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Once the flourishing trade centre of colonial Hokkaido, Otaru is characterized by its canal lined with old western-style warehouses. Today, the canal still bustles, but now it’s travellers as opposed to merchants who frequent the waterway; and the stone buildings that once stored goods now harbour museums, stores, and trendy eateries.
Tradition collides with pop culture in Tokyo, where you can reverently wander ancient temples before rocking out at a karaoke bar. Wake up before the sun to catch the lively fish auction at the Toyosu Market, then refresh with a walk beneath the cherry blossom trees that line the Sumida River. Spend some time in the beautiful East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, then brush up on your Japanese history at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Don’t forget to eat as much sushi, udon noodles, and wagashi (Japanese sweets) as your belly can handle.
Home to nearly nine million and powering an economy that exceeds both Hong Kong's and Thailand's, Osaka packs quite a punch. The confident, stylish city is a shopping hub, with fabulous restaurants and nightlife. It's an ideal base for exploring the Kansai region: Kyoto's World Heritage Sites, Nara's temple and Koya-san's eerie graves are within 90 minutes by train. Top city attractions include the aquarium, Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan and the futuristic Floating Garden Observatory.
From modern skyscrapers and neon lights to Buddhist temples, palaces and pagodas, Seoul is a fascinating mix of old and new. A hub of business, culture and finance both within South Korea and internationally, Seoul houses the headquarters for some of the world's largest corporations. It also has one of the world's best subway systems the easiest way to get around in this densely populated area. For the best view of the city, go to the tower on Namsan, one of the mountains that encircle the city.
Arts, entertainment, fashion, history and nature: Incheon has it all (and more)! The city is undergoing an extravagant real estate development, with a projected finish date of 2015. It also expects a large number of visitors for its 2014 Asian Games. Visitors can peruse designer shops in the Bupyeong district, enjoy events at the Arts Centre or discover local history at Liberty Park and Independence Memorial Hall. Head to the country's only official Chinatown for authentic cuisine and souvenirs. A ferry rides to the nearby islands is the perfect escape from the excitement of the city.
Jeju is a hot tourist spot, booming with unique attractions. Romantic sunrises and sunsets, mild climate and beautiful sandy beaches make Jeju a popular honeymoon destination. Adventurers can hike to Baeknok Lake at the top of Mount Halla, South Korea’s highest peak. Keep an eye out for the “haenyeo,” female divers gathering fresh seafood, and the iconic “grandfather statues” displayed outside of many restaurants.
Phuket offers a rainbow spectrum of spectacular holiday sights from blue lagoons and pink sunsets to orange-robed monks. Three wheeled-Tuk Tuks, taxis, buses and long tailed boats transport visitors between these marvels. Phuket's south coast offers its most popular beaches. The north is more tranquil. Koh Phi Phi, Phang Nga Bay and Patong Beach are popular spots. Diving, snorkeling, wind surfing and sailing are just a few active options. Inland, forested hills, mountains and cliffs wait to be explored.
Breathe deep in Genting Highlands where, unlike nearby Kuala Lumpur, the air is fresh and clean. Aside from its resort life, visitors flock to hill station to enjoy cooler temperatures, mountain scenery, strawberry farms, and a relatively undisturbed, natural rain forest.
Johor Bahru is the second-largest city in Malaysia and, with the opening of two major amusement parks in 2012, it is poised to become a major tourist destination. TripAdvisor travellers also recommend visiting the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple, a unique Hindu temple decorated with brilliant glass mosaics.
Singapore is known as a bustling metropolis that also happens to be one of the cleanest and safest cities of its size in the world. (Just make sure you heed the local laws—something like spitting in the street might merely be considered rude in your hometown, but here, it carries a severe penalty.) You'll find historic sites like the Thian Hock Keng temple, superlative shopping (including gargantuan malls) and numerous beaches.
Just a speedboat ride from Singapore, Batam’s beaches and bars tempt visitors with dishes of chili crab, grilled lobster, and freshly caught fish. While travellers golf, snorkel, and spa-hop, the island’s traditional culture thrives in fishing villages built on wooden stilts.