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Archived Posts from “Asia”

South Korea-Land of the Morning Calm

21

September

Located in East Asia, South Korea is a highly developed nation whose name means ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ and its capital is Seoul, a major metropolitan city and the second largest in the world. The Korean Peninsula itself is located in a temperate climate with terrain that is quite mountainous. While winters can be relatively cold in South Korea, the summers are warm and balmy, punctuated by a short monsoon period called ‘jangma’ which takes place mostly in the month of July. With rolling hills and river basins, there is much natural beauty in this land and, in fact, the country has 20 national parks and natural places to enjoy such as the Suncheon Bay Ecological Park and the Boseong Tea Field. For most people, the preferred season to visit South Korea is during the autumn season which spans from September to November. Within these months the air is crisp, the humidity drops significantly and foliage turns to brilliant shades of orange, red and gold. Between April and May, spring arrives and many global travelers prefer to visit during this season to catch the sights of many trees and flowers in full bloom.

Being a nation that has warmly embraced high technology, South Korea is exceptionally advanced among nations in terms of transportation so you will definitely find the expected modes of travel such as air travel, motor ways and trains. In fact, Korean Air served over 21 million passengers in 2008 alone and South Korea’s Incheon International Airport has been named the “Best Airport Worldwide” every year since 2005. Frequent high-speed train service runs between all major cities, courtesy of Korail and subway systems are in these large cities, as well.

While South Korea’s culture has been said to be influenced heavily by its western neighbor, China, it does maintain quite a unique culture all its own. With 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea, there are clearly plenty of historical sites to visit. Pop culture has a strong following in this nation, with many popular television shows and styles of music having quite eager fan bases. Another surprise for visitors is the intense popularity of online games such as Starcraft, which is often televised in South Korea. With an estimated 90% of Koreans owning mobile phones, this is clearly a land of people on the go.

Korean cuisine is nearly as storied as that of its neighbors China and Japan, based primarily on rice, tofu, noodles, fish and meat. Kimchi, a spicy fermented vegetable dish is often served with each meal and soup called ‘guk’ is traditionally enjoyed as a main course. If you enjoy spicy foods then you will be happy to know that Korean food is typically heavy in seasonings such as sesame oil, garlic, ginger and hot pepper.

Clearly, South Korea is a country with a clean atmosphere all its own with something to offer everyone.


Beijing-The Northern Capital

04

June

Beijing (also known as Peking), which literally translates to “Northern capital,” is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. Beijing will be the home of the Summer Olympics in 2008. As the name suggests, BeijingBeijing is located in the northern section of China. It is a fairly mountainous area with rivers running through it. Monsoons affect the climate there. Summers in Beijing are hot and humid while its winters are very cold and dry with strong winds. Three quarters of the rainfall takes place in the summer months. Beijing also experiences frequent dust storms due to the erosion of the deserts. At times, rain is unnaturally induced by the Beijing Weather Modification Office to lessen the effects and aftereffects of said storms. The best time hands-down to visit Beijing is in the fall as that is when the weather is at its best, or as a second place option, during the spring. The weather is also favourable, but the dust storms can be impeding. If you can handle the harshness of China’s winters, the snow does wonders to brighten the beauty of the city. Try to avoid traveling there during peak vacation times for China as traffic becomes heavily congested.

Beijing’s modes of transportation of course include air travel and roads that accommodate both cars and buses. In addition, the city has a five-line subway system. Two of the lines are run on land and three run underground. Several more are under way. There are also railways, the two main train stations being the Beijing Railway Station and Beijing West Railway Station. Taxi services are of course available, as well.

Yi He Yuan Summer PalaceBeijing is home to countless incredibly beautiful attractions, some old and some new. The Great Wall of China needs no introduction and is of course a must-see while visiting the city. One particular section of The Great Wall at Mutianyu called JianKou is what you might call wildly beautiful. It is more unkempt than many other sections, set amongst the mountains with nature abounding. Another pin in the map that absolutely should not be surpassed is the Forbidden City Imperial Palace. Built in the 1400’s, this palace is breathtakingly beautiful from the gardens up to the rooftops. Also, check out the Jingshan Park-the highest point of Beijing city, to get a view of the Forbidden City from above. Some other incredible attractions include the world’s largest town square-Tiananmen Square, the National Museum of China, the Ruins of The Old Summer Palace, and the Temples of Heaven, Earth, Sun, and Moon. These are only a tiny percentage of the amazing sights the city of Beijing has to offer.

