Culture By Jonathan Hermann

Hopscotching Across Asia

Asia by jonathan Hermann  The vastness of Asia cannot be ignored. A staggering giant of ancient cultures, stunning landscapes and spiritual monuments, the landmass defies all labels, beckoning visitors to seek out each country, each famous city individually. But where do you start? Here we dance around the pearls of Asia, sampling each divine location to see which one whets your appetite the most.

TOKYO


A glamorous whirl of motion and lights, Tokyo pulses with neon signs, rivers of people and ever-punctual trains. Yet in between the blur, you’ll find moments of blissful calm in Zen-style gardens and centuries-old temples. This is a city of delightful contrasts: You can stroll across Shibuya Crossing, possibly the busiest intersection in the world, or through the tranquil wooded grounds of Meiji Shrine to witness the perfect example of pure Shinto architecture with its huge torii gates guarding the entrance.

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HONG KONG


Former British colony and longtime pearl of the Orient, Hong Kong is a dazzling mash-up of East and West culture. At first glimpse, the spiky silver skyline of Hong Kong Island looks as if it's been beamed down from space. Take a closer look and you'll see a colonial and Cantonese heritage thread through the city like woven silk. Dusty temples smoldering with incense rub shoulders with vertiginous 21st-century skyscrapers, while narrow street markets, selling everything from braised intestines to fist-sized rocks of jade, hide gin clubs and Michelin-starred restaurants.

BANGKOK


Exploring sections of Thailand’s sprawling capital by foot offers a glimpse into the city’s history through its myriad architectural styles. In the center of this thriving metropolis, you’ll find the Grand Palace, an inspiring aristocratic complex on the banks of the scenic Chao Phraya. After visiting Wat Phra Kaew, regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, stroll to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), a work of art in and of itself. Built to suggest that it was carved from a single piece of granite, sunlight filters through the outer wall’s openwork carvings, revealing patterned shadows on the atrium floor that morph as the sun crosses the sky.

"Behind a bend of the Maenam, the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking."

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SINGAPORE


It doesn’t take long to realize that Singapore is a breed apart in Southeast Asia. While the international hotels make it noticeably Western, scratch the surface and you’ll find a more beguiling beast. A range of cultural influences imbue Singapore with as many flavors as its tremendous culinary scene, while its tropical climes allow for diversions, such as sailing and scuba diving. No visit is complete without hitting the big three: the historical relics of the Peranakan Museum, the National Orchid Garden in the 183-acre Singapore Botanical Garden and the incredible array of mouthwatering morsels at the hawker stalls.

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BALI


Bali is practically shorthand for paradise, and for good reason. The Indonesian island is a hit with hippie surfers on a budget, luxury aficionados and everyone in between, which is why it sees more than two million visitors annually. The city of Ubud and its surrounding villages are the epicenters of the creative output, and shops and galleries burst with jewelry, colorful batik fabrics and an imaginative array of out-of-the-box souvenir material. Treasures abound all over the island, from elaborate dance performances to photogenic temples and quiet hikes along volcanic landscapes. 

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