Female solo travel: the best places to visit in Asia

The best thing about travelling solo is the freedom it affords the individual. In my case, that manifests as exploring at what others consider a challenging pace and focusing on food. But as a young woman travelling alone, it’s extra important to keep your wits about you regardless of what country you’re in.

A woman hangs out of a train door smiling at the camera, positioned out of a train window. The train is bright blue and it is a sunny day in Ella, Sri Lanka. There are tropical trees next to the tracks.
Sofia Levin shares her top tips on female solo travel in Asia © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

Thankfully a little common sense goes a long way, and in all my travels I often feel safest in Asia. Here are six destinations in Asia that I think are best for solo female travellers, as well as two at the top of my bucket list.

Colourful Peranakan Houses in Singapore. There are three women walking by the pastel-coloured homes.
Solo travel affords you the time to explore a destination in your own time © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

Singapore

Measuring less than 50 kilometres from east to west and around 27 kilometres north to south, nothing in Singapore is too far away. It’s easy to catch the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) subway or download rideshare app Grab, where most rides are below S$10 within the city centre. Singapore is spotless and extremely safe, with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Walking around after dark is no problem at all.

People often just pass through, but there’s plenty to do from exploring the architectural greenhouses of Gardens by the Bay and sipping a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, to snapping a selfie at the top of Marina Bay Sands’ Insta-famed infinity pool, visiting pretty Peranakan terrace houses and shopping on Orchard Road.

A busy hawker centre in Singapore. There are small blue tables with matching blue stools, almost every table is occupied by groups. Along the left side of the dining area there are various food stalls.
Sofia recommends visiting a hawker centre in Singapore for guaranteed good eats and to meet locals © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

I found dining solo to be a wonderful experience, especially at hawker centres. Stall owners were always incredibly friendly and a local would always sidle up beside me and provide a rundown of local dishes and sights. Be sure to carry cash for hawker food and note that littering, chewing gum, spitting and smoking are illegal and come with hefty fines.

Flower vendors on the concrete steps outside Hoi An central market. The women, wearing conical hats, are selling yellow and pink blooms; there are bikes and people in the background.
Explore Hoi An by bicycle or on foot © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is extremely tourist-friendly and one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations. Located on the central coast, it’s a wonderful mix of ancient and more recent history with ornate temples, French colonial buildings and wooden shop-houses sitting side-by-side along its canals. The main town is completely safe and nearby beaches can be reached via bicycle or a very affordable taxi ride.

Some favourite things to do besides exploring the ancient town on foot include walking along the river in the evening, getting clothes tailored (bring your favourite pieces to copy or have some references ready to go), taking a cooking class and indulging in massages.

Be sure to dress conservatively, especially when visiting temples, and always ask before taking photos of people. While in Hoi An, I experienced the most informative food tour I’ve ever been on with the Original Taste of Hoi An – I highly recommend you do the same.

Aerial of the mountainous Pulau Padar island, Indonesia. Taken on a sunny day with a few fluffy clouds in the far distance, the verdant green hills contrast against the deep, jewel-blue sea.
Sofia gained a whole new perspective while travelling solo in Indonesia © Danaan/Shutterstock

Flores, Indonesia 

I spent a couple of weeks travelling solo through Flores on assignment and it was one of my favourite solo travel experiences to date. The island is incredibly diverse, yet most people stick to the far western point of Labuan Bajo, the base for exploring Komodo National Park. I implore you to go further and discover this more untouched part of Indonesia.

The locals are welcoming and if you’re in the position to be accompanied by a guide during your travels, you’ll end up leaving the island with a group of new friends – the guides all seem to know each other and bond over reggae tunes. Highlights include visiting Kelimutu's volcanic crater lakes at sunrise; swimming in caves, hot springs and waterfalls; visiting traditional villages and hiking up majestic mountains. If you haven’t experienced open water diving, follow my lead and do a three-day course in Labuan Bajo before exploring the rest of the island and its underwater worlds. I didn’t realise that diving would give me a whole new perspective on travel.

