• Asia Travel Guide Overview

    Backroads Travel Guides

Asia Travel Guide: Overview

Comprised of 48 countries and nearly 60 percent of the world’s population, Asia boasts a dizzying assortment of natural wonders, rich history and cultural feats. Whether you’re looking to get jostled in impossibly dense crowds at a Delhi street market or you want a quiet moment in a Kyoto temple, Asia is simultaneously a place of chaos and serenity. Whether you’re hiking, diving, biking or busing, Asia invites all travelers to jump in feet first and explore.

Asia Travel Guide

History

The history of Asia is largely the collective story of several distinct regions, including East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and more.

Based around fertile river valleys that were conducive to root crops, some of the earliest known civilizations took hold in this region. This included Mesopotamia, China and the Indus Valley. It’s believed many of these early groups shared important advancements, such as the wheel and mathematic principles.

The Bronze Age gave rise to the Indus Valley Civilization, as well as the Sanskrit language and the Vedic religion, which ultimately evolved into Hinduism. Present-day China and Vietnam were metalworking centers, and the Iron Age saw increased iron weaponry, armor and tools throughout the region.

Thanks to trade, conquest and migration, the East continued to expand throughout the Middle Ages. As early as the 11th century, gunpowder was regularly used, and long before Gutenberg’s printing press, these cultures had moveable type printing. Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism all played heavily into the philosophy of the Far East during this era. Marco Polo’s late 13th-cenutry accounts of the East introduced much of Europe to the advancements and accomplishments of these various cultures.

Shifting geographical borders and political power marked the early modern era. The Russian Empire, for example, took over most of Central Asia and Siberia by the end of the 19th century, and the Ottoman Empire grew in power steadily from the 16th century on.

The contemporary era saw European influence and colonization, most notably in British India, Spanish East Indies, French Indochina and others. Numerous wars subsequently pitted communist versus anticommunist (Korean War, Vietnam War and more), and the Soviet Union eventually collapsed in 1991. Much of the modern era in the Middle East has been dominated by the Arab and Israeli conflict.

Today, Asia includes many economic powerhouses (China is the second-largest economy, and India is the seventh), and its natural beauty, amazing feats of architecture and fascinating cultures continue to draw tourists from all around the globe.

Culture

Asia encompasses six significant and distinct regions (Central Asia, East Asia, West Asia, North Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia). While no discussion of culture could do justice to the breadth and variety of each region, the following are some significant cultural milestones and accomplishments of the various Asian regions:

  • Architecture: From the Great Wall of China to the Taj Mahal, Asian architecture has offered some of the most stunning cultural feats the world has ever seen.
  • Literature: One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is an enduring masterpiece in Arabic, and this literary tradition in Asia continued into the modern era. Rabindranath Tagore became the first Asian Nobel laureate in 1913.
  • Religion: Many religions have impacted Asian cultures. Notable examples include Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Confucianism.
  • Festivals: Festivals play a large role in Asian celebrations, and festivities can be seen during Chinese New Year (China), Independence Day (India) and many others.

Good to Know

Tipping

Tipping can be a difficult matter to navigate in Asia because, when done at the improper time, it can potentially cause offense. In general, tips are never necessary or expected at hostels, food stalls or other lower-end local restaurants. High-end or luxury restaurants are far more accustomed to the largely Western practice of tipping. In these instances, a generous tip at the beginning of your stay might garner you better service at that establishment for the extent of your visit.

A 10 percent gratuity will typically be added to hotel and restaurant bills, but note that this fee often goes to the owner—not your particular server or attendant. Tipping on top of the gratuity is a way to thank your server.

When in a taxi, consider rounding up the final fare to the nearest number. The driver gets to keep the extra, and you don’t have to deal with loose change.

Backroads Pro Tip

In some areas of China, tipping is actually illegal. By default, forego tipping in both China and Taiwan. If you’ve received excellent service and want to show your appreciation, do so with a small gift or token. A coin from your home country or a piece of candy are common choices.

In Hong Kong and the Philippines, tipping is quite common and socially acceptable, and throughout Southeast Asia, the practice is largely expected of tourists.

