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Mongolia versus Nepal/Tibet versus Japan/Korea

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Aug 11th, 2014, 05:00 AM
  #1
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Mongolia versus Nepal/Tibet versus Japan/Korea

Hi there,

I need some input from fellow travelers. I was initially on going to Rajastan in about two months time for three weeks, but because of some unavoidable issues have had to choose an alternative destination at the last minute for dates that I can't change.

I'm interested in cultural destinations (spiritual, ethnic, historical, but not contemporary) and was thinking of an Asian destination and have narrowed it down to Mongolia, Nepal/Tibet, and Japan/Korea.

I'm young and like travel independently. Mongolia in particular I'm not sure where to start with--most reports mention natural landscapes, but I'm more interested in the cultural side of things, e.g. if there are monasteries I could visit, etc. Nepal/Tibet sound like a good alternative option, but I'm less sure of safety (by which I'm mainly concerned about my DSLR) and ease of moving about. Is it similar to Bhutan minus the expense? (I haven't been to Bhutan, but have loved reading trip reports on it!)

Japan/Korea would be the easy option in as far as the aforementioned aspects are concerned, but obviously more pricey.

Appreciate input from anyone who's been to above places--mainly your general impression of what the travel experience was like (e.g. if the highlight was cultural versus natural, etc).

Cheers
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Aug 11th, 2014, 09:17 AM
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I'm not sure what your concern is for safety in Nepal and Tibet - stealing from visitors, while not unknown is rare, unlike Europe where pickpockets abound. Is Nepal similar to Bhutan minus the expense? No, Nepal is a desperately poor country. It is full of Hindu shrines and temples, and has several Buddhist stupas and monasteries. Here is my trip report from a few years ago - it covers all of the world heritage sites:
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...mandu-2008.cfm

Nepal and Tibet are quite different. Tibet is desolate and almost all of the monasteries and religious sites have been destroyed. Some have been reconstructed. If you wanted a place with the Tibetan Buddhist culture, the best place, IMO, is Sikkim. It is mostly untouristed, except for some Indian tourists, we saw only a couple of western visitors. http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...p-to-india.cfm
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Aug 11th, 2014, 11:42 AM
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I have been to all of the places you mention except Tibet.

I would not go to Mongolia for the monasteries, although there are some.

Nepal is not like Bhutan, which has experienced very limited development, is still heavily forested, and is very homogeneous. Its festivals are a major attraction.

Japan, and certainly Korea, does not have to be expensive if you are willing to forgo high end hotels. Singles in business chains like Toyoko and Dormy are quite reasonable.

For my trip to Japan and Korea see: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...ping-to-kyoto/

For a more recent, excellent, TR on Korea see: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...outh-korea.cfm

Nepal is fascinating, but can be hard work (although not as much as India). For a trip weighted towards culture I would say it is a toss up between Nepal and Japan.

For my trip to Nepal see: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...and-mountains/
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Aug 11th, 2014, 01:53 PM
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I've visited to all the places you mention:
Japan/Korea: For culture/history, e.g. palaces, Buddhist temples (especially Kyoto) , historical sites it's the best. It's easy to get around Seoul, Kyoto, Tokyo around by subway and train even if you don't read the language, plus there's good wifi & good food.

Mongolia: If you like visiting museums there are several good possibilities in Ulaanbaator (otherwise a charmless city) : Choijin Lam Temple Museum (lots of Buddhist images & paintings), the Bogd Khan Palace Museum (the palace is the main highlight), the National Modern Art Gallery, the National History museum (from prehistoric to modern times with a fine collection of Mongolian ethnic clothing), and if you're interested in dinosaurs, the Natural History Museum and the small Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs in Sukhbaatar Square.
Outside Ulaanbaator : Kharakorum and Erdene monastery (you'll need to hire drive an probably a guide since few drivers speak English).

Central Tibet: Much but not everything was destroyed/damaged during the cultural revolution but now thanks to money from well-off lamas in the west & their tibetan and western disciples plus the Chinese government's interest in making $$ off tourism (largely Han) almost all sites have been rebuilt by traditional craftspeople. Even though the Potala, Norbulinka, are more museums than religious sites, they're still worth visiting, as are the major monasteries: Sera, Drepung. Outside Lhasa, there are more functioning temples & monasteries--was amazed to see monks in Gyantse doing a ritual reading of Buddhist scriptures using 600 year old manuscripts written in silver ink on indigo paper. In Central tibet you have to book a tour with guide & driver (if you go outside of Lhasa), so it can be pricy (though not as $$ as Bhutan).

