Countries covered: Indonesia, Singapore, Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar), Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan and The Philippines
The Philippines are no longer under the tourist radar. The country’s rich biodiversity has been discovered, so more and more tourists are arriving every year to visit the beaches, caves, mountains, rainforests, islands and diving spots. If you think you are visiting a frighteningly strict island nation incompatible to the Western world, then think again. Singapore is very much westernized, albeit with a unique twist of Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures. Bali, Indonesia’s only Hindu island, ranks among one of Asia’s top tourist destinations. Sprinkled with stunning temples, home to some of the best food on the continent and exotic in nature, you can’t say that you have been to Southeast Asia without visiting what is often called the ‘The Island of Gods.’
True, Thailand is one big revel of a country: full moon dancing on white-sand beaches and food stalls, massage chairs, bars and clubs found all together along the streets. Nonetheless, this international hotspot has much more to offer. Backpackers, expats and cheerful and easygoing natives mingle naturally every time they meet. The landscape generally and the waters especially are surreal-looking, while the temples are impressive and the cuisine is absolutely delicious. It should come as no surprise that Thailand is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations.
Definitely one of Asia's most traditional and conservative countries, Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar) is a place not yet overwhelmed by tourism. Burma has drawn attention from tourists because of its thousands of temples and for its pagodas dotted along the plains of the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Deep in the jungles of Cambodia there are hundreds of relatively preserved temples, some of which date back to as early as 802AD. Ranking among the world’s finest archeological sites, Angkor is truly a masterpiece of ancient religious architecture.
Popular with backpackers and middle-aged couples alike, people are lured to Vietnam because this fascinating destination offers great food, cheap prices and stunning nature. Geopolitical warfare from 1955 to 1975 represents a country of decades ago. Today’s Vietnam is one of visitors, expats and natives – together enjoying the outdoor restaurants, bars and beaches. Although economically poor, this Southeast Asia tourist hotspot is culturally rich.
Although China is still known for its zodiac scheme, its beliefs about lucky numbers, the use of chopsticks, the smells of unfamiliar foods, its population density, the pollution, smoky temples, tea and slippers, the country is now equally world-renowned for its ultra-modern technologies, many of which are being used to internationalize and reshape its already diverse culture. Visit China to witness its transformation and then you will better understand what the whole world is talking about. To describe the once-colonized city of Hong Kong in just one word: exhilarating. Although Hong Kong lacks a long list of conventional and specific sites, the city itself is a site – characterized by pedestrian traffic, consumerism, both Oriental and international cuisine, bright lights, vibrant nights and a futuristic cityscape. Somewhat undiscovered and definitely underrated, Taiwan is a modern yet affordable place which offers much excitement: great food, an admixture of Japanese, Chinese, Western and indigenous influences and – perhaps best of all – astonishing nature. Hot springs, parks, mountains and offshore islands are only a small part of the allure.
Although Japan is not a country generally geared toward tourists (some say this is a blessing in disguise), the culture alone serves as enough reason to visit. The people are so well-mannered: clean, organized, structured, respectful, punctual and disciplined. They are also very committed to great workmanship. To see a society collectively exemplifying all of these traits is absolutely astonishing. You will be amazed by what you find on so many of Japan’s streets: flashy entertainment screens and neon, brand new technology products, bikes everywhere, restaurants displaying exotic and diverse foods, adults wearing suits (even the taxi drivers), kids wearing school uniforms, men of all ages addictively playing video games and vending machines selling everything from soda to beer. You will also be amazed by what you do NOT find on the streets of Japan – that’s trash. There is virtually no littering on Japan’s streets, including in Tokyo. That's especially impressive considering the fact that Tokyo is one of the most populated cities in the world. Indeed, Japan is a role model in so many ways to so many people. Visiting this much-revered and most-unique nation might very well be the most inspiring trip of your life.
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Charlie, your ability to pin-point the most spiritually significant sites is amazing. I truly believe that, without your itinerary, my group and I would not have been able to see everything we did. We ended up getting some unforgettable pictures of natives doing their traditional Kecak tribal dance at the Uluwatu Temple, which was where I had my greatest spiritual epiphany. I’ll never forget my trip and I have your book to thank for it.
My favorite part about your itinerary is the section where you tell short, personal stories about your own trips. I like to travel alongside your route and see if I can spot the same things. You are right on the money with everything! I can’t even imagine how much research must have gone into this book. You are truly an inspiration, Charlie.