Visiting a foreign city can sometimes be a daunting experience. There are so many things you need to learn, such as how to get around, where to stay and what to eat. The sheer variety of experiences on offer can be bewildering. That’s why we have prepared a few tips from our travel experts to ensure that your urban adventure is a pleasurable experience. We hope you enjoy this practical advice for city trips in Asia.
1. Get a Travel Card
Many cities have special deals on public transport cards, which can potentially save you a lot of time and money. In Hong Kong, the “Octopus Card” will allow you to use the subway, buses, trams, ferries and even buy food in convenience stores. They are more convenient and usually cheaper than buying individual tickets. The cards can normally be bought and topped up at convenience stores in the airport or at a train station. The airport information desk or tourist office will usually be able to help you acquire one.
2. Use Offline Maps
The days of standing on a busy street corner and struggling with an unwieldy tourist map are thankfully over. Not only can it be a confusing experience, it also makes you stand out like a sore thumb. Today we are a lot more used to using our phones to find our way, but if you don’t intend to buy a sim card in every country you visit, it is a good idea to download some offline maps. The “Citymaps” app is a great tool for easily navigating around a city, without the hassle of constantly looking around for free Wi-Fi.
3. Book in Advance
If you suspect that an attraction might have long lines, it can be a good idea to book entry tickets in advance. Many museums will allow you to book tickets online and thereby bypass most queues. Alternatively, it is often possible to skip the line entirely by hiring a tour guide affiliated with the attraction. Sometimes this might be the best solution. For example, the Forbidden City in Beijing has implemented a quota system only allowing a certain number of visitors per day, so booking tickets in advance through a tour guide is the best way to ensure entry.
4. Plan an Indoor Activity
Depending on how long you will stay in a city, it might be a good idea to plan a few indoor activities for rainy days. This could be a visit to a museum, concert or traditional theater. Some examples could be a Beijing opera or a shadow puppet show in Bali. Visiting a contemporary art museum can also be a great way to learn about the more modern aspects of a city’s culture, these will also often have activities for children. While you explore the city, look out for the best coffee shops or internet cafes where you can go to unwind, check your email, or Skype with your family.
5. Learn about the City’s Different Districts
When choosing a hotel or deciding where to spend the day, it is a good idea to learn the differences between the city’s neighbourhoods. If you want to spend a quiet weekend relaxing, for example, it might be a bad idea to book a hotel in the district with the best nightlife. You may choose to stay in a busy city center or perhaps you prefer to stay in a quiet suburb. Some districts may cater solely to tourists, while it might not be advisable for foreigners to visit other areas. Some parts of a city may be famous for food, crafts etc. It really depends on your taste, but it is always best to do some research beforehand.
6. Visit Busy Areas during “Off Hours”
Let’s face it, avoiding the crowd in any Asian city can be an almost impossible task, but some of the biggest attractions are much more enjoyable early in the morning or late in the evening. While taking photographs at the notoriously busy Shibuya crossing may be part of the experience, other places such as street markets are often best enjoyed early in the morning or late afternoon, when the crowds are not as big.
7. Learn about Local Prices
A foreign currency can be confusing enough, and different cities in the same country can have vastly different pricing. Usually the bigger the city is the more expensive it will be, but this is not always the case. For example, the taxis in one city may charge more than another. It is therefore a good idea to look up average prices online before making your budget. Make sure the information is recent as prices may change drastically from year to year.
8. Visit Parks and Quiet Spaces
The hustle and bustle of a big city can be overwhelming. Check your map for green areas, where you will usually be able to rest in relative tranquility, enjoying the grass and trees in the midst of a concrete jungle. Rooftop cafes, bars and restaurants often offer some solace, high above the noise of the busy streets, with a relaxing view of the city skyline. The Botanic Gardens in Singapore is a great example of an oasis of calm in the center of a sprawling metropolis, this historical garden is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
9. Use a Local Guide
You might think you know everything about travelling and that you’re better off exploring on your own, but using a local guide at least once can help you discover aspects of a city that you might otherwise miss. A guide can take you to the best food, knows the most picturesque streets, and can introduce you to interesting local characters. Going on a guided food tour or city walk can help form a good base for the rest of your trip. Ask your guide about helpful phrases, interesting customs, or any other advice they may have. You can ask them to write down some of these phrases in your notebook for later use.
10. Explore and Get Lost
A certain amount of planning is always a good idea and it is advisable to be careful when visiting a foreign city. Using a guide once or twice can be a good way to get your initial bearings. However, the best part of city trips in Asia is exploring all the side streets and alleys, discovering its secrets and just soaking in the atmosphere. The pleasure of finding that one amazing little shop, chatting with the regulars at a small neighbourhood café and getting lost in a culture vastly different than your own, is part of what makes city trips in Asia so special.
We hope you enjoyed these 10 Practical Tips for City Trips in Asia. If you have any tips or stories from your own urban adventure, please let us know in the comments.