Asia is by far the largest and most populous continent. It’s therefore objectively the one that has the most to offer travelers, by definition. The Asian continent offers a lot of variety, and if you like variety, you should aim to discover each of Asia’s 6 different regions at least once (or at least the 5 first ones).
Asia is by far my favorite continent. Not just because most of the 52 countries/territories are incredibly affordable (of course, traveling for less means traveling more often or for longer), but also because it’s also so wonderful and offers a great culture shock.
(We’ll soon have a post with tips on how to find cheaper plane tickets to Asia given the current prices!)
Because learning about our world is one of the best reasons to travel, and many don’t know about the 6 different regions of Asia, I love helping you discover our world and inspiring you to travel.
So I wanted to share this overview with you, especially since in July I just visited the last of Asia’s major regions that I had yet to explore (I’m excluding the 6th again; you’ll understand why).
Here are the 6 different regions of Asia.
Overview of the 6 different regions of Asia
Generally speaking, these 6 regions of Asia are more than just geographical: they are also cultural groupings, at least up to a point.
There are, of course, many differences within each region (all of which have at least 5 countries and up to 19 — except the 6th). But countries in the same Asian region do look somewhat alike, while the different regions of Asia don’t necessarily look alike.
Asia is probably the most diverse continent. Between Jerusalem and Delhi, or Tokyo and Tashkent, or Bali and Siberia… it’s completely different.
You’ve probably already heard the names of the 6 regions of Asia, but perhaps not necessarily knowing the precise borders, which I’m going to show you with maps and by listing the countries in each region, along with several beautiful images.
Here are the 6 different regions of Asia, that are clearly defined:
- Southeast Asia
- East Asia
- South Asia
- West Asia
- Central Asia
- North Asia
Asia really is the continent whose regions are the most universally accepted.
Regions of a continent are usually arbitrary and a little subjective, because the delimitations are often unclear and often debated or controversial.
All countries in Asia are quite clearly always considered in 1 specific region of the 6, with only one real exception in fact:
- Afghanistan is sometimes in South Asia or Central Asia
- But never in the Middle East (West Asia)
- Contrary to common myth
- Many people confuse that region or just don’t know
In Asia, it’s more often the inclusion into the continent itself that’s debated, for geographical and political reasons:
- The Caucasus region is sometimes included in Europe too
- When it’s included in Asia, it’s always included in West Asia
- Cyprus is often instead included in Europe
- But geographically it would clearly be West Asia
- Egypt encroaches on Asia but is considered part of Africa
- It’s just the Sinai, which is clearly in West Asia
- Türkiye is partly in Europe too
- But the Asian part is clearly in West Asia
- Papua New Guinea is considered part of Oceania
- But it shares an island with a country in Southeast Asia
So here are the countries in each of the 6 different regions of Asia.
(I’m going to use the term country for simplicity, even for the few territories that are autonomous or have a special status!)
Southeast Asia (11 countries)
The most interesting region for many travelers (and rightly so)! It’s the peninsula at the southeastern tip of the continent and the many, many islands that surround it. There’s quite a lot of variety in these 11 countries.
Countries in Southeast Asia:
- Brunei Darussalam
Population: 675 million (#3 of 6)
For those who want countries that are extremely affordable and want a change of scenery, but also countries that are very safe and easy to explore, Southeast Asia is downright one of the best places in the whole world (in my humble experience of just 70 countries).
Best known for its warm climate, beaches, and lush nature, Southeast Asia also boasts welcoming cultures and a relaxing, exotic atmosphere.
My favorite Southeast Asian destination to date is probably Bali, because I haven’t explored much of the region yet, unfortunately. Yes, it’s very touristy in Bali, but there’s also a very unique atmosphere on this Indonesian island paradise. Honorable mention for the island of Borneo (and Singapore and Kuala Lumpur for those who love cities like me). I’m planning to go back to Southeast Asia this winter, finally (so stay tuned for my concrete planning tips — but spoiler alert, I’ll just apply as many of the 100+ tips in our free ebook as possible).
East Asia (8 countries)
Some of Asia’s most popular countries are in this eastern region, which has many of the continent’s most developed and wealthiest countries.
Countries in East Asia:
- South Korea
- North Korea
- Hong Kong
Population: 1.6 billion (#2 of 6)
For those who want excellent infrastructure and less chaos than further south, East Asia has 4 countries and 2 territories that are very easy to explore (and 2 very isolated countries, either geographically or politically, namely Mongolia and North Korea).
