Tourist information for visitors to Asia
Hong Kong - Hong Kong's dynamism is unforgettable. From the vantage point of Victoria Peak, overlooking the world's busiest deepwater port, you can see a city geared not only to making money but feeling good about it. At night, it's like looking down into a volcano. Despite its British colonial past, Hong Kong has always stuck to its roots and the culture beneath the glitz is pure Chinese. That didn't stop locals from feeling apprehensive about being re-united with the motherland when the British handed the colony back to China in 1997, but their unease has largely evaporated. Visitors often find it takes a few days in Hong Kong to get accustomed to the whirlwind pace. If you need some respite, check out the Outlying Islands for a change of tempo and scene.
Indonesia - The islands of the Indonesian archipelago stretch almost 5000km (3100mi) from the Asian mainland into the Pacific Ocean. Richly endowed with natural resources and hosting a phenomenal array of distinct cultures, the floating emerald islands of the Indonesian archipelago have, for centuries, been a magnet to Chinese and Indian traders, European colonisers, proselytising missionaries, wayward adventurers, mining companies, intrepid travellers and package tourists.
They have all been attracted by its sandalwood and spices breezes, its Bali Hai lifestyle and its magnificent beaches, mountains and volcanoes.
Japan - Birthplace of the Shinkansen or "Bullet Train", Japan is one of the world's great railway countries, though you shouldn't automatically assume that the train is always the best way to get around the country. Although tunnels and bridges now link all four of the main islands, to reach hundreds of others you have no choice but to board a ferry or a plane. The length of the country also makes flying - say, from Tokyo to Sapporo in the north or Kagoshima in the south - well worth considering, especially since the difference in cost with the fastest trains is negligible. It's also worth considering flying into one airport and home from another. The time of year is an important factor to consider when arranging your transport around Japan. Peak travelling seasons are a few days either side of New Year, the Golden Week holidays of late April and early May, and the mid-August Obon holidays . During these times the whole of Japan can seem on the move, with trains, planes and ferries packed to the gills and roads clogged with traffic. If you want to be assured of a seat, book well in advance and be prepared to pay higher fares on flights, as all discounts are suspended during peak periods.
Malaysia - Malaysia is one of the most pleasant, hassle-free countries to visit in South-East Asia. Several decades of sustained economic growth and political stability have made it one of the most buoyant and wealthy countries in the region, and although political power (Malay) and economic clout (Chinese) are still traditionally divided along racial lines, Malaysia has moved towards a pluralist culture based on a vibrant and interesting fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures and customs. Most visitors to Malaysia stick to the Peninsula, where the insane headlong rush of Kuala Lumpur is offset by the colonially soothing Cameron Highlands Hill Station or the hedonistic torpor of Langkawi. Far fewer make it to Sarawak or Sabah, on the island of East Malaysia, with their spectacular wildlife, longhouses and the awe-inspiring Mt Kinabalu.
Singapore - Singapore may have traded in its rough-and-ready opium dens and pearl luggers for towers of concrete and glass, and its steamy rickshaw image for hi-tech wizardry, but you can still recapture the colonial era with a gin sling under the languorous ceiling fans at Raffles Hotel. It is this carefully stage-managed combination of Western modernity and treasured Eastern and colonial past that makes Singapore such an accessible slice of Asia.
Lying almost on the equator, Singapore is a thriving city-state that has overcome its dearth of natural resources to become one of the juggernaut economies of Asia. In the crowded streets of Chinatown, fortune tellers, calligraphers and temple worshippers are still a part of everyday life. In Little India, you can buy the best sari material, freshly ground spices or a picture of your favourite Hindu god. In the small shops of Arab St, the cry of the imam can be heard from the nearby Sultan Mosque.
Sri Lanka - Marco Polo considered Sri Lanka the finest island of its size in all the world, and you'll likely agree after exploring the country's fabled delights. What takes your fancy? Beaches? The coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy expanses as far as the eye can see. Culture? Try the Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Ruins? You'll find enough ancient and inspiring architecture in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to satisfy that inner archaeologist, we promise. And then there's the natural wealth for which Sri Lanka is rightly renowned. Head for the hill country to escape the heat of the plains, where the coast fades away to reveal gorgeous rolling hills often carpeted with tea plantations. The entire island is teeming with bird life and exotics like elephants and leopards are not uncommon. To top it all off, the people are friendly, the food is delicious and costs are low.
Thailand - There is more visible historical evidence of past eras in Thailand than in any other South-East Asian country, so if you're interested in ruins, temples and deserted cities, this is the place to go. For pure holiday-making magic, Thailand's islands and beaches are working definitions of heaven. And as for urban delights, the huge metropolis of Bangkok, although it can alarm with its chaos and its scale, tends to so charm visitors with its energy and cultural treasures that the steamy soupy diesel mixture that passes for air in this city is more than forgiven. Thailand is an easy country to travel in, with efficient transport, cheap accommodation and a delicious national cuisine. The Thais are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality to strangers. Although they're often depicted as fun-loving, happy-go-lucky folk (which they often are), they are also very strong-minded and have struggled for centuries to preserve their spirit of independence.
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The boundaries of Asia are rather vague, but it is roughly the land east of Europe, and north and east of Africa. The border of Europe and Asia is especially vague, as much of Eastern Europe could be considered Western Asia, and vice versa. Asia also includes the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Although parts of the Middle East lie in Asia, it is significant enough that it has its own exclusive section here. More than half of the world's population, nearly 60% in fact, live in Asia. Some of the more well recognized travel destinations in Asia are China, Japan, Thailand, India, and Indonesia. Asia has much to offer, and if you include all the countries, you can find almost everything. The mountains in and around Nepal, beaches and cheap island living in southeast Asia, or one of many other areas and cultures that exist there.