By Mary Jeneverre Schultz | Follow her on Twitter: @Jeneverre
Exquisite locations, adventuresome cuisines, quintessential attractions steeped in traditions and far-flung destinations conjure images of Asia such as isolated coastlines, untouched and unpopulated beaches, and pristine, tantalizing green and blue oceans.
Local Colorado residents consider many of the Asian countries for its exotic locale and life changing experience while others dream of these types of trips as a chance to experience family roots in revisiting history.
“In Asia, everything is different. Most of the time, you have to figure out how to communicate with them without words. On top of the language, the culture is completely different and you have to learn how to communicate with their culture as well as their language,” said Boulder resident Alexia Ingerson, who traveled with Evergreen, Colo.-based Youth International last fall to Thailand, India and Vietnam.
Increase in Asian visits
For whatever reason, more travelers are visiting Asia like never before. International arrivals into Asia and Pacific destinations grew by a collective seven percent year-on-year during the first two months of 2012, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association, a membership association acting as a catalyst for the responsible development of the Asia Pacific travel and tourism industry.
Since China’s Olympic appearance in 2008, more visitors are enchanted with the images broadcasted on television from this international sporting event. And the allure shows in the numbers. Ranking third, China reported 55.7 million visitors with Malaysia at the ninth spot, posting 24.6 million visitors, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), an organization that collects data on international tourist arrivals for every country globally.
China indicated the biggest jump, passing Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom to reach third on the list. Another Asian country, Malaysia, is a surprising entry in the top ten most popular countries to visit.
International travel publication, Travel + Leisure Magazine predicts 78 million Chinese are expected to travel abroad, spending upwards of $80 billion in 2012.
Fans of Asian travels believe more visitors are checking out this continent because of stronger infrastructure such as public transportation. Others believe luxury service is undisputed in Asia, compared with other countries.
It’s no doubt the food in Asia covers a diverse range of palettes, and you find more opportunities to try different variety of food, from the infamous balut of the Philippines to the comforting noodles of Pho, widely found in Vietnam, Thailand and China. Other delights include the diverse culture and religions varying from place to place, they make the tourist attractions in Asia become more interesting.
“Visitors enjoy Asia because these countries display strong faith in Buddhism, differences in culture, livelihood, long history and the long list of world heritage sites in these countries,” said Phouvong Misay of All Asia Travel, a one-stop travel center, specializing in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
Marty Seslow, vice president and marketing and sales of Pennsylvania-based Gate 1 Travel attributes the rise of China tours to enrichment and enlightenment. “More travelers are trying to fulfill their bucket lists of multi destinations such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam, he said.
Considered the fourth largest country in the world, China can be an overwhelming place to visit. Famous sights include the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City in Beijing, Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, the Hanging Monastery Mount Hengshan, Shanxi Province and the Leshan Buddha, the world’s largest Buddha in the world.
Most tour operators recommend travelers to use the skills and expertise of tourist providers specializing in China. “A tour provider will be able to you access the best sites and you take advantage of group discounts,” says Angela Steele, China country director for Walking Tree Travel, a Denver-based group specializing in student tours for high school students.
With kaleidoscopic festivals, varied cultural activities, and breathtaking scenery such as towering skyscrapers including the famous Petronas Twin Towers, lush rainforests, and grand Buddhist temples, Malaysia is gaining popularity as a top Asian vacation destination. Things to do in Malaysia range from sipping drinks at a tropical island resort or partying all night in hip Kuala Lumpur to exploring the oldest rainforest in the world.
Not interested in attractions? Foodies around the world brag about the cuisines from Malaysia, starting in the hawker stands to five-star, world-renowned restaurants. The cuisines of Malaysia blends the culture of Malaysia, China and India, all rolled in to the food with the spices and flavors from all these countries.
From the world largest fish market to the extreme shopping adventures of Tokyo, Japan is a fast-paced country with tons of must-see attractions. The beat of Japan begins in Tokyo in trends, music, and jet-setting lifestyles. Sushi, temples and World War II sites are part of popular tourist packages.
In May, the Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest communications tower, opened with observation decks that offer amazing views of the metropolitan. Twice the height of the Eiffel Tower, it stands 2,080 feet tall (only Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is taller at 2,716 feet).
Don’t forget to include the renowned Mount Fuji, an almost, perfectly shaped volcanic cone, is situated on Honshu Island. This mountain, almost covered in snow for most of the year, is captured through photographs, art works and classic Japanese poetry.
From the grandeur of the Taj Mahal to the bustling city streets of Delhi, India and its four unique regions is a magical destination for every type of traveler. Travelers planning a trip to India have many options to choose from. The Himalayas offer panoramic vistas and adventure, while the capital city of Delhi provides visitors with a glimpse at ancient Moghul monuments in the midst of modern mega-malls.
Youth International, based in Evergreen, Colo., pushes their student travelers to the extremes. The tour group travels through three different countries in three months. For example, a recent trip included Thailand, India and Nepal. “(The students) have tremendous life experiences, which are life altering,” said Brad Gillings, director of Youth International. “It’s extreme.”
Gillings, who favors India for its many layers of cultures in the country, described the rigors of the program. Student travelers could be squashed beyond boundaries in sold-out trains through India or crawling through a mud hut or even digesting food never seen in the U.S.
