Where should I travel in Asia
March 11, 2007 9:41 PM   Subscribe

What country should I visit in Asia? My brother is currently teaching English in South Korea, so I'm going to fly there and spend a few days, and then he is able to take 5 days off.

We are mostly interested in nature and cultural things. I'm also a major foodie (which would make China a plus, but I'm worried about the big cities being too much.)

Initially we were thinking Thailand, but I'm concerned because of the fighting that is going on right now and the political unrest. I'm also a little concerned that it may be a little too far to travel with only 5 days off.

Any thoughts?
posted by hazyspring to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some great mountains in eastern South Korea: Mt. Seorak. Climb craggy heights, meet friendly hikers, think about how close it is to the Kingdom of Kim Jong-Il. Had a great time up there.
posted by Kirklander at 10:08 PM on March 11, 2007

This sounds terrible, but after almost a decade in Korea, I still don't recommend to any of my friends who think about coming to Korea for a visit to bother. It's just not traveller-friendly, at all. If you have someone who knows (even a little) of the language and how to get around, though, it might be OK.

Almost anywhere else in east Asia is easy to visit from here -- the most you'd be looking is a 3 or 4 hour flight down to SE Asia. Thailand's definitely not 'too far' -- you can catch a direct flight to Koh Samui, if you want.

It really comes down to what kind of experience you're looking for, because in 5 days your best best is to pick a destination and go there, rather than try to sample lots of things. Beach? Hit the Phillippines, or Thailand or Malaysia or Vietnam. Urban chaos? China. More expensive urban stuff? Japan. Er, Korean stuff? Korea. Yurts on the high steppes? Mongolia?

Figure out what you want to do first. There's great food everywhere. And everything's pretty much an easy flight from here.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:16 PM on March 11, 2007

I loved Thailand. I'm out of touch with the current climate for travel there, though.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:57 PM on March 11, 2007

Oh, and if your trip falls anywhere near one of the major Korean holidays, book well in advance. It is not unusual for there to be no seats at all out of the country during the big holidays (or back in at the end of them).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:10 PM on March 11, 2007

Singapore, Singapore, Singapore. It's just about my favorite place on earth. It's super safe, everyone speaks English, the public transportation is amazing, and there's lots to do.
posted by nasp at 11:22 PM on March 11, 2007

Not been myself, but I hear nice things about Laos from the travellers who pass through Beijing. Vientiane apparently maintains some charm and is quite laid back, and it can get remote and wild upcountry.
posted by Abiezer at 12:31 AM on March 12, 2007

See now, some people love it but I wasn't that big on Singapore. It's a fine city but a bit too uptight for me. They were having a "cleanest block contest" the week I was there so it was tidy, I'll definitely say that. At one point I saw someone get fined for not flushing a public toilet and that was just too much though.

I had some great blackened stingray while I was there, though...
posted by miss lynnster at 12:41 AM on March 12, 2007

I've never been to Beijing but I've heard that's great though. The people I know who've been there have really made me want to go there myself.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:42 AM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

A couple weeks ago I made a great 6 day trip to Vietnam, Hanoi and Halong bay. I would definitely recommend it, but anywhere in southeast Asia would be a good bet. They all have nice climates and are very tourist friendly, (which isn't really the case in China or Japan).

When I was in Vietnam I met some people who had travelled through Thailand and they said that the political trouble wasn't affected tourism at all.
posted by afu at 12:43 AM on March 12, 2007

Ankor Wat in Cambodia
posted by DreamerFi at 1:48 AM on March 12, 2007

It's hard to offer advice on Beijing as a tourist destination, as I've lived here too long now so I don't really go and see the sights any more, plus even if I do I have a bit of a different experience than the newly-arrived traveller, what with language and familiarity with how certain things work here.
But it does have all those mega-attractions - the Forbidden City, the Wall, and the rest; then if art's your thing you could hang out at the 798 art district and see loads of trendy and over-priced galleries with the odd gem here or there. In five days you could set two aside for trudging rounds the biggies like the palaces and so on, then have a day hanging around the arty district, and get a bit of shopping in too, maybe even catch a gig. That's Beijing and TimeOut are probably the best of the English listings mags.
There's cheapo backpacker hostels (one just down the road [Youtubery - the building is all done now]) and you could even do a day-trip out to the suburbs to things like the Ming tombs or well-preserved mediaeval villages.
posted by Abiezer at 2:00 AM on March 12, 2007

