Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent. It covers 30% of Earths land area and with approximately just less than 4 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population. The continent is too massive and diverse to conceptualize as a single travel destination. Even defining the borders of this continent is difficult. The continent is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, by the Indian ocean to the south, by Europe and Urals to the west and by the Arctic Ocean to the north. Asia's and the world's highest peak is Mount Everest while its lowest point is the Dead Sea, whose surface is 400 m below sea level. Travel options range widely, from the desert ruins and modern mega-malls of the Middle East to the magnificent ancient monuments in South Asia, from the beach bungalows and jungle treks of South-East Asia to the mega-cities and technology capitals of East Asia. Asia offers the very diverse travel options available to the most avid travellers. On one end, there are the ultramodern largely democratic modern countries like Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea which are very prosperous and in which people enjoy very high standards of living. On the other hand, Afghanistan, Laos and East Timor are extremely poor countries where people struggle even to get a few grains of rice each day. In addition, there are also many countries lying somewhere in the middle, such as the emerging powerhouses of China and India which make wonderful travel destinations in themselves due to their long history, size and diversity. Thailand is a magnet for travellers too, with great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and great beaches. To add to a list of possible travel destinations, Asia is also home to North Korea, which is under one of, if not the most, oppressive regimes in the world. Some of the most interesting cities to visit in Asia are:
- Bangkok — Thailand's bustling, cosmopolitan capital with temples, nightlife and fervour
- Beijing — capital of the People's Republic of China with the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
- Dubai — most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE, developing at an unbelievable pace
- Hong Kong — a truly world-class metropolis with a unique mixed Chinese and British heritage
- Jerusalem — containing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City, this city is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims
- Mumbai — most eclectic and cosmopolitan city of India, well-known for the Bollywood film industry
- Seoul — beautiful palaces, great food and a hopping nightlife, Seoul is a frenetic way to experience the Asia of old and new
- Singapore — modern, affluent city-state with a medley of Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influences
- Tokyo — the world's largest city brings a huge, wealthy and fascinating metropolis with high-tech visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan.
In addition to the cities stated above these are some of the most visited places:
- Angkor Archaeological Park — magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire
- Bali — unique Hindu culture, beaches and mountains on the Island of the Gods
- Dead Sea — stay afloat in this extremely salty lake
- Great Wall of China — several thousand kilometers long, its condition ranges from excellent to ruined
- Lake Baikal — the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, containing over one fifth of the world's supply
- Mount Everest — the world's tallest mountain straddling the border of China and Nepal
- Petra — ancient city in Jordan carved out of sandstone and one of the new 7 Wonders
- Registan — the impressive historic heart of Samarkand, a major trade city on the Silk Road
- Taj Mahal — the incomparable marble tomb in Agra
Travel to and within Asia
For easier reference Asia is usually divided into these regions; Central Asia, East Asia, Middle East, Russia and the Caucasus, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Asia's largest airports by number of intercontinental connections include Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mumbai and Singapore. For the Middle East, Dubai is by far the largest hub, with Doha and Abu Dhabi also having reasonably good connections. If you are coming to Asia by train, you'll be likely coming in through Russia or Turkey, although other options may exist. For an interesting experience, try the Trans-Siberian Railway. Due to the vast distances and expanses of water separating Asia's different regions, air travel is likely to be the preferred mode of transport between the regions many travel destinations. Fares are lower on average than in Europe or America, and low cost airlines in Asia are rapidly expanding their networks particularly in Southeast Asia. Air Asia is using Kuala Lumpur international airport as their main hub and have now grown to the largest and most profitable low cost operator in south east Asia. The airliner is using a terminal bulding by itself at the airport.
Unfortunately there is no common currency or visa like it is in the European union. In most cases you need visa when visiting the different countries in Asia. Check out Project Visa to see who needs visa to the different countries. Note that in some countries you have to apply for Visa before arrival while you may apply for visa on arrival in other countries. The process applying for a visa in advance may take up to a month in some cases. Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a geo-political and economic organisation located in Southeast Asia. Its aims include the acceleration of economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, the protection of regional peace and stability, and to provide opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.
