First trip to Asia and going solo

Old Dec 3, 11, 5:57 pm
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First trip to Asia and going solo

Planning my first trip to Asia. Recently lost my husband so going on my own. I've traveled by myself in Europe several times, but never been to Asia.

Where is it safe to go by myself? I like to see historical sites, love to shop for items made locally, and stay in a nice place. I have lots of Hilton points I can use for a free stay.

I've considered Singapore - heard it's very safe, but not that much to see. Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam are others place I'm interested in.

For the place that you recommend, when is a good time to go?

Appreciate your help!

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Old Dec 3, 11, 6:03 pm
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My first Asia trip was a solo trip to Kyoto. It was wonderful and very easy to get around. Absolutely beautiful. Completely safe. As far as I know, violent crime is nonexistent and I saw no evidence of the petty crimes of Europe such as street hustles or pickpockets. Completely peaceful and wonderful for being on your own. I am more of a budget traveler but if you like, you can read my story. I will put some links in this post in a minute when I find them. I like to walk and day-hike a lot, and the mountains around there are great for this.

By traveling solo, you will get more contact with the spirits of the place, in my humble opinion, if that doesn't sound too "woo." I could feel the magic there...

Hong Kong is safe but very, very busy and hectic so it depends on what you're looking for. Kyoto of course is busy and populated too but it doesn't have that super-hectic/busy vibe. There is more peace to be found there. I don't have that much experience of Asia so can't comment on your other suggestions. My post may have value only because it shows to you that a solo woman can travel easily in at least two of the places you are thinking to visit.

I forgot to say, even though you don't think of it as a shopping place, there is lots of shopping in Kyoto, so you don't have to think you will miss the shopping if you choose Japan rather than Hong Kong.

Last edited by peachfront; Dec 3, 11 at 6:12 pm
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Old Dec 4, 11, 12:22 am
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Safety: Japan ranks VERY high on safety. Singapore is also up there. Everywhere else, it depends on where you are and what time of day it is. In countries like Malaysia and Hong Kong, if you apply common sense and keep an eye on your belongings and your surroundings, you'll be fine.

Interesting: Depends on what you find interesting! Historical sites abound in Japan. Shopping for local items is always going to be good anywhere, though beware of overpriced tourist trinkets. Shopping in Japan can be VERY expensive simply because the cost of living there is expensive, but if you set yourself a strict budget you'll be fine.

Staying in a nice place: Great hotels everywhere, and here's where you'll get a better bargain in less-developed countries.

A factor you might want to think about is the language barrier. Japanese are notoriously bad at English. If you're lucky people will try very hard to help you, and they will try very hard to dig up the English they've learned, but don't expect everyone to be able to communicate (even if they want to help). Tourism offices are staffed by people who don't fear English-speakers, but on the street you may have shopkeepers scared of you because they can't communicate and are too embarrassed to ask for help. This can be overcome with a friend who might be happy to be your guide in exchange for meals and transport. (I did this for some friends of my mother who came to Japan but couldn't speak a word of Japanese, and weren't that good with English either. They paid for all my train fares and meals, I showed them the best places to eat and shop, brought them to some tourism spots, and we all had a great time.)

Countries where English tends not to be a problem: Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Phillippines. I can't speak for Korea, I've never been.
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Old Dec 5, 11, 4:20 am
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Jackie, my condolences on your loss.

I haven't traveled much in Asia, but I found Singapore easy to get around in on my own. That said, I think I prefer peachfront's Kyoto idea.
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Old Dec 6, 11, 2:58 pm
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Thumbs up Japan

We travel in Asia a lot, and have been to most asian countries. Definitely do not pick the Phillippines - it would be very unsafe for a single woman.

Japan would be my first choice for a foray into asia. It is safe, clean, food is great. The people are friendly, helpful, most understand english but are just shy about speaking it, someone will always help you if you look lost ! Transport is reliable and on time. Dont worry about travelling by train - it is great and all the station announcements are in english as well as japanese. One tip to save money - have your main meal in the middle of the day, lunch menus are always cheaper than dinner menus, then just buy some sushi for your dinner - you can get this at any big department store - the basement always has a great food section - fresh fruit, cooked food, CAKES - the japanese love cake and you will see some OTT decorations. We were recently in Nagoya, we had a great time and it is easy to get around, has a fantastic castle and gardens. Japanese gardens are a great place to visit especially if you like photography.
Hope that helps, and enjoy your trip - wherever you decide to go

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Old Dec 6, 11, 5:24 pm
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I've travelled all over Asia, and had no major problems (wandering hands on the HKG MTR). Most of it is very safe - I've been to all the places you list except Vietnam, and would happily return to any of them.

