The Best Of A Year In Asia

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November 20th 2017
Published: December 21st 2017
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Asia 2016-2017

My one year journey through Asia, starting in India and going through Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, China, Japan

Kyoto, JapanKyoto, JapanKyoto, Japan

Japan is my second favourite country in Asia.
373 days. 34,925km. More than 91 cities in 11 countries. The longest and final chapter of the trilogy is now complete. The entire odyssey is now over. First Latin America, then Europe, now Asia.

The last leg of my journey around the world was only supposed to be nine months long; I ended up travelling around Asia for just over a year. Perhaps it is unsurprising that things took a bit longer than planned; I spent three months in India alone and it was fanciful to think I could've 'done' China in just one month - I ended up taking two.
Considering that my entire trip has taken over two years, when I think about everywhere I went, I had travelled fast - probably faster than you should when travelling for such a long time. So the pace slowed and I ended up staying longer in places than planned - I was supposed to visit Mongolia and South Korea on my jaunt through Asia but I had taken too long and didn't have the budget for it in the end; in any case, I was too tired to travel to either.
Speaking of tired, after a week on the Indonesian island
Chennai, IndiaChennai, IndiaChennai, India

India was my favourite country in Asia.
of Flores, I was absolutely spent - I was out of both money and energy. It was time to finally go back home to New Zealand but there was still some drama to get through yet.

Before I could fly home, I had to fly back to Bali from Labuanbajo first. Waking up on the morning of the day of my flight, I was in absolute agony. My left kidney was sore for some reason and walking around was excruciating. Not an ideal state to be in on a travel day. I also had a slight fever, I felt weak, my muscles were aching slightly and I was feeling really light-headed. The only time I felt comfortable was when I was sitting down and not moving. The stifling Flores heat wasn't helping either.
I made it back to Bali and Kelly and I took a taxi to our hostel - perhaps we could've got a better price, but for once we weren't inundated with taxi drivers and just went with the first one we came across. I was in too much pain to try and find another driver with a better price.
I had prepaid the hostel in the
Komodo DragonKomodo DragonKomodo Dragon

Getting this close to the majestic Komodo dragon in Indonesia was the second-best experience I had in Asia.
slightly more upmarket area of Seminyak, north of Kuta and the airport, but when I arrived, I discovered that I had booked the wrong hostel - I had booked "M Hostel" rather than "M Boutique Hostel" (was it really that hard for one of the hostels to come up with more different name!?). I couldn't face having to get in another taxi and extending the journey so I decided to forfeit the £5 I had already spent and stay with Kelly at the hostel I was at.
In my state it probably wasn't a good idea to walk as much as I did that evening, as Kelly and I had one last Indonesian meal together before heading to Seminyak's long, wide beach. It was the last night of my entire trip and I had considered having a few drinks to celebrate, perhaps even blowing out and having a big one - but that was just not gonna happen, not when I was feeling the way I was.

So instead, it was time to reflect on the last year.

As I did for both the Latin American and European legs of the trip, I will now summarise the Asian leg
Himalaya Mountain Range, NepalHimalaya Mountain Range, NepalHimalaya Mountain Range, Nepal

Views like this made the trek towards Everest Base Camp the third-best experience I had in Asia.
like I always have; with a whole lot of lists.
Asia was the continent I was looking forward to the most; it is the largest and most culturally diverse continent in the world and I was excited about all the different and exotic sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that I was going to discover, each so different from the next. And it was a good thing that there were so any different things to explore and unearth; the more you travel, the less you are impressed by things, so it was just as well that Asia had so many things to keep this weary traveller interested.
And how. Asia delivered a feast (literally too) of hectic cities, spectacular sights, amazing experiences and delicious foods, much of which blew me away. And here they are! Without further ado, here are my favourites - the highlights of a year in Asia;

Top 5 Favourite Cities
I think many people will be surprised when they look at this list but to be completely honest, when looking through all the cities I had visited, there were in fact very few that stood out. I found that few Asian cities held anything especially
Mumbai, IndiaMumbai, IndiaMumbai, India

My favourite city in Asia.
unique and that they were mostly functional rather than pretty. Few were well-planned either. In this sense, the best way to experience Asian cities was to attempt to live them rather than see them; engage with the locals, eat all the food and sample the vibe. The following are the Asian cities that left the biggest impression on me;

