Can’t decide which Asian country to put on your bucket list? Here's some picks

If you've ever indulged in lighthearted Asia bashing about the continent's urban pollution, bewildering bureaucracies and chaotic traffic, you're not alone. The stress levels from holiday mishaps can soar when travelling in Asia, but they needn't. Many parts of the continent have airports, urban neighbourhoods and hotels that outdo anything at home. Elsewhere, sensible strategies help. 

Hurry through the cultural highlights of polluted, traffic-clogged and crowded cities such as Delhi or Beijing and devote more time to unwinding in small towns such as India's Udaipur or China's Suzhou, or explore the often very rewarding (but rather overlooked) rural regions.

In some destinations, it pays to book a better hotel – it will be your retreat from tumult – and to consider joining a tour, hiring a guide, or just commandeering a taxi for the day. Such small extra expenditures will make your journey more enjoyable.

All these will help you cast off some of your earthly worries, leaving you in a more relaxed frame of mind and better able to enjoy the stunning monuments, colourful street life and improbable sights that create such a whirligig of wonder and entertainment in Asia. Here are some hints to hassle-free holidays across the continent.

SINGAPORE

Looking for Asia lite? Then Singapore is the place – a well-run, easily navigated, English-speaking island nation embedded in magnificent foliage and flowerbeds. It's also devoid of shanty towns, rust-bucket buses and sinister alleyways – yet still offers Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures and cuisines.

You can (and should) eat the street food without worrying about hygiene. Singapore is also very sophisticated, with world-class hotels and restaurants, an outstanding bar scene and family-friendly attractions such as Universal Studios theme park, Singapore Zoo, an astonishing vertical garden, Supertree Grove, and the giant Singapore Flyer ferris wheel.

MALAYSIA

Check into any of the YTL chain's heritage hotels to tour Malaysia in 19th-century style while accessing excellent historical and heritage tours. At the Majestic Malacca, receptionists take you on a complimentary guided walk around the old town to highlight its Malay, Chinese, Indian and colonial European influences.

At the Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur, airconditioned vans trundle you about town. And at Cameron Highlands Resort, north of KL, a resident naturalist takes you on picnics amid tea plantations, on a nocturnal jungle trek, or on a "Jim Thompson walk" that explores the mysterious disappearance of an American silk trader in 1967.

Mabul Island’s blue waters, Sabah.

Mabul Island’s blue waters, Sabah. Photo: Getty Images

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SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka is a booming destination for Australians lured by its surf beaches, colonial architecture, fiery cuisine and the magnificent ancient ruins, Buddhist temples and tea plantations of its hilly interior. Avoid its hassle, however, by joining a Luxury Gold tour, which takes in many of the nation's highlights but while avoiding the kinds of constraints and predictability typical of such excursions.

Meet a local artist, visit a pineapple plantation, learn how tea is produced and make the most of your travelling concierge not just for expert guidance, but for suggestions, arrangements and bookings during your free time. 

JAPAN

A reputation for conformity and rigid etiquette and a seemingly opaque culture shouldn't put you off visiting this friendly, well-organised and utterly fascinating country. If you want peace of mind without tour-group restraint, consider a self-guided adventure from Inside Japan Tours. The company puts together flexible, bespoke itineraries based on your interests, budget and destination, many of them family-friendly.

You know where you'll stay and what train to take – and you have back-up support – but you explore on your own. First-timers can visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and other destinations on a 15-day "Best of Japan" itinerary. 

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo. Photo: Stocksy

INDIA

India is a magnificent spectacle, but its explosion of improbable sights and unfamiliar rituals can confound the best-intentioned visitor. If ever you're going to splurge on personalised travel, do it here for the shield it provides against the chaotic muddle, heat and dust, not to mention the frustrations of making practical arrangements.

Abercrombie & Kent provides impeccable organisation, personalised itineraries, palace hotels, chauffeured cars and expert guides, yet plunges you into local life, too. There are few better ways to get around the three highlight cities – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur – or onwards to the splendid cities of Rajasthan. 

The epic Taj Mahal, Agra.

The epic Taj Mahal, Agra. Photo: Alamy

MYANMAR

Myanmar has a constellation of stellar sights but, having only recently opened to the outside world, inadequate roads and only just emerging tourist facilities and upmarket hotels.

The solution? Take to the Irrawaddy River, which offers an easy transport artery without potholes and motor scooters, and lodge yourself in comfort aboard Sanctuary Ananda, a charming river-cruise ship trim in teak and brass, with a vaguely colonial air and excellent cuisine that provides quality Burmese and Thai dishes. Cruises sail between highlights Mandalay and Bagan in a land of blue hills where golden spires wink in the heat, and Buddha statues smile. 

Hot-air balloons at a temple, Bagan.

Hot-air balloons at a temple, Bagan. Photo: Alamy

THAILAND

Peregrine Adventures has just launched small-ship journeys in the Thai islands that push the definition of a cruise into new areas. Its motor yacht Panorama II carries a maximum of 49 guests, making you feel like a millionaire rather than a regular cruise passenger, while half-board provides opportunities to sample local fare ashore.

The cruise takes the hassle out of getting between the islands and takes you to less frequented destinations in Tarutao National Park, where you're cast away for beach barbecues and snorkelling. Some itineraries are based on travel between Phuket and Penang in Malaysia, while others are round trips in and out of Phuket.

Snorkelling, Koh Tao island.

Snorkelling, Koh Tao island. Photo: Alamy

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 24.

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