Highlighting the history, nature, and culture on display in the Far East


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I've been regularly travelling in Asia since 2000, and lived in Singapore from 2004 until 2008 and then moved from there to Hong Kong to stay until 2014 for what overall was an awesome decade. There were plenty of highlights (lowlights chronicled on on my trips, and I decided to record some of the best spots that I've visited on this page. Admittedly, I haven't been to every single country in Asia or every single landmark in the ones I have visited, but I've been around a good bit to some amazing places that are certainly worthy of mention. Also, I tend to focus my travels on history, nature, and nightlife in that order so please take that into account as well as the fact that I'm not much of a foodie (though I love Thai seafood), not much of an "artsy-fartsy fancypants" type (whatever that is), and I have a low tolerance for scammers and so in-turn places where they congregate. Sometimes crowds of tourists with huge video cameras and black socks with sandals can't be avoided, but I've tried to dodge them whenever possible even if it means visiting a spot in inclement weather. Mainly my travels extended no further west than Bangladesh - a place that you won't be seeing me write about anywhere below - so I unfortunately haven't yet been to India by the time of this writing.

The "cost" field below is on a scale of one to five with five being super expensive and considers not only getting to the attraction/venue, but also incidental costs as well as moving around in the country. The "travel ease" field is on a scale of one to five with five being a major pain in the ass taking into account safety, visa hassles, language barriers, general confusion potential, and logistics complexity in getting to the attraction/venue. I hope this brief travelogue/guide is helpful for you, and feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or comments regarding the places I mention on the site.


-= Amazing ancient historical sites =-

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land."-G.K. Chesterton

Honorable Mentions: Ayutthaya in Thailand, Confucius Home/Temple in Qufu, China, and Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea

There are so many interesting spots with long histories spread throughout Asia...It was really hard for me to nail down favorites, but I forced myself to choose the places that continually pop up in my head. I believe that all, except for the Asian Civilizations Museum, are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Be sure to read up on the history before your visit.


-= Natural wonders =-

"I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority."-E.B. White

  • Koh Tao

    1. Koh Tao Island Near Koh Samui Island, Thailand Cost: budget travelbudget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    Really all of the islands near Koh Samui (or more officially, in the Chumphon Archipelago) are stunning getaways. Koh Tao happened to be my favorite due to the cheap prices, relatively quiet chillout beaches, nighttime partying (fun for a bit, but can easily be avoided when you tire of smelly Euro-stoner backpackers hitting on your significant other), and a wide array of sports options including snorkeling/diving, hiking, rock climbing, sailing, sea kayaking, fishing, and of course water skiing/tubing. Rather than ferrying around all of the islands off the Thailand coast, you can save time and hassle by just plopping down there in a cheap bungalow, do everything you could want to do at a tropical paradise, ferry back to Koh Samui, and fly out. Hopefully the continued increase in popularity and inevitable development won't spoil what must be the best semi-inhabited tropical island I've ever had the pleasure to visit.

  • Brunei Rainforest

    2. Brunei Rainforest Canopy Brunei, Borneo Cost: budget travelbudget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    Borneo itself is such a uniquely cool place in terms of both nature and culture that I promise you would not regret a trip. I happened to check out Ulu Temburong National Park rain forest in the Brunei section of the island, and despite being a jaded rain forest hiker even I was blown away. The journey out to the rainforest is itself a fun jaunt via water taxi and Jeep. The forest is largely untouched, with only a few huts and shacks here and there, outside of the rainforest canopy which allows stunning views both near and far. I'm used to seeing Jurassically gigantor lizards and insects from past rainforest treks, but I swear I saw an ant clambering around near a rope bridge that was as big as my index finger. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I didn't get to see the World's largest crocodile which is known to hang around in the marshes. Brunei doesn't really see tourism as compared to other nearby spots, so it is a big bonus not battle throngs of tourists and the scammers that they attract.