I never found Japan that easy to navigate, mainly because the best food is not that accessible (HKG used to be like this but has got better). Since it's your first trip, China may be a bit of a reach, but it's also very safe and fascinating.

Your travel may be bitter sweet - I enjoy solo travel, not having to compromise and do what I want when I want, but since you have recently lost your husband, I suspect there will be times when you'll miss being able to share what you see and experience with him. But - enjoy it nevertheless. I love Asia, it's fascinating and different and vibrant.

Have a great trip!
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Old Dec 11, 11, 11:31 pm
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+1 for Japan

Another vote for Japan and think Kyoto is a great first stop in Asia. I haven't had significant language problems in Japan as charades, pictionary, smiling, and a sense of humor work quite well. I even purchased macaroon's from Ladurée in Ginza and the young shop lady and I had a relevant conversation done mostly by drawing. She added a little ice pack because I wasn't going home immediately. Plenty of restaurants have fake food in the window so just take a picture of what you want to eat and show that to the waitress.

Kyoto has a lot of interesting shops and cultural sights. It isn't too much of a crush like I find Shanghai to be and the public transit is good. Here's a blog post of a sewing needle shop (I kid you not) in Kyoto and the blog also has other suggestions for local handiwork.

Are the Hilton points usable at the Conrad? If so, a friend enjoyed her stay at the Conrad Tokyo and made liberal use of the concierge for directions and getting oriented.

Singapore is also interesting. I just watched Anthony Bourdain's "The Layover- Singapore" and saw a lot of delicious foods I didn't get try while I was there. I felt the shopping was a lot of imports but even then, I spotted some interesting stores in Sim Lim Square and had fun wandering through the grocery stores. Enjoyed the gardens and the lush feel. But I think the prime attraction for me is the food instead of the cultural sights. So many cultures in one small area makes for some really interesting food.

Since this is flyertalk, I'll say that I put SIN and ICN very high on the transit airport scale. HKG and NRT aren't as good, in my opinion. HKG seems to have a very tight transit due to a long walk from deplaning to reboarding. ICN was more efficient and even left 20+ minutes for shopping for some Korean cosmetics. NRT shopping doesn't really seem that great/different and after Tokyo shopping, feels like a let down. KIX has a newer section in the middle international building with a few decent shops but the food seemed just so-so (not very ethnic). I'm looking forward to going through HND sometime.

Last edited by freecia; Dec 11, 11 at 11:43 pm Reason: airport thoughts.
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Old Dec 12, 11, 9:44 am

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I'm going to vote Cambodia and Thailand. I went with another female friend and we had zero issues.

In Cambodia, we had a guide (search Ponheary Ly here on FT) and zero issues. We arrived without hotel reservations, her brother, Dara, got us an air-con room right away at what I considered a decent price. He then arranged our 3.5 days in Siem Reap, travelling in a Camry and we had a great time.

In Thailand, we wandered around Bangkok without any issue, taking tuk-tuks and asking directions at our hotel. We then also spent some time in Koh Samui.

I loved it an can't wait to go back. I will even consider going back solo if I can't find someone to travel with
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Old Dec 15, 11, 12:54 pm
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I frequently travel alone to Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) on business and it is a safe country (subject to the usual sensible precautions). The most dangerous thing in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the traffic as there are so many motorcycles and zebra crossings don't mean anything. When you want ot cross you have to walk at a steady pace and the bikes will find their way around you - problems really only arise if you suddenly stop.

I eat in restaurants on my own and have no problems, similarly walking back to my hotel at night.

I haven't yet been to the rest of the country but I cna't see it woudl be any different.

The Vietnamese people are lovely.
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Old Dec 16, 11, 4:15 pm
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I've done a lot of solo travel in Asia over the last 40 years. For safety and interesting I would recommend: Singapore (but VERY hot there year around), Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang (inexpensive flights from Chiang Mai), Kyoto, Hiroshima. I wouldn't recommend Vietnam, it's the ONLY country I've ever visited that I didn't like - I was constantly cheated there and certainly don't recommend it for a first solo trip. I haven't been to Korea, Taiwan (except to change planes), or Philippines.

For most of Asia travel in October is ideal, the monsoons are generally over and the weather isn't overly hot. Getting around in Japan is much easier than it used to be, there are more signs in English now. Railpass travel in Japan is absolutely wonderful, check it out.

