The vast Asia and the Middle East umbrella covers colourful and vibrant countries as diverse as India, China, Thailand, Japan, Oman, Israel and all the wonderful places in-between. Expect adventures and incredible journeys, experience traditional cultures and spirituality and connect with thriving cities where old meets new.
This could take a lifetime, but it’s never been easier to dip in and out for everything from short breaks to extended adventures. Now stopovers become rewarding breaks, exploring cities in one or two days with cleverly curated itineraries. New flight routes connect countries including China with the US, Europe and Australia. Singapore is a major hub with connections to places such as India and the Maldives. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Israel and and Oman are some of the accessible places to experience in the Middle East.
Not long ago, many parts of Asia & the Middle East were remote and inaccessible with ‘one-dimensional’ sightseeing giving superficial glimpses. But now Asia is exposing its many layers, opening up and inviting visitors to experience its cultures in close-up. Savvy guided tours take you off the grid in spectacular cities and specialist tour companies offer small groups and indie travellers the chance to weave their own magic on handcrafted journeys in countries including Sri Lanka.
Hiking, trekking, mountain-climbing, biking, 4WD adventures, culinary tours are just some of the ways to engage. Reach the Great Wall of China or India’s Taj Mahal by bike, for example. Discover the valleys of Ladakh, the pilgrimage trails of Japan or the hill tribe villages of Thailand on rewarding treks.
Experience the buzz of cities such as Bangkok, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai and Hanoi or head for holiday islands such as dreamy Bali or the Maldives. See the elephants of Thailand on ethical elephant encounters or the giant pandas at the Chengdu Research Base in China’s Sichuan Province.
Maybe you have a fascination for temples and historic buildings such as Cambodia’s magnificent Angkor Wat? Or you dream of a journey along the mighty Mekong River to Luang Prabang in Laos to see its 30-something golden temples?
Then there’s the fabulous food. Indian, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and more with all their regional variations. Cooking classes are a great way to learn techniques for aromatising uber-delicious spices and the importance of balancing flavours. Visiting colourful markets to buy fresh ingredients is usually a rewarding part of the experience.
West of Asia lies the Middle East, extending into North Africa and connecting to Europe via Turkey and Cyprus. The Red and Arabian Seas wrap around the south where you’ll find Saudi Arabia and Oman, a favourite destination for couples. On the edge of the Mediterranean Sea lies Israel, a rich cultural experience from the intensity of Jerusalem to the delights of the Dead Sea. Palestine lies to the east and Jordan, the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa.
Asia’s tropical areas are hot and humid almost year round, although the intensity of the heat varies. But Asia has also has countries with arctic winter climates in the north. Double-check your timing before travelling – cheaper fares could mean you are heading for hotter weather or the heights of a monsoon season!
Check destinations separately and see these examples from our experts.
November to February is the ‘cool season’, the winter months, when it gets into the mid 20s Celsius and days are sunny and warm. There could be cooler nights when a wrap or light sweater come in handy. This is also the high season with regards to hotel bookings and airfares. March to May is the hot season, with temperatures soaring into the hundreds. It is not a great time to be a tourist, as the heat just saps most travellers. June to October is the rainy season, with the brunt of it falling in the latter half, especially September.
Bali has a tropical climate, meaning that the temperature remains fairly consistent year round, mostly in the high twenties or low thirties Celsius (low to mid eighties in Fahrenheit), though it can be considerably cooler in the mountain regions. There are generally two seasons – wet and dry – with the former marked by an increase in humidity and rainfall. From November to March is the rainy season, when tropical rainstorms occur frequently, mostly late afternoon or during the night, bringing very heavy rainfall that is often short lived.
In general, Chinese winters (December–March) are dry and cold, while summers (July–September) are warm and wet. Spring and autumn provide the best weather for travel in much of the country. Temperatures range wildly – in the northeast daytime highs rarely creep above 0°C (32°F) in winter, while on tropical Hainan Island the temperature seldom drops below 20°C (68°F) year-round. In Hong Kong, the subtropical climate brings mild winter temperatures, but makes summers very hot and humid with heavy rain.
High season in Dubai runs during the cooler months from around the beginning of November through to the end of February. This is when hotel rates are at their highest (particularly in January and February), beaches at their most crowded and popular restaurants most heavily booked. It’s also when the city is at in quasi-Mediterranean best, with streets, souks and cafes busy throughout the day and on until late at night. Note, too, that room rates (and flights) can get particularly high during European school holidays, particularly those in the UK (one of Dubai’s biggest tourist markets).
