Asia - DOC by pengtt

VIEWS: 130 PAGES: 22



China:                           Japan:                           Singapore
Beijing                          Kobe
Guangzhou                        Kyoto                            Thailand:

Hong Kong                        Osaka                            Bangkok
Shanghai                         Tokyo
India:                           Nepal:                           Ho Chi Minh City
Bombay                           Kathmandu
Jaipur                           Manila


Hong Kong

Beijing's historic, cultural, and political pre-eminence dates back nearly six centuries. Yet, in
spite of devastating urban renewal, modern Beijing continues to convey an imperial grandeur.
New temples to communism -- the Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao's Mausoleum --
convey the monumental power that still resides within the city's secret courtyards.

Its 12 million residents are a compelling mix of old and new. Early morning taiqi (tai chi)
enthusiasts, bearded old men with caged songbirds, and amateur Peking Opera crooners still
frequent the city's many charming parks. Cyclists, most pedalling cumbersome, jet-black
Flying Pigeons, clog the roadways. But few wear padded blue Mao jackets these days, and
they all must share the city's broad thoroughfares with trendy Chinese yuppies and their
private cars.

Mao-style propaganda campaigns remain a common mechanism for engineering proper
behaviour. Slogans that preach unity among China's national minorities, patriotism, and love
for the People's Liberation Army decorate the city. The result is an ironic mix of new
prosperity and throwback politics: socialist mantras emblazoned on electronic billboards hung
at shopping arcades that sell Gucci and Big Macs.

Best of Beijing in 3 Days Itinerary
Day 1
Begin day one at the dawn flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square. Stroll past the
Monument to the People's Heroes, circle Chairman Mao's mausoleum, and then head for the
nearby Grand Hotel for coffee or breakfast. At 8:30 walk through the Gate of Heavenly Peace
and spend the morning at the Forbidden City. Take the audio tour, which offers an
entertaining south-to-north narration. Depart through the Gate of Obedience and Purity (the
north gate) and walk west to Beihai Park for lunch at the food stalls. Explore the park. Arrive
at the north gate before 1:30 for a half-day hutong tour, a guided pedicab ride through a
mazelike neighbourhood to the Drum Tower. Have dinner at the Quanjude Peking Duck
Restaurant, south of Tiananmen Square.

Day 2
On day two visit the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, and perhaps the National Art
Gallery or Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution. Allow time for shopping at Beijing
Curio City, Silk Alley, and the Yihong Carpet Factory. For dinner, eat Sichuanese at Ritan

Day 3
Set aside day three for a trip to the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall at Mutianyu, where a
Japanese gondola offers a dramatic ride to the summit. Bring a brown-bag lunch. Weather
permitting, enjoy an outdoor dinner at the Golden Cat, Beijing's premier dumpling restaurant.

When to Go to Beijing
Summer is the peak tourist season, and hotels and transportation can be very crowded. Book
early-several months in advance if possible-for summer travel. The weather can be scorching
in the summer in most of China. The weather will be better and the crowds not quite as dense
in late spring and early fall, although be prepared for rain. Winter is bitterly cold and not
conducive to travel in most of China. Avoid travelling around Chinese New Year, as much of
China shuts down and the Chinese themselves travel, making reservations into and out of
China virtually impossible to get.

During the 19th century the only place foreigners were allowed to visit in China was Canton,
now referred to as Guangzhou, where they traded for silk, tea, porcelain, lacquer screens,
lace shawls, ivory fans, and other luxury goods. Since the late 1970s this port city has again
become a gateway to areas outside China.

It all began with the Silk Road, when some merchants chose to take their caravans south and
transport their silk and other luxuries by sea through the sheltered port of Guangzhou. From
southeast Asia more merchants came to do business, selling pepper, nutmeg, and other
spices, bird's nests for soup, and aromatic sandalwood for incense. Gradually they were
joined by traders from farther afield.

Dominated by Japanese silver; Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea; Indian muslin; Persian
damascene; African ivory; and European manufactured goods, good trade flourished for a
century, until Japan closed its doors to the outside world. The Portuguese lost their sea lanes
and cargoes to the newly mercantile nations of Europe, led by Britain, which used Macau as a
base for doing business in Guangzhou. The British called Guangzhou "Canton," an anglicized
version of the Portuguese cantão.

Guangzhou lost its pivotal importance as an international trading hub and went into decline.
Times were tough for many Cantonese, and in the 19th century tens of thousands of them left
in search of a better life, often on coolie ships. Among the scholars who found an education
overseas was Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who was born a few miles north of the Macau border. He led
the movement to overthrow the Manchus that culminated in the 1911 Revolution.
Guangzhou next became a hotbed of revolutionary zeal and a battleground between
Nationalists and Communists. Chiang Kai-shek founded the Whampoa Academy, and Mao
Zedong taught at the Peasant Movement Institute, as did Zhou Enlai.

Following the 1949 Revolution, Guangzhou reinstituted its biannual trade fairs (April and
September) and welcomed foreign business, but it wasn't until the open-door policy of Deng
Xiaoping in 1979 that the port city was able to resume its role as a commercial gateway to
China. Since then the city has become an economic dynamo; in 1999 it had a population of
about 6.7 million.

Because of its rapid modernization during the 1980s and '90s, many parts of Guangzhou no
longer evoke the original easygoing port city with its waterfront row of colonial mansions.
Today high-rise blocks and new highways dominate the old town, while new suburbs, bristling
with skyscrapers and shopping malls, advance toward every horizon along new expressways.
Fortunately, the city has preserved some of its heritage in the splendid parks and busy
temples, in some excellent museums, and, most of all, on Shamian Island.

Sights & Activities
Guangzhou can be roughly divided into six districts, each with unique sights to see and walks
to take. Because of the logistics and time involved in moving from place to place around the
city, it is best to concentrate on a neighborhood at a time. Colonial Canton consists of the
area on and around Shamian Island and the Pearl River. The part of the city that was formerly
encircled by the city wall comprises Ancestral Guangzhou. To the north of the former walled
city is the Station District and even farther north, the airport area. On the eastern edge of the
formerly walled city are sights related to Chinese revolutions, and farther east, the Eastern
Suburbs and the Tianhe District.

Hong Kong
To stand on the tip of Kowloon Peninsula and look out across the harbour to the full expanse
of the Hong Kong island skyline -- as awesome in height as Manhattan's, but only a few
blocks deep and strung along the entire north coast -- is to see the triumph of ambition over
fate. Whereas it took Paris and London 10 to 20 generations to build the spectacular cities
seen today, and New York 6, Hong Kong built almost everything you see before you in the
time since today's young investment bankers were born. It is easy to perceive this
tremendous creation of wealth as an inevitable result of Hong Kong's strategic position, but at
any point in the territory's history things might have happened slightly differently, and the
island would have found itself on the margins of world trade rather than at the centre.

When the 78-square-km (30-square-mi) island of Hong Kong was ceded to the British after
the Opium War of 1841, it consisted, in the infamous words of the British minister at the time,
of "barren rock" whose only redeeming feature was the adjacent deep-water harbour. For the
British, though, it served another purpose: Hong Kong guarded the eastern edge of the Pearl
River delta, and with it access to Guangzhou (Canton), which in the mid-19th century was
China's main trading port. By controlling Hong Kong, Britain came to control the export of
Chinese products such as silk and tea, and to corner the Chinese market for Western
manufactured goods and opium. The scheme proved highly profitable.

If British trade were all Hong Kong had going for it, however, its prosperity would have faded
with the rest of the empire. No, the real story of Hong Kong began in the 1920s, when the first
wave of Chinese refugees settled here to avoid civil unrest at home. They were followed in
the '30s and '40s by refugees fleeing the advance of the invading Japanese army. But the
biggest throngs of all came after the 1949 Communist revolution in China -- mostly from the
neighbouring province of Guangdong, but also from Fujian, Shanghai, and elsewhere. Many
of these mainland arrivals came from humble farming backgrounds, but many others had
been rich and had seen their wealth and businesses stripped away by the revolutionaries.
They came to Hong Kong poorer than their families had been in generations, yet by virtue of
their labour, their descendants are the wealthiest generation yet.

Hong Kong has always lived and breathed commerce, and it is the territory's shrines to
Mammon that will make the strongest impression when you first arrive. The Central district
has long been thick with skyscrapers bearing the names of banks and conglomerates, and yet
more continue to be built, squeezed into irregular plots of land that would seem insufficient for
buildings half the size. When that doesn't work, the city simply reclaims more land from the
harbour and builds on it almost before it dries. For a few years it will be obvious which land is
reclaimed and which is old as the ground is turned and foundations laid, but soon enough the
two will meld into one, just as they have before: you now have to walk four blocks from the
Star Ferry Terminal, through streets shaded by office towers, to reach Queen's Road Central,
the former waterfront. You may well ask what one can know for sure in this world if not where
the earth ends and the oceans begin, but Hong Kongers have gotten used to such vagaries.

