My Three Favorite Cities in Asia
Living in Thailand for the past four years, I've come to realize that the biggest benefit of being a teacher is definitely the annual term holidays! As the hub of air travel in the region, living in Bangkok has allowed me to find cheap flights across Asia. In my travels, some places just feel special.
These are three cities that for one reason or another have a special place in my heart, and keep pulling me back time after time.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap is absolutely charming. I didn't necessarily love it the first time I visited, but something kept pulling me back. Maybe it's the 45-minute flight from Bangkok and the simple visa-on-arrival that makes it the perfect destination for a "visa run", but over the years, this sleepy old-world town has grown on me.
Siem Reap is best known as the gateway to the vast and mysterious Angkor Historical Park, home to the legendary Angkor Wat, the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
Angkor is great, but Siem Reap has so much more to offer. I love the old architecture that embraces its French-Indochinese colonial influence. I love the leafy promenades. I love sitting on Pub Street on an early morning, with a hot cup of Khmer coffee and a good book. And I won't say no to the $0.25 draught beers.
My favorite things to do in Siem Reap, besides visiting Angkor:
- get tickets to Phare, the magnificent Cambodian circus that serves an amazing purpose
- take a boat ride past the mangrove forests and the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake
- visit the Angkor National Museum, a new museum with excellent collections and exhibits about the Khmer Empire
- take a cooking class on Pub Street and learn about Cambodian cuisine
Kyoto is all about culture and history. The capital and seat of the Japanese Emperors for over one thousand years, the city is full of historical treasures, beautiful temples, and traditional Japanese culture. It's not uncommon to see people wearing traditonal kimonos in the streets of Kyoto.
What can I say about Kyoto, besides that it is just beautiful? It is without question the most beautiful city I've ever seen in my life.
My favorite (admittedly touristy) things in Kyoto:
- visit Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pagoda) and Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pagoda), and sip delicious matcha tea under the sakura blossoms
- climb Mt. Inari and find out what the fox actually says
- get a blessing at Kiyomizu-dera, one of Japan's most popular and beautiful temples
- have an unforgettable dinner at my favorite restaurant, Kyo-Chabana!
Hong Kong, China
When I went to Hong Kong, I immediately fell in love with the city. Hong Kong isn't normally the type of city that people fall in love with, but it just sits right with me! The truth is, I have a lot of friends who live there, and I originally went to visit them. When you have local friends to show you around, you can get a much better feel for a place than when you travel around as a solo tourist.
Hong Kong is Chinese, but also not. It's a Special Administrative Region of China with its own culture. Hong Kong has many great museums, delicious Anglo-Cantonese cuisine, and beautiful cityscape sights to see. Every night there is an awesome light show across Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong is an excellent place to travel if you like city life.
What to do in Hong Kong:
- take the glass cable car to Po Lin Monastery to see the world's largest seated Buddha statue on Ngong Ping Plateau (my favorite thing to do!)
- take the 1880's-era Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour
- take the ferry to Macau and spend the day exploring the former Portuguese colony, and China's other Special Administrative Region
- ride the funicular to the top of Victoria Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong