“Actually, botante na yata siya doon eh.”
This is a common joke I hear that usually pertains to someone going to a particular country for the nth time; whether annually, over twice in a single year, or a mix of both. It’s pretty cool when you think about it, but it also begs the question: How and why do they do it? After all, for some people, visiting a country once is enough. But for others, once (or even twice) is never enough — especially when it comes to their ultimate fave Asian countries to visit!
Unless you’ve been living under a social media rock these past few years, you’ve probably noticed that many Pinoys love travelling to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. And why shouldn’t they? These Asian countries to visit boast breathtaking sights, scrumptious cuisine, fascinating cultures, and so much more! But of course, there’s only so much you can do in a single trip (let’s be real — most of us gotta work). So, is it even still a surprise that many travellers keep coming back for more? Well, not really.
Though, if you need a bit more convincing, we’ve gathered six Pinoy travellers who have done exactly that. Read on to find out why Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are their top Asian countries to visit again and again!
1. JB Aquino
Prior to the pandemic, going to Japan has always been JB’s yearly must-do for the past three years. In fact, his first trip there was also his first time to travel solo! “I spent almost two weeks around Kyoto and Osaka. I remember grinning widely after I stepped out of the airport because I was really excited to be there,” he reminisced. “It truly helped me understand why I love travelling, and be more grateful about being able to travel well.”
As a marketing professional in the tech industry, JB leads quite a busy life. So, as far as vacations go, being able to unwind is an absolute must. For him, this includes visiting gardens, parks, and temples around Japan. “The ‘zen’ atmosphere is such a grave departure from the hustle and bustle back home,” he said.
When asked about his favourite city, he’s quick to name Kyoto. “It has a more laid-back, rural feel to it that’s especially ideal when you need a break after a particularly hard work year,” he explained. Finally, he notes how the country is gradually becoming a foreigner-friendly destination, which makes it easy to explore even if you’re a first-time visitor. That said, if you’re wondering whether or not Japan is truly one of the best Asian countries to visit, well — there’s your answer!
On plans for his next trip to Japan (once it’s safe again):
“I want to travel further into Western Japan and try out Kobe beef (I know, it’s a shame I haven’t yet!). I’m also excited to visit Himeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture: it’s one of only a handful of castles in Japan that’s still in its original state up until this day. This was actually part of my Japan itinerary for 2020 before travels got restricted this year.”
On what first-time visitors should know before their trip:
“Learn a bit about their language and gestures; the Japanese’s warmth and hospitality will shine most when you interact with them this way! A simple ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ with a slight bow will get even the stiffest konbini attendant to smile at you. (Not that they’re stiff at all.) Also, trust Google Maps! Japan’s transport system is so well-oiled that the routes and schedules you see on your app are reliable to the dot. You can even see any delays (which are seldom) in real-time.
If you’re travelling to the Kansai region, make sure to allot at least one day around Dotonbori and its neighbouring areas. This way, you’ll be able to have your fill of different meals without needing to go to restaurants, thanks to the abundance of food stalls. But just make sure not to walk while you eat! It’s a definite no-no for locals; you’ll likely get unfriendly stares at best, and a scolding in Nihongo at worst.”
2. Therese Sta. Maria
Describing a destination as ‘convenient’ might be a way-too-typical thing for most travellers, but for Therese — this couldn’t be truer for Japan. After all, she has already been there four times, as of writing. “When we say Japan is hospitable, stress-free, and has an efficient transportation system, it’s all real and true,” she said. “Whenever I travel there, I know for sure that I’m not going to experience any nightmarish mishap that otherwise might happen in other places.”
It’s also true when they say that if you wish to build your ‘travel confidence,’ Japan is the way to go. No wonder that, for travellers like Therese, it’s one of the best Asian countries to visit over and over again. She deems her second trip as the most memorable one so far, and with good reason. “It had probably been a decade since my first visit, and during those years [in between], my love for video games and anime grew tenfold,” she shared.