Watching young investment bankers out on a Friday night in Hong Kong's nightspot haven of
Lan Kwai Fong, revelling in their outrageous good fortune at being in this place at this time in
history, you can't help but wonder whether this can possibly last. There's a heady, end-of-an-
era exuberance to it all -- a decadence that portends doom ahead. Yet visitors to Hong Kong
have felt this same sentiment for almost a century and a half and, save for the rare economic
downturn, the day of reckoning has not come. One of those rare exceptions came within a
month after Hong Kong's handover back to China. But the change of sovereignty was not the
issue which many expected to be the source of problems. Rather, it was the Asian crisis
which took almost everyone by surprise. For a moment during these uncertain times, it
seemed Hong Kongers would have to permanently scale back their ambitions. But then the
moment passed and the usual breakneck growth returned.

Rapid change has not been limited to Hong Kong Island or the crowded Kowloon Peninsula,
but extends up through the "new towns" of the New Territories. Some of these, like Sha Tin,
were rice paddies 20 years ago and now form thriving cities of a half million people. The most
ambitious project of all is the one you see on arrival: the levelling of Chek Lap Kok, an
uninhabited island of rock and scrub, that made way for Hong Kong's stylish, ultra efficient
international airport, the final legacy of British-ruled Hong Kong. Arriving in Hong Kong may
now lack the rooftop-grazing shock of flying into the old Kai Tak, but you're whisked through
the airport in no time and can then zip into Central in just 23 minutes on the Airport Express

Amid all the change it can be easy (even for residents) to forget that most of Hong Kong has
nothing to do with business or skyscrapers: three-quarters of it is actually rural land and
wilderness. A bird's-eye view reveals the 236 islands that make up the lesser-known parts of
Hong Kong; most are nothing but jagged peaks and tropical scrub, just as Hong Kong Island
itself once was. Others are time capsules of ancestral China, with tiny temples, fishing
villages, and small vegetable farms. Even Hong Kong Island, so relentlessly urban on its
north coast, consists mostly of rolling green hills and sheltered bays on its south side. So
whether you're looking for the hectic Hong Kong or the relaxed one, both are easy enough to
find -- indeed, sometimes only a few minutes apart.

Best in 3 to 7 Days

If You Have 3 Days
Day 1: Start with a trip to the top of Victoria Peak by taking the Peak Tram, the steepest
funicular railway in the world. From here you'll be able to get a bird's-eye view of the Central
district's sparkling high-rises, the densely packed streets of Hong Kong Island, the harbour,
and all the way to the outer edges of the Kowloon peninsula.

Spend the rest of your first day checking out the centres of activity on Hong Kong Island: the
harbour districts of Central and Western with their upscale shopping and landmark
skyscrapers, the Midlevels with its series of outdoor escalators leading up the steep
mountainside, the hustling Wanchai district, and Causeway Bay and Admiralty with their
megamalls and department stores.

If you finish up your day in Admiralty, consider having dinner at one of the great restaurants in
the Pacific Place shopping complex.

Day 2: If you're staying on Hong Kong Island, take a ride on the Star Ferry to arrive in the
Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood at the tip of Kowloon (if you're staying in Kowloon, use the ferry
to arrive on Hong Kong Island on your first day). The view of the towering city from the water
is always an impressive one.

Not far from the Star Ferry Terminal on Kowloon are the Hong Kong Space, Science, Art, and
History museums. Continuing up Nathan Road you'll come upon the Peninsula Hotel, one of
the true landmarks of Hong Kong. Take a peek at the palatial lobby, stop in for a cup of
coffee, or come back later for the justifiably popular afternoon tea.

Continue up Nathan Road, crammed with stores big and small, on your way to the temples of
Tin Hau, the oldest in Hong Kong, and Wong Tai Sin, an explosively colourful and noisy spot
with a full concourse of fortune tellers.

Also take this opportunity to visit some of the diverse markets that are unique to Hong Kong.
The Bird Garden, with birdcages lining the walkways and busy vendors selling cricket treats
for these beloved songbird pets, particularly stands out. Other markets in the area include the
enclosed Jade Market, the Flower Market (most interesting in the time leading up to the New
Year), and the Ladies and Night markets (the latter starts around 6 PM).

Wrap up your day in Kowloon with a drink or dinner at the Peninsula's Felix restaurant for
unparalleled views of neon-lit Central.

Day 3: On your third day, take a hair-raising bus ride from Central to the south side of Hong
Kong Island. You'll have an unforgettable view of the island's coastline as the double-decker
bus descends from the peaks of the busy shopping and business districts into the sandy
coves of Stanley and Repulse Bay. Try to sit in the front of the upper deck for a ride more
exciting than any amusement park.

Start your visit to the south side with Stanley, wandering through the market before it gets too
crowded. If you haven't bought souvenirs yet, this is the best, and cheapest, place to do it.

When you're ready for a break from the frenetic market, wander along the waterfront and
choose a spot for lunch. In the afternoon, take the bus to the beachfront town of Repulse Bay
for a relaxation break on the sunny sand. Then hop the bus back to Central in time for dinner.

If You Have 5 Days
Spend your first three days as laid out above, and on your fourth day venture out to the New

Day 4: You could easily spend several days exploring the New Territories, but if you'd like to
see a lot in a short time, the easiest way is through an organized tour sponsored by the Hong
Kong Tourism Bureau (HKTB). You can also rent a car or taxi and driver and explore on your
own, or if you'd like to use public transportation, the KCR train will take you to the eastern
territories to visit Shatin, home of both a very modern racetrack and the time-honored Temple
of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

In the western New Territories, you can reach the Sam Tung Uk Museum, a walled village, by
MTR subway, and Ching Chung Koon Taoist Temple by train.

Day 5: Take the ferry from Central to the western side of Lantau Island, then take a bus (or
hike) to Po Lin Monastery, where Tin Tan Buddha, the world's tallest outdoor bronze Buddha,
is located.
From here take the bus to Tai O, a quaint fishing village where you can have a seafood lunch.
In the afternoon, take the bus back to the harbour and Silvermine Bay where you can rent
bikes to explore the small village of Mui Wo before taking the ferry back to Central.

If You Have 7 Days
Spend your first five days in Hong Kong as suggested above, then pack a small bag and
head out to Macau for an overnight stay.

Days 6 and 7: Macau is easy to reach on the super-fast ferry and can easily be seen in one
day, but to really get a feel for its old-world charm you should spend the night. Give yourself
time to explore the Old Citadel section of the city, where you'll find the fascinating Museum of
Macau and the landmark São Paulo church. This Portuguese-influenced neighbourhood also
has reasonably priced shops that sell everything from furniture to polo shirts.

Also explore Peninsular Macau where you can visit the picturesque A-Ma Temple and the
informative Maritime Museum. While you're in this neighbourhood, stop by the Pousada de
São Tiago, a tranquil inn built into the ruins of a 17th-century fort, for a meal or a drink.

For dinner make sure to sample the unique and tasty Macanese cuisine. At night you can
entertain yourself in a casino, and the next day perhaps lie on the white sands of a Macau
beach to end your stay in this part of the world.

Shanghai, the most notorious of Chinese cities, once known as the Paris of the East, now
calls itself the Pearl of the Orient. No other city can better capture the urgency and excitement
of China's economic reform, understandably because Shanghai is at the centre of it.

A port city, lying at the mouth of Asia's longest and most important river, Shanghai is famous
as a place where internationalism has thrived. Opened to the world as a treaty port in 1842,
Shanghai for decades was not one city but a divided territory. The British, French, and
Americans each claimed their own concessions, neighbourhoods where their laws and culture
-- rather than China's -- were the rule.