Low season runs from April through to September. It’s punishingly hot, yes, but room rates can tumble, with prices around one-third lower than in high season (sometimes higher). On the downside, most outdoor bars and restaurants pack up for the duration, those beautiful outdoor terraces with stunning Burj views become sweatboxes even after dark and the whole city goes into a sort of reverse hibernation, with everyone bar mad dogs and Englishmen hiding away in the air-conditioned buildings until the cooler weather arrives. All hotel rooms in Dubai are air-conditioned, irrespective of price, so whatever the weather you’ll at least sleep cool.
Weather patterns in Vietnam vary wildly, and while Hanoi is enjoying crisp, cool days, Ho Chi Minh City might be sweltering in a heatwave and Nha Trang might be pounded by a typhoon. This unpredictability makes it tricky to plan a journey round the country. The high season for tourism in Vietnam is November to February, with another peak in July-August for families with schoolkids. This means that if you only plan to visit Hanoi, and not other parts of the country, April or October is a good bet, as there’s a good chance of catching good weather and you’ll also find room rates are cheaper then.
Though much of Vietnam has a tropical climate, at 21 degrees north Hanoi experiences four. The main feature of early-year weather in Hanoi from December to February is that it can be cold. Spring and Fall are generally the best times to be in Hanoi, when temperatures are in the lower 20s, making it pleasant to walk around. One thing that can’t be predicted, however, is the amount of sunshine, and you’re just as likely to experience dull, drizzly days as bright, clear ones.
From June to September Hanoi can become very unpleasant due to the heat and humidity, and to add to this, it’s also the rainy season. This is also a time when it’s essential to have air-con in your hotel room. October and November provide cooler temperatures and lower humidity, making it a pleasure to be outside. You might get caught in the odd downpour but rainfall is increasingly rare at this time of year.
Different climates in different regions will influence any choice of when best to go. Basically India has three seasons: Hot, Monsoon and Cool. From February up to around June the temperature starts to increase quite rapidly up to 40°C (105°F) or even more in Rajasthan. This when domestic tourists rush to the hills for cool relief.
The monsoon starts around the beginning of June in the south and moves north over the month. However the extreme south will also have rains from October to early December. Monsoonal rain can be extremely heavy and intermittent with periods of sun in between making for a very humid atmosphere.
After the rains die down cool weather arrives and this is a good time to visit India. The ideal months are October to December and February to March in the north. Delhi and northern cities can get very cold in late December early January when even daytime temperatures don’t rise above low single figures. Delhi will experience fog that can interfere with flights. Central and southern India can be 10 to 20°C higher.
There are some specific seasons to consider. If you’re on an animal safari then the best time to see a tiger or other rarity is in March/April. Water holes are smaller and fewer, and concealing grass has died down. If you’re going into the Himalaya then July to September are the best months, the roads are free of ice and snow, the passes passable and the altitude tempers the degrees down to acceptable 20s°C (60-70°F).
Because Japan has both tropical and subarctic climates, there is no bad time to visit Japan. In winter, for example, you can ski in the Japan Alps, Tohoku and Hokkaido or go scuba diving in Okinawa. In summer, when much of Japan is unbearably hot and humid, it can pleasantly cool in Hokkaido. For the best overall weather, however, both spring and autumn are optimal. Much of Japan experiences four seasons.
With variations from 2 (Israel Standard time) to 12 hours (Kamchatka), looking up the time zone for individual destinations is essential. For an overview check a site such as this:
Asia has it all from the luxe resorts to simple living. Right now some countries hitting the headlines for affordability include Sri Lanka, Vietnam, India and Cambodia. Food can be very cheap in Asia, so it’s possible to enjoy longer stays.
In Vietnam in general and Hanoi in particular you find a hotel room for US$30, a delicious meal for $5 and a glass of beer for 25 cents! Domestic airfares are cheap, too.
Many Asian holidays are booked as packages including airfares and accommodation – in fact some countries such as Bhutan require that you book through a recognised tour company. The wide range of options means you can have tailor-made itineraries created just for you with all the details taken care of including flights, transport, accommodation, tours and so on.
For flights only, check the search engines on sites such as Expedia, but also the airlines direct and of course if you can travel when you please you can search for bargains but do bear in mind the seasons and whether tickets are cheap because it’s not such a good time to go. Flying between cities is relatively cheap in many countries with local car hire available at your destination, however using local guides/drivers is a really good way to travel in Asian countries with tours arranged through your hotel tour desk.
Walking, hiking and cycling holidays are great ways to see countries such as Vietnam and are really great ways to experience a country.
[Always check that your passport will have more than six months before it expires and that you have any necessary visas.]
Significant airline hubs connecting many countries include Dubai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Delhi and Mumbai.