Shutterstock/Sasha Radosavljevich

Vibrant festivals, pervasive deities, and a rush to modernise are common characteristics you will encounter in South Asia. India - like its neighbour China - is a super nation of mind-boggling proportions.  As the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, India was a big deal long before the British Raj. Situated between East and West, ancient Indian civilisations formed economic and cultural epicentres that traded as far off as the Roman Empire. Today’s India is a like a dozen countries in one. Part poverty-stricken, and part nouveau riche, part rural village, and part bustling city – contemporary India is unashamedly rich in contradiction, colour and contrast. North of the Himalayas is the Tibetan Plateau, the highest and biggest plateau on earth. Decades of modernisation have made this remote region easily accessible for the first time. On the “roof of the world”, ancient temples sit modestly beneath sacred mountains while pilgrims prostrate themselves on their way to Lhasa. 

Most travellers come to Southeast Asia for unspoilt white beaches, exotic jungle-thronged temples and the overwhelming array of cultures. Be prepared for illusions to be shattered though. Southeast Asia is modernising rapidly, building futuristic cityscapes – few as grandiose as Singapore. Cambodia provides the perfect antidote to Singapore’s ordered cleanliness. The poorest nation in the region, Cambodia was once the centre of the Khmer Empire. The awe-inspiring temple at Angkor Wat sits in the ancient capital and is surrounded by hundreds of equally impressive temples. Thailand – once part of the Khmer Empire - is now the second largest economy in Southeast Asia. In Bangkok, ultra-modern skyscrapers stand a short walk from glittering temples. Outside of Bangkok are Thailand’s famous beaches and lush islands with world-class diving. Vietnam and Laos could not be more different from each other. While Laos retains many of its traditional customs and buildings, Vietnam is racing into the 21st century at breakneck speed. With some of the densest rainforest in the world and over 150 active volcanoes, Indonesia embodies Southeast Asia like no other country. Over 350 different ethnicities live here, making the cultures and people as diverse as the landscape.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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