hokkaido. So, in this buzz, we’re really trying to broaden the landscape of where people are traveling, and that was instructive in the way we created our new South Korea & Japan: Seoul to Tokyo tour. This is our only itinerary that includes all three main islands of Kyushu, Honshu, and Hokkaido.”
Top places to visit in Japan
- The city of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. “Fukuoka was part of The New York Times 52 top places to visit in 2023,” said Tom. “It’s a great example of the retention of old cultural experiences within a city, specifically food experiences. When Japan hosted the Olympics in 1972, they had an intense modernization campaign, and destroyed old food stalls and the foodie culture around them. Fukuoka is the only place in Japan that retained that style of outdoor seating and outdoor eating. It’s a place where Japanese locals travel on weekends to have a good time and explore.”
- The island of Hokkaido. “Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan,” said Tom. “It’s considered the Montana of Japan, with wild landscapes, beautiful volcanic lakes, and big vistas. Hokkaido has the most stunning landscapes in Japan.”
- Nagasaki. “This is also a place where Japanese locals travel on weekends,” said Tom. “It’s a very charming, small city. It was one of the first places in Japan to open up to European traders, so it’s been considered a window to the outside world for Japan. It still has some colonial architecture and a cosmopolitan vibe.”
Why this is one of the best places to go in Asia
What do you think of when you picture Indonesia? If lounging on the beach, walking through rice terraces, and snapping photos of sprawling temples come to mind, then you have an idea of how spectacular our new Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour is—and why this is one of the best places to visit in Asia.
“Indonesia is an iconic travel destination, but people often write off the rest of the islands beyond Bali, which they go to for sun and sand,” said staffer Tom. “The country really deserves a more comprehensive tour. Travelers from some areas of the world understand that—Indonesia is very close to Australia, and it’s like a Caribbean for Australians. They go to these places continuously. But many travelers from North America don’t know how great a trip here can be, especially when visiting places like Java.”
Top places to visit in Indonesia
- Bali. “Bali is where you have community-based travel experiences and some of the better sun and sand experiences,” said Tom. “Ubud is really the cultural capital of Bali. This is central Bali, and is where most of the temples and rice terraces are located. Nusa Dua is a highlight simply for relaxation—if you’re going to Bali, you want that beachside experience.”
- Java. “Java is similar to Cambodia,” said Tom. “This is where the big, UNESCO-listed temples are, like Borobudur and Prambanan. Think of these like Angkor Wat. They’re gigantic, beautiful temples in the Yogyakarta region. The Indonesian government recently introduced ways to protect these temples, like limiting where you can walk and climb, to preserve them in their current state.”
- The Bromo region. “The Bromo region highlights the natural landscapes of Java,” said Tom. “Visiting on tour is fully worth it because you’re going to take a Jeep tour through this volcanic caldera at sunrise and see these amazing landscapes. It’s something that would be difficult for an independent traveler to package together.”
- The island of Komodo on the tour extension. “Komodo is like the Galápagos of Indonesia,” said Tom. “It’s a very small island to the east of Bali, and it’s the only place in the world where Komodo dragons are from. There are a lot of endemic species here, and the pink sands of Pantai Merah, or Pink Beach, are truly stunning.”
Check out these new tours
Why this is one of the top Asian countries to experience
Looking to go where few tour operators can take you? Laos is one of the most exclusive places in Asia to visit on tour, and you can see it for yourself by adding the extension on our Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand.
“Laos is the most underdeveloped country for tourism in Southeast Asia, though they have some of the region’s best community-based and cultural experiences,” said Tom. “It’s undiscovered, remote, and off-the-beaten-path. There are very few tour operators that go here. It’s a very unique place to have us go.”
Top places to visit in Laos
- Luang Prabang. “This is where you’ll discover a more modern experience in Laos, and learn about the transition from when the royal family was in power to the communist era in the 1970s,” said Tom. “Stopping here is an opportunity to showcase the history of Laos and the Vietnam War.”
- The Laos Buffalo Dairy farm. “This is the first place in Laos to sell buffalo milk,” said Tom. “Visiting is a great way to incorporate small, independent suppliers into the tour, and make a contribution to socioeconomic livelihoods in the country. Many of these community-based tourism experiences are directly associated with economic health in the region. Laos is one of the places in the world where tourism makes a really disproportionate impact for jobs and for income. When you do it right, it really makes a big difference.”
- Xieng Khuan in Vientiane. “There are various religious statues scattered around this park, and travelers can learn more about the Laotian experience with Buddhism,” said Tom.