A woman eating an ice cream cone while holding a churro in her other hand in the middle of a busy walkway in Tokyo.
Dining solo in Tokyo is commonplace, whether it's on the street or in a restaurant © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

Tokyo, Japan

Is Tokyo the best city in the world for foodies? Possibly. But the greatest part about dining solo here is that it’s commonplace. Whether ordering ramen from a vending machine, trusting a sushi master at one of just eight seats during an omakase dining experience (where the chef selects your dishes) or finding a seat at a bar, you’re never the only one eating or drinking alone – which paradoxically always leads to company.

The interior of sushi restaurant Uobei. The white tiled walls feature iPads for customers to order their food on. The walls are lined with stools, filled with customers eating and chatting with each other.
Uobei is an affordable and uniquely Tokyo dining experience © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

For a wonderful – albeit boozy – experience, spend an evening bar hopping in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, rows of tiny bars that line narrow alleyways and only fit a handful of people each. You’re guaranteed to meet both fellow travellers and locals and will no doubt wake up the next day with a few extra Facebook friends. For a different edible experience, seek out Uobei, an affordable sushi restaurant where you order via a touch screen and sushi shoots across from the kitchen on a conveyor belt.

Close-up shot of rows of colourful spices in Istanbul spice bazaar.
Get your haggle on in Istanbul's spice bazaar © ralucahphotography.ro/Getty Images

Istanbul, Turkey

Having been to Istanbul twice, I’m still surprised when people ask me if it’s safe. With a huge population of more than 15 million people, of course you need to use common sense in crowds, but you could spend a week in the city – which is easy to traverse both on public transport, in taxis and using Uber – and still discover something new around every corner.

Although Istanbul lies mostly in Asia, a small part of the city, separated by the Bosphorus, is technically in Europe. You should line up with the crowds to see the stunning mosques and basilicas, like Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, and to ascend to the top of Galata Tower for the view, but Istanbul is also a fantastic city to explore at your own pace. Take your time wandering the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, haggling at your own pace and stopping for tea with shopkeepers when offered; take a moment to smoke shisha at 300-year-old school-turned-cafe, Çorlulu Ali Paşa Nargile; or treat yourself to a hammam – either with the locals or at a high-end spa. Dress appropriately when visiting places of worship and shop around and haggle in markets.

A woman is smiling while using a hand turned implement to shave the inside of a coconut. She is standing in a kitchen with lots of fresh produce on the counters and a small stove in the background.
Take an unforgettable cooking class while in Sri Lanka © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

Sri Lanka

Understandably, people are wary about travelling to Sri Lanka at the moment, but I’m of the opinion that now is the best time to support the country. Tourism is down, which means crowds are as well, but the people are no less friendly and the scenery no less awe-inducing. You could spend a few days in Colombo, but for a more peaceful environment, head for the hills. Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s tea country with verdant, rolling hills and fresh air, but I preferred the smaller, laid-back town of Ella.

To get there, take one of the world’s most beautiful train rides from Nuwara Eliya and stay at a local guesthouse. You might wake up to a misty morning with views through Ella Gap then decide to take it easy on a porch, visit the Nine Arch Bridge, take a short hike up Little Adam's Peak or a longer one up Ella Rock, swim in a waterfall, take a cooking class or visit a tea factory. If you’re travelling alone for some peace and quiet, this tiny hill town is a better choice than the beaches down south.

On my bucket list…

A woman smiling and holding a large durian while embracing a man in a red t-shirt with his thumb up. They are standing in front of a stall jam-packed with durians.
After conquering all of the above, Sofia is keen to visit Seoul and the Philippines next © Sofia Levin/Lonely Planet

South Korea

Seoul is at the top of my travel bucket list. Here you can rent a ‘romantic hero’ to show you around – a handsome male local that acts as a tour guide. Getting touchy-feely isn’t part of the deal, but you can expect doors to be opened for you and Instagram snaps to be volunteered.

In terms of the food, eclectic mix of new and old, pop culture, beauty and fashion industries, markets and museums, I can’t wait to dive in head first – with or without a hero.

You might also like: 30 free things to do in Seoul

Philippines 

My mother-in-law is from the Philippines, which makes me guilty of continuously pushing back trips to the country because I figure I’ll get there eventually. I’m convinced Filipino people are some of the friendliest and most hospitable in the world, and while there are some lesser-visited spots that should be avoided unless with a local, many of the islands are perfect for exploring on one’s own. I want to try to conquer my tendency to over-plan my travels by letting  a trip here unfold instead of pre-booking every stay and experience. Wish me luck!

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