Asia Travel Guide
The Asian continent is the largest continent, from the deserts of Arabia to the steppes of Siberia, from the Near East to the cherry trees of Japan. It is also the most populous continent, with around half of the world’s population. Our Asia travel guide book can help you, if you want to travel or tour the Asian region.
Asia receives a large number of travelers, both for tourism and for business. Many of the world’s most visited cities are in Asia, including Bangkok, Mumbai, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Macau, Mecca, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, and Tokyo.
Asia is the birthplace of eleven major religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism, Jainism, and the Bahá’í Faith, not to mention countless other tribal religions. It’s also home to the world’s fastest growing cities, a wide range of exotic cuisines, the world’s highest mountain ranges and some of the world’s oldest cultures.
Highlights of Asia
Wonders of the past
The wonders of the past and sacred places are countless: the Great Wall of China and the temples of Angkor, of course, but also lesser-known treasures in Myanmar and Afghanistan. But confining Asia to its past would be a mistake.
An incredible effervescence emanates from the big cities: in terms of fashion, culture and commerce, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and many other metropolises easily rival the major European and American centers.
Sublime coasts, snow-capped peaks, majestic Mekong or jungle populated by abundant wildlife: the Asian landscapes will enchant you at first glance. In an environment where tigers continue to roam freely (far from noisy tourists, however), the laws of nature still govern the lives of many inhabitants. And how to skip the food!
Freshness and flavors of Asian cuisine
The freshness and flavors of Asian cuisine are famous around the world, and discovering them on the spot is a most enticing prospect. Faced with such a wide range of specialties, the only solution is to let yourself be carried away by chance and prepare your taste buds for a breathtaking culinary epic.
Asia Travel Guide by Regions
Caucasus (Abkhazia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia)
The Caucasus is a mountainous range connecting Europe and the Middle East, with a living heritage from ancient times.
Central Asia (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan)
The center of the Silk Road, these countries offer spectacular landscapes from deserts to mountains and true adventure in the footsteps of Marco Polo, with many ancient mosques as well as Soviet architecture.
East Asia (China (mainland), Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan)
The perfect dichotomy of old versus new, the biggest of mega-cities at the front-end of technological development combines with well-preserved temples and sites of the ancient cultures and philosophies still present in everyday society. The vast, open plains of rural China and Mongolia offer something quite different.
Middle East (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen)
Home of one of the oldest civilizations in the world’s history, as well as where the three Abrahamic religions originate, it is now one of the fastest growing regions of the world with increasing development and a rich heritage.
Asian Russia (Urals, Siberia, Russian Far East)
Northern Asia belongs to Russia. While the region is traditionally known as Siberia, this is also the name of a federal region forming the inner part of Asian Russia. This is a vast and sparsely populated region stretching from the Arctic to the Central Asian deserts.
South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka)
The breathtaking roof of the world that is the Himalayas in the north, tropical, humid waterways in the south, and some lively, chaotic cities and many ancient, historical sites to be found in between. There is much religious diversity here.
Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam)
Hot and humid, Buddhist monasteries, tropical beaches, a bustling streetlife as well as numerous churches and mosques, Southeast Asia offer relaxed getaways from the rowdy, bustling cities popular with backpackers.
Famous big cities in Asia
- Bangkok: Thailand’s ever-vibrant capital, with temples, nightlife and markets
- Dubai: the most modern emirate of the UAE that has experienced strong economic development
- Hong Kong: a world-class metropolis that offers a unique blend of Chinese and British culture
- Jerusalem: the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City; this city is sacred to jews, christians, muslims and followers of the bahai’i
- Mumbai: the main city of India, known for the “Bollywood” film industry
- Beijing: capital of China with Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
- Seoul: beautiful palaces, good food and good nightlife, Seoul is a hectic city, showcasing the old and the new Asia
- Singapore: modern and prosperous city-state with an interesting mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influences
- Tokyo: the largest city in the world offers high-tech neighborhoods with images of the future alongside some remnants of ancient Japan
Other destinations and most visited in Asia
- Angkor (Cambodia): one of the largest temple complexes in the world with beautiful remains of the capitals of the Khmer Empire
- Bagan (Myanmar): thousands of pagodas on the banks of the Irrawaddy
- Bali (Indonesia): the Island of the Gods with a unique Hindu culture, beautiful beaches and vast rice fields
- Borobudur, Indonesia: a beautiful Buddhist temple, often combined with a visit to the Hindu temple Prambanan
- Ha Long Bay (Vietnam): boat trips on the bay with chalk cliffs and stalactite caves
- Band-e Amir National Park (Afghanistan): beautiful turquoise lakes in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush
- Petra, Jordan: he ruins of the Nabataean capital, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World
- Phuket (Thailand): Thailand’s largest island with tropical beaches surrounded by the rock formations of Phang Nga Bay
- Tibet (China): a unique Buddhist culture in the Tibetan Plateau
Where to go in Asia!
Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, China, India, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, whatever destination you choose for a trip to Asia, you will discover grandiose landscapes, incredible cultural riches and very different habits and customs. in Western Europe.
So, which country to choose according to the season? How long should you plan for your trip? How much does living there cost? What precautions should be taken before leaving for an Asian country?
I bring you all the advice to organize your trip to Asia as calmly as possible.
Which Asian country to choose depending on the time of year?
In the months of April and May, in the middle of spring, you have to choose Asian countries that are not already suffering from the heat, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines or Japan.
From May, we recommend that you avoid going to Asia.
Indeed, in summer, many Asian regions experience the monsoon period causing heavy rains, strong winds and often even typhoons and cyclones. In addition, the heat is suffocating there, accentuated by a high level of humidity.
Winter, from December to February and March, is the ideal time to discover Asia. The sun is largely present and the temperatures very bearable. This is the perfect time to organize a trip to China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Burma or Vietnam.
