World Cities Where East Meets West

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.

Hong Kong

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.

Bangkok

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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.

Istanbul

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.     

Sarajevo

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.

Singapore

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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.

Shanghai

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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!    

 

 

 

  

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Advice For A First Time Tourist of Japan

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Image By Jason Goh

If you’re planning on visiting Japan, it’s likely that you already know that it’s one of the best parts of Asia, with its elegant architecture and amazing technological feats. However, without proper knowledge of the country, you are at risk of getting stuck in a situation you don’t know how to get out of, or completely over spending when it’s simply not necessary. To avoid this, here’s some of the best advice I can give for traveling to Japan for the first time.

  1. Eat At Fast Food Restaurants

Most people associate the phrase “fast food” with a grease filled burger or some variation of fried chicken, but in Japanese fast food restaurants that simply isn’t the case. Here you can order miso soup, dumplings, bowls of rice, and many other typical Japanese foods, often at a price cheaper than the processed junk from back home.

  1. Bring Cash

A lot of places in Japan don’t accept bank cards, and many ATMs don’t accept foreign cards even in Tokyo, so money really will be your friend on your trip. Because of this, you will have to make sure you either have enough cash or know of an ATM that will accept your card.

  1. Carry Hand Sanitizer

Strangely, most public bathrooms in Japan don’t have any dispensable hand soap, so if you want more than a simple rinse of warm water, you should probably carry sanitizing hand gel.

  1. Learn Japanese

You don’t necessarily need to learn Japanese fluently, as many people in Japan do speak English quite well. However, it’s always best to have a few key Japanese phrases memorized, in case you get stuck in a situation where there isn’t anyone that can speak English. It’s also polite, and many Japanese people would probably appreciate being asked if they can speak English in their language.

  1. Print Out Hotel Address In Japanese

Much like above, if you get stuck in a situation where you can’t find anyone that speaks English, it’s always best to have your hotel address written down in Japanese, to give to a cab driver to help you get back. This tip is useful in any foreign country you visit.

  1. Rent A “Pocket Wi-Fi”

A “Pocket Wi-Fi” is a wireless internet router that allows several different gadgets to connect to it and use its unlimited internet. They are available to rent at most airports in Japan, at a fraction of the cost of data roaming charges.

  1. Find Your Nearest Konbini

A Konbini is a Japanese convenience store that often sells anything you could possibly require, from hot meals, to gadget chargers, to socks. They also often have ATMs that do accept foreign bank cards, so it really is a refuge, if you get into a pickle.

  1. Get A Japanese Rail Pass

If you plan on visiting several different cities during your trip, a JR Pass could save you a lot of money, especially if you plan on going to another one of the four main islands.

Japan is a beautiful and elegant country, but it can get confusing if you don’t know the language and customs. Hopefully, this advice will help you navigate the country with a bit more ease, and allow you to have a completely stress free, and memorable getaway.

5 Fun Things to Do in Koh Samui Thailand on the Weekend

The second largest island in Thailand, Koh Samui, is filled with tropical fun, great food and fantastic ways to relax on the weekends. Surrounded by forested mountains and stunning beaches, you can do as much or as little as you like. Take in the picturesque scenery and scents of exotic flowers, coconut groves and salty air while you decide what you want to do this weekend. Here are 5 suggestions to get you started:

1) Staying in

Stay in and submerge yourself in opulence with your own villa complete with a private pool. You can enjoy a dip in the refreshing waters before dinner, at midnight under the stars, or anytime you want too. Walls enclosing the area allow for optimal privacy, you know – just in case you and your love want some ‘alone time’ in the pool. Afterwards, you can lounge around on the plush bedding or relax in living room area. Two satellite TV’s, an ipod docking station and wireless internet will keep you in touch while still allowing you to be away from it all.

2) Soak up salty air

Soak up salty air, balmy breezes and fruity drinks from your oceanfront cabana at the beach club. Or, choose to lounge beside the pools, under the umbrellas or even in the water. There are plenty of cushioned loungers, sofas and beds for you and your friends to gather. Lather up with the suntan lotion, grab your glasses and stretch out to work on that tan. When you get too hot, just dip into the pristine pools (or the ocean) and repeat.

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3) Eat!

