My friends were the first ones to have caught the travel bug. They have convinced me that hiking through the Amazon is a good way to spend my weekend than reading a good book on my couch. I didn’t really believe I’d be out there as I was a typical home body. However, my first trip in Egypt opened the possibility of exploring not only different places, but different culture. In the past years, I fell in love with Asia. I never realized that their culture is so different from my own.
Photo by jjcb via Flickr
After visiting Egypt, a friend took me to Singapore to fill out for our friend who was unable to join the trip. It was a very different experience indeed. Singapore, though very small in land area, is a true melting pot of culture. Chinese, Malay, and Indian culture are strongly felt everywhere, especially in food influences. Don’t forget to try Chilli Crab whenever you’re in Singapore. This humble seafood sure packs a punch. It is also very interesting to see the influence of Colonial British in the country. Structures, such as the Old Admiralty House along the Old Nelson Road, will take any tourist into the old era of the British invasion. Everything, from the curb appeal of their traditional awnings and verandas to the still well kept gardens, boasts English culture. It provides a nice contrast to the traditional Eastern culture in Singapore. Also, visit Orchard Road for high-end brands. Better yet, go to Sungei Road Thieves’ Market for anything retro and quirky.
Photo by Armando Torrealba via Flickr
From the hustle and bustle of the West, it is nice to visit a place where one can be close to nature. Although, the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak Region is very much developed and a haven for party-goers, it is better to head to the other direction and stay in Ubud. Known by the locals to be mostly farms and celebrated for its arts and crafts, it is a perfect place to stretch my weary body and listen to nature’s chatter. It can be quite warm in the area and because of this the watermelon juice in Sari Organik became my instant favourite. There are also gelato selections in Gaya Gelato to survive the hotter parts of the day. What I love about Ubud is the freedom to roam around in nature. The rice paddies are a nice break from the din of the economic centre in the area. There’s also a jungle just a walking-distance away. Monkey Forest is also enjoyable, but monkeys can be aggressive especially if you have food with you.
Photo by Carlos Donderis via Flickr
The main purpose of my visits in Tokyo is good food. I am fond of Japanese food and if you are too, there’s no place better than Tokyo, where you can taste most food offered by different regions in Japan. Forget the sushi bars in New York, Tokyo is full with sushi restaurants from the typical small kiosks to the high-end places. I usually have friends in tow when travelling and we always head to an Izakaya for a good time. This traditional pub is a perfect place to try sake and bond with friends. Of course, Tokyo is also a shopping Mecca. Shibuya is a perfect place to shop for clothes not normally found back in the UK. Take note though, the sizes are very different in Japan.
Photo by Visit Abu Dhabi via Flickr
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi is an intersection of the conservative middle-eastern culture and the liberated ways of the west. Abu Dhabi shares its progressive attitude with the neighbouring Dubai but with a more relaxed feel. I stayed at the Royal Hotel, one of the mid-range amenities in the city, during a business trip. The retro design and bold colours sure lend a very different energy for visitors. Surprisingly, I found a mangrove marsh right within the area. The protected mangroves of Abu Dhabi are open to visitors for kayaking. Its narrow channels and splendid lagoons are very much refreshing. I was also lucky to have been included in a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It houses the largest carpet in the world! The 24-carat gold plated Swarovski crystal chandeliers are enough to inspire awe. Also, no one should miss the Muhammad Rose Tea in Central Market.
Photo by Riccardo Romano via Flickr
My friends, for some reason, are very wary in visiting India. What we usually see in the West, such as overpopulation and poverty in the capital, is a very small part of India’s beauty. After a quick stay in Mumbai, my friends and I went straight to Varanasi. Our hotel, the Nadesar Palace is an old heritage house with charming gardens. We were warned about the heat, but I welcomed it like an old friend. We discovered Sarnath through a local befriended in Mumbai. I enjoyed the quiet, gently rolling deer park which is very accessible from the hotel. Sarnath is where the Buddha was born and the first seat of Buddhism. We also loved Bhangarh, outside Amanbagh. This ancient town near Jaipur is mesmerizing and spiritually inspiring. I suggest hiring a local tour guide to maximize your stay in Varanasi. We also discovered that Varanasi hides palaces. Man Mandir, located right along the Ganges, is a perfect place to view the area. Visitors are allowed to climb to the roof where an excellent panorama awaits. It is also a perfect place to take pictures.
Photo by Just One Way Ticket via Flickr
Apart from its famous turquoise water and emerald rice fields, I was bewildered with the vibrant, fun-loving and eclectic group of people in the Philippines. Despite of the increasing trends of high-rise buildings and condominiums in the Philippine central area, indeed, it is the land of hospitable locals and the land of Asia’s pristine islands. That time, I travelled alone but never in my full stay there that I felt unaccompanied. People I met were extremely welcoming, curious and respectful. I first visited the queen of all beaches, the White Sand Beach of Boracay. I stayed for 2 days in Boracay. The sandy beaches and crystal clear water, told me that I was in the right country. Not to cite their prosperous Filipino food. Every dish is worth trying and has the taste of Asia’s best cuisines. My personal favourite is Adobo, a dish of chicken cooked with vinegar and soy sauce. One Filipino chef (I can barely remember his name) even taught me how to cook and prepare their special adobo. Another thing I found very amusing with the Filipino troops and culture is their jeepney. It’s a public transportation vehicle that was outlined from U.S military jeeps back in the WW2. The Filipinos gave it a colourful designs, decorative ornaments, flashy paintings and lights. I’ve never seen anything like Filipino jeepneys before. I enjoyed hopping from different marvellous places riding the jeepney. I haven’t explored much of the country’s best places and until now, I have been longing to visit the Philippines again.
Asia is a world treasure waiting to be explored. I am looking forward to my future adventures in Asia. Perhaps, I should visit Mongolia?