There is a lot of talk about the cheapest destinations, the most affordable countries, and the easiest places to go. But if you only focus on these traits, you weed out some of the most fascinating cities and anomalies in the world. What if you want to visit a place not for its monetary accessibility but rather, for its inaccessibility?
Imagine it… a place that you visit and know you could never live exactly as some people live there. That’s exciting. It’s overwhelming. People talk about a variety of experiences, but they leave out the unattainable. If you’re lucky even to get a glimpse or a taste of that life, you’ll gain experience in the way that the inequalities of the world will be clearer to you than ever.
Let’s get this one out of the way first, as most people already know about Dubai. Dubai was a city created for luxury, for inaccessibility, for grandeur in size and attitude. It is where native Emiratis and scores of people from abroad go to play, but it’s also where workers from India and the Philippines go to work.
It is a strange, complex city built from nothing. Dubai was a concept that seems to have been successful. Its model of “build it and they will come” has inspired many Eastern countries, from Georgia to Turkey, to use it to develop places like Batumi and Istanbul. Even if you’re not rich, Dubai is an interesting place that shouldn’t be overlooked or summed up as the place with the world’s tallest building.
Shanghai is a place that has transformed in the last 25 years. In recent years, largely due to major political shifts, there has been an abundance of wealth concentrated in this sprawling metropolis. Shanghai is huge, and it definitely has everything you want.
Between rooftop clubs, sleek hotels, fine wine and tobacco, high sales of full electric vehicles, and some of the best low-cost Chinese food, Shanghai is dynamic and incongruous. The bullet train gets you from the airport to the city in less than half the time, but for more than double the price. Three blocks away from a three-story Starbucks, a toddler is bathed near a building serving the most amazing dumplings you’ve ever had. Spend a few days or the rest of your life in Shanghai, you will always be in deep waters.
Singapore is, on paper, a lot like Shanghai. However, in temperament, they are also quite different. Both undergoing a major social upheaval, both surrounded by water, and both exceedingly rich due to recent changes in their geopolitical climate — it’s incredible how they nonetheless still manage to differ. Singapore is an island nation, but just the area of greater Shanghai has 20 million more people.
Singapore’s airport has everything you need and more to entertain yourself. Yes, it has beliefs rooted in its social and political influences, but it’s also surrounded by green, cheap food, and surprisingly permissive attitudes on drinking and intimacy. Things are almost eerily utopian in Singapore. Follow the rules and everything will be great.
People say it all the time, but in Tokyo everything seems to work. The trains are fast and on-time. People walk in huge formations quietly and politely. The streets are clean. Businesses are stacked up sky-high in buildings. You can get what you want, but you have to be polite.
Tokyo is futuristic in all kinds of ways. Voices talk to you on the streets. Robots wave hello. The bullet train system that can take you from Tokyo to another city in Japan is amazing and easy. It’s difficult not to like the efficiency and wonder that is Tokyo.
In some ways, if you want to know what the future holds, just look to the East. The West has been center on the world stage for many years. Now Asian countries, economies, and cities are revealing how big and diverse the world really is. When you want to see Asia and want to get to know this kind of difference, try visiting one of these cities.
In doing so, you will gain a greater understanding of how our neighbors across the sea live their lives, and really experience the variety of human experiences that are out there. And ultimately, there is an intrinsic value in all types of life — even if they are starkly different than your own.
Ryan Beitler is a writer, journalist, and traveler who has written about travel for numerous publications and sites.