Several airlines offer special tickets that include multiple destinations, Cathay Pacific comes to mind. Check out the offerings by Singapore Airlines on Singapore stopovers combined with travel to another city. Budget Travel magazine and website have good articles about current "deals."
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Old Dec 16, 11, 6:59 pm
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I'm an Old Japan Hand (first went in 1977 as a student and have been back 13 times since), and I have never had any problems with safety.

There are plenty of good guidebooks available, and signs are bilingual (English-Japanese) in train and subway stations.

The Japan Rail Pass is a good deal if you are going to be making at least a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto or an equivalent distance. Otherwise, you're better off buying individual tickets.

One of the great things about Japan is that you don't have to stay in an expensive hotel to enjoy safety and cleanliness. The average "business hotels" (mostly basic single rooms with private bath) are about $100 a night or less, depending on the city, and some include breakfast.

You also don't have to be afraid to eat in low-cost restaurants or drink the tap water, because the standards of sanitation are quite high.

Everyone under the age of about 65 has studied at least 3 years of English. This doesn't mean that they speak it--they've either forgotten it or are too scared--but almost everyone can read simple English written in block letters.

Every region has its own handicrafts, and they tend to come in both cheap and expensive versions. For example, Kyoto is famous for its brocades. You can spend thousands of dollars for a bolt of the finest kimono cloth or else you can spend about $20 for a coin purse and billfold set. Your guidebook will tell you what each region is famous for.

If you decide to visit Tokyo as well, then you'll see both traditional and modern Japan, but if you stay in Kyoto, be sure to go to Nara as well. That's the eighth century capital, about 30 minutes away by train, and it's even more peaceful than Kyoto and much more compact.

The best times to go to Japan are in the spring between March and mid-May and in the fall from October through early December. Winters aren't bad in Kyoto and Tokyo (dry, with highs of about 5°C--in the 40's Fahrenheit), but you won't see many plants. June is rainy and muggy, and July through September is hot, hot, hot, especially in Kyoto, which is surrounded by mountains on three sides.

If you're interested in Japan, start by buying a guidebook and reading up on it (or whichever country you decide to go to). I recommend the Insight Guides with their beautiful photography and excellent essays on the local culture as background reading for any country, followed by one of the standard guidebooks (Lonely Planet, Frommers, Rough Guide) for the nitty gritty details.
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Old Dec 17, 11, 6:17 am
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I just came back from Singapore. It is very safe and english is spoken everywhere. The people are lovely and friendly. However, I felt like I was in any big city in the US with many MANY malls with the same stores we have in the US. If I were traveling for a vacation I wouldn't go back to Singapore.
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Old Dec 17, 11, 6:54 am
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My favorite place in Asia is Japan. It is easy. I don't like the food--I survive on steak and gyoza and beer. I've even had gyoza and beer for breakfast. It's easy to get around in. All the railroad signage is in English. I've shopped in stores in nontourist towns with clerks who speak no English. It's just fun.

I just got back from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (yesterday in fact). Not a problem. I never felt I was cheated. Luang Prabang was a terrific surprise.

I hate China, but that's a personal opinion.

I think I would go with Japan or Thailand for the first trip. Bangkok is much too hot for me.

I travel with my son, but I wouldn't blink an eye at going to Japan or Thailand on my own.

I'm sorry for your loss.
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Old Dec 17, 11, 7:12 am
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I, too, love Japan.

If you go, you must try staying at least once at a traditional Japanese hotel--a ryokan.

This site is excellent--it's a free service, which takes away language problems for you! They even give you a print out with names and directions in Japanese so you can show it to a taxi driver (cleanest taxis in the universe in japan, by the way).

They have detailed instructions on the cultural expectations so you feel you know what you are doing.

We used it to stay in monastery on Mt. Koyasan! It was a fantastic experience. We stayed at this one:

The trains are clean, efficient and totally safe--use them!

Favorite places (all very safe): Kyoto, Mt. Koyasan, Takayama (a bit of a train trip but a mountain town where Japanese tourists go)

Last edited by gretchendz; Dec 17, 11 at 7:18 am
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Old Dec 24, 11, 11:01 am
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Singapore or Japan

Actually i have been to most of the places you mentioned this year.

How long are you planning to go?
If just for a few days i would recommend Singapore. Its a really safe place, easy to get around and you have a great range of different food options there
- kind of a melting pot of south east asia. For more information look at my tripreport:

If you are planning to make a longer trip i would recommend Japan. As soon as you are there its absolutely easy to get around by trip - so its very convenient to visit a few different citys to see the whole range from historic sites like in Kyoto or bustling citylife like in Tokyo - again more information (especially about getting around by train - but also what you can see in one week) in my tripreport:

If you have any further questions just ask.
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