Aang and friends flying on Appa in the real life series of Avatar The Last Airbender on Netflix

Touring Europe is basic. Instead, explore the world the same way Team Avatar did in the popular series Avatar: The Last Air Bender (ATLA).

The popular animated series, produced by Nickelodeon Animation Studio, is finally getting its well-deserved comeback in 2024 after the recent release of Netflix’s adaptation. While its casting choice is still a topic of debate, one thing’s for sure — their sets and backgrounds were designed spectacularly.

While the Avatar: The Last Air Bender (ATLA) world may appear to be a whimsical creation aimed at children, the real ones would fully understand the depth of thought that went into its design. Each nation — Air, Water, Earth, and Fire — were inspired by bits and pieces of the real world.

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21-day itinerary to explore the world the way Team Avatar did

Not sure about you. But personally, after witnessing how the Avatar universe could look in the real world, it really inspired me to follow the footsteps of Aang and his friends as they travelled the world, all the way from the Southern Water Tribe in Book 1 to the Fire Nation Capital City in Book 3.

If certain cities or landmarks in the cartoon series look familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen them in the before — either on photos or in person. Almost all the locations are modelled after some parts of our realm, and we’ve found 13 locations that you can actually visit!

Omashu in the ATLA real life series
Photo: Netflix

In addition, we have also designed a 21-day itinerary to visit majority of these places in the most cost-effective way.

But before that, it’s important to address important insights as to what ethnicities and cultures the four nations in ATLA are based on.

What real-life nationalities and ethnicities are the Avatar nations based on?

Besides the location, it’s also natural to wonder about the real-life cultures and civilizations that inspired the nations depicted in the series.

Water Tribe

The Water Tribe is inspired by the indigenous cultures of the Arctic regions, particularly the Inuit people of the North American Arctic and the indigenous peoples of Siberia.

Just like the Arctic culture, the Water Tribe also shares a deep connection to the natural elements and spiritual world.

Earth Kingdom

The Earth Kingdom draws inspiration from various Asian cultures, with particular emphasis on Manchuria, China — from the sprawling cities and majestic palaces to the martial arts.

However, Omashu seems to be modelled after India while Kyoshi Island is based on Japan.

Fire Nation

Based on its history and geographical location, as well as its emphasis on the industrial advancement, Japan is bound to come on mind. However, while there are similarities, most of its inspiration comes from Imperial China and Thailand.

Air Nomads

Inspired by the concept of Tibetan and Himalayan cultures, the Air Nomads embody a spiritual connection to the elements and a commitment to pacifism and enlightenment.

Their monastic lifestyle, meditation practices, and philosophy of non-attachment reflect the values espoused by real-life Himalayan cultures.

13 real-life locations that inspired the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Aang and friends flying on Appa in the real life series of Avatar The Last Airbender on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

While some locations in ATLA are readily identifiable, we’ve made every effort to assemble real-life counterparts for you to explore.

However, logistical constraints mean it may not be practical to visit them in the exact sequence as depicted in the show, or to tour all locations, as some share similarities. For example, revisiting a country, as several spots in the series draw inspiration from different cities within the same nation.

Here are 13 iconic cities and landmarks that the Avatar gang has visited chronologically in the series and their real-life counterparts.

  1. Southern Water Tribe — Antartica
  2. Kyoshi Island — Takayama, Gifu, Japan
  3. Omashu — Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
  4. The Great Divide — Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
  5. Crescent Island Fire Temple — Yellow Crane Tower, Wuhan, China
  6. Northern Water Tribe — Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
  7. Cave of Two Lovers — Kalaroos, Kashmir, India
  8. Ba Sing Se — Great Wall and Forbidden City, Beijing, China
  9. Si Wong Desert — Ait Benhaddou, Morocco
  10. Eastern Air Temple — Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  11. Ember Island — Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii
  12. Fire Nation Capital City — Mandalay Palace, Mandalay, Myanmar
  13. Western Air Temple — Hengshan Mountain in Shanxi, China

1. Southern Water Tribe — Antartica

Photos: Avatar Wiki (left), United States Antartica Program (right)

Ice, snow, rugged coastlines, and harsh climate, what better way to experience the climate of the Southern Water Tribe than Antartica. Additionally, the isolation and remoteness of Antarctica mirror the resilience and self-sufficiency of the Southern Water Tribe, adding to the authenticity of the connection between the two locations.

Antartica might not a common travel destination for many, but the icy fjords serves as a peak destination for explorers and adventurers. Cross the Drake Passage, the roughest seas known to man, scale the breathtaking icebergs and glaciers and interact with unique wildlife through a guided tour.

You can also take the opportunity to learn all about the unique environment by chatting with the scientists at the various research stations.

2. Kyoshi Island — Takayama, Gifu, Japan

Photos: ATLA Culture / Tumblr (left), Shuttle Stock (right)

Kyoshi Island is inspired by Japanese culture, evident from its name and onna-musha — Japanese female warrior — get up. However, even though it’s an offshore island in the series, its original inspiration was likely a landbound city instead.

Takayama, a city in the Gifu prefecture, is dotted with very similar traditional huts, dating back to the Edo period, as seen in the show. It’s also a popular day-trip destination for many travellers who are exploring Nagoya.

The old town is lined with local crafts, shops, and eateries. Once you’re done exploring the culture, you can also head to Takayama Jinya, a historic government house and museum, to learn about the region’s history and governance during the feudal era

3. Omashu — Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Photos: @mcpat21 / Reddit (left), Breathedreamgo (right)

Omashu, the Earth Kingdom’s second-largest city, is nestled amidst a mountain range. The city’s distinctive conical silhouette mimics the contours of a hill, with castles and houses constructed along the slopes.

Jaisalmer, a city in India, boasts a similar facade with its sandstone fortresses and palaces rising from the desert landscape. The architecture of Jaisalmer’s buildings, with their ornate carvings and intricate designs, evokes the grandeur and majesty of Omashu’s cityscape. Also, both locations are known for their bustling marketplaces and vibrant cultural scene.

Explore all the iconic spots in the city via the Private Heritage City Tour. Afterwards, head to the outskirts for Bada Bagh, a mini oasis, Gadi Sagar Lake, a gorgeous reservoir with floating temples, and trek along the Sam Sand Dunes on a camel.

4. The Great Divide — Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Photos: iMDb (left), Grand Canyon Grand Hotel (right)

Perhaps one of the least memorable moment in ATLA, but this vast canyon was featured in Book 1 of the series, where the Avatar gang helps two feuding Earth Kingdom tribes cross the canyon.

Indubitably, this area was inspired by the Grand Canyon in Arizona, United States of America, with its towering rock formations and breathtaking vistas.

Experience the Grand Canyon’s majestic beauty firsthand by hiking along its scenic trails, such as the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail. Alternatively, take a thrilling helicopter tour or a peaceful river rafting excursion for a completely different view of the canyon.

Most travellers would plan a day trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas or Phoenix.

5. Crescent Island Fire Temple — Yellow Crane Tower, Wuhan, China

Photos: Bailey Goodwin / Pinterest (left), China Highlights (right)

The second Avatar Aang approached for guidance was Roku, the Fire Avatar before him, who resided in Crescent Island Fire Temple. While you won’t be able to find a stone statue of the Avatar in the real world, you’ll be find a one-to-one replica of the temple in Wuhan, China.

The Yellow Crane Tower is a must-visit landmark for first-time visitors to Wuhan, with ancient paintings and artifacts displayed inside, as well as an English guided tour for those who wish to learn more about the city’s history.

6. Northern Water Tribe — Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

Photos: r/TheLastAirbender / Reddit (left), World Atlas (right)

Geographically, the Northern Water Tribe finds its closest real-world counterpart in the Arctic region. However, when it comes to appearance, the Northern Water Tribe distinguishes itself from the Southern Water Tribe with its majestic ice fortress. The only spot in the world that bears resemblance to such grandeur is Harbin, nestled in Heilongjiang, China.

These enchanting ice sculptures are only available during the peak of winter, typically in January and February. You’ll find sculptures of huge proportions, such as castles and slides that you can climb on. Performances such as ice dances, ice magic, clown comedy and ice acrobatics will also run during the festival.

7. The Cave of Two Lovers — Kalaroos, Kashmir, India

Photos: Avatar Wiki (left), Travelure (right)

“Love shines brightest in the dark”. The Cave of Two Lovers is an intricate network of secret tunnels that is believed to lead to the Fire Nation. Like the secret tunnels depicted in the series, the tunnels in Kalaroos is rumoured to extend till Russia. But fortunately, there are no badgermoles in real life to alter the network of tunnels.

For an extensive guide on how to safely located these tunnels and how to explore them, we recommend reading up Kanika Gupta’s guide on Fodors.

8. Ba Sing Se — Great Wall and Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Photos: Fandom (left), Trip Savvy (right)

Known as the impenetrable wall of the Earth Kingdom, Ba Sing Se is modelled after the The Great Wall of China and Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

Like Ba Sing Se, the Great Wall symbolises strength, unity, and protection, stretching across vast expanses of land and serving as a formidable barrier against external threats. Similarly, the Forbidden City, with its grand palaces, intricate courtyards, and towering walls, mirrors the imposing architecture and regal atmosphere of Ba Sing Se’s inner walls.

In addition to these attractions, you can also add Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, Summer Palace, and more cultural sites to your Beijing itinerary.

9. Si Wong Desert — Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

Photos: Avatar Wiki (left), Places of Jura (right)

The Si Wong Desert in ATLA, translating to the ‘Desert of Death’ in Chinese, is known as the hottest and driest dessert in the land. While, geographically, it should be located in Asia where the Earth Kingdom is modelled after, we found that Ait Benhaddou, a fortified village in Morocco, bears a closer resemblance.

Ait Benhaddou is located on the edge of the Sahara Desert. According to Places of Juma, the mud town also served as a backdrop for many popular films such as Gladiator, Game of Thrones, and Aladdin. For a complete guide to visit Air Benhaddou, click here.

10. Eastern Air Temple — Angkor Wat, Siem Riep, Cambodia

Photos: Avatar Wiki (left), Wikipedia (right)

Like the Eastern Air Temple, Angkor Wat is known for its breathtaking architecture, intricate carvings, and spiritual significance.

While the temples in Angkor Wat are not perched on a mountain, its lush surroundings and serene atmosphere mirror the beauty and serenity of the Air Nomads’ mountain sanctuary.

Geographically, the Eastern Air Temple matches with Angkor Wat, which is also located in the east. Since the Southern and Northern Air Temples are similar-looking to their Eastern Counterpart, we will simply lump them together.

11. Ember Island — Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii

Photos: Avatar Wiki (left), Uprooted Traveller (right)

Black sand in real life? Ember Island could potentially be modelled after Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii. In addition to its unique black sand, a result of the island’s volcanic activity, Punalu’u Beach also serves as an idyllic resort area. This is similar to how Ember Island serves a top vacation destination for the high-ranking Fire Nation officials.

Sit back and relax at one of their spas or embark on expedition to their volcanic cratersm and lava tubes. Punalu’u Beach is also home to endangered green sea turtles.

12. Fire Nation Capital City — Mandalay Palace, Myanmar

Photos: Jared Swanzen / Quora (left), Backpacking Man (right)

In terms of real-life inspiration, the Fire Nation is perhaps the most complex out of the four. Many might argue that they are modelled after Japan, and some may add that their outfits and infrastructure takes inspiration from Thai and Chinese culture. However, the Fire Nation Capital City might actually be modelled after Mandalay Palace in Myanmar.

The majority of the palace complex suffered destruction during WWII, with only a handful of original buildings remaining intact. What you see today is mostly a reconstruction dating back to the 1990s.

13. Western Air Temple — Hengshan Mountain in Shanxi, China

Photos: Avatar Wiki (left), Seetao (right)

While the Northern, Southern and Eastern Air Temples have a similar conical silhouette, the Western Air Temple differs drastically. It is situated underneath the edge of a cliff.

Hengshan Mountain has been considered a sacred mountain in China since the Zhou dynasty. Just like the Western Air Temple, you’ll find the Hanging Temples built precariously at the edge of the mountain.

A 1.5 hours from Datong city, the temple has a maximum capacity of 80 people. To make the most out of your trip, we recommend reading the extensive guide on China Discovery.

21-day ATLA itinerary

Photo: Netflix

For context, we’re a lifestyle publication based in Singapore. Hence, to our international readers, you might have to tweak the itinerary to fit your starting point. Also, if the total cost of the trip is too high, or you would like to reduce the travelling, you could trim the itinerary even more to exclude Cambodia.

Day 1-2: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat during dusk. Photo: Offbeat Escapades

The largest religious structure in the world, Angkor Wat resides within the ancient Khmer capital city. The best way to admire Angkor Wat is during sunrise or sunset. If you’re lucky enough, you might also encounter a Buddhist Monk and request for a Water Blessing. You can spend anytime between an hour to half a day at Angkor Wat.

Attractions in Siem Reap

  • Noon Night Market or Angkor Night Market: Craft and souvenir pop-ups
  • Kulen Mountain: A site of worship with waterfalls and numerous carvings of Hindu gods
  • Cambodian Landmine Museum: Learn about the impact of remnant landmines in Cambodia
  • Wat Preah Prom Rath City Temple: Charming temples near the city centre
  • Siem Reap River: Picturesque walk along the river

Travelling from Cambodia to Myanmar

Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Siem Reap to Mandalay. You’ll need to take a stopover flight to Bangkok first. The air tickets cost roughly $500.