  • Mount Tai Shan

    3. Mount Tai Shan Tai'an, China Cost: budget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    One the first things that a newly crowned Ancient Chinese emperor did was climb Mount Tai Shan. After catching e. coli food poisoning bad enough for me to need eight hours of IVs (that's me looking sickly thin in the above photo) in Shandong University Hospital, quite bafflingly one of the first things I did was climb Mount Tai Shan. I was told that this place is one of the best combinations of history and nature in ALL of China, and despite my debilitated state I was going to check it out. Traces of human habitation date back to the Neolithic period, and the first recorded dynasties (roughly 3,000 years ago) performed religious rituals in the area. There are all kinds of interesting plants and trees around the temples and ancient ruins, some of which had ancestors put in the ground by the Han Dynasty. Keep in mind that this mountain range is huge, and requires several days of hikes and camping to fully appreciate. Alternatively you can take a rickety, rusty cable car ride that will have you simultaneously loving the stunning vistas and updating your will.

  • Taal

    4. Taal Volcano Tagaytay, Philippines Cost: budget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    Climbing and hiking around Taal Volcano and sailing Taal Lake is a blast and can feel slightly risky due to the volcano being so active. The air is hot, dusty, and smells of sulphur. You will need to hire a trustworthy guide, possibly with horses or donkeys, to navigate the area. Admittedly I didn't get the full experience because I wandered around the outskirts with a local friend, yet I still loved the view and of course the fact that it was my first volcano hike. Technically, the area is known as an island within a lake on another island within another lake on yet another island. If you are in good shape, already on a visit to the Philippines, and have a local friend then you absolutely MUST check this place out.

  • Batu Caves

    5. Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Cost: budget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    The Batu Caves earns a spot here because it combines history, nature, and culture all in one. I also contend that in the nature arena, this place is unique because you don't usually see huge limestone caves like this in Southeast Asia. It is a bit special culturally as well in that these caves house one of the largest and most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. There are some cool animals running around including the usual suspects like macaque monkeys (veteran Asia travelers know that there is no escape from these mischievous guys) and more rarely seen creatures like kooky looking spiders and fruit bats. Much like Kuala Lumpur itself, be prepared for the many scammers that lurk around and prey on the newbie tourists like a fruit bat on - uhh - fruit.

  • Nha Trang

    6. Nha Trang Beach Nha Trang, Vietnam Cost: budget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    Nha Trang's clean beaches are surrounded by picturesque mountains and is overall a great area for chillin' and/or watersports, but this isn't too hard to find in Asia and not why I felt compelled to put it on the list. You know how the baseball movie "Moneyball" shined a light on undervalued statistics such as highest "slugging percentage" and most "defensive runs saved"? Well Nha Trang leads Asia's beach resort cities in least "annoying tourist percentage" and most "seafood bill dollars saved". I've heard there are scammers abound near the beach, but in my couple of visits I never saw any and very much enjoyed my strolls along the water. Many hotels and resorts are on the beach, so accessibility isn't a problem.

Honorable Mentions: Ubud in Denpasar, Indonesia and San Benito Farm/Spa in Lipa, Philippines

Choosing the best rainforest hike, mountain climb, or tropical beach is very subjective; probably even moreso than determining the best historical sites. If you have been to a place that you feel is deserving of topping the list above and is awesomely underreported even by veteran travelers, please drop me a line and give me the scoop.


-= Cultural, arts, resorts, bars/restaurants, shopping and/or otherwise intriguing spots =-

"I haven't been Everywhere, but it's on my list."-Susan Sontag

  • Tai O

    Best Cultural Exp:
    Tai O Fishing Village Lantau Island, Hong Kong Cost: budget travelbudget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    I've been to Tai O a few times, and during each visit I walked around the place with a grin on my face because, while I don't know exactly what "old Hong Kong" is like, it just feels like what "old Hong Kong" is in my mind. The place is a small community of fisherman living mainly in houses built on stilts along with vendors who sell what they catch - in addition to a variety of other merchandise. Its a dash touristy, but not so much as to put off a veteran traveler. The merchants are pretty mellow and you can walk around comfortably to catch a glimpse of what a Hong Kong fishing village was like back in the '40s. If you are travelling in Hong Kong, then get away from the city for day to Tai O and you can also go hiking nearby afterwards.

