Far East Holidays
Far East Destinations
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More and more people in recent years have been discovering the delights of the Far East as one of the world's most exciting holiday destinations, and it's not hard to see why. Just the cities alone are enough to entice you -- Bangkok, Hanoi, Rangoon, Singapore, the names alone sound like a roll-call of glamour and romance. But beyond the cities there is so much more -- ancient temples, steamy jungles, majestic rivers, enchanting islands and beaches, spectacular natural attractions -- providing enough for a lifetime of discovery.
The Far East is usually defined as comprising the countries lying between India to the west, and China to the east, and of these the most frequently visited destinations include Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia (including Bali) and, increasingly, Japan. It's true that many of these places are frequented by the young, and are very much on the backpacker trail, but it's necessary to remember that the region is vast, and there is more than enough room for everyone. There are countless off-the-beaten-track places -- tranquil islands, beautiful national parks, intriguing towns and villages -- which are ideal destinations for all visitors, including honeymooners, families, or those seeking adventure holidays.
Unique Mixture of Cultures
What makes the Far East especially attractive is that there is probably no other region in the world with such an extraordinary blend of unique and fascinating cultures -- there are no doubt some Western influences, but the different nations and peoples have largely kept their rich and colourful ways of living intact, and because most groups are open and friendly, there are plenty of intriguing cultural features for visitors to observe. Not only does every nation have its own distinct culture, but there are large numbers of small ethnic groups who have very distinct and picturesque cultures of their own -- for instance, in Northern Thailand, there are dozens of hill tribes who are happy to invite you to look round their villages and see how they live.
Sense of the Sacred
Although these cultures are incredibly diverse, the common thread running through them across the region is spirituality and the sense of the divine, which pervades every aspect of life for the majority of people. It is this sense of the spiritual and the transcendental that has largely shaped the history of most nations, and helps to explain why so many of the most iconic sites for travellers to visit, in virtually every country in the region, are extraordinary temples built in reverence for the divine. Many places boast not one temple, but dozens or even hundreds.
This is why in the Far East you see temples virtually wherever you go. Bangkok, the Thai capital, of course is famous for its splendid temples, as is the northern city of Chiang Mai, while Luang Prabang in Laos is renowned for its golden monasteries, infusing the entire city with a sense of the sublime. One of the most famous monuments in the region is the great temple complex at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, so huge that it takes several days to explore -- the world's largest religious monument, but only one of many in Cambodia. And then there are the extraordinary Bagan Temples of Myanmar or Burma -- literally thousands of them, hundreds of years old, rising out of a vast plain.
Probably the country where the sense of the sacred is most tangible is Bali, in the eastern part of Indonesia, known as the Island of the Gods. Not only is there a shrine outside every house, but the island has an estimated 20,000 temples, including not only the small ones on every street corner, but magnificent temples in some of the most beautiful and dramatic parts of the island, providing a mysterious and awe-inspiring experience. Right in the centre is the mystical and beautiful town of Ubud, surrounded by dense jungle, encapsulating the true essence of Bali -- yet the island does have more than enough gorgeous beaches and stunning national parks to provide enjoyment for every type of visitor.
Lifetime of Treasures
But even without the temples, the Far East would have a lifetime's store of treasures to explore. There's enough in Thailand alone to keep you occupied for several weeks, including the excitements of Bangkok, the magical islands and beaches of the south, and the dramatic north, with its hill tribes, and the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet at the Mekong River. Beyond Thailand, there are countless other marvels -- such as cruising in Vietnam's spellbinding Ha Long Bay -- the Bay of Descending Dragons -- with its thousands of towering limestone islands, or exploring the mountains and forests of Laos, one of south-east Asia's secret treasures.
Despite the complexity of the region and its history, most countries in the Far East are very peaceful, and travelling around is safe and easy. Unless you have several months to spare to travel from place to place, it will be difficult to appreciate the incredible diversity of cultures and landscapes, but any one country offers more than enough delights for a single visit. However many times you visit, there will always be more riches waiting to be discovered.