Where to experience “Asia” for the first time?

Hi all – I’m wanting to travel somewhere in Asia for the first time. I’ve never really been exposed to an Asian culture and grew up in a regional town. The closest I came was eating Chinese twice a year. I’ve travelled to and quite enjoy America/Canada, but I’m keen for the challenge/experience of traveling to Asia/experiencing the culture there.

I know this is an extremely broad question / and there are many parts of Asia, but I’m thinking either Japan or China (Not Bali/Vietnam/Thailand etc)…. Ideally, the destination would have some major tourist attractions and wouldn’t be overly expensive (This is OzBargin afterall!)…. I’d like to spend some time learning the language/customs of the destination before I go. I’d plan to go for ~1 Week.


EDIT: I see Jetstar etc have regular sales to Japan - I'm torn between Japan or China


        • -1


          Going out of your way to eat street food, because you have the hep a vaccine is risky behaviour. Just like having sex with a sex worker is risky, even though you have a condom.

          There's plenty places I wouldn't eat in Australia too, even if I was vaccinated.

    • +4


      One would have to be a very brave first-time traveller to start in Myanmar!

    • Just stay away from the dogs and cats, snakes and bugs.

    • Love Thailand. Avoid Phuket, Pattaya, and Koh Samui and you'll have a great time.

      • Yes, avoid all those, start in Patpong!

        • +1


  • It depends on how you are as a person; If you like gobbies visit Thailand, Getting shit faced visit Bali, if you want a comfortable experience then hit up Singapore, Kuala Lumpur. That is all I've travelled but, I would definitely skip the above 3 for Japan or China.

    • +1

      Sheesh!!! You made me hit google!!

    • +1

      China is overrated, but you knew that in your heart already.

  • Another vote for Japan.

  • +4

    Japan is the best of the best, go China you just can't use any google function including Camera plus a lot of heavy Air Pollution and Light pollution , Singapore is too humid.

  • To visit Japan has always been my drem, unfortunately I haven't had a possibility to go there, so I think Japan is a great choice!

  • +4

    Go to Japan once and you will fall in love with the country.

    It is really an amazing place. The attention to detail in everything is just out of this world.

    • +2

      Japan is awesome. Doing my degree to go over and teach English now.

  • +11

    Tajikistan, put yourself in the deep

  • +4

    Cabramatta, NSW

  • +1


    I've been 7 times.

    Singapore, ok for a stopover.

    SE Asia, you get what you pay for.

    Never had any interest to go to China. Just not appealing enough, unless you want to see the Great Wall, perhaps. Even then, not for me.

    • +1

      Quite good point, I found that flying Singapore Air to Japan, with a 3 day stopover in Singapore was the same price as a one way ticket to Japan on Jetstar. Definitely worth it for the stopover, and recommended to OP if they want to visit both.

  • +1

    if you are loaded up and all you wanted in your trip is to spend money, all Asian countries will give you a quite different but good experience.

    If you also would like to get a feeling of where the major economic growth is happening globally at the moment which might help you decide what you would like to do in the foreseeable future, go to Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Xiamen in China. Btw, nowadays the airfares to these cities are now amazingly cheap.

  • In front of a quality amplifier and matched set of speakers:


  • +26

    Definitely North Korea.
    My bible bashing American friend went recently and he must have liked it because he hasn't come back yet and he was due back a month ago.

    • +1

      It may be while on life support, but I'm sure he'll show up again eventually…..

  • Go to Kuala Lumpur, it will be way cheaper than Japan or even China. I lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for three years and it was the best time of my life. The food is great, it has a good mix of all types of cultures like Indian, Chinese and Malay and I liked the laid-back lifestyle it offered.

  • +2

    If it's between Japan and China. Go with Japan first.
    You're aware that these two are complete opposite to each other?

    Singapore/Hongkong as others have suggested are easier imo, but they can feel westernised.

  • +1


  • -2

    Japan is the place to go in Asia but rather expensive otherwise North Korea.

  • +2

    +1 for Japan. Safe, friendly and well suited for tourism. China is a whole different world and you will likely find the culture shock too much to handle. Very little English in China. Need an adventurous spirit to to tackle it in my opinion.

    Food is better in Japan, toilets are better (think squat toilets in China, some public toilets have no doors or dividers! as opposed to the cleanest most modern toilets in the world in every convenience store in Japan. ) China is less expensive but has Lots of smokers (even on the overnight trains with recirculated air!). Language barrier is easier to get over in Japan with lots of English signs and menus. Lots of English speakers too.

    I've been to both, happy to answer any specific questions on either destinations.

    • I agree with all of the above except the part about food. The food is great in both countries.
      Also, Hong Kong is more like Japan than mainland China. It's worth flying to Japan through there and stopping off for a few nights on the way back, with some space left in the suit-case.

  • Afghanistan is where u should start lol

    • +4

      That would be in alphabetical order but wouldn't be very safe.

      • +1

        That's the thrill part dude. #YOLO

      • He'll be fine so long as he's a decent gardener and knows he's way around growing poppies :)

  • +2

    I find Thailand and the surrounding areas the best to visit as its got awesome food and quite decently priced as well as friendly locals and not as jam packed with people.

  • +3

    Chinatown, Melbourne. No worries.

    • Melbourne CBD!

  • I don't get people who travel to places just for culture. Like I mean if you want culture, just go to any car wash in Sydney for culture. All natioalities are here

  • +2

    Everyone saying Japan is expensive must have super high standards.

    I don't think I ever paid more than $12aud for an awesome meal. Often with a drink.
    I airbnbed it for less than $100AUD a night with 4 people. Quite tight, but the accommodation was more than adequate.

    Getting around is the expensive part.

    • +1

      Agreed. We used Airbnb at about 120 per night but there were chrrprr options.

      Food was excellent and well priced!

    • Japan used to be a lot more expensive. Then came the property market crash and the entire economy slumped.
      Australia will understand sooner or later.

      But Japan is first world prices - expensive for Asia.

      Why not start in South East Asia? Bali and Thailand are popular for good reason.
      Just keep well away from Kuta - actually not just Kuta now but the whole area and Ubud too.

      Singapore is less Asian than parts of Sydney.

      If going as far as China, I'd suggest flying into Macau for a soft introduction, and something a bit different.

  • Some people really like Pattaya in Thailand

    • +4

      The ladyboys are entertaining there.

  • +1

    if you're in NSW,

    had down to Campsie, Ashfield, Hurstville or Haymarket.


    • Bankstown,

    Save yourself the cash

  • +5

    Have you considered India? Huge country with lots of historical sites to visit (not just the Taj Mahal), cheap flights, cheap accom, great food and culture. And definitely out of your comfort zone if you've only largely travelled to America/Canada. I recently did a month there largely in the Northern areas and I would highly recommend it. Lots of historical sites to visit around the North, e.g. palaces, etc.

  • +6

    In regards to 'Japan' being expensive, I would have to disagree!

    I have been several times, once with the wife where there is no such thing as 'budgeting' and we spent $300ish a night on accommodation and a couple of other times with a friend and my brother.

    I enjoy hunting down good accommodation and I can certainly say in Japan using either business hotels or AirBNB there are lots of great affordable options.

    To give you an idea of costs here is what I spent on my last holiday accommodation (and I would consider these mid range options as there are certainly cheaper out there), sorry for the bad formatting but copying and pasting from a google sheet and too lazy to format:

    Tokyo 03/11 to 08/11
    $539 total, $54 per person per night-AirBNB

    08/11 to 09/11 $103 - Hotel Richmond Matsumodo

    09/11 to 11/11 $288 total, $72 per person per night-AirBNB

    11/11 to 12/11 $97 - Auberge Hidanomori - http://www.hidanomori.jp/english/

    12/11 to 17/11 $535 total, $54 per person per night-AirBNB

    17/11 to 18/11 $97 - Pay on Arrival-First Hotel

    Food itself can be expensive there but very rarely did I spend over $15 on dinner, which was almost exclusively ramen or curry.

    For an idea on some of the more expensive attractions / activities over there here are some estimates:

    Alpine Route 9000yen $99.00
    Hakone Day Pass 5140yen $56.54
    Tokyo Sky Tree 4000yen $44.00
    Joyopolis 4300yen $47.30
    Robot Restaurant 8000yen $88.00
    Disney 7400 $81.40
    Universal Studios 7400yen $81.40
    USJ Express Pass 4 7500yen $82.50

    So you certainly can spend the big dollars if you want, however you could skip all the above and just have a great time travelling around!

    • Appreciate these details - largely everywhere I want to go and what I want to do. Have saved these details for when I hope to go to Japan soon.

    • Hey, just to clarify to OP, when a gap-year backpacker, for example, refers to Japan as being "expensive" they're typically comparing absolute costs to the average country in SE Asia, not to western countries or affluent Asian locales like Singapore or Hong Kong. Someone that backpacks a lot abroad may also gauge prices through the lens of the average "international backpacker", who makes much less than your typical Australian, Norwegian or Swiss traveler - yet often wants to travel as long as possible. The median Australian income is more than double you need to be considered the top 1% of earners in the world…

      The main point to takeaway is that some countries may be more expensive in absolute terms but may be the same or better value for those that can afford it. A lot of countries in Asia have very poor infrastructure, services, expectations and reliability - so you often get what you pay for or less.

      In "poor Asia", in terms of food expect double pricing, lack of meat, mystery meat, lack of vegetables with plenty of rice, poor hygiene practices, inconsistent quality etc. In terms of accommodation, cheapest options may not include hot water, electricity, clean sheets, absence of insects and rodents, trustworthy staff, lockers, smoke alarms and other fire safety, air conditioning or fans in hot climates, heating in cold climates etc. In terms of transport, expect lack of or difficult to manage public transport, being forced to contend with rip-off taxi mafias and encountering areas where Uber et al is banned or not present. The latest spiraling cost in Asia is foreigner entry fees. According to locals, these fees often line the pockets of corrupt local officials who notoriously do nothing to preserve cultural artifacts.

      It might sound strange, but some people like to rough it despite the lack of value and potential stress. And I'm one of them.

  • +9

    I went to China last year, bought a tour deal off 'Groupon' for around $1000, went to Beijing & Shanghai. Deal included all flights, 5 star accommodation, most meals, tour guide & tour bus travel to sites including Great Wall, Temple of Heavan, Beijing Panda Zoo & many more. Also went on the Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai all included in price. Awesome shopping at 'The Pearl Market' Beijing. Great for a first timer in an Asian country, as the hardest thing you have to do is get on the tour bus after breakfast : )

    • That sounds like a great deal.

    • +1

      Can I please ask which tour company you went with? I'd like to send my parents on a Groupon Tour to China but I wasn't sure how trustworthy or reputable the companies were. Cheers

      • +3

        I booked it through 'Groupon'. The tour company was SNA tours. It was very well organised

        • Hey Wizz, were there any negatives? I came super close to booking this tour last time Groupon had it, but it just seemed too cheap to be legit!

          How were the hotels and meals? What about the other people on the tour? Young? Old? Multi nationality or all Australian?

        • +2

          @silvertone: flew with Sichuan Airlines, had never heard of them, but they were great. My Aunty who is a seasoned traveller & flew with me said they were better than when she flew with Emirates. Most of our tour group were on the same plane. Stayed at Crowne Plaza Shanghai Fudan, 5 star with full breakfast buffet included. Can't remember the name of the place we stayed at Beijing, but it was about 1/2 hour drive into the city & was a 5 star resort with full buffet breakfast included. The tour bus was about 2/3 full, not packed. Ages ranged from 2 yrs to the eldest, being my Aunty who is 70, average was about 35yrs, all were from Australia. The included food was great & plenty of it, a variety of meals were placed in the centre of the table & u helped yourself. Be prepared for long days & early starts, days are jam packed & the amount of things we did in a short time was amazing. There is a lot of walking, my Aunty found it difficult at times. No negatives, would go again tomorrow if I could.

        • +1

          @silvertone: Exactly what I thought, too cheap so must be something wrong with it. Turn out to be awesome. Almost the same deal on Scoopon at the moment with the same company

        • @Wizz: Do you recommend this for a lone traveller?

        • +1

          @cupcake: definitely, you are well & truely looked after, it's not scary. There is an extra charge if you travel by yourself, cheaper to go with a friend. Personally I would find someone to travel with to avoid the charge

        • @Wizz: Thanks.

        • @Wizz:

          Awesome Wizz, thanks so much for that review, it really covers the questions I had, I'll keep an eye on scoopon aNd see if they have any extra 10% discounts soon!

      • +1

        Scoopon currently have a tour to China for $1000, with SNA tours, almost the same as the one I went on, can totally recommend

      • Scoopon have a tour to China ATM for $1000 including flights etc with SNA tours, almost the same as I went on, can totally recommend

  • Shanghai?