Be careful, however, if you choose Nepal, Laos or northern China, which can have freezing temperatures, especially at night.
How many days for a trip to an Asian country?
Asia is a huge continent with more or less large countries. It is a question of adapting your trip according to the destination visited. But here are some guidelines that will help you target the duration of your trip.
For example, to visit India and travel the whole country, I advise you to plan at least 1 month and if possible even three weeks. You will then be able to discover all the riches of the country quietly and immerse yourself in Indian culture.
For a trip to Sri Lanka, a period of 15 days will suffice for an itinerary that will take you from Colombo to Galle passing the Dambulla.
Finally, to visit Japan, plan a minimum of two weeks which will allow you to visit the main unmissable places of the country without having to spend all your time in transport.
How to choose your destination in Asia?
To select the place you want to visit in Asia, you must consider the nature of your trip and the people who accompany you.
For a road trip in Asia, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka or Vietnam are the preferred destinations which are also great classics for traveling as a family with children.
If you want to combine your trip to Asia with the pleasures of the ocean and swimming, some destinations are more appropriate such as Thailand, Bali, Vietnam or the Philippines with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The cost of living there must also be taken into consideration to enter into your budget. Indeed, the duration of a trip to Asia is often around two weeks or more, it is wise to plan for accommodation, food and transport costs.
Apart from Japan, which has a cost of living similar to that of France, the prices of services and products in other Asian countries are on average 50% lower than in France, with an exception for India, nearly 75% cheaper than in France.
Malaria, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, rabies, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, as many diseases as you are likely to encounter, especially in Asian countries where hygiene is poor.
It is therefore essential to refer to your doctor to take your vaccination precautions before leaving and to respect traditional hygiene gestures once there.
Asia is a vast and diverse continent with countless destinations and experiences waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or embarking on your first adventure, Asia offers something for everyone. Here are some bucket list ideas and places to visit:
Kabul is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan.
Since the terrorist attacks perpetrated in the United States on September 11, 2001, Afghanistan has found itself at the center of the news. Already in March 2001, the destruction by the Taliban of two giant Buddhas sculpted in the cliff had been an opportunity to recall the tragic destiny of this country. More than twenty years of wars and intolerance, not to mention cold or hunger, have reduced Afghanistan to the most extreme misery. Its treasures have been destroyed, looted or slowly degraded. It is therefore no longer a question of tourism today, but of understanding a little the history of this region currently in full chaos, which was for millennia a crossroads of civilizations.
From top to bottom, from left to right: view of a district of Kabul with a mountain of the Hindu Kush, Abdul Rahman mosque, bank of the Kabul river, Bagh-e Babur, Abdul Haq Square. Wq639, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Dhaka is the capital and largest city in Bangladesh.
Let yourself be tempted by this catchphrase from the Bangladesh tourist office: this country boasts a rich past and is surprisingly pleasant and varied. Far from being usually considered a tourist destination, this Southeast Asian country immediately brings to mind cyclones and floods and few people imagine its natural and cultural heritage: archaeological sites dating back more than 2,000 years, immense beaches, the largest mangrove in the world, historic residences that belonged to 19th century maharajas…
Don’t be fooled by statistics: despite having the highest population density in the world, Bangladesh has peaceful rural areas, where you will be welcomed with open arms. Moreover, it is not uncommon for customs officers to offer a cup of tea to travelers from India. The infrastructure is certainly limited, but lovers of independent travel will be delighted.
Top to bottom, left to right: View of Gulshan area, Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, Ahsan Manzil Palace, Lalbagh Fort, Shah Jalal International Airport, University building. Comeonduckling, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The capital and largest city is Thimphu.
Once upon a time there was a small kingdom lost on the edge of the Himalayas, dancing between the clouds and the giant rhododendrons. Kneaded by the benevolent hand of the Buddha and the imperious influence of greater Tibet, Drukyul, the “land of the dragon”, nevertheless affirms its own voice (path), in the shadow of the theocracy which reigned for a long time without sharing on these mountainous lands. He even defends tooth and nail his way of life, made famous by the paradigm of Gross Inner Happiness.
Nestled between the high peaks of Tibet, “throne of the gods”, and the tropical plains of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, Bhutan is the jewel of the Himalayas, a rare pearl. Singularity of the culture, purity of the air swept by the flowery breezes, authenticity of a preserved region where the traditional habitat, the costumes, the centuries-old ways of life, the religious fervor remain so alive… a trip to Bhutan is always an exceptional journey, off the beaten track. Our offer of Bhutan guided tours, in groups or individually, invites you to participate in celebrations and festivals enhanced with color by masked dances. A memorable, fascinating experience.
Anxious to protect itself from the outside world, Bhutan only legalized tourism in 1974 and television in the year 2000. In the process, the internet landed, opening a window on the planet and its escapades. Bhutan resists, but changes. Already, the cities have grown a lot. Snoop Dogg took the ears of the youth by storm and 80,000 Bhutanese gave in to the sirens of Facebook.
View of Paro Taktsang, is the most famous of the Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan. It clings to a cliff 3,120 meters (10 236 ft) above sea level, about 700 meters (2296 ft) above the Paro Valley. The monastery complex was inaugurated in 1692 and includes the Taktsang Senge Samdup Cave, where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. Padmasambhava, also called the Guru with Eight Names and holding the honorary title of Rinpoche, brought Buddhism to Bhutan. The monastery is dedicated to him. Gerd Eichmann, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In the countryside, behind the massive walls of the dzong (monasteries), reached by contorting roads, eternal Bhutan remains, lulled by chants. You have to explore the many valleys that once formed so many kingdoms, then set off on a trek to discover otherwise inaccessible villages. There, between the welcome glass of macaw and the herds of yaks, the journey through time begins.
