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Help Us Decide: Three Choices for First Trip to Asia

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Hey guys! I'm cross-posting this in the forums of each country my husband and I are trying to choose between for our first visit to Asia (only ever done Europe and North America).

To start, here's a little about us: Young (ages 26 and 35) married couple, he has a degree in anthropology and I minored in it. For our vacations we are most interested in culture, history, and beautiful/unique landscapes.

The following are three trips we are trying to choose between for our first venture to Asia. Beside them, I have listed our concerns as to why we are unsure about choosing one over the other.

Option 1. Turkey and Jordan combo tour: We worry that Turkey might be too similar to what we've seen in Mediterranean Europe (namely Italy) already.

Option 2. Bhutan and Nepal combo tour: Concerned about safety of flights within the countries and doubt about our physical ability (fit my American standards only -- not athletes) when it comes to seeing things like the Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan.

Option 3. India. Concern that the sensory assault (smells, poverty, stomach issues) will severely impede our enjoyment -- even though this was my area of interest for my anth. minor. We are also concerned about picking up something nasty like leishmanaiasis (sp). The hassle and cost of vaccinations.

So, for those of you who've been to one or more of these places, what do you say for our first trip to Asia? Feel free to add pros and cons or dispel unrealistic concerns. Thanks so much!

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    on your list, i have been to turkey (X2) and to northern india...

    no matter where you go you need proper medical prep and while there you have to be careful about what you eat...honestly that is the same in usa today too, but to a lesser degree...

    india is the most unique place that one could imagine....everything is cheap except for hotels...the sights are unusual and unique...i personally feel you need a driver and an occasional guide to sights there...

    turkey is somewhat like europe, but still it is very exotic as well...i continue to be concerned about safety in some parts of turkey...

    have you considered thailand?? its a very good place to start learning about asia...a side trip to siem reap (angkor wat) is worthwhile...

    tell us your budget ideas (per day hotel cost for instance), what time of the year you would go and most importantly for how long????

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    Hey! I have considered Thailand, but it's not very high on our list. Maybe I'm unfairly envisioning it as heavy with Westerners and as a stereotypical, "soft" tourist destination in Asia(like Japan). I also don't know nearly as much about the history and culture as these other places which have captivated me since childhood, so the appeal is also lessened by that.

    These countries, however, are definite interests, it's just a matter of which would be a good starter or if we should just plunge headfirst into what so many travelers call the most challenging country to visit (India).

    In terms of length and budget, it varies with the place. In India, we are looking at a possible private tour in Jan. 2010 for about 22 days. It would cover Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi, and Aurangabad (for Ajanta and Ellora, must-sees for me), and our budget would be about $2,000-$3,000 (from quotes we've received via Easy Tours of India and Cox and King) per person excluding airfare.

    For Turkey and Jordan, we'd be looking at a similar length of time only in the fall of this year or the spring of 2010, and for that we've considered a small group tour -- budget around $1,500-$2,000 per person, and we're willing to do hostels as long as they're clean (the way we've always traveled in Europe).

    And as for Bhutan and Nepal, we'd definitely want to do a tour in the late spring/early summer or maybe 15-16 days duration. We'd budget about $2,000 for that per person.

    In terms of budget, the $3,000 per person for India really pushes it, but that's the quote we've gotten for the "Deluxe" level from most reputable (as researched on here) companies. I would not be confident doing India on our own.

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    I've been to Turkey, Bhutan and India. I really don't think you're going to find Turkey too "similar" to Italy. For one thing, it's a Muslim, not a Catholic country.

    If you have budget concerns you should probably forget abut Bhutan, I believe the minimum required (by the government) cost per day is now $250 per person.

    India is magnificently diverse, and fascinating and maddening and severe culture shock. But if you're anthro major/minors, shouldn't you be up to coping with that?

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    I haven't seen as much of Turkey as I would like to, but the parts I have seen were fascinating and not European in atmosphere--even the bits that are geographically in Europe.

    India is a marvelous experience; I was there alone for three weeks and only had a minor bit of, um, digestive illness once and it was my own stupid fault. (yogurt is good after this, by the way) Just as a thought, Ladakh in the Himalayas may give you a bit of a taste of Bhutan/Nepal. My trip report is here: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=27&tid=35147706 It includes links to photos and some budget lodging options.

    Oh, and I know this wasn't on your list, but Vietnam was my intro to Asia and a lovely way to start, in my opinon. (Trip report here: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=27&tid=34659821 ) It's a bit dated, of course, as I went in 2002.

