10 best cities in Asia for photography

First published:
August 4, 2022
July 28, 2023

10 best cities in Asia for photography

First published:
August 4, 2022
July 28, 2023

Warorot Market In Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Thomas Lhomme

Asia is always an excellent continent for photographers to visit. The sheer diversity of cultures and landscapes guarantees great photos on any visit. Here are 10 of the best cities for photography in Asia.

Asia has always been one of my favourite continents to visit for photography. Beyond the minarets and temples, the colourful markets and iconic sights, I don’t think anywhere else in the world offers the same street photography opportunities that you get in Asia.

In this guide, I will attempt the almost impossible task of whittling down my 10 top Asian cities for photography.

1 Tokyo

Japan’s capital is a perfect concoction of traditional culture and modern architecture. From the stunning Senso-Ji Temple and Pagoda to beautiful cityscape shots from Sumida River, you’ll have plenty of options for those eye-catching “wow” factor shots.

But for many, the real prize is visiting during the cherry blossom season when the city is transformed into a beautiful utopia of pinks and whites. Don’t be surprised to see some locals in traditional kimonos that will add further interest to your photos.

White Cherry Blossoms viewed during blue hour in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. Photo Andrew JK Tan

2 Hoi An

There are so many beautiful cities in Vietnam, but for me, the most marvellous of all has to be the coastal city of Hoi An. Walking along its colourful streets you’ll be treated to traditional Chinese-style shops and houses as well as French colonial buildings. And when you have exhausted yourself shooting these streets, head to one of the local markets early in the morning for those fleeting moments of the locals going about their daily lives.

The iconic shots you’ll see of Hoi An are ones that look across the Thu Bon River. Sadly, over the years this view has been somewhat spoilt by the numerous boats that sell souvenirs, but it’s still a place that you should aim to photograph.

A banana seller at Hoi An, Vietnam. Photo by Kruger

3 Siem Reap

Granted, it may not strictly be a city, but who cares (if it’s technically a town) when you have Angkor Wat to photograph? I remember the first time I set eyes on it as my tuk-tuk rounded a corner. I couldn’t look away. No matter how many photos you see of Angkor Wat, it never ceases to amaze.

There are far too many photo locations for one article. But notable points of interest are the famous carved stone faces at Prasat Bayon temple, Ta Prohm (where the jungle is swallowing the temple complex) and of course the famous shot of Angkor Wat at sunrise from behind the small lake in the courtyard. Just be prepared to arrive hours early to capture this shot as it will be packed with photographers and tourists.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo by Scott Anderson

4 Luang Prabang

The ancient capital of Laos is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is renowned for its Buddhist temples and daily procession of monks who venture out into the street at dawn to collect alms. This colourful spectacle is as interesting to watch as it is stunning to photograph.

Luang Prabang’s location in sitting beside the Mekong River also provides ample opportunities for those gorgeous sunset photos looking towards the PhouThao and PhouNang mountains in the background

Three Monks with umbrellas on a rainy street in Luang Prabang. Photo by Ross Matthews

5 Beijing

If there is one city in the world where the mix of traditional and new is most apparent, it’s Beijing. As a city, it dates back over 3,000 years and yet these days its striking modern skyline is as important and prominent as its history. And this combination provides enough photo opportunities to keep even the most demanding of photographers busy.

From the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven. Or the famous (or infamous) Tian’anmen Square to the Summer Palace, there are so many sights that you’ll need plenty of days and memory cards. There are also photo opportunities galore by simply walking the streets.

But arguably the greatest pull for any photographer will be the Great Wall of China which is a short distance away from Beijing.

Guard in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Photo by Alexandru Velcea

6 Isfahan

Isfahan was the capital of Iran (formerly Persia) for a while. This beautiful city, sitting almost bang in the middle of Iran flourished due to its position at an intersection of roads leading north to south and east to west. It’s one of the best places in the middle east for seeing and photographing Islamic architecture.

Some of the most beautiful and ornate mosques in Iran are in Isfahan. Called “Masjids” – meaning “mosque”, the Masjid-e Shah, Masjid-e Jameh and Masjid-e Sheikh Lotfollah should be a must on your shot list. Beyond the mosques, the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and Bazar-e Bozorg (translated as “Big Market”) are also worth visiting.

The Bazaar in Isfahan, Iran. Photo by Curioso Photography

7 Jaipur

Choosing just one city in India is an almost impossible task. I could easily argue the case for every Indian city to be included in this list. But I have decided to go with the “Pink City”. It is the capital of Rajasthan and there are enough photogenic locations to keep you engaged for weeks.

The most obvious location is the mighty Amber Palace. Not only does it offer magnificent views of the landscape, but its many courtyards and beautiful pavilions would be gorgeous in their own right. But add local women to your composition with their colourful saris, and you will capture some memorable photos.

But there are lots of other sites that are just perfect for photography as well like Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal and the City Palace. All this is on top of the endless street photography opportunities that will also present themselves.

A family in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photo by David McClane

8 Kyoto

Take some of the most beautiful temples, Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens and stuff them all in one place and you have Kyoto. Words can’t do justice to this stunning part of Japan; you need to see and photograph it for yourself. If you want to take your photos to a new level, visit during the autumn months when every scene looks like a postcard.

Red Torii Gate in Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Photo by Pakkawit Anantaya

9 Bagan

Dating back to the 11th century, there are more than 3,000 temples in Bagan. So it’s no wonder that this is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site on this list. Very few shots of this region will beat a stunning atmospheric early morning photo of the numerous hot air balloons flying over the temples.

Or if you want to capture photos inside the temples, why not hire a local monk to come and model for you inside with some candles?

A monk on a Bagan temple waiting for sunset. Photo by Sarah Hardy

10 Chiang Mai

The northern city of Chiang Mai was formerly the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Its walled Old Town is packed with temples such as Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Sri Suphan (known as the Silver Temple), Wat Lok Moli and Wat Phan Tao.

Nearby Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most revered temple in Chiang Mai. Visit early in the morning to beat the crowds but also to watch the monks collecting alms at the foot of the mountain on which the temple sits.

To experience Chiang Mai at its glorious best, visit during the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals (usually held in November). With thousands of lanterns being floated as well as locals floating flower baskets along the river, there will be lots of photo opportunities. It will be a great test of your low-light photography skills to capture photos, but if you can, they will look stunning.

Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai. Photo by Prawin Namuengrak

As always with lists like this, there are bound to be places missing and everyone will have their list of incredible Asian cities for photography. From my experience of travelling in this region, every place you visit will provide great photo opportunities. The places above will certainly have enough to keep you busy for as long as you are there.

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