Where to go in Asia
Make the most of your time
Fortunately for intrepid travelers who want to see and experience as much as they can, choosing where to go in Asia takes you on a well-connected and exciting itinerary of planes, trains, automobiles and boats along the mighty Mekong River. If you’re in somewhere uber-developed, say parts of China or Japan, unless you’ve gone really
rural you can get around easily on super-speedy trains and millions of miles of well-conditioned road. If you’re in Mongolia, parts of Southeast Asia or Nepal, however, you’ll need to pack your patience – the roads can be dreadful and they move slowly too. Anywhere you go, you’ll need a great pair of walking shoes – Asia is vast and you can clock up miles on foot simply seeing the sights.
Angkor Wat is simply astonishing – the jungle-clad, 160sqkm centre of an empire with a history stretching back through millennia, it’s not only a nod to the genius architects who built it, it’s also a nod to the sheer power of beauty: no matter how big the tourist throng, the sight of sun rising over the temple’s stone towers never ceases to stupefy those who stand before it.
On the whole, the Burmese are as new to tourism as we are to their intriguing culture. Decades of isolation has meant that the old is in fact the new in Burma and the locals have a simpler way of doing things – 80 percent Buddhist, they are a peaceful people of traditional clothing, travel by horse and cart and exceptional craftsmanship; their lush landscape is as shrouded in mystery as they are.
A land of fascinating opposites, China has it all. Brash and bold? Head to the organised chaos of the cities. History and culture? The Great Wall is one of life’s utter marvels and ancient Xi’an’s Terracotta Army is considered the eight wonder of the world. Escape to rural China and you’ll lose yourself in tradition, all wrapped up in an age-old landscape of limestone karsts and quirky fishing villages.
The food in Asia will blow you away; fragrant, flavoursome and spicy – but not in a way that makes you want to cry – how they pack such an almighty punch with herbs and spices is one of the world’s great mysteries. Rice is ubiquitous; curries are a national treasure across most countries (high-five, India, you’re the best); and each tasty street food treat is like taking a bite of heaven itself.
The Great Wall of China
Just the fact that there’s a 21,000km-long wall in existence is mind-blowing; factor in the palpable history, fascinating cultural implications and sheer beauty that surrounds China’s Great Wall and you have one of Asia’s ultimate must-sees. Winding its east-west way through nine provinces, all of it is atmospheric, but aim more far-flung than Beijing and you’ll avoid the crowds.
No amount of superlatives can ever sum up the Himalayas, a massive 4,000km crescent of soaring mountains spreading through India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and Pakistan, and home to nine of the ten highest peaks on earth. Hindu scripture states that you couldn’t do justice to the Himalayas “in a hundred years of the gods”; trek a trail there and you will never, ever forget it.
India is like an exquisite game of pass the parcel, layer upon layer of surprises all wrapped up in one package. It’s impressionist and surreal: Ladakh mixes Tibetan Buddhists and Shia Muslims, desert and mountains. It’s chaotic and romantic: teeming cities blend bustling bazaars and impossibly grand architecture. It’s the home of the Taj Mahal. And delicious curries. And Gandhi, for goodness’ sake.
Japan is an intriguing combination of calm, cool and just a little bit bonkers all against a picturebook backdrop of mountains, volcano lakes and coastal expanses. The rituals the locals observe today are what underpin one of the world’s best-maintained cultures and you can truly lose yourself in everyday life. Speedy trains and insane efficiency make traveling out to hikes and islands easy too.
Mongolia simply screams freedom: a country of unadulterated wilderness, it has a pure, staggering beauty about it characterised by huge skies and rolling steppe against a collision of mountains and towering sand dunes, all underpinned by a captivating traditional heritage. If you love the great outdoors, this is your chance to truly immerse yourself in nature at its wildest.
Orangutans, the ‘old men of the forest’, share 96 percent of our DNA, which is perhaps why we’re so enamoured by them. Only found naturally on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, their numbers are sadly dwindling. Choose between an old school jungle trek in the hope of catching a glimpse, or head to Borneo where sightings are virtually guaranteed at some excellent sanctuaries.
The Silk Road
A bygone trading route connecting the mysterious East with the captivated West, the Silk Road was not only a thoroughfare for precious silks and spices, but for the priceless gifts of art, architecture and ideas too. To visit the route is to experience some of the most eminent historical sites across Asia: ancient archeology, teeming bazaars, intricate mosques and swathes of evocative desert.
Destroyed by a 26-year civil war and 2004’s brutal tsunami, Sri Lanka has had its fair share of bad luck and is now, thankfully, b(l)ooming. It really is an island idyll: ancient archaeology abounds, the untouched landscapes and sparkling seascapes of its northeast are starting to breathe again, and the forested Knuckles Ranges are a hiker’s hideaway. Quick, go now before everyone else clocks on.
A heady combination of remote stilted villages, unexplored rainforest, bright green rice paddies and fabulous, showy cities, Vietnam is the enthralling and perfectly balanced fulcrum on which Asian tradition and modern world comfort rests. The homestays and hillside treks will welcome you into local life; the food is cheap and startlingly fresh; and the people are welcoming and kind.