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The Best of Asia – A Survey on Asian Countries
Asia is the world’s largest continent and one of its most diverse. From this vast expanse springs many ancient customs, beautiful traditions, and colourful characters giving it all such a vivid and joyful expression. In a rapidly developing and increasingly modern continent, the old ways are accorded their proper respect here and grow in tandem with the new instead of being swept away by it. In this issue, Top 10 of Asia runs the rule over the finest the land has to offer through its own poll results for categories ranging from Asia’s Cleanest Country to Asia’s Country for Best Street Food.
Kicking things off with Asia’s Cleanest Country category, it comes as no surprise to find Singapore leading the way this year. A habitual occupant at the top of lists like these, the small, heavily urbanized, island city-state neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia has been described as being “so clean that bubble gum is a controlled substance”. Known for its perfectly paved roads, immaculately manicured public parks, as well as its world-famous airport, cleanliness is more than just an aesthetic ideal here – it is emblematic of the social progress and rapid economic advancement the country has attained since gaining independence 57 years ago.
Moving on to Asia’s Safest Country, we find Japan as the frontrunner for this year. With a low crime rate and a culture that reinforces that through its collectivist traits such as group orientation and an inclination towards harmony, Japan’s safety is a product of not only the cultural, but the procedural too. With a high presence of security at businesses, banks, and other areas the public is wont to be, the few that may harbour criminal intentions are put off acting on them by the ever-vigilant eyes standing guard.
Casting an eye towards the contenders for Asia’s Easiest Country to Do Business In, Hong Kong emerges top amongst some stiff competition. Well-recognised as one of the world’s premier financial centres, the standard corporate tax rate is a palatable 16.5% and corporations will find the first HKD 2 million of assessable profits subject to merely half that. With no goods and services taxes and gains from investments or capital transactions also exempt from tax, Hong Kong provides some very attractive conditions for business people to operate in. Hong Kong also serves as the commercial and infrastructural gateway for foreign businesses looking to tap into the potential that lies in Mainland China.
Business is all well and good and economic development is undoubtedly important, but what about sustainability? Here comes South Korea. The East Asian economic powerhouse leads the way in this regard and is this poll’s pick for Asia’s Most Sustainable Country. Few countries are as committed to sustainability as South Korea is, and the national Green New Deal is perhaps the most comprehensive of its efforts to date. Among the first countries to embrace green growth as a national development strategy, South Korea’s Green New Deal has seen it set aside US$62.5 billion in public investment to achieve its sustainability goals.
The world has made great strides in the field of women’s empowerment over the past several years. While gender gaps still exist and there remains a lot of work to be done to close those gaps, the Philippines is well on its way and finds itself ahead of the pack. Clinching the top spot as Asia’s Best Country for Women’s Equality, women rank closely with men in the Southeast Asian archipelago on several key indicators including economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment, and political empowerment.
Education is of the utmost importance in order to build a better future. Tomorrow is in the hands of the youths and on their shoulders is our dependence for the realisation of our dreams of a brighter future. Malaysia has prepared itself well when it comes to moulding young minds and its efforts have seen the country named Asia’s Best Country for Education. Fast becoming a higher education hub in the region, Malaysia is an attractive choice for its affordability both in terms of tuition fees and cost of living. With branches of well-respected universities making their way to Malaysian shores, the country is gaining a reputation for world-class education made accessible.
Vietnam is the poll favourite for Asia’s Best Country for Manufacturing and for good reason too. Lower labour costs coupled with enhanced manufacturing capabilities, diversification, and an assortment of trade agreements have made Vietnam a prime destination in the manufacturing space. A member of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), Vietnam has trade pacts with China, South Korea, and Australia to name a few from within the region. Looking further beyond sees Vietnam in trade agreements with both the EU and the Russian-led Customs Union block. The country is also in negotiations for a free trade agreement with the EFTA countries, these being Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.
Vietnam was also Asia’s Fastest Growing Economy this year with good prospects in the coming year. This is despite a regional downturn spearheaded by China’s severe economic deceleration. The country’s combination of relatively effective COVID-19 containment measures in the midst of the pandemic, demographic advantages, and a privileged place in the structure of the regional and global economy means that it is well-positioned to capitalise on its potential. Despite predictions of some potential headwinds, Vietnam is primed to reap the economic benefits of the growing Sino-American competition.
Asia has always been a favourite amongst those from foreign lands looking for a bit of exoticism. Thailand in particular is a popular tourist destination and the fact that it is Asia’s Most Tourism Friendly Country has a lot to do with that. Good food, agreeable weather, vibrant nightlife, and a host of enchanting islands mean Thailand has something for just about anybody. Dive along the 1,500-mile coastline, pay a visit to its many beautiful Buddhist temples, and throw yourself into the chaos of the Bangkok night – Thailand promises an experience unlike any other. It is one of Asia’s safest countries for tourists as well so you can rest assured that you will have the time of your life and come back in one piece.
For Asia’s Most Eventful Country, there could only have been one answer this year and that is Qatar. Not commonly thought of as a particularly eventful nation in previous years, that all changed with the country managing to secure the biggest event of them all – the FIFA World Cup. The first Middle Eastern country to ever play host to football’s most prestigious tournament, Qatar pulled out all the stops to make this momentous occasion one for the history books. State-of-the-art stadiums fitted with never before seen air conditioning technology to beat the Qatari heat illustrate just how determined the country was to realise the seemingly impossible.