The cuisine of the city has long relied greatly on mutton-be it boiled, fried, minced, or steamed. Pork is also what you might call a staple food item in Beijing. Some other favorites are fish and (of course) the Peking duck. One of the more widely used seasoning-type foods is the onion. Beijing has many fabulous restaurants to feed your appetite during your travels there. Some widely recommended examples include Fangshan, Quan Ju De, Alameda, Huang Ting, and Din Tai Fung. Beijing will be a vacation you will remember forever.


Taiwan-The Beautiful Island

23

February

Taiwan is a place which mixes the old traditions with modern verve, a part of China, yet an island apart, and a place which packs over 23 million people into a 13,000 square mile island that features majestic mountain Taipei 101tops, tropical jungles, and Pacific beaches. Taiwan is certainly a place filled with electricity and energy, and is a great place for the more active traveler.

Taiwan, and its exciting and massive capital, Taipei, seem to be a city in a country which never sleeps. Any time of the day or night, there are plenty of activities going on, restaurants open for business, and bars, cafes, and shopping centers bustling with people. In fact, the city has a number of ‘night markets’ that only open during the evenings in alleyways and side streets which offer clothes, snacks, jewelry, and other goods, in a unique, lively atmosphere. In the past, night markets were places where pirated goods were available, but this practice has all but disappeared in favor of more legitimate ones. Visiting the night markets is a great way to get right into the middle of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of traditional Taiwan.

One of the least traditional, but most impressive sights that Taiwan has to offer is the Taipei 101 building, currently the tallest in the world. The behemoth’s full name is the Taipei International Financial Centre 101, and the building is as tall and imposing as its name implies. Standing 508 meters and boasting 101 floors, the building is a gorgeous example of modern architecture, and is built to invoke bamboo and rope. On the lower levels, Taipei 101 boasts an upscale shopping mall and gigantic food court. Visitors who aren’t afraid of heights can make their ways to one of the two observatory floors (located on the 89th and 91st levels) and will be rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views of the city. Although the building has only been open since 2004, it has quickly become a known landmark, featured in movies, commercials, and has been named one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

Food lovers visiting Taiwan and China will be amazed at the blend of flavor, variety of offerings, and affordability of dishes that are available. For the most affordable meals in town, street vendors offer noodle and rice dishes that are as delicious as they are cheap. For just a dollar or two a day, budget travelers can find cheap, delicious, and nutritious plates and bowls. Of course, more demanding gourmands can find upscale restaurants offering world-class, modern dishes in cutting-edge environments. Vegetarians will have no problems fulfilling their needs, as the large Buddhist population assures that most restaurants offer meatless dishes, or can cater to most tastes and needs.

Although most people know that Taiwan is located in a sub-tropical zone, and may have seen the occasional typhoons that hit the island, certain times of the year and certain locations can get quite cold. In fact, Shei Pa National Parkthe mountains regularly see snow in the winter (December to February) and also are swept by strong winter winds which can send the temperature plummeting in just a couple of hours. During the summers, the whole of the island is hot and humid, and heavy downpours are the norm.

Taiwan is a fascinating place, caught between trying to keep its own identity separate from China, but still being ethnically, economically, and (perhaps) politically tied to the mainland. The people are open and friendly, and levels of crime are about the same as in most big cities. A trip to this country combines the old traditions with the all the fascinating advances that modern life has to offer, and travelers will be rewarded with an experience you will never forget.


North Korea-A Land Apart

25

January

Travelers looking to experience something totally different and to travel to a place where, most assuredly none of your friends have ever been, then North Korea is the place for you. An anachronism in so many ways, Pyongyangthe country is one of only a handful of communist states left in the world, one that continues to play by its own rules on the world stage, and one that is sadly backwards, yet oddly charming. For the savvy and intrepid traveler, this strange land can provide a wonder and mystery that can only be found in very few corners of the world. One thing should be noted, it’s impossible to write about North Korea without mentioning the government. The government permeates everything about the country, including tourism. Visitors to North Korea will always be members of a tour group, and will have at least one ‘guide’ with the group, whose function is to keep tabs on tourists as much as it is to provide information to them.