By the 1920s and '30s, Shanghai was a place of sepia-lighted nightclubs, French villas, and
opium dens. Here rich taipans walked the same streets as gamblers, prostitutes, and
beggars, and Jews fleeing persecution in Russia lived alongside Chinese intellectuals and

But now Shanghai draws more parallels to New York City than Paris. A true city, it is laid out
on a grid (unlike sprawling Beijing), and with a population of 16 million, it is one of the world's
most crowded urban areas. The Shanghainese have a reputation for being sharp, open-
minded, glamorous, sophisticated, and business-oriented, and they're convinced they have
the motivation and attitude to achieve their place as China's powerhouse. Far away from
Beijing's watchful political eyes, yet supported by state officials who call Shanghai their
hometown, the people have a freedom to grow that their counterparts in the capital don't
enjoy. That ambition can be witnessed firsthand across Shanghai's Huangpu River, which
joins the Yangzi at the northern outskirts of the city. Here lies Shanghai's most important
building project -- Pudong New Area, China's 21st-century financial, economic, and
commercial center. Pudong, literally "the east side of the river," is home to Shanghai's stock
market building, the tallest hotel in the world, the city's international airport, and the world's
first commercial "mag lev" (magnetic levitation) train. Rising from land that just a few years
ago was dominated by farm fields is the city's pride and joy, the Oriental Pearl Tower -- a
gaudy, flashing, spaceshiplike pillar, the tallest in Asia. As Shanghai prepares to host the
2010 World Expo, Pudong is again immersed in a decade-long round of construction.
Puxi, the west side of the river and the city centre, has also gone through staggering change.
Charming old houses are making way for shiny high-rises. The population is moving from
alley housing in the city centre to spanking-new apartments in the suburbs. Architecturally
spectacular museums and theaters are catching the world's attention. Malls are popping up
on every corner. In 1987 there were about 150 high-rise buildings in the city. Today there are
more than 3,000, and the number continues to grow. Shanghai is reputed to be home to one-
fifth of all the world's construction cranes.

Shanghai's open policy has also made the city a magnet for foreign investors. As millions of
dollars pour in, especially to Pudong, Shanghai has again become home to tens of thousands
of expatriates. Foreign influence has made today's Shanghai a consumer heaven. Domestic
stores rub shoulders with the boutiques of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Ralph Lauren.
Newly made businessmen battle rush-hour traffic in their Mercedes and Lexus cars. Young
people keep the city up until the wee hours as they dance the night away in clubs blasting
techno music. And everyone walks around with a cell phone. It's not surprising that the
Shanghainese enjoy one of the highest living standards in China. Higher salaries and higher
buildings, more business and more entertainment -- they all define the fast-paced lives of
China's most cosmopolitan and open people.

Best in 3 or 5 Days

If You Have 3 Days
Start with a trip to Yu Garden, sip some tea, and take a walk around the surrounding old
Chinese city and its antiques markets. Afterward, work your way over to the Bund for a
leisurely stroll, take a quick look at the historic Peace Hotel, and walk down Nanjing Lu to
experience Shanghai's busiest street. For dinner, the exceptional M on the Bund offers good
views of the river and the Bund lit up at night.

The next day take a cab north to Jade Buddha Temple. Afterward, head back to Nanjing Lu if
you didn't finish its sights the day before. Spend the afternoon people-watching at People's
Square, taking in China's ancient treasures at Shanghai Museum, and swinging over to the
nearby Bird and Flower Market.

Day 3 can be spent walking in the French Concession, particularly around Huaihai Lu, for a
view of old Shanghai and the city's new chic stores. Here you can also tour Sun Yat-sen's
former residence and the First Chinese Communist Party Congress site. The evenings of
Days 2 and 3 can be spent catching a show of the Shanghai acrobats, relaxing on a night
cruise of the Huangpu River, or experiencing Shanghai's happening nightlife.

If You Have 5 Days
Follow the three-day itinerary and on the fourth day make a trip to Pudong and go to the top
of the Oriental Pearl Tower or the spectacular Jinmao Tower -- or both -- for a bird's-eye view
of the city. On Day 5 go to the Hongkou District to stroll around the old houses and Ohel
Moshe Synagogue, take a peek at Lu Xun Park and Memorial, and spend some time on
Duolun Lu. Fill any spare time with visits to Shanghai's antiques markets, antique-furniture
warehouses, and arts and crafts stores.


Kobe is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan port city that is known throughout Japan for its
international character. Of its population of 1.5 million, some 70,000 residents are gaijin
(foreigners). Most are Chinese or Korean, but a noticeable European contingent also lives
and works here. Over the years foreign merchants, traders, and sailors have settled in the
hills above the port area, and more recently on the man-made Rokko Island in the city's
eastern precincts. Western-style houses built in the late 19th century are still inhabited by
Kobe's foreign population, although others have been opened to the public as buildings of
historical interest. So don't come to Kobe looking for traditional Japan. Instead, visit to
experience a new, diverse Japan in a cosmopolitan setting with excellent shopping and
international cuisines.

Kobe's prosperity derives from its harbour. In the 12th century the Taira family moved the
capital from Kyoto to Fukuhara, the western part of modern Kobe, with the hope of increasing
Japan's international trade. Fukuhara remained the capital for a mere six months, although its
port, known as Hyogo, continued to flourish. When Japan re-established trade with the West
in 1868, after a long period of isolationism, the more remote port of Kobe was opened for
international traffic, while the port of Hyogo was reserved for domestic shipping. Within a few
years, Kobe, slightly northeast of Hyogo, eclipsed it in importance. Kobe's port now handles
more than 2 million containers a year and about 10,000 ships.

In the decade since the Great Hanshin earthquake, which struck in January 1995 killing more
than 5,000 people and destroying some 100,000 buildings, Kobe has all but fully recovered.
Indeed, the only cultural attractions completely wiped out were the half-dozen or so 19th-
century sake breweries that had been converted into museums.

Sights & Activities
Kobe is a hill-and-harbour town that brings to mind San Francisco. Downtown Kobe, the site
of most businesses, is near the harbor. The rest of Kobe is built on slopes that extend as far
as the base of Rokko-san (Mount Rokko). In the middle of the harbour is the man-made Poto
Airando (Port Island), which has conference centres, an amusement park, and the Portopia
Hotel. The island is linked with downtown by a fully computerized monorail -- with no human
conductor. The major nightlife area, Ikuta (a part of the Kitano area), is just north of San-no-
miya Station.

In the area known as Kitano-cho, wealthy foreigners in the late 19th century set up
residences, bringing to Japan Western-style domestic architecture, referred to in Kobe as
ijinkan. The district is extremely popular with young Japanese tourists, who enjoy the
opportunity of seeing old-fashioned Western houses, which are rare in Japan. The curious
mélange of Japanese and Western Victorian and Gothic architecture makes for an interesting
walk in the hills of this neighbourhood. Many residences are still inhabited by Westerners, but
more than a dozen 19th-century ijinkan in Kitano-cho are open to the public. Seeing all of
them can get repetitious.

To reach Kitano-cho, take a 15-minute walk north along Kitano-zaka-dori from San-no-miya
Eki or a 10-minute walk west along Kitano-dori from Shin-Kobe Eki. Yamamoto-dori
(nicknamed Ijinkan-dori) is Kitano's main street, and the ijinkan are on the small side streets
ascending the hill.


A stroll through Kyoto today is a walk through 11 centuries of Japanese history. Steeped in
tradition, the city has in many ways been the cradle of Japanese culture, and is still the scene
of such courtly aesthetic pastimes as moon-viewing parties and tea ceremonies. Of course
the city has been swept into the industrialized, high-tech age along with the rest of Japan --
plate-glass windows dominate central Kyoto and parking lots have replaced traditional town
houses. Elderly women, however, continue to wear kimonos as they make their way slowly
along the canal walkways. Geisha still entertain, albeit at prices out of reach for most visitors.
Sixteen hundred temples and several hundred shrines surround central Kyoto. There's rather
a lot to see, to say the least, so keep this in mind and don't run yourself ragged. Balance a
morning at temples or museums with an afternoon in traditional shops, and a morning at the
market with the rest of the day in Arashiyama or at one of the imperial villas.

For more than 1,000 years, from 794 to 1868, Kyoto was Japan's capital, though at times only
in name. From 794 to the end of the 12th century, the city flourished. Japan's culture started
to grow independent of Chinese influences and to develop its unique characteristics.
Unfortunately, the use of wood for construction, coupled with Japan's two primordial enemies,
fire and earthquakes, has destroyed all the buildings from this era, except Byodo-in in Uji. The
short life span of a building in the 11th century is exemplified by the Imperial Palace, which
burned down 14 times in 122 years. As if natural disasters were not enough, imperial power
waned in the 12th century. There followed a period of shogunal rule, but each shogun's reign
was tenuous. By the 15th century civil wars tore the country apart. Many of Kyoto's buildings
were destroyed or looted.

