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Asia - First Time

Any travelers out there who’ve explored Asia quite a bit? I’m curious as to know what everyone’s favorite places are and where you would recommend a first time Asia traveler go on their first trip.

Posted by
1097 posts

Cathay Pacific Airlines often has special rates from west coasts cities. They may still have one that includes multiple cities for one basic price. It remains the best airline we've ever used. We flew to Hong Kong and then were able to select two more Asian cities for one price but returning to Hong Kong between each leg. We chose Singapore, where English is the standard language, and Bali (Denpasar). We stayed in Hong Kong for 6 days and took a day trip to mainland China and saw some of the terra cotta warriors. Nowadays many choose to go to Nha Trang, Vung Tau, or other beach cities in Viet Nam. I visited some of those Vietnamese cities long ago but had to be wary of an ambush or booby traps when I was there..... : ( You can't go wrong with Hong Kong for a first trip.

Posted by
28 posts

Well I most likely will be traveling solo and will probably go for a week during the Fall. 27 year old male, no budget constraints. I’ve been to 13 countries in Europe in the past 2 years so I’m looking to switch things up for my next international trip. I’m thinking my first trip might be one of Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, or Hong Kong. I like to be on my feet and on the move exploring cities. (A week on the beach in Florida or at a casino in Vegas is not my style of travel). I’m pretty open as to things I like to do, but for my first trip I would probably prefer a big city as opposed to a beach type city in Cambodia or Vietnam for example. Food, people watching, historical landmarks.

Posted by
1701 posts

It really depends on what sort of experience you're looking for. For the minimum culture shock I'd suggest Singapore, with its modern infrastructure, English language and signage. It's a very comfortable experience for a first time traveler to Asia.
Hong Kong would be my second choice for many of the same reasons.
At the other end of the spectrum would be China, which can really be an assault on the senses if you're not prepared for it.
The other destinations you list fall somewhere in between to varying degrees. Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo are modern, prosperous cities and getting around the respective countries is pretty straighforward. Other countries, ie Vietnam, Thailand,Cambodia, etc. - not so much.
Keep in mind that distances between countries in Asia are much greater than in Europe, requiring flights to connect them, thus eating up at least half a day even between countries that appear to be easily "bundled" from scanning a map. Singapore to Bangkok, for example, takes about 2.5hours.
There are low cost airlines in Asia too. Some are pretty spartan but will get you where you want to go cheaply enough.

Posted by
3304 posts

We love Thailand but have also explored the Philippines, China, and Korea. They are all incredibly different from each other. I would recommend Thailand for your first trip. Most everything is cheap, the people are lovely, there is a ton of history, beautiful jungle, gorgeous beaches, and great food. It's a fun place to travel alone as it's easy to meet other travelers to hang out with, especially out on the islands. If you head south toward Phuket, the islands in the Andaman Sea, and the coast around Phang Nga Bay and Krabi, you'll get a great overview of the country. The Philippines are even cheaper but it's harder to get around as a westerner IMHO. Manila is interesting but there isn't much to do for more than a couple of days. Other than that the beaches there are just stunning and there is virtually no one on them.
China is incredible and relatively cheap but you have to have a driver or use public transport in the cities. Westerners aren't allowed to drive but the train system between cities is very nice. Wherever you go though you won't be disappointed. Korea is full of history but isn't as cheap. I found it interesting but didn't stay in Seoul for more than a few days so can't really give too many recommendations.
Asia is pretty addictive once you start going...still so many places on our list!

Posted by
1701 posts

If you're thinking of combining Tokyo and Seoul, know that each has an older city airport separate from the international airports at Narita and Incheon - each of which is located quite distant from the respective city centers, thus making them a time consuming (and sometimes expensive) hassle to get to.

Haneda (Tokyo) and Gimpo (Seoul) are located much closer to the downtown areas, making connections between the two much more convenient. Point being that you could craft an open jaw flight plan that would enable you to visit both cities on a single trip without wasting an entire day just getting from one to the other.

Posted by
661 posts

I haven’t been to Asia in many years, but I don’t think you will find any of the cities you mention to be at all “difficult” as a solo traveler. I would choose Bangkok, Hong Kong or Tokyo. I have not been to Seoul and I think one week in Singapore is too much (a few days are enough and it’s a long trip from North America...I’m guessing that’s where you are starting. Do Singapore on the way to Indonesia.)

I adore Hong Kong. I’ve been there a couple times on my own. Food is superb. The city just buzzes. When you get tired of the buzz, you an take a day trip by ferry to an outer island and wander around.