The paradox of Cambodia is to be mediatized through what it has given the most grandiose, Angkor, and the worst, the Khmer Rouge.
From now on, calm reigns over all the territory of Cambodia and the improvement of the infrastructures allows everyone to seek this country beyond the only and fabulous Angkor. It’s time to get drunk on the very current magic of the Khmer countryside.
Villages and villages of Cambodia dot the supremely authentic landscapes and devilishly generating atmospheres. The regular expanses planted with rows of coconut palms and sugar palms that mark the carpet of rice fields as far as the eye can see, dominated in the distance by a few incongruous and lonely hills, exert an unspeakable hypnotic power.
Many travelers then fall in love with Cambodia and its endearing people with contagious smiles. If you go there for Angkor, we guarantee you, you will come back conquered by the Cambodians and their country!
Since its economic opening began in 1992, it has finally become accessible to travelers and backpackers. To go to China, a simple visa is enough.
A trip to China often begins with a stay in Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. You have to walk for long hours in the avenues invaded by cars and bicycles to measure the speed of the changes currently at work in this country. From Yunnan to Jiangsu, the wind of technical progress is also blowing in the countryside.
Fortunately, in Pingyao, in Dali or in other small cities of the interior, one would still believe oneself in old prints.
Here is a country of 1.4 billion citizens which, while being regularly denounced for human rights violations, wants to integrate into the global economy, but does it not risk selling its soul too quickly? to hell?
Not easy to discover in 3 weeks a vast country like 17 times France. There are unmissable historical and artistic treasures to be seen at all costs, despite the enormous distances. To the north and in Beijing, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, museums and temples. In the center of the country, the buried army of Xi’an. Not far from the sea, Shanghai, a city symbol of the new Chinese capitalism. Finally, it is another China, refined, secret and poetic, which hides in the gardens of Suzhou or on the banks of the Li River, in the South, near Guilin or even along the rice fields and tea plantations of Yunnan.
Five fingers peak. Quartzite sandstone Huangshizhai Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Hunan, China. Wulingyuan is a scenic and historical site in the Wulingyuan District of South Central China’s Hunan Province. The sandstone pillars of Wulingyuan extend hundreds of meters over the valley floor. It is noted for more than 3,000 quartzite sandstone pillars and peaks across most of the site, many over 200 metres (660 ft) in height, along with many ravines and gorges with picturesque streams, pools, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. chensiyuan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Shrouded in mystery, North Korea spontaneously evokes a latent nuclear threat, cities with deserted streets and gigantic monuments to the glory of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder. The latter, who died in 1994, remains its “eternal” president. His son, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, is considered by the people as a kind of living god although he has rarely spoken in public and not much is known about him. Welcome to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the strangest tourist destination in the world!
While many are unaware that it is possible to visit North Korea, tourism is developing in the most isolated and totalitarian state there is. Until a few years ago, visa applications were filtered by the authorities and North Koreans hardly dared to look a foreigner in the eye. Although the country is still a repressive police state, the rules have relaxed a bit and the more sociable locals are chatting and practicing their English on the streets. However, traveling to North Korea from South Korea remains impossible, and access to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is from China or Russia.
However, your trip will take place according to government rules, without any independence: you will be accompanied at all times by two official guides and you will only hear one side of the story.
Since the 1980s, we have witnessed the rapid development of the “country of the Morning Calm”. What a long way since the Korean War (1950-53): in a few decades, South Korea has gone from a Third World country to a highly industrialized country. An economic miracle.
This Far Eastern country has been able to develop contacts with the West, and has emerged as a tourist destination.
In Seoul, you will try to escape the traffic jams to find refuge in the royal palaces preserved among lush greenery and romantic ponds. In addition, the capital of South Korea has a traditional shopping street in Insadong and two interesting markets: that of Dongdaemun (Tongdaemun) and the large Namdaemun near the old South Gate. South Korea also has several national parks, including the Seorak Mountains park, which allows the inhabitants of bustling Seoul to recharge their batteries for a weekend. Finally, stays in Buddhist monasteries called “temple stay” have been set up by the tourist authorities: if the conditions of comfort are minimal, authenticity is at the rendezvous.
The rest of the stay in South Korea can be spent in Busan (Pusan), the country’s first port. This maritime city is very lively and a visit to its fish market is a must. In the south, we will discover the temple of Haeinsa, where a copy of the Buddhist scriptures is kept in birch boards. Finally Gyeongju (Kyongju), capital of Silla (Shilla), the first unified kingdom of Korea, has preserved from its past grandeur the imposing tombs of its sovereigns buried under gigantic tumuli (a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves).
Seoul at night from 63 building, Old Seoul Station at night, Namsan Tower, Subway Seoul, Sungnyemun (one of the Eight Gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul), Korean War Memorial, Insoo peak, Seoul at night, N Seoul Tower. Bettyreategui, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
India is a country like no other, which promises you a journey to unknown spaces. India stirs, India shakes. A first trip to Gandhi’s country is literally disorienting. We lose our codes, our landmarks.
What grace in the smiles, what elegance in the movements of a sari, in the winding of a turban, what naturalness in the spirituality, what majesty in its architecture and what fervor in its prayers!
The harshness of life, we renounce it from the street. Beauty too. It is this permanent duality that is disconcerting. The mixture of opposites. India, the largest democracy in the world, accepts its contradictions. It is an energy lesson.
Nothing is easy there. It has officially (and legally) gotten rid of castes, but it continues to enforce segregation in social and cultural practices. Freedom of expression is complete, but corruption devours the administration and the police. Religious tolerance is the rule, but extremists are on the prowl. Gender equality is enshrined in law, but the situation of rural women is often deplorable.
We come to India for the temples, the archaeological sites and the splendors of the Himalayas, but we will remember the magic of the encounters, the colors, the moments of grace offered by an affable and curious population.
