East Asia– An Alternative Travel Guide

In addition to all kinds of technical information that you will need when embarking on a new adventure, the second book of the So Long to Borders series entitled Eastern Asia – An Alternative Travel Guide displays all the riches of Eastern Asia, packed full of alternative routes, the best kept culinary secrets, culture, history and most important of all: people.

Eastern Asia – An Alternative Travel Guide

“So Long to All Borders, Let Us Travel the World!”

In the second book of the “So Long to Borders” series entitled Eastern Asia – An Alternative Travel Guide, traveller Okan Okumuş provides the reader with insight into the societies and histories of nine countries, along with his personal memories and handy tips to allow every traveller to explore the lesser-known corners of the region.

Okan Okumuş starts each section with some basic information including a list of places to see, what to eat and drink after which he shares with travelholics his own experiences and adventures in a style that merges memoir and narrative. He does not skip vital information on the cuisines of different countries, providing tips on where to grab the most mouthwatering dishes, from Sushi to ramen, pho to khao poon, at reasonable prices. He brings to life the history of the countries he visits, and provides a list of alternative places to see which are not included in ordinary travel guides. Okumuş transforms the reader from a tourist to a traveller.

Okan Okumuş also shares plenty of his own travel memories, taking the reader from the temples of Japan to the heart of its manga culture; from forgotten or perhaps unknown horrific historical truths of Vietnam and Cambodia to the hidden bazaars of Myanmar and Laos; all the way to the breathtaking beauty of Mongolia and Siberia during his Trans-Siberia trip.

BACK COVER

An extraordinary travel guide from a traveller who takes the concept of traveling one step further and aims to be a guest and not a foreigner in every country he visits.

After Latin America, this time Okan Okumuş takes us to Eastern Asia, with a backpack of memories to bring those distant lands to life. You will walk the modern streets of Japan, be a guest at dinner tables in Vietnam, pass through the temples of Cambodia to reach the floating markets of Thailand and the peaceful mountain villages of Laos. Prepare to set off on a voyage from a wedding in Myanmar to the ancient cities of China; from the legendary Trans-Siberian railway all the way to Siberia via the Mongolian steppes.

In addition to all kinds of technical information that you will need when embarking on a new adventure, the second book of the So Long to Borders series entitled Eastern Asia – An Alternative Travel Guide displays all the riches of Eastern Asia, packed full of alternative routes, the best kept culinary secrets, culture, history and most important of all: people.

It’s time to pack your bag and hit the road!

Preface

Angkor Wat, Bagan, The Great Wall of China, Yunnan District, Bangkok, Kyoto, Saigon, Halong Bay, Luang Prabang, the Gobi Desert, Lake Baikal and the essential Trans-Siberian railway. Fantastic places and journeys to set the heart of any traveller to Eastern Asia on fire… So, it is not surprising that these lands, full of the most charming and exotic cities and the most striking religious structures in the world, are among primary destinations for any backpacker. Most Asian countries also offer very affordable accommodation, transportation and food options compared to many other regions in the world.

My love of Eastern Asia started in 2000 during a Bangkok trip and continued to increase until my journey on the Trans-Siberian railway in 2015. In this book, you will be reading fifteen-years-worth of my Eastern Asian adventures, along the way picking up plenty of useful information, on the history of the nine countries I visited, their top attractions and the daily lives of the local people. Alternative travel destinations, such as the Yunnan district of China where dozens of ethnic groups live, the towns of Northern Laos notable for their simplicity and animist culture and the Hövsgöl region of Mongolia that continues to amaze with its striking natural beauty, have also been included in this guide.

Unfortunately, these lands have experienced their share of Earth’s painful history. The Killing Fields of Cambodia, the millions of tons of bombs dropped by USA on Vietnam and Laos, the affronts to humanity by the US at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the great famine in China under Mao’s rule, the tyranny of the blood sucker juntas in Myanmar and Thailand and the thousands of people who passed away in the famous GULAGs of Siberia are all incidents of the past century that will be remembered forever. Contrary to the Latin Americans who have tried to overcome pain by entertainment, dancing and humor, the people of Eastern Asia have repressed their sorrow or have even disregarded it completely. The silence of the parents who endured these great traumas has significantly decreased their adverse impact on future generations. As the grandmothers and grandfathers who have managed to stay alive after all this bloodshed and wars drew a line under the past, thus remembering how to smile again, their grandchildren have been able to continue their lives in a sane manner. No doubt the lives of today are still not perfect; underdevelopment and economic struggles aside, the political corruption in the region causes much misery for the people of Eastern Asia. Violations of human rights in China and Thailand, the abuse of women and children in Laos and Thailand, and the treatment of the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar continue to be stains on the modern world.

I am sure that you will also be impressed by the calmness and serenity of these beautiful people who continue to smile despite it all. Perhaps, Eastern Asians will not drop a kiss on your cheek as soon as they meet you like the Latin Americans, nor will they hug and kiss you goodbye, no matter how close you have become. Yes, you will feel that the majority of these people are quite withdrawn, not expressing their emotions easily. However, you will develop more sincere and unrequited relationships with strangers during your trips than you could anywhere else. You can be sure that the Eastern Asian people, who accept their guests as they are and never judge them, will greet you with huge smiles on their faces and warm your hearts with their hospitality. All you need to deserve these smiles is to respect their culture and try not to offend them with your behavior.

Despite its popularity, I preferred not to use the term ‘Far East’ in the title of this book, since it reflects a colonial, Eurocentric outlook. The term ‘Far East’ is an artificial geographical term that defines the region in relation to the European continent. Instead of using the terms of “Near, Middle and Far East” preferred by Europeans who have placed their continent at the centre of our world maps, we will divide Asia into two as “West” and “East. The So Long to Borders series will continue with books on Africa, Western Asia and Oceania following the books on Latin America and Eastern Asia.