Travel Advice: Asia
Given the occasionally volatile nature of Asian politics, it is worth keeping an eye on this before you go:
Before you go
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office website offers welcome travel advice on a country-by-country basis. Given the occasionally volatile nature of Asian politics, it is worth keeping an eye on this before you go:
While general comments can be made, it is important to understand in detail the individual countries or regions you hope to visit. The internet is ideal for this kind of research.
Once again the FCO website has updated, detailed, reliable information.
Other general websites with detailed information about travel in Asia include:
The quality and availability of transport varies hugely – from the ultra-efficient trains of Japan to the tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw) of Thailand to the Sherpa porters of Nepal and all in between. Independent travellers will find themselves assessing their options, taking cost, comfort and safety into account. Those travelling on organised tours will usually find themselves moving about in comparative luxury.
As Asian cuisines have become ever more common and popular in the West, so they have adapted themselves to our particular tastes. The authentic food to be found in Asia will taste slightly different to the chicken curries and Chinese take-aways on offer on every British high street. The way food is presented and sold (particularly the live produce available in street markets) will also be surprising to some first-time visitors.
Learning a few words and phrases in the local language (or languages) is a simple way to make friends. English is not spoken everywhere or by everyone – though it sometimes feels that way. Unless you go a long way off the usual tourist trail, someone should speak English eventually. (Ironically, perhaps, Japan is one country with relatively few English-speakers, though most people are patient and helpful).
Whether you are in a Muslim country (such as Indonesia or Pakistan), a Buddhist one (Thailand, Cambodia) or in another culture with set patterns of behaviour (Japan, for example) there will be customs and traditions that all visitors should follow. Dress code, alcohol and sexual behaviour are the most obvious (and sensitive) examples. The cultures of Taiwan are a hybrid blend of Confucianist Han Chinese cultures, Japanese, European, American, global, local and indigenous influences which are both interlocked and divided between perceptions of tradition and modernity.
No visitor to Cambodia should ignore or not be aware of the country’s recent bloody history, but today the government and local people are happy to welcome tourists (and their dollars). The temples of Angkor Wat are where package tourists and backpackers (who also enjoy the quiet beaches) mingle, and are the single best reason for visiting this part of the world.
Still not an easy country to get to or get around, but rewards the persistent traveller with the full panoply of tourist’s delights. Occasionally the reaction of local people, especially when you get off the beaten track, can be less than friendly.
The era of the package holiday has arrived in India: modern Goa is a destination for hippies and families alike. But then India has seen it all before, and one of the joys of travelling there is the wealth of history displayed through myriad cultures. The mid-summer heat can be unbearable even for locals: best avoided if you are heading straight from the UK.
A country of this size (17,000 islands and 200 million people) cannot be described in this space or visited in one go. Bali remains the jewel in the crown, despite the terrible bombing in October 2002.
Less expensive than you might think, provided you are thoughtful about how you flash the cash, time spent in Japan is a window into another world. At turns thrilling and serene, the people are always friendly and patient when language becomes a problem.
Tourist numbers have fallen dramatically following the royal massacre of 2001 and the ongoing Maoist insurgency. As long as the FCO says it is advisable to visit, however, this is a country so steeped in beauty that words alone cannot describe it.
Some are attracted by the sex industry, others repulsed by it, but there is much more to the country. Not least, every backpacker in the world ends up here. Increasingly, package holidays are being introduced too. It’s cheap and it’s cheerful and justifiably popular.