Bangkok and Thailand were my first Asian adventure on my own. I spent 3 weeks traveling mostly by bus. I didn’t do beaches but headed north and had a lovely time. I’m not sure I would spend a full week in Bangkok, but you could easily combine Bangkok with another destination in Thailand or elsewhere.

Tokyo is great too. I spent a week there my first time. That said, I'm not sure I would spend a full week there. Go to Nikko or Nara or Kyoto. You could do Nikko as a day trip, but it is a long trip and it’s a nice place to spend the evening. Trains are superb in Japan. Fly to Tokyo, train somewhere and fly back from Osaka.

Distances are long. Look into flight times. It’s a long way from Tokyo to Singapore. You might want to just do Korea and Japan to save on travel time, esp since you only have a week.

Posted by
4128 posts

I have done a three week tour (including a four night river cruise) of China.

Toured Japan for a week prior to a cruise that visited five Japanese ports, Shanghi, China, Okinawa, Tiawan, ending in Hong Kong.

Been to the Philippines, Hong Kong (3 times) and Thailand.

Been to Singapore, Bali, Indonesia and Malaysia as well as four ports in SW India.

Also, I lived in Saudi Arabia for 5 years working for the US government, traveling to places in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
Turkey is in Asia and another great place to visit.

We loved all the fascinating history of China with the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tinammen Square, Teracotta Warriors in Xian, Cruise on the Yangzee as well as the Li River with its Karst formations. Shanghai and other places are great.
If you have time, China is amazing.

Japan is right up there with China. We loved the people of Japan. They are wonderful, helpful and very friendly. Lots to see in that country and Kyoto is a must see.

Hong Kong is amazing, a real mix of east and west. A thriving city, I visited in 1981 and later in 2012 and 2015, it has modernized and changed so much. It is still a unique place.

Singapore and neighboring Malaysia are worth a visit, but not quite in the class with Japan and China.

Bali was nice, but less nice than Singapore.

Posted by
326 posts

Zach, your profile doesn't say where you live, however, any trip from west coast North America to Asia in one week is going to eat up plenty of your time in the air (not to mention the adjustment for jet lag on arrival). To maximize your time, I would pick one major city of interest that you can (preferably) fly to non-stop and base yourself there. You will have about 5 days at best for exploring, given the time change, arrival and departure days.

Tokyo is a good example of a city with lots to experience, with good transportation networks, and some interesting day trips (beautiful scenery) if time permits. It has it all: - history, landmarks, culture, people watching, great food, and the most helpful people you will find anywhere. If you like cities, five to seven days will fly by in Tokyo! Hakone/Mt. Fuji, Yokohama, Kamakura are a few nearby day trips among many to choose from.

I’m thinking my first trip might be one of Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, or Hong Kong.
Those are all great cities, but with only one week, I'd go for a 11-12 hours direct flight rather than 19 hours!

Posted by
13930 posts

Thailand is my favorite, Bangkok and Chiang Mai would easily fill a week with stunning sights and great experiences. Winter is the best time to go. I didn't particularly enjoy Singapore, can't imagine what I'd do there for more than 2 days and it's very expensive. I love Hong Kong, spend a couple of days on Macau for something different (but avoid the casinos, go for the historical sights - charming. Vietnam is fine, I found my time out of the cities (Saigon, Hanoi) was what I most enjoyed.

Posted by
5019 posts

Where do you live?

For many people, travel time to much of Asia is dramatically longer than a flight to most of Europe - how much longer depends on where you live and where you're going- but when you start talking about a trip to Asia that's "a week" some hard realities set up. Specifically, it takes about 2 days of travel time to get to many parts of Asia (up the 3 or 4 days to some corners of it) - and that's starting on the west coast of North America. Starting from a small town in the eastern US...add another flight or two. When you start looking at routings with multiple layovers, and you can't decide whether to go east, west or over the pole to get there...it starts to sink in that you're going a long, long way.

Personally, I don't think it's wise to go to Asia for "a week". You spend half (or more) of your trip just getting there and getting home.

OTOH, from where I live (Seattle) one can fly to Tokyo in less time than it takes to get to most of Europe -- although culturally, it feels like a much greater distance.

no budget constraints

Maybe no constraints financially speaking (lucky you). Time constraints will be worth considering.

Posted by
28 posts

Erie, Pa. I will most likely be using the Toronto airport. Yes, I’ve factored in travel time as well. I understand the first 2 days traveling over and the day traveling back are for travel only. I’ve already factored those in planning ahead. My trip would then potentially be 7 days on the ground, exploring. I know I said I would have about a week, but probably will actually have 10 days off based off my work schedule. I also know Toronto has nonstop, direct flights to Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong which certainly gives those 3 a leg up on the others.

