Visit the most densely populated continent on earth and still find plenty of space to be quiet and inspiration to be still.
To travel through Asia completely would take a lifetime, and then a few more. This continent that sweeps up the snow of the Himalayas, the dry desert of the Middle East, the waters of the Ganges and the sticky jungle home of orangutans and tigers cries out to be explored again and again and again.
But it’s difficult to know where to start.
Here, I gather up some of the best experiences I’ve had while travelling in Asia, from asking tough questions in Japan to lounging on a beach in, well, several countries.
Quite simply, there’s nowhere on earth quite like Japan. Shut away from the rest of the world for centuries, this volcano island chain developed a culture you won’t find anywhere else.
For your first time in Japan, head to Tokyo and use the dazzlingly fast, clean and good bullet trains to travel to the Geisha & Palace hub of Kyoto, take a trip to the Japanese Alps and visit the thriving city of Hiroshima and Miya Jima.
For a different taste of Japan, visit her southern tropical islands in Okinawa or else spend time travelling around Kyushu where you can see Japan’s only cosmopolitan city, Nagasaki, as well as a deserted island that inspired a Bond villain’s lair.
For winter, head north to catch some incredible ice sculptures and igloo festivals and combine ski-ing with sake and suhi.
Sapporo grabs the headlines but the Sendai prefecture offers castles, igloos, and cultural winter festivals too.More about travel in Japan
From the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum to the poetic candlelight at night at Petra, Jordan dazzles with big name sights and great natural beauty. But its real richness comes from its people, from sharing hummus, tabbouleh and pitta bread together and from discovering layers and layers of history that have remarkably resulted in peace in this otherwise tumultuous part of the world.
?More about travel in Jordan
This south east Asian country is known for its beautiful beaches and rainforests (one of the few where orangutans live in the wild) as well as the fast paced city life of Kuala Lumpur. A quiet, conservative Muslim culture prevails in most of the country, in contrast to its neighbours Singapore and Thailand.
A great two week driving route involves hiring a car in KL and visiting food capital Penang, cultural hotspot Malacca and the pristine beaches and diving spots in Redang. The rolling fabric green of the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands can also fit neatly into this itinerary.
Alternatively, spend a couple of weeks in Malaysian Borneo for more beaches and wildlife, with a brief stop off in the richest country in the world: Brunei. Hike up Mt Kinabalu and learn three easy Malaysian recipes in a rich cultural cooking class.
Best way of getting around: Independent driving. Flights from peninsular Malaysia into Borneo.
Highlight: seeing orangutans in the wild.
Travel tip: Bring plenty of mozzie spray. Use lavishly..
Dress Code: Almost anything goes in the capital but wear conservative, long sleeved shirts and trousers in rural areas.
Unusual highlight:Cheeky monkeys at the Batu Caves
China is vast and homes around a quarter of the population so you’re going to need to travel strategically.
Popular routes include stopping off at the three major cities along the east coast, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong as well as making incursions inland to see world class treasures like the terracotta warriors or the limestone karst formations of Guilin. Seeing lovable, but endangered, panda bears munching on bamboo and walking along the Great Wall have to count as “bucket list” items too.
Vietnam takes the concept of hustle and bustle, throws them in a blender and takes things up a notch or two.
Yes, the country specialises in beautiful white beaches and lush green paddy fields but the pace of life in Saigon or Hanoi is anything but slow.
Peace can be found, though, most notably on the waters around UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay.
Favourite place to stay in Vietnam
A relative newcomer to the modern travel scene, Myanmar’s culture, architecture and history stretches back centuries – and it’s very easy to find. Glittering golden pagodas, rich museums, manicured lawns from Kipling’s days and bright, soft beaches where children play with tyres in the shore.
There’s complexity, too, of course and at present the country is hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Think before you go and think about how you go but in my opinion, you should still go. Here’s a brief look at why in this piece: is it Burma or Myanmar?
This calm and curious gem in the Middle East ranks as one of my favourite countries in the world. It combines all the wonderful characteristics of the region – the sand, camels, beaches, fragrant mountains, Arabic architecture and fresh flavoured food, and avoids the worst.
Both a city and a state, Singapore has as reputation for being sterile and all about the money. But, as every, that’s only one side of the story.
As well as city-slicking high rise life, you can find quiet forests and intense cultural charm. Oh, and food. Great food.