Discover the most mystical places in Asia that you’ve probably never heard of. Prepare to be mind blown by these unearthly destinations.
There’s one thing that most of us, without argument, can wholly agree on. Asia is never a bad idea. Right?
From fast-paced mega city life to breathtaking tropical beaches, mouthgasmic street food, friendly locals (maybe not so much in China #sorrynotsorry), and history dating back to before the birth of Christ – it’s a continent that you’ll always find yourself booking a return trip to.
As much as I dig family friendly travel destinations and chillin’ by the beach sippin’ watermelon shakes all day – I’m also a bit of an offbeat thrill seeker. Something that becoming a parent hasn’t extinguished inside my adventurous soul. Most of all, I find myself magnetised to the mystique and mythical history of ancient cultures – their superstitions, fables and legends have aroused a sense of curiosity that I want to uncover for myself.
If your soul itches for a spiritual journey in places way beyond your comfort zone, then consider these mind blowing mystical destinations in Asia as part of your next trip.
Phnom Kulen, Cambodia
This is definitely not an attraction you’ll find in TripAdvisors Top Things to See in Cambodia, or any guidebook for that matter.
There’s popular tourist sights at the bottom of this mountain, but frankly, it’s what lies at the very top that will blow your mind. The best part? It’s virtually untouched by tourists, simply because not even many of the locals know of its existence.
You’ll find the mystical mountain range of Phnom Kulen under 2 hours’ drive from the nation’s capital, Siem Reap. Just under 2 hours’ drive from nation’s capital, Siem Reap. It’s best to visit with a local guide, more specifically, a local one who knows that it exists. Enter, Bun, from Siem Reap Motor Mystery Tour – he’s the friendly guy who unveiled this hidden local secret to us, and I seriously don’t think there’s any other tour operator out there who knows of this place. I mean, this place doesn’t even really have a name.
Bun will tell you stories of mythical Sadhus (holy men) dressed in all white who live in the trees, harnessing magic, speaking to animals, and performing religious rituals.
There’s an ethereal and otherworldly feeling when you reach the top – gold and silver shrines adorn the top of Mount Kulen, erected by individuals who had their wishes granted by Buddha.
You can also stay overnight at Phnom Kulen, as we did, to enjoy all the breathtaking sights the mountain has to offer. Try a homestay with a local family (legit the most humbling and best experience), it’s something we’ll hold dear forever – plus, you get to enjoy your host’s incredible homecooked Khmer dishes.
Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Book a 1-day Kulen Mountain Motorbike Adventure and explore the hidden secrets of Cambodia.
Phraya Nakhon, Thailand
If you haven’t yet heard of this magical place in Asia, prepare to be mesmerised.
Look, it’s not one of those awe-inspiring sinkhole caves that lie beneath lakes and have waterfalls gushing into them from the surface, but Phraya Nakhon does have one thing no other cave in the world has. A freakin’ 125-year old Thai Pavilion. Pretty spesh, right?
The arduous 1-hour hike will see you trekking through lush forestry with monkeys swinging above you, and rugged rocky terrain, just to get to this man-made spectacle dedicated to King Rama V. Just make sure you lather yourselves in layers of mozzie repellant, you know, the potent jungle kind loaded with deet (’cause you don’t wanna come out needing a blood transfusion, ya know?).
Want to spend more time exploring the vast and beautiful national park that is home to the Phraya Nakhon Cave? Stay overnight in one of these insane bungalows or villas located within.
Getting there: 45-minute car or scooter ride from beach town, Hua Hin.
Entry price: 200 Baht ($6 USD) per adult
Book a full day guided tour of Phraya Nakhon Cave & the National Park with lunch & hotel pick-up today!
Bodhi Tree, India
In case you thought this was the actual tree under which Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama, sat meditating for 49 days without a single drop of water or ounce of food twenty centuries ago – it’s not. Sorry, guys.
But, don’t go scrolling past too fast yet – the one that stands at the Mahabodhi Temple today, is believed to be a direct descendant. Today’s Bodhi tree has its roots in the same earth in which the original one once stood.
It is believed that some time in 3000 B.C., King Ashoka’s wife ordered the tree to be destroyed because her beloved husband seemed to be growing a li’l too fond of it. Look, I get the malice you feel when your husband is perving on another woman, but – it’s a god damn tree. Like, chill for a sec, lady. That kind of affair is not sustainable.
Today, the Mahabodhi Temple is a place for pilgrimage for those who seek to pay tribute to Buddha, and absorb the energy of this deeply spiritual place in which Siddhartha reached enlightenment.
