15 checks on your summer bucket list: Asia
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
If you're a college student looking to book summer travel plans, you've come to the right place.
Three months off means you can see quite a bit of any continent, whether it's Asia, South America, Europe, or North America. In this four-part bucket list story series, we detail how to take on a single continent with limited funds.
This piece on Asia will focus on must-see places in each of the following countries: China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and India. Power up your printers, make copies of this list, and start jotting down notes that will help you create the travel summer of your dreams.
Logistics: Transportation, food, lodging
Asia is especially known for being an inexpensive place to visit. You can easily survive on less than $30 per day—including food, lodging, and activities—but getting there is the pricey part. Travelers planning to go to multiple destinations in Asia would be smart to start by flying into the city closest to the U.S., and in many cases this is Beijing. Round-trip flights (coach, not first class) from Atlanta and Houston can hover between $800 and $2,000 per person. Bargain shoppers are smart to go during the rainy season, between June and October, for the best fares. Easy comparison shopping can be found on Google Flights.
Most of the food you find in Asia will be out of this world. Be adventurous and sample native dishes to each area, and also be sure to only go to restaurants and food stalls that are busy with locals. Online reviews don't mean much when it comes to deciding what restaurant to visit—it all comes down to the crowds in front of you. Go to the places that are packed.
Lodging in Asia is surprisingly cheap. Depending on your destination, you're likely to find hotels for $50 per night or less. Hostels can also be just as nice as hotels, and Hostelworld is an excellent resource. Couchsurfing is another good site where you can match up with locals and stay in their homes for free
1. Beijing and the Great Wall
Beijing is a bustling city where the traffic is intense, the food is incredible (ask a local for the best places and know they may look shady from the outside) and the cultural attractions are second to none. Visit the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Peking University campus. The Great Wall of China is about a 90-minute drive north of Beijing, so hire a driver (you can do this inexpensively), leave the city early, and check it out on a day trip.
2. Xi'an and the Terra Cotta Army
Xi'an (pronounced "she-ahn") is an ancient walled city (the country's first capital) in the center of China that has retained all of its historic charm. Take a few days to walk around and visit the galleries and museums, and then venture a little outside the city to check out the Terracotta Army, a collection of warriors that were built out of clay for a former emperor around 250 BC. The warriors were found in a tomb in the 1970s and today archaeologists are still digging out more. In addition to warriors (all of which look different and exactly like their human counterparts), there are horses and carriages. This is a must-see.
Guilin is a city in southern China best known for its soaring limestone mountains and lush, green rice patties. The landscape here is incredibly picturesque, so rent a bike and spend a day touring through the mountain paths. Then go over to the neighboring town of Yangshuo to take a class with the Yangshuo Cooking School.
Vietnam's capital city of Hanoi is a chaotic mix of old and new with architecture reminiscent of French occupations, scooters whizzing by on every street, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving some of the best pho you'll find in the northern part of the country. The best thing to do in Hanoi is to just walk the streets and take in the sights and sounds. If you're looking for specific attractions, don't miss the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton"), where Senator John McCain was a prisoner during the Vietnam War, and markets in the Old Quarter.
5. Homestay in Sapa
Sapa is a region of Vietnam located about five hours north (by train) from Hanoi. It is gorgeous and green, and filled with rice patties. Book a trekking tour here that includes a stay in a village through a service like Intrepid Tours.
6. Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon (still referred to by locals), is a sprawling metropolis of more than 6.5 million people that houses a ton of history surrounding the Vietnam War. The War Remnants Museum is a sobering but necessary place to visit, as are the Cu Chi Tunnels, an intricate series of tunnels used by Viet Cong soldiers as supply routes during the war that are now open to visitors (an easy day trip from Ho Chi Minh).
7. Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai
Elephants in Thailand were long used for logging purposes, but when logging became illegal several decades ago, the animals were then transformed for entertainment purposes. Today, most elephants in Thailand are abused. The Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary in northern Thailand, is rescuing elephants and giving them better lives. Tourists can visit and volunteer at this park, located about an hour outside of Chiang Mai, and learn about how they can help these endangered species.
8. Floating markets in Bangkok
One of the most exciting things to do in Bangkok is to visit the floating markets a short drive from the city, where it's advisable to hire a driver or hop on a day tour. As a visitor, you'll sit in a canoe and go from stall to stall to sample delicious food and have the opportunity to buy one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
9. Scuba diving in Koh Tao
Koh Tao is an island in the southern part of Thailand that offers some of the best scuba diving in the world. There are tons of places on the island where you can get certified on a budget.
10. Angkor Wat
The ruins in and around Cambodia's Angkor Wat are mind-boggling awesome and spread out among more than 400 square miles. These ruins, thought to be the ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire, were discovered by missionaries around 1860 and are now one of the wonders of the world. Fly into Siem Reap and then spend several days—including one day where you see the sun rise over the temples—absorbing all the sights you can.
11. Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is the 1.5-million-person capital city of Cambodia and, while you can look around town (the Royal Palace is worth a visit), most people go to view what are known as the "killing fields," about ten miles outside of the city. This is where the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Cambodian government encourages visits to Choeung Ek.
12. Elephant Valley Project
About six hours east of Phom Penh in Sen Monorom you will find the Elephant Valley Project, another sanctuary for overworked and abused elephants. Visits are allowed with advance booking.
13. Taj Mahal
Built in the 1600s as a gift from the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to his wife, the Taj Mahal is now a mausoleum and one of the wonders of the world. Fly into Agra (or hire a driver and drive four hours from Delhi), and get there before sunrise for the least amount of crowds. Spend the day looking around the grounds, and you'll see that the Taj is much more than just the one structure you've seen from photos.
Rajasthan is a state in India located about eight hours driving from Delhi. The region is worth at least a weeklong visit to check out the towns of Jaipur, Udaipur, and Jodhpur. There are many companies that offer tours of the area where you can camp in the desert and ride camels— Intrepid Tours is one of them.
15. Beaches of Goa
If you are looking for a seaside experience in India, there are few places to go better than Goa, a state in southwestern part of the country. Consider the popular beach in Calangute, or another beach in Baga that's famous with tourists. Whichever you choose, you're sure to meet other visitors looking to enjoy themselves.
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