    One day I'll be able to afford Bhutan. :)


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    Thursdaysd: Well, while I imagine our studies have prepped us better than your average laymen (we know exactly what to encounter), there is some small concern that the actual experience itself could be overwhelming. Paper vs. reality. That said, reading more and more on here, I think we can handle it. The only thing I think we'd have trouble accepting would be personal encounters with poor sanitation.

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    I think the agents you mention for India are among the more expensive. Check out some of the local agents mentioned on this forum, such as Castle & King that both RHKMK and I have used, along with many others who have been very satisfied. As a traveller staying in nice hotels (not necessarily the luxury 5* hotels - just mid-range like Sheraton,Taj,Trident owned by Oberoi but with much more moderate prices, or some of the nice heritage hotels)eating at recommended restaurants, visiting the historical sites & monuments you will not "personally" encounter poor sanitation. Your guide and driver will also generally be able to find clean western-style bathrooms for you as you travel. Of course there is poverty, and there is lack of sanitation in the slum areas of the cities you will likely visit, especially the notorious Dharabi slum in Mumbai, but most tourists do not choose to visit Dharabi, although you could certainly to do that once you get there if you feel you are up to it. And all of the cities are crowded, especially the markets, and certainly not pristine. You will see garbage, and cows and other domestic animals wandering around. But IMO it is all just fantastic. Also, I think the time of year you visit India will make a huge difference. Monsoon season will make travelling difficult, and summer heat may be very uncomforable with more of the smells you are concerned about. From December through February it will be much more pleasant, except in the far north where it will be cold & of course snowy in the Himalayas.

    Turkey will be much less of a culture shock than India and there are beautiful and interesting places to visit, but I don't think it is nearly as interesting or rewarding as India - again, just my opinion. Whatever you choose, you will have a great trip I'm sure.

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    "personal encounters with poor sanitation." - not sure exactly what you mean by that. You will certainly see piles of garbage in the streets, and men using the sidewalks as urinals (not just men living on the streets, either, but women apparently have to be more circumspect).

    If you're worried about intestinal problems, take the usual precautions - only bottled water (for teeth as well as drinking), no ice, only cooked or peeled food.

    If you mean squat toilets, the worst I've encountered have been in western China, not India, and personally I don't have a problem with them. I stayed in cheaper hotels in India, but they all had western toilets. However, on the trains I preferred to use the squats, as they stayed cleaner than the western ones - and taking a train in India is a not-to-be-missed cultural experience. I haven't been to Nepal, but I would imagine you might encounter squats there, too, and I certainly used some in Turkey.

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    As you are students of anthropology, I would certainly suggest India as one of the locales of travels. India is unique - warts & all! A civilisation which is 5000 years old, visible at many places & art forms. It has the composite sight seeing which takes into it's kaliedoscope various cultures - Shaivite, Vashnavite, Budhism, Jainism, Sikhism & primordial tribal religions. It has ancient art forms in stone, murals, paper, metals. Scriptures & manuscripts dating back a thousand years, on display. Temple architecture stunningly original going back a thousand years, both contemporary, sacredotal & mundane. Ranakpur is just one of them!
    The forts & palaces, vibrant rural scenes full of colour, wildlife & birds are a photographer's delight.
    India offers you great places of stay to suit all budgets. For fine dining you have nice restaurants.
    If you are careful of what you eat, you will have few health problems.
    Very best for your plans!

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    Your question is so broad as to be almost unanswerable, but here are my thoughts:

    1. You choices are all excellent, I have been to parts of all of them, and it would be difficult to choose one or two from among them, although I have some personal opinions, see below.

    2. Time of year will make a huge difference in where you go, and even in some cases within the country you choose. For example, it will be rainy on one side of India during the summer monsoon, but dry on the other. It is brutally hot in April in Agra, and sublime in February. If you are wedded to a particular time of year, then some of your choices will be made for you.

    3. Conversely, as anthropology majors (did you really specialize in smells/stomach issues/poverty? how extraordinary), I would think you might want to consider choosing to visit at a time when a special festival is going on, say divali in India, or the durga festival in Kolkata, the festivals in Paro, Bhutan or the end of Ramadan in Turkey to take part in the celebrations (and food!). You may want to do some research into this and consider your interests.