I'll second Angkor Wat. It was incredible, I was there for three days and could easily have stayed a week. If do you go, don't miss the landmine museum (ask your hotel person).
posted by twirlypen at 2:07 AM on March 12, 2007

my vote is for thailand. it's very safe and won't be as hard on your wallet as, say, japan would be. delicious food, very nice people, very different culture, cheap. a simple example: a 2-hour massage for $13. why not live like a king for 5 days?
posted by wondering at 3:42 AM on March 12, 2007

I haven't been to Singapore, but my wife lived there for several years. She says it's boring. I suspect she's right - the "lots to do" link above is a top-ten list, and #5 is "ride the subway." Also according to the wife, the place has about an hour's worth of scenery, then it's done. Obviously, some people like it more.

I have been to Beijing several times, and to Guangzhou and Chongqing (and to Vietnam, but that was another era). Beijing center has no nature to speak of, although there's lots of nice landscaping here and there. The Summer Palace is a very nice artificial-natural construction, with more culture than you'll find almost anywhere. Outside the city proper, Beijing gets rural, with landscapes that actually look like old-style Chinese paintings. There's a mountainous park area called Shangfang Shan about an hour's drive southwest of the city that's very scenic. The Great Wall sites are also picturesque. If you're asthmatic, that part of China may be not so good for you; pick somewhere with less industry. Otherwise, BJ is my recommendation.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:45 AM on March 12, 2007

If you chose Angkor, make sure it's Aki Ra's landmine museum you visit. There's another museum and it's a scam.
posted by the cuban at 4:17 AM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

South Korea sucks, get out of the place as soon as possible. Anywhere else will be more interesting.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:42 AM on March 12, 2007

Response by poster: Ok, based on comments, I'm eliminating China, Japan, and southern Thailand. Laos and Cambodia actually sound most interesting to me ... and maybe Vietnam is a possibility as well.

I definitely don't want to do anything that's packed with tourists.
posted by hazyspring at 5:43 AM on March 12, 2007

In January I visited Vietnam (Hanoi and Halong Bay) and Cambodia (Siem Reap, the location of Angkor Wat) and given your travel schedule, I'd focus on Cambodia and give Vietnam a pass. Vietnam was unexpectedly expensive and just not as interesting as Siem Reap. Siem Reap is packed with tourists, but the ruins are just incredible. Definitely include a tour of the Tonle Sap area while you're there.

Koreans find it cheaper to go on overseas packaged tours than visit local tourist spots. Seoul is interesting from a foodie aspect, but as Stavros says it's hard to navigate without some native guidance. Personally I find it intriguing that there's no intersection in the eateries and locations that blogs of English teachers in Korea mention, and where we eat and hang out when I visit family in Seoul.
posted by needled at 6:49 AM on March 12, 2007

Trekking in the Golden Triangle was one of the coolest experiences of my life.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:48 AM on March 12, 2007

I spent three months wandering around Asia last summer. If you have five days, the answer is clear: Angkor Wat. It's unlike anything else. Be sure to make the trek out to Beng Melea, it's pretty much an all-day excursion but you get to see a temple site in a more natural state (read: clamber around over the ruins) and there were very few tourists there when we went.
posted by ambrosia at 9:41 AM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Vietnam is quite nice. I swung through there a couple of years ago and hit Hanoi, Hue, Danang, and Saigon. Hue has a lot of interesting historical sites. The Marble Mountains just outside Danang are really lovely (the city itelf is unimpressive, although the drive through the pass from Hue is quite interesting) and nearby Hoi An is a little gem if you like shopping in a bazaar-type atmosphere. And there's lots to see 'n' do in Hanoi--plenty of museums, pagodas, Ho Chi Minh-related stuff, and the Old Quarter.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 12:50 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:44 PM on March 12, 2007

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