By Ronan O’Connell
Feast your eyes on these dazzlingly hued destinations.
Asia is commonly described as being visually spectacular, a continent that leaves vivid imprints in the memories of visitors. Its temples stun with their magnificence, its beaches enthrall with their perfection, its markets thrill with their energy, and its forests soothe with their verdant splendor. Some destinations in Asia are so dazzling, so colorful that they threaten to overwhelm the human senses. From the lantern wonderland of Hoi An to the brilliant hues of Kolkata’s giant flower market, the rainbow of spices at Dubai’s ancient souk, and the hypnotizing stripes of Sri Lanka’s most unique mosque, here are 10 of Asia’s most colorful places.
WHERE: Seoul, South Korea
So immense is Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace that it looks wonderfully grand from a distance, allowing you to absorb its full scale. It is from close proximity, however, that its glory is fully revealed. Just like the South Korean capital’s four other royal palaces, Gyeongbokgung is decorated by a colorful and intricate design system called Dancheong. This intricate blend of floral motifs and geometric patterns uses a complementary palette of colors from mint green to aqua, coral, rose pink, sky blue, royal blue, gold, black, and white. Dancheong has been used to beautify Korean temples and royal buildings for about 2,000 years.
JAMI UL-AFAR MOSQUE
WHERE: Colombo, Sri Lanka
It’s with some reticence that Jami ul-Afar is included on this list. Because once social media influencers catch on to the extraordinary backdrop created by this candy-striped structure, this peaceful mosque will be inundated with visitors. It’s easy to become entranced by the endless photographic opportunities inside this unique red-and-white building. Built in 1908, in splendid Indo-Saracenic style, it is the hub of Colombo’s Muslim community.
WHERE: Nara, Japan
In the foothills of Mount Wakakusa, the remains of Japan’s first permanent capital Nara are scattered through the forest that is attractive year-round but in Autumn becomes so spectacular it’s almost surreal. From mid-October to late November, Nara Park is blanketed by gold, orange, pink, and purple foliage. This natural decoration enhances the appeal of Nara Park, which is home to a cluster of fascinating historic sites, including the enormous Todaiji Buddhist temple.
WHERE: Dubai, UAE
Dubai has transformed itself so greatly in the past 30 years that it is now synonymous with skyscrapers, giant shopping centers, and five-star hotels. Behind this hyper-modern façade, however, remain traces of Dubai’s past. In a maze of alleys in one of the oldest parts of the city hides Dubai’s spice souk. Here, in traditional Emirati earthen buildings, traders sell teas, incense, essential oils, traditional medicines, and a massive range of spices in almost every color you can imagine.
WHERE: Hoi An, Vietnam
With its unique blend of well-maintained Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and European architecture, the port city of Hoi An is widely considered one of the most beautiful metropolises in Asia. In broad daylight, it’s pretty. In the evening, it’s majestic. As the sun slips from view, Hoi An becomes illuminated by the hundreds of traditional lanterns that decorate its buildings and are strung up across its streets. In this gentle light, the city glows.
WHERE: Kathmandu, Nepal
Looming high above Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu is one of the country’s biggest monasteries, the subtle facade of which conceals a wildly-colorful interior. Kopan Monastery not only produces hundreds of new monks each year but also welcomes Westerners to live onsite and learn about Buddhism. It can’t be easy to concentrate on these teachings inside a monastery with interiors embellished by layer upon layer of design, featuring endless ranges of colors. The monastery’s main prayer hall is breathtakingly bright in its decoration.
MALLIK GHAT FLOWER MARKET
WHERE: Kolkata, India
Thousands of religious ceremonies, hundreds of extravagant Hindu weddings, and 4,000 vendors are all brought together by millions of flowers. These blossoming products of nature are central to every major event in the Indian state of West Bengal. Here, flowers are a good luck charm, a spiritual object, and a revered decoration. For more than 150 years, people from all over this state have descended on one place to get this product—Asia’s largest flower market, Mallik Ghat in Kolkata.
WHERE: Boracay, Philippines
If anyone saw a Boracay sunset in a movie they would assume it was digitally enhanced. It seems impossible that a sky could erupt with such vivid colors. But the fluoro pink hues really do drench the skies along Boracay’s famed White Beach–it’s a regular event here on this tropical Filipino island. This natural spectacle has inspired Filipino artists, musicians, and writers, and provided the setting for countless marriage proposals.
WHERE: Ubud, Indonesia
Most people think of Ireland when they consider green countryside, yet Ireland’s nothing compared to the many shades of green found in the jungles near Ubud. The best way to admire this greenery is not from within the forest, but from clearings in this dense vegetation. Hugging a river behind Ubud’s historic Pura Gunung Lebah temple, the Campuhan Ridge walk ascends high up above this Balinese town, offering amazing views down to the surrounding countryside. Try to add up all the shades of green as you follow this narrow trail. You’ll soon lose count.
MAE FAH LUANG GARDEN
WHERE: Chiang Rai, Thailand
Splashed across a hillside in a remote area of northern Thailand are hundreds of species of flowers. Once opium was the main crop here, in Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle drug production region. Then, 32 years ago, this beautiful Mae Fah Luang Garden was established by Thai Princess Srinagarindra beneath her royal villa, with locals enlisted as gardeners as part of her initiative to stymy the opium trade. This enormous and elegant botanical garden is now one of the most popular and photogenic tourist attractions in Chiang Rai Province.