  • Thai Haggling

    Best Big Shopping:
    Chatuchak Weekend Market Bangkok, Thailand Cost: budget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travel Helpful Link

    Everyone has their own preference for shopping; so I'm choosing a place that literally has EVERYTHING. It is one of the World's largest markets with fifteen thousand stalls that run the gamut of wares from truly high-end handmade goods all the way to el cheapo mass produced junk. Just be sure to bring your haggling A game and try not to get lost amongst the rat maze of stalls.

  • Empire

    Best Big Resort:
    Empire Hotel Brunei, Borneo Cost: budget travelbudget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travel Helpful Link

    Having chilled out at many beach resorts over the years, I was quite jaded prior to stepping foot onto the grounds of this 445 acre monster of fun and relaxation. The highlight is a huge pool that nestles right up against the South China Sea. You can head down to the beach for a variety of watersports (owned/managed by the hotel), go see movie at the theater, chill out one of the many pools, play a round of golf, get a beachside massage, and do pretty much anything you can think of that a resort should have available. During my visit the cost was reasonable and the facilities were underutilized due to a lack of crowds, and so therefore it wins as the best overall resort that I've ever seen. I can't think of a drawback, except for perhaps the fact that alcohol is prohibited in Brunei. The Empire Resort Hotel is a perfect easy getaway for a couple or family.

  • Sing

    Best Nightlife:
    Clarke Quay Bars/Restaurants Clarke Quay, Singapore Cost: budget travelbudget travelbudget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travel Helpful Link

    Perhaps years ago I would have gone with Lan Kwai Fung in Hong Kong or maybe Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, but I just can't because I've had more fun at the bars, pubs, and discos in Clarke Quay than anywhere else in the World. You can meet all kinds of folks hailing from any part of planet Earth, and then proceed to have an absolute blast in any one of the cool spots in Clarke Quay. Hell you can pass out drunk in the street, and wake up in the morning with your wallet still in your pocket. Places come and go, but the staple spots are Attica, China One, and Pump Room. Whoever refers to Singapore as boring or "stale", is either boring themselves or never knew who to hang with in Clarke Quay.

  • Tokyo

    Best Restaurant:
    Seryna Restaurant Tokyo, Japan Cost: budget travelbudget travelbudget travelbudget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travel Helpful Link

    I'm a seafood fanatic who especially enjoys scarfing down anything that swims at the amazing restaurants and hawker centers throughout Thailand and the rest of South Asia. It was hard to choose, but the one single meal that I can't get out of my head was at the Seryna restaurant in Tokyo. I happened to be there on a business meeting, had some of the thinly sliced shabu-shabu beef, and it was love at the first taste. There was some kind of primal instinct that kicked in, and I ate like an animal that couldn't detect when it has had too much to eat. The menu has a solid variety of other options, including my favorite seafood dishes, but I didn't care because my drug of choice that night was shabu-shabu and so I voraciously tore into the beef and shoveled it in like Grog the Barbarian. Later I learned that many A list celebrities hailing from both the West and East frequent the place for the same dish that I consider as probably the best meal of my life.

  • Thai Boxing

    Best Sports Venue:
    Thai Boxing at Rajadamnern Stadium Bangkok, Thailand Cost: budget travelbudget travel Ease: budget travelbudget travel Helpful Link

    The fights and equally furious betting will have you swiveling your head back-and-forth from the upper stands to the ring. A front row seat is cheap and while the boxing is fierce, the fighters obviously respect each other. Sadly the crap attractions like riding mistreated elephants, buying pirated shaky cam quality movies, or watching ping-pong shows get top billing for things to do in downtown Bangkok...Forget that nonsense, and stop in to check out the matches at either Rajadamnern or Lumpinee stadium.

Honorable Mentions: Blok M in Jakarta, Indonesia (no photo does justice to the crazy) and The Shooting Gallery in Banteay Srei, Cambodia

In the miscellaneous section here I wanted to showcase some cool, underrated stuff to do (or experience) that perhaps you don't hear about in the mainstream press or travel blogs.