Geography and geology in Asia
Due to the vast size of Asia the continent got it all; from deserts to the highest mountains on the planet to sunny beaches to ultramodern cities and raiforests. Geologically, Asia consists of ancient Precambrian landmasses; the Arabian and Indian peninsulas in the south and the central Siberian plateau in the north, enclosing a central zone of folded ridges. In accordance with this underlying structure, Asia falls into the following major physiographic structures: the northern lowlands covering West central Asia and most of Siberia; the vast central highland zone of high plateaus, rising to prox 4,600 meters in Tibet in China and enclosed by some of the world's greatest mountain ranges. The southern peninsular plateaus of India and Arabia, merging, respectively, into the Ganges and Tigris-Euphrates plains; and the lowlands of Eastern Asia, especially in China, which are separated by mountain spurs of the central highland zone. Mount Everest, in Nepal, is the world's highest peak; the Dead Sea is the world's lowest point. Great peninsulas extend out from the mainland, dividing the oceans into seas and bays, many of them protected by Asia's numerous offshore islands. Asia's rivers, among the longest in the world, generally rise in the high plateaus and break through the great chains towards the peripheral lowlands. The Aral Sea, Lake Baykal, and Lake Balkash are among the world's largest lakes. Climatically, the continent ranges through all extremes, from heat to arctic cold and from torrential rains to extreme aridity. Asia can be divided into six regions, each possessing distinctive physical, cultural, economic, and political characteristics. Southwest Asia (Iran; Turkey, in Asia Minor; and the nations of the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian peninsula or Arabia), is characterised by an arid climate and irrigated agriculture, great petroleum reserves, and the predominance of Islam.
South Asia (Afghanistan and the nations of the Indian subcontinent) is isolated from the rest of Asia by great mountain barriers. Southeast Asia (the nations of the southeastern peninsula and the Malay Archipelago) is characterized by monsoon climate, maritime orientation, the fusion of Indian and Chinese cultures, and a great diversity of ethnic groups, languages, religions, and politics. East Asia (China, Mongolia, Korea, and the islands of Taiwan and Japan) is located in the mid-latitudes on the Pacific Ocean, and is characterised by cultures strongly influenced by civilizations of the Huang He and Chang (Yangtze) river systems. It forms the most industrialised region of Asia. Russian Asia (in the northern third of the continent) consists of the vast region of Siberia and the Russian Far East. In the centre of the continent is Central Asia, formed of a set of independent former republics of the Soviet Union. This region is characterised by desert conditions and irrigated agriculture, with ancient traditions of nomadic herding.
Language Due to the vast size of Asia there are lots of different languages spaning over a number of language families. While the local languages are always best, some languages can be useful in multiple countries. In the Middle East, Arabic is widely understood, while knowledge of Russian will help you in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Hindi and Urdu is useful in South Asia and Malay will help you in Southeast Asia. Indonesian is based upon Malay. Mandarin Chinese is spoken by most in China, and understood in Taiwan and Singapore. English is understood in the largest cities but don't rely on that the speak fluent English in rural areas.
Places to sleep
In Asia you have a variety of places to spend the nights. You may choose from anything from hotels, hostels, bungalows, monasteries and camping. You may sleep in a tent but restrictions may occur if you want to camp somewhere else than in public campsites. Check out Asiarooms.com as well.
Money and banking
Each country in Asia is using their own currency. You should know in advance the approximate exchange rate of your bank account currency. PLUS and CIRRUS are international Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) networks for debit, credit and prepaid card cash withdrawals or advances. American Express operates its own ATMs, or has agreements with partner banks in other countries. While some banks in Asia have ATMs and cards for domestic use only, many also issue cards for use in international ATMs linked to the above networks. It's always a good idea to carry some US dollars and/or Euro in 'hard cash' as it can be useful for emergencies. These cards will show at least one network logo. The most widely known and recognised are VISA and MasterCard from PLUS and CIRRUS. If your card is not VISA but has a PLUS logo, you can use it wherever you see a VISA ATM; Cirrus cards can use MasterCard ATMs. If your card shows one or more ATM network logos, you will be able to get cash in local currency in any country where you see them. You will receive the cash, and your own bank will convert it back into the currency of your country. This will appear on your bank or credit card statement. The transaction will show the amount that has been withdrawn plus any associated charges. The maximum you can draw in 24 hours is a figure set by the bank that issued your ATM card. You should know this before you travel. Another thing to remember is the maximum single transaction value at a particular ATM. This varies between countries, banks and even different ATMs of the same bank. The maximum is sometimes not apparent until you select the amount you want. However, you can usually make several transactions at the same machine, up to your daily limit unless the ATM runs out of notes! Note that each transaction may incur a fee from your own bank as well as the ATM bank too.