Getting there: 10km south of Gaya (north eastern city in India). Accessible via car, bus or taxi.
Entry fee: No charge
Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Thailand
At first sight, you’ll think that someone spiked your drink with acid, or that Pad Thai you ate for lunch was laced with magic mushrooms. As fun as that would be, this temple is what it is. Rest assured, your mind is not conjuring up wacky hallucinogenic visions. It’s all real.
The most bizarre temple complex you’ll ever set foot in, the gardens are decorated with pop culture heads hanging off trees, like Batman and Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The inside of the temple is just as perplexing, with popular Hollywood and music icons painted onto a great mural.
Designed by Thai visual artist, Charlemchai Kositpipat, the temple is forever a WIP, much like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
It gets crazier the closer you get to the main temple, prepare yourself for creepy hand sculptures emerging from the abyss, as well as bones, skulls and other art that will have you secretly yearning for your mum.
Getting there: 20 minutes southwest of Chiang Rai. Accessible via car, scooter, bus or Tuk Tuk.
Entry fee: 50 Baht ($1.50) per adult
What gear do we travel with? Take a look at everything that we haul with us, every single trip.
Mount Emei, China
For a temple experience that’s, quite literally, located above the clouds – Emei Shan in central China is an absolute must-visit for travellers and Buddhist pilgrims alike.
Heaven will seem that much closer when you’re standing 3080 metres above sea level at the Golden Summit. The largest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains, the mystical mountain is visited by streams of pilgrims on the daily to pay their respects to their faith and the divinity that lies within.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you can even stay at this super nice hotel with views to kill for on the fringes of Mount Emei, and make your way up first thing in the morning to witness the sunrise over the temples at the Golden Summit.
Getting there: 1.5 hour high speed train from Chengdu
Entry fee: 90¥ ($14 USD) from Dec-Jan, 185¥ ($28 USD) from Feb-Nov
Alright, not gonna lie. I snuck this one in – it’s not really a physical location. But, the idea is way too cool to exclude.
Hailed the Atlantis of Asia, Gyanganj, otherwise known as Shangri-La, Siddhashram or Shambala, is a mythical place on Earth that is believed to exist in a dimension alternate to ours. I know, I just went all ‘Stranger Things’ on you guys, but it’s a fascinating thought nevertheless.
Locals believe that this hidden paradise is inhabited by immortal beings who low key guide the world through prayer and meditation. According to Tibetan and Indian legend, this celestial kingdom is nestled somewhere in the Himalayas, but is only visible to those who are enlightened.. Or, those who have smoked a sh*t ton of ganja.
It’s also probable that some yogi, high as a kite, reported this finding. But, one can’t deny that many deem the Himalayas to be one of the most untouched and mystical places on Earth, from tales of astral projecting Sadhus perched on mountains’ edges to goddesses living in holy lakes – it’s one hell of a mystery that captivates even the skeptics.
Getting there: Via meditation, prayer, enlightenment, and perhaps, a joint somewhere in between.
Entry fee: Maybe… your soul?
Do you LOVE travel as much as we do? Check out our guide on Super Thoughtful Gifts for Travel Lovers.
Fengdu (Ghost City), China
High on the hills in the province of Chongqing in central China, you’ll find a bizarre ancient “City of Ghosts” that is deemed the gateway to the afterlife. The complex harbours three tests that allow the dead to pass safely into the next life – the Bridge of Helplessness, Ghost Torturing Pass, and Last Glance at Home Tower.
The city’s roots trace back almost 2000 years, built some time during the Han Dynasty. The story goes that two imperial officials, Yin and Wang, escaped the grips of their monotonous jobs and retreated into the mountains to practice Taoism and became immortal in the process.
The combined use of their names Yinwang actually translates to ‘King of Hell’, which is the reason behind the place’s take on the underworld and all things that come with it – including, demonic stone carvings, wraiths, ghosts and a general sense of eeriness.
Getting there: Via boat on the Yangtze River Cruise or train from Chongqing (1-hour journey)
Entry fee: 100¥ ($15 USD) per adult
Mustang Caves, Nepal
One of the world’s great archaeological mysteries, the Mustang Caves comprise of around 10,000 mysterious man-carved dens nestled along the rugged and wind savaged cliff edges of northern Nepal.
No one knows who dug them, what purpose they served, or merely how people scaled the vertical surface to access them. Some of the caves appear impossible to reach, even to experienced climbers carrying all the gear and equipment of the 21st Century.
