8 amazing Asian experiences

From elephant pool parties in Sri Lanka to naked wrestling in Japan

From elephant pool parties in Sri Lanka to naked wrestling in Japan, Time Out helps you explore the best of the continent.
Swim over Singapore
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Swim over Singapore

Singapore has a reputation for being a bit of a cultural vacuum, but one look at the Marina Bay Sands’ spectacular infinity pool overlooking the city and you’ll forget all thoughts of trying to find an underground art exhibition. Located 57 stories up, the pool is the crowning glory of the SkyPark and stretches across the tops of the complex’s three main towers at a length greater than the Eiffel Tower laid on its side. The pool is only open to hotel guests, so you’ll have to fork out for a room here (from 2,700RMB a night) to gain access. A number of tour operators usually offer good flight and hotel packages that work out cheaper for those that want to save a bit of money, however. If you do hit the streets, pick up a copy of Time Out Singapore to get the best out of the city. 


When to go Year-round. 

How to get there Return flights to Singapore on Singapore Airlines start from 2,930RMB.

Trek the world’s oldest rainforest
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Trek the world’s oldest rainforest

Borneo’s 130-million-year-old rainforest is so rich and diverse in the treasures of nature that many visitors often fall into a deep state of indecision. Should you go see the cheeky orangutans swinging and dancing from tree to tree at Sepilok? Or watch the carnivorous pitcher plants lure insects with their nectar and trap them with deeply cupped leaves? Or try to catch a glimpse of a Sumatran rhinoceros and a clouded leopard? 


When to go March to October. 

How to get there Dragon Air flies to Kota Kinabalu via Hong Kong from 2,900RMB return. 

Where to stay On-site chalets at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge make for a tranquil jungle retreat, with prices dependent on which of their various tour packages you opt for. Classic Travel offers a private, eight-day tour, including a jungle trek, visit to Selingan Turtle Island, five-star accommodation and return flights (from Shanghai only) for 11,500RMB per person.

Explore  the world’s largest cave
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Explore the world’s largest cave

The Son Doong Cave in Vietnam is the world’s largest. It has an individual cavern measuring almost 9km long, 200-metres wide and 150-metres high, a raging underground river and incredible, otherworldly formations throughout its huge network. Located in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, beside the Laos border, it was only officially discovered in 2009, and authorised tourist trips inside have only been taking place since last May. 


When to go Year-round. 

How to get there Vietnam Airlines flies from Beijing to Hanoi from 2,720RMB return, and on to Dong Hoi City for a further 810RMB return. Cave tours can be arranged in Dong Hoi (see www.sondoongcave.org for details).  
Where to stay The Phong Nha Farmstay, a French colonial-style rural retreat set in idyllic rice fields, is conveniently close to the National Park, with rooms from 210RMB a night.

See underwater pyramids
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See underwater pyramids

The ruins of the ‘underwater pyramids’, with steps and terraces resembling the Mayan temples, are part of the Yonaguni Monument lying deep underwater off the coast of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands (which you may know from a certain disputed territory at its southernmost tip). Since the underwater discovery was made in 1987, it has puzzled archaeologists and scholars alike. Some claim to have identified the ruins of a castle and five temples. Others argue that it is nothing but a natural formation of rocks fractured by geological forces. Either way, it makes for a fascinating trip. Plus, the island of Ishigaki, the main transport hub for the smaller outlying isles, features some stunning beaches (Kabira Bay in particular). 


When to go December to March. The southern wind during summer makes it difficult to gain access to the site. 

How to get there Return flights from Beijing to Naha, Okinawa are available from 4,780RMB with China Eastern. Onward flights from Naha to Ishigaki with JAL cost around 600RMB return. Dive tours can be organised by Yonaguni Diving Service, which also runs a small B&B on the island. Advanced booking is advised if you want an English-speaking guide. Dive tours begin at 1,100RMB for a day of gear rental and two boat dives. 

Where to stay Hotel Nikko Yaeyama provides a good base in the main town on Ishigaki, a 30-minute walk or a short taxi journey from the ferry port. Rooms start from 880RMB.