5) Varanasi, India - Varanasi isn't your normal city and I definitely haven't picked it in this list in the same way I would normally pick my favourite cities - and this is exactly why it has been picked. It uniquely special place and there is nowhere else I have been that is so spiritually intense and this made an impression on me. It is also a beautiful place and there is no better way to experience this than with a walk along the ghats first thing in the morning.
4) Tokyo, Japan - If Varanasi was an unconventional inclusion in this list, then Tokyo is most definitely not. It is one of the world's great cities despite not having any real blockbuster sights and I have included it despite not having a very complete experience there. I will definitely
Guangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China

One of my favourite cities in Asia.
have to come back here as there are still many unique and quirky experiences that need to be done.
3) Beijing, China - If Tokyo isn't a city of blockbuster sights, then Beijing most definitely is. With so much history and so much to see and do, I think it is a real microcosm of China and Chinese life.
2) Kolkata, India - Kolkata is probably a left-field choice and is not usually on the tourist radar but that is perhaps why I liked it so much. It meant that you were getting a real experience there, which was different from anywhere else in India. Add to this the beautiful colonial buildings, the fantastic Bengali food and a real time warp feel, it is perhaps not surprising that I left Kolkata with such a soft spot for it.
1) Mumbai, India - It was a close-call between Mumbai and Kolkata for the number one spot but I've plumped for Mumbai in the end because I just felt there was a little more to the city with its seaside location, the genteel vibe in the old colonial areas and its status as the country's true economic epicentre.

Honourable mentions must
Countryside Outside Yangshuo, ChinaCountryside Outside Yangshuo, ChinaCountryside Outside Yangshuo, China

Scenery like this makes the area around Yangshuo the second-most beautiful place I have seen in Asia.
also go to Osaka, where I first experienced the quirky delights of Japan and Guangzhou, which has a lovely blend of old and new China.

Top 5 Beautiful Spots
5) Jaipur, India - Rajasthan is probably the most beautiful state in India, perhaps solely because of the wonderful Mughal architecture of its numerous forts and palaces. In Jaipur however, you have the "Pink City" where the old terracotta apricot city is lived in by normal locals and where the most beautiful street scenes can be captured. An honourable mention must also be made of the Rajasthani city of Udaipur, for similar reasons.
4) Jiuzhaigou National Park, China - I have never seen lakes with the kind of water clarity that I saw in Jiuzhaigou National Park. The shades of blue, grey and green seen in other lakes in the park were just as otherworldly. If it wasn't for the 38,000 other people who were visiting the park the same day as I did, then Jiuzhaigou would surely have ranked higher.
3) Hoi An, Vietnam - Definitely the prettiest place in Vietnam, this old town of wealthy merchant houses and Chinese temples alongside the Thu Bon River is delightfully atmospheric - especially when
Fenghuang, ChinaFenghuang, ChinaFenghuang, China

The most beautiful place I saw in Asia.
it is lit up by lanterns at night.
2) Yangshuo, China - Yangshuo itself isn't really that great but it's the surrounding countryside of karsts that steal the show here. Cycling and scootering alongside rivers flanked by the surreal hilly landscape was probably the most enjoyable thing I did in China.
1) Fenghuang, China - Fenghuang is like Hoi An on steroids. A classic ancient Chinese town during the day with a wondrous riverside setting, illuminated at night, Fenghuang is literally breathtaking.

Top 5 Cuisines
I may be biased, but there is no disputing that Malaysia does the best food in Asia. I didn't properly travel around the country on this trip however, which is why I haven't included Malaysian cuisine on this list, despite having spent over a month in Malaysia. One thing I will say though, is that Asian food is probably the best on the planet. And here are my favourites in Asia;
5) Indonesian - Similar to Malaysian food but not as good. Shares a lot of common ingredients with its Malaysian cousin, particularly the use of coconut. The best food I had was on Flores, where I enjoyed some amazing empal (fried beef) and
Tuna SashimiTuna SashimiTuna Sashimi