Day 3-4: Mandalay Palace, Myanmar

Hsinbyume Pagoda. Photo: Daily Travel Pill

Mandalay is known for its intricate ancient architecture. Aside from Mandalay Palace, which serves as the model for the Fire National Capital City, you have to include the following cultural sites in your itinerary: Shwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Hsinbyume Pagoda and Mingun Pagoda.

How to get from Mandalay to Shanxi?

Take a direct flight from Mandalay to Taiyuan Wusu International Airport for roughly $500.

Day 5-6: Hengshan Mountain in Shanxi, China

The interior of Hanging Temple. Photo: WindhorseTour

Reserve about half a day to visit the Hanging Temples on Hengshan Mountain as you’ll need about 2.5 hours to travel to Datong, before another 1.5 hour drive to the foot of the mountain.

Besides the Hanging Temples, if you plan to explore Datong, you’ll need about two days to cover the other popular sites such as Yungang Grottoes, Nine Dragon Screen and Yingxian Wooden Pagoda.

From Datong to Beijing

This is when the travelling starts getting easy! Take the China Railway High-speed from Datong to Beijing for only $35 per passenger. The travel takes two hours.

Day 7-9: Beijing, China

Temple of Heaven

Dress yourself in earth tones to get the full Earth Kingdom experience at the capital of China. Given how expansive the Forbidden City is, you can easily spend half a day there. Beijing is also flooded with other popular cultural sites such as Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple and Summer Palace. Not to mention, the extensive Great Wall of China.

To make the most of your Beijing trip, we recommend joining a group tour or hiring a private guide. It really makes a difference when you learn about the significance and stories behind each attraction.

Train ride from Beijing to Wuhan

The train ride from Beijing Station or Beijing-xi Station to Wuhan Station takes about four hours. The prices range from $80-250 depending on the which class of seats you choose.

Day 10-11: Wuhan, China

The iconic Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan. Photo: CNN

Also known as the “River City”, Wuhan offers a good blend of modernity and heritage.

You could honestly spend as short as a day here to cover all their must-visit sites. But let’s not rush the trip, and take a short breather here.

How to get from Wuhan to Harbin?

You could either fly to Harbin Taiping International Airport straight or take a long bus ride. We recommend the plane ride, which is only slightly more expensive and it takes five hours while the bus takes 24 hours.

Day 12-14: Harbin, China

Volga Manor, a Russian-themed park that features 30 magnificent buildings. Photo: Klook

As mentioned above, in order to experience the Northern Water Tribe in real life, you’ll have to visit Harbin during winter for its iconic grandeur ice sculptures.

However, Harbin actually offers a lot more interesting attractions beyond the Ice and Snow festival. Oddly, the city’s architecture features an extensive blend of cultures. The Shuangfeng Forest Farm looks just like a Christmas village from the movies while Volga Manor is a Russian-style forest estate. Zhongyang Dajie, translating to “central street”, is also known as a European art gallery.

Travel from Harbin to Jaisalmer

Here’s where the travelling gets gruelling again. The journey from Harbin to Rajasthan takes a whopping 17 hours. Take a plane ride from Harbin to New Delhi. From there, you can choose between a 3-hour domestic flight of about $150, or an 18-hour bus ride for about $15.

Day 15-18: Jaisalmer, India

Intricate carvings on the cities. Photo: Breathedreamgo

Jaisalmer, coined the “Golden City of India” is known for its stunning yellow sandstone architecture, vibrant culture, and fascinating history.

The city itself could easily take you a whole day. To ensure you don’t miss any must-see attractions, sign up for the Private Heritage City Tour. Next, reserve a day or two to explore its outskirts. Bada Bagh is an enchanting mini oasis in the middle of the desert, while the Gadi Sagar Lake is a man-made reservoir that’s embellished with floating temples. Lastly, journey along the Sam Sand Dunes on a camel.

From Jaisalmer to Kalaroos

Despite being in the same country, it takes six hours and roughly $500 to travel from Jaisalmer to Kalaroos via a flight to Srinagar, followed by a 1.5 hour taxi ride.

Day 19-21: Kashmir, India

Tickets are priced at INR 1000, which is about S$16 per pax. Photo: Kashmir Tourism
Tickets are priced at INR 1000, which is about S$16 per pax. Photo: Kashmir Tourism

While Jaisalmer is touted as the “Golden City of India”, Kashmir is famed as the “Paradise on Earth”.

Aside from exploring the real-life Cave of Two Lovers at Kalaroos, you can take part in all sorts of other adventurous activities such as river rafting, hot air ballooning, skiing, pony rides to Thajiwas Glacier and more.

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