Asian countries have been among the most cautious in ending COVID restrictions and freely welcoming travelers once again. We’ve already mentioned how in-demand Japan is, and that it’s essentially full for the summer. If the Land of the Rising Sun is on your radar, the time is now to start planning for late 2023 and 2024 to secure space. It’s not the only Asian country enjoying a surge in popularity with most travel requirements removed.
A journey through Thailand encompasses spectacular beaches on the islands in the Andaman Sea and in the Gulf of Thailand, floating markets in Bangkok, beautiful temples and majestic elephants. It’s a spiritual journey even if you eschew the temples and worship only at the stalls of street food vendors. South of the capital, Phuket, Ko Samui and the Phi Phi islands attract beachgoers seeking out the clear waters and otherworldly landscapes. Northern Thailand forms part of the Golden Triangle, where its border intersects with Laos and Myanmar. It’s home to temples such as Wat Chedi Luang, which hundreds of years ago housed the Emerald Buddha that now resides in Bangkok. And of course, it’s the land of massive elephants, and you can walk alongside these gentle giants as they lumber through ancient forests in this golden land.
A great itinerary showcases the gems of Northern India: Agra and Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal; the pink city of Jaipur, dotted with resplendent architecture and UNESCO World heritage sites and gateway to the rest of Rajasthan, a romantic land of palaces and lakes. India is also still a wild place, and Ranthambore National Park and Kanha Tiger Reserve make the perfect destinations for a subcontinental safari. Powerful Bengal tigers burn bright in the forests, alongside leopards, crocodiles, sloth bears, macaques and hundreds of bird species. Moving south you once again encounter an entirely new land. On the central west coast stretching from Mumbai to Goa you’ll see the remnants of European colonial life, from military forts to houses of worship left behind by the British and Portuguese. For those who live in the now, there are myriad beaches and nightclubs along the way. From the Himalayas, where the Ganges begins its long journey, to the Indian Ocean, India remains a land apart.
It’s best seen on a cruise along the Mekong River and best experienced through food. Learn how to make the national dish, pho, in Hoi An, where you can make your own noodles and while they dry learn how to make the traditional beef broth, a mix of beef bones, ginger, different herbs and spices that needs to marinate to become the secret of the pho. The final touch is to boil the rice noodles and cook the beef. If you prefer to leave the cooking to the experts, stroll through Hanoi’s Thanh Ha and Dong Xuan markets to sample delicacies and rarities while learning about the role food has played throughout Vietnam’s history, including the incorporation of dishes introduced by foreign occupiers such as the French. It can be tough to escape the crowds in Ho Chi Minh City, with its population of more than 8 million, but a motorcycle tour can help you sample everything from banh khot to bun bo hue.
Just barely an island, Singapore lies off the southern tip of Malaysia but has been an independent republic since 1965 after bouncing between the influence of various empires, being colonized by the British, captured by the Japanese in World War II, falling back under British control and briefing becoming part of Malaysia. Singapore has always been a trading center at the crossroads of East and West. It remains a powerhouse economy with a high standard of living and quite a bit of diversity among its population of nearly 6 million.
The seat of the Republic of China since defeat at the hands of the communists shortly after World War II, Taiwan has developed a unique culture that is a mix of aboriginal, Chinese and Japanese elements. With nearly 25 million inhabitants, it packs about 1,700 people into every square mile. At 1,671 feet, Taipei 101 in the capital city briefly held the title of world’s tallest building, though now it’s struggling to remain in the top 10. Street food is the hallmark of Taiwanese dining, with tofu, rice, pork and vegetables all enjoying starring roles. Outside the city are temples in gorgeous natural settings reminiscent of a much older way of life. Portuguese sailors on their way to Japan in 1544 dubbed Taiwan Ilha Formosa, “the beautiful island,” and you’ll see why along the coastal road or hiking through the forests and along the cliffs of Taroko Gorge National Park.