So, when she and her siblings found out about the upcoming trip, best believe they planned an otaku-filled itinerary; from Artnia Square Enix Cafe and the Mega Pokemon Center to a samurai village and an overnight ryokan stay. “Before that trip, I laid low on my affection towards these fandoms. Turns out there are actually a lot of people from all over the world who grew up playing and watching the same things I did!” she gushed. At this point, you can probably guess which is her fave city. Clue: it starts with the letter T and it’s where all the energy and otaku culture are!
On how the kindness of locals makes Japan one of the best Asian countries to visit:
“I have two encounters with locals that stand out. The first was when my family and I were asking for directions to a relatively underrated attraction. We were walking for what seemed like hours before we passed by a small store that had one person manning the counter. Not only did the local point us in the right direction, but he asked for our map, got a pen, and drew the route for us! He didn’t speak English, but he did what he could and I highly appreciated that.
The second encounter was at the Hachiko statue in Shibuya. As usual, there was a line, but my friend and I really wanted to take a photo together because it was her first time in Japan. An elderly man sitting beside the statue then offered to take pictures for all the tourists lined up. Hanging over his shoulders was a small placard that said: ‘Takes pictures for free’ (or something to that effect). And yes, he was smiling warmly the whole time! Honestly, I wouldn’t appreciate Japan as much if its locals weren’t so helpful towards tourists.”
On must-dos for those visiting for the first time:
“Definitely visit the Shinto shrines and temples to get a better grasp of the country’s culture and heritage. That said, it’s also exciting and enriching to rent a kimono while visiting a shrine. It makes for a more personal way to get a glimpse of old-world Japan. But also, make sure to respect the sanctity of cultural places, and don’t go around causing too much noise or distraction just because you’re in a kimono! Remember, some professions in Japan still require their people to wear kimonos to work every day; wearing a kimono isn’t a costume party.
Lastly, experience a traditional tea ceremony and visit Mt. Fuji. These two activities basically scream ‘I’ve been to Japan!’. And believe me, after you’ve accomplished these must-dos on your first visit, no one’s going to second guess you or your love for the Land of the Rising Sun.”
3. Kevin Asio
When Kevin first travelled to South Korea in the autumn of 2017, he told the immigration officer that he was travelling for leisure. But the truth was, he planned that trip to recover from a recent heartbreak. So, why SoKor of all countries? “Coincidentally, I just started watching a K-drama on Netflix [at the time], and we all know how that changes everything,” he said. It was a six-day trip that he left to spontaneity, balancing remote work and leisure. “On most days, I just camped in cafés to work, while at night, I visited touristy places like Myeongdong and Han River Park,” he shared.
So far, Kevin has been to Korea four times: the second trip was in 2018, followed by two more during 2019. This then begs the question: what keeps him coming back for more? For him, it has a lot to do with watching his fave K-dramas. “I enjoy reliving the narrative and retracing the characters’ steps — even if it means going to a random convenience store in the middle of nowhere,” he explained.
Another thing that reels him in? The country’s history and values. He notes how amazed he is by Koreans’ dedication to improving their quality of life, as well as their ppali-ppali lifestyle that’s focused on efficiency. “I wanted to learn a thing or two about how they do things, so I just kept on coming back,” he said. Fast forward to now, Kevin is living the dream in his favourite city in the world: Seoul. And needless to say, he’s looking to make the most out of it!
On the most important things he has learned:
“First and foremost: try to speak their language. Many Koreans can hold a conversation in English, but they prefer to speak their own. While you can get by on a trip without uttering a single Korean word, locals will appreciate you more if you use their language. Just pick up a few phrases such as: ‘iced americano chuseyo’ for when you want to order coffee, or ‘Pilipin-e-so wassoyo’ for when they ask where you’re from.
Second, I’ve learned to unlearn what I know about their culture from TV shows and movies. There are many similarities, but most of it is just make-believe. It’s not always rainbows and roses if you’re in a relationship with a Korean; not everyone comes out looking straight out of a magazine and — as a YouTuber pointed out — men don’t flex their muscles when they shower. Also, people actually value a work-life balance! I’ve realised these things more when I moved to Seoul this year than when I was travelling as a tourist.
