Stretching all the way from the Bosporus Strait in the west to the Diomede Islands in the east, Asia is not only the planet’s largest continent but also it’s most populous, with 4.4 billion people calling it home.
Following Marco Polo’s epic tale of an overland journey to China in the late 1,200’s and the marvels he encountered upon the Silk Road before arriving at the great market in Peking , the Venetian travellers exploits spurred a new wave of explorers to find a safer, quicker way to the riches of this far off land.
Christopher Columbus was looking for a way to China while accidentally discovering the America’s in 1492, leaving it to Portuguese mariner Vasco da Gama to be the first man to sail around Africa to India in 1498.
With a fast route to Asia now mapped out, it did not take long for the enlightened European states to colonise Asia dividing the spoils amongst themselves. Only Siam (Thailand) managed to remain a sovereign state while acting as a buffer between British Burma and French Indochina.
From the majestic snow-capped Himalaya Mountains to dense jungles where tigers still roam free, Asia is a place where you will find densely populated cities like Mumbai and Shenzhen where poverty and prosperity share a polluted coexistence, to idyllic tropical islands where tourists escape for a slice of paradise.
Today Asia has never been more accessible to foreigners than at any time, with China a leading magnet for people looking to discover the wonders of the Forbidden City and a chance to walk along the Great Wall.
Vietnam has opened its doors to tourism and is fast developing resorts along the South China Sea in an attempt to emulate the success that Thailand has had in encouraging western tourists to vacation on its beaches.
Food is, of course, a big deal in Asia with its varied cuisines now found all around the world thanks to immigrants opening restaurants that showcase the food of their native lands. Be it the delicate flavours of Cantonese sauces, or the spicy kick from Sichuan dishes, China alone has eight different styles of regional cooking.
Add to these, hot curries from the Punjab and mild fish dishes from Kerala and you have Indian cooking that differs vastly from region to region. A bowl of Pad Thai noodles has to be a favourite when eating at a Bangkok street market, with Satay and Bami Koreng popular street foods in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The truth is no matter where in Asia you go there will be foods that will awaken you taste buds.
Asia is also leading the way when it comes to infrastructure and design, with the world’s fastest train hitting speeds of 267mph as you travel the 19 miles from Shanghai Airport to the centre of the city. South Korea meanwhile has the world’s fastest internet with school children ditching their books in favour of tablets, while Japan continues to lead the world in robotics with Tokyo the place to go if you want to get hold of the latest technology.
Whether it is admiring the French-colonial architecture of Vientiane while cruising on the mighty Mekong River or viewing a spectacular sunset from the temple complex at Angkor Wat, Asia is much more than a winter beach destination and is just waiting to be explored.