Some of the least polluted cities in the world are also great places to visit for reasons other than air quality or cleanliness. Many would agree that Asia gets a bad rap for having some of the most polluted cities in the world. But there are still pockets of pristine, unpolluted land across the continent. Some cities have done a lot to curb pollution, too. Here’s a compilation of the 9 least polluted cities in Asia, and why they might be perfect for your next vacation.
Asia’s 9 Least Polluted Cities
Singapore is known for its cleanliness, and what makes this fact more surprising is how metropolitan and busy this city-state is. This island city-state, located off southern Malaysia, is called the “garden city” for good reason. Amidst all the awe-inspiring architecture, shopping districts, and eclectic eateries are numerous parks and greenery interspersed throughout the city. Enjoy a walk through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after you feast on local dishes like chili crab, kaya toast, or nasi biryani. Or check out the Gardens by the Bay to see the vertical garden and conservatories before checking out the hopping nightlife at one of the numerous beach bars or clubs. And if you need to take a breather, close your eyes and take a breath of fresh air to forget that you’re in the midst of so much action. That’s how clean the city is.
2. Jeju Island, South Korea
Jeju Island is where South Koreans go to escape the pollution of the city. Jeju is the largest island located off the coast of the Korean peninsula, and is an interesting mix of resorts and nature, which may be why it’s one of the top honeymoon destinations of South Korea. In terms of temperature and weather, Jeju is similar to the Hawaiian Islands. But what’s distinct about this island is Hallasan, South Korea’s highest mountain; the Jeju Olle Trails; and hallabong, a type of seedless mandarin orange that’s a specialty of Jeju Island.
3. Kobe, Japan
Cities are getting better at pollution control, which is great for travellers who don’t necessarily want to be in nature to enjoy the freshness of air that nature provides. Kobe, Japan, has done a good job of curbing pollution within the city, which is an added bonus on top of its spectacular cosmopolitan vibe and attractive cityscape. The city is relatively small, which is great for tourists who like to travel on foot. Most sites are easily accessible from the main train stations as well. Kobe is well worth a visit for those who want to check out one of Japan’s most attractive cities, while squeezing in a nature trek at Nunobiki Falls or Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens and Ropeway.
4. Okinawa, Japan
If you’re looking for a second destination spot in Japan, Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost prefecture made up of three different islands. The islands, which are called Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama, are full of lush jungles and beach destinations. Naha, the capital of the prefecture, is located on Okinawa-honto, or Okinawa Main Island. Because Naha is the transport hub for this set of islands, Okinawa-honto is the busiest of the three. The Miyako Islands, located 300 kilometers southwest of Okinawa-honto, are accessible by flight, and famous for their beach destinations. The Yaeyama Islands have some of Japan’s last intact subtropical jungles and mangrove swamps, according to Lonely Planet, and the best snorkeling and diving in the country.
5. Keelung City, Taiwan
Keelung City in northeastern Taiwan is a port city that borders New Taipei. This city, which boasts low level pollution levels, is a good travel destination for those who appreciate the atypical vacation. Keelung City has an old-timey feel without the razzle and dazzle of places like Singapore or Hong Kong. But it does have a superb night market that’s known throughout Taiwan. And in the fall, Keelung City hosts the Ghost Festival, which is fitting with all the “mysterious places” scattered throughout the city. If you’re in Keelung City and happen to feel a chill in the air, at least you can be reassured that it’s of good quality.
6. Bintulu Malaysia
Malaysia is a part of the Island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. The country is known for its beaches and rainforests, and has a cultural landscape of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences. This country is an ideal vacation spot for those who desire both a cultural hub and the beauty of untouched nature. While the capital city of Kuala Lumpur is the mecca of culture and bustling city life, Bintulu, Malaysia is more of a low key coastal city. Here, the top attractions are the Similajua National Park, the Tua Pek Kong Temple, and the Pasar Tamu and Pasar Utama Marketplace. The air quality along Malaysia’s coastline is superb, and most of these coastal cities, according to the AQI, score in the green, or “Good” level.
7. Bangkok, Thailand
Populous cities with low pollution levels are obliviously doing something right. Bangkok, the capital of Thailand and also its most populous city, has surprisingly good air quality compared to its status as a metropolis. Bangok has more visitors than any other city in the world, according to Bangkok.com, and tourismthailand.org describes the city as one of “old-world charm and modern convenience.” It’s a city that has preserved its past while successfully adapting to the modern world. The Chao Phraya River flows through the city, right past the Rattanakosin royal district, where the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple make their home. It’s no wonder Bangkok is called the “Venice of the East” and “City of Angels;” the magnificent city speaks for itself.
8. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Speaking of magnificent, Abu Dhabi’s skyline is just that, full of modern towers and unmarred by smog. This city has good to moderate air quality depending on where you are in the city, and offers a stunning view of the Persian Gulf. Abu Dhabi is the capital and second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates. It rests on a T-shaped island that juts into the Persian Gulf and is less than 250 meters from the mainland. It’s connected to the mainland by bridges, and is also connected to Saadiyat Island and Reem Island. This city is worth a visit because the construction in some of its architecture “unites the world.” You’ll be able to catch glimpses of architecture, materials and craftsmanship from other parts of the world such as Italy, Morocco, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey, and China, to name a few. It’s also a chance to see one of the most opulent architectural treasures in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, created to be the key for worship in the country the late President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
9. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is also one of the least polluted cities in Asia with its own unique feel. Foodies might especially be attracted to this city for its diverse food scene. Lonely Planet has described this city in southeastern China as having “a complexity that eludes definition, sometimes even by its own people.” Over 70% of Hong Kong is made up of mountains and country parks, which could account for its low pollution level. But its urban scene is rife with a myriad of possibilities besides hiking and nature-gazing, such as a night at the Cantonese opera, a visit to a Sikh temple, or a day of shopping at the numerous boutiques, bazaars, markets, and malls throughout the city.
Resources for travelers concerned about pollution and air quality:
If pollution remains high on your list of concern when choosing a vacation destination, then databases like Numbeo can be useful tools for planning your next trip. Numbeo provides user-contributed data on world living conditions including pollution, crime, traffic, and cost of living, to name a few. The World Health Organization also reports on air quality levels for different cities on their website. The Real-Time Air Quality Index (AQI) is an excellent resource that lets users input the name of a city for a full report on the regional air quality, primary pollutant, and health implications for the area.
This article was written by Hanna Choi.