Indonesia is a mosaic of peoples and ethnic groups where Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and animists rub shoulders. Everyone lives at their own pace, from the most traditional to the most frenetic.
Indonesia is also a multitude of islands, scattered in the middle of the Indian Ocean with capricious waters.
Nature is not left out: in the impenetrable jungles of Sumatra always evolve tigers, elephants, snakes or orangutans. In Java, the volcanic mountains compete with extraordinary landscapes. Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi are exceptional islands, which fiercely protect themselves from foreign cultures.
As you will have understood, Indonesia, this island with lush vegetation is fascinating. Generous and multicultural, Indonesia invites the traveler to a change of scenery… and it is successful.
An Islamic theocratic republic since the 1979 Revolution which put the regime of the mullahs (theologians) in power, Iran has long remained closed to visitors but is gradually opening up. The apparent relaxation of the regime since President Rouhani came to power has led to a thaw in the country’s relations with the West, as well as a slight recovery in tourism. The human rights situation remains dramatic.
The heritage, culture and architecture of Iran, a key country on the Silk Road, never cease to inspire dreams. Sprawling Tehran, the Alborz mountains or the island of Kish, the playground of golden youth, the remains of the ancient city of Persepolis, the peaceful shores of the Caspian Sea, or the picturesque villages of the desert… Iran offers many faces, many paradoxes and an often unrecognized diversity.
Its people too: the silhouettes of women in chadors stand out against the blue mosaics of the mosques, while the slicked-back youngsters tap away on their smartphones near the shopping centers of the big cities. Elsewhere, time seems suspended in the mountain villages, where we live to the rhythm of the harvest.
If the country seems to be opening up somewhat, you must however remain vigilant as to what to do, limit yourself to the most “touristy” circuits and avoid border areas. Indeed, Iran adjoins, among others, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey, and the geopolitical instability of the region is not necessarily conducive to a serene adventure trip. But no problem if you stay in a classic circuit and that you respect some of the basic rules of the country. Iranians are very kind people and are happy to see tourists. You will often be asked where you are from (say “Faranzia” while rolling the R) and your impressions of the country. In the street or on the sites, you will be entitled to many smiles accompanied by “salam”. You will also be asked to pose in the family photo with ease.
Too far, too expensive, too inaccessible: for a long time, Japan was likened to a kind of planet Mars, and yet it is a fascinating star. With an exchange rate that has become more favorable to Westerners, the Japanese archipelago is now more accessible.
Megacities first: Tokyo, the largest city in the world, an electric, hectic, sparkling urban universe. Kyoto, the former imperial capital, city of arts and geishas, tea and ikebana. Osaka, the creative, and Hiroshima, which, beyond its tragedy, brings through art and hospitality the best of humanity. Nara, the artistic and religious cradle, but also Nikko perched high in its mountain setting, Kamakura by the sea, Hakone the gateway to Mount Fuji, a majestic symbol of Japan, to be seen in spring when the cherry trees are in bloom.
For new technology addicts, Japan meets all expectations. Nature lovers will not be disappointed either. The interior, natural, secret, almost wild and still preserved from modernity, is offered to them. Discovery to be completed with a headlong dive (so to speak!) in the thermal springs, the famous onsen? It’s a great experience to let every bit of fatigue and stress slip away in the natural (and sulphurous) hot water of an open-air onsen at night under the stars. A great moment that says a lot about the Japanese way of life.
Traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun also means discovering Japanese cuisine, which is delicious, refined and aesthetic. We gradually tame this unknown universe, where tradition is combined with modernity, where serenity and respect rub shoulders with animation and agitation, where order and cleanliness are essential…
From this trip to Japan, we come back undeniably enriched by contact with another civilization and another way of living, thinking and acting. A country whose perfume does not exist in Europe.
A kingdom if there ever was one of the steppes and nomads, Kazakhstan has succeeded in the audacious gamble of returning to its culture and traditions after the fall of the USSR while opening its economy to Western countries, attracted from the start of the 1990s by the fabulous gas and oil reserves of this immense country: the 9th in the world by surface area. Kazakhstan is the only country in Central Asia to have taken up the challenge.
The former capital, Almaty, has become the “cultural capital” of Kazakhstan while Astana, renamed Nour-Sultan in 2019, a new city erected with petrodollars in the north of the country, mobilizing the greatest architects in the world, is become the “economic and political” capital. Today Kazakhstan is a major player on the regional scene and a first-rate economic partner for many European countries, particularly France, to which it supplies gas, oil and above all uranium.
It remains to boost tourism, an important objective classified in the priorities of the government, since it supposes the improvement or the creation of roads, communications, the hotel network, linguistic courses at the university… So many axes of major developments that will help the country to fit even better into the international community.
On the traveller’s side, why go to Kazakhstan? Probably nowhere else will you be so close to the testimonies of the Cold War: star race in Baikonur, nuclear arms race in Semipalatinsk, environmental disaster in the Aral Sea, Karaganda gulag… Each step is a dive in history.
And for the rest, which country can offer you nearly 3 million km² of steppe off the beaten track to discover nomadic cultures and traditions? The main asset of Kazakhstan is not necessarily hidden in its basement: it is in the field of possibilities offered by the immensity of its landscapes!
Kyrgyzstan populated by semi-nomads who rediscovered an ancestral way of life after independence in 1991, traces its path between the Chinese and Kazakh giants, under the still strong influence of Russia.
Kyrgyzstan has opened its borders to tourism. Ease of entry, abolition of visas for some sixty countries, including France, and ease of movement differentiate Kyrgyzstan from neighboring countries. With the help of Swiss NGOs, a network of local “tourist offices” and bed and breakfasts came into being, while the lines of treks over 4,000 m which today attract athletes from all over the world.