Public Behavior

Asia is a large continent containing extremely diverse nations, and it’s difficult, therefore, to list general rules of conduct that apply everywhere. That being said, the tenets of Chinese culture are highly influential across this region, and this means tourists in Asia should operate with a keen sense of respect, politeness, good manners and a deference for family.

In many Asian households, it’s considered rude to wear shoes indoors. Especially if you notice slippers put out in the entranceway, assume you should remove your shoes before entering.

It’s also common in many Asian countries to only use your right hand when shaking, handling money or offering gifts. (Note, if you receive a small gift or token from someone, refrain from opening it in front of the gift-giver.)

It’s also best to avoid public displays of affection when traveling in Asian countries. Kissing or other overt forms of affection in others’ company can be viewed as immodest.

Again, every country has its own rules and mores concerning public behavior. (In Thailand, for example, never step on anything with the image of the king, even if it’s a postcard, stamp or magazine cover that’s already on the ground.) In general, though, simply err on the side of modesty in action, dress and language, and any minor faux pas will likely be more a source of amusement with the locals than a cause for genuine offense.

In places with established tourism industries, such as Southeast Asia, natives are likely to be even more accustomed to Western behavior and even more forgiving where it deviates from Asian customs.

Electric Current

In general, Asian countries use 220–240 volts, so Canadian and US visitors will likely need power converters and power adapters. (The notable exceptions for voltage include Japan and Taiwan. These countries use 100 and 110, respectively.)

You’ll encounter many different plug types throughout Asia, so a universal travel adapter is highly recommended—especially if you’ll be visiting multiple countries. Even geographically close countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand, can use different plug types, so this universal adapter is definitely a cheap and handy tool to keep in your travel kit.

Public Bathrooms

Public restrooms are a common source of questions and concerns for many first-time travelers to Asia. The first important thing to know is that you’ll likely encounter at least a few squat toilets during your stay. This is essentially a porcelain hole in the ground, and you must squat over that hole to use the facility. This type of restroom definitely takes some getting used to, but before long, travelers learn how to navigate them like pros. Also be prepared for these facilities to consistently not provide toilet paper or any way to wash your hands. For this reason, a spare roll of toilet paper and a small bottle of hand sanitizer should always be in your day bag.

In most of Asia, you’ll also encounter signs (sometimes in English and sometimes not) that inform you not to flush your used toilet paper. There’ll be a trash can in the facilities for this purpose. Much of the plumbing in Asia is too narrow to accommodate toilet paper, so you’re expected to throw it away instead. If you see a trash can, even if there’s no accompanying sign, assume that’s why the waste basket is there.

You’ll likely encounter plenty of Western-style bathrooms as well—especially if you’re using the facilities in a higher-end restaurant or hotel. Bathrooms are almost always readily available in tourist locations and other public areas, so even if it’s a squat toilet, you’ll still have access to facilities.

In some parts of Asia, it’s also not unheard of to charge a small fee for bathroom use. Always keep a handful of change in the local currency for this purpose.

Drinking Water

You definitely have to be careful about the drinking water in various regions of Asia. In Southeast Asia, for example, it’s best to always avoid the tap water. Even in Malaysia, where the water supply is considered safest, it’s still a good idea to always drink bottled, filtered or sterilized water. The same goes for Indochina and China.

On the other end of the spectrum, the drinking water in Japan and Israel is safe. (Some find the taste unpleasant, though.) The tap water in Seoul, South Korea, is also potable, but this is a somewhat recent development, and many citizens and travelers still opt to use bottled water here.

In some parts of the Middle East, water shortages and large disparities in wealth mean clean drinking water is hard to come by and prohibitively expensive for most citizens.

Currency

There are 48 countries in Asia, and nearly every nation uses its own form of currency. There are select places, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore, that sometimes accept US dollars or even list prices in US currency, but for the most part, you’ll need to exchange your money into the local currency.

ATMs are readily available throughout Asia, and even Myanmar (one of the last Asian nations to hold out against ATMs) has since implemented them. It’s safe to expect ATMs in most major cities and well-populated areas, but if you’re going off the beaten path or to a particularly remote area, stock up on cash before you depart.

