I labeled this blog as "Part 1" because I have not obviously been to all of the major cities within Asia, but I can say at this point I have been to most of those you may have heard about. India, South Korea, and most of the mid-east countries are yet unexplored... some for good reason. Thus my inclusion of the word "Eastern" for clarity.
In exploring half the countries in Asia I've discovered quite a few similarities and differences between them, the people that inhabit them, and likely future outlooks for each as well. Cities, towns, villages, are all part of a massive network within a system. They act as the central hubs of communication, technology, culture, and just about everything else aside from perhaps food production. Seeing the rest of the "system" is just as important as to how a country stands in the world, but for now I'll be focusing on these major hubs that I've explored.
I am going to highlight the differences and similarities between each city. This list is built in a bullet-point format for your easy perusal, with cities in order of those I have traveled too. Yes, these are my own words, even though they may sound like they came right out of some travel magazine:
1) Weifang (China): Near Beijing, Weifang has plenty of beautiful parks, expansive new streets (that are largely unused), and convenient biking paths through most of the city are what make Weifang unique (and the very obvious nuclear power plant behind the school I taught at).
2) Beijing (China): A vast array of cultural artifacts populate this old-architecture style city, while at the same time being uprooted by new high-rise buildings. If you want the old and the new, come to Beijing.
3) Shenzhen (China): A vibrant, relatively clean, expansive new city on the shores bordering Hong Kong. Due in part to its tremendous growth from a simple fishing village in the mid-70's, this city has yet to develop any of its own culture.
Everything else you expect to find in a big city though is here. The government has done a decent job of trying to add some "theme parks", such as 'Splendid China' and 'Window of the World'. This city has been my main home in Asia since coming here.
4) Hong Kong (China): A beautiful city both during the day and especially at night, this is the city to go to when one seeks the night-life. While during the day it is typically the same as the other cities, the night time contains tons of bars and other happening spots to travel to. Hong Kong also has theme-parks like "Disney Land", but I hear it wasn't that good so I haven't gone to it, yet...
5) Macau: Once a Portuguese settlement, this small island can be completely explored within two days. There are beautiful small streets with plenty of shops to check out, as well as a lot of historical sites to see. If you live near here, its a perfect place to go for a weekend tour.
Don't forget the abundance of casinos as well! While Macau isn't a Las Vegas, they do have quite a few casinos, with some of the big names such as: Wynn, Venetian, Rio, Sands, and at least a dozen others. Bring with Hong Kong dollar for many of these, as the local money is not as popular.
6) Guangzhou (China): Just north of Shenzhen, this city is a pretty typical city... not much I can really say about it other than its just as big as all the others in China.
7) Taipei (Taiwan): If there were any other two polar opposites within Asia (except for say Japan itself), Taipei and the rest of the cities in China would be it.
While China has a lot of social elements that need to be built up yet, Taipei has largely established this already. Lines on escalators, lines to get on a bus, and lines to get on the metro are all very refreshing after spending chaotic moments in Shenzhen everyday.
The technology park and Taipei 101 are the major attractions in Taipei. If you wish to explore more of what Taiwan has to offer, you'll have to head outside of the city limits.
8) Bangkok (Thailand): While the city itself is fairly typical, the temples within the city are some of the most amazing structures I have ever seen. If you are into "designs" and "art", these temples are a must-see. The bar scene and general nightlife can be pretty crazy, to put it mildly.
9) Phuket (Thailand): Beaches are a major theme in Phuket. The tours are also nice, especially the one-day "James Bond" tour around the nearby islands. NO night scene here... it's a resort after all.
10) Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): Another typical city. Every time I begin to explore a new city I start to realize that they all are really the same, at least those in developed countries. See the "Batu Caves" and the multi-theme park within the city for an adventure. Also, don't forget the Petronas Towers!
Be careful though as I've found Kuala Lumpur to be one of the more dangerous cities in Asia, at least at night in uncertain locations. Most of Asia however this is generally not a problem.
11) Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam): Motorbikes EVERYWHERE! The traffic in this city is absolutely insane. The museums are rather nice to visit, if you aren't killed while trying to get to them. Speaking of which, while I was there on Friday almost no one wore a helmet. That next day on Saturday there apparently was some law passed as almost everyone had a helmet. It was fun to watch that transition play itself out.
12) Phnom Penh & Seam Reap (Cambodia): I put these two cities together because they are really identical in almost all ways. Cambodia is even more of a developing country that Vietnam is, so be careful if you ever visit here. There are a lot of tourist opportunities, such as the beautiful temples in Seam Reap, including Angkor Wat. Be sure to take an airplane when possible! Bus or train rides across the country are NOT fun, although you do get to see some interesting scenery along the way.
13) Tokyo (Japan): A beautiful sprawling city like no other. While it has a lot of characteristics to Shanghai, it is almost more packed then Shanghai. Tons of people going every which way on dozens of subway lines. Speaking of subway lines, be sure to study them before coming here, as they are an absolute maze of confusion. So are all the transportation options throughout Japan.
14) Osaka, Kyoto & Others (Japan): The rest of the cities are much the same, just smaller.
The negative about Japan: a) Everything is super expensive, b) the transporation network is overly complicated, c) trash bins are nowhere to be found, and d) Foreigners can only use Post Office ATMs!
The positive about Japan are: a) The beautiful "countryside", b) Culture everywhere, and c) a high-technology market.
15) Shanghai (China): Much like New York in the USA or Tokyo in Japan, Shanghai is a modern city full of life (25 million people worth). Not quite as busy as the two aforementioned cities, but it still has plenty of just about everything, including an amazing nightlife, museum and cultural locations, and a main hub of the Asian game industry!
One other interesting thing I would like to point out as a major difference between China and Japan specifically is the trash bins and ATMs. In China there are trash bins everywhere, yet no one uses them (instead throwing trash on the ground quite often), while in Japan they are nowhere to be found, yet no trash is ever found on the streets. In China ATMs are everywhere and easily accessible by foreigners, yet things are cheap in China so they are rarely used, while in Japan they are nowhere to be found and everything is so expensive you need to use them constantly.
Which reminds me, I forgot to exchange much of my money from these countries back into Yuan (Chinese currency) or USD... doh. I bet I can't exchange the coinage either, which in total is worth probably fifty or more USD.
That is about it for most of the major cities that I have toured in Asia. I would one day love to visit Seoul (South Korea), some places more in inner China, Mongolia, India, and a few other miscellaneous countries. Those will be reserved for Part 2 :).