The main feature of Kyrgyzstan is this: the Pamir and Tian Shan mountains cover more than three quarters of the country, half of the area of which is over 3,000 meters high, with 7 000 meters as prestigious as Khan Tengri, Lenin Peak or Podeby (or Podeba) Peak.
In the hollow of the mountains, a vanished ocean has left numerous lakes, including Issyk Kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. There are many lakes of more modest size, which can be reached on horseback to live at the rhythm of the nomads.
The second dimension of the trip to Kyrgyzstan is indeed that of man’s finest conquest: the horse, inseparable from nomadic life. Small, solid and gruff, it punctuates the great events of life at each festivity such as during the ulak-tartych, the equivalent of Afghan buzkachi.
More than the discovery of a country, it is that of a unique way of life that awaits you in Kyrgyzstan.
Laos is a country of water, fertile plains, landscapes sometimes mountainous, sometimes karstic, but also temples, witnesses of past splendour. Without forgetting small touches that recall the French presence, such as the smell of baguettes coming out of bakeries or the clash of boules on the pétanque courts. The opportunity to measure up to often excellent players and to get to know a population that is mostly discreet.
Laos, a former “kingdom of a million elephants”, now one of the poorest on the planet, is looking for a way to both preserve its identity and consolidate its economic development. . Not always easy when you are surrounded by neighbors as dynamic as they are invasive.
Malaysia is a multi-faceted country, politically, religiously, humanly and geographically. She draws a mosaic which, apart from the Orang Asli aborigines, settled there since the dawn of humanity, reveals the origins of the colonists of yesteryear (Portuguese, Dutch, English) and of a workforce from all of the East.
As a result, if Islam is the state religion, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism are widely represented. A plural Malaysia, in the continuity of its own history. It is enough to survey the old merchant cities of Georgetown and Malacca to touch all its diversity.
Malaysia is also not lacking in contrasts geographically: the primary forest (one of the oldest on our planet) still covers part of the country and the beauty of the seabed of the islands on the east coast is unmatched. equal to their fragility. Because if Malaysia is full of treasures, its biggest challenge is to manage to reconcile economic growth and protection of its immense natural resources.
Famous for their beaches and their seabed, the Maldives appear as a destination where “everything is only dream and voluptuousness”. Malé is the capital and the most populated city, traditionally called the “King’s Island” where the ancient royal dynasties ruled for its central location.
The decor corresponds to all the clichés of a tropical paradise: the turquoise lagoon, with crystal clear and warm waters, populated by thousands of multicolored fish, the immaculate beach which borders each island with its corolla of sand, coral dust.
But those who imagine living there like Robinson on a desert island in the shade of palm trees may be disappointed. Since the opening of the first two resorts in 1972, Maldivians have taken up tourism. Today, a hundred islands, converted into resorts, welcome nearly 800,000 holidaymakers. The first structures of the holiday village type gave way to luxury hotel complexes.
The opening to tourism, in 1998, of other atolls (especially in the north and south) provided access to authentic and almost virgin islands. In 2004, the State, owner of all the islands, put 11 of them up for auction to develop tourism in the most remote atolls.
Beyond this idyllic setting, you should know that the rising waters due to global warming threaten the archipelago in the long term.
In addition, the Maldives reinstated the death penalty in 2014, including for children from the age of 7. Many voices, including ours, have been raised to call for a boycott of the archipelago. In 2017, the authorities introduced a moratorium on the application of the death penalty.
Mongolia, at the eastern end of the Central Asian steppes, far from any sea, is a haven of steppes and forests, remote mountains and arid plains. You travel there for whole days without meeting a living soul.
Traveling on horseback or in a Jeep over the immense distances of this high plateau, one can see antelopes, wolves, horses roaming free, yaks, camels, lakes by the hundreds, isolated villages, welcoming camps of yurts, the Siberian taiga and the Gobi desert.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city, is home to roughly half of the country’s population.
As an introduction to this land of pastures and deep forests, let’s see Urga by Mikhailkov again, reread Dersou Ouzala by Vladimir Arseniev, learn about the history of nomadic invasions by leafing through L’Empire des steppes by René Grousset, and dream with Homeric’s The Mongol Wolf. Because if Mongolia is so beautiful, it is thanks to its inhabitants. The Mongolian natural and cultural heritage is rich and preserved.
Nearly 30 years after the implosion of the USSR and its planned economic system, Mongolia is gradually raising its head and somehow finding its place in the capitalist world order. But the country still suffers badly from the lack of infrastructure and its budget is mainly supported by foreign subsidies. Admittedly, poverty is great and enormous social progress remains to be made, but the new freedom of the Mongols and their impressive adaptability help this essentially rural country to develop and to highlight its wealth and its particularities. The “country of blue skies” has become a democratic nation, the discovery of which must be done with deep respect for the habits and customs of its inhabitants. In Mongolia as elsewhere, the traveler must endeavor to leave as few traces of his passage as possible.
View on UlaanBaatar. Brücke-Osteuropa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Surrounded by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, Myanmar occupies an original geographical and cultural position on the map of Southeast Asia. The country’s capital city is Naypyidaw, and its largest city is Yangon (Rangoon).
The proximity of these countries influenced him over the centuries. From India once came Buddhism, a spiritual linchpin, often considered the most Buddhist nation in Asia. Myanmar is unlike any other. It is the economic influence of China which now seems to preside over its future.
Bagan is an ancient city and the first kingdom that unified the regions that now constitute the country of Myanmar. From the 9th to 13th centuries, over 10000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains. Old Bagan, Pagan, Mandalay, Myanmar. © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Very inward-looking until the 1990s, Myanmar gradually opened up to the world, welcoming tourists and foreign investment according to the vagaries of politics. It was not until 2010 that the military junta (a government led by a committee of military leaders. The term junta means “meeting” or “committee” and originated in the national and local junta organized by the Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808) became more flexible and that the population discovered the right to express themselves freely with foreign televisions, mobile phones, the Internet and social networks. Without forgetting the explosion of the car fleet and the arrival of hitherto unknown consumer goods… worse for the future of the country.