Not until the end of the 16th century, when Japan was brought together by the might of
Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi Toyotomi, did Japan settle down. This period was soon
followed by the usurpation of power by Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa
shogunate, which lasted for the next 264 years. Tokugawa moved the political centre of the
country to Edo, present-day Tokyo. Kyoto did remain the imperial capital -- the emperor being
little more than a figurehead -- and the first three Tokugawa shoguns paid homage to it by
restoring old temples and building new villas. In the first half of the 17th century, this was yet
another show of Tokugawa power. Much of what you see in Kyoto today dates from this

But such was Kyoto's decline in the 17th and 18th centuries that when the power of the
government was returned from the shoguns to the emperor, he moved his capital and imperial
court to Edo, renaming it Tokyo. Though that move may have pained Kyoto residents, it
actually saved the city from destruction. While most major cities in Japan were bombed flat in
World War II, Kyoto survived. And where old quarters of Tokyo have been replaced with
characterless modern buildings -- a fate that Kyoto has shared in part -- much of the city's
wooden architecture of the past still stands.

Sights & Activities
Most of Kyoto's interesting sights are north of Kyoto Station. Think of this northern sector as
three rectangular areas abutting each other.

The middle rectangle fronts the exit of Kyoto station. This is central Kyoto. Here are the
hotels, the business district, the Ponto-cho geisha district, and the Kiya-machi entertainment
district. Central Kyoto also contains one of the oldest city temples, Toji; the rebuilt Imperial
Palace; and Nijo-jo, the onetime Kyoto abode of the Tokugawa shoguns. Eastern Kyoto,
Higashiyama, is chockablock with temples and shrines, among them Ginkaku-ji, Heian Jingu,
and Kiyomizu-dera. Gion -- a traditional shopping neighborhood by day and a geisha
entertainment district by night -- is also here. You could easily fill two days visiting eastern
Kyoto. Western Kyoto includes the temples Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji, and Katsura Rikyu, a bit

You need three days just to skim over these three areas. However, two other areas have
major sights to lure you. West of the western district is Arashiyama, with its temple, Tenryu-ji.
And north of central Kyoto are Hiei-zan and the suburb of Ohara, where the poignant story of
Kenreimonin takes place at Jakko-in.

Kyoto's sights spread over a wide area, but many of them are clustered together, and you can
walk from one to another. Where the sights are not near each other, you can use Kyoto's
buses, which run on a grid pattern that's easy to follow. Pick up route maps at the JNTO
(Japan National Tourist Organization) office. The following exploring sections keep to the
divisions described above so as to allow walking from one sight to another. However,
notwithstanding traffic and armed with a bus map, you could cross and recross Kyoto without
too much difficulty, stringing together sights of your own choosing.

Unlike other Japanese cities, Kyoto was modeled on the grid pattern of the Chinese city of
Xian. Accordingly, addresses in the city are organized differently than in other parts of the
country. Residents will assure you that this makes the city easier to navigate; confounded
tourists may disagree. Many of the streets are named and east-west streets are numbered --
the san in San-jo-dori, for example, means "three." Nishi-iru means "to the west," higashi-iru,
"to the east." Agaru is "to the north" and sagaru "to the south." These directions are normally
given in relation to the closest intersection. Thus the restaurant Ogawa's address, Kiya-
machi, Oike-agaru, Higashi-iru means, "Kiyamachi street, north of Oike on the east side."

Admission to Kyoto sights adds up. Over the course of three days, charges of ¥400-¥600 at
each sight can easily come to $100 per person.


Japan's second city in terms of industry, commerce, and technology, Osaka is known for its
dynamic spirit, superb restaurants, and Bunraku puppet theatre. It's not a window to Japan's
past -- go to Kyoto and Nara for that -- but a storefront display of what moves the country

Anyone older than 70 in Japan remembers Osaka as an exotic maze of crisscrossing
waterways that provided transportation for the booming merchant trade. All but a few of the
canals and nearly all of the traditional wooden buildings were destroyed by the bombings of
World War II. Architecturally, the city has leapt into the future with such buildings as the
Imperial Hotel on the bank of the Yodo-gawa (Yodo River), the inverted U-shape of the
Umeda Sky Building, and the enormous Ferris wheel on top of the HEP Five complex. The
city is working hard to restore some of the beauty that was lost, with a strong movement for
establishing green natural areas.

Osaka is still a merchant city, with many streets devoted to wholesale commerce. For
example, medical and pharmaceutical companies congregate in Dosho-machi, and fireworks
and toys are found in Matcha-machi-suji, which is also famous for shopping. Head to Umeda,
Shin-Sai-bashi, or Namba for the greatest concentration of department stores, movie
theaters, and restaurants. The city's nightlife is also legendary. Be sure to stroll through the
Dotombori-dori area, beside Dotombori-gawa (Dotombori River), which has more nightclubs
and bars per square foot than any other part of town. Although Osaka may not have many
sights of historical interest, it's a good, central starting point for trips to Nara, Kyoto, Koya-san
(Mt. Koya), and Kobe.

Sights & Activities
Osaka is divided into 26 wards, and though the official city population is only 2.6 million, if you
were to include the rest of Osaka Prefecture, this number would jump to nearly 9 million.
Central Osaka is predominantly a business district, with some shopping and entertainment.
The JR Kanjo-sen (Loop Line) circles the city centre. Osaka Station, the primary train station
for the city, is at the north end of this loop. In front of Osaka Station, to the east of Hankyu
Umeda Station, is the center of Kita-ku (Kita Ward), one of Osaka's major shopping areas.
Although ultramodern skyscrapers soar above the streets, Umeda Chika Centre is an
underground maze of malls, crowded with dozens of restaurants, shops that carry the latest
fashions, and department stores that sell every modern gadget.

If you continue south, you come to two rivers, Dojima-gawa and Tosabori-gawa, with the
Naka-no-shima (Inner Island) separating them. Here's Osaka's oldest park, which is home to
many of the city's cultural and administrative institutions, including the Bank of Japan and the
Municipal Art Museum of Asian Ceramics.

South of these rivers and Naka-no-shima are the Minami and Shin-Sai-bashi districts, though
the boundary between the two is hard to distinguish. Shin-Sai-bashi was once Osaka's most
expensive shopping street, but with the downturn in the economy in the 1990s it has become
less exclusive, especially at its southern end. Nearby Amerika Mura, with its cubbyhole-size
fashion outlets, and Yoroppa Mura, with continental boutiques, appeal to young Osaka
trendsetters. Minami-ku has a wonderful assortment of bars and restaurants, especially on
Dotombori-dori. The National Bunraku Theater is also close by, a few blocks southeast, near
the Nippon-bashi subway station.

If you come by train you're likely to arrive by Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka Station. Three
kilometers (2 mi) north of Osaka Station, the main railway station, amid some of the city's
most modern architecture, Shin-Osaka is close to Senri Expo Park. To get to the city center
from Shin-Osaka Station, take either the Mido-suji subway line to Umeda or, if you have a
Japan Rail Pass, the JR Kobe Line to Osaka Station. The Umeda subway station and Osaka
Station are next to each other, on the edge of central Osaka.

Tokyo is a state-of-the-art financial marketplace, where billions of dollars are whisked
electronically around the globe every day in the blink of an eye. A city of astonishing beauty in
small details, Tokyo also has some of the ugliest buildings on the planet and generates more
than 20,000 tons of garbage a day.

Life was simpler here in the 12th century, when Tokyo was a little fishing village called Edo
(pronounced "eh-doh"), near the mouth of the Sumida-gawa on the Kanto Plain. The Kanto
was a strategic granary, large and fertile; over the next 400 years it was governed by a
succession of warlords and other rulers. One of them, Dokan Ota, built the first castle in Edo
in 1457. That act is still officially regarded as the founding of the city, but the honor really
belongs to Ieyasu ("ee-eh-ya-su"), the first Tokugawa shogun, who arrived in 1590. A key
figure in the civil wars of the 16th century.

By 1680 there were more than a million people here, and a great city had grown up out of the
reeds in the marshy lowlands of Edo Bay. Tokyo can only really be understood as a jo-ka-
machi -- a castle town. Ieyasu had fought his way to the shogunate, and he had a warrior's
concern for the geography of his capital. Edo-jo (Edo Castle) had the high ground, but that
wasn't enough; all around it, at strategic points, he gave large estates to allies and trusted
retainers. These lesser lords' villas would also be garrisons, outposts on a perimeter of

Farther out, he kept the barons he trusted least of all -- whom he controlled by bleeding their
treasuries. He required them to keep large, expensive establishments in Edo; to contribute
generously to the temples he endowed; to come and go in alternate years in great pomp and
ceremony; and, when they returned to their estates, to leave their families -- in effect,
hostages -- behind.

