Asia has many delights to offer a traveller. But some incredible places are often overlooked in favour of more popular or more convenient locations. I’d like to give a couple of examples I’ve come across in my travels and encourage you to look beyond the obvious destination choices next time you plan a trip, wherever that may be. You might be missing out on an amazing experience!
The most popular way to experience Cambodia is to cross in from Thailand, see Angkor Wat at Siem Reap, and then go back to Thailand or straight through to Vietnam via the capital city, Phnom Penh.
That’s understandable, since it’s the most convenient way to get a taste of Cambodia without spending too much time travelling about. But if you do venture off the road most taken and head south, there’s a plethora of wonderful things to experience.
I recommend extending your time in Cambodia to travel south from Phnom Pehn to Sihanoukville. It’s a bit of a journey that takes about three hours but won’t cost you very much – and it will be worth it if you want to get more out of your trip.
Sihanoukville (sometimes affectionately referred to as “Snooky”) boasts stretches of white beaches to rival those in Thailand, with barely-touched islands to explore for a pretty reasonable price. Most of the islands have low-cost and eco-friendly accommodation options, with others like Koh Rong Sanloem offering higher priced, more luxurious surroundings.
If you’re coming from Thailand and perhaps getting bored of beaches and island-hopping, head to Kep to try fresh seafood at the crab market. While you’re in Kep, try the Kep National Park for a bunch of well-signposted hikes, with options to suit most experience and fitness levels. Cambodia has plenty of other opportunities for trekking, visiting temples, and exploring pristine national parks all over.
Cambodia also has some amazing volunteer projects, which could take you away from the tourist traps and deeper into everyday Cambodian life. Volunteering offers you the chance to help in places affected by poverty, but can also be a low-cost accommodation option – a base you work at during the week and can explore from over the weekends.
Original Volunteers have a low-cost programme that is rare in not being near Siem Reap. Most volunteer projects are based around Siem Reap as a convenience, being close to the airport and the border with Thailand, but hey! Other places need help too. Just make sure you do your research to find an ethically sound project that suits your needs and skills. You can also check out Workaway and WWOOF for low-cost volunteering opportunities, as both have options for Cambodia.
On the other side of the coin in terms of development, Japan suffers the same issue of having a lot of great destinations overlooked. Most popular locations to visit in Japan are Tokyo and Kyoto, the capital and former capital respectively. Adventurous visitors might try Osaka or Okinawa, but without prior research most people plump for the obvious – Tokyo.
It’s easy to get to, has everything you need, and offers many different angles to Japanese culture. But by not venturing to other parts of the country, you’re missing out! If you’re considering staying outside of Tokyo, my recommendation would have to be Yokohama.
Yokohama has a more laid-back atmosphere than Tokyo, with plenty of free and cheap activities for all ages – which will very likely be less crowded than Tokyo attractions. There’s an abundance of museums, like the silk museum which has some amazing kimono on display. Visit Chinatown for great food and souvenirs, or the marina to look at enormous cruise liners – even take a little boat trip for an alternative view of the city.
Surprisingly, there are enough shops to rival Tokyo too, but with less crushing crowds. Try Yokohama Vivre in the Yokohama Station area for every kind of fashion, or Minato Mirai’s many shopping malls and attractions.
Yokohama’s appeal also includes the Pikachu Outbreak parade in August, a German-style Christmas Market in December at the Akarenga (red-brick warehouse), and the Yokohama Arena where you can watch baseball or take in a concert.
Being a smaller city than Tokyo, it’s also a lot easier to find local, cheap places to eat and hang out. The Gumyoji area has some hidden gem restaurants, so utilise the pleasant, easy-to-navigate subway system well.
If there are things you do want to see in Tokyo, it’s only a 30-60 minute train journey (depending on if you manage to catch the express!) for only just over £3 (480 yen) each way. Trains run from Yokohama station to Shibuya station, from very early morning to very late night. Yokohama is also ideally situated to make trips out to Yokosuka and Kamakura, or weekend trips further afield.
In Yokohama, you might find it a little harder to get by speaking English than if you stayed in Tokyo, but not impossible. Take some time to brush up on your Japanese before you go!
If you’d like to try venturing further out than Yokohama, why not look at Sapporo for cooler weather, the snow festival and skiing? Or consider Hiroshima for a cool location with great food and baseball obsession. Nagoya is another option with its diverse history – Nagoya was the birthplace of Oda Nobunaga, as well as the “Nagoya kei” punk-influenced music genre.
There are so many wonderful countries to visit in Asia, and each of them has locations that are overlooked. If you’re interested in travelling in Asia, a little bit of research into places off the beaten track could lead to a marvellous adventure.