Archaeologists have theorised that some were used as domestic dwellings, and others as burial chambers.
Take a look at this jaw-dropping collection of photos taken by National Geographic explorers, archaeologists and climbers.
It’s recommended to visit the Mustang Caves on a guided tour as they are located in an extremely remote region in Nepal.
Mount Koya, Japan
Widely regarded as Japan’s most sacred Buddhist sites, Mount Koya is the place where Kobo Daishi; the founder of Shingon Buddhism; entered eternal meditation in 835 B.C.
His tomb and remains still stand to this day; monks who reside on the mountain prepare daily meals and adorn him with fresh robes every morning. Although his tomb is not accessible to the public, which leaves one to wonder whether he really is in a deep state or everlasting meditation, or whether it’s all just a big fat myth.
Shukubo Koyasan Eko-in Temple offer traditional Japanese-style accommodation inside a 1000-year old Buddhist temple atop the mountain, where guests are offered to attend Buddhist morning services, the Goma fire ritual, and meditation with the monks.
Getting there: Via train from Osaka (1.5 hours) or Kyoto (2.5 hours)
Entry fee: ¥1,500 ($14 USD) per adult for a Combination Ticket granting access to all temples
Take a look at these 20 incredible landmarks in Japan for more travel inspiration.
Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan
One of the last frontiers of an age-old Himalayan Buddhist culture – the small, landlocked country of Bhutan is located between Tibet and India. Its postcard landmark is the stunning Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most sacred and religious sites.
The Bhutanese believe that guru Rinpoche (AKA Padmasambhava) flew to the mountainside from Tibet on a tigress’ back to subdue a local demon. According to legend, his body imprint can be found in the wall of a cave in a monastery nearby.
The hike to Tiger’s Nest takes roughly 3-4 hours, depending on your fitness level. If it were me, I would probably estimate closer to a day, or two, with an overnight break and 500 rest stops. Because hiking and cardio is just not something that I excel at in life.
One thing to note is that Bhutan can only be visited on a pre-arranged tour. Take a look at the Top 10 Tour Companies that operate in Bhutan that take you up to Tiger’s Nest as part of their itinerary. But, be aware – it’s not cheap to travel to Bhutan, the government charges a $250 USD per day tourist tax (most of which is included when you book a tour).
Is Australia on your bucket list? Take a look at the Most Breathtaking Places to Visit in Victoria, Australia.
Mount Kailash, Tibet
A place of great cultural and spiritual significance, Mount Kailash, in the westernmost region of the Tibetan plateau is revered and worshipped by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains alike. Pilgrims believe that circumambulating the holy mountain will purify the soul and cultivate the ability to see the divine.
Believed to be the residences of the great Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati in Hinduism, climbing activities are deeply frowned upon, and requests submitted by mountaineers are generally denied by the Chinese government in an effort to preserve the sanctity of the mountain.
So, what on Earth do you do there? You walk around the base of this sparkling, snowy summit – admiring and worshipping the divine mountain from a distance. Same, same. Right?
Some pilgrims will complete the entire 52km (32 mile) circuit in a single day. But, let’s be real, most of us don’t have the fitness and dedication (ie. Me), so it’s more common for visitors to take up to 3 days to complete the strenuous journey. Virtually inaccessible via plane, train or bus – the road to the region where Mount Kailash stands is an expedition in itself. It requires days of rugged, overland four wheel driving from Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, just to get to the vicinity.
Mount Kailash is virtually inaccessible via plane, train or bus. It pretty much takes an expedition to get there. Literally days of rugged, bumpy overland 4-wheel driving from Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. You can only embark on this adventure with a guided tour from Kathmandu or Lhasa.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Myanmar
Perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, sits Myanmar’s Golden Rock – a gravity defying spectacle roughly 160km northeast of the capital, Yangon.
Legend has it, that the whole edifice miraculously balances on a single strand of Buddha’s hair. It is said that Buddha once visited a hermit named, Taik Tha, who lived atop the mountain and have him a lock of his hair. Taik Tha then gifted it to the King with instructions for it to be place beneath a rock shaped like his head. The King then found a rock under the sea and had managed to perfectly balance it on the mountainside where the hermit once lived.
It will never be known whether there’s any truth to the legend or not, but myths aside, you can’t deny that Kyaiktiyo is a marvel that defies the laws of physics.
Getting there: Accessible via bus from Yangon (3.5 hours) or Bago (2 hours)
Entry cost: 10,000MMK ($7 USD) per adult
Need more travel inspo for Asia? Take a look below.
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