All this, the Edo of feudal estates, of villas and gardens and temples, lay south and west of
Edo-jo. It was called Yamanote -- the Bluff, the uptown. Here, all was order, discipline, and
ceremony; every man had his rank and duties (very few women were within the garrisons).
Almost from the beginning, those duties were less military than bureaucratic. Ieyasu's
precautions worked like a charm, and the Tokugawa dynasty enjoyed 250 years of unbroken

The shogunate was overthrown in 1867. The following year, Emperor Meiji moved his court
from Kyoto to Edo and renamed it Tokyo: the Eastern Capital. By now the city was home to
nearly 2 million people, and the geography was vastly more complex. As it grew, it became
not one but many smaller cities, with different centres of commerce, government,
entertainment, and transportation. In Yamanote rose the commercial emporia, office
buildings, and public halls that made up the architecture of an emerging modern state.

The firebombings of 1945 left Tokyo, for the most part, in rubble. That utter destruction could
have been an opportunity to rebuild on the rational order of cities like Kyoto, Barcelona, or
Washington. No such plan was ever made. Tokyo reverted to type: it became once again an
aggregation of small towns and villages. One village was much like any other; the nucleus
was always the shoten-gai, the shopping arcade. People seldom moved out of these villages.
The vast waves of new residents who arrived after World War II -- about three-quarters of the
people in the Tokyo metropolitan area today were born elsewhere -- just created more
villages. People who lived in the villages knew their way around, so there was no particular
need to name the streets.

Outsiders rarely venture very far into the labyrinths of residential Tokyo. Especially for
travelers, the city defines itself by its commercial, cultural, and entertainment centres: Ueno,
Asakusa, Ginza, Roppongi, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. Tokyo is still really two areas,
Shitamachi and Yamanote. The heart of Shitamachi, proud and stubborn in its Edo ways, is
Asakusa; the dividing line is Ginza, west of which lie the boutiques and depato, the banks and
engines of government, the pleasure domes and cafés. Today there are 13 subway lines in
full operation that weave the two areas together.

Tokyo has no remarkable skyline, no prevailing style of architecture. Many of the buildings are
merely grotesque. In the large scale, Tokyo is not an attractive city -- neither is it gracious,
and it is certainly not serene. The pace of life is wedded to the one stupefying fact of
population: within a 36-km (22-mi) radius of the Imperial Palace live almost 30 million souls,
all of them in a hurry and all of them ferocious consumers -- not merely of things but of culture
and leisure. The city is a magnet, and there are very real reasons why it draws so many to its
fascinating and busy core.

Sights & Activities
The distinctions of Shitamachi (literally "downtown," to the north and east) and Yamanote
(literally "uptown," to the south and west) have shaped the character of Tokyo since the 17th
century and will guide you as you explore the city. Tokyo north and east of the Imperial
Palace embodies more of the city's history, its traditional way of life, whereas the fruit of
modernity -- contemporary, international Tokyo -- generally lies south and west.

For a place its size, Tokyo is an extremely easy city to negotiate. If you have any anxieties
about getting from place to place, remind yourself first that a transportation system obliged to
cope with 4 or 5 million commuters a day simply has to be efficient, extensive, and reasonably
easy to understand. Virtually any place you're likely to go as a visitor is within a 15-minute
walk of a train or subway station -- and station stops are always marked in English.

Bombay - Mumbai


There's plenty to see in Bombay, but not generally in the form of stationary monuments like
those in London, Paris, or even Delhi. The art of experiencing Bombay lies in eating,
shopping, and wandering through strikingly different neighbourhoods and markets. The best
way to see Bombay is to immerse yourself in the city's pulsing life and soak up the aspects
that blend and clash to make the city utterly unique. Bombay is essentially a 30-mi-long open-
air bazaar.

Churchgate and Nariman Point are the business and hotel centres. Major bank and airline
headquarters are clustered in skyscrapers on Nariman Point. The district referred to as Fort --
which includes Bombay's hub, Flora Fountain, in a square now called Hutatma Chowk -- is
the city's commercial heart, its narrow, bustling streets lined with small shops and office
buildings, as well as a number of colleges and other educational facilities. Farther north,
Kemps Corner is a trendy area with expensive boutiques, exclusive restaurants, and high-
priced homes. Another upscale residential neighborhood, Malabar Hill, is older -- leafy,
breezy, and lovely, with fine, old stone mansions housing wealthy industrialists and
government ministers.

Shopping and people-watching are most colorfully combined in Bombay's chaotic bazaar
areas, such as Chor Bazaar, Zaveri (Jewelry) Bazaar, and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (Crawford)
Market. More recently, Bombay's suburbs have seen explosive business and residential
development, as more and more people move out of Bombay centre to escape its soaring
real-estate prices and simple lack of space. Many of the city's newest and trendiest shops
and restaurants are out here. A number of travellers opt to stay in Juhu Beach, a popular
coastal suburb between Bombay and the airports (about 20 km/12 mi north of the city centre).

Alas, Juhu's beaches are polluted and unsafe for swimming, and the general look of the place
is scruffy and honky-tonk, but staying out here is a nice way to observe everyday Indian life
outside the shadow of Bombay's skyline. Sunday nights bring families down to the beach for
an old-fashioned carnival, complete with small, hand-powered Ferris wheels, and lantern-lit
snack stalls hawking sugar cane.

Sights & Activities
The most manageable, and probably the most colourful, walks in Bombay centre on the Fort
district. If Bombay is the first stop on your first trip to India, remember that sightseeing here is
nothing like touring, say, Europe -- the streets are packed, some lack sidewalks, traffic takes
many forms, crosswalks are a rarity, and people may stare or call out to you with sales
pitches as you pass. Stopping to take a picture can make you feel terribly conspicuous. You'll
get used to it soon enough, however, and will quickly learn to revel in the whole masala


Calcutta is a dynamo-exhausting and exhaustive-and a visit here is essential if you really
want to experience India. It's the country's best city for walkers, with streets that tell stories:
Old mansions, dripping with moss and spotted with mildew, remind us of its affluent history
tied to cultures and people-Armenians, Bengalis, the British, and Marwari merchants from
Rajasthan; vast bazaars reveal clues to today's Bengali culture; and the pavement dwellers
show the daily rhythm and rigors of their own difficult lives.

Sights & Activities
Calcutta's entire metropolitan district covers 426 square kilometers (264 square miles) and is
home to over 12 million people. It consists of two municipal corporation areas, Calcutta and
Howrah. They straddle the Hooghly River, with Calcutta on the east side and Howrah, a
constantly expanding suburb that holds Calcutta's massive train station, on the west.

In Calcutta itself, the Howrah Bridge spills into Bara Bazaar, a vibrant wholesale market area.
North Calcutta includes Bara Bazaar and Calcutta University and extends to the distant
neighbourhood of Chitpur and the Jain Temple in Tala. The heart of Central Calcutta remains
B.B.D. Bagh, where commerce and government have been concentrated since British rule.
Central Calcutta holds the Maidan park, the crowded bazaar at New Market, and the
upmarket shops and restaurants on Park Street. At the south end of the Maidan are the
Victoria Memorial and Calcutta's racecourse. South Calcutta has the Kali Temple and the late
Mother Teresa's hospice in Kalighat and the National Library and zoo in Alipore. To the east
is the Science City complex.

Despite its congestion, Calcutta is a fairly manageable city. Take a cab to or from the area
you're visiting, then rely on your feet or a sturdy rickshaw. It is not a good city for driving.


Delhi rewards the determined sightseer with more than a thousand monuments and two old
capital building complexes -- including the present seat of the government, designed by the
British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (born 1869-1944). Cosmopolitan hotels, shopping, and fine
restaurants abound. Delhi also offers a glimpse into the real India: the labyrinthine street
bazaars of Old Delhi, and the temples and monuments of India's checkered colonial past. In
the deepest sense, from Old Delhi's Red Fort and Jama Masjid mosque to New Delhi's chic
art galleries and nightclubs, Delhi is a profoundly Indian city.

Turbaned shepherds still lead goats and sheep through ravines in Delhi's remaining open
fields and near the airports. In Delhi's golf course, Muslim monuments share the fairways with
peacocks. Eunuchs sashay past shops that sell Western products on Connaught Place.
Rajasthani women in bright saris and men in lungis (skirtlike wraps) work with outdated tools
on construction sites while executives work out on computerized equipment in health clubs.
By day, temples are packed with the devout, and by night, hotel discos are packed with the
affluent. You'll see sadhus (Hindu holy men) walking along the streets while young men zoom
around on motorcycles.

Delhi is a city on the move -- it's the gateway to the northern regions, and the seat of India's
government. Don't be surprised if you see cavalcades of cars forcing traffic to the side of the
road. These are the many VIP, VVIP, and VVVIP politicians of India's Parliament. It's no
secret that movers and shakers predominate here -- the decisions and behaviour of Delhi's
political big shots are the talk of the town. You can say a lot of things about Delhi, but you
can't accuse it of being a humdrum town.

