While in the same geographic region, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Vietnam could not be more different. Think East meets West capitalism, Muslim and Buddhist influences, respectively.
Qatar is the first Arab nation to host the World Cup and the fourth wealthiest country in the world by GDP per capita. While culturally part of the Middle East, Qatar sits in West Asia geographically. It is a peninsula of 11,500 square kilometers with a long coastline on the western Arabian Gulf. Qatar has a population of 3 million – only 500,000 of which are Qatari – and represents 200 nationalities! Doha is its uber modern capital.
The Uzbek capital of Tashkent shows its Soviet and Persian pasts and cultural Muslim present. The horse country of Kyrgyzstan has a Soviet-esque capital, Bishkek, and pristine Lake Issyk-Kul, where eagles soar, horses run free and snow-capped mountains stretch as far as the eyes can see.
As a major producer of silk since the 4th century, Uzbekistan was an integral part of the Silk Route, the ancient trade route linking China to the west. Bukhara and Samarkand were on this route and have UNESCO-recognized historic centers that are 1,500 to 2,500 years old. Shakhrisyabz is even older and also on UNESCO’s list. All three cities have stunning examples of Persian architecture.
The USSR was a communist state and federal union of 15 national republics spanning Eurasia from 1922 to 1991. These republics included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. All formed independent states by the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.
With more than 4,000 years of recorded history, China was a pioneer of human civilization yet had many social and political setbacks over time. Culturally, it has always been a destination of fascination, particularly because it developed with relatively little outside influence (except Buddhism came from India) in spite of bordering 14 countries. But this quasi-isolation left China ill-prepared to cope with technologically superior countries from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. This sparked an internal revolution in the early 1900s against the old regime, culminating in a dominant communist government in 1949. Today, it is making a comeback as one of the world’s superpowers.
Japan has one of the most unique cultures in the world with elaborate social etiquette and extremes from ttea ceremonies to hostess clubs. This small country, comprised of five main islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa), has also been an economic tiger in Asia for more than a century. While “tossed out of the #sumo ring” a few times in recent decades in terms of GDP, it has always been a cultural force.
South Korea was formed with the creation of the 38th parallel in 1945 to separate the communist north from the democratic south. The Korean War that followed was a proxy for the Cold War between the USSR and United States. Seoul traces this history as well as deep Chinese influence in this long line and words, respectively.
Lifestyles of the rich and religious abound in the United Arab Emirates, particularly in the wealthiest of them all: Abu Dhabi. It is dripping in oil with richesse second to few. Home to the UAE’s largest mosque and the world’s first governmental artificial intelligence department, Abu Dhabi invests in both religion and science. In the nearby desert lies gold in the form of fine sand, which hosts dune and camel cruising, Bedouin camps, whirling dervishes and belly dancers. All of it shakes up your mind in the land of sheikhs.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is a luxurious, surreal city-state that’s home to many of the world’s largest infrastructures. It is literally rimmed in gold and just about any indulgence you can imagine. It also intersects vastly different Muslim and ex-pat cultures. But they are united in living large.