With a seemingly endless number of attractive destinations to visit, Asia offers up infinite possibilities for excitement and adventure. With everything from ancient treasures to glittering skyscrapers to untouched beaches and jungles, this vast continent simply begs to be explored.
At the very heart of the continent lies Central Asia, which, due to the fact that it was off limits for 2000 years, holds a certain appeal to intrepid travelers. From the epic mountain scenery and nomadic herding communities of Kyrgyzstan to the magnificent architectural wonders of Kazakhstan to the rich history of Uzbekistan, there is so much to discover in this part of the world. Many parts of Central Asia were also important thoroughfares along the Silk Road, containing routes that have been walked on by legends throughout history, and this sense of significance can still easily be felt.
Also referred to as Southern Asia, the Indian Subcontinent boasts several geographical features, as well as a government system, that sets it apart from other Asian countries. This part of the world gave birth to two of the main World Religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, and is known for being extremely spiritual. Some of the most notable Buddhist sites include Rewalsar and Bodh Gaya in India, as well as Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal, although there are several others to choose from. Also on the Indian Subcontinent are the Himalayas, which boast some of the highest peaks in the world, and while these dizzying heights may have long since attracted dedicated climbers, the region is now much more accessible to those that are not so experienced as well.
Just like all of Asia’s other regions, Northern Asia is wonderfully diverse, and consists of several countries that feature on many bucket lists. China is home to around 20% of the world’s population, and is the third most visited country in the world, while Taiwan may be a country that is rarely visited by those that are from other parts of the world, but is made up of deeply complex historical roots that are fascinating to delve deeper into. Japan’s culture is loved all over the world, and with its amazing rail network, is easy to travel through, while Korea’s national pride feels almost tangible wherever you travel in the country.
One of the most popular destinations for backpackers, as well as those seeking sun, sea and a tropical way of life, South East Asia has a landscape that has been beautifully sculpted by water. The region’s mainland offers quite the exotic experience, with countries such as Burma, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, and while they are a great introduction to the area, you are likely to encounter plenty of other tourists. For those that want to travel even more off the beaten path, Indonesia and the Philippines boast a number of secluded, untouched islands, where you will find yourself in a dreamy tropical paradise.
While Asia may be fiercely retaining its traditions and heritage, many countries are now shooting forward into the future, with Asian cities in particular being filled with a fast-paced, frenetic energy. From the head-spinning speed at which China’s economy is developing to the growing technology hub that is India, Asia is a continent that has given birth to some of the most revolutionary ideas that the world has seen, and it would seem as though it is set to continue doing so well into the future.
An ever-ambitious city with a majestic soaring skyline, Hong Kong’s intense effervescence provides a feast for the senses. While the lively and vibrant city of Hong Kong never fails to deliver a dazzling dose of culture, over 70% of Hong Kong is actually made up of towering mountains and lush country parks, providing visitors with endless opportunities for discovery and adventure.
The glittering streets of Hong Kong’s Central District are the very heart of the city, and the point from which Hong Kong first began. However, with its ever-expanding cluster of steel high-rises, luxury shopping malls and glitzy hotels, few traces of Hong Kong’s traditional Chinese past remain in Central, and you will need to travel further out to see this. Also on Hong Kong Island are SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong, both areas that are renowned for their nightlife and entertainment. SoHo is considered to be a somewhat tamer alternative to Lan Kwai Fong, but both locations are always filled with action from dusk to dawn, on just about every night of the week.
Kowloon, the peninsula at the north of the mainland, is where you will find the Kowloon Walled City, which used to be the densest place in the world, with over 33,000 people living in 300 inter-connected high rise buildings. While the initial appeal of this area may not be immediately obvious, Kowloon is where you will find a spectacular array of different shopping opportunities, ranging from local street markets to high end boutiques, as well as a rapidly increasing number of upscale hotels and eateries.
No matter where you go in Hong Kong you are going to encounter the incredibly tasty local cuisine, which borrows elements from every region of China, including Szechuan, Shanghai and Canton. From steaming baskets of dim sum to the deliciously aromatic trays of Peking duck, the incredible dishes available in the city are always a highlight for any visitor, and show just how important food culture is to the locals.
While the majority of visitors to Hong Kong tend to congregate around the bustling streets of the city, Hong Kong’s outlying islands instantly transport you to a tranquil, timeless world. The serenity and relaxed pace of the islands provide the perfect contrast to the hectic energy of the city, and there are several to choose from. On Lamma Island, visitors can experience the way of life in a traditional Chinese fishing village, while taking advantage of the many walking trails that offer sweeping coastal views. The small island of Peng Chau is quite unusual, in that it is home to abandoned workshops and rustic temples, a stark reminder of its industrial days in the 70’s, while Lantau Island not only boasts some gorgeous sandy beaches, but also a mall of shopping outlets to ensure that you do not leave empty handed.
Bursting with life 24 hours a day, Hong Kong manages to harmoniously meld aspects of both China and Britain, and its innately proud sense of heritage can be felt throughout the city. While the pulsating streets of the city may be what initially draws you in, do not forget to take the time to also explore Hong Kong’s natural attractions, as it is the dramatic contrast between the two that makes Hong Kong so awe-inspiring.
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Although Singapore may be a small island, it is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, and has really come a long way in recent years. The city is filled with stark contrasts, from the colonial barracks that now house contemporary art galleries to the old-school shophouses that are now home to swanky cocktail bars, and once you start uncovering the many complex layers that the country is made up of, you will find yourself intoxicated by Singapore’s unique soul.
