Yes, the world turns and in line with the other posts I’ve been making, it’s time for me to reveal my favourite cities in North and Central Asia, from Turkmenistan across to Japan. One things for sure, this week there is a large variation in the cities, they are all very different and representative of a number of different cultures. I felt that as I’ve only been to two North Asian countries that combining North Asian cities (China and Japan for reference) with Central Asia (the ‘Stans basically) was the way to go this time around. So without much ado…
I’ll be honest, Chinese cities seem to make it quite difficult to really fall in love with where you are. I LOVED Yangshuo, but really I can’t qualify this as a city. Certainly not by Chinese standards as the country has I think 15 mega-cities of 15 million or more people living in them. But I did want to include one city, and in the end I’ve gone with Xi’an.
Xi’an is a city in central China, not particularly close to any other city you’re likely to visit, and it is the city close to the amazing historic site of the ‘Terracotta Warriors’. Simply, one of the most amazing things you can see in China, Asia, possibly the entire world are these thousands of warrior statues that were dug up not that long ago.
The city of Xi’an itself has two sections, the more visited centre is surrounded by amazing city walls that you can walk and indeed ride around. These kinds of walls are pretty rare for a city in China I guess – although yes, there is one really long wall that is far more famous – and inside are a lot of temples and historic spots worth checking out. Xi’an sticks in my mind as the most pleasant Chinese city I visited, probably as it felt like there was less pollution. If you head to the outer suburbs there are a lot of very tall apartment blocks as you might see in any Chinese city, but inside the walls it’s a different, story.
The former Kazakh capital, Almaty, is a really nice city. It has leafy avenues, and feels a lot more Russian than Asian to be fair. There are trolley buses and a new metro, and it’s right on the edge of mountains where the skiing is good, and in the summer the views are spectacular.
Inside the city there are several parks which really beautify the place, plus some interesting museums as well. Not least of which is the museum of musical instruments! It’s probably the city that if I was to live in Central Asia I would choose to live in. There is a thriving arts scene as well and you can see painters in the park, and see operas and ballets and more at the State Theatre.
I have to admit, I was very surprised by just how beautiful and pleasant modern-day Hiroshima is. Completely rebuilt minus a couple of landmarks after World War Two, Hiroshima is my second favourite Japanese city. The memorials are beautifully done by the way, and are a must for any visitor to Hiroshima. Sure, challenging perhaps, but the magnitude of what one single bomb could do will never be forgotten by those who visit Hiroshima.
The castle is… barely there but the park and area surrounding it is beautiful. The city has a great soul and very friendly nightlife too, and I took in a game of baseball at the Hiroshima Stadium (where the ‘Carp’ play) which I found to be a fun day out. The hostel I stayed in was great as well, offering loads of activities and had very friendly staff.
I write about this one quite a bit, don’t I? That’s because it is the ultimate Silk Road city. There’s a lot to see from the Registan and its three amazing madrassas to the Tombs of Shah-i-Zinda, plus a host of other amazing buildings full of brilliant Islamic Architecture.
It mixes the old with the new, but really as a visitor staying in the old part of town is the go. Plenty of places to eat and if you enjoy your meat, you will be very happy with the Samarkand offerings. I’ve been twice and found the staff at both places I’ve stayed to be very welcoming and kind. The city also seems to have transformed into a place where tourists can get around easily, very well signposted and even pedestrian-only roads in some parts linking some of the city’s historic sites.
Trust me on this, Kyoto is a simply amazing place to visit. The people are welcoming and kind, K’s Hostel there is fantastic organising free tours and social nights. The bars are fun and safe. There’s a good metro system too, and loads of little ramen places when you get hungry.
As far as attractions go, there is firstly the Golden Temple Kinkankuji, which is the number one attraction of the area and the Japanese and foreigners flock there in large numbers. It’s a little way out of town, but not too hard to reach by local bus. There’s an amazing bamboo forest as well – the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove which you can wander, it’s very beautiful. There are museums in town, the best perhaps is the Manga Museum, where on certain days cos-players flock to and pose for photos. Get a great view of this beautiful city from the Kyoto Tower. There are temples and parks throughout Kyoto too which are also very beautiful.
And of course, Kyoto is famous for its Geisha district and you can wander it and even take in a Geisha show if you like. There are auditoriums with Geisha shows, smaller shows are also possible. Just to walk the district though is very interesting and if it’s Cherry Blossom time, this is one of the most beautiful areas I can remember seeing the famous Japanese trees and their flowers.
All in all, Kyoto is one of my favourite cities world wide and the first place I advise any first timers heading to Japan to go. There is always something modern about any Japanese city, but Kyoto really merges it beautifully with the ancient, with friendly people and rare beauty.
So – How did I do? Did I leave any cities out that you would put in your favourites? Honourable mentions go to Semey (Kazakhstan), Khiva (Uzbekistan) and especially Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). Thanks for stopping by this Sunday – May the Journey Never End!