To say that the government is paranoid and controlling is putting it mildly. Many tourists will feel limited and stifled because of the rules and regulations put into place. Of course, there are many ways to bend the rules. The best way to get ahead in North Korea is to play along and be respectful. Showing respect to the guides, the people, and the government will reward itself in the guides feeling more comfortable with you and perhaps allowing you to go out alone some, or showing you some places that are not normally seen by tourists. On the other hand, showing disrespect and speaking ill towards the government and its leader, Kim Jong Il, can have severe penalties for tourists and guides as well. It is important to keep in mind that severe penalties in places like North Korea are totally different than what most Westerners think of. Prison sentences, heavy fines, and worse are common in North Korea for even the smallest misdemeanor. Even if you feel that stopping and bowing in front of a statue of Kim Jong Il is totally absurd, you should still show respect by remaining still and silent as others pay homage. North Korean tour guides are expected to ‘control’ the guests, so any disturbance or scene caused by a guest, will negatively affect your guide, and could easily get them into very hot water.

All that being said, the sights that await visitors in this country are like no others in the world. In Pyongyang, visitors will be shocked to find that even though many people can’t afford food and electricity at certain Mount Baekdutimes of the year, the city has a functional and spotlessly clean metro, complete with beautiful artwork and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Visitors will be taken to Mansu Hill, where they can pay their respects to the “Great Leader”, Kim Sung Il, by bowing in front of a 20 meter tall statue of the leader. Another monument to the first Kim, is the Juche Tower. Rising over 170 meters, the tower was built using over 25,000 stones to commemorate the leader’s 70th birthday. One of the biggest pilgrimages in the country is to Mangyong Hill, birthplace of Kim Il-Sung. Thousands of Koreans visit the museum to witness the hard-scrabble conditions that the hero of heroes for North Korea had to endure in his childhood.

Kaesong was once home to a huge population, and was the seat of the Koryo Dynasty. Unfortunately, over the years, several wars decimated large parts of the city’s historical legacy, but a walk through the old quarter can provide a glimpse into the city’s past. Kaesong also has several museums and ancient ruins that have been preserved that are worth seeing.

North Korea is also home to some severe weather with the winters’ biting cold, and the summers’ monsoons. However, planning a trip during the spring or late summer/early fall, visitors will be impressed with the gorgeous skies, and alternately, blooming flowers or spectacular autumn colors.

Traveling to North Korea isn’t for the faint of heart, and is probably better suited for experienced travelers looking for something totally off the beaten path. Although visitors may feel like they are being treated poorly or that they are being ripped off for food or in hotels, rest assured that the overwhelming majority of North Koreans have it far worse. A trip to North Korea may not be for everyone, but for those daring enough to make the journey, the reward will be well worth it.


Russia-Transcontinental Travels

07

January

The country of Russia is very large, and stretches out of a large portion of both Western Europe and Northern Asia. Russia is in fact, the largest country in the world, and covers twice as much area, as the second Moscow Kremlinlargest country, which is Canada. After December of 1991, Russia was no longer the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, after it finally broke free of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, becoming instead, the Russian Federation, and to most of us, known simply as Russia. The Russian culture, having been around for many, many centuries, is rich in struggles, and history. Travelers coming to Russia to experience the vivid, and culturally colorful atmosphere, will not be disappointed with what they find in this incredible country.

