North East Asia: what do you think?
Readers give the lowdown on their favourite places in North East Asia.
After finishing university I went to work in a small rural village in Japan as an English teacher with the JET Programme. I loved every minute of it. I was lucky to live close enough to Tokyo to pop down for the weekend. I absolutely love this city as there’s such a cross section of modern versus traditional. I also went to Kyoto, probably the most visited place in Japan – tourists flock there and you can’t blame them. I visited in spring as the cherry blossoms were blooming, it really was beautiful!
In terms of natural beauty I don’t think I’ve been anywhere in the world where the seasonal changes in the colours of flowers and leaves have been as vivid and dramatic as Japan. It’s no surprise that this is why the past-time of ‘hanami’ (flower watching) is so popular. I was based in Kitakyushu, the northern most city on Kyushu; Japan’s third largest island. Perhaps the most famous city on this island is Nagasaki, for all the wrong reasons of course. Visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum and epicentre should feature top of anyone’s to do list.
Kyushu is also home to Beppu, famous for its abundance of onsens (hot springs/public baths), and Fukuoka; Kyushu’s largest city whose speciality is ‘ramen’ (noodles served in a pork broth), which is my favourite Japanese dish.
Japan was one of the first places I travelled solo, and my first Asian country. I loved travelling there, not only because it is so easy, but because there is so much to see. There is a really big contrast between ancient and modern. Tokyo is an amazing futuristic wonderland, while Kyoto has more temples than you could ever hope to see. My favourite place was probably Hiroshima, which was both troubling and inspiring.
Washington DC, www.twenty-somethingtravel.com
South Korea is an awesome place to visit and live. Although it is sometimes known as ‘The Hermit Kingdom’ historically (though nowadays this is used to describe its northern sister-land), South Korea is the most welcoming country I have ever been lucky enough to live in.
Koreans balance tradition with modernity in all aspects of their lives. You can visit a traditional Hanok village while enjoying a delicious Cafe Mocha from a western-style coffee shop. During spring and autumn you can take long hikes in the mountains alongside tiny children, elderly women and gentlemen to whom walking is a national pastime. You can sing all night long to your heart’s content in a Noray Bang (karaoke room) without anyone telling you how utterly awful you sound.
The East Coast is a beautiful place to visit in the warmer months while there are multiple ski resorts to enjoy in the cold of the winter. And then there’s the mud festival with all kinds of mud related shenanigans by the sea!
Seoul is an amazing and vibrant city with so many faces that you’ll come away feeling different every time you visit. If you fancy a good night out and some independent shopping, there’s Hongdae with its Free Art Market and crazy bars such has OI Bar with its cave-like interiors, hookah pipes and eclectic music.
Reconstructed palaces are bountiful in Seoul, with English speaking tours available. There are so many restaurants to choose from, ranging from the most delicious all-you-can eat steakhouses to KimBap restaurants with all the standard Korean takeaway food that are must eats when in Korea.
Up at the N Seoul Tower you can watch the sunset with a loved one and buy a love-lock together to attach to the railings overlooking the city. Best of all are the Love Motels. A place where Koreans tend to rent for only a few hours, they are a great and reasonably cheap place to stay overnight. They range from a simple room with double bed, shower and internet/TV, to themed motels with pirate ship beds, giant baths and flashing lights around the beds.