In this edition of Notes From Around the World, the author brings his travel notes from Asia :
BAHRAIN Shake, shake, sheikh it up
One of the most modern Middle Eastern countries, sheikhs in traditional clothing rocking Hard Rock Cafes, fine-dining restaurants serving rich food, modern Islamic architecture, and views of the waterfront from hotel rooms.
BRUNEI A sultan’s home in Borneo
Tranquil river cruise through pristine rainforests, water taxi rides around villages, spotting playful proboscis monkeys and admiring colourful mosques.
CAMBODIA The most multidimensional holiday
Ancient temple complexes, jungles filled with crumbling architectural ruins, kayaking through mangrove forests, cruising on the Mekong, partying in the islands of Koh Rong, beaches of Sihanoukville, relaxing retreat in a riverside lodge nestled in the cardamom rainforest, and learning about the country’s conflicted history with both colonisation and politics.
CHINA God’s art canvas
Dreamlike landscapes, thousands of years of history, marvellous monuments, colossal communist squares, old-world charm married to the new-world progress, and friendly and curious people. Give in to the imperial lifestyle in Beijing, bewitching beauty in Guilin, spicy flavours in Sichuan, the terracotta warriors in Xian and the pandas in Chengdu.
INDIA An incredible land
The big daddy of them all. No other country has such diversity in landscape, people, culture, food, heritage and language. Travelling through India is like travelling through the entire continent at once.
INDONESIA An archipelago of contrasts
Idyllic island paradises, refreshingly beautiful rice fields, temple complexes, volcanic crater lakes, daunting metropolises, Hindu gods celebrated in an Islamic nation, warungs, and Bintang beer.
IRAN A Persian delight
Majestic Squares of Isfahan, artistic wonders of ancient Persepolis, poetic charm of Shiraz, a capital in the shadow of a snow-capped mountain, surprisingly modern people, and scrumptious food.
IRAQ Troublesome tales of Tigris
A country rooted in civilisations dating from 3000 BCE including the Sumerians, Babylonians and the Assyrians. Brilliantly colourful shrines, colonial buildings blended with Islamic heritage, complexes of American institutions, stunning sunsets with ales and tales of the fabled Tigris river, cold beers finished off with late-night kebabs and shawarma.
ISRAEL A different Mediterranean
Roman ruins and amphitheatres in spectacular settings, winding alleys and stone buildings in the historic heart of Jaffa, Bauhaus buildings in the capital, seafront promenade lined with bars and cafés, experiencing the raucous nightlife and gorging on a few dozen falafels in the land where it was born.
JAPAN Nippon adventures
Exotic, quirky, cultured, avant-garde fashion, cherry blossoms, history, tradition, temples and monasteries, single malts and sakes, sushi and curries and impeccable punctuality, all make this tiny island one of the most sought after and unique tourist destinations in the world.
JORDAN A cradle of empires
Outstanding ruins from bygone eras, magical walk through the Siq to Al Khazan in Petra, drinks at a bar inside a cave built by the Nabateans two thousand years ago, floating in the Dead Sea, an excellent spread of mezze, and ancient hospitality.
KAZAKHSTAN The powerhouse of the -stans
Soviet-era architecture and communist city squares against a backdrop of towering snow-capped mountain ranges, avant-garde art and club scene, and horse meat and nomadic food washed down with light lagers.
KUWAIT Dry and deserted
The least-visited country in the Middle East and deservingly so. Not much to do or see here other than some clichéd ‘monuments’, the place has not capitalised on the desert landscape like its neighbours have. Also, there’s absolutely no kind of alcohol allowed. However, the excellent regional food more than makes up for all this.
LAOS A Love story by Mekong
The lovely little gem of Indo-China offers you everything you can expect from a tropical Asian paradise. A meandering river, lush jungles, mist-draped mountains, pretty paddy fields and prettier temples.
LEBANON A scarred soldier of the Mediterranean
Decadently delicious sweets, ridiculously good food, stunningly intact roman ruins, and, of course, a hopping nightlife. A drop of France in a portion of Arabia.
MALAYSIA A heady blend in Asia
Vibrant Kuala Lumpur, cities like Penang, tropical rainforests, adorable orangutans, miles and miles of coastline, islands like Langkawi and Perhentian, British colonial architecture, fine balance of Malay heritage, Chinatown and Little India, ornate mosques, Indian temples, Catholic churches, and, of course, the wonderful food.
MALDIVES Serenity in the Indian Ocean
In this nation made of atolls, island-hopping is a must. You need a boat to even get to your hotel from the airport. Exploring the Islamic town of Malé with its white coralmosques, lounging with a beer and a book, jumping into the fluorescent blue waters and enjoying hot spicy curries with rice.
