9 Must-Visit Underrated Countries in Asia & the Middle East
If you’re anything like me, your sense of wanderlust has been stronger than ever in recent months. There finally seems to be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, things are slowly but surely returning to “normal,” and mannn those cheap flight deals are tempting.
Let’s be honest, though: everyone else has the same idea. No matter how tempted I am, what makes me hesitate to hit “confirm” is picturing the overcrowded beaches, the sold-out tours, the traffic waiting to get into national parks, and hiking in a single-file line. Yuk.
Does that mean I’m not traveling at all? Absolutely not. It just means I’m considering places I never previously did. Instead of the “hot” tourist destinations, I’m looking at visiting some of the world’s most underrated countries. Those hidden gems you have to look up because you’re genuinely not even sure where they are. And you know where there are a lot of those grossly underrated countries? Asia and the Middle East.
Most underrated countries in Asia & the Middle East
If you’ve never traveled to this part of the world (or heck, even if you have), toss out your preconceived notions. There are sections of every country in the world that are hot, humid, buggy, dusty, rainy, or not-so-pretty. There are also parts of the hottest, most humid, buggiest, dustiest, rainiest, not-so-prettiest countries that will knock your socks off with their beauty and adventure.
To learn more about the most underrated countries to visit, I turned to nine exceptionally well-traveled bloggers. Whether you’re looking to lounge on a beach, indulge in the local foodie scene, participate in outdoor pursuits, or just enjoy the scenery, you’ll find plenty of opportunities in these underrated travel destinations.
By Kristin, Adventures With Ensuite
Neighboring Georgia has become a popular tourist destination, but very few tourists make it across the border to Armenia. They are missing a wonderful destination, as this is one of the most underrated countries in the world.
Your Armenia itinerary should include some of the country’s remote monasteries, a trip to a vineyard, and a visit to the capital, Yerevan. Yerevan is full of interesting architecture from the 70 years the country was part of the USSR. Surprisingly, it also has lots of cozy cafes. It’s a particularly pleasant city to visit in the warmer months, when every park and sidewalk is covered by al fresco restaurants where it is possible to sample the country’s wonderful food and wine.
Armenia claims to be the first country in the world to produce wine, so make sure you visit a vineyard for a tasting. Many of the vineyards are small, family-run affairs. For a vineyard with sweeping views of grapevines and Mt. Ararat in the background, visit ArmAs, 45 minutes north of Yerevan.
A visit to some of the country’s monasteries such as Garni, Geghard, Noravank, and Khor Virap, is a must on any trip to Armenia. Being a small country means that the most interesting places can easily be visited on day trips from Yerevan. Public transport is limited, but renting a car is a good way to explore some of the smaller towns and remote monasteries.
By Elena, Passion for Dubai
Shiny skyscrapers, astonishing top hotels and resorts, golden dunes and beautiful beaches, first-class food…Dubai is the pearl of the Middle East. Everyone should visit in their lifetime!
Dubai is a start-up city; no other place in the world experiences development to the same level, which is constantly changing and upgrading. Unlike other Middle East cities, Dubai is very welcoming, culturally diverse, and safe, bearing in mind that all visitors show respect to the Islamic culture.
Admire the architectural marvels of Dubai and of course, visit the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. There is also no place like Dubai to spoil yourself, as the luxurious experiences are endless. Dubai is a shopping heaven, with extraordinary malls where you can find famous global brands and shop tax-free. In the old markets, you can find the purest gold for reasonable prices, as well as shop for souvenirs and spices.
Speaking of spices, Dubai also has amazing food and restaurants serving all kinds of cuisines. There are many beach resorts and water parks, which makes Dubai the perfect party scene while at the same time a family-friendly destination. One of the most worthy reasons to visit Dubai is the desert surrounding the city. Here, you can enjoy many adventurous activities like camel riding or 4 x 4 Jeep excursions.
Accommodation-wise, there are all kinds of options in Dubai: elegant 7-star resorts, luxurious apartments and houses, and budget-friendly hotels. The Four Seasons Resort at Jumeirah Beach offers guests utter luxury, featuring spectacular suites and its own private beach!
