The Far East is a wonderful fusion of modern and ancient cultures, fantastic cuisine, tropical beaches and superb shopping. From the Great Wall of China to the palaces of Bangkok, these dynamic countries are rich in contrast and colour – oriental splendour!
China is the world’s most populous country. Beijing is a blend of ancient and modern and at its heart is Tiananmen Square. Beyond the Gate of Heavenly Peace is the Forbidden City which was the home of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors for five centuries. Its largest city, Shanghai, is a global financial centre. The Great Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage site and crosses deserts, grasslands and mountains stretching approximately 6,700 kilometers from east to west. In Xian the Terracotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by local farmers: over 6,000 life-size painted terracotta warriors and horses individually sculpted from real-life models and arranged in battle formation. The odd-shaped karst peaks of the Guilin area are one of the most famous sights in the country and have made the city and surroundings one of the most visited places in China.
Vietnam on the South China Sea is known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. The capital Hanoi, has many beautiful lakes, parks, tree-lined boulevards and monuments give the city an air of elegance. Halong Bay is known for its emerald waters and hundreds of limestone islands topped by rainforests. Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Its colourful shop houses and temples reflect a diverse heritage dating back to the 16th Century when Hoi An was a major port for Western, Chinese and Japanese traders. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) teems with energy and activity. Nearby are the Cu Chi Tunnels giving the visitor a unique experience and a feel of what underground life was like during the U.S.-Vietnam War.
Cambodia’s landscape spans low-lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains and Gulf of Thailand coastline. Sightseeing is centred around the capital Phnom Penh and the famous temple site of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. In Phnom Penh wide boulevards and riverfront promenades are reminders of bygone eras. See Cambodia’s royal heritage by visiting the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda also known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha, and the National Museum, which contains a large collection of Khmer art. Just outside Phnom Penh, in a peaceful rural setting, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek provide a stark reminder of the atrocities under the Pol Pot regime. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap is the national symbol and the highlight of any visit to Cambodia. The largest, best preserved, and most religiously significant of the Angkor temples, Angkor impresses visitors both by its sheer scale and beautifully proportioned layout, as well as the delicate artistry of its carvings.
Myanmar borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. Yangon (formerly Rangoon), has old colonial buildings, bustling markets, parks and lakes, and the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda which contains Buddhist relics dates back to the 6th century. In a nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, there is a great diversity of cultural beliefs. See old monasteries and visit local villages on Inle Lake, and explore the country’s history in Mandalay. The stunning temples at Bagan are one of Asia’s foremost historical sites. Cruising the Irrawaddy is a fantastic way to see Myanmar.
Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles thanks to the welcoming nature of the Thai people, and attracts many visitors each year to the country’s gorgeous beaches, countryside, glorious temples (wats), shrines and monasteries and wonderful food. Its capital, Bangkok, is a frenetic city with gilded temples and palaces; but along the Chao Phraya River and the quiet klongs (canals) you will see a more traditional way of life. Chiang Mai is the capital of northern Thailand and is famous for its ethnic hill-tribes, mountainous jungles and traditional handicrafts, Phuket and the islands south of Bangkok are legendary for their beaches.