There’s never been a better time to see Asia. Hot off the hype of the 2008 Olympics, Asian countries are causing quite a commotion on the world map – the whole continent seems to be stirring with excitement and bursting with energy. Considering a visit? Wondering how to get the most delight for your dollar? Here’s the ultimate list of must-see destinations that will have you feeling victorious.
1. Insadong, South Korea
If you’re a sucker for souvenirs, this is for you. Non-collectors, too, will appreciate the district’s ode to Korea’s art, heritage and culture. It doesn’t get more genuine than this. Stroll through the street on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ll likely catch Korean folk dancers in traditional costume. Choose from a unique variety of hand-painted masks [$30] or wooden carvings [$20-30], or authentic rice paper paintings [$10]. Sip some tea in a classic tea house. Or simply enjoy the sites and take it all in stride. It’s Korean culture at it’s finest.
1. Seoul, South Korea
Why Seoul hasn’t shared the nickname “the city that never sleeps” is beyond most visitors. Not for the faint of heart, Seoul is where the ratio of foreigners nearly matches the locals, where buzzing neon signs are the norm, where the party rocks till sunrise. In the day, grab $5 vintage tee’s in Dundaemun, a world famous shopping spot. Stop for some spicy “duk bokki” (Korean rice cake) at one of the zillion street vendors ($2). At night, head to Gangnam or Hongdae and indulge in some $3 Cass (Korean beer), or sip Soju (Korean traditional drink) to the tune of international DJs. In the mood for romance? Try a boat cruise down the Han River for a site that’s sure to make memories. Seoul really has something for everyone, and the price is always right.
2. Jeju-Do, South Korea
This little island might just be Korea’s best-kept secret… Until now. About a 45 minute flight [approx. $150] from the south of Korea (Busan) lies this “Korean Hawaii” a tropical hot spot and honeymoon destination for most locals. Picturesque mountains and pure, palm-tree lines shores are sure to make any moment special. With flights operating out of Seoul and Busan daily, and a ferry as an alternate route, it’s an easy way to roll your troubles out with the tide.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
With golden Buddhas galore, temples amongst skyscraper, and – of course – pad Thai, Bangkok is where the best of the modern and the ancient meet. Run into a barefoot monk as you journey from your hotel. Skip on over to Koh Sahn Road for authentic-looking knock-offs, tailor-made suits and super cheap lodging. Catch some live music under the open air of a rooftop patio. When you’re done, head on south (about $100, air), to:
4. Koh Samui, Thailand
With pristine sand beaches, clear blue water, chill atmosphere and friendly locals, Koh Samui could easily reign as a traveler’s paradise. Sip on a colada from a fresh coconut while you’re pampered with a Thai massage. Wake to the sounds of waves crashing outside your private bamboo hut. Enjoy a fresh seafood buffet on the beach for $10. Rent a moped and see the island from coast-to-coast, or island hop in the day for less than $5. Though sometimes a tad pricier than central Bangkok, Koh Samui has it all, for the young, old, and young at heart.
5. Beijing, China
A travel destination hundreds of years in the making! Though China’s popularity as a tourist spot has increased in recent years, the cost of living fortunately has not. In Beijing, resist the appeal to go “off-the-beaten-path” – the cheapest way to catch up on China’s history may, surprisingly, be through tour packages. For $80 [approx], see the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City. At night, take a $5 taxi to Hou Hai, a waterfront bar district with outrageous ambiance. It’s ancient exploration at its finest.
6. Tokyo, Japan
Culture abounds in this Asian capital. Enjoy fresh sushi in one of many streetfront restaurants. Develop a hip sense of style as a spectator to Asian fashion trends. What’s more, the Tokyo subway is one of the most user-friendly on the planet – cheap fares and a dozen different lines encourage access to the far reaches of the culture capital. Though the priciest destination in Asia, Tokyo is worth every penny. Go!