Cross the Torugart Pass
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Cross the Torugart Pass

The remote Torugart Pass is one of China’s most incredible border crossings, sat atop mountain peaks between Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan. On the Kyrgyz side, a single road winds its way past lonely yurt camps, herds of camels and bleak permafrost-covered landscapes, to an isolated border posting that’s only accessible for several months of the year. Although you can cross from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan in a day, the paucity of accommodation options awaiting you on the other side means you’re better off starting in the laid-back Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and returning into China. Bishkek is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days – its ominous Soviet architecture is offset by friendly locals and streets that turn into mini-fairs at night – but it’s the largely unspoilt countryside between the capital and the Chinese border that provides the highlights of the journey. One of these is Lake Issyk-kul – the second largest salt-water lake in the world – located in the eastern Tianshan Mountain, which boasts crystal-clear waters that remain warm throughout the year despite being surrounded on all sides by beautiful snow-capped mountains (hence the water’s name, which means ‘hot lake’). 


When to go May or September are generally the best months for travel in Kyrgyzstan, when temperatures are at their most bearable. The Torugart Pass is technically open all year, but in reality is only accessible from late May-September. 

How to get there China Southern offers return flights, with a stopover in Urumqi, for 2,980RMB (booked through ctrip.com). While the capital is easy enough to navigate independently, you’re best off arranging a tour to get around the rest of the country. See caravanistan.com for a good list of operators and for more essential information on the country. Kyrgyzstan recently removed visa restrictions for many foreign nationals, but still check ahead before travelling. 

Where to stay In Bishkek, the five-star Hyatt Regency has rooms from 2,150RMB a night, while the Baikhan hotel offers more basic accommodation from around 440RMB a night.

See Asia made up of little bricks
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See Asia made up of little bricks

It might not quite have all of the experiences listed in this feature, but if you’re looking for a quick way to tick off some of the most famous sites on the continent, then a trip to Johor, near Singapore, may be just the ticket. There’s a slight catch of course, but in this case the catch is also the main reason you’re here: the sites are all made of Lego. Opened in 2012, Legoland Malaysia is home to 40 different attractions and features brick versions of Asian landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and Beijing’s very own Great Wall. 


When to go Year-round. 

How to get there For flights to Singapore, see ‘Experience One’. From Singapore, regular shuttle buses run to the park from the Jurong East Bus Interchange. Entrance tickets are 270RMB; 210RMB for children (3-11 years old). You can also buy a combined shuttle bus and Legoland entrance ticket for 400RMB from tour operators. 

Where to stay If you really want to splash out, stay at the Marina Bay Sands with its spectacular rooftop pool.

Join an elephant gathering
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Join an elephant gathering

Known as the Great Gathering, this annual event is the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world. Every year, hundreds of elephants migrate to Sri Lanka’s Minneriya reservoir to feast, drink and socialise. See the adult males flaunt their trunks to impress the females, while baby elephants gleefully spray one another with muddy waters in what is, essentially, one enormous elephant pool party. Don’t leave without watching the sun set over the rich, grassy marshes and lush, evergreen grassland, with the mountains of Matale in the distance. Of course, it’s not all about elephants: there’s lots of other wildlife in this area, including macaque monkeys, playful sambar deers and leopards. 


When to go The elephants come here for the water as the dry season takes full effect from August to October. 

How to get there Sri Lankan Airlines flies from Beijing to Colombo from 7,400RMB return. From there, travel overland to Polonnaruwa, the closest city to the Minneriya National Park. The best way to do this is by car (taxis charge around 400RMB one way), but you can also take a seven-hour sleeper train with tickets from 20RMB. 

Where to stay The Cinnamon Lodge Habarana is an eco-friendly resort spread over 27 acres of forest land. Rooms start at 750RMB.

Wrestle 10,000 naked men
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Wrestle 10,000 naked men

When it’s the height of winter, the snow’s falling and everything outside is frozen, what do some Japanese do? They get naked, of course. Nippon’s famous Hadaka Matsuri – literally meaning Naked Festival – sees men across the country strip down (though these days, they at least put on a small loin cloth) to battle for two sacred sticks. Close to 10,000 sake-and-beer-fuelled gents chant their way through the site to the pulse of the aiko drum. 


When to go The third Saturday in February. 

How to get there China Eastern flies to Okayama from 4,780RMB return. 

Where to stay The Okayama Koraku Hotel is a short walk from the JR Okayama train station and offers modern rooms from 380RMB a night.

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