The Asia-Pacific is skyrocketing as an international tourist destination. The nations of East and Southeast Asia offer an especially intriguing revenge travel bucket list of heritage sites, traditional and pop culture experiences, fashion-forward shopping and soul-satisfying beach and temple retreats. You may spend up to 24 hours or more aloft and jet lag is possible from crossing the international date line. But the rewards are as numerous as they are mind-blowing: walking with an elephant, supping in a wet market, and for the eternal gamer, 10-story video arcades.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Flights are about 20 hours from New York; Major U.S. and international airlines service flights starting around $2,000 round-trip. The Thai baht (THB) is the official currency and Thai is the native language.
THINGS TO DO
In Thailand, often referred to as “The land of smiles,” the weather and welcome can be as warm as the fashion is hot.
“I have my own personal dressmaker there,” said Kanokporn Noy Rithidech, of Middle Island, who is in her 60s and regularly returns to her homeland to visit cousins and snap up the latest in silky styles.
Thailand, formerly Siam, is a constitutional monarchy with a figurehead king heading a beloved royal family. The Thai smile can be turned down if you insult the royals, an infraction punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Although the Kingdom of Thailand dates to the 13th century, its Grand Palace in Bangkok was built in the 18th century. The palace complex houses the royal residence and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, guarded by a colorful statue of the Naga, a mythical serpent recently proclaimed the Thai cultural symbol.
Bangkok’s fashion scene is centered in the boutiques and malls around the Siam Center commercial district. “My younger cousin buys all her fashion there — it’s really advanced,” said Rithidech. Open-air stalls hawk the city’s famous street food like papaya salad, chicken skewer and more.
Sixty miles from the city, coconut pancakes and mango sticky rice are sold from picturesque canalboats in the famed Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
“There’s an easygoing quality to daily life that’s really nice, ” said Benjamin Tausig, 43, a Stony Brook associate professor of Critical Music Studies who visits Bangkok to research the life of African American gay exile and legendary jazz pianist Maurice Rocco.
About 120 miles from Bangkok, Si Thep, the newest of Thailand’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, preserves the architecture, artistic traditions and religious diversity of an empire that thrived in Central Thailand from the 6th to the 10th centuries (whc.unesco.org).
The nation’s iconic wildlife flourishes and animal-loving guests are welcome at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Tiger Rescue Centre ($43, wfft.org) and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (Starting at $50, elephantjunglesanctuary.com)
WHERE TO STAY
In Bangkok’s Khaosan Road area, the Khaosan Palace hotel runs $31 per night (khaosanpalace.com). The ultra-luxurious Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok offers breathtaking views of the Chao Phraya river at a budget-busting $800 plus per night (mandarinoriental.com).
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Flights are about 14 hours from New York; Flights on Japan Airlines start around $2,400 round-trip. The yen is the official currency of Japan and Japanese is widely spoken.
THINGS TO DO
It’s one of the closer Asia-Pacific nations and visiting can be affordable once you arrive with an exchange rate of 150 Japanese yen to one USD.
“Every time we ate out, it cost about $12 USD for a main course, appetizer and drinks,” said Patrick Joasil, 47, a hospitalist at Long Island Jewish in New Hyde Park, who honeymooned for 10 days in June with his wife, Crystal 37, a social work supervisor in the Bronx.
On a recent visit to Japan, Dwight Lee Wolter, 72, of Patchogue, introduced his family to one of Japan’s more unusual tea houses: the Asakusa Mameshiba dog cafe. “You take your shoes off, enter quietly, sit at a small table and take a cup of tea” and wait until the dogs are brought into the room. “Often, they curl up in your lap,” Wolter said. ($6.50 for adults, $4.50 for kids)
Wolter, who was raised in Tokyo as the son of a career Air Force officer, and serves as pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, said that sites not to miss include the “breathtakingly beautiful,” Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple.
Japan is a land of festivals crackling with fireworks, street food and centuries-old traditions. The Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri winter festival in December in Nara features performing arts and authentic 12th-century costumes.
On any given day, cosplayers dressed in Anime street fashion wander Tokyo’s Harajuku district. “In Tokyo, there’s a huge video game culture,” said Joasil, who played games in one of the multistory Taito Station arcades found throughout Japan.
Japan’s convenient public transportation system means “you can get anywhere either by the local trains or the bullet train system,” Joasil said. The couple got around on a 10-day unlimited metro card costing $3.50. A 40-minute bullet train ride took them to a Ninja Experience in Kyoto, where they donned armor and won star-throwing and dart-throwing competitions.
WHERE TO STAY
Rates at APA Hotel ＆ Resort Ryogoku Eki Tower start at about $50 (apahotel.com) For the traditional temple lodging experience, options include the Koyasan Saizen-in temple. Wolter paid $900 per night for a four-person suite, but prices vary by season (koya.or.jp/en).
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Philippine Airlines flights from New York take about 20 hours or more and average $1,500 round-trip. The Philippine peso (PHP) is the official currency and Filipino/Tagalog is commonly spoken.
THINGS TO DO AND EXPLORE
If you travel here during the so-called “ber-” months from September to December, you’ll be in time for the longest Christmas season in the world, a four-month marathon of holiday lights, feasting and shopping.
To say that The Philippines is an island nation is an understatement. Almost 118 million live on 2,000 islands, a fraction of the 7,600 islands that make up the archipelago 900 miles north of the equator.
Dining out in Manila can be affordable. “You get more bang for your buck if you bring your dollars,” said Sunshine Darcy, 46, of Commack, a physical therapist for Northwell Health.
In Intramuros, Manila’s old walled city, see Fort Santiago, built by16th century Spanish colonizers, the Casa Manila history museum, the 1607 San Agustin Roman Catholic Church and a tropical green space honoring national hero José Rizal. “It’s like walking through history,” said Marivic Restivo, 67, of Port Washington, who visited this fall ($7 per person).
Manila’s dining scene ranges from buzzy gastropubs with live music to wet markets where diners can choose from the catch of the day. Bonifacio Global City, a Metro Manila business district, is an all-in-one destination for dining, shopping lodgings and entertainment (bgc.com.ph).
An hour and 10-minute fight from Manila takes you to one of the country’s iconic island retreats, Boracay. Spend the day on a white sand beach, swimming, snorkeling or kayaking in crystal clear azure waters, and, after sundown, getting loud.
“The whole beach turns into a party at night,” said Leah Villegas, 44, of Babylon, a licensed real estate agent for Signature Premier Properties who grew up in the Philippines.
WHERE TO STAY
Manila boasts hundreds of hotels including affordable options in the mid $40 to $145 per night range. Spend the trip at The Manila Hotel (about $135 per night).