Popular Travel Routes
Asia as a region is very large and diverse. Even if you're a long term traveler, you're unlikely to visit more than a handful of the countries in Asia. There are many different travel routes through the region and each will show you a different culture and environment. Some of the more popular routes through the area include:
India and Nepal:
This is one of the most affordable regions in Asia. Travelers often fly into Kathmandu and spend several weeks trekking in the Himalayan Mountains. They then continue down into India visiting Varanasi, Agra, Delhi and Rajasthan. Alternatively, you could head toward Southern India swinging by Goa and Mumbai on the way.
China Highlights Tour:
Many people choose to spend all of their time in China. Some of the most popular cities include Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guilin, and Yangzhou. This trip would require at least one or two flights which would save you both money and time. Make sure you get outside of the major cities some so you can see what rural China has to offer.
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Mainland Southeast Asia:
This is probably the most popular overland route in all of Asia. It's easy to do it on a shoestring budget while traveling overland. You'll likely meet many fellow backpackers along the way. Many people begin in Hanoi and make their way south through Vietnam. You can cross into Cambodia and visit the famed Angkor Wat and then head into Thailand. Travel north and take some time in Laos before continuing back into Thailand and down to the tropical beaches. Continue down into Malaysia before flying out of Singapore.
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Getting the Most for Your Money
From a cultural perspective, India and Nepal are quite different from Japan, China, or Taiwan. From a budgeting perspective, these regions are also quite different. Southeast Asia, India, and Nepal have long been established as "backpacker" destinations and are incredibly affordable and relatively easy to get around. China has been increasing in cost in recent years, and shows no sign of slowing down. Japan and South Korea have always been quite expensive, but the modern infrastructure makes these places quite easy to get around.
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You should really consider your budget when choosing where to go in Asia. Because the prices are so strikingly different across countries, this can really impact how long you can travel or what your level of comfort will be. If you're a first time backpacker, mainland Southeast Asia is a great place to get your footing. There are plenty of other travelers around, the costs are low, the people are friendly, and you can try your hand at negotiating. It's also a beautiful region for its beaches, temples, and culture.
India is one of the most affordable countries in the world, but some travelers find it a little overwhelming. Once you get used to the culture, it's truly a fun place to be. The people in India are some of the most welcoming and friendly you will meet. The culture is rich in colors and flavors, and the cities are unlike anywhere else in the world. Do not be intimidated by India because a trip to this country can truly be a life changing experience.
China is one of the fastest changing countries in the world. Even if you visited just five years ago, you'll be shocked to see how it has evolved. Prices continue to rise as well, so there is no better time than now to visit the country. Tibet is a fascinating place to visit, but if you plan to head in that direction you'll need to be flexible and have a backup plan. Access to foreigners is often limited and changes in the policy can happen abruptly and unexpectedly.
Adventure Activities, Culture, and Parties
There are any number of activities you can enjoy throughout Asia. The region has some of the best beaches and coral reefs in the world. There are also some of the highest mountains and most impressive trekking opportunities. The cities and cultures are diverse, the food is exotic, and the landscape is forever changing.
Southeast Asia offers some of the best scuba diving in the world. It is also incredibly affordable to get certified in places like Koh Tao, Thailand. If you're going to be traveling for an extended period of time and haven't done so, consider getting certified while you are in the area. While Koh Tao is a cheap place to get certified, it's not the best place to appreciate diving. It's been beaten and worn down, so if you're looking for a more pristine experience consider going to Koh Phi Phi. Alternatively, perhaps the most famous, but not best place in the area is Phuket.
There are many options for incredible trekking throughout Asia. The most obvious and impressive place to do some lengthy hiking is Nepal. There are treks ranging in length from weeks, like the Annapurna Circuit, to several days, like those based out of Pokhara or Kathmandu. If you're in other countries, like China, consider doing Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is an incredible village to village trek. In the area north of Hanoi, known as Sapa, Vietnam has beautiful areas to hike with rice terraces and Hmong villages. In Thailand many people use Chiang Mai as a base for trekking. Essentially, whatever country you visit in Asia, you're likely to find a wonderful place to spend some time hiking.
Like in many parts of the world, festivals are a fun way to experience the culture and religion of an area. Some places, like Varanasi, India, have nightly events that draw worshipers and travelers alike. Most places celebrate a once a year festival, like the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar. If you happen to be in a country for a significant festival, definitely get out and about and enjoy some of the activities, but remember the popularity of the event can dramatically drive up the prices of hotel rooms or even food.
The Transsiberian Railway:
Many people choose to do the Transsiberian Railway as a way to see parts of Asia. It's a wonderful journey starting in Moscow, Russia and ending in Beijing, China. If you choose to do this route, the most affordable option is to buy train tickets as you go. Split the journey up into different intervals. Change trains at the border instead of buying international tickets and you will save a significant amount of money. Also remember that your trip is more than just a train ride. Take long breaks so that you can really see the places you're traveling through.
Choosing Affordable Countries
Perhaps the most affordable country you'll ever visit is India. Even large cities like Delhi and Mumbai are quite affordable. A close second is Nepal. Despite its low cost, you can find some great quality places to stay and visit in India and Nepal. There are guesthouses that suite every travel style and budget. On the other end of the spectrum, Japan, specifically Tokyo, is quite an expensive destination. If you're on a tight budget this is a place where you might want to consider couchsurfing. If you're concerned about a language barrier, look for a local who speaks English or seek out an expat who will let you crash in their home. They're often eager to show you around their neighborhood as well. Having someone with you who speaks Japanese will really help you see another side of the country that you might otherwise miss. It is possible to find hostels in Tokyo, but they are expensive, and the sleeping conditions are variable. China has been growing in cost in recent years and continues to do so. The quality of accommodation is variable, and often you get what you pay for. The northern areas and larger cities like Shanghai are dramatically more expensive than the south and rural areas near Yangshuo. Since prices continue to rise, don't let this deter you from visiting China now. It will likely only get more expensive.
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Traveling Through Asia
Transportation throughout Asia is quite variable. In China you can experience the bullet train, or you can take the bus. If you're hoping to take the train make sure you buy your tickets at least a few days out as they do sell out regularly. Indian buses and trains are part of the travel experience as well. For many of the train routes, remember to book in advance if you're particular about which class you travel. Ground transportation in Japan is expensive so many people find that flying is actually the best option. There are major airports in most larger cities throughout Japan. Throughout Southeast Asia there are frequent tourist buses, or you can find the local buses that are a fraction of the cost and may or may not be less convenient. Many vendors sell "VIP" bus tickets and travelers only find out later that these buses are anything but "VIP." If you can find the local bus station, then you'll save a lot of money and have a more interesting experience.
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