Surprisingly, despite the turpitudes of history, the vicissitudes of the economy, and the harshness of the military dictatorship, Burma has lost none of its natural beauty.
Because Myanmar also has exceptional sites such as Bagan, the lakeside villages of Inle Lake, the royal cities around Mandalay, the sublime Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, the magnificent region of Hpa-An, the beaches of the South lined with coconut palms… And many more marvels!
For centuries, Nepal remained like a closed book. It is however in this small country of legends, landlocked between 2 giants (China and India), a mythical crossroads on the road of salt and silk, that the Buddha was born and that the last living goddesses of the planet, the Kumari. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and the largest city.
Kingdom until recently, where daily life is still made up of stories of kings, queens and princesses, deities who turn into animals, snakes who turn into gods, giants, demons and witches. Nepal is also the crossbreeding of two religions, the violent beauty of Hinduism tempered by the wisdom of Buddhism.
And then, if you first come to Nepal for the fantastic possibilities of trekking in the mythical Himalayan range, which culminates at 8,850 m with Mount Everest, or more modestly hiking at the foot of some of the peaks the most majestic in the world. Without neglecting the southern part of the country, you can rub shoulders with elephants and observe crocodiles, rhinos, and even, if His Majesty allows it, the Bengal tiger.
Even if Nepal was hard hit by the 2015 earthquakes, the heritage of the Kathmandu Valley is very present, proudly erecting the multiple roofs of its remarkable temples ever higher towards the sky. While some are still being restored, most are standing and awaiting your visit. Because here the welcome is not an element of language for a brochure on glossy paper. It is a reality experienced by each visitor, at all times and everywhere.
Kathmandu: President’s building, Garden of Dreams, Birendra International Convention Centre (an international state of the art convention center in Nepal), House of Parliament, Durbar Square (Basantapur Durbar Kshetra) is located in front of the old royal palace of the former Kathmandu Kingdom and is one of three Durbar (royal palace) Squares in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Various, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Uzbekistan, in the heart of Central Asia, is a unique country. Crossroads of civilizations with the traces of the great empires: from that of Alexander the Great to that of the tsars, passing through those of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Crossroads of lifestyles, between nomadic tribes and some of the oldest sedentary cities in the world. Crossroads of religions, at the crossroads of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim influences, without ever having been really erased certain traditions left by shamanism or Mazdaism. Finally, a cultural crossroads, which can be discovered all along the mythical Silk Road which linked China to the West before the advent of the great maritime routes.
In 1924, the city of Samarkand became the capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan, and remained so until 1930, when Tashkent was again designated the capital of Uzbekistan.
From each of these faces, Uzbekistan has preserved a heritage, through the way of life of its population and some of the most prestigious monuments in the Muslim world, even as a new society appeared, made up of a mosaic of peoples , languages, traditions, fruit of the confrontation between communism and Islam.
Nearly 20 years after independence, Uzbekistan is taking full advantage of the tourist assets bequeathed by Stalin’s arbitrary cutting of borders in the 1920s and 1930s. The three legendary cities of Uzbekistan, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, drain each year tens of thousands of tourists eager to walk in the footsteps of Marco Polo and discover historical monuments illustrating ten centuries of Muslim architecture. A financial windfall which comes at the right time in a country in the throes of immense economic difficulties, and which is trying to get out of the system imposed by the Soviets for decades.
Islamabad is the nation’s capital, while Karachi is its largest city and financial centre.
Pakistan conveys an image of insecurity throughout the world by making people talk about it through its conflicts. However, security has improved considerably in recent years. Rich in a multi-millennial history, the “Land of the Pure” has a lot to offer travelers who wish to venture there, between the sublime landscapes perfect for hiking, the exceptional historical and religious heritage and the enthusiastic welcome of its inhabitants. Exotic cuisine, fine sandy beaches, majestic mountains, lakes, green valleys, the majestic and mythical Indus River and monuments from the Mughal era, discover this fascinating country!
Top left: House of the Prime Minister of Pakistan in Islamabad. Top right: Parliament of Pakistan. Bottom left: Night view of Islamabad from Margalla Hills. Bottom right: Pakistan Memorial Monument in Islamabad. Samar, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pakistan is currently a tourist destination to avoid absolutely, given the political context. The fact remains that, under normal conditions, it is a country that has a lot to offer the traveler: superb landscapes, a very rich history where Buddhism and Hinduism have their source, very ancient Islamic culture, unforgettable hiking spots.
Before the Iranian revolution, the war in Afghanistan and the Iran/Iraq conflict, when it was still possible to cross Asia by land, Pakistan often evoked nothing more than the last obstacle before reaching the ‘India.
Today, it remains a destination that is still poorly known, which most of the time associates it with the images sent back by the media: martial law, violence, drugs and firearms. However, Pakistan has a lot to offer travelers: some of the most magnificent landscapes in Asia, extraordinary hikes, rich and varied cultures and the warmest of welcomes. Cradle of an ancient civilization rivaling those of Egypt and Mesopotamia, Pakistan was also the crucible of two of the most important religions in the world: Hinduism and Buddhism.
Manila is the country’s capital, while the largest city is Quezon City; both lie within the urban area of Metro Manila.
Natural and ethnic wealth and multiple cultural influences give the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, a strength of character unique in Southeast Asia.
It emanates from the limestone reliefs covered with primitive forest, underground rivers, animal sanctuaries and superb diving spots on the island of Palawan, the white sand beaches of Boracay and Malapascua, the geological and animal curiosities of Bohol, the healers of Siquijor , peaceful explorations of the Camotes, a trek on Mount Apo in the middle of a unique collection of orchids in the world; the list would be long…
Pre-Hispanic ethnic traditions survive here and there, especially in the Cordillera on the island of Luzon, where the UNESCO-listed Ifugao rice terraces are one of the country’s main attractions.
