There aren’t too many more exotic places to visit than venturing to the Far East. The sights, smells, sounds, and tastes are intoxicating, with different colours, flavours and scents filling your senses. The allure of the Far East lies in its differences. These are monocultural societies that embrace a different way of life. Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism dictates the rules of the land, the politics of the nations and the ways of life of the inhabitants.
The Far East was once a region that was relatively cut off from the Western world. Flight costs were prohibitive, the culture appeared aloof and unwelcoming, and there were plenty of more developed destinations that European travellers wanted to take a jaunt to. Fast forward a decade, and our illusions about the Far East have been well and truly shattered. Although massively different from the West, the nations of China, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand, welcome visitors with open arms. They love nothing more than opening up their countries to tourism, showing off their sites and vistas, and allowing people from other walks of life to enjoy revelling in their destination’s history, culture and ethos.
The Far East should be on every wanderlust seeker’s bucket list as a region to spend some time in. Take a look at these countries that you should consider visiting as part of your quest to take in as much of the globe as humanly possible.
The Land of the Rising Sun is the most beautiful Far Eastern nation. With an abundance of cultural sites, religious buildings, exquisite cuisine and varied landscapes, this is a nation that has something to offer every tourist.
You might choose to embark on an active city hopping sort of tour of the nation. Tokyo, Japan’s capital, has a number of areas that all vary wildly in their nature. The technologically advanced suburb of Akihabara is a geek’s paradise. From the retro gaming of Nintendo to the more futuristic concept inventions of Sony, this is the place to be if you want to get your technological kicks. You may even choose to partake in the live action Mario Kart adventure around the city. Dressing up as Mario, Luigi or Bowser, you could be racing around the streets of Tokyo a la a Nintendo Wii game.
Alongside Tokyo, Kyoto is also a tourist mecca. Offering a more sedate and culturally aware offering, Kyoto is renowned for its incredible temples. The golden temple of Kinkaju-ji and the lesser known Honen-in temple are particular highlights. While many people suggest that when you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all, these individuals have never ventured to Kyoto. Like venturing into Studio Ghibli sets, each temple has its own atmosphere and vibe. You will be able to tour great halls, tiny coves and giant Buddhas. Venture to Kamakura and you could head to Kotokuin Temple to marvel at an eleven meter tall Buddha. These are statues and idols that have been sat in Japan for centuries, having survived natural disasters and wars. Phenomenal in their grandeur, they are sights to behold. Kyoto really is a hotpot of culture, scenery and wonder.
For those people who adore a more tranquil vista, the island of Miyajima, close to Hiroshima, is a wonderful stop off. Staying in a traditional ryokan, you can venture to the floating Torii gates and scale Mount Misen in the hunt for wild monkeys. Partake in a spot of local fresh sushi or sashimi, and get in touch with your inner Zen.
Japan is a welcoming nation that adores regaling travellers with tales from its past. Venture here, and you may struggle to ever leave.
The stunning city of Jakarta is a true hot-pot of cultures with Chinese, Malay, Indian, Javanese and European influences coming together to inspire cuisine, architecture, politics, and industry. Many people choose to stay on in Indonesia to really immerse themselves in the vibe of the city. Long term lets through Rumah Kontrakan can end up being cheaper than staying in hotels if residing for more than a couple of weeks.
The capital is a vast metropolis that can bombard the senses with it’s futuristic like landscape. In the financial district, you can marvel at the buildings, slick city streets and high end wine bars. However, if you want a more authentic experience, head to the streets in the centre that are adorned with street food stalls. For a culinary feast, try the gado gado, a healthy spicy salad with chilli and a peanut sauce. If you prefer something more substantial, enjoy chowing down on martabak, a filled omelette with beef and vegetables.
Indonesia is a vibrant destination complete with temples and monuments to get your culture kicks. The Merdeka Palace is also worth a detour if you fancy experiencing the history of Indonesia’s Independence Day.
While China and Japan are relatively close geographical neighbours, they are vastly different in terms of culture, society, and environment. Venturing to China is like immersing yourself in a nation that is going over a hundred miles an hour twenty four hours a day in the bigger cities. Shanghai is a technological and futuristic sight to behold, with skyscrapers taller than you’ll have ever seen before. Take a stroll around the bund, and your neck will be permanently strained by looking upwards all the time.
Beijing, the nation’s capital offers more variety in terms of sights and sounds. The more peaceful and authentic Shichahai hutong shows a picture of how Chinese people have lived for centuries. The streets are narrow, the smells are pungent to say the least, and the food is incredible. The Shichahai hutong even has its very own boutique hotel to offer a luxurious stay in the middle of a less touristy area. Go to the nearby lake, and you will find amazing eateries and street food offering stinky tofu, fried squid on a stick and the most incredible noodles and vegetables. The sheer abundance of cuisine on offer can be overwhelming. Take care with any meat that you choose and ensure that you only drink bottled water.
No visit to China is complete without heading to the Great Wall. You could choose to head out on an organised tour to Badaling, but you won’t be able to trek the wall comfortably with thousands of other Chinese tourists competing for space. An alternative would be to venture to the site of Mutianyu with fewer tourists. You are travelling further from the capital, but the scenery is well worth it. Don’t scale the rocky gradient before reaching the wall and take the cable car instead. The scenery is stunning and the transport gives you a chance to take it all in. A feast for the senses, don’t leave the Great Wall without partaking in a spot of biang biang noodles to refuel after your trek.
To get back to nature, venture away from the major cities and catch a bus into rural China. You could head to the national park of Emeishan, with Mount Emei at its centre. With a ridiculous amount of temples and religious shrines adorning the mountainside, you could partake in a mini-pilgrimage hike taking in as many cultural sites as possible. The pinnacle of these temples is the golden statue of Samantabhadra which can be seen in all its glory at sunrise.
The Far East is a part of the planet that is still under-explored. Forget the beaches of Goa, and the well-trodden backpacking trails of Thailand, and venture to China, Japan and Indonesia to get your wanderlust kicks.