With so many great restaurants, especially fresh seafood, you should never go hungry. Do not miss the best Thailand has to offer- the Sunday brunch in Koh Samui. The Ultimate Sunday Brunch Club runs from 11:30 until 3:30. Enjoy the DJ and some great music while you dine on the finest oysters, Iberico ham, prime roast beef, sea bass, lobster and so much more. Local fresh fruits and vegetables, canapes, and luscious creme brulee will round off your meal. Take this opportunity to enjoy old favorites or to venture out and try everything new and flavorful. This is truly the best brunch on the island.

4) Spa and massage

Allow your chi to flow freely again in the spa. Here, masterful hands employ Chinese reflexology, traditional Thai massage, Japanese Reiki and Indian Ayuravedi to bring you back into balance. Enjoy being pampered alone or with your significant other during a couples massage. Flower petal-filled water, warm herb compresses, and strong hands will ease away your stress and restore your sense of well-being.

5) Adventure and scenery

2 days in Koh Samui will only wet your appetite for the things of this island. When this island is full of adventure and scenery. Get out of your resort and see the 12m- tall Golden Buddha at Wat Phra Yai Temple. Do some sea kayaking or snorkeling. Explore the night markets of Fisherman’s Village in Bophut. Here, the streets are blocked off and vendors sell everything from chicken satay and grilled meats to colorful elephants and silky wraps. Soak your feet in an aquarium filled with tiny fish waiting to exfoliate your feet by eating away the dead skin.

Thailand awaits with so many fun things to do in Koh Samui. Partake in the cultural delights, gorgeous mountain forests trails, warm sandy beaches, and culinary treats. You will never be bored. Come and explore Koh Samui soon.

 

Koh Yao Noi, Phang Nga : Your Perfect Honeymoon Island Paradise in Thailand

Thailand is one of the most romantic countries in the world. The nation’s shimmering beaches, luscious jungle landscape, eclectic culture, and delicious cuisine make it a hotspot for vacationers around the globe. The romantic aura of the island also makes it one of the best island destinations for honeymoon.

Thailand offers a wealth of experiences and environments. The most populated beaches and locations can be found in the southern part of the country, but there are a few more private areas sprinkled throughout the nation. Koh Yao Noi is one of these hidden gems and is the perfect getaway location for honeymooners. This article will offer everything you need to know for your escape to paradise!

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Photo Courtesy of Pear Blossom via Wikimedia Commons

Getting There

Getting to Koh Yao Noi can be a bit tricky if you’re not prepared. The island is popular for its secluded and private nature, so visitors are only able to set foot on the island after taking a ferry or speedboat from Bang Rong Pier on the popular island of Phuket. Most tourists will fly into the local airport at Phuket. From here, they’ll be transported by private vehicle to the pier where they’ll load a speed boat or ferry to Koh Yao Noi. As you plan your visit you’ll want to consider departure times from the marina as they keep a pretty consistent schedule that varies by season.

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Photo Courtesy of Martin Bartosch via Flickr

Fun Things to Do for Couples

There are plenty of things to do in Koh Yao Noi. Since it is one of the best Thai islands for honeymoon, so there are lots of romantic couples activities. Here are a few of the most popular:

 

  1. Couples Massage – Massage has always been a Thai tradition and specialty. The island offers some of the world’s most luxurious spas and massage experiences. Consider booking a romantic couples massage at one of the many resorts on the island.

 

  1. Lagoon Kayaking – For the more adventurous couple, the island offers a large variety of kayak rentals and day tours. Lagoon kayaking is one of the more popular options for couples. It’s more laid back, but still allows you to see a large portion of some of the island’s most beautiful, private spaces.

 

  1. Snorkeling – Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities on the island. Koh Yao Noi’s crystal blue waters and elegant reefs make it a hot spot for snorkeling enthusiasts. There are a variety of companies on the island that offer full day or half day excursions to uncharted waters. These tours offer guests some of the best snorkeling in the world.

 

Best Time to Visit

The climate in Thailand varies greatly throughout the year. The months of November to May are considered the dry season while June-October experiences heavy rainfall. Generally, November-February offers the best weather and climate conditions for vacation and provides spells of dry weather perfect for all the outdoor adventures.

 

Amenities in the Area

There are many forms of accommodation in Koh Yao Noi. The island is romantic and secluded, but still offers all the amenities required for a comfortable stay. There is a 7-Eleven upon entry onto the island, but otherwise the amenities are local-based and lack the glitz and glam of flashier brand name stores. This gives visitors a more island-based vibe and provides a unique cultural experience.