Vaccine and health
Many areas of Asia, especially Southeast Asia and South Asia, are humid tropical, thus have certain risks attached to it -- such as dengue fever and risk of malaria. Check out The travel doctor to see which vaccines you need in the different countries. Note that the standard on medical staff and hospitals is low in certain parts of Asia compared to industrialised country. Hospital and doctors may in a worst case scenario be days away. If you are planning on travelling to desolate places you should keep this is mind. Take whatever vaccines you need and bring a medkit and/or a survivor kit just in case.
Safety in Asia can vary wildly, but it is a safe place in general. Nearly all tourist attractions on the continent are far from conflict, but there are a few regions in which conflict and/or general lawlessness exists. The most obvious examples are Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries wholly under foreign occupation and in a state of war against insurgent groups, Taliban, Al Qaeda and numerous other armed forces. These countries are considered no-go areas and should be completely avoided by travellers (if one absolutely must go, consult War zone safety and the authorities of your country before you go). Yemen could also be added to the list of no-go countries, due to a very high threat of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, tribal violence and general lawlessness. Since January 2011, Syria should also not be visited due to civil unrest. Other countries in Asia generally can be visited, though some countries have regions and areas that should be avoided. The Middle East is generally known for its political tensions, and while true for some part, most of the region can be visited without any major risks. The Gaza Strip is effectively a war zone between Palestinian factions and the Israeli army, where kidnappings of foreigners have occurred. Israel has coped with missile attacks as well as suicide bombings by Islamic militant groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Lebanon and the West Bank generally cope with an unstable political situation and internal conflict. Some regions of the Caucasus are considered dangerous due to active insurgent groups, particularly the North Caucasus (Chechnya), Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Iran and Pakistan cope with a low-level conflict in the Balochistan region against Baloch insurgents. More dangerously, Pakistan is active in a full-scale war in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, both of which should not be visited. Kashmir, claimed by both Pakistan and India, is also a region with tens of thousands of casualties since 1989 due to political strife and insurgency. In 2009, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India has resurfaced, particularly in Chhattisgarh and other parts of Eastern India. Northeastern India also copes with dozens of insurgent groups, some of which have armed factions. Southeast Asia is a major travel region and most of it is perfectly safe to visit. A notable exception is East Timor, which continues to face sporadic internal ethnic and political tension and related violence may occur. But even in some popular countries, there are some areas that should be avoided. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the south of the Philippines is an area of conflict with several Muslim and communist rebel groups fighting with the Philippine army. It was declared the world's most hazardous area for journalists in 2009 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. 18 reporters died in a massacre in Maguindanao that claimed the lives of almost 60 people. The rest of the country, specifically Luzon and the Visayas, are safe, just like the rest of Mindanao (including Davao and Cagayan de Oro areas). Thailand, the most visited country in Southeast Asia, is perfectly safe, with the notable exception of four deep southern provinces, where fighting between the Thai military and Islamic insurgent groups still continues to this day. Indonesia is a very diverse country, with armed groups fighting for independence in Papua. Maluku is relatively safe, but has seen periodic eruptions of violence occur in 1999-2003. Indonesia also copes with Islamic extremist groups throughout the country. Bali, the most popular tourist destination of the country, dealt with Islamic terrorist attacks in Kuta in 2002 and 2005. The island can be visited, but avoiding large gatherings and crowded nightclubs could be advised. East Asia is probably the safest area in the continent, but political tensions also exist in this region. You might want to avoid the border between North Korea and South Korea as these two countries are technically still at war with each other. China, a vast and diverse country, is surprisingly safe for its size, yet the restive provinces of Tibet (and its accompanying counties and prefectures in neighboring provinces) and Xinjiang are often restricted to foreign travellers at any hint of trouble.
Asian cuisine and drink
Asian cosine is difficult to define because of the vast area that the continent covers. The different cusine styles can be broken down into several tiny regional styles that have roots in the peoples and cultures of those regions. The major types can be roughly defined as East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern cusines. In the United Kingdom, "Asian cuisine" generally refers to South Asian cuisine, while in the United States and Australia it usually refers to East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and Southeast Asian cuisine, in addition to South Asian cuisine. In much of Asia, the term does not include the country's native cuisines.