My first foray into Asia was to India. I marvelled at the temples of Tamil Nadu, spent Christmas in KodaiKanal and saw the sunset at Cape Cormorin. There was a visit to a strange circus in Kerala, a boat trip in Cochin and lots of ice cream in Goa. We went to markets, met Mormons, climbed Cape Rama Fort and left through the gateway to India in Bombay.
Next was a school trip to Indonesia where we were educated in all the traditional arts and crafts from batik to silver making. We travelled through Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The highlights were the vast Borobudur temple and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
On the way home we went through Sentosa Island in Singapore. There have been many trips to the land of the Merlion since then to explore the food in Chinatown, the shops on Orchard Rd and visit friends, now expats of the city.
Close by is my favourite Asian destination of Malaysia. The fabulous food halls in Malacca, the life of Penang and the beautiful islands of course. So far I have visited Pulau Kapas, Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Tioman twice. Each island is special and interesting in its own way for the monkey in a hammock, the snorkelling or the sunsets.
The first time I went to Bangkok in Thailand I thought it was a big dirty Asian city. I thought Phuket was incredibly spoilt by tourism and I was sure I would never return. How wrong I was, as the island of Koh Lanta was to become the special place where I became engaged and later married. The little town of Ban Saladan and the beach at Kaw Kwang will forever have a piece of my heart.
Vietnam was a pleasant surprise, largely untouched by the greed of making a buck when I went there. I loved Hanoi, the city built around Haan Kim Lake and was fascinated by the other side of history as the story of Ho Chi Min unfolded before me. Halong Bay was undoubtedly beautiful and the little French colonial hill village of Tam Dao was a rare treasure.
When you think of places to go in Asia, South Korea is probably not at top of mind. However, I found I very much enjoyed discovering the two sides of Seoul. One deep in the traditions of markets, gates and palaces; and the other slightly crazy side of shopping centres, theme parks and off beat fashion.
I wish I had visited Hong Kong before the English handed it back to the locals, just to see how much it had changed. The modern world could clearly be seen here, but there were still the remnants of old. Like the Star Ferry and the fact that the city still had many large green spaces that had not yet been bulldozed by development. The smog of Victoria Peak reminded me that it was still Asia, but back on the ground there was always a drink in Soho to cool you down.
Yes, Asia can be hot, dirty and tiring; but it is also exciting, enticing and an assault to the senses. Riding in tuk tuks, bargaining with the friendly locals and appreciating the simple things in life. Asia has a lot to teach us and I sincerely hope that modernisation doesn’t engulf it to the point where it can no longer be recognised for the glorious cultural explosion it is.
Related posts: It’s a Sri Lankan Thing, Destination Thailand, 2010, Thailand, 2009, South Korea, 2008, Malaysia, 2006, Vietnam, 2003, Thailand, 2002, Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994, Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1988, India, 1987- 1998, Part 2: The Journey North, India 1987- 1988, Part 1: The Road South