A Westerner’s Guide to Sightseeing in Asia

By Michele Goncalves
Michele Goncalves
Michele Goncalves
February 3, 2015 Updated: February 2, 2015

Even though I have been to Asia many times, it never ceases to amaze me just how different the culture is from the West. I am currently in Taiwan on a business trip, and this past weekend I enjoyed a lovely day of sightseeing in the north of Taipei with a local colleague of mine. The experience was fabulous, and also brought to mind a few key points to share with any Westerners planning to experience Asia for the first time.

1. Bring food: I always advise travelers to pack snacks and easy to transport foods from home that you can sustain on such as canned tuna, peanut butter, or power bars. Once you venture outside of the major cities, you will typically not find any familiar foods. Also, the look of the eating establishments that you will have to choose from may not be your cup of tea. For example, while passing through the famous tiny streets of Jiufen this weekend, I stopped for lunch in a bare bones eatery for noodle soup. As I sat in my seat, I watched as the chef and his assistant stood outside of the shop in a makeshift “kitchen” on the sidewalk cooking all of the meals. For adventurous types, this may be your idea of heaven. However, for less adventurous types, you will be glad you brought your own food.

2. Prepare to be pushed: In some (not all) of the Asian countries, walking through a crowded street to experience a night market, or visiting a popular tourist attraction can be an aggressive experience. Being shoved aside and cut in front of while waiting patiently on a line, or having someone rudely push their way between you and your spouse can unfortunately be common behavior. If you find yourself in a country where this is occurring, try adjusting your sightseeing schedule to off peak hours if possible. A hotel concierge should be able to offer advice on optimal visiting hours to avoid crowds.

3. Beware of bathrooms: I often joke with others that going to the bathroom while traveling abroad is like a box of chocolates. You really never know what you are going to get. This still holds true even in our modern society. For instance just last weekend, I came across a “squat” style toilet. For travelers with mobility challenges, these unexpected circumstances may pose a real issue. If this is a concern for you, it may be a good idea to discuss these delicate details with your touring company or host to avoid any difficulties during your trip. And lastly, it is always a good idea to bring your own roll of toilet paper from the hotel in case there isn’t any available for you. It is better to be safe than sorry.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!

(*Photo of snacks via Shutterstock)