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This book is intended to prepare you for your big adventure, whether it¹s a fortnight in Malaysia or twelve months across the continent. It is not a guidebook: it¹s a book to read before you go, a planning handbook to help you make decisions about what type of trip you¹d like to make. And, because we can¹t pretend to have explored every single corner of Asia ourselves, we¹ve also included tips, advice and funny stories from lots of other travellers.
The first questions you¹ll need to address are which parts of Asia to visit and, much more difficult, which places to leave out, so the opening section of the book, Where To Go, looks at your options. We focus on the nineteen most accessible and most visited countries of Asia, giving you an opinionated taste of what thesedestinations hold in store for first-timers. Each country profile includes a roundup of the major highlights and tourist activities as well as a selection of personal recommendations and lesser-known gems. The most remote parts of the continent, north and west of Pakistan, rarely feature on first-timers¹ itineraries, so we haven¹t included them in this book. Burma (Myanmar) is also omitted in the hope that travellers will uphold the boycott on tourism requested by Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of the country.
The middle section of First-Time Asia, The Big Adventure, deals with the nuts and bolts. This is where you¹ll find chapters on how to choose the right ticket and which guidebooks and Web sites to consult, plus advice on how long you can afford to stay away and what gear to pack. The second half of this section looks at life on the road in Asia, advising you on how to stay safe and healthy while you¹re away, grounding you in local cultural dos and don¹ts, and giving you an idea of what to expect in terms of hotels and bus services. And finally, the Basics section at the back of the book is stuffed full of useful addresses, Web sites and phone numbers for further information on everything from Taiwanese visas and backpackers¹ homepages to mosquito-net suppliers and conservation projects. Updates
Even after you¹ve digested First Time Asia, we can¹t guarantee that you¹ll avoid every problem on the road, but hopefully you¹ll at least feel well prepared and excited. When you come back from your trip, be sure to send in your own anecdotes for inclusion in the next edition. We can promise you¹ll have plenty of great stories to tell.
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 Varanasi and drink rice whisky in Vientiane; eat dim sum in Shanghai and satay sticks in Penang; buy silver in Hanoi 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 backpackers¹ trail, and many cities and islands already boast a lively travellers¹ 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 guesthouses of Kathmandu; or one of Thailand¹s notorious full-moon parties.
However, Asian travelcan 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 among them. And then there¹s the oppressive heat to cope with, not to mention the unfamiliar food and often unfathomable local customs. There¹s no such thing as a hassle-free trip and, on reflection, few travellers would want that. It¹s often the dramas and surprises that make the best experiences, and we all learn by our mistakes.