Money exchanges are also available, but be aware that many hotels and airports tend to charge significant fees and offer poor rates.

When To Visit

The ideal time to visit Asia depends largely on the countries you intend to visit and the activities you want to do. If you’re interested in biking, hiking or other strenuous physical activity, make sure to avoid the hottest and most humid times of year. Be particularly aware of the rainy season as well. If you have a Thai beach vacation planned, the last thing you want is to be stuck in endless downpours. Again, the desirable months vary with the country. In Thailand, you want to aim for December to February; in South Korea, March to May offer the most pleasant weather.

To avoid disappointment or discomfort, always research the weather patterns of your intended destinations before booking anything.

Full Article Coming Soon!

Fun Facts

  • As of 2017, more than 4.5 billion people live in Asia. In fact, seven of the world’s ten most populous cities are in Asia.
  • The smallest Asian country (by land area and population) is the Maldives, and the largest is Russia.
  • Asia contains the highest point on earth (Mt. Everest), as well as the lowest (Dead Sea).
  • Even though China is the world’s largest country in terms of area and it should cover five separate time zones, it operates on just one: China Standard Time.
  • Due to the consistently poor air quality, it’s not uncommon to see “canned air” for sale in China.
  • The national sport of Afghanistan is buzkashi, or goat grabbing.
  • Bhutan is the only country in the world to have banned the sale of tobacco.

Full Article Coming Soon!

Regions and Cities

Bhutan

Proud, independent and spiritual, Bhutan is a South Asian nation with the distinction of having never been colonized. It was also a forerunner of the “gross national happiness” concept, and it was named the least corrupt country in the world (2016). The scenery spans from striking Himalayan peaks to subtropical forests.

Paro

Colorful and a natural jumping off point for the Paro Dzong monastery and the iconic cliff-hugging Paro Taktsang temple complex, Paro might have just had its main street built in 1985, but it’s been a charming and distinctly Bhutanese destination for centuries.

Punakha

Where the Mother River (Mo Chhu) and Father River (Pho Chhu) meet, you’ll find Punakha—a land of lush scenery and the home to the stunning Punakha Dzong administrative center.

Thimphu

The capital and largest city of Bhutan, Thimphu feels like a small town, but its bustling activity constantly fights against that image. While cars and tourists used to be virtually nonexistent here, the secret of this charming place is definitely out.

Cambodia

Located in the southern region of the Indochina Peninsula, this Southeast Asian nation has had its share of sociopolitical struggles, but the resilient nation remains a stunning example of vibrant culture, beautiful scenery and imposing remnants of the Khmer Empire.

Phnom Penh

The capital city and main economic center, Phnom Penh is a dramatic illustration of French influence in Indochina. The lovely architecture, sweeping boulevards and colonial buildings are sure to delight history buffs and art lovers alike.

Siem Reap/Angkor

This resort town is the natural gateway to Cambodia’s crowning jewel, Angor Wat and the entire network of Angkor temples. After a day of strolling through the incredibly well-preserved and intricately carved temples, enjoy the museums, performances and shopping that touristy Siem Reap offers.

India

One of the dominant cultures and nations in South Asia, India is the seventh-largest country (by area) and, with over 1 billion people, the second-most populous. From a complicated colonial history to remnants of some of the earliest known civilizations to the confusion of people, color and life that seem to populate every street, India will fill your senses and keep you coming back for more.

Jodhpur

Tourists flock to the bright and sun-soaked Jodhpur for its many temples, forts and palaces, but don’t forget to take in the scenery of the Thar Desert while you’re here. It’s also a convenient base for sightseeing throughout the Rajasthan region.

Kumbhalgarh

Home to a remote fort, you’ll feel transported back to the days of the Rajput era. Don’t forget to also visit the distinctly rugged Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary.

Manvar

The desert can be an unforgiving landscape, but Manvar—situated in the midst of the Thar Desert—reminds its visitors of the stark and stunning beauty as well. Marvel at the sheep, cattle and gazelle that lope by, and then experience some of the most stunning sunsets available on our planet.