Japanese is my second favourite Asian cuisine.
a decent rendang (dry beef curry). Urap-urap (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce, tempe, chili sauce and shredded coconut) is also worth a mention.
4) Vietnamese - The flavour of Vietnamese food is more subtle than other cuisines but is no less delicious. I could eat pho and banh mi forever but bun cha (vermicelli with grilled meat, herbs and pickled vegetables in a borth) became a new favourite in Hanoi and I had a great time trying all the local specialities in Hoi An and Hue, including banh uot thit nuong (grilled skewered meat wrapped with vermicelli and fresh herbs in rice paper).
3) Thai - Pad thai and Thai curries are well known and delicious, as are Thai stir fries and mango sticky rice. Thai ice milk teas are the best in the region.
2) Japanese - I have always loved Japanese food and the food served up in the country did not disappoint. Sushi, okonomiyaki, onigiri, tempura, kushikatsu, mochi, sashimi, ramen, udon, kaarage, gyoza and takoyaki were all had and were all amazing. Even the cheap set meals and miso soup were good! Japan is number two even though I didn't get to try the expensive stuff such
Indian FoodIndian FoodIndian Food

India had the best food in Asia.
as kaiseki and wagyu beef! Just a shame Japanese food is never really filling and is comparatively expensive.
1) Indian - There was absolutely no doubt about this. Indians never compromise anything for flavour and it resulted in anything I ate outside of India seeming comparatively bland. But any good cuisine - Japanese cuisine has this too - needs a wide variety of different foods and in a place as culturally diverse as India, this was never going to be a problem. In the north you have hearty, rich curries - I'll never forget the Rajasthani thali I had in Jaipur, my first puri in Agra, or a mushroom masala I had in Mumbai - and in the south the curries are lighter and spicier and are served with new favourites such as idiyappam, idli and pongal. Also in the south is the famous masala dosa, the best of which I had in Bangalore. Mumbai has street favourites such as vada pav, I had an amazing falooda in Pondicherry and I'll never forget the chaats, and melayo I had in Varanasi. In West Bengal, the food is slightly different again with sweet, tangy curries served with fish and perhaps the
Hoi An, VietnamHoi An, VietnamHoi An, Vietnam

Tribee Kinh, the best hostel I stayed at in Asia, is located here.
best thing I ate in India were Kolkata's kati rolls. And of course, the best tea in the world is served in the form of chai. India - apart from Malaysia - is a foodie's paradise. Sadly, many of the dishes I had in India can't be found outside of the country.

Top 5 Best Hostels
5) Bunkyard Hostel, Udaipur, India - I've really only included this one because it is housed in a former Mughal palace and has a sensational view over the city.
4) Sudder Street Guesthouse, Yangshuo, China - This was the best hostel I stayed at in China as it was new, clean, air-conditioned and the staff spoke amazing English and were super-helpful.
3) Happy Panda, Arambol, India - This place wasn't the cleanest but the atmosphere among the guests was second-to-none. Cheap beer always helps.
2) J-Hoppers, Hiroshima, Japan - All Japanese hostels are super-clean but this one was the cleanest. Everything has been thought of in a Japanese hostel including hand towels, shower mats, hand soap and of course, state-of-the-art toilets. The dorm also resembled a traditional Japanese bedroom with futon mattresses, tatami mats and translucent screens.
1) Tribee Kinh, Hoi An, Vietnam
Moni Countryside, IndonesiaMoni Countryside, IndonesiaMoni Countryside, Indonesia

In the Indonesian village of Moni was the worst accommodation I stayed at in all of Asia.
- This hostel combined modern, new facilities with an amazingly social atmosphere which is stoked up by free nightly activities and drink specials. It was so easy for anyone here to make friends and have a great time.

Worst Hostels
I stayed in some dreadful accommodation in Asia, the worst of the entire trip have all been on this continent. Sometimes it is because the hostel owner has done a shoddy job with the place but often it is because Asia is a generally poor continent. Which is part of the reason why I am not shaming any hostels this time around - the other part of it is because most of the terrible places were nameless places I had walked into without a booking. I can tell you however that I stayed in places with bathrooms so filthy I refused to have a shower in them in Gorakhpur, India and
Siddhicharan, Nepal - the latter being a place I didn't even know I was going to have to stay in during the hardest journey of the entire trip. After staying there, there was yet more hard work staying in guesthouses without hot water, electricity, heating or flushing, sit-down toilets, on
My RelativesMy RelativesMy Relatives

This is a picture of relatives I met for the first time in my ancestral home in Guangdong. Meeting them and visiting the village my family was originally from was the best experience I had in Asia.
the trail to Everest Base Camp.
There was the damp place in Fenghuang, China and the cramp place in Hong Kong where all my dorm mates were tripping over each other and where you had to shower over the toilet. The worst place however, was saved until last in Moni, Indonesia, which on top of being filthy, as well as lacking a shower and a flushing toilet, had the worst bedbug infestation I have ever seen.