The big cities of China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are incredible metropolises. But East Asia also has some magnificent landscapes. Such a huge region is bound to have a little bit of everything.
My favorite Eastern Asian destination to date is probably Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, again because I haven’t explored the rest that much. My trip to Hong Kong was before recent events, though… Honorable mention to China proper, which I feel is too often overlooked.
South Asia (8 countries)
It’s considered by many to be the region of Asia offering the biggest cultural shock. It’s often referred to as the Indian subcontinent, and every country has a border with India (sometimes maritime), with the exception of Afghanistan, which is somewhat in a class of its own (and that’s why it’s sometimes considered part of Central Asia with the other “stan” countries).
Countries in South Asia:
- Sri Lanka
Population: 1.9 billion (#1 of 6)
For those looking for a complete change of scenery and to step out of their comfort zone, these extremely affordable countries (except Bhutan) are perfect and have it all.
The South Asian way of life is completely different from our own, and the region has unrivalled natural wonders. Mountains, deserts, lakes, oceans…
My favorite South Asian destination was the Himalayas and Rishikesh, but a bit by default. It’s because my July trip to India and Sri Lanka didn’t allow me to explore as much as usual. Firstly, because a good part of it was spent in Delhi, where I was attending the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit, and finally, because I had a misadventure that I’ll be recounting in a separate article soon.
West Asia (19 countries)
Very different from the rest of the continent, this region is really worth discovering. It’s almost always called the Middle East, but that term excludes the 3 countries of the Caucasus, so I use West Asia, which is better (and more uniform with the other cardinal points).
Countries in West Asia:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Population: 290 million (#4 of 6)
For those who want to discover something completely different, these countries are hard to beat. Contrary to the very common and very false myth, most countries are extremely safe (even among the safest countries in the world).
There’s so much history (as you’d expect). It’s such a culture shock. And there’s a lot of variety in West Asia. Yes, there are deserts, but not true everywhere. Yes, there are rich countries, but that’s not true everywhere. There really is something for everyone.
My favorite destination in West Asia to date is Türkiye. Tough choice because I’ve honestly loved all 10 countries I’ve visited in the region, but Türkiye is really great (so much so that I’ve been there 4 times). I highly recommend it! An honorable mention to Oman for amazing landscapes and true authenticity (which I really liked and is one of the safest countries in the world) and to Iraq for those who like to go off the beaten path (it was Kurdistan, it’s honestly really fine to go there).
Central Asia (5 countries)
I’d say it’s the most underrated region on the continent, and perhaps in the world. It’s often called the “stans” for the 5 countries with that suffix in their name, located at the confluence of many influences.
Countries in Central Asia:
Population: 75 million (#5 of 6)
For those who want to go off the beaten path and where there’s so much history (it was a strategic location on the ancient Silk Road), these countries are perfect — and so affordable once you’re there.
Central Asia is as authentic as it gets. And the people are extremely warm and hospitable. Nature is magnificent too.
My favorite destination in Central Asia is without a doubt Uzbekistan, which was an incredible revelation for me in 2021. A magnificent country that I absolutely adored. Probably one of my favorite countries in the world. Kyrgyzstan was great too, it’s just that I didn’t stay long. I can’t wait to go back and discover the other countries.
North Asia (1 country)
I don’t count it among the main regions of Asia because it’s really just 1 part of Russia, Siberia. It takes up the whole north of the continent, but it’s really not what people usually associate with the Asian continent.
Countries in North Asia:
- Russia (Siberia)
Population: 37 million (#6 of 6)
It looks like a completely fascinating place. The fact that it’s so isolated and rarely visited makes me so eager to discover all this great space in the north of the Asian continent. But to see cold and empty landscapes, some Canadians prefer to just go North in our own country (with the record-high welcome bonus on the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card, you can get 4 roundtrips to Northern Canada worth $12,000 — but you have to be approved before Tuesday night).
Crossing all of North Asia on the iconic 9000 km Trans-Siberian Railway is an item on many a traveler’s bucket list, including me of course. But most people won’t want to go right now.
It’s the only region of Asia I’ve never been to, mainly because I try as much as possible to avoid countries that charge me a fee just for the privilege of spending my money in their economy (the Russian visa is expensive and even a bit complex). But I’ll go at some point for sure.
Want to get more content to discover Asia?
Visiting the 6 different regions of Asia is a must if you want the most varied travel experience. The continent has a lot to offer and is definitely worth the trip, especially if you want to travel for less and get a change of scenery.
What would you like to know about different regions of Asia? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Phi Phi Islands, Thailand (photo credit: Evan Krause)