First Trip to Asia
Planning a first trip to Asia is a daunting task. “Asia” can include anything from the snowy north of Japan to the deserts of western India. With so many possibilities, it’s hard to imagine where to start. Here are a few itineraries for the first time visitor to Asia. If your trip is going to be one month or less, it’s best to just pick one area or country to focus on. If you have several months, mix and match from the list. Itineraries usually start from a city with a major airport so moving from one area to another shouldn’t be too difficult.
One month in Southeast Asia
This is an iterinary for a month-long whirlwind tour of the highlights of Southeast Asia. Most major international airlines fly into Bangkok, but there are dozens of daily connections to surrounding countries.
– Spend 2-4 days in Bangkok.
– Fly (45 mins) south to the Ko Phi Phi Ko Lanta or Ko Pha Ngan islands for one week.
– Fly from Phuket to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (2 hours). Spend 1 week visiting the surrounding area.
– From Ho Chi Minh City travel through the Mekong Delta to Cambodia. Spend 3-4 days in Phnom Penh and 3-4 days in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat.
– OR From Hanoi in the north or Da Nang in central Vietnam cross the border into Laos by bus (8-12 hours). Spend a week visiting ruins and the Mekong river area.
– Fly (1 hour) or take a bus (8-14 hours) from Siem Reap, Cambodia, or Vientiane, Laos, back to Bangkok.
One month at Southeast Asian beaches
– From Bangkok, take bus to Ko Samet (about 3 hours plus 1-1.5 hours for boat) or Ko Chang (4-6 hours). Spend 4-5 days.
– Return to Bangkok and fly to Phuket (45 mins), bus (8-10 hours), or train (6-8 hours).
– Ferry to Ko Phi Phi (1 hour). 2 days.
– Ferry from Ko Phi Phi to Ko Lanta (1-2 hours). 4-5 days.
– Ferry back to Krabi. Bus to Ferry to Ko Pha Ngan (8 hours). 4-5 days, day trip to National Park of Ko Tao.
– Ferry to Ko Samui and flight back to Bangkok.
One month of Southeast Asian ruins
– From Bangkok, local train to former Siam capital of Ayutthaya (1-2 hours). 3 days.
– Bus to former Siam capital of Sukhothai (2-3 hours). 3 days.
– Bus back to Bangkok (3 hours).
– Fly (1 hour) or bus (8-12 hours) to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Visit ruins of Angkor Wat. 4 days.
– Fly to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, or Da Nang. Bus or train to Hoi An, visit the ruins of My Son. 1 week.
– Bus or fly to Pakxe, Laos. Visit Angkor ruins of Wat Phu and former royal capital of Champasak. 1 week.
One month of Southeast Asian diving and culture
This itinerary is for beginner scuba divers, who don’t want 100% diving. If you’re completely new to scuba diving, take a three or four day open water course during your first scuba stop, although this will mean spending a day or two in a classroom and at the bottom of a resort pool. Good food, culture and sights to be had, with three dive destinations.
– Fly to Bangkok, Thailand, 5 days; Get good, inexpensive Thai massages to get over jetlag .
– Fly to Phuket, Thailand, do a liveaboard to the Similan Islands, 4 days. Fantastic diving and possibly the cheapest place in the world to do a full service liveaboard; If learning to dive here, you may wish to allow at least 5 or 6 days, as your course may take 4 days and you must not dive on the last day before flying.
– Fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 3 days; Side trip to either Penang or Malacca, 2 days.
– Drive/ferry (or fly) to Tioman Island on east coast of peninsular Malaysia for 4 days of scuba diving; Go diving by speedboat, means less time in transit, more in water.
– Fly to Cebu, Philippines, 5 days; Ferry to Bohol for diving, dolphin watching.
– Fly to Singapore, enjoy civilization, 2 days.
– Fly to Bali, Indonesia experience culture with scuba diving at the north end of the island near Lovina, 1 week.
Two weeks in Japan
Two weeks in Japan can be an interesting experience. Most travellers arrive in Japan by air, but it is also possible to arrive by boat. The fastest boat to Japan is the hydrofoil from Busan to Fukuoka. There is also overnight ferry service on several international routes: Osaka-Shanghai, Kobe-Tianjin, Shimonoseki-Qingdao, Shimonoseki-Busan, and Nagoya-Okinawa-Taipei. Ferry service is also available from the Japan Sea coast to the Russian Far East.
– Go to Kyoto. It’s full of temples. Consider also going to Nara, which is nearby and full of temples too. Himeji, with its magnificent castle, is also nearby.
– Go to Tokyo, because you’ll kick yourself if you don’t. A great day trip from Tokyo is Nikko.
– Go to Hiroshima. The Peace Park and museum are worth the visit alone, but the city has other attractions and is also close to Miyajima.
A week near Hong Kong
This itinerary has suggestions for someone who: wants to get out of Hong Kong (perhaps cannot afford Hong Kong, or has seen it before), has about a week to spend or does not want to fly or take a long bus ride.
– Train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou
– A few days in Guangzhou
– Bus to Zhuhai (catch it on the East side of Garden Hotel)
– A day or two in Zhuhai, mostly for the shopping
– A day in Macau
– Ferry back to Hong Kong
Guangzhou is the provincial capital a few hours up the Pearl River. It was known as Canton in the tea-clipper era. Guangzhou is thousands of years old and has always been the most important city of Southern China.
Macau is a former Portuguese colony on the West side of the river mouth. It was the first European enclave in East Asia, and a major trading port from its founding in the 1500s. Today its main attractions are casinos, European food and wine, and old colonial buildings. In 1999 it became a Special Administrative Region of China.
Hong Kong is a former British colony on the East side of the river mouth. It was founded in 1841, Britain’s prize after one of the Opium Wars, and soon eclipsed Macau as the center of the China trade. In 1997 it became a Special Administrative Region of China, retaining much of its lassiez faire capitalist energy under the slogan “one country, two systems”.
Shenzhen is on the mainland next to Hong Kong, It was basically a fishing village until the 1970s. Then it was made a Special Economic Zone and developed incredibly rapidly. Today it is a boom town of at least six million.
Zhuhai is on the mainland next to Macau, also a fishing village turned SEZ, well over a million, somewhat less rich and less brash than Shenzhen.
The region near Hong Kong is called the Pearl River Delta. Politically, it is three areas, Guangdong province and two former colonies that are now Special Administrative Regions of China, Hong Kong and Macau.
You will need three separate visas for this trip, one each for Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China. Citizens of most countries can get Macau and Hong Kong visas at the airport, but will need to get a Chinese tourist visa in advance. You can get these from a Chinese embassy or consulate in your own country. For most passports, visas can also be obtained in Hong Kong or Macau via travel agents or the government office.
The traveller on a really tight budget should get out of this area altogether and seek the real bargains in China’s hinterland. The cost-no-object traveller can stay in Hong Kong, or go to up-market places in other cities, and have a wonderful time either way.
As a general rule, both Shenzhen and Macau are cheaper than Hong Kong. Zhuhai is cheaper than any of the above. Consider doing most of your shopping there.
Also, there are several nearby areas of China that are well worth visiting:
– Guilin and Yangshuo for famous mountain and river scenery, possibly returning via Southern China’s greatest city, Guangzhou
– Hainan for tropical beaches
– Wu Yi Mountain for history and scenery, returning via the lively modern city Xiamen
– Yunnan, home to many of China’s minority ethnic groups and a very popular tourist destination
There are direct flights and/or overnight buses to all of those.
Have a nice trip!