Top 5 Best Experiences
5) Taking the scenic train from Ella to Kandy in Sri Lanka.
4) Watching test cricket in Mumbai, India.
3) Despite the hard work and the ordeal in getting there, trekking towards Mount Everest and seeing the world's tallest peak was the most rewarding thing I did in Asia.
2) Getting up close and personal with Komodo dragons and snorkelling with massive manta rays off the western coast of Flores, Indonesia.
1) Meeting relatives I had never met before and connecting with my heritage in Guangdong, China. It was the most personal experience I've had on the entire trip and was something truly special. I will never forget the excitement, enthusiasm and warmth with which I was received.

Top 5 Sights
5) Taj Mahal, India - There is always something special about seeing one of the wonders of the
The Great Wall Of ChinaThe Great Wall Of ChinaThe Great Wall Of China

From Left: Inbar, Michael, Michal, me and Ming. We all hiked the Great Wall together, which was my favourite sight in Asia.
world, the excitement of seeing something so iconic, so revered. Some are disappointed when they see the Taj but seeing the famous pool of water before it, the immaculately tended gardens and the size of the tomb itself, there is no denying that this is something amazing.
4) Bagan, Myanmar - Watching the sun rise over the hundred of temples - some of them magnificent - dotting the countryside around Bagan, while tens of hot-air balloons float above, is one of the best sights you can see in Asia. Truly special, it is comparable only to Angkor in Cambodia.
3) Zhangjiajie, China - This is where animators for Avatar got their inspiration for the planet of Pandora and indeed there is something otherworldly about the natural rock spires that soar into the sky like needles, something unlike anything else in the world. Might've ranked higher were it not for the crowds and those fucking flies.
2) Paradise Cave, Vietnam - The biggest cave I have ever seen. I was amazed by how deep the cave went. If only I had the money to see nearby Son Doong Cave, which is the biggest in the world and only accessible via an US$3000, seven day
Osaka, JapanOsaka, JapanOsaka, Japan

Although an awesome country, Japan was the most expensive country I visited in Asia.
1 ) Great Wall Of China, China - One of mankind's greatest feats of engineering, it was an awesome feeling to hike along something so historic and unfathomably long. We experienced both "wild" ruined wall and newly restored wall, had great weather and hardly saw a soul - the fact that we had such an enjoyable experience on one of the wonders of the world made my visit there even more special.

Top 5 Favourite Countries
5) China - I almost didn't include China because the backpacking experience was lonely and dealing with the crowds there was not enjoyable. But it has some beautiful landscapes and some amazing sights and for those, I just could not leave China off the list.
4) Myanmar - Tourism is relatively young in Myanmar so for me it felt like the most authentic country in South East Asia, yet to be over-commercialised. But it also has some sights worth seeing and it has the friendliest people in the world.
3) Vietnam - With more influence from China than any other country in SE Asia, there is something a bit different about the culture in Vietnam. There is also a variety of amazing things to see, good
Jaipur, IndiaJaipur, IndiaJaipur, India

India was the cheapest country I visited in Asia.
tourist infrastructure, scrumptious food and it is the cheapest country in SE Asia.
2) Japan - There is just nowhere in the world with the quirkiness and culture of Japan and there are few places in the world where you can have such a fascinating experience simply by being there and observing everyday life. I only spent 18 days in Japan so there is so much I have yet to experience there - therefore it says something that it has still managed to take second place on this list.
1) India - The description I have used to describe Japan can also apply to India; except that there is also a tremendous diversity in India of culture, landscapes, food and colour which for me, makes it one of the most captivating countries in the world. Yes it is dirty, yes it is overpopulated and yes it is poor - but if you can look past all of that and accept it for what it is, it will be the most rewarding place you will ever travel.

Top 5 Cheapest Countries
5) Sri Lanka
4) Thailand
3) Nepal
2) Vietnam
1) India - far and away the cheapest country in
Fisherman, MyanmarFisherman, MyanmarFisherman, Myanmar

I thought that the Burmese were the friendliest folk in Asia.
the world.

Most Expensive Countries
Asia is generally very cheap and is the continent to head to if you're looking to get the most bang for your buck while on holiday. Except for Japan, which is far and away the most expensive country in the region; trying to stick to budget there was a daily struggle (but just about worth it). Hong Kong and Macau were also horrendous in this regard, HK in particular. The rest of the countries I visited were more or less cheap; China would be the most expensive country out of the rest.