Singapore is known for being a melting pot of different cultures, and it is this naturally cosmopolitan nature that gives the city its diversity, as well as its world-famous culinary scene. One of the most exciting foodie destinations in the world, Singapore’s local cuisine ties together the country’s different ethnicities, and with mouthwatering flavors simmering around just about every corner, it is easy to see why Singaporeans have the reputation of being obsessed with food.
Singapore’s food provides visitors with a unique insight into the country’s multicultural origins, but for those that want to delve into this even more, there are plenty of other cultural treasures to be discovered. The National Museum of Singapore is the oldest in the country, and documents Singapore’s history, while the Peranaken Museum showcases the country’s unique Peranakan community. Chinatown is also an area to be explored for an intense dose of culture, with everything from traditional shophouses to colorful temples and mosques standing side by side.
While Singapore may be home to an impressive skyline of skyscrapers, it has, since the early 60’s, been making an effort to transform itself into a garden city. More than 50 years later, it has managed to do this quite successfully, and there are a few natural retreats on the island that are worth visiting. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is home to the largest orchid collection in the world, while the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is where you will find one of the two rain forests in the world located in a city. Gardens by the Bay is another popular nature park, consisting of 101 awe-inspiring acres of lush green gardens, framed by a jaw-dropping view of the Marina Reservoir.
When the concrete jungle of the city begins to overwhelm, Singapore offers a number of offshore islands to escape to. Pulau Ubin is home to the country’s richest ecosystem, as well as a range of local wildlife, while the sheltered reefs and underwater wonderland of Pulau Hantu make the island extremely popular with divers and snorkelers. These islands are all a short distance away from the mainland by ferry, making them ideal for a day trip.
Lying just one degree north of the equator, Singapore enjoys quite a consistent climate throughout the year, meaning that it makes for a fantastic year-round destination. While many may choose to use this South East Asian island as a stopover point on their way to another destination, those that are in the know choose to spend some extra time in the city, as its constant metamorphosis means that there will always be something new to discover.
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Diverse, stimulating Malaysia is a must-see in Southeast Asia. Split between Peninsular Malaysia, south of Thailand on the Malay Peninsula, and East Malaysia, taking up the northern third of the island of Borneo, Malaysia displays as many sights, tastes, and sounds as it does historic cultures. Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian faiths and more live together in peace and prosperity, each reflective of the Malay, Chinese, Indian, aboriginal, European, and other cultures that have settled and thrived upon this dynamic landscape.
Malaysia is as forward-looking as it is diverse, and nowhere looks as far ahead as Kuala Lumpur, a bustling, modern metropolis full of Islam-inspired skyscrapers and more traditionally built temples. Little is prized in KL more than the food and the shopping, with its multicultural mix of delectable street foods, found in colorful stalls lined up at colorful, lively markets. Should the sweltering heat prove too much for you, there are always the beautiful, high-end shopping malls, complete with air conditioning.
The amateur historian and budding gourmand will find equal pleasure in a visit to George Town, on the island of Penang off the northern coast of the Malay Peninsula. Founded by the British in the 18th century and built by the hands of a diverse mix of people from around the region and beyond, George Town presents a stunning combination of cultures, each with contributions to the city’s architecture and cuisine. The latter, in particular, is renowned across the region and the world, with incredible seafood, distinctive and delicious fruits, and a great mix of modern and traditional eateries and cafes.
This country is defined in large part by the sea. Most of Malaysia’s people live on its coastlines, which are ample due to its geographic situation at the end of a large peninsula and on the edge of Asia’s largest island. As such, comfortable, high-end beach resorts are always an option, as is out-of-this-world diving. From Langkawi Island off the coast of the Malay Peninsula, to the Semporna Archipelago stretching off of Borneo, Malaysia’s oceanside paradises and undersea wonders are vast and welcoming.
Malaysia’s natural beauty also extends far from the sea, however, with its less populated inland areas, stunning mountains, and deep, wild jungles. Kota Kinabalu, in northeastern Borneo, is a charming place in the midst of a transformation into an international attraction. The big draw, however, are the Kinabalu and Crocker Range National Parks, gorgeous reserves full of mountain-climbing opportunities and adventures in the dense, ecologically diverse bush. Equally gorgeous, though a different kind of geographic pleasure, are the Cameron Highlands located inland on the Malay Peninsula. This relative escape from the heat and humidity of the seaside lowlands is a popular destination for locals and foreigners alike. The resort experience and natural beauty exist comfortably side by side.
And that’s just getting started. Malaysia’s a big, dense country in many ways, from its thick jungles to its packed metropolises. A vast array of cultures and species live beside each other in ways that might seem unimaginable in other climes. Don’t let it overwhelm you – this miracle of geography, history, and culture is meant to be enjoyed.
Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, was founded as a lowly tin mining supply point in the 1850s, little more than a convenient port through which to bring provisions for the mines’ Chinese migrant laborers. In 1869, the Chinese migrant Yap Ah Loy became the town’s administrator, and set it on its path from frontier outpost to a bonafide city while fighting gang and clan warfare and later a larger civil war with rival factions.
In the 1870s, the British took control and Kuala Lumpur’s colonial phase began. British development plans led to an explosion of growth in the 1880s, and the majority of structures were mandated to be built of stone or brick to avoid fire. Thus began Kuala Lumpur’s lineage of beautiful structures exhibiting the traits of a diverse range of cultures, often with an emphasis on Islamic motifs. This is certainly true of Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent structures, the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers on Earth. On the hugely popular tours of the buildings, the five pillars of Islamic and arabesque patterns can be seen in multiple elements of the impressive structures’ construction.
This modern metropolis just continues to get more exciting. Its diversity manifests delectably in its food scene, beautifully in its architecture, and touchingly in its success and multicultural harmony.
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