By Linn Haglund, Brainy Backpackers
Iran is one of the world’s best underrated travel destinations. You will easily pack your Iran itinerary with mesmerizing nature, colorful mosques, and exciting desert tours.
Start with Iran’s capital city, Tehran, where you should stay at HI Tehran, a friendly hostel that truly provides a home away from home. Head to the mountains if you fancy some hiking, as there are endless trails overlooking the city. You’re looking at Mount Damavand, the highest peak in the Middle East, surrounded by smaller mountain ranges with hikes for any experience level.
Continue your journey to Kashan, along the old silk road, where you will encounter incredible historical buildings and one of the largest underground cities ever found! Make a stop in Abyaneh, one of the oldest mountain villages in the country, on the way to beautiful Esfahan. This is where you will explore incredible mosques at the main square, a lively bazaar, and a couple of old bridges.
Shiraz, further south, is also worth a visit or you can head east to stay in a desert oasis and explore with lunch and dinner over the fire and a night under a million stars. Iran has it all, but most of all, it has some of the friendliest people in the world.
By Emma, Emma Jane Explores
Jordan is one of the most underrated countries in the world, but also one of the best to visit. The unique Middle Eastern desert landscape, the phenomenon of the Dead Sea, and the ancient, deserted city of Petra are all reasons why this little gem should be on your travel bucket list.
Jordanian people are incredibly friendly and welcoming to tourists, no matter where in the country you find yourself. A great idea for a Jordan itinerary is to start in the capital of Amman and visit the Amman Citadel and Roman Theatre. From Amman, head towards Wadi Musa and the city of Petra, stopping for a float in the remarkable Dead Sea.
Petra is Jordan’s most famous landmark and is worthy of a few days’ stay. The Movenpick Resort Petra will provide you all the creature comforts you desire after long days exploring the dusty lost city. Staying overnight in the area will also mean you’re able to see Petra by Night, where the buildings carved into the pink rocks are lit up by thousands of lanterns.
Wadi Rum should also be on any Jordan itinerary, and there are many options to camp out in this Mars-like red desert with genuine Bedouin tribes who live in the area. An insider tip is to absolutely not miss the opportunity to sleep under the stars in the middle of the desert!
Agree that Jordan is one of the most underrated countries to visit? Check out these incredible activities and tours!
By Marie, A Life Without Borders
From the rugged mountains of the north, the winding rivers and caves in the center, and the waterfalls and plateaus of the south, Laos is a country of vivid contrasts. Nestled between Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, this small landlocked country is one of the best underrated countries to visit, often skipped in favor of its more famous neighbors.
But traveling to Laos will reveal one of the most unspoiled destinations on Earth, offering awe-inspiring natural beauty, delicious (yet spicy!) food, ancient Buddhist traditions, incredible ethnic diversity, and a rich historical past. Mass tourism has (miraculously) yet to reach the country, and its friendly, welcoming people make it one of the most authentic destinations to visit in Southeast Asia.
Most first-time visitors should head to the former royal capital and UNESCO World Heritage-listed Luang Prabang. Explore the city’s colorful colonial architecture, gilded Buddhist temples, and sunset views from the top of Mount Phousi. A highlight is waking to the sight of hundreds of saffron-robed monks walking barefoot through town as they collect their daily alms.
And no visit to Luang Prabang is complete without a trip to the tiered blue pools of Kuang Si Waterfall – don’t miss walking the track beside the falls to discover the “secret” pools right at the very top!
I also recommend a stay at the Indigo House Hotel, situated in the center of town just minutes from Luang Prabang’s morning and night markets. A contemporary take on a traditional Lao townhouse, enjoy the downstairs café or take in the views from the rooftop terrace.
By Ummi, Ummi Goes Where?
