5 Places to Visit – Asia

From the Middle East (read that 5 Places post here) we head back away from home for this instalment of 5 Places to Visit and find ourselves in Asia, earth’s largest continent. From the Ural Mountains in the west to the Bering strait in the east, Asia is possibly the world’s most diverse continent with plenty to see and do.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Capital of Vietnam for more than a millennium, the city of Hanoi can trace its history back to the 3rd century BC and its historic Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long became the 900th UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. Hanoi is also the only Asia-Pacific locality to be granted the “City for Peace” title by UNESCO, recognizing its contributions to the struggle for peace.

The Citadel of Hanoi’s main gate – Grenouille vert via Wikimedia Commons
  • Old Quarter – Maintaining much of its original street layout and many of the buildings of old Hanoi, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is home to the Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long and the ‘36 streets’ that were home to Hanoi’s commercial and industrial guilds. The Old Quarter also contains many historic sights, such as temples, pagodas, and assembly halls along with more modern architecture from the Colonial French Indochina era.
  • Hỏa Lò Prison – Constructed in the late 19th century, the Hỏa Lò Prison’s name commonly translates to “Hell’s Hole” and was used to house political prisoners during the era of colonial French Indochina and later American POWs during the Vietnam War including John McCain (former Presidential nominee) and Floyd James Thomas (the longest held US POW). Whilst the vast majority of the prison was demolished during the 1990s, the former gatehouse remains as a museum which mainly shows the prison during the French colonial period, including the guillotine room, and the quarters for male and female Vietnamese political prisoners. The museum is open from 0800 to 1700 every day with entry costing less than £1.
  • Lotte Observation Deck – Sitting at 272m above Hanoi, the Observation Deck and rooftop bar of the Lotte Centre are known as the ‘Top of Hanoi’ and provide stunning views over the city and Red River Delta. At 65 floors, the Lotte Centre is Hanoi’s second tallest building, however its central location provides much better views of the entire city than the tallest, Keangnam Landmark Tower 72. The Observation deck is open from 0900 until midnight and entry costs about £7.30.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR

Lying on the eastern Pearl River Delta, the 426 square mile territory of Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated places behind only Macau, Monaco and Singapore. Having been a British colony for more than 150 years, the territory of Hong Kong was transferred back to China in 1997 and is administered as a Special Administrative Region under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle.

Hong Kong as seen from Victoria Peak – Ansel Lee via <a href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>[Pic – Pexels
  • Lantau Island – Located to the east of the city’s heart and just south of Chek Lap Kok airport, Lantau Island is home to a number of Hong Kong attractions including Disneyland, Discovery Bay and the Lantau South Country Park. Sitting on the Ngong Ping highland is the Tian Tan Buddah, which can be reached by the Ngong Ping 360, a 5.5km cable car connecting the area with Tung Chung station and providing much easier access to the highlands from elsewhere in Hong Kong.
  • Victoria Peak – Victoria Peak is a hill on the western half of Hong Kong Island. Mount Austin, with an elevation of 552 metres (1,811 ft), is the main peak which is named as The Peak or Victoria Peak in any maps. In a broad sense, Victoria Peak included its main peak Mount Austin, Victoria Gap, Mount Kellett and Mount Gough, which are also a part of The Peak. Although the actual summit is home to a communications facility and out of bounds to the public, the viewing deck provides stunning views out over the city. Access is usually best via the Peak Tram, however this is currently undergoing an upgrade with alternative bus routes available.
  • Checkerboard Hill & Kai Tak Runway Park – I wouldn’t be a respectable transport blogger writing about Hong Kong without mentioning Kai Tak airport and its famous Checkerboard Approach. Kai Tak was the main international airport of Hong Kong until 1998, when it was replaced by Chek Lap Kok to the east of the city. Kai Tak’s confined location resulted in the unique Checkerboard Approach, requiring inbound aircraft to fly towards the hill and once the red and white checkerboard was seen make a sharp turn towards the airport and complete a short visual final approach. Checkerboard Hill has recently had the famous checkboard restored to its former distinct colours, whilst the waterside location of Kai Tak has begun the long process of regeneration with part of the runway now home to Runway Park, with both the park and Checkerboard Hill being memorials to one of the world’s most famous airports.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Once known as the “Pearl of Asia” the city of Phnom Penh was founded in 1372 and was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina during the colonial period. National capital since 1865, the city is noted for its historical architecture from throughout its history.

Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace – Arnaud-Victor Monteux via Wikimedia Commons
  • Royal Palace – Constructed in the late 1860s, The Royal Palace of Cambodia serves as the royal residence of the King of Cambodia and has done so since its construction, except for a period during and after the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Divided into four main compounds, the complex contains the Silver Pagoda, Khemarin Palace, Throne Hall and Inner Court, with all except the latter open to the public daily. With stunning architecture, plenty of history and the chance to look inside one of the most important locations in Cambodia, the $6.50 entry fee definitely seems like a bargain.
  • Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – A memorial to Cambodia’s darkest period, the Tuol Sleng or ‘Hill of the Poisonous Trees’ Genocide Museum is the site of a former secondary school which was used as Security Prison 21 during the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1976 and 1979 an estimated 20,000 people were imprisoned and tortured. The museum tells the story of the Khmer Rouge regime, the atrocities committed and its victims and aims to encourage visitors to be messengers of peace.  
  • Trip to Siem Reap & Angkor Wat – This one’s a bit of a cheat but similar to going to Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids, going to Cambodia and not visiting Angkor Wat seems somewhat wrong. Located just to the north of Cambodia’s second city, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and the nearby ruins of Angkor Thom are some of the most stunning 12th century relics of the Khmer Empire. Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the form of a temple complex in the world by land area and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on the national flag. Although just about do-able in a day from Phnom Penh if you fly between the two cities, I’d recommend giving yourself a longer stay in Siem Reap.

Singapore

At the southern end of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is an island state, the land area of which has grown by 25% since it gained independence through reclaiming land from the sea. Founded as a British trading colony, trade is still a major part of Singapore, with the city being a major shipping and financial centre.

Marina Bay, Singapore – Kin Pastor via Pexels
  • Singapore GP – The world’s most expensive city to live and with the second highest GDP per capita, Singapore was an obvious location for a Formula 1 Grand Prix. First held in 2008, the Singapore GP was Formula 1’s first night race and has been held annually (except in 2020 & 2021 due to Covid) on the Marina Bay Street circuit and attracts more than 250,000 spectators over the three-day event.
  • Gardens by the Bay – Spanning 250 acres and lying adjacent to the Marina Reservoir, the Gardens by the Bay consists of three waterfront gardens containing more than 1.5 million plants originating from every continent. More than 50 million people visit the gardens annually with access to the outer part of the gardens and famous light show completely free whilst access to the Cloud Forest, Flower Dome and OCBC Skyway require tickets.
  • Changi Airport – Rated the world’s best airport by Skytrax, Singapore’s Changi Airport is not only a major international gateway but an attraction within itself. Jewel Changi Airport is an entertainment and retail complex, which includes the Shiseido Forest Valley, an indoor garden spanning five storeys, and the Canopy Park at the topmost level, featuring gardens and leisure facilities. Entire days can be spent within the airport and exploring what it has to offer, but it also seems like it’d be a relatively stress-free experience to fly to or from the airport.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Located on the historic Silk Road, Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan with more than 2,200 years of written history. Having been destroyed by Genghis Khan and again in 1966 by an earthquake, the city was rebuilt as the fourth-largest city in the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan’s central location has led to Tashkent becoming a melting pot of cultures, and the city retains a multi-ethnic population.

Kosmonavtlar Station on the Tashkent Metro – Wulfsbloth via Wikimedia Commons
  • Tashkent Metro – The seventh metro to be built in the Soviet Union and one of only two operating in Central Asia. With some of the most ornate stations in world, the system is more than just a way of getting around and is a tourist attraction in itself. Stations such as Kosmonavtlar, the design of which is based on the Soviet Union’s space programme and was opened partly in honour of cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov. The metro now has four lines connecting all corners of the city, with the Brown line still under construction and opening in stages.
  • Chorsu Bazaar – Located in the centre of Tashkent’s old town, the Chorsu Bazaar is a traditional bazaar that sells all the daily necessities for locals. Housed in an impressive blue domed building and the surrounding area, the market also has a number of chefs making a lunchtime visit sounds like an excellent idea.
  • Amir Timur Museum – Opened in 1996, the Amir Timur museum is dedicated to the Turco-Mongol warlord of the same name. Following Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991, there was a large focus on reviving the nation’s spiritual and cultural heritage which included the recognition of historic figures from the region. Amir Temur was a warlord, politician and reformer, and a patron of science, education, trade, culture, and craft. Amir Temur’s rule promoted science, education, culture, architecture, fine arts, music and poetry, laying the foundations of the Timurid Renaissance. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 0900-1700 and Sundays 0900-1200 and costs less than 50p to visit.

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