Sights & Activities
 Except for Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, where lanes are too narrow for cars, Delhi is not a
walker's city. But even in Chandni Chowk, watch out for fast-moving carts and overloaded
humans who plow through whatever is in their way. The city has few sidewalks, and even
these are subject to open manholes, dangling electric wires, and excrement. To make it
easier on yourself, hire a car, taxi, or auto-rickshaw to get around.

The geographic centre of Delhi is Connaught Place. South of Old Delhi, this was the
commercial hub of the British Raj. Every attempt to spruce up this district seems to grind to a
halt; the old buildings that ring the green traffic circle are getting a face-lift, but there's still
plenty of trash and not a single trash basket. Connaught Place is also a haunt of beggars,
unlicensed money changers, and others engaged in dubious pursuits.

About 2 km (1 mi) south of Connaught Place is the Imperial City. Designed by the British
architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), it includes Rashtrapati Bhavan (the Presidential
Palace), the North and South Secretariats, and the Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House). Just
southwest of here is the Diplomatic Enclave; to the east is India Gate, a monument to British
Indian Army soldiers killed in World War I and the Afghan wars. Southeast of India Gate and
not far from the Oberoi hotel are the Purana Qila (Old Fort) and Humayun's Tomb; almost due
south of India Gate is Lodi Gardens. The entire area surrounding these landmarks is filled
with tree-lined boulevards, lovely old bungalows, and affluent residential neighbourhoods.
Be prepared to remove your shoes when visiting religious institutions, including the Charity
Birds Hospital. Women should bring a scarf to cover their heads. Shorts are not appropriate
for adults of either gender.

Rajasthan: Udaipur & Jaipur

Once called Rajputana -- "Abode of Kings" -- this vast land consisted of more than 22 princely
states before they were consolidated into modern Rajasthan in 1956. Each state was ruled by
a Rajput, an upper-caste Hindu warrior-prince, and the Rajputs were divided into three main
clans: the Suryavanshis, descended from the sun, the Chandravanshis, descended from the
moon, and the agnikuls, who had been purified by ritual fire. When they were not fighting
among themselves for power, wealth, and women, the Rajputs built the hundreds of forts,
palaces, gardens, and temples that make this region so enchanting.

With its stark colours and rich folk traditions, Rajasthan is one of India's most popular tourist
destinations. The region is home to numerous cultural festivals, crafts fairs, and religious
gatherings throughout the year. In the last decade, Rajasthan's poverty rate has plunged and
the literacy rate skyrocketed to almost double what it was. Tensions with Pakistan have, in the
past, made some people wary of coming here, but there is really nothing to fear. The cities
and people remain lively and unaffected.

If You Have 3 Days
Fly into Udaipur and spend the day wandering the narrow, hilly lanes of the old city and
visiting the vast City Palace. That evening, take a boat ride on Lake Pichola or a cab up to the
Monsoon Palace at sunset. If you can, stay at the Lake Palace Hotel, smack in the middle of
the lake -- it's a sight in itself. The next day, fly to Jaipur and explore the pink-hue old city.

Take a taxi out of town to the Amer Fort and Palace, then spend the night in one of Jaipur's
havelis or palace hotels. On your third day, hire a car and driver to explore Shekhavati,
stopping in villages such as Jhunjhunu and Mandawa to see the lovely havelis, some with
magnificent frescoes. Treat yourself to a meal at one of the Heritage Hotels. From here you
can easily drive to Delhi.

If You Have 6 Days
As on the three-day itinerary, fly into Udaipur and spend a day and a night here. Try to pop
outside the city to the crafts village of Shilpgram. The next day, drive northwest to the Jain
temple at Ranakpur, and spend a few hours exploring the temple and the surrounding
countryside. Continue on to Jodhpur and spend the night in one of the city's splendid hotels.

Head up to the fort the next morning, then spend the day exploring Jodhpur itself. Take the
overnight train to Jaisalmer and spend Day 4 and the following night here. The morning of
Day 5, embark on a half-day camel trek. Return to Jaisalmer in time for dinner and the
overnight train back to Jodhpur. On your last day, fly to Jaipur to see the Amer Fort and
Palace and the delightfully pink-colour old city.

If You Have 10 Days
Spend your first day exploring Jaipur. After a night in one of Jaipur's luxurious hotels, hire a
car, and leave early for a trip to one of Rajasthan's wildlife parks. Bharatpur, on the eastern
edge of the state, is one of the finest bird sanctuaries in India; if you prefer tigers, head to
Ranthambhore National Park.

Spend the afternoon in the great outdoors and the night at a park lodge, then venture out
early the following morning to watch the animals as they wake. Leave the park on Day 3 for
Shekhavati (it's a long, approximately 300 km (185 mi) drive from Bharatpur or Ranthambhore
to the heart of Shekhavati). Spend your third night at one of the Heritage Hotels in this region,
and drive back to Jaipur on Day 4.
From Jaipur, fly to Jaisalmer and consider devoting Days 5 and 6 to a camel safari, which
means you'll be sleeping in the desert those two nights. Fly or take the overnight train to
Jodhpur for Day 7.

Fly the next morning to Udaipur, and splurge on one of the city's magical hotels for your last
two nights here. If you like temple architecture, make a detour to the Jain temples at
Ranakpur and Mount Abu or the Hindu temples at Nathdwara.

Leave Rajasthan on Day 10. This is a crowded schedule, but you'll get to see most of
Rajasthan's highlights.




Kathmandu wears its past like a proud diva showing off a string of pearls: It is home to
dozens of shrines and temples and a citizenship rightly proud of their glorious, artistic past.
Artisans still create beautiful woodwork, metalwork, and handicrafts using ancient tools and

For hundreds of years Kathmandu was one of three rival royal cities of Nepal, along with
Bhaktapur and Patan. Kathmandu has been the sole capital city since Prithvi Narayan Shah
unified the country in 1768. Today, home to 700,000 people, it is a painter's palette of brilliant,
colourful saris, and a cacophony of languages and dialects holding trading matches at top
pitch, while motorcycles, trucks, buses, and cars zoom past. Each street smells of a different
curry, a new incense. It is a vibrant valley of life, where you can stand on any city street and
watch a hundred minidramas unfold around.

According to legend, Kathmandu was founded by King Gunakama Deva in the latter half of
the 10th century. In a dream, the goddess Mahalakshmi told the king to build a city where the
Vishnumati flows into the Bagmati. The new city was named Kantipur and built in the shape of
a kharg (the goddess' sword), which was a symbol of enlightenment. The king moved his
palace from Patan to Kathmandu and established the city. The Mallas would later build
temples in this city, but it was not until Prithvi Narayan Shah came along that Kathmandu
really took charge. A wide street, Kantipath, was constructed, with palaces, schools, and
barracks built off this road. More palaces were built by the Ranas in the 1900s, but many
were destroyed in massive earthquake in 1934. New Road was constructed after the
earthquake, linking Kantipath with Old Kathmandu, a route taxi drivers still use to get to
Durbar Square.

Kathmandu, for many travellers, is also the gateway to the Himal. These mountains have
inspired, crushed, awed, and subdued mountaineers from around the world, and are perhaps
Nepal's greatest asset. Home to eight of the world's ten highest peaks, the Himal dominate
Nepal. They fill the rivers with life-supplying water, yet crush villages with the slides that often
follow storms. When clouds shroud the peaks, locals seem to slump into a depression, as if a
faithful friend has gone away. When the weather is clear, visitors who curse at alarm clocks at
home are up before dawn, awaiting the sun's first beams to give them a glimpse of the stone

Sights & Activities
Starting from Durbar Marg or Thamel, pick any lane heading southwest, and walk toward
Durbar Square. To and fro -- you will wander through the walkways of Old Kathmandu. There
are almost always four or five routes to the same site, so trust your instincts and follow the
sights, sounds, and scents of Kathmandu. Do not worry about getting lost; bicycle rickshaw
drivers abound. They can take you back to familiar routes or your hotel if you find yourself
spun around in a maze of alleyways. The driver probably will not speak English, but he will
understand if you signal with your hands that you want to go around the Durbar Square area,
or if you read off the names of the sites from your map. You might prefer this conversational
struggle to hiring a guide, because in these alleys you really want to be able to spend as
much or as little time as you like lingering.

The Kathmandu Valley is often labeled a "living museum," as there is plenty to see. In the
poorest sections, where you might expect life to be drab, you will find houses with potted
plants set along the ledges. Brilliant, jewel-colour saris cascade down from window sills,
drying in the wind. Women, wearing saris or Tibetan chubas (wraparound dresses that are a
uniquely practical ethnic costume) ride sidesaddle on the motorbikes, a balancing act only
outmatched by the huge piles carried on peoples' heads. A funny sight for sure: men walking
ducks or goats on a rope lead, weaving their way around the free-roaming cows who sleep in
the road.