Russia is also not just a frozen wasteland, the winters may be cruel, or even bleak in some regions of the country, but in others, there are still beautiful summer days, and green grass growing. Travelers interested in coming to Russia for a leisurely stay have many options; the summer for the warmth, traveling north for the cold, winter activities, or traveling in the off seasons to South Russia, for smaller crowds, and colder weather. There are many popular destination cities in Russia, but the three best known and most popularly traveled are Moscow, Russia’s capital city, St. Petersburg, known as The City of Tsars, and Pskov, one of the oldest cities in Russia. Moscow, being Russia’s capital city, covers a large area; there’s something for every vacation palate there. If tourists want to explore the city, go hiking, or lounge in a luxurious hotel, they can. St. Petersburg, contains several points of interest, such as the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Mikhail Castle, the Summer Garden, the St. Isaac and the Kazan cathedrals. And as for Pskov, as far as it being said to be old, it recently, in 2003 celebrated its eleven-hundred year anniversary. Although it’s a bustling city, full of new developments, and stylish, trendy places and people, travelers will still be able to feel how ancient the city around them is.

Soups and stews are very popular in Russia, because centuries ago, it was mainly a peasant meal, and hundreds of years later, traditions amongst the Russian people still thrive. Soups in Russia go from several Dombai Karachai Caucasusdifferent variations, in both hot and cold. Borscht, is a popular traditional Russian soup, that should definitely be sampled by visitors. Meats in Russia are served either as large boiled cuts, in soups or porridges, or cold, as a snack. Fish was an important part of Russian cuisine, when most were still Russian Orthodox, as it was similar to the Catholic religion, where families would eat fish on Fridays, instead of other meats. Most of the traditional drinks in Russia are no longer in use, but when they were, the drinks were original to their region, and not used anywhere else; such as sbiten’, kvas, medok, mors, curdle with raisins, and boiled cabbage juice. Sbiten was later replaced by tea, a similar drink.

Hotels and accommodation in Russia are varied; namely it depends on what cities you plan to visit; for example, in St. Petersburg, one very attractive alternative to hotels is actually staying in temporary apartments. They are much, much cheaper than a luxury hotel, and provide a more homey atmosphere, and welcoming environment, for those who prefer that to hotel accommodations


Japan-Moving Forward, Preserving the Past

17

December

Very few places in the world offer travelers the chance to visit some of the most well-preserved and beautiful historic sites and then just across the street, ultra-modern sights, buildings, and futuristic diversions, but Mount FujiJapan does. Few countries can manage to pull off the peaceful serenity of the ancient temples, centuries-old Zen gardens, shrines, and palaces, right alongside totally mechanized and automated convenience stores, bullet trains, and buildings and museums dedicated to the commercial and technological enterprises that have defined Japan since the Second World War. Whether a spiritual, relaxing time in the gorgeous natural world that Japan offers, or an electric, cosmopolitan experience in one of the country’s major urban centers, visitors can find whatever they are looking for. . .if their wallets and credit cards can handle the beating that a trip to Japan will surely incur.

In Japan, all roads go through Tokyo, the country’s capital city, and one of the great cities in the world. Tokyo is at once a cultural mecca, exciting and electric consumer center, and historical and traditional seat of the Japanese people. The city is a eclectic mix of classical Japanese architecture alongside the glossy, mirrored post-modern skyscrapers that house some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Sony, Toyota, and Fuji TV. The Japanese are a people crazed and consumed with sports and gaming, and the city offers amusement parks, such as the Tokyo Joyopolis, which is videogame maker, Sega’s, high-tech wonderland, featuring games, indoor roller coasters, and virtual reality amusements. Also wild about baseball, Americans will especially enjoy seeing the Japanese version of the American pastime at the Tokyo Dome, where fans sing together during the games, and have a variety of cheers that liven up the games. Cultural buffs will find their share of sights in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the National Museum. The Japanese are also known for their romantic trysts held in secret ‘love hotels’. For the more daring souls, a trip to Love Hotel Hill on the top of Dogenzaka will yield the largest number of these special hotels which can be rented by the hour. For late night partygoers, the Hill is located near many bars and clubs, and can be a good place to crash for a few hours before heading home.

Japan has a fairly mild climate, but does have four seasons, none of which are insufferable. Winters in most parts of the country are cool to cold, with occasional freezing temperatures and snowfall. Rainfall comes fairly regularly throughout the year, but mid-summer sees an increase. Summer temperatures can get up to 30 Celsius in parts of the country, but average summer temperatures are around 23 degrees.

Japan has a new law that travelers should be aware of. In an effort to fight terrorism, foreigners entering the country will be fingerprinted and photographed, and this data can be cross-referenced against records from around the world. Travelers from most Western countries and Australia do not need visas before traveling, and will receive a 90 day stamp upon arrival.

Japan is one of the few places in the world where the future and the past coexist in relative harmony. Travelers can spend their day visiting some of the most beautiful Zen gardens in the world, centuries-old temples, and shrines to ancient gods and goddesses, then have a bite to eat in a fully automated sushi bar, where the dishes come around on conveyor belts, and then go to sleep in a futuristic sleeping cube in a ‘capsule inn’, a hotel designed to maximize space by offering quality, yet extremely tiny rooms. Japan is a country of extremes, which makes it tops on the list of places to visit. The electricity and action of the cities are so omnipresent and almost overwhelming, that when you do find some peace and serenity in a park or garden, it just seems that much more relaxing!


Vietnam-Tropical Mountain Haven

10

December

Vietnam lies in the heart of the Indochinese region and is composed almost entirely, of hills and mountain ranges. The climate in Vietnam is one of moist, tropical heat, making it a vast haven for flora and fauna of Sappa Vietnamdiverse beauty, and an array of species that are native to very few other environments on the planet. Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, and there are sixty-four provinces located in the country, each with its own people, and colourful traditions. The country itself is actually shaped somewhat like an ‘S’, and is neighboured by Laos and Cambodia, as well as the Pacific Ocean to the East and South, and the East Sea to the East of the country as well. Because of its convenient location in both the Pacific and Indian Ocean, the ports in Vietnam make up a very important trading environment for many countries.

Some of the most popular activities for tourists in Vietnam are the colourful traditional festival of the region; as well as the shopping in the country’s cities and villages for exotic souvenirs, and ethnic clothing.

  • In Hanoi there are large shopping districts, for the tastes of anyone’s interests, whether it’s food, outdoor produce markets, clothing, figurines, traditional artwork, or sculpture. Anything for anyone can be found in the busy streets of Hanoi.
  • The Christmas festivals in Vietnam are popular amongst tourists and natives alike. In Dam Sen, locals build an enormous Christmas cake and celebrate from December 22nd, all the way through New Years Day.
  • Spring and Summer festivals, such as the Chol Chnam Thmay Festival, and Tet Doan Ngo celebrate the coming of spring, and warmer months, as well as the warding off of bad spirits that may harm crops or good fortune.
  • Tet Trung Thu and the Cau Phuc Festival occur in the autumn months and are occasions where prayer and celebration takes place for the welcoming of the harvest season, as well as prayers for good fortune in the months to come.
  • Vam Sat, part of the Can Gio mangrove forest region, is a very popular place for those interested in eco-tourism, or viewing the native wildlife in the mangroves from the perspective of a slow moving boat, or guided nature hike, as well as viewing beautiful and rare flora.

The foods found in Vietnam have been mistaken over the years by many people; for instance, depending on what region you’re in, you may encounter a lot of vegetarian dishes, because of the high population of practicing Buddhists. Another fact is that duck, goat, and lamb, despite being used frequently as meats in neighbouring countries in the Indochina region, are not popular and used very rarely in Vietnamese dishes. Instead, beef, chicken, pork, tropical fish, and prawns are the most popular meats to use in cooking in Vietnam. When attending cocktail parties in Vietnam, it’s very wise advice to pay special attention to the appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. Snake and soft-shell turtle are considered delicacies at cocktail parties. And in Northern Vietnam, if you find it offensive or unethical to eat dog meat, pay plenty of attention to the menu.

In smaller villages, or crowded cities, you may want to rely either on transportation by bicycle, or on foot. When it comes to larger urban areas, such as Hanoi, be patient, if you’re driving a car, riding in a bus, or taxi. There will be traffic. However, driving in the country, if you plan to see much of Vietnam, can be relaxing; or if you don’t plan to drive, you can always travel city to city by rail. As for accommodations in Vietnam, it’s always good to plan a reservation at a hotel in advance, and usually stick to commercial lodging instead of that offered by private residences, for hygiene and safety reasons.


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