Top 5 Friendliest People
5) Nepal - I met some amazingly hospitable locals in Nepal and having been there after almost three months in India, it was nice to not be hassled so much for money despite the poverty there.
4) Indonesia - I was surprised at how friendly the folks are in Indonesia, thinking they'd be more like the Malays.
3) Thailand - Almost everyone in the service industry is friendly, polite and appreciative which is a little surprising given how rampant tourism is there.
2) Japan - Having gone there straight after two months in China, the contrast couldn't
Selong Belanak, IndonesiaSelong Belanak, IndonesiaSelong Belanak, Indonesia

The second-best beach I visited in Asia.
be greater. Service is always amazing and Japanese people are impossibly polite.
1) Myanmar - The Burmese are an absolute pleasure to engage with and nothing is ever too much trouble. The people are so sweet and are always smiling, the level of care given to their service is second-to-none. The Burmese are the friendliest people I have ever encountered.

Top 5 Beaches
Chilling at the beach is arguably my favourite pastime while travelling and I have been to so many that I simply have to present you a list of my favourites. I have specific criteria for a good beach (which I have previously detailed); here are the ones in Asia that meet it!
5) Varkala, Kerala, India - Backed by cliffs dotted with coconut trees as well as loads of shops, resorts and restaurants, Varkala is pretty scenic. It also has some fun waves in the water to play in and there is loads of cheap accommodation nearby which makes it a great place to chill for a few days.
4) Cola Beach, Goa, India - The most picturesque beach in Goa.
3) Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia - With soft white sand, clear water and hardly anyone around, the sandy beach just south of where the boats
Maya Bay, ThailandMaya Bay, ThailandMaya Bay, Thailand

The best beach I visited in Asia.
all moor is the perfect place to chill in the late afternoon once the sun falls behind the coconut trees, which provides some nice shade if you've had too much sun!
2) Selong Belanak, Lombok, Indonesia - This is a beautiful beach with some great beginner surf waves which are also fun to dive into. The water is reasonably clear, the slightly curved bay with heads at either end of the beach also makes Selong Belanak one of Indonesia's most scenic. Chill out at a surf shack for some shade.
1) Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi Lee, Thailand - This is where they filmed "The Beach" and it is easy to see why - the place is paradise. The beautifully clear water is a shade of swimming pool blue and the soft white sand is backed by trees and cliffs which provide shade. As you need to go on a long boat ride to get here, the place is usually not crowded either. The most spectacular thing about this beach however, are the cliffs that shelter the bay. For me, one of the best beaches in the world, let alone Asia.

And that's it! I hope I have summed up what was a long but fascinating year adequately.
The Bright Lights Of Hong KongThe Bright Lights Of Hong KongThe Bright Lights Of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is expensive.

Looking back it is difficult to say if it was my favourite or most interesting leg of the three that made up my round-the-world trip, because I had a lot more enthusiasm and energy and a lot less reference points earlier on in my trip in Latin America and Europe, so I have fonder memories of the first two legs. I was tired and fatigued in Asia but perhaps in time I will feel the same about this leg as I do the others.
It was definitely the most diverse leg of the trip, the most exotic and the leg with the most variety. I have seen so much; brilliant colour, heartbreaking poverty, old school charm, breathtaking landscapes, heavenly foods, unique cultures and striking modernity. I will never forget my year in Asia.

There is one more blog entry to come after this that will summarise and address the past two years as a whole and will be of the same format as this one. What are my favourite countries in the world? What are my favourite cities in the world? Which country does the best food in the world? You'll find out in the next entry!

Sampai jumpa lagi!


22nd December 2017

Are you OK?
Did you find out what was causing you pain on that last day? I'm figuring you recovered or else we wouldn't have had this post. I was expecting an entry detailing your trip to the emergency room, or some such. Being sick while traveling sucks, and I'm hoping that whatever ailed you is now a thing of the past.
22nd December 2017

Yes, I'm fine
Haha, thanks so much for your concern - yes, I am fine. I went to see a doctor as soon as I got home and by then I was much better already. He said it was some sort of infection but it cleared pretty quickly. As of now I have a clean bill of health!
27th December 2017

Wow!!... Thank you so much for the information, your site has very Good Content
Wow!!... Thank you so much for the information, your site has very Good Content

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