Culturally rich and incredibly diverse, Asia remains one of the most promising destinations in the entire world. While its exciting variety of wildlife, beautiful beaches, tropical jungles and exotic cuisines are well renowned, often Asia’s cultural wonders are lesser known in the Western world (the Great Wall, Angkor Wat and Taj Mahal aside). Get to know the fascinating cultures of Asia better on these six must-visit stops along a thrilling journey of exploration.
1. Delhi, India
India is one of those countries that truly encapsulates the ‘cultural wonder’ tag and, indeed, just about any of its cities could have been chosen instead of Delhi. But its multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan atmosphere, unique architectural and cultural treasures, and sheer variety of attractions make Delhi a microcosm of Indian culture. It’s one of the oldest existing cities in the world, inhabited since the 6th century BCE. To name but a few, the lavish Iskcon Temple is a cultural gem providing insights into Hindu mythology, while the famous Red Fort is a historic highlight. Another one not to miss is Humayun’s Tomb, the reported inspiration for the Taj Mahal itself (which is only a few hours away from Delhi).
2. Thimphu, Bhutan
For those wanting to escape the mundane and experience a new and exciting culture, Thimpu Bhutan is ideal. The city itself is the largest in Bhutan but only in recent years has it been touched by western influences and urban development. That is, much of the city retains its age-old culture and traditions. Indeed, the major attractions are the monasteries such as Changankha Lhakhang constructed in the 15th Century. Religious icons such as the State of Sakyamuni Buddha, a 51.5 metre bronze statute seated atop a hill overlooking the valleys, is also a must-see.
3. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Due to the number of expatriates living in the once quaint city of Siem Reap, modern amenities are available to the hordes of rampaging tourists hoping to visit Angkor Archaeological Park. Even whilst staying in Siem Reap there are a number of worthwhile things to see, do and eat: one can start the day off with a motorbike tour to absorb the distinct scenery in and surrounding the city, follow up with a trip to the Psar Chas markets to accumulate souvenirs such as bloom bags and Cambodian ceramics, relax and indulge with Khmer-style massages and conclude the day with Khmer cuisine and cultural performances that are aplenty.
4. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the cultural hub of northern Thailand. Visitors will be able to spend their time immersing themselves in historical sites such as the thirty temples within the walled city alone. The temples are decorated with beautiful woodcarvings and each offer different designs and experiences, as they are a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles. The locals would swear that you’ve not experienced Chiang Mai until you’ve seen the view of the city from Doi Suthep temple. Oh, and it probably wouldn’t make sense for visitors to not visit the elephant camps. You can either imagine riding an elephant and watching performances where they play football and paint, or visit and experience this for yourself.
5. Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is abundant with contrasting experiences for visitors. The country has become increasingly more developed with theme parks such as Lotte World and Dreamland and walking down Cheongdam (Celebrity) Street, visitors may indulge in luxury brands – Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Prada are only a few of the many you will find. At the same time, it retains its distinct cultural heritage. Thrice a day, in front of Daehanmun the main gate to the Deoksugung Palance, the changing ceremony takes place with members of the royal guard exchanging keys to the palace. This watching experience can be enriched with traditional costumer hire, photo time with the royal guides and a drum beating experience.
6. Hokkaido, Japan
Being the second largest, northernmost and least developed of Japan’s four main islands, Hokkaido attracts mainly outdoor lovers such as skiers and snow-boarders. Ski resorts such as a Niseko ski resort provide superior service to the large number of tourists visiting each year. Niseko also contains an abundance of restaurants, bars shops and tours. From Niseko, visitors can engage in day tours to Sapporo, participate in the Annual Ice Festival and other cultural activities as well.
By Linda Campbell – Follow her on Google+.