Last — and this may disappoint — most Koreans I’ve had BBQ with have rice towards the end of the meal. Yes, exactly like dessert! In the Philippines, we enjoy our samgyeopsal together with rice. But when eating Korean BBQ in South Korea, you will most likely have to finish your meat first.”
On favourite places and those he’s visiting soon:
I’m more of a city person, so Seoul is definitely my top pick. It’s a mix of everything: mountains and skyscrapers, the old and new, local and global. Another in my list of favourites is Namwon. It’s known as the ‘City of Love’ and it carries a lot of history! If you’re into fortress walls, shrines, and ruins, you’ll like this place.
Right now, there aren’t any strict travel restrictions in Korea, so people can travel domestically. When I get the time, I’ll visit the UNESCO-listed city of Gyeongju. It was the capital under the Silla Kingdom, which was founded in 57 BC!”
4. Dianne Poblete
Dianne first travelled to South Korea in May 2016, where she stayed in Seoul for a whole week. “I’ve always wanted to try travelling alone, using my own money, and for some reason, I felt like it was the best place to go,” she said. What was supposed to be a full-on solo trip became a half-solo, half-duo one. “One of my closest friends was going through a personal crisis at the time, and so he ended up joining me for the first four days,” she explained.
While travelling with her friend was a blast, the last few days when Dianne was travelling Seoul-o (get it?) also made for an amazing experience. “It was my first time to be completely alone in a different country and to fly alone internationally,” she shared. Suffice to say, it was what jump-started her love for travel. Fast forward to now, she has been to Korea a total of seven times! (Woah — we know.) As for the places she has yet to explore? Well, as soon as it’s safe to travel again, best believe she’s making a beeline for Daegu and Jeju Island.
In the course of seven trips, Dianne has learned the importance of timing when it comes to planning when to go. After all, with different seasons come different experiences and exciting local festivities. That said, you’re probably wondering when not to visit. “Definitely avoid visiting Seoul during Chuseok, since a lot of Koreans go back to their provinces during this time. A lot of establishments in the city are closed, too,” she said. So, take note, folks!
On her favourite South Korea trip so far:
“My visit last October 2019 is probably the most memorable one. Two of my closest friends got engaged on that trip! We helped our friend secretly plan the proposal ahead, and it went perfectly. That was one of the highlights, for sure, but we also made some really good memories even during the other days.”
On why South Korea is one of her fave Asian countries to visit:
“I often visit Korea to escape my very busy life here in Manila. After every trip, I always come back recharged. It’s a very dynamic and exciting country, yet I love how there are also a lot of places where I can go to slow down and be quiet with my thoughts.
This is why I’ve come to really appreciate Busan. It has all the comforts of Seoul, but with a more laid-back vibe… and a fantastic view of the ocean! It’s my favourite city in Korea so far, but honestly, I still have a lot of places to visit on my list. So, this may still change.”
5. Joser Ferreras
Having a job with a remote work setup (even before the pandemic) has allowed Joser to pursue the digital nomad life that many millennials can only dream about. In fact, this is exactly what he did on his trip to Taiwan back in 2017, where he spent two weeks exploring Taipei alone while still sticking to his work hours. “I visited tourist attractions like the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Shifen, and Taipei 101. I also watched a local basketball game, went café-hopping, went on a date with a local, and stayed with locals in a student dormitory,” he reminisced.
For a digital nomad like Joser, Taipei is definitely one of the most remote worker-friendly cities he has been to. “On both my first and last trip, I mostly worked at my accommodation and the plenty of free Wi-Fi-equipped cafés throughout the city,” he shared. Though, his fascination with Taiwan in general actually goes back to his childhood days! “It was the first country I dreamt of visiting because I loved the original Meteor Garden so much,” he admitted. “Unlike now, where I travel for the scenery and experiences, I just wanted to meet the cast of the Taiwanese drama!”
