Saturday, June 25, 2011

Five of Asia's Most Overlooked Cities

Sometimes the best times are hard away from the tourist trails. Here are 5 lesser-visited Asian cities that provide just as much culture and fun as their more famous alternatives.


Kagoshima, Japan

If you're so well traveled in Japan that you can tick off Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido, how about paying the quaint Kagoshima down south a visit?

With its balmy seaside breezes and mild sunshine, Kagoshima can pass for Naples on a summer day. No visit to Kagoshima is complete without a ferry ride to the massive stratovolcano Sakurajima, one of the most famous volcanoes in the country. And before you leave, be sure to sample Kagoshima's famous tonkatsu, a pork dish that is not breaded and deep fried as you'd expect from other parts of the country, but delicately caramelized.


Chengdu, China

Most foreign backpackers in China will be no stranger to Chengdu, a popular stopping point for travelers intending to journey up to Tibet. What many tourists fail to notice, however, is that Chengdu is worth much more than a one-night stopover.

Unlike other cities in this booming country, Chengdu possesses a laid-back vibe -- so much so that the Chinese have voted it the country's fourth most livable city. Locals are generally friendly and you're likely to bump into many like-minded tourists itchy for adventure and conversation.

Much of the local scene takes place at the sprawling People's Park, where the city's residents engage in their favorite pastimes throughout the day, be it tai chi, sipping tea by the lake, playing majong in the open or dancing. Entry to important archeological dig Jinsha Excavation Site may be steep at 80 RMB, but the huge number of artifacts there is well worth the ticket. At night, explore the bustling wine-and-dine area of Jinli Ancient Street for some after-dark action.


Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Taiwan is not just all about Taipei. Kaohsiung, the island's second-biggest city, is quickly outgrowing its reputation as an industrial and commercial hub to become a fascinating tourist destination in its own right.

Despite the wealth of historical buildings and the untouched forests in this sprawling city, for years Kaohsiung has been something of an underdog on the tourist circuit due to the city's reliance on industry, which polluted the city's waterways and air. But not any more. Recent efforts to clean up the city are finally reaping results: the romantically named Love River used to reek of sewage but is now the city's tourism focal point. A visit to Kaohsiung is incomplete without a sail on the river at night on a barge, with outdoor cafes and beautifully lit historical sights flanking the river on both sides.

Another great way to take in the city is to attend the annual Lantern Festival, a dizzying parade of fireworks, live concerts, lanterns and lip-smacking street food. The Lantern Festival is usually held in the middle of the Chinese New Year.


Daegu, South Korea

Neon-lit metropolises Seoul and Pusan may overshadow the quiet South Korean city of Daegu, but the latter deserves its own place in the spotlight.

For many Korean domestic travelers, Daegu's reputation for its sweet juicy apples and beautiful women is enough to warrant a visit. The city is also drawing visitors for its thriving traditional Asian medicine market. Check out the Yangnyeongsi herbal medicine market if you fancy bringing home some herbal curios back home.

With its textiles and clothing manufacturing industries going strong, the city is also positioning itself as a fashion hub in the Asia region in recent years. To see for yourself just how successful this rebranding has been, check out Daegu's central shopping district, Yasigolmok.


Sagada, Philippines

The Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines are practically a national symbol, synonymous with the Chocolate Hills and ube ice cream. But apart from the rice terraces there is little to see and do at Banaue.

Enter Sagada, a quiet town deep in the Mountain Province. The rice terraces at Sagada may be smaller than those of Banaue but is still photogenic and, better yet, there's plenty to do around town to keep you occupied for a day or two. Sagada's hanging coffins (coffins with mummified bodies hanging in a cave) leave quite an impression, while adrenalin junkies won't want to pass up the opportunity to hike at the Bomod-Ok falls or venture into the town's eerily beautiful caves.

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