Surprising Asian Adventures

No longer off the beaten path, Asian destinations can still provide the thrill of discovery

Traveling in much of Asia used to be challenging for Western tourists. Much of China was off-limits to foreigners, for instance, and the big cities didn't have the sort of five-star hotels that travelers could easily find in the U.S. or Europe. Other parts of the region had problems of their own. Southeast Asia? Ravaged by war, countries such as Cambodia were hardly on the map for most Western travelers. India? Poor roads, airports, and other basic infrastructure.

Today, travel in Asia is a different story. China has some of the most luxurious hotels in the world, and the country has been adding more rooms to provide space for visitors to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Vietnam has become a top destination, with international chains opening resorts that pamper guests with the latest in luxury accommodation. Indian hotel chains such as the Taj and the Oberoi have won renown worldwide for their top levels of service.

Still, plenty of surprises remain for travelers in the region. Sure, Shanghai now has some of the most deluxe five-star hotels anywhere. But the city is also home to an emerging boutique-hotel scene, with top designers taking advantage of the city's rich architectural heritage to transform 1930s-era buildings into compelling 21st century inns. Meanwhile, Tokyo hotels, already renowned for high-level service, are raising their game—led surprisingly by international chains, not local hotels.

Tourism is also giving a much-needed lift to economic growth in many countries. Cambodia is only now putting on trial top leaders of the Khmer Rouge, but the country has become a popular tourist destination, with resorts near Angkor Wat providing a much-needed way forward for the country.

This special report on travel in Asia looks at these and other surprises in store for tourists in the region. Whether it's a trek through the mountains of Bhutan, a culinary tour of the restaurants of Taipei, or retreats in the yoga centers of India, there are still plenty of ways to experience Asia that provide the sort of thrill that makes travel so exciting.

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