Posted by
5019 posts

Well, Hong Kong is a lot further than Tokyo (or Seoul). On such a short trip, that extra distance/time makes a difference.

I'd suggest Japan. Look for a nonstop to Tokyo and buy a rail pass, hit the Shinkansen. You wouldn't run out of great things to see/do in a year, never mind a week. Easy for foreigners, and a perfect first-trip to Asia. On the surface, Japan appears familiar, modern, efficient (and it is - makes coming back to North America feel like you're going to an undeveloped backwater). Japan is easy. But just below the surface, there's a huge cultural difference. Plenty of big cities. Ticks all your boxes in big ways.

The fall is a great time to go, reasonable weather, good stuff to see (just expect crowds for leaf-watching, it's a big thing).

Having traveled pretty extensively around Asia, I'd say that given your constraints and interests, Japan would be a no-brainer.

Posted by
1701 posts

Given your time constraints and the other details you've provided I agree that Japan would be your best choice for an introductory trip to Asia.
The availability of non-stop flights is a very big deal IMO. I noticed that at least one of the flights from Toronto goes into Haneda rather than Narita, which itself will help a bit with the logistics.
September in Tokyo, and in Japan in general, is a great time to visit. The suggestion of flying open jaw - into Tokyo and out of Osaka - is a good one. Finishing up your week with a day or two in Kyoto would be a nice capstone to your visit to Japan before heading home.

Posted by
257 posts

I think Japan, South Korea or Hong Kong would all be excellent introductions to Asia. Hong Kong would probably be one of the easiest in terms of language since even though Cantonese is the first language, the British influence is still visible. English language signage is everywhere, and plenty of locals speak English. Even many of the place names are English, and by that I mean they are named after places or people from Britain such as Victoria Park, or Harlech Road or Prince Edward station. All three are pretty affluent, and one way this helps you is that public transport is excellent.

Somewhere like Vietnam is also worth visiting but a little more of a culture shock. In the case of Vietnam, I needed to get a visa, as well as get injections for Typhoid, Hepatitis A etc. Hepatitis A requires two injections, so I needed to start this a few months in advance. So there is more preparation, it is not just a matter of buying your airfare. Public transport is also not as well developed as in the other countries I mentioned. I still had a great time in Vietnam though.

Posted by
24 posts

I agree with the other posters that 7-10 days, especially from the US East Coast, really allows for only 1 or maybe 2 countries in Asia. You may want to pick between North Asia and South; they'll have totally different weather in the fall - cool or tropical. As a solo traveler, you might also consider that people in Japan, Korea, and even China are more reserved and it's easy to feel 'unstuck' if you don't know anyone and don't speak the language. In Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines the people are easier to approach and there are enough young, single foreign travelers to make it easy to meet people, eat alone in restaurants, etc. Also, English is more widely spoken in Southeast Asia. North Asia is more developed, wealthy, and business-like; Southeast Asia is more flexible and less developed. If I were you, I'd do either Japan (Tokyo + Kyoto + Nara) or Thailand / Malaysia / Singapore. And save the other for another trip.

Posted by
485 posts

Japan! For the time frame you posted, a couple of days in Tokyo followed by Kyoto and Nara. Definitely use the trains.

Posted by
24 posts

Japan is a great introduction. It is a developed country with every modern convenience (and beyond) a person could ask for, the people are friendly and helpful, it's safe, the food is delicious, and there's a life time of culture and nature to explore. There are also huge cultural differences, which I find fascinating.

Posted by
8293 posts

Spam in which the clever writer failed to mention where the place is. In Asia somewhere, I guess.

Reported to Webmaster.

Posted by
28 posts

I’ve decided to do a Tokyo/Hong Kong combination trip with 4 nights in each city (possibly 5 and 3 too) sometime in late November-early December. Thank you all for your suggestions as these 2 cities seem to be the best fit for my first Asia experience.

Posted by
50 posts

Japan to really get you acquainted with the Asian culture. Don't miss out on the Philippines as well. It's not among the usual suggestions but it definitely has so much charm and beauty waiting to be discovered. Explore the places outside the city like the beautiful islands and beaches. Enjoy!

Posted by
1701 posts

Do consider flying out of Haneda to Hong Kong versus Narita - much less hassle that way.
Flight costs are very competitive and once you account for the cost involved just getting out to Narita airport it's usually cheaper overall.