    4. Turkey and Italy are in no way the same. Different food, religions, history (albeit some shared Roman history), language, culture. It is hard for me to think of two places which would be more different even though they are relatively close together geographically. It’s a bit like saying you have been to Mexico so there is no need to go to Canada because they would be the same. I have only been to Istanbul a few times but it is quite fascinating and I know that the countryside holds lots to see and do. Jordan is absolutely gorgeous, both the land and the people. You could do something like Jordan and Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia if you did not want to go to Turkey.

    5. I agree that you may find Bhutan a bit out of your budget, but certainly look at prices and packages. It is hard to travel there independently, for the most part you must be part of a tour. But certainly a rewarding place. Have you had any experience with altitude? If you have never had any issues with altitude, then IMO you do not need to worry about the walks, they are not that challenging in terms of gains in height, I think for most people it is an altitude thing. I have seen some fairly old people doing these walks. You can also prepare easily for them. And to be honest, you are friggin’ young and can handle it. I have to say I am not a huge fan of Katmandu, quite overbuilt and polluted, and travelling in the countryside of Nepal is from time to time dangerous, do some reading. As an alternative to both, you might consider Ladakh in India, this would be cheaper than Bhutan, but offer the religious and cultural aspects you are seeking, plus the walking/trekking opportunities (although they do not have quite the treks to the monasteries that Bhutan does in my limited experience, but still nothing to sniff at. And low prices.)

    6. Thailand as mentioned above, is a good alternate, and side trips to Laos and Cambodia are possible. Vietnam is a good choice. So are parts of Indonesia like Bali and eastern Java. The culture of Bali is stunning, IMO as is the geography. Malaysia would be a very good choice as well, good tourist infrastructure but not as heavily touristed (and you can see the “cannibals”). Of course the entire PRC is open to you and has many ethnic communities and a huge range of geography and climate. A place like Japan is absolutely a breeze to travel, very clean not that expensive outside of the main cities, and is a culture that is unique even within Asian which has some pretty unique cultures to begin with.

    7. To the best of my knowledge, none of the potential places one your list require vaccinations. None are Yellow Fever areas. You should, as a normal healthy American adult, already have (updated) vaccinations for things like Hepatitis A/B, Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria, etc. If you don’t, please don’t step on a rusty nail walking down your street tonight….In some places you may want to consider Malaria medications, but that will depend on where you go and the time of year. (Note that 3 tourists on vacation in the Bahamas picked up Malaria there last summer, so don’t be so sure that it is the “developing” world that you need to worry about…) The Scottish National Health Service has very useful travel health website http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations/maps/worldmap.htm, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also has a good one at http://www.nathnac.org/travel/index.htm. They both describe what are considered “routine” vaccinations which every adult should have.


    8. A final note with regard to making a choice: I love India, and travel there frequently, but would say that for someone who has never been to Asia, and has only travelled in Europe (which I believe is your case) that perhaps it is not the best choice for the first Asian experience. It is of course quite safe (as is virtually all of Asia) but it is, IMO, more advanced travel, and IMO you may want a bit of an easier introduction; that way you will keep coming back as you get your feet here, so to speak. I also want you to like -- if not love -- India, and in my view, you need to understand a little of what travel in Asia is about generally, before you undertake travel in India (which has improved vastly but is still not like travelling in many other places in Asia). My personal opinion is that of your original set, Bhutan and Nepal are easier places to travel (unless you are very back country in Nepal which for security reasons may not be possible.) Thailand is very easy and affords great cultural bang for the buck, as does Bali. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong have better public transport than any US city (and better Chinese food of course too) offer a lot in a compact space, and make easy add ons to more remote places. (There is some spectacular and difficult hiking here in Hong Kong if you are looking for that, and some excellent walking as well, it is really not at all just skyscrapers and shopping malls, those are only in the guidebooks.) Otherwise, if you start with India, I am afraid you will find India overwhelming and never want to go back. Just my thoughts.

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    Thank you Cicerone, that was tremendously helpful and you perfectly illustrated my concern with India (I want to be prepared so that I have the best chance of fully enjoying it).

    Right now, it appears as though we are going to venture to Turkey and Jordan first (and we aren't stuck with any particular times of year for any of these vacations -- when we DO get to India I was shooting for Jan.).

    I think some of my concerns about the similarities w/Italy (though I know the culture, religion and history differ) come from the fact that so many of the sights (a big interest) are Greco-Roman in style -- I don't want to get a "seen that" feeling. That said, we are looking at possibly visiting more eastern regions in Turkey (though nothing too close to politically sensitive borders), as these seem to be somewhat remote and rarely mentioned.

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