INSPIRATION • November 2018
Landing in any of Asia's major cities can be a disorienting experience, but joining a walking tour led by a local resident can make the whole process that bit easier. And not just any walking tour - opting for a tailored experience, says Ed Peters, is the best way to form a curated connection with these five spellbinding cities
Is any other city on the planet quite as mind-boggling as Tokyo? English signage is minimal and the jumble of architectural styles – veering from skyscraper to prefab – seems inexplicable. Step forward, Rafael A Balboa who besides being an avid collector of Japanese toys and monsters, also runs his own architectural practice. His three-hour tour (£60) runs through Harajuku, Omotesando, and Roppongi districts, and as well as taking in buildings and architectural design also examines the underlying aesthetic principles that inform Japanese design.
How do you capture that image that’s going to make Instagram sit up and sing? Rachel Reed is not only a pro photographer, she’s also a Sinophile fluent in all things China. Her three-hour (£365 for 1-2 people) “tog tour” canters round the Hongkou district, an area rich with Old Shanghai architecture and flavour, and Rachel will advise on how to get the best shots along the way. You’ll head to Lu Xun park, busy with locals singing and doing Tai Chi, then heads into the alleys to observe Shanghai lane life. There’s also a chance to visit an authentic xiaolongbao (dumpling) restaurant and scope out some of Shanghai's most unique buildings.
Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler once wrote that whenever he travelled to Singapore he spent most of the flight planning where he was going to eat during his stay. It’s entirely understandable – the city’s Chinese, Malay and Indian populace has spawned numerous amazing cuisines, which in turn inspired Karni Tomer, who hails from Israel, to start leading food tours. One of Karni’s most popular walks covers the ‘next generation’ of hawkers – youngsters who have quit mainstream careers to give a modern twist to traditional street eats. The three-hour foot food fest (£72) takes in some of the city’s more vibrant areas, where hawker centres and wet markets are as much social club as somewhere to pick up something to eat.
Petronas Towers might dominate the skyline in the Malaysian capital, but some of its most arresting architecture is closer to ground level. Not only are city-run heritage tours led by knowledgeable long-time residents, they are also free, stopping at 11 sites in the vicinity of Merdeka Square over the course of two and a half hours. Highlights include the Royal Selangor Club (founded in 1884), St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, and the glorious architectural mishmash that is the railway station, which embraces Neo-Moorish, Mughal and Indo-Saracenic design. (Mon, Wed, Sat: 9-11.30am; Booking: +603 269 firstname.lastname@example.org)
K-pop’s stormed the world, and Seoul’s where it started and continues to metamorphose by the day. Starting at Hongik University, Korean history and culture student Maria Caprescu heads out on a three-hour wander (£70) around all that’s cool in the capital’s trendiest ‘hoods. As well as visiting one-of-a-kind boutiques and pet cafés (featuring tame dogs, birds, meerkats – it’s a thing) Maria also expounds on the creative sphere and picks out current trends from what’s on sale. The tour pauses for a Korean meal – perhaps a bowl of staple dish, bibimbap, or a seafood pancake: a chance to refuel and ask questions.