  • +1


  • +8

    If you're in Sydney….go to an auction on the weekend.

    • just go to Sydney in general ;)

  • +2

    I have been to a few Asian countries myself, I really liked Japan and Singapore. I definitely recommend to start off with Japan. It's safe, clean and many things to see and do. It's not too expensive either. You also don't have to worry about people trying to rip you off and you don't have to bargain when you go shopping.
    As others have commented, if you go to places like Vietnam, Laos etc then you have to be very careful about the drinking water, and read up on advices eg on how not to get ripped off etc

  • -1

    China Town? Brothel?

  • +2

    Hong Kong or Singapore are good introductions to Asia. English is spoken, it is clean, it is safe, it is easy to get around, you can drink the water. I'd recommend one of them. Grab a Virgin Australia fare to Hong Kong, I heard they are going for $449 at the moment.

  • +3

    Taiwan!!! sort of a mix between China 90% and Japan 5%, few (Gaijins) honest Chinese never had communism, very friendly, safe and full of action. Sure it is dearer than China but still cheaper than Japan. Very traditional and awesome scenery. Prepare to use hands to find your way around and their traditional Chinese characters are so much more beautiful. Very helpful folks. Reliable and still affordable public transport. Food is a cultural experience but their traditional tofu sure has a smell.
    Dine in a "toilet" themed restaurant or find safe food in their streets. Endless markets and scooters buzzing around but road rules are actually adhered to so you can safely cross any street.

  • Wow, you are right Coota, such a broad question!
    Here's my thoughts:
    Taiwan - a bit too industrial unless you go out to other regions
    Japan- culture shock and not too much scenery.
    Thailand- Pattaya or Phuket are not exactly "Asian" with everything planned for tourists.
    HK or Singapore- very very westernized, everyone speaks English, and tiny land. Good for those non-adventurous Westerners.
    India-if you watch JoannaLumley recently you'd be enticed to go, I can't coz my stomach can't tolerate the spices.
    China- if you go to the Super cities, you might get swamped. Beijing is my fav so far, lots of history, good food, gas paced.. But out of left field, check out Yunan. The minority there would challenge your views of Chinese, beautiful scenery nonetheless.
    Looks like my fav is China. If you do pick China, next is to work out which city/region. That'd be another broad questionLOL.

    • +4

      Japan… and not too much scenery.

      Man you had better get out a bit more

      Tokyo and Osaka maybe, but travel a bit more and you'll see some amazing scenery

  • If you're up for a bit of adventure and chaos and wtf just happened, go to China. It's cheaper than Japan.

    If you want smooth, easy travel, choose Japan.
    Price is pretty much on par with Aus prices or maybe just a tad cheaper.

  • Try visiting New Delhi, Kashmir and Leh in India.
    Delhi has historical tourist places dating back to couple of centuries. And you can find one of the finest food in Old Delhi shops dating back to 19th century.
    Kashmir and Leh dont need and explanation in terms of landscape beauty.

  • I'd say Japan as well, if you want a good mix of "traditional" culture as well. Tokyo, HK and Singapore are all very developed and modern, but I find Japan had the easiest/closest routes to going into more older areas to check out the older cultural stuff as well. You know like temples and stuff if you're into that.
    Otherwise your definition of asian culture is pretty much "a busy city with public transport that works".

  • +1

    Hiking/mountain biking in Cambodia, Laos and (rural) Thailand and Vietnam. I've done it and it's by far the best travel experience of my life. The friendliest people, stunning landscapes and great value food and alcohol.

  • +1

    Another vote for Japan.

    It's clean, safe and modern, which is great for a novice traveller. In the big cities like Tokyo there's lots of English signage and plenty of friendly people who speak English.

    I also agree with others saying it's not expensive. Japan tends to be expensive if you want to eat western food and stay in western chain hotels. If you just stay in local hotels and eat local food, it's cheap.

  • Go to India. It's a experience of a lifetime

    • ah, I see you didn't say "good" experience…

      • +1

        It's meant in a good way. I have been to India and it's wonderful

  • +1

    My first trip out of Aus was Japan, glad it was too a fantastic first place for a beginner traveler

  • Go to Dandenong. You'll love it

    • +1

      Maybe you mean Springvale or Richmond, and if you are after true Vietnamese food, you will love it

  • +4

    Hong Kong is a great start, and very easy due to no language issues, almost everyone speaks English. It's also well priced and so easy to get around. You can do some amazing bargain shopping too.