The urban sprawl that is metropolitan Manila (it's made up of the cities of Manila, Makati,
Pasay, Quezon, Caloocan, and Pasig, plus 12 towns) is a fascinating, even surreal,
combination of modernity and tradition. In Manila's streets you'll see horse-drawn calesas
(carriages) alongside sleek Mercedes-Benzes, Japanese sedans, passenger buses, and the
ubiquitous passenger jeepneys -- once converted World War II Jeeps but now manufactured

Built by the Spanish conquistadors in 1571 as Intramuros, a fortified settlement on the ashes
of a Malay town, Manila spread outward over the centuries, so that the oldest districts are
those closest to Intramuros. Yet very few buildings attest to the city's antiquity, since it
suffered extensive damage during World War II, more than any other city except Warsaw,
Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

Because Metro Manila is a conglomeration of cities and towns, it lacks a defined center, and
you certainly won't find an easy-to-navigate grid layout. Adding to the confusion is a lack of
consistent urban planning. Like many cities in developing nations, Metro Manila has its share
of congestion, pollution, and poverty. The large slum of Tondo is dominated by a huge pile of
garbage known as Smoky Mountain for the endless burning of trash fires. Here the poor live
in cardboard shanties and scavenge for a living. But the 10 million inhabitants of the "noble
and ever loyal city" -- as Manila was described by its Spanish overlords -- have a joie de vivre
that transcends their struggles.

Sights & Activities
Metropolitan Manila has a roughly crescent shape, with Manila Bay and the scenic Roxas
Boulevard forming the western boundary. The Epifanio de los Santos Highway (EDSA) forms
the eastern border. The Pasig River divides the city into northern and southern sections, with
the oldest districts, including Intramuros, near where the river empties into Manila Bay.
Intramuros, Manila's ancient walled city, was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century. It's a
compact 7.5 square km (3 square mi). Within this small area, churches, schools, convents,
offices, and residences were constructed -- the latter reserved for the Spanish and Spanish
mestizos only. In its heyday, Intramuros -- with its seven drawbridges and encircling moat --
must have presented a magnificent sight to visiting galleons. The moat, filled in by the
Americans to prevent the spread of disease, is now a golf course, but the walls are still
formidable, with cannon emplacements and a strategic location facing the bay.

North of the Pasig River, Manila is poor and crowded, but also full of the past. The streets are
narrow, with a mix of small businesses and residential buildings. Manilans say a foreigner
should come here to get a true feel for down-home Philippine neighbourhoods.

North of Pasig lie the Ermita and Malate districts, which form the so-called Tourist Belt. The
districts are bordered by Roxas Boulevard to the west, Taft Avenue to the east, Intramuros to
the north, and Pablo Ocampo Senior Street to the south. On Roxas are nightclubs, the
Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, hotels, restaurants, apartment buildings, Rizal
Park, and Intramuros. On Taft Avenue are the Light Rail Transit line, universities, shops,
stores, and several hospitals. In between are bars and cocktail lounges, the infamous go-go
joints, massage parlours, and shopping malls.



To arrive in Singapore is to step into a world where the call to prayer competes with the bustle
of capitalism; where old men play mah-jongg in the streets and white-clad bowlers send the
ball flying down well-tended cricket pitches; where Chinese fortune-tellers and high-priced
management consultants advise the same entrepreneur. This great diversity of lifestyles,
cultures, and religions thrives within the framework of a well-ordered society. Singapore is a
spotlessly clean -- some say sterile -- modern metropolis surrounded by green, groomed
parks and populated by 4 million orderly and well-regulated people, including many

Although the Malays, Chinese, and Indians account for 98% of Singapore's population, other
ethnic groups -- from Eurasians to Filipinos and Thais -- contribute significantly to the cultural
mix. Understandably, the heritage of the British colonial stay is profoundly felt even though
Singapore became fully independent in 1965.

Sights & Activities
The main island of Singapore is shaped like a flattened diamond, 42 km (26 mi) east to west
and 23 km (14 mi) north to south. Near the northern peak is the causeway leading to
peninsular Malaysia -- Kuala Lumpur is less than four hours away by car. At the southern foot
is Singapore city, with its gleaming office towers and working docks. Offshore are Sentosa
and some 60 smaller islands -- most of them uninhabited -- that serve as bases for oil refining
or as playgrounds or beach escapes from the city. To the east is Changi International Airport,
connected to the city by a parkway lined for miles with amusement centres of one sort or
another. Of the island's total land area, more than half is built up, with the balance made up of
parkland, farmland, plantations, swamp areas, and forest. Well-paved roads connect all parts
of the island, and Singapore city has an excellent public transportation system.

The heart of Singapore's history and its modern wealth are in Colonial Singapore. The area
stretches from the skyscrapers in the financial district to the 19th-century Raffles Hotel and
from the supermodern convention centres of Marina Square to the Singapore History
Museum and Ft. Canning. Although most of old Singapore has been knocked down to make
way for the modern city, in Colonial Singapore most major landmarks have been preserved,
including early-19th-century buildings designed by Irish architect George Coleman.




There are two Bangkok's, the ancient soul of Thailand with its long and fascinating history and
the frantic modern metropolis that embraces the latest trends both Eastern and Western. The
two blend together remarkably well -- even the most jarring juxtapositions of old and new will
start to make sense after a few days, and shrines in front of car dealerships or monks on all
manner of public transportation will be sights soon taken for granted.

Bangkok is not only the biggest city in Thailand, but also the most mesmerizing, with some of
the country's most beautiful temples and shrines. Sunset at Wat Arun on the river is downright
humbling, and even people with no interest in history will be impressed with the Grand
Palace. The city's energy is palpable, especially at night, when traffic opens up a bit, its
famous markets get going, and everything seems lit up from its proudest monuments to its
seediest streets.

While tourism is huge in Bangkok, the city's identity and its economy is not as dependent on it
as some other places in the region. This can be a good thing for visitors because they get to
experience a real city -- with all its problems and advantages -- not a theme park. The Grand
Palace may be a world-class attraction, but it's not there for tourism; it's Bangkok's most
revered and often-visited site, and Thais enter for free.

That's not to say Bangkok is perfect. There's much to criticize about this city of 12 million
people (nearly one-fifth of Thailand's total population). It's hot and humid and the pollution is
so bad, traffic cops often wear gas masks to protect themselves from the fumes. But other
problems are improving, the canals (klongs) are slowly being cleaned, the number of trees
has dramatically increased and more green areas have been set aside.

The biggest improvements to the city have been the Skytrain, which opened in 1999, and the
subway, which opened in 2004. Coupled with the river express boats, moving around most
parts of Bangkok has become relatively easy. While traffic continues to be nightmarish, the
Skytrain breezes people along, high above that gridlock. The Skytrain and subway also help
organize the city, which, with its multiple city centres, can be rather confusing.

Perhaps a bigger critical issue is that a disproportionate amount of Thailand's wealth is in
Bangkok. It's the financial, business, and entertainment capital of the country, as well as its
government centre. It's like Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles wrapped into one.
In many respects is has grown apart from the rest of the country. The national government
often acts like a city administration dealing with city development issues while the country at
large can appear neglected. The city's wealth speaks, and the city residents demand
attention. As much of the country keeps its traditions, Bangkok seems more brash in
abandoning them. Some social critics say in Thailand people revere the Buddha, but in
Bangkok they worship the Baht.

Thais call their capital Krung Thep, which means "City of Angels." The full name actually
means a bit more than that and has 280 letters or so, depending on the translation. The city
went through several name changes until 1972 when a new government administration
named it the first two words of the original name, Krungthep Mahanakhon. King Rama I
named the original city after founding the capital in 1782. Rama I also founded the Royal
House of Chakri, under which the present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the ninth
king. Rama I moved the capital across the Chao Phraya River from Thonburi because he felt
"the village of the wild plum trees, " as he called Bangkok, would be easier to defend against
possible Burmese attacks from here. Rama I set out to build a city as beautiful as the old
capital of Ayutthaya was before it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767.

Though some may contend that Bangkok's beauty has faded in the face of so much concrete,
there certainly is no shortage of things to marvel at -- from the requisite temples to fierce Thai
boxing matches to the labyrinthine streets of the older neighbourhoods to the sudden shift of
congested streets into a flower market. You may not fall in love with Bangkok, but you'll never
forget it.

Best in 2 or 3 Days
If the jet lag and heat don't slow you down too much, you can cover a good number of
Bangkok's attractions in three days. In another two days you can see more of the city or take
short trips outside it. Between the Skytrain, subway, and express boats on the Chao Phraya
River, you should be able to get most places with relative ease. Planning around Bangkok's
traffic is a must, so look for sights near public transportation or close enough to one another
to visit on the same day.

