Asia has a bad reputation when it comes to air quality. The five most polluted countries on Earth – Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, and Afghanistan—are all Asian countries, while the title of the most polluted city in the world goes to the Chinese city of Hotan. For people with asthma, it’s not great news. Neither is it exactly great that the warm summers and high ground-level ozone levels found in many Asian countries are known to aggravate allergies and asthma. But does that mean anyone with a respiratory condition should give Asia a wide berth? Not at all. Look around, and you’ll find plenty of places that won’t leave you struggling for breath. If you want to enjoy all the delights that Asia has to offer without maxing out your inhaler, check out our list of the 20 best places to live in Asia if you have asthma.
20. Bangkok, Thailand
If there’s one name you wouldn’t expect to see on a list of the best places in Asia for people with asthma, it’s Bangkok. And yet despite the hustle and bustle and 24/7 nature of the city, it actually has surprisingly good air quality, especially in comparison to other cities of a similar size. If you prefer the peaceful life, it’s probably not for you – Bangkok is nothing if not full-on. If you want to live in a big, vibrant city without feeling the effects on your health, it could be your perfect home.
19. Carmona, Philippines
After Japan and Singapore, the Philippines has the best air quality in Asia. The situation in Carmona is particularly favorable: despite having a fairly substantial population of around 100,000, it has some of the lowest levels of pm10 and pm2.5 (both of which are indicated in poor respiratory health) in the country.
18. Chikusa-ku, Japan
Japan has been a pioneer in clean air initiatives for more years than most of us can remember. Back in 1992, it set the standard in clean living when it drew up the Kyoto Protocol, which committed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you have asthma, you’ll be hard-pushed to find many places more suited to your condition than Chikusa-ku, which has some of the best air quality in the country.
17. Valenzuela City, Philippines
Valenzuela City is one of the most highly urbanized centers in the Philippines. With a population of almost 600,000, you’d expect it to be busy, hectic, and just a little bit overwhelming. And it is. But while it shares a lot of the characteristics of other big cities, there’s one thing missing: pollution. The level of air pollutants in the city is one of the lowest in the country – something that’s especially significant when you consider it’s the 13th biggest city in the Philippines.
16. Jeju Island, South Korea
Where do you go when the pace of life in Seoul gets too much? Jeju Island, a gloriously peaceful island whose stunning natural beauty and glorious coastline have earned it the status of South Korea’s top destination for honeymooners. But while its mountains, its trails, its beaches, and even its Hallabong (a type of mandarin orange that’s found exclusively on the island) are all very nice, it’s the low pollution, refreshing climate, and superb air quality that marks it out for special attention for people with asthma.
15. Kobe, Japan
Kobe is a beautiful port city blessed with a stunning cityscape, a cosmopolitan vibe, a very full handful of outstanding cultural and historical sights, and the kind of air quality that’s a testament to just how well Japan has done in curbing pollution in its cities. As the port is relatively small, most people travel by bike or foot, with the result that car emissions have a negligible impact on the air quality.
14. Okinawa, Japan
Okinawa boasts some of the best longevity rates in the world. So famous has it become for its legions of octogenarians, the ‘Okinawa diet’ is now almost as popular as the Mediterranean diet. While the Okinawans’ reliance on nutrient-dense, high-fiber vegetables and lean proteins might be doing great things at holding back the years, the superb air quality and low pollution aren’t doing any harm either.
13. Haikou, China
Haikou might be more expensive and a little more touristy than most of China’s mainland cities, but this little island province has a lot to boast about, nonetheless. For a start, its coastal location is faultless: ringed by white sand beaches and lapped by aquamarine waters, it’s a nature lover’s dream. And then there’s the air quality. According to omeidachinese.com, the province boasts some of the purest, cleanest air in the county. If air pollutants and fumes have left you breathless, this idyllic little beach paradise will go a long way to restoring it.
12. Keelung City, Taiwan
Most visitors to Keelung City know it best for its Ghost Festival, its extraordinary night market, and its old-time charm. Most residents know it for its superbly clean air, its smog-free skylines, and its excellent ‘breathability.’ Although its Air Index Quality already ranks as ‘Good,’ things are set to get even better thanks to the good work of the Clean Air Action Plan, which aims to reduce emissions and keep Keelung’s residents in ever cleaner air.
11. Bintulu, Malaysia
If clean air is what you crave, clean air is what you’ll find in the coastal city of Bintulu in Malaysia. The air quality across most of Malaysia’s coastline is superb: what little pollution there is gets quickly swept away by the sea breezes. According to the Air Quality Index, the air quality in Bintulu is particularly pleasant, scoring a green for ‘Good.’ Although its coastal position can take most of the credit for its clean air status, the surrounding parks, forests, and pristine countryside also deserve a little of the praise.
10. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
There’s something unique about Abu Dhabi’s skyline: it’s completely unmarred by smog. Despite being the second-most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, the capital has done a fine job of limiting human impact on the environment… such a fine job, in fact, Tripping.com has named it one of Asia’s least polluted cities.
