Nothing, save perhaps the Great Wall of China, ever really compelled me to want to visit Asia.
That is, until I moved there.
Over the past six months, I have become obsessed with Asia. So far, we’ve visited China (where we’re currently living), South Korea, stepped briefly into North Korea while visiting the DMZ, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). In just a few weeks, we’ll embark on our next Asian adventure: Cambodia and Vietnam. When we first found out we were moving to China and that we would have the opportunity to travel throughout the region, I was at a loss to find many places I actually wanted to go. Now I’m faced with the dilemma of having way too many places I want to go and not enough time to visit them!
Here are 7 places I never thought I’d want to visit in Asia, but I do:
1.) The Philippines
Since we moved to China, we have been bombarded with television ads for various destinations throughout Asia. One of the most memorable slogans for these tourism boards comes from the Philippines: It’s more fun in the Phillipines. While I don’t mind the tag-line (it’s catchy), I strongly (vehemently!) believe they could do a better job marketing the amazing places and experiences their country has to offer. The main commercial we see features some young early-20-something blonde girl who goes shopping and clubbing throughout the country and in the end, finds herself on a rooftop gazing out over the countryside, no doubt recovering from a vacation full of hangovers. No. I am sorry, but I would never travel to the other side of the world to party and do things I could do at home. That doesn’t mean you can’t also do those things while traveling, but if that’s what you’re really looking to get out of your trip, go somewhere cheaper and closer to home.
So why else would someone want to visit the Philippines? Well, check out the photo above. Isn’t that amazing? I mean, a photo like that rivals the gorgeous waters of Phuket, Thailand or Vietnam’s Halong Bay. That photo alone is enough to convince me it really is more fun in the Philippines. Combine the gorgeous beaches, azure waters, beautiful caves, and vibrant coral reefs with excellent trekking and adventure opportunities and you’ve successfully convinced me to spend my money on a trip to the less-touristy locales of the Philippines instead of Thailand or Vietnam. The Philippines seems to have everything we’re looking for in a trip — opportunities for both relaxation and adventure, combined with stunning natural beauty. Before we move back to the States, I am determined to visit this incredible archipelago and provide our readers with some real reasons as to why it really is more fun in the Philippines.
2.) Borneo (Indonesia, Malaysia, & Brunei)
Borneo is the world’s third largest island and is divided between three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brueni, with over 70% of it belonging to Indonesia. Once I found out about all the amazing jungle trekking and wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as the beautiful marine life in the waters surrounding the island, I was sold. Combine that with some caving and a few luxury resorts, and I have my perfect vacation.
3.) The Temples at Bagan in Myanmar (Burma)
Although we recently spent time in Myanmar, we did not make it to Bagan. These remote temples enshrouded by jungle captivate me in the same way I felt drawn to Tikal, Machu Picchu, and Angkor Wat. The best thing about this site, though? It’s not swarming with tourists. Not only is it a more difficult place to get to than those other must-see sites, but also it is lesser-known — at least for the time being. I would love to visit Bagan before it takes its place as the next Angkor Wat and hoards of tour buses cause it to lose a bit of its mystique.
4.) The crossroads of the Silk Road in Kashgar (Xinjiang Province, China)
Ever since I saw this incredible video on the National Geographic Channel, I have wanted to visit Kashgar. Kashgar was a major trading center along the Silk Road and today remains the major commercial crossroad between Central and Eastern Asia. What fascinates me about Kashgar is that it is located in China, but doesn’t resemble China much at all. It has a bit more of a Mongolia or an Uzbekistan feel than China. The primary ethnic group in Kashgar is Uyghur and much of the population is Muslim. How crazy would it be to stand within the borders of China and feel like you are in the Middle East?
Indonesia was one of those countries I was always hearing bad things about, never good. Tsunamis, terrorist attacks, volcanic eruptions and things of a similar nature kept Indonesia in a solid position at the bottom of my “must visit” list. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I finally started hearing fellow travelers speak positively of Indonesia, specifically the island of Bali. They described Bali as one of the most beautiful places they had ever seen, but what struck me most was their affection for the people of Bali, who they described as the warmest in the world. Great beaches, stunning mountains, friendly people, and tasty food? Ahh, I can hear the breeze of Bali calling my name. (Start planning your own adventure and find a hotel in Bali)
Since the initial Bali conversation, dozens of people have recommended the trip to me and my subsequent research has led me to discover there is even more to Indonesia that interests me, including the jungles and waters of Borneo (as mentioned above) and the temples of Borobudur in Central Java. These gorgeous temples are made of over 55,000 square meters of lava rock and was constructed before the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. What a gorgeous monument. What I until recently had never even heard of is now very hard to forget.
6.) Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit
As much as Justin and I love to hike back home in New England, I have no desire to climb Mt. Everest — or any mountain of that nature, for that matter. Sure, we plan to climb Mt. Fuji later this year, but it’s not even in the same league as an Everest. So when our friends returned from a trip to Nepal last year raving about the stunning beauty and the incredible hiking, I was less than convinced. Once they showed us their photos, however, I was blown away (and admittedly, quite jealous). They told me about a less strenuous, non-technical trek available through the Himalayas and past the famed Annapurna mountain, known as the Annapurna Circuit. Experience the culture and beauty of the Himalayas without donning an oxygen mask? Sign me up!
Contrary to what you might assume, Uzbekistan’s status as the melon capital of the world is not the reason I’m so enthusiastic to visit. Uzbekistan is one of those countries that absolutely captivates me simply because I don’t know much about it. Unlike other countries ending with “stan,” Uzbekistan seems like a fairly safe place to visit, while also maintaining some of the mystery and intrigue of some of its neighbor states. Like Kashgar, Uzbekistan’s cities also played a major role on the Silk Road trading route and their spectacular bazaars, full of succulent spices and decadent silk products, remain today. I also think it boasts some stunning architecture, with mosques accented in vibrant turqouise and majestic minnerets. I don’t have a checklist of sights to see in Uzbekistan; rather, I simply want to see Uzbekistan for itself — its people, its places, and its products.
My opinion of Asia has drastically changed in only a matter of months. Although I highly doubt I will have the opportunity to visit many of these places while we’re living in Asia (or even in our lifetime!), I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?
If you could visit anywhere in Asia, where would you go?
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