    Japan is wonderful, not too expensive to get to via Jetstar, but it's rather expensive once there and language is a major issue. Almost no one speaks English except in main hotel chains and tour guides. Nothing is cheap to buy either. Japan is quite different to the rest of Asia (which is a good thing), but I'd save it for a subsequent trip.

    I have been to both, i used to work in Hong Kong and have travelled to Japan. I have also travelled to China and to be honest I would not recommend China as a first trip. Language is an issue and it is incredibly crowded and polluted in most places. Save that for a future trip.

  • +1

    You're not going to learn much culture in a week!
    If you have enough self-confidence to be an 'independent traveler' then go to a place where English is widely spoken - Singapore would be my first choice followed by Hong Kong, otherwise go on a tour where they'll be someone to 'hold your hand' and see you through the experience.
    You'll then be able to tailor any further trips, should there be any.

  • +3

    Go to Siem Riep in Cambodia - Ankor Watt temples are absolutely amazing! Food and drinks are cheap and you can get very good hotels not too expensive. e.g. went to a fantastic mexican restaurant in Bar street with 11 people. Drinks, entrees and deserts $70 USD!!

    2017: Best of Siem Reap, Cambodia Tourism - TripAdvisor

    My family and I lived in Phnom Penh for a year and half and we loved the people and culture in Cambodia. We visited Siem Riep 4 times as there is so much to see at the temple complex there it is absolutely Massive, its not just the Ankor Watt temple as there are about 15 other massive temples in the vicinity.

    Hong Kong is a great modern city and well worth the visit but if you want to see something truly special Siem Riep is the go IMO.

    • Second this, Cambodia is a beautiful country full of lovely gentle people.

  • I traveled overseas for the first time earlier this year. I went to Japan and had a great time, only wish we went for longer than two weeks.

    We stayed in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Airbnb was great for accommodation.

    I'm into anime and video games so there were some places related to that which we visited (Akihabara in particular was great) but most of it was interesting to just experience being among another culture.

    Don't have time at the moment to go into too much detail but here's a couple of sites to look into if you're interested:

    • We stayed in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.

      It seems like every tourist to Japan goes to those, and only those, cities. (unless skiing)

      Why always the same?

      • Eh, it was our first trip to Japan and we only had two weeks. We'll definitely be staying in Japan longer next time so we'll go check out more.

        It's not really surprising that they're so popular though since there are a lot of things to see there. All the various markets, shrines, some theme parks (we went to USJ in Osaka), restaurants and other various sites. I'm not good at remembering all the names of the places but to name a few there's the deer park in Nara (around 1 hour train ride from Nara), the Iwatayama Monkey Park located in Arashiyama, Osaka Aquarium, Umeda Sky Building has some nice views of Osaka, Studio Ghibli Museum and Nishiki Market in Kyoto (it was fun to bike ride around Kyoto and to the Fushimi Inari shrine).

        There's not only plenty to do in those cities but access via trains to other areas to explore. I'd want to check out some of those places again when we visit Japan next but also some new places probably further up North.

  • +2

    Does anybody remember that Malaysian tourism ad on TV a while back?

    "Malaysia truly Asia" was the slogan.

    • Yes, and who can forget "Malaysia boleh!"?

  • +1

    Singapore is a good start, followed by Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong.

  • +1

    Singapore. It's Asia lite - so it's not too confronting for a first time. Clean, orderly and generally foreigner / tourist friendly. Most people speak English and all the signs are in English.

    Once you start getting used to Singapore, it's a fantastic base to visit other Asian countries. Thailand 1 hour, Indo 1.5 hours, Malaysia across the border.

  • Depending which part of China (China is hugeeeeee). It's harder to self guide in China, people don't speak English and if you get a tour guide, tour guide will find every way possible to earn a extra bit off you. Being said China has amazing sceneries.

    Hong Kong& Macau or Malaysia & Singapore. If you have the time, you can plan a round trip stopping over in Singapore and travelling via Malay to Hong Kong and Macau.

    If you go to Hong Kong, should also spend some time in Macau and watch "the house of dancing water". (they generally can understand English but might have difficulties/too shy to speak back)

    Korea if you want to look like every other K Pop star, every 2 stores is a comestic stores in Korea.

    China is not for beginners unless you go to big cities… which are full of expats and expensive goods

Login or Join to leave a comment