Three centuries of Spanish domination followed by 50 years of American protection – “300 years in the convent, 50 in Hollywood” as the Filipinos mischievously put it – have generated a strong Western mix in this outlying part of Southeast Asia, origin inhabited by so-called “Austronesian” peoples (cousins of those from Indonesia, Malaysia etc.), joined by a Chinese diaspora.
Center of collective life in all the agglomerations of the country, the baroque churches are the privileged witnesses of these particularities. They patronize fiestas whose popular contours reveal their Asian kinship, except that the “Spanish” saints have replaced the Buddhas, bodhisattvas or various protective deities during the processions…
An island, a state, a city: Singapore, almost the size of New York, orderly and clean like a little Switzerland in Southeast Asia. Particularly dynamic, it pursues an all-out expansion policy, eager to save time and stay at the forefront of modernity, but without denying its past.
The restored old neighborhoods house artists’ studios and small restaurants for gourmets, while the new constructions compete in audacity and gigantism.
Skyline of Boat Quay in Singapore. The cluster of skyscrapers in the right half of the photograph constitutes the Central Business District of Singapore, and include the following buildings: UOB Plaza, OUB Centre, Supreme Court, City Hall.
The buildings on the left half of the image include:
Marina Bay Sands, Esplanade. chenisyuan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Renowned for welcoming both the jet-set and the business community, wealthy Singapore also invests in culture… to make the greatest museums green with envy.
At the same time, Singapore’s multiculturalism and its religious tolerance, its modernity and its desire to influence Asia contrast with the nature of a regime that is firm to say the least.
Singapore is indeed known for its many prohibitions and more or less serious sanctions. The opposition gains ground (sometimes an election) and reveals the side of a less well-off and often ignored society. A complex, unique and exciting city.
The Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is its legislative capital, and Colombo is its largest city and financial centre.
At the evocation of Sri Lanka, this remote island of the spice route formerly known as Ceylon, images arise: shades of green rice fields and spice gardens, rolling foam along the beaches lined with coconut trees, green tea plantations undulating on the mountainside, mysterious ancient cities engulfed by the jungle, fervent crowds in the temples of Sri Lanka, hieratic serenity of the statues of the reclining Buddha, hilarious antics of the monkeys…
Add cinnamon, precious stones, rare woods, vestiges of the British Empire, elephants, tropical humidity and the freshness of mountainous areas, not to mention the frescoes of the seductive young ladies of Sigiriya… and it is immediately the Sinhalese enchantment which emerges from its magic box…
Admittedly, the terrible images of the civil war and then those of the 2004 tsunami do not disappear overnight. But for Sri Lankans and travelers alike, the page has been turned. An air of renewal is blowing all over the island until you reach the Jaffna peninsula, with its exotic Tamil culture.
With these priceless testimonies of past splendor now freed from their vegetable envelope, the Sri Lankan phoenix is reborn from its ashes. The Sri Lankans are smiling again and they welcome visitors from all over the world with incredible warmth.
Its capital and largest city is Dushanbe. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. It is separated narrowly from Pakistan by Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.
Straddling Central Asia and China, largely covered by mountains, half of which exceed 3,000 meters, Tajikistan, the smallest and poorest of the former Soviet socialist republics in Central Asia, has for some years a timid breakthrough in the world of tourism.
Long handicapped by the civil war that set its territory ablaze and the war that raged in neighboring Afghanistan, it is today a new field of discovery for lovers of virgin landscapes, original treks, or long trips to bike.
Tajikistan offers two faces. In its western part, we are very close to Uzbekistan: the country is accessible and easy between Dushanbe, the Fan mountains and the Khodjent corridor. There, you will go to the middle mountains, hike around high altitude lakes or stroll through the ruins of the bazaars of Pendjikent, the “Pompeii of Central Asia”.
The east of Tajikistan is wilder: the splendid M41 road, the ancient silk road, better known as the “Pamir road”, attracts all lovers of infinite spaces, dazzling nature and solitary performances .
Isolation is the key word of this destination. The villages, nestled at the bottom of the valleys in the shade of the high peaks of the Pamir, often remain cut off from the world for 10 months of the year. They see with happiness the travelers arriving in the first days of spring. In this part of the country, whatever you do, you will always be off the beaten track. A bit like everywhere else, basically, in this land of discovery and authenticity.
The capital, Taipei, forms along with New Taipei City and Keelung the largest metropolitan area of Taiwan. Other major cities include Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung.
Spearheading the Asian dragon revolution, Taiwan is associated in the collective imagination with its electronic chips, its latest generation computers, its flat screens and its state-of-the-art computer equipment. There is indeed a high-tech Taiwan today in tune with the multimedia revolution…
Yet this rebellious island, in open confrontation with China, offers a completely different face. Behind the image of Taipei, its modern and cosmopolitan capital symbolized by the unshakeable tower 101, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, hides a wild island where nature is still intact.
This country is 70% covered in vegetation, crossed by the highest mountain range in Northeast Asia, with the exception of Tibet, Taiwan has nearly 1,500 km of very contrasting coastline, with cliffs in the Northeast. and sandy beaches in the South. Portuguese sailors, who discovered this island in the China Sea in 1590, nicknamed it “the island of Formosa” (“formosa” meaning “beautiful”).
The west of the island, along the coastal plain between Taipei and Kaohsiung, is the most urbanized and populated part of Taiwan. With its high-speed train, the Taiwan High Speed Train (Taiwanese version of the high speed train) and its ultra-developed cities, the west coast remains the most modern.
