Charge your cameras. Empty your memory cards. Apologize in advance to your friends on social media, because these small towns will have you snapping away on every corner. Sure Asia is full of eye-popping vistas, but there’s something about these five destinations that inspires us to capture and save each moment we’re there.
Hoi An, Vietnam
How does Hoi An do it? This charming riverside town and UNESCO World Heritage Site has managed to withstand the ravages of time and yearly flooding to appear almost exactly as it did decades ago. Two-storey shophouses are washed in the ochre paint of old Vietnam, Chinese symbols stand out from carved wooden windows and bridges, and every evening the tranquil Thu Bon river reflects the flickering glow of hundreds of colorful paper lanterns.
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Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang is all about color: The suffused saffron of the monks’ robes, the bluish mist on the mountains at first light, the fiery reds of the flame trees along the riverbanks. Against a backdrop of cheerful morning markets, sparkling temples and picturesque streets, the Mekong’s caramel-colored waters meander in languorous, graceful curves.
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Nestled in the fertile interior of the Island of the Gods, Ubud is the spiritual and artistic heart of Bali. Some of Indonesia’s most promising artists hail from this small village, known for its rich culture and deep spiritual devotion. The tangled vines, moss-covered statues and inky lotus ponds hidden inside Ubud’s exotic pagodas are just as compelling as the scenes taking place along its bustling sidewalks.
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A town set into the side of a mountain, historic Jiufen is Taiwan’s version of retro heaven. The town’s cobblestone streets are lined with grand Japanese- and Chinese-style tea houses, where patrons sip hot cups of pu’er tea while soaking up superb views of the sea. Red lanterns dangle above narrow streets packed with shops selling mouthwatering goodies, and food – whether hot dumplings, fish soup, tea eggs or taro balls – plays a big part in any photo album out of Jiufen.
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More Taiwan: Like a Local: Eat Your Way Through Taipei ▸
Penang takes Malaysia’s incredible energy and cultural fusion and amps it up on one small but fascinating island. Palm-fringed beaches are just a short ride away from the colorful streets of Georgetown. Old and new collide in Penang’s photo-worthy city centre, where a melange of chic cafes, dilapidated shophouses, hand-painted murals and streetfood stalls jostle for attention.
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Alexander Grootmeester is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.
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