9. Kyoto, Japan
As asthma.net notes, people with asthma are well-advised to seek out cities or counties with a ban on smoking in public places. The reduction in exposure to secondhand smoke will dramatically slash your chance of needing to pay a visit to the hospital. As you’d expect of a city that’s long been considered a pioneer in clean air initiatives, Kyoto has a strict ban on smoking on sidewalks and streets. Anyone caught violating the ban faces a fine of 1000 yen. When you combine that with low pollution, a temperate climate, and minimal smog, it’s easy to see what makes Kyoto one of the best places for people with asthma in Asia.
8. Cape Grim Peninsula, Tasmania
According to Asia Tatler, the Cape Grim Peninsula in northwest Tasmania boasts some of the cleanest air on the planet. So clean is it, in fact, it’s classified as “baseline” air to measure climate change. Keen to capitalize on their exceptional environment, some enterprising locals have even started bottling and selling the air for a profit.
7. Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong may be a sprawling metropolis, but it ranks as one of the least polluted cities in Asia. Over 70% of the region consists of country parks and mountains, something that no doubt contributes to the excellent air quality residents enjoy. In recent years, the city has stepped up its efforts to keep things clean by launching Project Clean Air, an initiative that aims to combat air pollution and promote cleaner technologies in factories.
6. Dalian, China
China doesn’t have a reputation for great air quality. But despite boasting some of the most polluted cities in the world, it also offers plenty of places that won’t leave you gasping for air… Dalian being one. A charming port city with a stunning beachfront and a convenient location just 1.5 hours by air from Beijing and 1 hour from Seoul, South Korea, Dalian is clean, smog-free, and relatively free of pollution. For asthma patients who want to combine a beach lifestyle with the attractions of the city, it’s certainly worth considering.
5. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The capital city of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, is a gorgeous, vibrant city with stunning architecture and amazing natural beauty. While you’d expect a city built on oil money to be on the flashy side, it’s actually delightfully understated, with a laid-back lifestyle and a relaxed vibe. Like the rest of Brunei (a country that, according to the World Health Organisation, is second only to Australia in the unpolluted nature of its urban areas), Bandar Seri Begawan has superb air quality and very few pollutants, making it a great destination for people with asthma. If all that wasn’t enough to tempt you, the healthcare system just might – as well as boasting a hospital in every district, there are also 10 health clinics and 16 health centers dotted around the city.
4. Malé, Maldives
Lying around 700 kilometers from the Asian mainland is the Maldives, a chain of 26 atolls that cover around 298 square kilometers. With just over half a million inhabitants, the Maldives is the smallest Asian country by land area and the 2nd smallest by population. It’s also one of the most beautiful places in the world, with miles of pristine white sand beaches lapped by crystal clear turquoise waters. Understandably, it’s a huge hit with tourists. Vistors with asthma might want to consider making their stay more permanent. As asiatatler.com notes, the Maldives has recently launched its first “National Action Plan on Air Pollutants” to enforce emission standards for road vehicles and the marine fleet. If it keeps up the good work, it’ll have no problem reaching its goal of becoming a low-carbon country by 2030. Although the entire island is a delight, the capital city of Malé is ideal for newcomers looking to combine the best of the beach with the best of the city.
3. Calamba City, Philippines
According to liveandinvestoverseas.com agrees, noting that the city has some of the lowest level of ozone and particle pollution (both of which can either cause or aggravate asthma) in Asia. Although it’s easy to think that one of the cleanest places in the country would be some idyllic little backwater, Calamba is actually a sizeable city of around half a million people. As one of the region’s biggest economic, transportation, and tourist hubs, it has plenty to recommend it… crystal clear air included.
2. Udagamandalam, India
India might be one of the most polluted country’s on earth, but look hard enough and you’ll find plenty of places where you can live without the threat of pollution and smog. Blessed with cool, temperate weather, superbly clean air, and little to no pollution, Udagamandalam (or Ooty, as it’s often referred to) is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. Even leaving aside the gloriously clean environment, there’s a lot to love here, with plenty of green spaces, an abundance of fresh local produce, and some incredibly picturesque scenery.
1. Singapore, Singapore
For clean air, clean streets, and clean everything else, Singapore is the number one place in Asia to head. According to WorldAtlas, this city-come-island-come-country has some of the strictest cleanliness guidelines in Asia. Do so much as spit in the street and you can expect a big slap on the wrist. Drop a piece of litter and you’re looking at a fine of around $300 SGD ($217 USD) if it’s your first offense, and up to $1,000 SGD ($730 USD) if it’s not. Cars are discouraged to the point that anyone who wants to own one can expect to be taxed at least 100% of its value. Understandably, only 15% of Singaporeans have gone to the expense of buying a set of wheels. Factor in numerous green campaigns such as the annual Tree Planting Day, Keep Our Water Clean campaign, and Keep the Toilet Clean campaign, and it’s easy to see what makes the city one of the greenest, cleanest, and least polluted places in Asia.