Home Travel Explore Four Hidden Gems in Asia Worth Including in Your Travel Plans

Explore Four Hidden Gems in Asia Worth Including in Your Travel Plans

These less-explored destinations are brimming with history, heritage, and culture.

by Lafin

While Bangkok, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur attract crowds of tourists, Southeast Asia boasts numerous undiscovered cities that captivate with their historical landmarks, scenic landscapes, and unique cultural experiences. From the once-Malay center of an Islamic dynasty to a Filipino beach paradise born from a Catholic pilgrimage site, here are five charming cities in the region that often go unnoticed but hold great allure.

Malacca, Malaysia

In the 1300s, Malacca started as a serene fishing village. However, within a century, it transformed into the center of a powerful Islamic Sultanate, giving rise to the Malaysian political system and influencing various aspects of what is now considered Malay culture, cuisine, and architecture.

Today, this small city on Malay’s southwest coast has unintentionally become an ideal destination for the social media age. In recent years, many travelers seek locations with visually appealing backgrounds, and Malacca offers just that.

For one, its streets are traversed by one of the world’s most distinctive forms of public transport – trishaws. These trishaws are vibrantly colorful, adorned with cartoon pictures, and play lively party music from their speakers.

Moreover, Malacca boasts one of Asia’s most picturesque Old Towns. While Europe is renowned for well-preserved ancient precincts within its cities, such areas are comparatively rare in Asia. Malacca’s historic core showcases a stunning and unique blend of architectural styles, ranging from Malay to Chinese, English, Dutch, and Portuguese influences. Roaming through the churches, mosques, and temples of this neighborhood offers one of the most enriching tourist experiences that Malaysia has to offer.

Cebu, Philippines

Cebu is a captivating blend of a tropical resort and a living time capsule. The city has gained recognition for its scenic beaches, which bear witness to historical events where Europeans attempted to conquer the Philippines 500 years ago, leaving behind intriguing sites. What many visitors may not be aware of is the close 500-year-old link shared between Cebu and Malacca, both significantly shaped in the early 1500s by the Portuguese conqueror Ferdinand Magellan.

In 1511, Magellan played a role in the Portuguese capture of Malacca. A decade later, he introduced Catholicism to the Philippines, now the most populous Christian nation in Asia. Shortly thereafter, Magellan met his fate in Cebu, where he and his Spanish troops were defeated by local soldiers. The leader of this resistance, chieftain Lapu-Lapu, stands as one of Cebu’s greatest heroes.

The historic battle unfolded on Mactan Island, bordering Cebu’s downtown area and now transformed into an upscale beach destination adorned with five-star hotels. Downtown Cebu prominently features statues of both Magellan and Lapu-Lapu.

Close by, two splendid structures from the 1500s, constructed during the Spanish colonization, stand as significant tourist attractions. Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and Fort San Pedro have been meticulously maintained, featuring signage that narrates the city’s colonial history.

Medan, Indonesia

Medan, an ancient Islamic city, bears a rich cultural tapestry shaped by Chinese, Indian, and Dutch influences, resulting in a delightfully eclectic ambiance. Despite its cultural richness, Medan remains a relatively undiscovered gem, often overshadowed by the tourist magnet of Bali in the far east of the Indonesian archipelago, which attracts millions of visitors annually.

Situated 2,200 km west of Bali in the lesser-known province of North Sumatra, Medan serves as a gateway to the lush interior of Sumatra, particularly the enchanting highlands and crystalline lakes in the Toba area. With a population of two million people, Medan is now one of Indonesia’s largest cities, characterized by a diverse mix of Javanese, Malay, Indian, and Chinese communities.

Among its notable attractions is the iconic Maimun Palace, a testament to Medan’s Dutch colonial heritage. Constructed in the late 1800s, the palace boasts a fusion of Islamic, European, and Malay architecture, impeccably preserved with a small museum showcasing cultural relics.

Adjacent to the palace, the Great Mosque of Medan stands as a pinnacle of Islamic architecture in Indonesia. Adorned with domes and featuring an ornate interior illuminated by the colorful light filtering through intricate stained glass windows, it is a spectacular testament to the city’s cultural richness.

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