It’s therefore no surprise that Joser made it a point to check out National Taiwan University — a.k.a. the filming location of countless Meteor Garden scenes. “This was good enough for me if I couldn’t meet the original cast just yet,” he joked. Coincidentally, NTU is also what he considers one of the best places to bike in Taipei. And this is saying a lot, given that it’s a highly bike-friendly city! Yes, despite all its modern structures and upbeat urban spaces, Taipei has an abundance of green spaces as well as laid-back, nostalgic vibes; something which Joser could never have too much of.
On his favourite Taiwanese dish:
“To tell you the truth, I’m not as adventurous when it comes to trying foreign food. Still, I ended up loving their braised pork rice (lu rou fan), which you can find almost everywhere! I found that it tastes different among all the places I’ve been to, but I’d specifically recommend going to Tian Tian Li restaurant in Ximending: they serve the best-tasting bowl of lu rou fan that I’ve tried so far. I think out of the 14 meals I had in Taipei during my last visit, I spent about half in that restaurant ordering the same item (just with different side dishes) every time.”
On why Taiwan is one of the best Asian countries to visit again and again:
“I’ve been to Taiwan four times so far, one of which was a work trip. For that one, we went to Taitung to try aboriginal cuisine, learn about Taiwanese tea, and participate in the Taiwan International Balloon Festival.
We also went to this long road surrounded by an expansive rice field, with Taitung’s mountains in the background. It’s also one of the best biking destinations in the locale. I think I’d definitely want to visit this part of Taiwan again. It clearly had a lot to offer, but given our limited time, we only managed to see a few!”
6. Charmaine Acha
Ever wondered what it’s like travelling to Taiwan thrice in one year? Just ask Charmaine! The year was 2017, and she visited the ‘Heart of Asia’ during March, May to June, and July. Pretty exciting, isn’t it? “On my very first trip, I went with my boyfriend and some friends. It was springtime, so we were able to catch the cherry blossoms!” she shared. She considers this trip as the most bucket list-worthy, mostly for the cherry blossom and her cycling adventure highlights.
Meanwhile, the second trip was for work, where Charmaine was able to see the beauty of other underrated Taiwan cities like Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung. As for the most recent one, it was an enviable romantic getaway with her boyfriend (of over a decade!). “We stayed in a lakeside cabin in Sun Moon Lake and went around the scenic area on a bike,” she said. (We don’t know about you, but this definitely sounds like something straight out of a kilig Asian drama!)
When asked about why Taiwan is number one on her list of Asian countries to visit again and again, Charmaine admits that there are so many reasons; from the lovely bicycle trails and efficient public transportation, to countless exciting things to do. Although, if she had to narrow it down to three, it would be the street food, the four seasons (in certain areas), and the people. “What really captured my heart are the warm, kind locals. Despite the language barrier, you’ll feel their sincerity and genuine soul,” she explained. “You’ll understand what I mean when you’re there.”
On Taiwan destinations that she has yet to visit:
“I’ve already explored the west coast of Taiwan; from the north (Taipei) to the central (Taichung and Nantou) down to the southern parts (Tainan and Kaohsiung). So, when it’s safe to travel again, I would love to explore the east coast — especially Hualien and Taitung.”
On must-know tips for first-time travellers:
“First and foremost: buy an EasyCard as soon as you touch down. You can use this card when riding trains, buses, and even renting a bike! You can get it from the airport, MRT stations, or even convenience stores. Second, I highly recommend buying a local SIM card. This will keep you from having to turn on your data roaming (especially during an emergency), which could potentially cost you a lot.
Third would be to bring your passport with you all the time. You might be asked to present your passport for identity or when purchasing something. This is also required for when you’re buying a SIM card. And finally, if you’d like to visit more than one city, Taipei is always a good starting point. From there, you can take the Taiwan High Speed Rail to hop from one spot to another — if you have the luxury of time, that is. Or, you could always come back for more… like I did!”
It probably goes without saying that these Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan regulars are absolutely #TravelGoals. And we, for one, can’t wait to hear more about their future stories in their favourite Asian countries to visit — once it’s safe again!
How about you — what are some of your dream Asian countries to visit again and again? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments.