Greater Asia Guide - Great East Asia Regions & Countries
It's hard to comprehend that one region can house more than 3 billion people, while also playing host to some of the most remote places on the planet. But the contrasts of Greater Asia don't stop there.
Map of Greater China
At one end of the region, are the technologically advanced nations of Japan and South Korea. At the other end, are the former Soviet-occupied "stans". And in the middle, we have chaotic India, war-torn Afghanistan, and the almighty People's Republic of China.
A region of Isolation
Isolation is a common theme that transcends the stark diversity of Greater Asia. And it's not just the geographic isolation of Mongolia that surprises visitors. It's the cultural isolation of Japan, the political isolation of North Korea, and the religious isolation of Tibet, that creates such diversity.
Central & East Asia
Of course, this diversity gives travelers many opportunities to discover the unknown. And in many cases, the isolation only exists at a macro level. This means that while Greater Asia may appear inaccessible to outsiders, the locals are actually very warm and welcoming.
Greater Asia | Must See
There's always so much to see, but so little time. Here are a few must-see cities to add to your next itinerary.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Foreigners can only tour Pyongyang with an approved guide. If you attempt to catch a taxi, the driver is unlikely to take you without express permission. And if you're caught trying to hoodwink officials, you'll be put on the next plane home.
But despite restrictions, it's possible to sneak a peek behind the opaque cloak of North Korea's rule. To make the most of a visit to Pyongyang, kindly ask your guide to travel by foot rather than a taxi. This makes for a much deeper immersion in the local culture, which is largely kept away from prying foreign eyes.
They say you haven't been to China unless you've been to historic Xi'an. And as a former capital, once home to more than 10 dynasties, they're probably right. It's also the Eastern terminus of the Silk Road, which somewhat explains the city's position as Western China's manufacturing powerhouse.
On the historic front, you'll find a wealth of important sites and relics in and around Xi'an: Neolithic Banpo, the Terracotta Army of the Qin emperor, the Han and Tang imperial tombs, and in the city itself, the Goose Pagodas of the Tang, the Bell and Drum towers, and Ming city walls.
India's most romantic city, Udaipur is known as the "Venice of the East" and the "City of Lakes". Relax on a boat ride around the picturesque Lake Pichola, surrounded by the stunning hilltops of Aravallis. Or indulge yourself and live like a king for a day at one of the many palaces converted into luxury hotels.
Hollywood has also recognized this city's beauty using the stunning scenery as a backdrop. The most famous example, James Bond's 1983 Octopussy, was filmed in the floating Lake Palace. You can catch Octopussy, nearly any day of the week, being played at rooftop restaurants overlooking the lake.
Greater Asia | Must Do
The road less traveled is rarely in plain sight. But these must-do activities are sure to get you on the right track.
Attach your thinking cap and don your poker face, because this ancient Chinese game of skill, strategy, and luck, isn't for the faint-hearted. The game is played amongst four focused people, atop a small wooden table, using white-enameled blocks.
Mahjong is socially popular in Asia. An invitation to play is regarded as a welcoming gesture or an offer of friendship. If you're arranging an extended stay, it's worth reading up on the rules before departure.
T'ai Chi Chuan
T'ai chi chuan (or tai chi) is an "internal" martial art. People practice it to improve and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. T'ai chi chuan translates to "supreme ultimate fist", which somewhat hints to the art's underlying message.
T'ai chi chuan may seem awkwardly spiritual to first-timers, but the synchronous actions and large groups are oddly empowering. Simply join at the back of one of these groups, shake out the cobwebs, and follow the graceful movements.
Nomadic horse-riding tribes live throughout the Mongolian steppes and Tibetan Plateau. These tribes can give you a taste of what it's like to live so closely with horses. The local terrain can also give more experienced riders a run for their money.
Visit within the first few days of August for the Litang Festival where Tibetans celebrate with horse races, games, and demonstrations. If visiting in mid-July, check out the Nadaam festival in Ulan Bator, which includes three traditional games; Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
Greater Asia | Must Try
If you want more than sights, sounds, and smells, give the place a good taste test. Check out these must-try local favorites.
Raw fish doesn't sound like much fun, but there are a few nice consolations. Firstly, sashimi is always prepared from the freshest fish available, otherwise, it tastes and smells awful. Secondly, it's a great natural source of energy and nutrients.
The wholesomeness of sashimi is a nice change to the normally erratic diet of the global traveler. Try sashimi made from tuna, salmon, and squid. These are all quite subtle and provide a great cut. Add soya sauce and wasabi for taste.
Just as genuine Champagne comes from a specific region of France, genuine Kobe beef comes from a specific region of Japan. Anything else is just a copy. And while you may argue that genuine Champagne is nothing to phone home about it, authentic Kobe beef leaves no doubt.
The host family of cattle is predisposed to an intense marbling of fat throughout the meat that gives it a very succulent texture and buttery flavor. But don't be too alarmed, the meat has a higher than usual ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat, which is somewhat healthier for our hearts. Just try it, it's to die for.
The province of Sichuan can get quite frigid in winter, so it makes sense to load the local food with spices, chilies and the unique Sichuan peppercorn. But it can get excruciatingly spicy. Enough to induce tears, sweats and finally, the hiccups.
But it pays off to be strong and embrace the pain. It's widely thought that hot chilies induce the secretion of endorphins. Which is probably why people get so addicted to hot food. At least give it a go, keep some milk by your side, and let the tears flow. You'll feel much happier afterward.