The Best of Asia

12 Destinations that Make the Continent What it is...

They are the places that cry Asia! And if you want to be able to say that you've seen Asia (as opposed to being able to say that you've seen Thailand or India), you simply have to visit these places. None of them are perfect. Some of them are not all that great if you're looking for a pampered resort vacation. But these are the locations that personify the continent...

1. Guangzhou, China. At a point in time when Hong Kong was still an unnoticed piece of rock, ships came to this port not far away on China's Pearl River to trade. They brought the outside world to China and took some of China (silk, for example) back with them. Back, not to Lisbon, Amsterdam, or London, but to Bombay and Karachi, to Shiraz and Baghdad, to Damascus, Cairo, and Mekkah.
To the British it was Canton. The city is over 2200 year old. It is littered with temples and pagodas - and with old markets and new shopping malls. If Shanghai is the Whore of the East, this is where she bought her dress...

  • 2. Goa, India. The mingling of cultures on the warm coast of the Arabian Sea makes this former Portuguese colony truly exotic. Of the 75 miles of coast line in the Indian State of Goa, over 50 miles of it is beach. Inviting, near-tropical beach. And while the rest of Goa - its culture, food, inland scenery, and cities - are all well worth visiting, Goa's beaches alone make the place worth visiting. Colva Beach, with 12 miles of powder fine white sand, is Goa's longest beach. Calangute Beach offers a Saturday bazaar nearby with plenty of good bargains for shoppers. There is also a Tibetan market in Calangute and Kashmiri merchants frequent the area with carpets, embroidery, and more. But Dona Paula is my favorite: it is the beach where the ghost of a Dona Paula is said to walk unclothed except for her string of pearls in the waves where she drowned herself after her Portuguese father refused to allow her to marry her Indian lover...
  • 3. Suzhou, China. Perhaps the most beautiful place in China, and rich in history. Suzhou (pronounced "SUE-joe") is the seat of China's Wu culture; Wu is a dialect spoken by over 80 million people (making the Wu community about the same size as modern Germany). The city could remind a Westerner of Venice. Canals and street are interlaced. About 60% of Suzhou County is under water. Marco Polo visited the city while he was in China.
  • 4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It has become famous in recent years for its seven star hotel, perfect beaches, and relaxed atmosphere. The annual shopping festival draws literally millions of visitors into the tiny sheikdom to roam the air conditioned duty free malls and stomp through the dust at suoqs - traditional Arab markets that smell like the dawn of time. Words don't do Dubai justice, but pictures can help...

  • 5. Beijing. Possibly the most visited city in Asia. The sprawling city is packed with more things to do and places to see than I can talk about in a single feature: The Confucius Temple - Kong Miao, the Confucius Temple, is now the Capital Museum and houses a display on the culture and history of Beijing.
    • The Summer Palaces - The Old Summer Palace on Fu Hai Lake was sacked by the British in 1860 during the Second Opium War. Today the site is a public picnic ground. Close by, on Kunming Lake, the New Summer Palace (and the Garden of Cultivated Harmony) was started in 1888. Pink and green lotuses cover the lake during the summer.
    • The Temple of Heaven - Among the city's most visited parks. The Temple's complex covers an area of close to 700 acres.
    • Tiananmen Square - The spot where Mao proclaimed China a people's republic in 1949. His image still looks down upon the Square. The Goddess of Democracy was erected by students here in 1989; it was eventually torn down after the military dispersed democracy protests.
    • The Ming Tombs about 30 miles from the city.
    • The Western Qing Tombs about 80 miles outside Beijing.
    • The Great Wall not far away.

    The list is by no means complete. A trip to Beijing is essential in any well rounded Asia experience.

  • 6. Xi'an, China. Six thousand year of history. Xi'an sits on the inland edge of China's fertile lowlands. To the east it overlooks the densely populated river valleys that fed China and drive its industry. To the west is the beginning of the Silk Road and the arid Central Asian steppes that have supplied China with wave after wave of immigrants to absorb. But Xi'an is perhaps most famous for the Terracotta Warriors discovered there in 1974. It is one of the world's great archaeological sites. Some 8000 terracotta warriors guard the body of a Chinese Emperor.
  • 7. Henan Province, China. The cradle of Chinese civilization. It was here in the fertile valley of the Yellow River in Henan that the Chinese first developed settled agriculture. It was in this region that they learned how to feed 100 pounds of mulberry leaves to silk worms who would produce 15 pounds of cocoons that could then be turned into a pound of silk. It was in this province some 42 centuries ago that the Xia Dynasty (2200-1750 BC) established itself as the first central authority in China. And it was here that the Xia Dynasty was replaced by the Shang Dynasty (1750-1040 BC) – the dynasty that produced China’s first writing, the dynasty that produced the finest bronze ever made in any century. The attractions are numerous. Among them:
    • The Shaolin Temple, where both Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu were born.
    • Dengfeng and the Songshan Mountains Scenic Area with some of the world's most enthralling landscapes and a scattered collection of ancient temples.
    • The Longmen Grottoes, one of the most developed Buddhist historical sites in Asia, listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
    • Kaifeng, the ancient capital of several dynasties, with its Memorial Temple of Lord Bao and the Iron Pagoda (Tie Ta) and Xiangguo Temple.
    • Luoyang, a capital more ancient than Kaifeng, with its Guanlin Temple, its Ancient Tombs, and the White Horse Temple.
  • 8. Tibet. The roof of Asia. Tibet's capital, Lhasa, is a fascinating city of history and culture. The historic Potala Palace, traditional residence of the Dalai Lama, is filled with art and mystique. But you don't have to be particularly interested in spirituality or history to love Tibet. Trekking in the Himalayas is not something quickly forgotten and the Chang Tang nature reserve in Tibet offers some one the world's most breath taking wildlife.