Why this is one of the top countries in Asia to see
Vietnam offers distinct travel moments, landscapes, and stories as you travel from north to south—and it’s worth experiencing them all on our new Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand. It’s one of the best countries to visit in Asia for a bit of everything. “We’ve extended the overnight stays in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to be sure we’re not just doing the cities, but we’re going out into rural areas and showcasing the rural lifestyles,” said Tom.
Top places to visit in Vietnam
- Ninh Bình. “This place is really popular with Vietnamese travelers on weekends,” said Tom. “It’s a limestone, karst landscape with rivers running through it and boat tours going down the middle of it. It’s extremely gorgeous. Our Day in Ninh Bình excursion option takes travelers here for a boat ride and lunch, and then to a very hidden, temple-style pagoda called Bich Dong, which is surrounded by lotus flowers and vines.”
- Bến Tre village on the Mekong River. “Here, we’re going to have multiple stops for community-based travel,” said Tom. “So, visiting an artisan brick kiln business and a coconut plantation, tasting fruits and coconut candies, etc. Travelers will really go off the beaten path on our Traditions of the Mekong River Delta excursion to get a true understanding of rural Vietnamese life.”
- Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City. “I don’t think you can miss the relevant history for U.S. travelers in these cities,” said Tom. “Many people have a parent or uncle or aunt who fought in the Vietnam War. It’s really important to understand both from the American perspective in places like the Hanoi Hilton, but also from the Vietnamese perspective in places like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Cù Chi tunnels. There’s two sides to the story of the country and the conflict, and I think it’s really important to focus on both.”
Why this is one of the most moving places to visit in Asia
If stepping into the past is what you’re after as you explore the cool places in Asia, you can’t miss Cambodia. The temples alone make this country a Southeast Asian standout. “Cambodia offers one of the best representations of UNESCO-listed history,” said staffer Tom. “From Angkor Wat, to Angkor Thom, to Ta Prohm, it’s the country most focused on history on our Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand.”
Top places to visit in Cambodia
- Angkor Wat. One of the only things to know before you go to Angkor Wat is that it’s truly spectacular, and you will be stunned. “Angkor Wat is the iconic cultural experience from this tour,” said Tom. “It’s unmissable from a UNESCO world history perspective. It’s a premier temple complex of a significant kingdom, but people don’t necessarily think about it in terms of world civilizations. Visiting is a great way to understand the importance of that history.”
- The Cambodian Landmine Museum. “This spot is incredibly important when it comes to understanding the legacy of the Vietnam War,” said Tom. “Travelers will learn about the various local efforts that are being made to remove landmines and other unexploded ordnance.”
Why this is one of the best places to go in Asia (especially if you’re a foodie)
If you’ve ever tasted Thai food in the U.S. and gone back for seconds, just imagine how delicious it is in Thailand. The culinary scene in the Land of Smiles is certainly in a league of its own—there are so many can’t-miss dishes in Thailand that are worth the flight. The spicy, savory, sour flavors you can indulge in make this one of the top places to visit in Asia.
“We’ve definitely incorporated the most food experiences in Thailand out of any of the Southeast Asian countries on our Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand,” said staffer Tom. “Thai food is one of the most renowned Southeast Asian cuisines, and visiting Thailand is the chance to experience where it came from, and learn how to make it yourself in a cooking class.”
Top places to visit in Thailand
- The Chiang Mai Night Market. “This weekly Saturday market in Chiang Mai is huge, vibrant, and frenetic,” said Tom. “Visiting is an opportunity to stop at small suppliers for food tastings. It’s not necessarily a tourist market; this is a local’s market that Thai people shop at.”
- Ko Samui Island. “Ko Samui is on the Gulf of Thailand side of the Melee Peninsula, whereas Phuket is on the Andaman Sea side,” said Tom. “This is a very traditional sun-and-sand destination where travelers can truly relax, go boating and snorkeling, and enjoy mostly free days. For the hotels, travelers are staying in a resort-style property on the sea coast. So, they’ll have a lot of free time to just unwind when they arrive after 17 days on tour.”
- Khao Sok. “This is a national park with over 40 paradise islands, and it offers a true jungle, eco experience,” said Tom. “It’s a unique, flooded landscape where a dam created a reservoir, which makes it an absolutely gorgeous site for nature and boating. We offer wildlife walks and a full-day boat excursion on Cheow Lan Lake, and our hotel is an eco resort in the middle of the jungle. You can’t do this on any big tour—it has to be a Small Group Tour. We’ve been trying for years to include Khao Sok, and this is the perfect opportunity.”