We all have been to tourist places, spots where imitation culture is peddled for inflated prices like a disappointing Disneyland. You’ve been trapped. In our industry we say there are Tourists and there are Travelers. The Tourist is usually headed for a weekend to a popular destination without much background information, and thus falls into the conventional destinations that were designed for them when traveling abroad. The Traveler on the other hand has a guide, has done their research or simply finds a way to push past the ‘tourist places’ and into the real culture of the area.
In our third entry in this series, we’ll visit some of the most oversaturated spots in the continent of Asia, and highlight the authentic locations we recommend you replace them with. Check out our articles on Europe and North America to find even more authentic destinations to visit!
(One note, if you haven’t seen some of these tourist places, many of them are worth a visit—we just recommend you explore beyond them.)
Tourist Place: Central Tokyo, Japan
Much like Times Square, New York which we referenced as a tourist place in our North America article here—Central Tokyo has little more to offer than huge crowds and concrete. Of course, there is some novelty in being at the center of the largest city on the planet… but this novelty quickly wears off.
Traveler’s Trip: Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan OR Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan
Looking to get your Manga fix? Akihabara has all things Anime. Known also as Electric Town this region feels like a city of the future, stop into a Maid Cafe but beware she may put a spell on your food. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a fashion fix, check out Harajuku. A center for the youth of Tokyo, Harajuku is known around the world for its extreme street fashion and unique style.
Tourist Place: Taj Mahal, India
Alright, this is going to be a controversial one. Is the Taj Mahal clearly a modern marvel in human ingenuity and architecture? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the site itself is absolutely swarming with tourists at all times. That, paired with the reported smells of sewage, have led to many reports that the juice is not worth the squeeze.
Traveler’s Trip: Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, India
Another relic of the Mughal Empire, and in the same region of Agra as the Taj Mahal, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is a great alternative to the Taj Mahal. Expect far smaller crowds so that you can take in every detail of the inlaid walls and spiraling towers.
Tourist Place: Myeong-dong, Seoul
This large and central spot might just be the most bustling shopping district in Seoul, however according to the locals it’s pretty oversaturated with tourists. Feel free to walk through but avoid the small and expensive hotels in the area. All in all, this area can feel a bit bland and corporate.
Traveler’s Trip: Hongdae, Seoul OR Gangnam, Seoul
There are two other excellent shopping spots in Seoul with very different energies. Hongdae is another shopping area with a lot of youth culture that opens up tremendously at night. Lots of creative types and students gather in this area, so expect cafe hopping during the day and bar hopping at night. On the other end of the spectrum, Gangnam is a business district filled with high end fashion and the newest technologies. This option is for those of you looking for a bit of opulence in your Seoul shopping spree.
Tourist Place: Dubai, UAE
Las Vegas without the gambling—prepare for a desert oasis full of artificial islands and golf in the sand. Dubai is undoubtedly an interesting city from the outside, boasting the world’s tallest building and a slew of new construction. However, like a desert mirage, once you get a little closer to Dubai you may find that it’s lacking in depth.
Traveler’s Trip: Sharjah, UAE
With rich history steeped in tradition, the cultural roots of Sharjah run deep. Recognized as the cultural capital of the middle east by UNESCO, Sharjah has a history dating back 5000 years. This city may be less flashy than Dubai, but its character more than makes up for it.
Tourist Place: Badaling Section—Great Wall of China, China
Given that the Great Wall is well… very long (hence the name great) you’d think people would visit plenty of sections of the wall. The truth is the vast majority flock to the well developed and convenient Badaling Section. The truth is this is not the worst Tourist Trap out there, but there is a more intimate alternative…
Traveler’s Trip: Jinshanling Section—Great Wall of China, China
Just as restored as the Badaling Section, but a bit further than Beijing—the Jinshanling section will be far less crowded but just as beautiful. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, this section of the wall is also the start of the six mile trail to Simitari West.
Tourist Place: Bali, Indonesia
Bali has grown to have quite the buzz in the last few years, as more and more Americans and Europeans flock to the spot for its beautiful beaches and affordable prices. But, the influx of tourists has had its effects on the destination. Beware of aggressive merchants and purposeful detours.
Traveler’s Trip: Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
The three Gili Islands are all great alternatives to Bali with their own individual vibes. Known as “Gili T” by many, historically Gili Trawangan has been known as the party island. However, in the wake of COVID the Island is more peaceful than ever these days. Expect beautiful beaches and thriving wildlife in this dreamy getaway.
Tourist Place: Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
The tallest towers in the world when built in 1998, since then these towers have become less and less relevant. Still an interesting site, but the truth is many who have spent $20 to reach the top floor have felt underwhelmed by the experience.
Traveler’s Trip: KLCC Park, Kuala Lumpur
With beautiful views of the entire city scape (including the Petronas Towers) this is where many in the city come to relax and let off steam. Stop by here, enjoy the fountains and expect live music which is usually played in this idyllic city park.
Congrats on being in the right place at the right time. 🥳🙌
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