New Delhi

If you’ve ever wondered what just under 20 million people in one city felt like, simply stroll through a New Delhi street. It’s a mishmash of chaotic marketplaces, modern museums and immaculately manicured gardens.

Udaipur

Called by some the most romantic place in India, Udaipur draws tourists year after year for its unique history, culture, impressive palaces and picturesque scenery.

Indonesia

Home to more than an astounding thirteen thousand islands, Indonesia is the largest island country in the world. From the wild orangutans of Borneo to the volatile Mount Bromo in East Java, Indonesia offers jungles, unique wildlife, torrential monsoons and idyllic beaches.

Bali

Wade to Tanah Lot. Soak up the sun on Kuta Beach. Snorkel or scuba dive to explore just beneath the water’s surface. Whatever your perfect activity, Bali (named TripAdvisor’s 2017 top destination) can accommodate.

Japan

More than six thousand islands make up this diverse, enthralling country. From the quiet, contemplative pursuits of flower arranging, origami and tea ceremonies to the neon lights, bullet trains and rush of humanity in Tokyo, Japan is a collision of tradition and modernity that creates an experience not quite like anything else.

Kyoto

Atmospheric Kyoto houses thousands of shrines and temples, and nearly everywhere you turn is a reminder you’re in a place of spiritual import. While you’re here, visit teahouses, stroll gardens and soak in an onsen.

Osaka

While it’s not the most picturesque of Japan cities, Osaka reveals a fun, fast-paced side of Japan. Also, get ready to eat in this color-splashed town. Kuidaore (“east until you drop”) is this place’s unofficial motto.

Tokyo

The first time you visit this imposing capital, it’s easy to believe you’ve landed on a sci-fi movie set. The neon lights and impossibly tall, sleek buildings are all hypermodern, but the traditional core persists in quiet alleys, kabuki theaters and sumo events. If you splurge on one thing here, let it be the food.

Read our full Japan Travel Guide.

Laos

The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, Laos has a storied history of occupation, freedom, colonization and civil war, but through everything, it remains a beautiful land of architecture, waterfalls, caves, trekking and history. The European Council on Trade and Tourism named Laos the world’s best tourist destination in 2013.

Luang Prabang

Architecture, culture and religion all coalesce in this simultaneously urban and rural city. Many come for the Buddhist monasteries and temples, but it also contains well-preserved remnants of 19th- and 20th-century French colonialism.

Myanmar

Gilded pagodas. Over four thousand sacred stupas. Traditions and lifestyles so traditional you’ll feel transported to another era. Traveling through Myanmar brings a kind of wonder and awe most countries can’t elicit. Myanmar, however, is still very much working toward peace. Whole sections of the nation are still struggling with ethnic conflicts, and tourists should avoid these regions.

Bagan

One of the nation’s main attractions, Bagan houses approximately two thousand temples, monasteries and pagodas—and that’s just what’s left of the original ten thousand. This quiet, sacred site isn’t known for nightlife, so if partying’s on the agenda, head elsewhere.

Pindaya

There are lots of compelling reasons to visit Pindaya, but one that consistently draws travelers is Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda. There you’ll find thousands of golden Buddha statues throughout a massive network of limestones caverns.

Yangon

The largest city in Myanmar, Yangon currently houses a diverse and exciting mix of new investors, foreign tourists and former political exiles. Centered around the glittering Shwedagon Paya monument, the city is both a commercial and cultural hub.

Nepal

When you’re in Nepal passing through the busy, taxi and tourist shop-filled streets of Kathmandu’s Thamel district, it’s hard to imagine serenity awaits just beyond the city limits. Delve into the Himalayas, though, and you’ll find quiet mountain villages seemingly untouched by time and some of the best hiking this planet has to offer—from Everest Base Camp to the Annapurna Circuit.

Pokhara

A less-busy and more relaxed alternative to the hubbub of Kathmandu, Pokhara enjoys a beautiful lakeside setting and is frequented by the many trekkers embarking on one of the numerous multi-day circuit hikes that are within easy reach of this basecamp town.    

