Idea: Cruise along the Mekong River to visit the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, gorgeous beaches in Thailand, and Vietnamese war sites.
The chief attractions of Cambodia are the ancient temples of Angkor, historic buildings, Southeast Asian culture and jungle scenery.
Adventurous travelers interested in Southeast Asian history (both ancient and modern) will enjoy Cambodia. Those who cannot tolerate hot and humid conditions, schedule changes or the sight of severe poverty will not enjoy a visit to the country.
China's main attractions are the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Warriors, acrobats, shopping, Hong Kong, Tibet, pandas, ancient instrumental music and Chinese opera, food and a diverse landscape. China will appeal to open-minded travelers interested in visiting an important culture that is truly different from their own—they'll have the experience of a lifetime. China will not appeal to travelers who have respiratory problems (many of the cities are rather polluted), who demand impeccable service and accommodations at all times, or who don't like Chinese food. Outside of the major tourist areas, creature comforts can be few and far between.
For many travelers, group travel will be the best way to go; in some parts of China—politically sensitive areas such as Tibet, for instance—group travel was once the only way to visit. However, as Tibet and other areas of the country increasingly open up to tourism, that is changing. It is certainly possible to travel individually, although the services of a local guide are still useful as language barriers present challenges for non-Mandarin speakers. Given that access to parts of the country requires special permits and can be denied to foreigners without advance warning, it's best to have a flexible schedule and to keep abreast of news developments.
The foremost attractions in India are the Taj Mahal, religious shrines, the Himalayas, tigers, monkeys, cows, magnificent architecture, beaches, spiritual pilgrimages, great works of art, awe-inspiring scenery, ancient cultures, colonial relics and Bollywood movie musicals.
India will appeal to naturally curious and adventurous travelers (some experience traveling in developing countries will be helpful to those going off the beaten path). For first-time visitors, we recommend escorted tours or well-organized itineraries with previously arranged guides and accommodations in each city. Expect to experience hot weather, severe poverty and unexpected delays or schedule changes. Don't expect deluxe accommodations outside urban or tourist areas.
Among Japan's chief attractions are Mount Fuji, gardens, shopping, cherry blossoms, cultural attractions (from palaces and historic sites to sumo wrestling and Kabuki theater), bullet trains, beaches, war (and peace) memorials, traditional crafts, and religious shrines and temples.
Japan is a wonderful, fascinating and, unless you're very careful, expensive destination. Don't go if you are on a tight budget or are uncomfortable among dense crowds or in confining spaces. Be aware that you'll have to do a lot of walking to explore most attractions. Avoid traveling to Japan the first week of January, last week of April and first week of May, in late July or early August. These are major holiday periods when there are many closings and public transportation is fully booked.
Among the main attractions of Thailand are beaches, snorkeling, scuba diving, temples, ruins, hill-tribe culture, trekking, fine handicrafts, excellent food, nightlife and very friendly people. The beaches and islands along the eastern coast were not affected by the tsunami and are major destinations, similar in many ways to Phuket (pronounced Pu-KET) and the islands off the western coast. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north are the two top attractions in the hill country, offering everything from elephant treks to cooking classes.
Thailand will appeal to anyone who is interested in beach vacations, shopping, eating or archaeology, but especially to those who want to explore different cultures without sacrificing modern conveniences. Don't expect deluxe accommodations everywhere you stay, though, and be prepared for heat, humidity and dust during the dry season and lots of rain in the wet season.
Vietnam's main attractions are beautiful scenery, rich culture, beaches, delightful cuisine, courteous people, Vietnam War sites, hill-tribe cultures and ancient temples, courts and pagodas illustrating Vietnam's shifting dominant cultures throughout its 4,000-year history. Vietnam will appeal to adventurous travelers who are interested in Southeast Asian culture and who can maintain a flexible attitude within Vietnam's still-emerging tourism industry. A handful of luxury resorts have been built around Vietnam's major tourist destinations, offering relaxation without worry to those who desire to be indulged and pampered on their holidays.