Here are five festive East Asian destinations that you can reach from Seattle.

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Spring is an incredible time to enjoy East Asian destinations, with festivals aplenty right before the rainy, humid summer season begins. Here are five destinations you can reach from Seattle, either directly or by connecting through Tokyo, where you can stretch your legs while getting a taste of Japanese culture (and easy-travel treats) at Narita Airport.

Tokyo (Narita)  

A direct flight from Seattle whisks you to one of the world’s most fascinating cities, where spring is must-see Tokyo season. Tokyo rejoices in cherry-blossom celebrations, starting mid-March and in May, Sanja Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s largest and most exciting Shinto shrine festivals.

First-time (and repeat) Tokyo visitors enjoy exploring the city’s exhilarating blend of new and old. Between festivals, whether seeking pulsing nightlife, historic temples, contemporary art – or a robot cabaret show – you’re likely to find it here.

Tokyo’s pop-culture joys can be found amid karaoke halls throughout the city, themed cafes and cosplay stores in Akihabara, the couture crowds in Harajuku and malls near Shibuya Crossing.

More traditional culture can be explored at the ancient, serene Meiji Shrine or Senso-Ji Temple, kabuki at Kabukiza Theatre and bloom by the thousands in Ueno Park. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a spring wedding procession or photo shoot, with the bride and groom wearing gorgeous, traditional apparel.

Finish each night with fresh sushi, a big bowl of ramen noodles or small items from an izakaya (Japanese-style pub).

Spring temperatures usually require sweaters and scarves in March and April, and May temps are pleasantly pushing 68-70F.

 

When visiting Osaka, look for okonomiyaki, a dish that’s similar to pancakes with a range of mix-ins.
When visiting Osaka, look for okonomiyaki, a dish that’s similar to pancakes with a range of mix-ins.

Osaka (Itami)

To commune with the quieter, more traditional side of Japan, head to Osaka and environs. Osaka is a food-lover’s destination, with delicious, affordable treats readily available. Look for okonomiyaki – like pancakes with a range of mix-ins – and takoyaki – comfort food that may take you out of your comfort zone, but is worth the trip.

Throughout March, April and May, find illuminated shrines and numerous seasonal geisha theater events in Kyoto, including the Kitano Odori in April and the Miyako Odori, the biggest geisha dance in Kyoto, held daily in April.

World-renowned for onsen (hot spring resorts), the area is also made up of beautiful temples and stunning castles. For example, Hyogo hosts the brilliant white, pagoda-style Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Walk the property’s enormous garden, or take tea and a cake slice while enjoying views designed for royalty. Osaka City hosts The Yamamoto Nohgakudo, where visitors might catch an English-subtitled performance of traditional comic storytelling, puppet shows or Noh theater.

Two shrines shine in Kyoto —Kifune Shrine, known for its amulets (the god of matchmaking lingers here) and Fushimi Inari Taisha, an Edo-period shrine. The thousands of bright-red torii gates and stone fox statues make it a popular destination for Instagram fans, who’ve posted more than 650k photos.

This area is further south than Tokyo – so temperatures are a bit warmer, ranging from pleasant March highs of 56 to May highs of 76.

 

The National Art Gallery is among the museums that visitors to Manila can enjoy.
The National Art Gallery is among the museums that visitors to Manila can enjoy.

Manila

Manila is the capital city of the Philippines, a country made up of more than 7,000 islands, and blending Spanish, Chinese and Asian cultures. Festivals to enjoy in this predominantly Catholic country include Holy Week, around Easter in April, and Flores de Mayo in May, a monthlong celebration of the Virgin Mary.

Made up of 16 smaller cities, Manila’s charms range from the colonial-era San Agustin Church within the cobblestones of the Intramuros neighborhood, to the shiny new skyscrapers, upscale malls and high-end hotels of Makati. While it’s fine to travel between neighborhoods by taxi, a ride-sharing app or light rail, the colorful, hop-on-hop-off Jeepneys are also popular.

For cultural excursions, enjoy a quiet stroll through the Chinese Garden or Japanese Garden in the 140-acre Rizal Park. Rizal Park also hosts numerous national museums, including a Planetarium, the National Art Gallery and the National Museum of Anthropology, with artifacts such as a collection of ancient burial jars. English is one of the Philippine’s national languages, so even travelers with limited language skills will get along fine.

If you’re tired of Seattle’s cooler temps, Manila’s warm, dry season includes March and April, with average highs at around 90-93, and very little rain.

 

The Benthanh Street Food Market features vendor stalls and seating for dining.
The Benthanh Street Food Market features vendor stalls and seating for dining.

Ho Chi Minh City

Once known as Saigon, this is Vietnam’s cultural and political capital. March offers a Spring Book Festival, while April brings the solemn, ancestor-remembrance Thanh Minh Day.

Get around the city via ride-sharing apps, cabs or pedicab, while contemplating the legacy of the nation’s civil conflict at the War Remnants Museum or in Củ Chi Tunnels, which is a tangled network of tunnels and underground villages dug by Viet Cong troops. Or meditate on life at the brightly-painted Giác Lâm Pagoda, one of the city’s oldest, built in 1744.

For lighter fare, visit Benthanh Street Food Market, with vendor stalls and seating. Or look out over the city from Saigon Skydeck, on the 49th floor of Ho Chi Minh’s tallest building Bitexco Financial Tower – 200 feet taller than the Space Needle. Embrace the arts at French-designed Saigon Municipal Opera House, Artinus 3D Art Museum or the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre – where evening puppet shows take place in water, accompanied by traditional music.

As in Manila, the dry season runs through March, and March and April are warm – in the mid-80s.

 

Wat Pho is home to the massive Reclining Buddha.
Wat Pho is home to the massive Reclining Buddha.

Bangkok 

Fly into Thailand’s capital to appreciate magnificent golden shrines, filled with enormous artifacts.

Lightweight clothing, including full pants and skirts, is appropriate attire for temples, such as Wat Traimit, home to the Golden Buddha (once ensconced in a plaster and glass shell, to preserve its true value from potential thieves) and Wat Pho, where the massive Reclining Buddha rests. Every April, there’s a celebration for Emerald Buddha, comfortable inside one of old, grand Wat Phra Kaew. Nearby, the circa-1782 gleaming Grand Palace was built for Thailand’s royal family, and is now partially open to visitors.

Thailand’s outdoor street markets bustle with shoppers, browsers and vendors – one of the most popular being Chatuchak Weekend Market’s thousands of stalls, packed with everything from t-shirts to yards of silken fabric to children’s toys. Damnoen Saduak is a floating farmer’s market, where small, long boats are piled high with fruits and vegetables.

And everywhere you go, street-stall and restaurant chefs dish up spicy, flavorful meat skewers, rich curries, roast duck, veggie-laden noodles and fragrant rice. Popular dining destinations include Chinatown and the upscale waterfront Asiatique.

Spring is a great time to shop the city’s famed street markets, right before the rainy season begins.  However, spring is typically Bangkok’s hottest season, with daily temperatures in the mid-90s, which explains Songkran, the street party/water-fight festival taking over Bangkok streets in April.

And if you didn’t get a chance to visit every destination on the list – don’t worry, there’s always next spring.

 

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