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Top 10 places to visit in Asia

There are so many exciting top destinations in Asia, deciding where to go can be difficult; but that's a good problem to have.

Don't despair! With cheap budget flights between major hubs in Asia, you could easily catch a couple or more of these tempting top-spots on a single trip. Regardless of where you begin, you'll have access to culture, UNESCO sites, nature, and exciting culinary treats.

If planning your first big trip to Asia, consider a soft landing in one of these top destinations for first-time travelers.

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Many travelers prefer Thailand's pleasant northern capital over the hectic pace of life in Bangkok. Most of the tourist action happens within Chiang Mai's Old City, where orange-robed monks from the many temples smile as they pass.

From numerous cultural festivals and sprawling night markets to mountain trekking and scores of beautiful temples, Chiang Mai attracts over a million visitors a year who just can't wait to come back. Chiang Mai is certainly the most popular among the top 10 places to visit in Thailand.

Pai, a riverside village only four hours north of Chiang Mai, is a bonus; you can visit both of them together as a "package."

Although inflation is on the rise due to popularity (Bangkok is consistently one of the most visited cities in the world), a vacation in Thailand is still relatively inexpensive.

2. Penang, Malaysia

Known as the "Pearl of the Orient," Penang is a place to relax, eat delicious food to the brink of misery, and appreciate Malaysia in a new way. Malaysians are quite proud of their large island — and they should be!

A legacy of immigration and colonization in Penang has produced what is arguably some of the best cuisines in all of Southeast Asia. Penang hawker food combines the best of Malay with influences from Chinese and Indian immigrants to produce mouthwatering creations.

Superb food is not the only indulgence on the island. You'll find hip museums and art galleries along with plenty of other things to do in Penang. Georgetown may have some grubby edges, it's not only charming, but it's also groovy.

Penang is easy to reach and is certainly among the top destinations in Malaysia.

3. Singapore

Notoriously expensive and often unfairly shunned by budget travelers afraid of getting fined, tiny Singapore is a modern-yet-green city/island/country well worth a visit for the food, mega-mall shopping, and unique blend of cultures.

Don't assume that Singapore is all about concrete shopping blocks! You'll find ample green space and an impressive system of elevated biking and walking trails that interconnect city parks.

Yes, Singapore costs far more than neighboring Malaysia or the rest of Southeast Asia, however, the city has a pleasant vibe, lively Indian and Chinese cultures, speaks good English, and is pleasant enough just to stroll. You could spend months living in Singapore and still discover hidden places and eateries the guidebooks have missed! Even the museums in Singapore will remain in memory forever.

4. Malaysian Borneo