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See the Icons, Escape the crowds

| Words by Zoe Crane |

Our country experts reveal their insider tips on how to escape the crowds at Asia’s most iconic sites.

Map: how to escape the crowds and experience a more authentic side of Asia through its myriad landmarks and attractions

1. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

See the sun rise over Angkor Wat away from the crowds via the little-used Eastern Gate. Elsewhere, time your day so you beat the tourist busses!

Angkor Wat in Cambodia is arguably one of the most iconic sites in Asia, consisting of multiple shrines with a main deity at its centre. Witness this incredible monument appear from the darkness is a magical experience. Creep through the little-used eastern gate of Angkor Wat before dawn, your path lit only by torchlight, and watch the sun rise over this magnificent temple.

Continue on your visit across the ancient city and visit Angkor Thom and Bayon, “Enter the Angkor complex via the West gate of Angkor Thom city, and observe the ruinous walled city of Angkor Thom the carvings on the this gate are exceptionally well preserved. Then explore the eerie Bayon temple, a truly mesmerising experience”.

John, Cambodia Country Manager, Insider Journeys

2. Taj Mahal, India

Crowds at this world icon are hard to dodge. Try to arrive just before dawn and witness the first rays of sunlight peak over a misty Taj Mahal.

India’s greatest architectural achievement, the UNESCO protected Taj Mahal is universally admired as a masterpiece of world heritage and an embodiment of romantic expression.

“There is not really quiet time at the Taj. Sunrise is best overall, it is not quiet but quieter (as most domestic visitors come from later in the morning with another surge closer to sunset), and the lighting is usually at its best.”

“Alternatively, admire the Taj at night during the full moon. Best to book in advance as numbers are limited and it’s not included in the same ticket as the day pass. “

Eric Finley, Senior Vietnam Product Manager, Insider Journeys

3. The Great Wall of China, China

Some sections of the Great Wall are almost devoid of tourists. The further you get from Beijing the smaller the crowds.

The world’s longest man-made structure, whilst isn’t visible from space, is often considered one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’. Explore the Great Wall at Mutianyu, which is 70km northeast of Beijing where you can explore a combination of restored and original sections of the Wall away from the crowds.

For a remote experience close to the end of the Wall, venture to Jiayuguan, “the far western end of the wall in the northern province of Gansu. Located in the desert near the city of Jianyuguan, this section of the wall served as a gateway of the Silk Road for centuries. Not only is its story of significance throughout China’s history fascinating, but the wall itself is interesting for those who’ve visited the sections near Beijing. The materials and methods of construction used for this section of the Wall are entirely different from those at the eastern reaches of the Wall”

Consider visiting in Winter (mid-November – until early March, except Chinese New Year) with fewer crowds and a chance to see snow covered Beijing.

Jackie Firmstone, China and Burma Senior Product Manager, Insider Journeys

4. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

A local family fishing during the flooding season in Chau Doc

The fertile lifeblood of Vietnam, life on the Mekong Delta revolves around the water and all that it produces, including rice, fruit and freshwater fish. “Avoid the crowds by visiting one of the less visited towns in the Delta such as Chau Doc. Stay overnight stay visit the local Chao Doc markets and the stunning surrounding areas such as Nui Sam or the Tra Su wetlands”

Aaron Edgington, Vietnam Country Manager, Insider Journeys

5. The Grand Palace, Thailand

Arrive early and wander through the majestic grand palace before it gets too crowded (and hot!)

Angela, our Thailand expert, gives us her top tips on how to escape the crowds at the Grand Palace:

  • 1. Arrive properly dressed. The dress code is strict: neither men nor women are allowed inside without their elbows or ankles covered. Avoid shorts, leggings, tights, skirts and see-through blouses
  • 2. Arrive early, on a weekday. Be at the entrance a bit before the opening time (8:30 am) to be sure to get in first. You’ll also be able to enjoy the Palace before it gets too hot!
  • 3. Head to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha first to avoid queues to enter
  • 4. Move clockwise while visiting the sites
  • 5. Avoid visiting the Grand Palace during peak periods:

  • Songkran (Thai New Year) which takes place in mid-April. Attendance is usually higher around this time (on the Songkran Day itself the Palace is closed)
  • Christmas and New Year holidays should be avoided
  • Avoid peak hours. If you didn’t manage to get up early, consider visiting mid-afternoon. Most groups and tourists leave the place after 2:30 PM, and last admission is at 3:30 PM. (The site remains open until 4:30 PM)

6. Jump in a taxi and head to the Palace at midnight. Although closed at night, the spectacular display of the Palace under lights is a sight to behold

6. Backstreets of Mandalay, Burma

Meet the friendly locals in the backstreets of Mandalay.

Explore the backstreets of Mandalay in Burma and experience the fascinating pockets of the city, few travellers will ever see. From the lively Jade market and beyond to the cottage industries.

“At the market, witness the jade cutting and crafting process in action, to the shoppers haggling over the price of Jade in all its forms from uncut pieces to fine figurines and jewellery. Delve deeper, and venture into the cottage industries which have been the main source of income for the local families there for generations. Wander through the winding narrow streets, stopping off at workshops in an area where families make a variety of sweets and snacks to sell across Mandalay, and all over the country. The locals are so friendly, and happy to let you pop in and see how they make sugar cane candy and sweet puffed rice snacks. Don’t forget to try some for yourself!”

Jackie Firmstone, China and Burma Senior Product Manager, Insider Journeys

7. Luang Prabang, Laos

Watch the sunset over the picturesque town. Travel in the low season to avoid the crowds.

“Experience the magical town of Luang Prabang, the gem of Laos during the shoulder (April and October) or low seasons (May to August) where everything is lush and green, the Mekong is faster flowing. Soak up the laid-back charm, and enjoy a cocktail overlooking the sunset in Luang Prabang.”

Antony Giblin, Laos Country Manager, Insider Journeys

8. Naadam Festival, Mongolia

See the locals competing in the ‘manly sports’

For generations, Mongolian nomad tribes have gathered annually to compete in a contest of physical strength and skill known as Naadam. It’s a smaller more intimate experience with the locals compared to the likes of Ulaan Baatar. “Join the excitement of the Naadam Festival in one the country’s beautiful rural areas. Attend the spectacular Opening Ceremony of the festival and competitions of horse racing, archery and wrestling. Traditionally they are considered ‘manly sports’, women and even children are also allowed to compete!”

“One of our travellers’ favourite experiences of Naadam is watching the start of a horse-race and then jumping in our 4WDs to ‘race’ the horse across the Mongolian steppe to be there at the finish-line to see the winner claim victory!”

Jackie Firmstone, China and Burma Senior Product Manager, Insider Journeys