Nepal-plenty of historical sites (Durbur Square, Patan, Bhaktapur, not the best place to see Buddhist culture (though Boudha & Kopan are worth a visit).

Sikkim is beautiful but best in the spring when the orchids are in bloom.
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Aug 11th, 2014, 07:14 PM
  #5
kja
 
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Of the places you mention, I've only visited Japan and South Korea. Although Japan can be pricey, depending on what you want to see and experience, South Korea can definitely be seen on a modest budget. I wouldn't try to visit BOTH unless you have at least 5 or 6 weeks to travel. I think Japan offers a wider range of cultural experiences than South Korea, but that's obviously a gross overgeneralization; both offer some very interesting options.

(And thanks, thursdaysd, for recommending my trip report!)
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Aug 11th, 2014, 08:44 PM
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I think 3 weeks is plenty of time to get a nice taste of Japan and Korea. They are both small and have great, reliable transportation options. You don't need to spend a fortune if you re willing to try smaller hotels and inns, and both have a decent system of hostels too.
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Aug 13th, 2014, 04:07 AM
  #7
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Thanks for all the feedback! Very helpful indeed--I've decided on Japan! Saving Nepal/Tibet (and/or Bhutan) for a later time, and Mongolia for when I feel far more adventurous with a view for natural landscapes. I'm happy to stay at hostels and make friends, so plenty of dollars saved

After a bit of research tho, have realised that there's quite a bit I'd like to see in Japan, but not enough to fill the three weeks completely. If I could spend about 2 days in South Korea (consider it a transit country on the way home), which city should I definitely stop-over for the culturey things? I was thinking the Suwon Fortress and a traipse around Seoul?
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Aug 13th, 2014, 06:18 AM
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Nothing against a couple of days in Seoul, but amazed you can't fill three weeks in Japan! Don't forget there are other islands besides Honshu, and other places besides Tokyo and Kyoto! Maybe you should start a new thread on your Japan itinerary.

I really enjoyed Japan (despite limping) and would love to go back, and I'm sure I could find different places to fill three weeks.
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Aug 13th, 2014, 07:18 AM
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kja
 
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I, too, am surprised that you don't think there's enough to do in Japan to fill 3 weeks. I had an enormously difficult time paring my wish list for a first-visit to Japan into a 3-week timeframe, and have worked with many travelers over the years who have had similar difficulties.
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Aug 13th, 2014, 10:16 AM
  #10
kja
 
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Sorry - I got called away!

If you do decide to include a few days in South Korea in your trip (and I not personally recommending that you combine Japan and South Korea), then I'm not sure it makes sense to try to see Suwon in addition to Seoul -- there's more than enough in Seoul to keep you busy for a few days, and not that much in Suwon that is sufficiently distinct from what you would see in Seoul to justify the time it would take to get there -- time that you could be using in Seoul. But maybe you have a specific interest?
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Aug 15th, 2014, 04:41 AM
  #11
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Hi! Thanks for the responses. Agree with all of above. I actually have slightly less than 3 weeks, and I've figured that buying the 3 week JR Pass would not be worth it, so have had to cut down to 2 weeks in Japan, 14 days exactly. I'm not fussed, gives a good taste of the country Also, after looking into flight bookings Seoul more or less has become a necessary transit. Is Suwon Castle really not worth a visit?
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Aug 15th, 2014, 06:52 PM
  #12
kja
 
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>I've figured that buying the 3 week JR Pass would not be worth it, so have had to cut down to 2 weeks in Japan

Many of us plan our 3-week trips to Japan in ways that let us use just a 2-week pass.

> Is Suwon Castle really not worth a visit?

I didn't say that Suwon is not worth a visit -- I thoroughly enjoyed my day there and especially liked the Water Gate and the Bonghwasuryujeong pavilion. I said that I don't think going there makes much sense if you only have a few days in Seoul unless you have a very specific interest. Suwon's palace itself is not, IMO, as interesting as the main palaces in Seoul, Suwon's canal is no more interesting (and much smaller) than Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, and I would think that a hike in Namsan or the mountain overlooking Seoul would give you an experience similar to that of walking along part of Suwon's walls. To get to and from Suwon would pose a high opportunity cost, requiring you to spend a fair chunk of your very limited time getting to/from Suwon -- time that you could be using to see similar things (and more) in Seoul itself.
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