Amidst heated competition from across the continent, Taiwan managed to clinch the accolade for the nation with Asia’s Country for Best Street Food. Taiwanese culinary philosophy dictates that you eat small and you eat often and as a result, you will find no shortage of bite-sized delights to be discovered. A mixture of Fujian cuisine and flavours from the southern provinces of China – with a little bit of Japanese influence thrown in – some of the most popular dishes here are the Xiao Long Bao steamed dumplings with a rich broth filling, Gau Bao (a soft white bun stuffed with seasoned pork belly herbs and crushed peanuts), and the Tianjing Chong Zhua Pancake or Spring Onion Pancake. More adventurous diners can test their palates with stinky tofu – a fermented tofu dish with an odour that has been compared to that of rotten garbage and smelly feet.
Staying on the topic of food, we find Japan again, recognised this time as Asia’s Best Country for Fine Dining. Japan is home to the highest number of Michelin restaurants per capita anywhere in the world, with Tokyo having the most Michelin stars of any city outright. Japan’s famous capital city has one of the largest and most sophisticated restaurant markets in the world, with the Tokyo metropolitan area home to roughly 160,000 restaurants catering to its 30 million strong population. With well over 500 Michelin-star restaurants located throughout the country, the Japanese are spoilt for choice when it comes to fine dining options.
Asia is not at all short on affordable tourism destinations, but which one offers the best bang for your buck? The poll suggests that it is Laos that deserves the title of Asia’s Country for Best-Value-for-Money Tourism. An underrated tourism gem in Southeast Asia, not many are privy to its charms, especially when compared to the adoration neighbouring countries Thailand and Vietnam receive. All that could be set to change in the coming years though. Laos is fast gaining popularity for its dense jungles, pristine waterfalls, rustic charm, and its hospitable locals. Adventurers make their way here to enjoy the thrills of white-water rafting, hiking, kayaking, and exploring the untarnished Laotian wilderness.
Keeping with the theme of tourism, the survey picked Cambodia as Asia’s Top Tourist Destination Country for this year. Best known for the colossal temples of Angkor Wat and for the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, it is perhaps the history that draws visitors from far and wide. History is not all it has to offer though. Cambodia’s sandy white beaches beckon every beach bum and its jungle-swathed countryside just begs to be explored by intrepid spirits. The vibrant capital of Phnom Penh is well worth a visit, as is the immensely popular Siem Reap. Make sure to pay a visit to its glittering Royal Palace and step into the otherworldly Bayon.
Indonesia finds itself in pole position In Asia’s Best Country for Beaches category and this should come as no surprise. Made up of over 18,000 islands, it comes down to sheer probability that Indonesia would have its fair share of stunning beaches. The beaches of Bali and Lombok need neither introduction nor elaboration but your options are far from limited to just either. One of only seven such beaches in the world, the Pink Beach in Komodo with its cotton candy-hued sand might just be the pick of the bunch. Located in Komodo National Park, you will find a number of Komodo dragons on the prowl just a short distance away – and what a magnificent sight to behold.
In Asia’s Best Country for Conservation, Bhutan secures the votes for its outsized commitment to conservation despite being one of the world’s smallest countries. With the conservation of the environment as one of the four fundamental pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness philosophy, the Bhutan constitution mandates that at least 60% of its land is preserved under forest cover. In a world where many nations have set ambitious goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, Bhutan became the first country to actually become carbon negative. Evidence of this commitment can be found everywhere in Bhutan, with many endangered species such as the majestic Bengal tiger, the elusive snow leopard, and elegant black cranes all roaming freely in the country’s 5 million-acre network of protected areas.
Mongolia impressed enough to win out in Asia’s Best Country for Cultural Experience category, with the deeply historic East Asian nation inspiring awe in those fortunate enough to visit its rich and fertile plains. The world’s most sparsely populated country, Mongolia is also the largest country that does not border a closed sea. Approximately a third of the country is either nomadic or semi-nomadic, with horses featuring as an intrinsic part of their culture. Sport is another element with a strong presence in the Mongolian way of life, as is music. Watching a statuesque Mongolian wrestler in action or listening to the ethereal tones of a Mongolian throat singer decorating the air have sent shivers down many a spine.
It is perhaps to nobody’s surprise that the Maldives is Asia’s Best Country for Resorts. The dream holiday destination is famous the world over for its grand, sweeping, panoramic beauty. Private villas suspended above hypnotic turquoise oceans, beaches as white as the driven snow, and mesmeric sunsets make Asia’s smallest country an unparalleled honeymoon escape. You can experience all of that at its eminently hospitable resorts that will attend to your every need and more. Pay a visit to the rustic chic Six Senses Laamu, the sleek and luxurious One&Only Reethi Rah, or the hedonistic fantasy that is Huvafen Fushi. Whichever one you pick promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Maybe relaxing on a beach and sipping martinis is not quite your thing. Maybe you would much rather be up and about, making your way through mountain passes and around the lip of picturesque lakes. If that is the case, then keep Tajikistan in view, as Asia’s Most Interesting Hiking Destination Country has a lot to offer. Those looking to blaze new trails will no doubt enjoy uncovering all the mysteries of this largely unexplored Central Asian country. Crystal-clear lakes, mountainous deserts, and icy tundras await the brave and the curious. Pack your gear, roll up your maps, and set out for the adventure of a lifetime.
Are you an adrenaline junkie with an insatiable appetite for excitement? Do you live for the kind of rush only the dangerous can offer? Nepal might be just the place for you then as Asia’s Best Country for Extreme Sports. Home to eight of the highest mountains in the world, including the highest of them all Mount Everest, Nepal is the place to be for seasoned mountaineers. It is also one of the best places in the world for white-water rafting trips with a number of clean, bouncy rivers flanked by sandy beaches and forested hills. Does ordinary rock climbing sound a bit too boring? What about chipping your way up a frozen waterfall? Ice climbing is not for everyone – but if you think it is for you, now you know where to go.