“I think they spend a day or three on their backs wishing they never heard about the program,” Gillings said. “It is a deep exploration of where they are stretching beyond their personal comfort zone.”
True romantics won’t want to miss the Taj Mahal in Agra, which was completed in 1648 by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his beloved wife. The places to visit in India are endless, and visitors may want to return over and over again until they have seen them all.
With 50 years of colonial rule from the United States, English is a must-learned spoken language among the natives throughout the more than 4,000 island nation. Filipinos are eager to practice their language and will show its famous hospitality by catering to the tourists and visitors. From the resorts of Boracay to the 2,000-year-old Banaue Rice Terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao, by ancestors of the indigenous people, the country offers a “wow” experience to new and veteran tourists. Other notable sites include visiting cities such as Vigan, Cebu, and Baquio.
Forget those crazy sex palaces. Films such as Hangover II did not do Thailand any justice showing the seamy and seedy side of the capital. Every country has its ghettos, barrios and hoods. This country is luring tourists through tranquil and breathtaking beaches. With amazing shopping opportunities in chaotic Bangkok, endless adventure in Chiang Mai and its environs, and both party beaches and secluded islands along the Andaman Sea, travelers could spend years in the country without experiencing everything. In the bustling city of Bangkok, more than 400 Buddhist temples can be found within the thoroughly modern metropolis.
Other travelers take an adventurous approach. Denver residents Londell Jackson and John Schmahl, who planned this once-in-a-lifetime Asian trip to Thailand, embarked on an elephant safari back in 2010 as part of their adventures. The hypnotizing safari adventure was a life-changing experience for both Denver residents.
Tour companies believe Thailand is high on most people’s bucket list for its established and high-class resorts. “Asia, particularly southeast Asia, is a very cheap tourist destination where you get lots of holiday for little money at good service,” said Captain Christoph Frey, pilot and airline owner of Island Hopping Flight Service with a Dornier in the Philippines for the last six years.
Made up of one main island and 63 surrounding islets, Singapore has mastered the fusion of East and West, so visitors from around the world will be able to find both the familiar and the exotic. One of the most popular Singapore attractions, the Merlion statue, combines the head of a lion with the body of a fish as the perfect representation of the city’s past as a quaint fishing village and its present as a powerful center of commerce and industry.
Other notable places – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, located in the southeastern part of Asia, showcases its beatific landscapes in amazing sceneries from the bluest sea water to the majestic mountainous terrains. In between the countries are regrettable symbols of war.
The country is just opening its borders to Westernized tourists. War site such as the Cu Chi Tunnels are popular, Disneyesque types of attractions with AK47 rifles cracking in the background to animated murals on how the American soldiers were vicious machines of war to the Vietnamese people. A vacation to Southeast Asia is a bargain hunter’s paradise, once you get past the airfare prices. Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, also known among the locals as Saigon, can provide travelers with worldwide cuisine, tailor-made shopping deals, and bustling nightlife, all on the cheap.
The pristine vastness of this country showcases the splendors of the Mekong River, made famous in legendary war movies such as Platoon. Buddhist temples are sprinkled throughout the country side. In addition, war sites from the American conflict with Vietnam and Secret War of the 1960s are honored in plaques or monuments near the borders of both countries.
Tourists opt to visit the temples of Angkor, near Siem Reap, a highly visited area for its age and its place in history. Considered a UNSECO site, the amazing temples were built at a time when technology was at its simplest form. The temples became movie backdrops for action-packed films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
If you don’t mind paying the steep prices of $800 to $1,200 for a round-trip airfare to an Asian country, visiting any location within this vast continent filled with fabled archipelagos, island countries and ribbons of rolling mountains becomes an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime fulfilled and enriched dream.
After Boulder resident Alexia Ingerson completed her Asian travels to India, Thailand and Vietnam, she advised the first-time traveler to prepare your mind. “You need to be willing to change and make sure you have the patience to commit to the experience,” she said.
Finding the best Asia has to offer often means finding the best the world has to offer to a trepid, adventuresome traveler. It also means experiencing something distinctively Asian in thoroughly unexpected but surprising ways.
Mary Jeneverre Schultz is plotting out her multi-destination Asian trip despite her husband’s protests of heeding to the family budget.
1. Stay at a homestay with a local family. Experience and access local culture through complete immersion.
2. Ask the locals about the nearby festivals.
3. Adjust for climate change. Many visitors collapse because of subtropical conditions, so consider jet lag and hot weather conditions.
4. Sleeveless dresses and blouses are inappropriate for visiting temples. Avoid wearing short, mini-skirts, too.
5. Don’t be afraid to try out the street foods – it’s one of the freshest entrees.
6. Always negotiate prices for travel, whether it is a cab, jeepney, rickshaw, or tuk tuk, before the journey not after it ends – you’ll get the best prices.
ASIAN TRAVEL CONTACTS
Planning a trip to Asia? Don’t know where to start? Check out these companies.
1. All Asia Travel
42/4 Ban, Nongkham Luang Prabang
2. Asia Transpacific Journeys
2995 Center Green Court
Boulder, CO 80301
3. Sustainable Travel International
835 SW William Drive
White Salmon, WA 98672
4. Gate 1 Travel
455 Maryland Drive
Fort Washington, PA 19034
5. Walking Tree
PO Box 18636
6. Youth International
30679 Suncreek Drive, Unit L
Evergreen, CO 80439