RTW eight months in Asia

Well, almost. I arrived in Malaysia, my first country in the region, on 5th October 2016, and I departed China, the last country, on 23rd May 2017. So that’s seven and a half months and four days. Funnily, the whole eight months or so turned out to be just a very long side trip, if you can call something that took half my total travel time a side trip! As I couldn’t go home via Russia as originally planned, I doubled my tracks and went from Japan to China to catch a container ship to Europe via the Suez canal. You can see the side track nicely on my travel map.

In my post about second guessing my route, whether I would have flipped the route around had I known, I emphatically said no. I had a marvellous time and I wouldn’t change a thing (except breaking my arm and getting a stomach bug). But should you think about traveling around the world without flying, you don’t need to spend 15 months on it. If I had hopped directly on a ship from Malaysia to Europe via Suez, I could have finished my journey by mid November 2016, so in only about nine months. But where would have been the fun in that?!

In my journeys across the region I covered about 19.000 km, which is only about 2000 km more than the last sea voyage from China to Europe. Yet, I spent almost eight months in Asia, compared with less than a month it will take aboard the ship. In that time I traveled in seven Asian countries, and stayed in exactly fifty cities and towns. I already wrote a review post about South East Asia, so what could I tell you now that I have toured two more countries, China and Japan? Well, I hope you liked the categories I listed in that post, as I am re-visiting some of them now. Oh, and as that SE Asia review post had photos of the five months spent there, this post only highlights some of the best shots of China (above) and Japan (below).

Best wow experiences: this list needs the addition of the Great Wall in Beijing, the Terracotta Army in Xi’an and the amazing old cities at night across China; snow monkeys, hot pools and sand dunes, geishas and kimonos, cherry blossoms in Tokyo and the amazing shrines in Kyoto.

Best big city: I picked Saigon in Vietnam for my favourite in SE Asia. As for China, I liked Beijing and Xi’an quite a lot, but my favorite big city in China to add to this list is Shanghai. I love the mix of old and new, the river, the view of Pudong and the orderly city. In Japan, Kyoto wins by a mile. What an awesome place!

Best small to medium cities: I will add Fenghuang in China and Kanazawa in Japan on the previous list of Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai in Thailand, Georgetown in Malaysia and Da Lat and Hoi An in Vietnam. Fenghuang was unbelievably gorgeous, especially at night, and fascinating to wander through, and Kanazawa was lovely with big parks and thriving geisha and samurai quarters.

Favorite country: I loved them all, and had great time everywhere, but Japan joins Thailand and Vietnam as my top three countries in Asia. All three have spectacular scenery, temples, shrines, and wildlife, they are easy to travel in, and the people are across the board wonderful.

What you can’t find in Asia: single malt whiskey, good wine, dairy, good chocolate and especially cheese are hard to find. Chinese public toilets (and sometimes even hostels) don’t usually stock toilet paper, soap or a means to dry your hands. And in Japan, good luck finding trash cans anywhere. Seriously, walking on the streets you are hard pressed to find one, and most hostels have just recycling bins in the kitchen or common area, but nothing in the toilets or dormitories.

(The blog continues after the slide show of Japan photos)

China and Japan compared with SE Asia: coming to China from South East Asia, China was more orderly, more modern, colder at that time of year, and downright chilly at night as few of the hostels I stayed at were heated. The prevalent squat toilets in China were just par for the course after five months in Asia. The people were at first flush not as lovely as in South East Asia, but while Chinese were perhaps quite not so friendly en masse, they were all smiling and helpful when I interacted with them on a one-to-one basis. Chinese are single minded about getting where they are going though and give you no quarter, whether pedestrian themselves or on top of a scooter. And they will not give way even if you are hauling heavy luggage in tow.

Japan was just on a completely different level. The toilets are world class, as I have rhapsodised before in this blog, and so are the wonderful hostel dormitories. And everywhere you are treated with the utmost respect and genuine desire to help. Returning to China after Japan was a little jarring, I admit. Back were the squat toilets, dormitories without privacy curtains or reading lights, and people whose main goal was to get where they wanted to go, rather than helping you to get where you were going. That’s perhaps exaggerating it a little, but the eagerness to help and actually noticing when someone needed help, was exceptional in Japan.

My biggest take away was perhaps the traditional Japanese design. Visiting Edo era geisha tea houses and samurai houses I was struck by the sparseness of the furnishings. Tatami floors, sliding doors, a simple closet. The wall and door paintings were the only decorations. I am already thinking ahead to decorating my new home-to-be and celebrating the simplicity. Do we really need closets full of stuff and ornaments and knick knacks on every surface? We’ll see how my desire to simplify everything will remain but the anticipation of creating my home again is one more reason to want to return to the UK and home.

While I loved traveling in Asia, I would probably not want to live there. I prefer countries with four seasons, and where top temperatures seldom top 25 °C (that’s the Finn in me, I guess!). Mostly, though, it is about the language and the lack of anything familiar in shops. Sure, it is my own failing not speaking the languages in the region, but I’m getting too old to learn yet another language at a level I would need to actually live in a country. And even though I prefer cooking most of my meals myself from scratch when I live somewhere, there are still staples like potatoes and wholewheat pasta that are difficult to find in Asia. And proper chocolate. And rye bread. Oh and cheese. Don’t tell me I’m vegan! When I get a craving for cheese (which is relatively seldom), then by golly, I will have some! And how can you love a country that doesn’t like chocolate and cheese?!

But thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all the wonderful experiences!

謝謝! Terima kasih! ขอขอบคุณ! ありがとうございました! Cảm ơn bạn!

p.s. this was a scheduled post, as I travel onboard the CC Kerguelen from Ninbgo China to Algeciras Spain.

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