Nestled between touristy Thailand and ultra-modern Singapore is a country that is often overlooked: Malaysia. As it is the hub of the biggest budget airline in Asia, most people only pass through in transit to more popular destinations. However, it would be a shame to skip Malaysia, as it’s one of the most underrated countries to visit with so much to offer beyond the airport terminal.
From a buzzing metropolitan city to dense tropical rainforests to world-class scuba diving sites, Malaysia has it all. But the country’s biggest point of pride is its food. Owing to its cultural diversity, Malaysian food is a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines, in addition to regional fares specific to each state. Try nasi lemak — a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and served with an array of accompaniments, or asam laksa, a tangy and spicy fish-based rice noodle soup.
For first-time visitors, the capital city Kuala Lumpur is a good place to start your Malaysia itinerary. Stay at Traders Hotel and have a drink at its rooftop cocktail and pool lounge to get the best unobstructed view of the world’s tallest twin towers.
If you have more time to spare, there are many possible day trips from Kuala Lumpur, including a visit to the UNESCO-protected historic city of Malacca, the vast tea plantations in Cameron Highlands, or the Batu Caves — an important Hindu site featuring a gigantic golden statue, a temple in a limestone cave, and hundreds of colorful steps.
By Daria, The Discovery Nut
Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is one of the most underrated countries in the region. Myanmar is a vast country with fascinating history, welcoming people, and diverse landscapes ranging from mountains in the north to beautiful beaches in the south. Myanmar has eased travel restrictions relatively recently and compared to touristy places like Thailand or Vietnam, Myanmar definitely feels more rustic.
Among the places you should visit in Myanmar are the magical Bagan, home to dozens of ancient stupas; the scenic Inle Lake, and Mangun, the former royal capital that is a mix of fascinating history and incredible scenery.
Visitors can climb a stairway to the top of Mandalay Hill for an overlook of the entire city or visit Mandalay Palace, restored after WWII. I highly recommend getting a combo ticket to tour gilded pagodas and ancient monasteries around Mandalay Archaeological Zone during your first day. If you need further ideas for your Myanmar itinerary, check out this guide!
Before traveling to Myanmar, you should know that it’s a deeply Buddhist country with over 90 percent of the population practicing Buddhism. Religion plays a big role in the daily lives of Burmese people, which you can see when you visit Buddhist temples around the country.
By Samantha, Intentional Detours
Pakistan is undoubtedly one of the world’s most underrated countries to visit. It has only recently started to see an uptick in foreign tourism, and it’s still possible to go weeks without encountering fellow travelers. From absolutely stunning landscapes, delicious food, and a rich culture to the hundreds of historical sites sprinkled throughout the country, Pakistan has something for everyone.
But what sets Pakistan apart from other underrated countries is the hospitality of its citizens. Pakistanis are some of the friendliest people on Earth and make you feel right at home. As such, the best way to explore Pakistan is by getting as local as possible. Take buses and shared cars instead of flights and if you’re invited into a family home for tea, accept that invitation — that’s completely normal and an amazing way to meet people!
Though it could take a lifetime to truly explore everything Pakistan has to offer, there are some essential can’t-miss spots. First, explore the foodie city of Lahore and definitely try some paya, goat hoof stew. While that might not sound appealing, it’s actually delicious!
Next head to Peshawar, the oldest city in South Asia. It’s the perfect place to experience the culture and loving nature of the Pashtuns. Then make your way to lush, fairytale-esque Swat Valley, about seven hours from Peshawar. Stay at Hotel Heaven Rose, in the travel hub town of Kalam. The hotel features a lovely garden and has a wonderful owner.
Pakistan’s crown jewel is Hunza Valley in the northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. The beautiful mountainous region features beautiful sites like Attabad Lake and the Passu Cones, both of which should not be missed. You can also find many treks throughout Gilgit-Baltistan, including the Rakaposhi Base Camp Trek and the Nanga Parbat Basecamp Trek, both of which offer stunning views of some of Earth’s tallest mountains!
By Megan, Red Around the World
Is Taiwan on your list of the most underrated countries to visit? Check out these unique activities and tours to round out your itinerary!