The village has a variety of locally owned restaurants, a hospital, a post office, and a few ATM locations. You’ll find that most of the action and amenities are sprinkled along the southern border of the island where most of the island’s beautiful resorts are housed.

For transportation around the island, guests can catch a ride into town on one of the local tuk-tuk pick-up trucks. For the remainder of the stay, scooters are the most popular method. You can hire a driver, or rent them from one of the many local agencies. It’s a fun and unique way to cruise around beautiful Koh Yao Noi.

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Photo Courtesy of Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr

Places to Stay

Lodging is a big deal in Koh Yao Noi. There are a variety of housing options suitable for any budget. Here are a few of the more popular accommodations for your romantic getaways:

  1. Six Senses -This unique resort focuses on sustainability and uses natural materials for all of their resort architecture. The resort offers private, elevated villas right off the beautiful bay. This accommodation is relaxing, romantic, and luxurious and is definitely a bit more pricey.

 

  1. Coastal Escape – This new island resort offers stunning views of Phang Nga Bay and also boasts some of the best in-house island cuisine. Guests will enjoy a delightful view, a free one-hour massage at the resort spa, and access to the resort’s activities like mountain biking and kayak rental.

 

  1. Koyao Bay Villas – This local accommodation offers visitors the opportunity to experience their trip like a native. The bungalows are equipped with dark wooden architecture and a local flavor that can’t be beat!

Overall, Koh Yao Noi is one of the best Thai islands for the honeymoon experience. The island offers the perfect balance of seclusion, romance, and activity. If you’re looking for a sweet escape after you say “I do” consider this tropical paradise!

Make Malaysia Your Next Holiday Destination

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(image: wikimedia)

There are many beautiful countries to visit across the globe, and one of the biggest reasons people visit new places is to integrate into a new culture while taking in the splendid sights around them. For these reasons, amongst many others, Malaysia could be the next holiday destination of choice. Located in Southeast Asia, the country is well known for its fabulous culture, colonial buildings, incredible rainforests and magnificent beaches.

While global travelers should invest in a plaza premium lounge klia credit card for lower interest costs on their travels, Malaysia is a relatively affordable place to visit.

When visiting the country, here are three places you may find particularly interesting.


Redang Island

There are many beautiful beaches in Malaysia, perfect for anybody wanting to spend time under the sun. If you want somewhere quiet to relax you should head for the beaches of Redang, a small slice of paradise with crystal clear blue waters and soft white sand.

One of the quieter islands in Malaysia, this is the perfect place for anybody wanting to get away from other tourists. When not resting or playing sports games on the beach, you should go snorkeling at the appropriately named Turtle Island with the local sea turtles, which are part of Redang’s conservation area.

For those who enjoy walking, taking a trek around the island is a must, with its rare plants, and wild animals including the long-tailed macaque monkeys and large monitor lizards.

Redang Island doesn’t have much of a nightlife, but there are bars and resorts available for those who like to stay up late and watch the sun go down. Karaoke is very popular amongst Chinese tourists, perfect for those who have the courage to sing in public! There are great eating places too, so you should savor some of the local delicacies including fish head curry, best served with banana leaves, and the gorgeous ice desert, Ais Kacang, which can be topped with syrup, fruit, and peanuts.

Gunung Mulu National Park

One of the most thrilling areas to visit in Southeast Asia, this world heritage site located in the middle of Borneo features so many natural marvels; you are spoiled for choice. With huge caves, tropical rainforests, and fabulous rivers, this is the perfect place for anybody wanting to soak in the country’s beauty. Cave tours and guided treks are a must for anybody wanting to explore further, whether you prefer to travel at ground level or one of the skywalks across the treetops.


Kota Bharu

Many travelers visit here as a stopover point while on their way to the wonderful Perhentian Islands, and with good reason. For those who enjoy shopping, there are many marketplaces teeming with local women selling tropical fruit, fresh vegetables, and craft goods. There are also plenty of museums to visit, including the Handicraft Village and Craft Museum for those interested in Malaysian culture, and a War Museum for anybody interested in its history. Night visitors should also visit the Fireflies Garden for an incredible display of color from these miniature marvels.

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