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Every year, millions of visitors set off on their own Asian adventure. Some want to see for themselves a few of the world's greatest monuments - to stroll along the Great Wall of China or stand beside India's Taj Mahal. Others are drawn by the scenery - the soaring Himalayas and the chance of viewing Everest at close quarters; the kaleidoscopic coral reefs of Southeast Asia, where you'll find yourself swimming amongst sharks, manta rays and turtles; the steamy jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia with the prospect of spotting orang-utans, elephants, even tigers. Few people would say no to a week or two on the dazzling white-sand beaches of the Philippines or pass up the chance to watch the sunrise over the Khyber Pass.
But perhaps the greatest draw is the sheer vitality of daily life in Asia, much of it played out on the streets. You can watch Thai boxing in Bangkok and trance dances in Bali; learn yoga in India and drink rice whisky in Vientiane; eat dim sum in Shanghai and satay sticks in Penang; buy silver in Mandalay and bargain for mangosteens in Manila.
Nearly all these things are affordable even for low-budget travellers, because most of Asia is enticingly inexpensive. Western money goes much further here than it does in Africa or South America. Not surprisingly, this has put Asia firmly at the heart of the backpackers' trail, and many cities and islands already boast a lively travellers' scene, attracting young adventurers from all over the world. Few travellers leave Asia without experiencing at least one of its fabled hot spots: the beaches of Goa, for example, the guest houses of Kathmandu, or one of Thailand's notorious full-moon parties.
"I flew into Bangkok from Calcutta. I remember the light, diffuse and glowing, and the smells - exhaust fumes, jasmine, and garlic edged with chilli. I checked into Charlie's Guest House, sat downstairs and ordered fried chicken and chillis with rice. It was late afternoon and tuk tuks screamed past on the street. And just like that, in a revelatory moment, I was in love with Southeast Asia".
However, Asian travel can also be a shocking and sobering experience. Few people forget their first sight of a shanty-town slum or their first encounter with an amputee begging for small coins. Many first-timers are distressed by the dirt, the squalor, and the lingering smell of garbage and drains in some Asian cities. They get unnerved by the ever-present crowds and stressed out by never being able to mingle unnoticed amongst them. And then there's the oppressive heat to cope with, not to mention the unfamiliar food and often unfathomable local customs. There's no such thing as a hassle-free trip and, on reflection, few travellers would want that. It's often the dramas and surprises that make the best experiences, and we all learn by our mistakes.
Preparing for the big adventure
We've both made plenty of mistakes and faux pas during our fifteen years of travels in Asia, and this book is a distillation of what we've learnt. First-Time Asia is full of the advice we give to friends heading out to Asia for the first time, and it's the book we both could have done with before setting off on our own first trips. Since then we've returned again and again, backpacking across India, China and Southeast Asia, living and working in the Himalayas, Thailand and Japan, and researching and writing guidebooks to Indonesia, Thailand and Tibet. And we still choose to go back to Asia for our holidays, attracted by the chaos and drama of daily lives that still seem extraordinary to us; by the food, the landscapes and the climate; by the generosity and friendship of the people; and by the sheer buzz we get from hanging out in cultures that are so different from our own.
This book is intended to prepare you for your big adventure, whether it's a fortnight in Malaysia or twelve months across the continent. It is not a guidebook: it's a book to read before you go, a planning handbook to help you make decisons about where to go and which ticket to buy; to advise on what gear to pack and how long you can afford to stay away; and to fill you in on some of the highs and lows that lie in store. And, because we can't pretend to have explored every single corner of Asia ourselves, we've also included tips, advice and funny stories from lots of other travellers. We can't guarantee that you'll avoid every problem on the road, but we can prepare you for the unfamiliar and steer you past many common frustrations. And, when you come back from your trip, be sure to send in your own anecdotes for inclusion in the next edition. We can promise you'll have plenty of great stories to tell.
THE AUTHORS OF FIRST TIME ASIA
Lucy Ridout has spent much of the last decade in Asia. She lived in Japan for three years, teaching English to high-school children and working as an editor on a monthly listings magazine. Since then she has travelled widely in India and Southeast Asia, both for pleasure and as a researcher and author for several guidebooks. She is co-author of Rough Guides to Thailand, Bangkok, Bali and Lombok, and has also contributed to books on England and Europe.
Lesley Reader has lived and worked in Bhutan and Thailand and travelled extensively throughout Asia. She is co-author of Rough Guides to Bali and Lombok, and to Indonesia. She has also contributed to the Rough Guide to China and to More Women Travel, an anthology of travel tales from a woman's perspective.
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