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Where to Go in Asia?

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With so many unique and completely different places, trying to decide where to go in Asia is tricky.

Libraries of books have been written about each of these places in Asia. Hardly conclusive, this index is meant only as an overview to help you find the best matches for planning your dream trip to Asia!

Get help deciding where to go in Southeast Asia by seeing the famous backpacker Banana Pancake Trail.

1. Japan

Kyoto Japan Geisha
Photo by Tony Conboy III

The Challenges:

  • Language barrier and reading signs/menus can sometimes be an issue, however, the Japanese people are overwhelmingly helpful and accepting.
  • Japanese business etiquette and table manners can be a lot to take in.
  • The rules of saving face apply so stringently that older Japanese may be afraid to interact with you or attempt English in certain scenarios.

Some Rewards:

  • Crime directed at tourists is virtually nonexistent.
  • See why Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world.
  • More incredible food than you can afford.
  • Cleanliness and extreme politeness -- even blowing a nose in public is frowned upon.

Go If You Like:

  • Art, Zen, and idyllic settings
  • Extreme cleanliness
  • Anime and animations
  • Unique cultural trends
  • Witnessing a clash of tradition and modernism
  • Motorcycles
  • Karate
  • Technology, particularly vending machines and high-tech toilets
  • Karaoke
  • Asian baseball
  • Sumo wrestling
  • Tea (see the history of tea in Asia)

Cost: $ $ $ $ $ (5 / 5) The worst part of visiting Japan for many travelers is accommodation and transportation costs.

See when to go to Japan for the best times of year.

2. China

China
Photo by Greg Rodgers

The Challenges:

  • Even after years of being open, foreigners still retain celebrity status throughout China; be prepared to be photographed, pointed at, and sometimes called 'laowai'.
  • The language barrier is a serious challenge outside of tourist areas.
  • Claustrophobia. Severe overcrowding in cities and on transportation.
  • Extreme air pollution in big cities.
  • Dropping litter and spitting are common in cities.
  • Public squat toilets can be gruesome.

Some Rewards:

  • See why China is exploding in growth as a superpower.
  • Experience a fascinating culture that influences every country in the world.
  • Free green tea in shops, hotels, and transportation.
  • Gorgeous mountain scenery in Yunnan.
  • Ancient attractions such as the Great Wall and terracotta soldiers.

Go If You Like:

  • Hustle and bustle, busy places, and crowds
  • Cheap shopping on faked brand-name goods
  • Cycling
  • The satisfaction of overcoming travel and cultural challenges
  • Tai chi, kung fu, or martial arts history
  • Chinese Taoism and natural remedies such as acupressure and reflexology
  • Panda bears
  • Private-room Karaoke

Cost: $ $ $ (3 / 5) While eating, sleeping, and transportation are cheap, entrance fees to parks and attractions can be expensive.

3. India

When to go to India
Photo by Mckaysavage / Creative Commons

The Challenges:

  • Receiving lots of attention as a foreigner, including plenty of begging.
  • Dirty and overcrowded urban areas and transportation.
  • Foreign women are often the target of staring and advances from local men.
  • Petty scams, pickpocketing, and receiving the wrong change are common in tourist areas.
  • Trying to decide who is simply being friendly and who is unfolding an elaborate scam.
  • Getting accustomed to the directness of the culture; 'thank you' and 'please' are rarely used.
  • Unsafe food handling and water can cause gastric mayhem.
  • Extreme bureaucracy can test patience.

Some Rewards:

  • See why India is China's biggest rival in growth and population.
  • The language barrier is rarely an issue; English is widely spoken.
  • An overwhelming mix of cultures, religion, languages, and customs.
  • Gorgeous landscapes from deserts and beaches to Himalayan scenery.
  • Cheap and delicious food.
  • Finding friendly and genuine people.
  • Visiting the home of the Dalai Lama.

Go If You Like:

  • Yoga, spirituality, health retreats, and holistic medicine
  • Bollywood and lively music
  • Cows
  • Vegetarian food and spicy curries
  • Smoking shisha or hookah waterpipes
  • Driving a hard bargain in massive markets for cheap goods
  • Cricket (the sport)
  • Extremly diverse landscapes
  • Lively festivals such as Holi

Cost: $ $ (2 / 5) Eating, sleeping, and transportation are cheap, but tack on some additional expense for the learning curve of avoiding scams and not negotiating properly.

4. South Korea

South Korea Flag
Public Domain / CIA World Factbook

The Challenges:

  • Learning to use slippery metal chopsticks.
  • Getting inside a mostly reserved society with strict rules of social protocol.
  • Korea has one of the highest traffic-related death rates in the world.
  • Accommodation prices in Seoul are double that of the rest of the country.
  • The language barrier and reading signs can be a challenge outside of cities.

Some Rewards:

  • Very friendly people.
  • Kimchi and great kimchi-flavored foods.
  • Very low crime rate.
  • Beautiful landscapes outside of the city.

Go If You Like:

  • Fermented flavors in food
  • Taekwondo
  • Asian baseball
  • Historical sites and war monuments
  • Karaoke
  • Snowy mountains

Cost: $ $ $ $ $ (5 / 5) While food is relatively inexpensive, accommodation in Seoul is through the roof. Maybe this is the place to try couchsurfing?

5. Hong Kong

Hong Kong
Photo by Martyna Szmytkowska / Used with Permission

The Challenges:

  • Choosing where to eat from the vast multitude of choices.
  • Despite strict traffic enforcement, crossing busy streets is a challenge!
  • Air pollution and population density.
  • Paying more than US $12 for a beer in a bar.
  • Avoiding scams directed at budget travelers.

Some Rewards:

  • Witnessing the differences between the former colony and mainland China.
  • English is widely spoken.
  • Enjoying one of the best street food scenes in the world.
  • Getting a taste of China in a slightly Westernized and less hectic environment.
  • Beautiful scenery of the Hong Kong skyline from the Victoria Peak.
  • Unlimited shopping opportunities.

Go If You Like:

  • Dim sum, noodles, and seafood
  • Bruce Lee
  • Busy-yet-functional Asian cities
  • Cameras and technology
  • Kung fu, particularly tai chi and wing chun
  • Outdoor escalators
  • Clean urban beaches

Cost: $ $ $ $ (4 / 5) Street food may be cheap, but a meal for one in a typical restaurant can cost US $30 and up!

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