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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Picturesque Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

MOSTAR, BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA: Mostar is a photogenic little town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its old town is picturesque at every corner. Ruled by the Ottomans for few centuries, Mostar still has old mosques and bridges from that period. This is a perfect place just to relax and enjoy nature and history or make trips to nearby small towns.

Mostar - a picturesque small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar – a picturesque small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar is about 130km from country’s capital Sarajevo which took us about less than 2 hours to reach. We had rental car, but most of the hotels in Sarajevo provides day trip to Mostar and Jablenica. The drive from Sarajevo to Mostar was absolutely stunning. We drove on beautiful highway and passed many small villages, grand mountains, and scenic lakes. It was River Buma that accompanied us throughout the whole time until we reached Mostar.

Scenic drive from Sarajevo to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Scenic drive from Sarajevo to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar is small but very well demarked and with clear directions. There is a nice big paid parking space very close to the old town where we parked.

TIME of TRAVEL: Mostar was not in our itinerary during our Easter break trip in 2014. We were driving from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik and Mostar was on our way. Our hotel staffs told us that Mostar is a beautiful little town that we will pass on our way to Dubrovnik. So we decided to take lunch break there. But that little lunch break ended up being like a half a day trip.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch at “Sadrvan” with fantastic setting of old town in an outdoor courtyard, only 20 meters away from Stari Most or Old Bridge. The waiters and waitresses were in traditional Bosnian costumes serving traditional Bosnian dishes. The restaurant had variety of options from schnitzel, to many kinds of soups and salads, and main dishes. We had veal cream soup, chicken risotto, vegetable with rice, grilled veges, and my husband had Bosnian coffee (very similar to Turkish coffee) with “Lokum” – a traditional Balkan sweet…again very close to Turkish delights.

Bosnian tea with "Lokum" in a restaurant in Mostar, BiH

Bosnian coffee with “Lokum” in a restaurant in Mostar, BiH

Mostar is really a fun place to do souvenir shopping. The bazaar atmosphere was colorful and very lively with lots of eye-candies for good prices. Most of the Bosnian goods are heavily influenced by Ottoman’s or Turkish. You can find carpets, tea-sets, pots, ceramics, scarves, and dozens of other cute stuff from Mostar. There were some stores outside the Old Town, where we bought our souvenirs from…they are a bit cheaper from the stores in old town.

Some Bosnian souvenirs in Mostar

Some Bosnian souvenirs in Mostar

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent only a few hours in Mostar. All the main sites are in old town and can easily be covered on foot.

1) OLD TOWN and BAZAAR: This is the highlight of Mostar. Even if you don’t do or see anything here, just walking on the cobbled stone covered old town and by the Turkish-stores is enjoyable. These bazaars look like souks from the Middle-Eastern countries. Make sure to bargain whatever you buy.

Old town and bazaar of Mostar in Bosnia

Old town and bazaar of Mostar in Bosnia

2) STARI MOST or OLD BRIDGE and TOWERS: This is one of the most photographic icon of Mostar. It’s a historic landmark as well as the most visited site here. You get the best attractive views of River Neretva and the whole city standing on this stone bridge.

A stunning view from Stari Most in Mostar, BiH

A stunning view of Neretva River from Stari Most in Mostar, BiH

This is an old bridge, built in 1566, on the orders of and with funds provided by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, at the request of the inhabitants of Mostar, to replace a medieval chain timber bridge. The towers at the end of the bridges were built in the 1440s but underwent a series of alterations later.

Standing on Stari Most or Old Bridge of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Standing on Stari Most or Old Bridge of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The bridge is associated with the intangible heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has been described in poems and songs and was painted in numerous works by folk artists and by prominent artists of this country and abroad. During the war, in 1992, this old bridge was damaged, but in 1993, it was completely destroyed by shelling, collapsing into Neretva River. The two towers were also damaged that same year. The bridge reopened again in 2004 and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.

Stari Most and its towers in Mostar, BiH

Stari Most and its towers in Mostar, BiH

Old Bridge Museum is located at one end of Stari Most. We saw some people down by the river bank but we couldn’t because of limited time.

3) KOSKI MEHMET PASHA MOSQUE: Built in 1618, this is an Ottoman style mosque by River Neretva. The mosque is a National Monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We couldn’t go inside but from outside it looked very grand with big dome and tall minaret. There are couple souvenir stores opposite of the mosque.

Koski Mehmet Pasha Mosque - an Ottoman style mosque in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Koski Mehmet Pasha Mosque – an Ottoman style mosque in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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