Jesse Ashlock

When it comes to Asian cities, T+L readers are shifting their allegiances. This year’s World’s Best list leans heavily toward ancient traditional capitals and tropical resort towns, rather than the sprawling, futuristic super-cities that have often dominated the rankings in the past.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.

Readers hailed the Thai city of Chiang Mai, which topped the list for the second year in a row, for its intimacy, often contrasting it with more crowded Bangkok. (Not that they don’t love Bangkok; it also made the list.) “Chiang Mai was one of the most humbling and amazing cities I visited in Thailand,” said one. “I swam with elephants, ate endless street food, explored temples, and even fell in love with a stranger.” What more can you ask for?

Several of the other winners in Southeast Asia earned praise for their strong cultural offerings and friendly locals. Luang Prabang, in Laos, famous for its 24 UNESCO World Heritage-designated temples, was described as “phenomenal,” “incredibly spiritual,” and “peaceful.” High up in the interior of the island of Bali, Ubud continues to draw those who favor the arts and reflection — rather than beaches and parties. “I loved everything about Ubud,” said one reader. “I was spoiled by the kind and thoughtful people I met everywhere I went.”

The list, however, isn’t without its big metropolises: in addition to Bangkok, Tokyo made the cut once again. Readers’ favorite Japanese city, however, remains the temple-filled imperial capital of Kyoto, which they praised for its timelessness and sense of tradition.

The addition of Thimphu, the capital of the kingdom of Bhutan, reflects travelers’ growing interest in this tiny nation high in the Himalayas. The forthcoming opening of five Six Senses lodges, meant to be experienced on a circuit through the country, will raise the city’s profile still further. Read on to see the full top 10.

 

 

10. Thimphu, Bhutan

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10. Thimphu, Bhutan

Score: 87.12

 

9. Tokyo, Japan

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9. Tokyo, Japan

Score: 87.79

 

8. Bangkok, Thailand

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8. Bangkok, Thailand

Score: 89.45

 

7. Udaipur, India

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7. Udaipur, India

Score: 89.54

6. Siem Reap, Cambodia

 6. Siem Reap, Cambodia
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6. Siem Reap, Cambodia

Score: 89.57

5. Luang Prabang, Laos

 5. Luang Prabang, Laos
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5. Luang Prabang, Laos

Score: 90.10

4. Ubud, Indonesia

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4. Ubud, Indonesia

Score: 90.13

3. Hoi An, Vietnam

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3. Hoi An, Vietnam

Score: 90.31

 

2. Kyoto, Japan

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2. Kyoto, Japan

Score: 91.13

 1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
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1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Score: 91.40

As visitors to Thailand have increasingly ventured beyond Bangkok and the beaches, they’ve discovered the charms of this lush, modestly sized traditional city in the northern part of the country. And its charms are legion: majestic temples, killer street food, madcap tuk-tuk rides, lively night markets, and pachyderm encounters in Baanchang Elephant Park. There is no shortage of divine accommodations to choose from, from the glamorous 137 Pillars House in the Wat Ket quarter to the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai in the rice paddies beyond the city limits — both are winners on this year’s list of Top Resort Hotels in Southeast Asia.