Sri Lanka

A once-hidden island gem, Sri Lanka is fast becoming discovered, and for good reason. With its sprawling beaches, eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, friendly people and low prices, Sri Lanka is a traveler’s dream. Distances are short, the food is good and the terrain offers a charming combination of rain forest and beach.

Thailand

Formerly Siam, Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia. Whether you’re looking for the bustle of Bangkok, the sheer beauty of ornate temples or the serenity of a beach with white sand and turquoise water, Thailand is a delightful mix of food, friendly people, vibrant color and rich culture.

Bangkok

If you’re looking for one of the most vibrant street food scenes, look no further than Bangkok. Just stroll down Khao San Road for some of the cheapest (but undeniably delicious) eats. This capital city provides cosmopolitan charm and historic relics in equal parts, so dedicate a bit of time to scratch beneath its surface.

Chiang Mai

To relax and recharge, head to the distinctly Thai town of Chiang Mai. Visit an elephant sanctuary, take in the pristine rain forests or enjoy the town’s market scene. Whatever you do, just don’t miss this gem of calm and serenity.

Chiang Rai

From phenomenal local eats to the ornate and almost blindingly white Wat Rong Khun temple, Chiang Rai is a cultural stronghold and a great base from which to explore more of northern Thailand.

Mae Rim

Just 30 kilometers north of vibrant Chiang Mai is Mae Rim, a quiet place of reflection and the site of Princess Dara Rasmee’s former palace.

Vietnam

Stunning natural beauty and still-fresh war wounds combine in this complicated, sublime and chaotic country. Remnants of French colonialism and luxury hotels coexist in busy cities, while natural wonders (like Ha Long Bay) beg to be explored and photographed.

Danang

Having recently emerged into the tourist spotlight, Danang now offers beach resorts, exquisite cuisine and a healthy dose of nightlife. You don’t need weeks to explore what the town has to offer, but definitely stop for a few days of sun, street food and spas.

Hanoi

On its surface, this capital city is a confusion of beeping car horns, scooters piled impossibly high and a flowing system of car, pedestrian and motorbike traffic that seems to abide by no logic (or law). Look closer, though, and you’ll see the complicated layers of French and Chinese occupation amid the distinctly proud tradition of Hanoians.

Ho Chi Minh City

Formerly Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is at once modern and a holdover from the days of French colonialism. Stroll the wide boulevards of District 1 or enjoy immensely authentic phở at one of its many restaurants. It doesn’t take long here to realize Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s dizzying, buzzing center of culture and commerce.

Hoi An

Get away from the traffic and noise in historic, colorful Hoi An. Yes, you’ll still find your share of tailor shops and lounge bars here, but travel just a few kilometers out, and you’ll find life very much as it was before the tourism game arrived.

Hue

Once the center of imperial Vietnam, Hue (pronounced “hway”) boasts 19th-century citadels alongside sleek hotels. Some of the most impressive buildings were lost to the American War, but Hue still very much evokes a bygone age.

Read our full Vietnam Travel Guide.

Worth a Visit

Everest Base Camp

Scaling the world’s tallest mountain isn’t for everyone, but reaching Everest Base Camp is a much more accessible journey. Trek all the way from Kathmandu Nepal or fly into Lukla to make it a 38.58-mile trip (one way). Allot about eight or nine days up and three or four days down, which includes acclimatization days.

Great Wall of China

With the earliest construction beginning in the seventh century BC, the Great Wall of China is a collection of constructed wall, trenches and natural barriers, such as hills and rivers. While there isn’t absolute agreement on its total length, various archaeological surveys put it anywhere from 5,500 to 13,171 miles. Regardless, it remains one of the most impressive architectural accomplishments the world has ever seen.

Korean Demilitarized Zone

Despite an armistice being signed in 1953, North and South Korea are still embroiled in a “frozen conflict.” A tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is an eye-opening and fascinating look into that continuing war.

Taj Mahal

Located in Agra, India, this ostentatious, elaborate, beautiful and imposing marble mausoleum is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of the World initiative. Join the roughly 8 million annual visitors to this stunning example of Mughal architecture and testament to unique Indian history.

