There is no doubt that travelling to Asia an unforgettable experience for everyone. The culture, languages, food and architecture are just a few of the things that make the continent such a fascinating and intoxicating place to visit. But there are also cities where western culture has had a very clear impact, and these are the places we are going to be talking about in this article.
This fusion of East and West is incredible to behold, and these cities also provide the perfect introduction to Asia if you have never visited before. You will be able to see the familiar and the not-so-familiar sitting side-by-side. We will also look at a couple of European cities where the Eastern influence has been obvious. So, let’s start looking at each place in more detail.
Though it is part of China once again, Hong Kong has a very different feel to the rest of the country. After decades of British rule, the remnants are still there despite being handed back 20 years ago. A centre of business and commerce, people still flock here from all over the world to live and work. While the stonework of many of the buildings makes the city feel distinctly Eastern, just look at the road signs and street markings to see the British influence. Depending on which district you visit, you will experience something different every time.
One of the highlights of a visit is a trip between the two main islands on the Star Ferry, where you can truly appreciate the grandeur of the place. Another way to do this is to hop on the Peak Tram for panoramic views over the city. And while you can wander down one of the main shopping streets and feel like you are in London, you can just as easily wander over to the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery and feel like you are in a different world.
The capital of Thailand has been a melting pot of different cultures, races and religions for hundreds of years. Today, that legacy still lives on, and many people use the city as a gateway to Asia, helped by the fact that one of the region’s busiest airports is located here. While there are big parts of the city where the traffic, noise and sheer number of people can feel overwhelming, there are plenty of hidden corners where you can get some much-needed peace and quiet.
The main party district of Khao San Road is where you will find party-lovers from all over the world. But for more traditionally Eastern sights, you will find numerous temples around, as well as the mighty Grand Palace. An unmissable traditional sight is the floating river markets where you will get a better idea of why Bangkok is sometimes known as the Venice of the East. As for the cuisine, there is no better place to try the many dishes which have become so popular all over the world.
If you are looking from a purely geographical perspective, Istanbul is a city where East and West literally meet. But there has also been plenty of cultural influence from both of the European and Asian continents that the city straddles. There are three main areas of Istanbul where you can see this clearly – Asian, Modern European and the old city of Constantinople. While you will see incredible Islamic buildings like the Suleymaniye Mosque, you will also find dazzling Christian monuments like the Church of St Saviour in Chora.
For fans of shopping and food, Istanbul’s markets are a dream come true. And one of the main pleasures of visiting this city is simply wandering the street to witness the pace of life and diversity of sights, sounds and smells. The city is a unique one that you will want to take your time to appreciate in its entirety.
Still one of the most overlooked cities in the whole of Europe, Sarajevo is small but it packs a lot into what it has. Surrounded by hills on all sides, you can hike up here for a spectacular sunset over the city. At the same time, you will hear the call-to-prayer echoing from the minarets which will make your feel like you have travelled a lot further east than you actually have. But there are still plenty of Christians living here as well, and there aren’t many other cities where you can find a church, a mosque and a brewery on the same street!
Sarajevo still bares the remnants of its four-year siege during the 1990s, but there is a peaceful feel to wandering the city now. You can enjoy a coffee (served thick and black in the Turkish style) and wander around the various markets. At times, it is easy to forget that you are still in Europe! Best of all, the city is small enough to explore entirely on foot.
With its towering skyscrapers mixed with an undeniable sense of Asian culture, there is no doubt that Singapore is a place where East meets West. Okay, so technically Singapore is a country, but it is small enough to feel like a city. Next door to the obvious symbols of Western modernity, you will find plenty of Chinese shop houses, Hindu temples and Malay mosques.
There are also plenty of job opportunities for people all over the world, so take a look here if you are looking for room for rent. But it is also great for travellers as well, and the perfect ‘decompression chamber’ for first-time visitors to Asia. Though Malay is the official language, you will find that English is spoken pretty much everywhere you go. One of the most cosmopolitan places in the world, people largely value openness and an acceptance of other cultures. And when it comes to the climate, the temperature stays warms and appealing all year round.
Ho Chi Minh City
Another place where colonial rule has had its influence is Ho Chi Minh City. When you first arrive here, you will probably think that Eastern culture has taken over, but take a closer look at the elegant buildings and leafy boulevards and you will clearly see the French influence on Vietnam’s capital. But at the same time, in the Old Town, you will see plenty of Buddhist pagodas and Chinese temples
The city has become such a backpackers hub that people from across the globe flock here to get an introduction to this beautiful country. And it is probably the most developed place as a starting point, before you snake your way up the country towards the capital of Hanoi. Of course, there are still the sad reminders of Western influence on the country which you can see when you go to the landmarks and museums dedicated to the Vietnam War.
Not so long ago, the whole of China was off limits to foreigners. But the city that has embraced Western culture more than any other is Shanghai. Just take a stroll along the Bund and stare at the modern skyscrapers or wander the charming streets of the French Concession and you will see how the city has been influenced. But, at the same time, it has still not lost its roots as you will see from attractions like the 16th century Yu Garden.
Alongside many local Chinese eateries, you will also find plenty of big brand foot outlets and European themes restaurants so you really can take your pick. If you are looking for a spectacular view over the city, take the elevator to the top of the World Financial Centre to stare across at just how far this city has come in a few short decades. You will also get a glimpse at China’s potential for the future
Take Your Pick
If you are very much used to Western culture and the idea of travelling to Asia scares you, choosing one of these cities as a starting point is a good idea. As well as some sights that will surprise you, there will also be many that seem a lot more familiar. Once you have gotten your first taste of the continent, it is likely that you will want to experience more and visit some places that are a little more off the beaten track. But the beauty of starting in one of these cities is that you will have easy access to many of your home comforts so you don’t feel too disoriented!
With the exception of Sarajevo, all of these cities have busy international airports so they are easy to fly into from most places in the world. Best of all, the cost of flights is steadily decreasing so there are more opportunities than ever to explore each of these incredible destinations. The East is much closer than it ever was before, so now is the time to get exploring!