For most Westerners, Asia is that exotic and mysterious land on the other side of the planet. Home to some of humanity’s greatest civilizations such as China, India and Japan, there is an enduring sense of antiquity in this vast region.

Its topography covers everything from the empty sands of the Gobi Desert to the soaring Himalayas and the tropical jungles of Borneo. A land of extremes, visitors can choose to face the poverty of India or the luxury of Japan. The rudeness of the Chinese is balanced by the graciousness of the Thais and Balinese, and the work ethic of the South Koreans is challenged only by the languid character of the Lao.

Asia’s chilly northern reaches are hemmed in by the Great Wall of China. At the southern end, the 13,000 islands of Indonesia provide perennially warm climes littered with stunning coral reefs and idyllic beaches. In between lie magnificent ruins like Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, colorful ethnic hill tribes and some of the best food on earth.

Asia encompasses the full gambit of culture, religion and environment. It’s home to two countries teeming with over one billion inhabitants, a handful of kingdoms and the planet’s highest peak in Everest. It’s also home to the rising economic tigers of China and India.

Backpackers have been flocking to Nepal, India and Thailand for decades. Indeed, much of Asia is extremely affordable, though recent years have seen a trend towards more upscale resorts providing comfort with a cultural edge. This isn’t lost on the locals, many of whom survive off tourism.

The touts and beggars of India and Cambodia will challenge anyone’s patience, and dictatorships such as North Korea and Burma prove there are still pockets of despotism. But one thing’s for sure: Asia is on the rise.

There is enough spirituality, antiquity, and modern innovation to impress even the most jaded traveler. It takes years to fully explore this part of the world due to its sheer diversity and wealth of superlative highlights. Asia is far from a singular culture. It’s a tapestry of unbeatable color, design and quality. Few visitors leave here disappointed.

Top Things to See & Do in Asia