Things to See and to Do

Full Article Coming Soon!

How to Get to Asia

Visas

Visa requirements for US citizens vary from country to country, so always be sure to thoroughly research the country (or countries) you’ll be visiting and secure any necessary documents before leaving home.

In general, Southeast Asia doesn’t require US citizens to obtain visas prior to arrival, so long as the stay is less than a set duration (anywhere from two weeks to three months). One notable exception is Vietnam, which requires visa approval before arrival.

A few Asian countries that require visas include the following:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bhutan
  • China
  • India

(Note, this list is not complete. Also, some countries, such as North Korea, have highly specialized and strict requirements regarding how US citizens can visit as tourists.)

Check the entry and exit requirements for every country you intend to visit, and don’t forget to research potential entry or exit fees.

Airports

If you’re arriving in Asia by air, most countries have an international airport to accommodate entry. One potential inconvenience is Bhutan, which only has a single international airport (Paro Airport), and it’s more than an hour away from the capital city of Thimphu.

The following are the five busiest airports in all of Asia, by total annual passengers:

  • Beijing Capital International Airport (Beijing, China)
  • Dubai International Airport (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
  • Tokyo Haneda Airport (Tokyo, Japan)
  • Hong Kong International Airport (Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
  • Shanghai Pudong International Airport (Shanghai, China)

In most Asian countries, domestic airports can connect you to just about every region of a given country.

Getting Around—Transportation

Public Transportation

Many public transportation options exist across Asia, ranging from the hypermodern bullet train of Japan to the rattling, rusted buses of India. In general, though, all the standard options are available to you: train, plane, bus and taxi.

When it comes to public transport in certain parts of Asia, taxi drivers, in particular, are notorious for attempting to squeeze a few extra bucks out of unsuspecting tourists. Never get in a taxi unless the driver agrees to run the meter or you settle on a fare before leaving. This haggling process is common in Southeast Asia but is much less common in a place like South Korea, where nearly every taxi you encounter will have a meter.

Bus travel can also vary wildly from country to country. You can (quite literally) share a seat with a chicken cage on a dilapidated vehicle or ride in style on a Wi-Fi–enabled sleeper-style double-decker. Whatever bus option you choose, do your research ahead of time. Some buses require a ticket before entering (common for long-distance rides); others allow you to pay as you get on. If your ride takes you over pothole-laden roads or impossibly narrow lanes next to sheer cliffs, try to snag a seat in the middle of the bus. It’s the most stable, and you’ll feel less of the jarring bumps and sways.

For getting around town, no Asian travel guide would be complete without mentioning these distinctly region-specific modes of transport:

  • Tuk-tuk (Thailand): three-wheeled rickshaws that are often automated
  • Jeepney (Philippines): Jeeps remaining from the war days and turned into colorful, large wagons
  • Bemo (Indonesia): small minivans or minibuses that loop city roads blaring music and attempting to entice passengers into rides

Independent Transport

Renting a car is possible in many Asian destinations, but self-guided road travel here is not often for the faint of heart. Road signs aren’t always in English, and the rules of the road can often feel like light suggestions rather than legal requirements. Unless you’re attempting to get to incredibly remote areas where public transport simply won’t accommodate, many travelers opt for public transport over car rental.

That being said, many will rent motorbikes, scooters or bikes to explore a given region for a day or two. Especially in regions like Southeast Asia and South Asia, these rental options are cheap, easy and popular. Don’t be alarmed if you’re asked to leave your passport as collateral when renting a motorbike. This is fairly common practice throughout the region. Just make sure you’re renting from a reputable shop. If you’re unsure, a tourist information center or your hotel’s front desk can usually point you in the right direction.

Backroads Pro Tip

Travel insurance doesn’t usually cover any accident that occurs on a motorbike. If you think you’ll be trying out this mode of transport, check with your specific plan to determine any caveats or coverage restrictions.

Language

Not only do most Asian nations speak their own languages, but some countries even have many official languages within their own borders. For example, India alone has 22 official languages. Some countries, such as Japan, China and South Korea, also have their own alphabets, which further complicates travel for English-speaking tourists.