If You Have 2 Days
Start Day 1 with the most famous of all Bangkok sights, the Grand Palace. In the same
complex is the gorgeously ornate Wat Phra Keo. Not far south of the Grand Palace is
Bangkok's oldest and largest temple, Wat Po, famous for its enormous Reclining Buddha and
for being the home of the development of traditional Thai massage. Later head toward
Banglamphu to take the river walk from Pinklao Bridge to Santichaiprakarn Park. That will put
you on Phra Athit Road, where you can find many good restaurants and bars. If you feel up
for more after that take a tuk-tuk the short distance to Khao San Road for some shopping and
more strolling. Another option is to go from Wat Po to the National Museum and then head to
Phra Athit for dinner.

On Day 2 take a taxi to Wat Benjamabophit, which contains Bangkok's much-photographed
Marble Temple. From there take a taxi to Wat Traimit so you can pay respects to its perfectly
harmonious and glittering image of the Buddha. Your next stop should be Chinatown. Work
your way to the Chao Phraya River and catch an express boat to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain
stop. If it's a weekend head to Kukrit Pramoj Heritage House; if it's a weekday, visit Jim
Thompson's House. Take the Skytrain in the evening to Sukhumvit Road, where there are
many good restaurants.

If You Have 3-4 Days
Start Day 1 at the Grand Palace. Visit the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Keo, then walk to
Wat Po to see the Reclining Buddha. Cross the river to Wat Arun, the beautiful Temple of
Dawn, and climb the large spire for views of the entire city. Take an express boat upstream to
the Royal Barge Museum; the barges displayed are used on ceremonial occasions. Return to
the Bangkok side, and if there's time remaining spend the rest of the afternoon browsing
around the National Museum, or stroll the river walk from Pinklao Bridge to Santichaiprakarn
Park. From there you can walk down to Phra Athit to one of its many restaurants.

Start Day 2 at Wat Benjamabophit. South of the Marble Temple is the golden dome of Wat
Saket, and the metal temple of Wat Rachanatdaram. Now head to Chinatown for a little
shopping before finding harmony at Wat Traimit. From there it's a short walk to the Hua
Lamphong subway station, were you can go two stops to Silom station. Walk down Silom
Road for great restaurants and night markets. Patpong Road also has a fun night market.

On Day 3 buy a one-day Skytrain pass and start at Jim Thompson's House, then go to Suan
Pakkard Palace. Get back on the Skytrain and go to the river for a klong tour in Thonburi,
which your hotel can arrange. Head back to the Skytrain and go to Sukhumvit Road for
Day 4 could easily be filled with shopping if you've seen enough sights. If it's the weekend, be
sure to explore the madness of Chatuchak market. Another must-see weekend sight is Kukrit
Pramoj Heritage House; you could start there and take the Skytrain to Chatuchak afterwards.

Ho Chi Minh City


Hanoi, the self-appointed stronghold of "true" Vietnamese, anti-imperialist culture, has learned
to covet satellite TV and blue jeans. The country's leaders let in a flood of overseas
investment from China, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and even the United States and
Australia, and now the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam relishes its newfound
economic liberalization despite itself. Although Western fashions, music, and food have
managed to elbow their way into the once-impenetrable north, Hanoi is appealing because it
retains its ancient culture, French colonial architecture, broad tree-lined boulevards, and
beautiful lakes.

Sights & Activities
Hanoi is divided into four main districts, or quan. The Hoan Kiem District, named after the lake
at its centre, stretches from the railway tracks to the river, north of Nguyen Du Street, and is
the hub of all local and tourist activity.

Just north of the lake is the Old Quarter, a charming cluster of ancient streets. South of the
lake you'll find the modern city centre, once the French Quarter, which houses grand colonial-
style villas that have been turned into hotels and offices; the best examples of French-era
architecture are around Dien Bien Phu Street and Le Hong Phong Street, where embassies
line the road.

The Ba Dinh District includes the zoo, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, and areas around West
Lake. Stately buildings, fine hotels, and open spaces define the area. North of both Ba Dinh
and Hoan Kiem is picturesque West Lake. The Hai Ba Trung District, which covers the
southeast part of Hanoi, is a calm, elegant residential area; the primary attraction here is
Lenin Park, in the northwest corner of the district. The Dong Da District, to the southwest, is
where the Temple of Literature can be found (along its northern edge).

Unlike Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi does offer a few places where you can have a very pleasant
stroll, particularly around the edges of its many lakes. Hanoi's network of lakes is perhaps its
most romantic asset. In the evenings groups of Vietnamese of all ages line the shores of
Hanoi's biggest lake, West Lake (Ho Tay), and central Hoan Kiem Lake to soak up the
calming breeze off the water.

Getting around Hanoi on foot can be tiring, so if you intend to stick within the Old Quarter or
elsewhere in Hoan Kiem District, break up your walks with a cycle ride or two. Otherwise
consider taking taxis, or if the weather is good and you're feeling a little more gung ho, hop on
the back of a xe om (motorcycle taxi). If you're feeling brave, consider renting a Chinese
bicycle for a day and pedalling yourself around.

Once you have seen the sights in Hanoi, it's time to jump off into the "real" Vietnam -- the
countryside. Less than an hour out of Hanoi in any direction brings you to stretches of rice
paddies interrupted only by villages and jagged rocky outcrops, which makes taking day trips,
with the capital as a base, a very viable option.
Ho Chi Minh City
Once romantically referred to by the French as the Pearl of the Orient, Ho Chi Minh City is still
called Saigon by almost everyone who lives there. It is a modern city by Asian standards and
has only been under firm Vietnamese control for a little more than 200 years. The city's
character remains essentially French -- with wide boulevards, colonial villas, and a lively café
society -- but also resolutely Asian. It has more of a cosmopolitan feel than Hanoi, although
much of the old French colonial city is vanishing beneath the rapidly rising skyline and the
sheer weight of recent history.

Although the city has few historic monuments or ancient sights to see, its history has
bequeathed it a melting pot of styles. Only in Ho Chi Minh City can you ride in a 1950s French
Citroën, a 1960s Ford Mustang, a 1970s Russian Volga, or a brand-new Toyota. For dinner
you have your choice of Vietnamese food, hamburgers, fine French cuisine, or black caviar at
a Russian restaurant. Afterward, you can visit one of the city's many bars for a taste of its
distinctive nightlife.

At its teeming markets, tropical fruits, king cobras, barbecued dogs, and a hundred other such
items are for sale. Sidewalks are crammed with noodle stands, cafés, and vendors selling
fresh glasses of beer; roads are often gridlocked with motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, cyclos
(pedicabs), buses, and a few cars (for now). All kinds of people travel by bicycle or motorbike:
women in traditional ao dais, long gloves, and conical hats; and whole families -- mother,
father, and two children -- all squeezed onto one seat.

Combined with this vivacious street life, the city's French influences have bred a charm all
their own. But it is the people even more than the city that you will remember most.

Sights & Activities
Ho Chi Minh City is not noted for its tourist attractions. Although there are several sights that
shouldn't be missed, the particular appeal of the city is its street life. From early morning to
late at night, streets and sidewalks are home to a startling range of activity -- from street
hawkers and barbers to noodle sellers and street artists. It's a kaleidoscopic maze, where
Western-style commercial activity takes place alongside traditional practices.

The city has 14 districts, but most areas of interest are in either District 1 (downtown Saigon)
or District 5 (Cholon). In District 1 major arteries such as Le Loi Boulevard, Ham Nghi
Boulevard, and Pham Ngu Lao Street converge at the Ben Thanh Market, an important
commercial and transportation hub. Northeast of the central market, at the intersection of Le
Loi Boulevard with Nguyen Hue Boulevard and Dong Khoi Street, is a cluster of French
colonial-style public buildings -- the Hôtel de Ville (now the Ho Chi Minh City People's
Committee); the Opera House (once again serving its original purpose after housing the
former South Vietnam's National Assembly); and hotels like the Rex, the Continental, and the
Caravelle, built by the French and made famous during the Vietnam War.

Saigon's waterways have traditionally served as a means of commercial transport as well as
a natural moat. District 1 is bounded on the east by the Saigon River and on the south by the
Ben Nghe Channel. Not only do the rivers provide an alternative way of getting around, they
also serve as convenient landmarks. The city's rather daunting layout and chaotic traffic tend
to discourage leisurely walking. The intermittent taxi, cycle, or motorbike ride -- ranging
6,000d-10,000d -- is an unavoidable but enjoyable alternative to walking.

To top