MONGOLIA Precious and prehistoric
A Place that will take you back in time to the land of the nomads and the mighty Genghis Khan. Steppes, rivers and huge, intact dinosaur fossils. A country that is still recouping from the Communist influence.
MYANMAR Unlike any other in Asia
The golden monasteries of Yangon, the other-worldly site of Bagan with its hundreds of stupas and Buddha statues, the spiritual soul of Mandalay Bay and food influenced by India, China and Thailand.
NEPAL The durbar of the Himalaya
Flying through an array of 8,000-metre peaks, people-watching in Durbar Square, devouring scrumptious thalis of bhojan (and don’t forget the momos), partying in the bar street of Thamel, and sleeping in the historic Hotel Yak & Yeti.
NORTH KOREA A non-reality show in the hermit kingdom
They don’t have what you have, you don’t feel what they feel. Travelling here is like going through an entertainment show, with the difference that on this stage you get to see real people and settings with no props.
OMAN Raw luxury in the gulf
Bedazzling grand mosques, historic souks and the charming corniche of Muscat, forts and palaces of sultans, the beaches of Salalah, cuisine influenced by a variety of immigrants and settlers, desert oases and über-fancy resorts.
PAKISTAN Different, but same-same
Marvellous Mughal architecture, decadent food streets, British colonial heritage, semi-hidden bars, colourful bazaars, magnificent masjids, and an electrifying ceremony at the border with a country that they are not very different from.
PHILIPPINES Spanish seduction in Asia
A strong dose of Spanish heritage, centuries-old cathedrals, magical lakes, volcanoes, beaches and islands. This nation could easily fit in Central America.
QATAR Gulf with a punch
Sand-boarding down the dunes, long walks around the waterfront-based Corniche Bay, dropping into desert forts, shopping in artsy souks, and gorging on biryani.
SAUDI ARABIA The forbidden kingdom
One of the most difficult places to get in as a non-Muslim foreigner, it is filled with displays of oil money and richness. While Riyadh is the uptight elder brother, Jeddah is its relaxed sister who lets her hair down. Nonetheless, the intriguing and daunting nation is worth a visit just for the legendary Mada’in Saleh—Saudi’s Answer to Petra.
SINGAPORE Fine-tuned toy city
Fine-tuned toy city Quayside bars and restaurant, rooftop lounges, perfectly preserved colonial heritage monuments, rivers running through the flawlessly planned city, and a Unesco- Heritage-label-worthy hawker centre dishing out authentic regional food.
SOUTH KOREA Tales of ales in Asia
Shopping for eclectic fashion, drinking craft beer, palace-hopping around town, praying in Buddhist temples, and, of course, the mandu dumplings.
SRI LANKA An island that packs a punch
Palm-fringed beaches, hill stations, vintage towns, national parks throbbing with wildlife, and flavoursome local cuisine. A perfect blend of monasteries and temples and resilient but welcoming locals.
SYRIA An ancient beauty steeped in history
Home to the oldest capital in the world, glorious Roman ruins, killer shawarmas, mouth-watering mezze, sinful nightlife, and clubbing in a bar built out of a 2,000-year-old ancient building. All this in a place that rubs shoulders with a testing neighbour.
TAJIKISTAN The queen of the -stans
Majestic mountains, gorges, roaring rivers and dazzling lakes.
THAILAND Temples and tolerance
There is more to the nation than beaches, adult nightlife, party streets and ping-pong bars. Historic ruins in the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, hipster haunts of Chiang Mai, jungle retreats of Kanchanaburi, Wat-hopping around Bangkok, chilled-out cruising on the Chao Phraya and street food to die for.
TURKMENISTAN The wannabe Dubai
Quirky statues and grandiose monuments, staged city tours like in North Korea, strong display of an authoritarian government, and a Turkish feel.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Luxury under the desert sun
Dune bashing in the sands, clubbing in Dubai’s super clubs, chilling in Abu Dhabi’s lounges, tasting the best of regional and Asian cuisine and catching a gulf-style sundowner from a rooftop bar.
UZBEKISTAN The crown jewel
Otherworldly Islamic architecture, holy cities, Soviet architecture, high-speed Sharq trains, rich and delicious cuisine, a unique flavour of religion influenced by various rulers of the past, and the land where ‘The Great Game’ spies and explorers once ventured.
VIETNAM More than what meets the eye
Pretty pagodas, rice fields, atmospheric old towns, pulsating cities with a touch of France, the perfect dose of communist governance, beaches, and an addictive banh mi and Bia hoi culture.
YEMEN Beauty beyond the pain
Scenic coastal highways that make the Big Sur in California pale in comparison, bewitching beaches that are as gorgeous as the ones in the Caribbean, carpeted cliffs that are as magical as the ones in French Polynesia or Faroe Islands, villages in the mountains as pretty as the French towns you get to see during the Tour de France, and food that can compete with Lebanese cuisine.
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