Change of scenery on the east coast, wilder and more traditional. With its steep cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean, its white and black Taroko marble gorges, its small fishing villages and its mountains culminating at more than 3,000 meters above sea level, the east coast still has some great surprises in store.
Frequented mainly by businessmen, Taiwan is gradually opening up to tourism.
There are several Thailands. First of all, Bangkok, hyperactive megalopolis and urban monster where one gets lost with pleasure. Then the South, its islands, its beaches and its rocks springing from the sea, its spicier cuisine, its slightly different mentality and its Muslim influences. Finally, the North, deep, original Thailand with its ancient founding kingdoms, its relaxed rhythm of life, its Buddhist temples, its fertile land, its mountains and its forests… Three Thailands, therefore, physically and culturally different.
However, from one end of Thailand to the other, national qualities are found: a strong identity, Siam having never been colonized and having developed its own arts, culture and even alphabet; a keen sense of social conventions and politeness, also a great deal of modesty, calm and dignity; a strong religiosity and a quasi-veneration for the royal family, chosen by God (openly criticizing the king is punishable by prison!); finally, a lot of humor, and a healthy appetite – Epicurean Thais, always ready to party, eat well and drink well.
Unfortunately, the influx of tourists and commercialism have been able to distort the friendliness of Thai people in places, and have harmful consequences: degraded coastal strips, transformation of privileged sites into tourist ghettos, overpopulated islands, etc.
But never mind, Muang Thai (etymologically, “the country of free men”) remains one of the last countries in the world to bring together so many quality ingredients to succeed in the recipe for the ideal holiday: wooden bungalows on sleepy beaches, vast rice fields and jungle-covered hills, perennial traditions, ancestral tribes, refined and varied cuisine at (still) often ridiculous prices.
Tibet has fascinated for centuries. Its remoteness and inaccessibility have fueled the Western imagination.
In addition to religious architecture (Potala, Jokhang, Tashilumpo), Tibet offers the emptiness of its spaces: exceptional beauty of the high plateaus, power of the mountains, light of the altitudes. We discover there the warmth of a people rooted in tradition and imbued with an unequaled religious fervor, fighting half-heartedly against the false Chinese brother.
Because impossible to evoke Tibet and its inhabitants without speaking about the tragedies which torment them. Since the invasion of China in 1950, the 14th Dalai Lama has preferred exile to humiliation.
Since then, Central Tibet has been renamed the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and incorporated into the People’s Republic of China. The other historically Tibetan regions in the east and northeast, already governed by the Chinese, are attached to the provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan.
At the end of the 1970s, there were only a dozen temples and monasteries left of the 5,000 that existed in Tibet before the annexation. Since 1981, more than a hundred monasteries have been rebuilt and restored, often on the initiative of the people.
The Dalai Lama encouraged travelers to travel to Tibet, which, paradoxically, has never been so accessible. Tibet offers the traveler enough to satisfy his desire for elsewhere: wide open spaces that are interesting to explore on foot, by mountain bike or on horseback, and where encounters with the last great transhumant herders are so many unforgettable moments, not to mention the monasteries and their processions of Buddhist monks.
Turkmenistan is the most closed of the five Central Asian countries. It is as difficult for travelers to enter as it is for locals to live there!
In the furnace of a desert that covers four-fifths of the country, most of life is concentrated in the capital, Ashgabat, a subtle architectural blend of the megalomania of a dictator and the opportunism of Bouygues.
The cult of Saparmurat Niyazov, the late first president of independent Turkmenistan, is religiously cultivated there, alongside that of his successor, Gurbanguly Berdimoukhamedov, who, after a few formal promises, firmly followed in the footsteps of the “father of the Turkmens” and his very personal vision of the management of a country.
Suffice to say that tourists can be counted on the fingers of one hand, especially since the visa is not so easily obtained. Good plan: ask for a simple 5-day transit visa, which is easier to obtain. This is what most travelers do who, between Iran and Uzbekistan, quickly set off to discover the architectural treasures of Turkmenistan.
Because that is why Turkmenistan deserves a detour: the jewels that are the ruins of Kunya Urgentch, Merv, Nicaea are unique in the world by their richness and their extent. With a little more time, you can embark on the discovery of other geological treasures such as mazes of endless caves, underground lakes, flaming craters in the middle of the desert or even embark on the trail of the dinosaurs, which have left hundreds of traces of their passage in the east of the country. A discovery that will inevitably be punctuated by warm encounters with the Turkmens, heirs to nomadic traditions and all the more hospitable as, closed off from the rest of the world, they are eager for news from abroad!
So many good reasons to visit this country far, far away, off the beaten track!
Ruined and devastated by 30 years of fighting for reunification (1975), Vietnam seemed abandoned to the darkness of history. The closed oyster of the 1980s suddenly opened up to the outside world in 1994, pushed by the lifting of the embargo. It is a country that has come a long way. He was able to rise from his ashes, like the legendary Phoenix. Its capital is Hanoi and largest city Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam is a splendid country whose geographical silhouette draws the shape of a dragon, a symbol of strength and benefits in the Far East. There, all is rice fields drowned under the sun, bamboo hedges and conical hats, images of an eternal Asia, miraculously preserved, vibrant and authentic.
From Hạ Long Bay to the Mekong Delta, from Hanoi, the capital with its preserved colonial architecture, to Hồ Chí Minh City, the great city of the South, it is an exciting discovery.
If you are looking for clichés and ease, Vietnam is not for you. However, everything is currently changing very quickly, in a kind of impatience, even imprudence, in wanting to make up for lost time. Despite dazzling economic growth, Vietnam has not sold its soul to the devils of progress.
Is Vietnam at the dawn of a new destiny? Better than that, he’s already immersed in it.
With so many incredible destinations and experiences, Asia is a bucket list destination for travelers from all over the world. From the iconic landmarks to the hidden gems, there’s always something new to discover in this vast and fascinating continent.