While there are no guarantees, especially when dealing with such a large area of land and so many diverse cultures and languages, travelers can generally overcome the language barrier in tourist-heavy locations. If you opt for a guided tour, for example, there are often English-speaking guides, and many tourist information centers will have English-speaking workers.

That being said, there might be times you find yourself a bit off the beaten path and have to resort to blind pointing at menus or even some creative charades to get your point across. Remember, this is all part of the traveling adventure!

Backroads Pro Tip

Smartphones have helped revolutionize how travelers interact with non–English-speaking natives. There are many apps available now that can scan a sign and translate, record what you’re saying or typing and repeat it back in a desired language and much more.

While nobody expects you to be fluent in every language of every country you visit, many people do enjoy learning the most frequently used and basic phrases everywhere they go. This includes “hello,” “good-bye,” “thank you,” “Do you speak English?” and more. It’s a great way to start to immerse yourself in the culture, and locals often truly appreciate when travelers make an effort to speak the nation’s language.

Food and Drink

As with every facet of Asian culture, the cuisine of this region covers a very large geographic and cultural range. This applies to popular dishes and the methods of cooking them. Some common ingredients you can find across Asian food include soy, tofu, ginger, rice, sesame seeds and chilies. Deep frying, stir frying and steaming are also common across many Asian cooking methods.

Here are a few key ingredients specific to the various Asian regions:

  • East Asia (China, Japan, Mongolia, South Korea and others): rice, noodles, seafood, bok choy and tea
  • Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and others): lime, coriander/cilantro, basil, fish sauce (rather than soy sauce), galangal, tamarind and lemongrass
  • Central Asia (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and others): chilies, black pepper, cloves, flavored butter, ghee, curry (with turmeric and cumin) and meats (lamb, goat, fish or chicken but not beef or pork)
  • West Asia (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and others): olives (including olive oil), pita, honey, dates, chickpeas, mint, parsley, shawarma and kebabs
  • North Asia (Russia): Pelmeni (similar to wontons), fish, cowberries and kumis (fermented mare’s milk)

Food in Asia: What to Know and to Eat—Full Article Coming Soon!

Safety Tips

Your expected safety level in Asia will depend largely on your intended destination. Japan, for example, is largely considered one of the safety countries in the world, but the US Department of State expressly discourages travel in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, North Korea and others.

If you’re traveling in tourist-friendly areas, however, the biggest problems you’ll likely encounter are pickpocketing and other forms of petty theft.

The latter is a common problem when traveling in Asia, and it can happen at unexpected times. For example, you might think stowing your luggage in the compartment under the bus during long-distance rides is the safest course of action, but thieves know this is where tourists keep their luggage (and valuables). As such, it’s a common target. If at all possible, keep your luggage in eyesight at all times. If that’s not feasible, at least make sure to keep your essentials (passport, credit cards, cash and any important documents) on your person.

Take common sense precautions, especially at ATMs or when pulling out your wallet to pay for something. Also, avoid wearing ostentatious or overly expensive jewelry. This can needlessly make you a target.

Emergency numbers will vary from country to country, so always make sure to look up the relevant information for the country or countries you’ll visit. Here are just a few examples of local emergency numbers:

  • Bhutan: 110 (fire); 112 (ambulance); 111/115 (police)
  • Cambodia: 017-813-509 (fire, ambulance or police)
  • Indonesia: 113 (fire); 118/119 (ambulance); 110/5234558 (police)
  • Japan: 119 (fire or ambulance); 110 (police)
  • Thailand: 199 (fire); 191/123/199 (ambulance); 191/123 (police)
  • Vietnam: 114 (fire); 115 (ambulance); 113 (police)

WHAT IS BACKROADS

Established in 1979, Backroads is a pioneer in active, immersive and off-the-beaten-path travel. Now operating adventure tours in over 50 countries, our passion for discovery and our desire to experience the world in original ways continue to inspire our pursuit of new adventures. We hope this guide will be enlightening to you as you plan your next great Asia adventure!

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