When you’re in your early 20s, Asia is top of the travel list for the student loan-laden backpackers. The hostels are cheap, the food is cheap, and the parties come easy. But what might pass you by in your carefree early years are crucial parts of a foreign destination. While you’re enamoured with backpacking life, the culture and true essence of a place can easily pass you by. This is why returning to the Orient with a few more years under your belt, and a few more bills in your purse, will allow you to explore one of the most wondrous continents on earth.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Born again after a checkered past, Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia, has exploded as a tourist destination in recent years. With a colourful history dating back a thousand years and a heartwarming culture ready to help you see the best of their country, there’s so much to love in Vietnam. From its palm-tree studded beaches, to the luminous greens of the terraced rice paddies in the countryside, to the bustling metropolises of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (also known as its former name, the exotic Saigon), the intrepid traveler can experience a different landscape on any given day.
Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
If the bright lights and city life is more what you’re looking for, Tokyo is probably calling your name. From the flashing neons of Shinjuku, the thronging masses in Shibuya and the eclectic streets of Harajuku, the perfect balance between ancient tradition and modernity of this Japanese behemoth is one that has kept tourists returning for decades. Check out the urban sprawl from the top of the Sky Tree, take in tradition at Meiji Shrine, or rise before the crack of dawn to sample the freshest seafood to ever delight your palate at Tsukiji Fish Market. Palaces and temples await further afield in Kyoto and Osaka for those wanting to extend their stay.
A short hop across the ocean lies Hong Kong, a city becoming less of a destination for movers and shakers in the career game, and a more inviting location for travelers to feel the ebb and flow of urban life. Take in the skyscraper-studded skyline from a ferry, observe the city from the top of Victoria Peak, or pay a visit to the Big Buddha.
Nanjing Road, Shanghai
And if more big city life, shopping, and concrete jungle exploration is on the agenda, Shanghai should be next on your list. Less traffic-clogged, and not as smoggy as older brother Beijing, Shanghai offers an insight into urban life in the global powerhouse. A stroll along the Bund will reward you with incredible views, while a trip to the tranquil Yu Garden will help you find your zen in a city that seems to never turn off. Exploring the back alleys for some of the most amazing Chinese food you’ve ever tasted – which will leave you wondering just where the New Zealand food courts source their menus from – is an utter highlight of visiting any Chinese city, and Shanghai is well renown for its food. Besides, if you leave without trying Xiaolongbao, shengjianbao, red-braised The City Jewelspork, or hairy crab, have you even been to Shanghai?
Speaking of food, if, like us, eating out is imperative to a travel destination, Asia invites you to enjoy a culinary journey like no other. You’ll never be able to order from your local takeaway again after sampling real Pad Thai, Vietnamese Pho, fresh sashimi and Peking Duck. With such an impressive fishing industry across most of the countries, you’re unlikely to find fresher seafood anywhere on your journeys either.
It’s hard to pin down just a few destinations across a continent that boasts so many cities brimming with deep-seated cultural traditions, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. There’s still so much more to see; Phnom Phenh, Singapore and Vientiane are gateways to their respective countries, just waiting to be explored. Our only advice would be to take it one trip at a time, cause we know you’re going to be coming back for more!
After all, Asia offers so much more than a Full Moon Party or two.