car driving on red dirt road in red landscape in Australia Outback

Adventure awaits intrepid drivers in Australia’s Outback. (Photo: Getty Images)

Road Trips

Buckle Up for These Must-Do Day Trips and Drives in Asia and Australia

From red dirt roads crisscrossing Australia’s outback to volcanic backdrops in Japan and tree-lined routes dotted with ornate ancient temples, the geography and history of Asia and the islands in the Pacific tempt locals and visitors to hit the asphalt and explore by car or motorbike.

Whether you’re setting out on a day trip or planning a longer, multiday journey, these are some of the best road trips in the region.

Australia

Australia’s enormity is hard to exaggerate — the island could quite literally swallow the European continent — and the best way to immerse yourself in its varied landscapes and ecosystems is via road trip.

Often touted as one of the world’s most scenic drives, the drive along the Great Ocean Road from Torquay (west of Melbourne) to Allansford is legendary.

Stop to gape at emerald waves crashing against white cliffs at Bells Beach, hike to waterfalls in Great Otway National Park and visit the 12 Apostles rock formation.

red rock gorge in Australia
Stop and photograph the red rock gorges. (Photo: Getty Images)

Intrepid drivers should road trip through Red Centre Way in the flame-colored heart of Australia’s Outback. This route through the Northern Territory begins in Alice Springs then continues to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and Wattarka National Park.

In Uluru you’ll see the iconic red rock and then cool off in swimming holes in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Along the way you’ll pass massive canyons and gorges, red desert sands, surprisingly verdant valleys and a world of unusual wildlife.

Thailand

Whether you are in the urban chaos of Bangkok, the backpacker haven of Chiang Mai or on Thailand’s languid beaches, chances are you’ll get the itch to wander the Land of Smiles.

wat rong khun temple in thailand at sunset
Note the intricate details of Wat Rong Khun temple in Chiang Rai. (Photo: Getty Images)

From Bangkok, make the hour drive via motorbike or car to Ayutthaya. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and former capital of Siam (until the 18th century) is dotted with truly impressive ruins of ornate ancient temples, stupas and monuments.

For a nature fix away from Bangkok’s crowded streets, head to Erawan National Park, home to caves, wildlife and the real winner: a seven-tiered waterfall splashing into turquoise pools of water.

If you’ve settled into Chiang Mai to connect with the digital nomads who like to call the mountain town their (temporary) home, find time for a jaunt to nearby Chiang Rai for chilled-out vibes and sights like the gold-embellished Wat Phra Kaew temple or the mind-bogglingly intricate architecture of the Wat Rong Khun temple.

Vietnam

Taking a journey by motorbike along Vietnam’s coastline, rice paddies and countryside is all but a rite of passage for Vietnamese locals as well as visitors.

steeped green rice terraces in vietnam
Vietnam’s rice terraces are a verdant joy to see. (Photo: Getty Images)

Some of the country’s more accessible and scenic routes include the trip from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai, where you’ll see the country’s most exquisitely green and lush rice paddies tumbling in steps down hillsides.

As you wind your way to Vietnam’s highlands, you’ll cross the 32-km (20-mile) Khau Pha Pass, a high-mountain pass that rises 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) above sea level.

If whiling away time on the beach is more your speed, make the drive from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang along relatively quiet roads that weave past beach towns like Mui Ne (the so-called Hawaii of Vietnam), as well as mountains and farmland, before heading back toward the coast in Nha Trang.

Japan

highway leading to mount fuji in Japan
Plan a road trip in Japan. (Photo: Getty Images)

Japan’s neon-lit, modern cities; volcanic mountains; dense forests; and wild coastline make it an ideal country for locals and visitors to explore by car — there’s always a new place worth checking out.

If you’re looking for a bit of adventure, hit up Hokkaido’s Roller Coaster Road, a short route that packs a big punch. The 2.5-km (1.5-mile) road is fairly straight but has so many super-steep hills and slopes, driving it feels very much like riding a roller coaster.

Ride your way up to 1,350 meters (4,429 feet) above sea level on the Bandai-Azuma Skyline drive in Fukushima. The views of the surrounding landscape beyond and below are otherworldly, with exceptional views of the active volcano Mount Azuma-Kofuji rising in the distance.