North Asia & Japan

Welcome to a land of contrasts, a region where you will find the world’s most populous country right next to its least populous. Places that are home to the world’s biggest cities, located next to one of the world’s last great wildernesses as urbanism collides with the wild. North Asia is home to some of the most welcoming countries in the world as well as two of the most secretive and closed off. This area is well known for strange sights and experiences so it’s right up our alley – wait until you see what Inverted Atlas can do in North Asia and Japan! Robot restaurant anyone?

Destination Highlights

Afāq Khoja Mausoleum, China

Located in the far west of China in the province of Xinjiang just outside the town of Kashgar is the Afaq Khoja Mausoleum. The mausoleum was established in 1640 as the resting place of Muhammad Yūsuf, a Central Asian holy man thought to be responsible for bringing Sufism to China proper. Later, Muhammad’s more famous son and successor Afaq Khoja was interred there along with five generations of the Afaqi family. The mausoleum is also the resting place of the so-called ‘fragrant concubine’ one of Afaq Khoja’s descendants and wife of a rogue leader captured by the Qianlong Emperor’s troops and taken to Beijing to serve as the emperor’s concubine. Refusing to serve him she was forced to commit suicide or was murdered by the emperor’s mother or so a Uyghur tale tells us.

Aryapala Meditation Centre, Mongolia

Situated in Terelj National Park in the Mongolian wilderness just outside Ulaanbaatar, this Buddhist meditation centre occupies a spectacular location set into the hillside. The centre is reached by a sloping walk uphill; whose path is lined with Buddhist proverbs. Around the halfway point there is a prayer wheel which, when spun points to the number of the proverb that best suits the travelers life. Just before the main staircase to reach the main temple cross an old swing bridge and then ascend the steep stone steps and meet the little old caretaker who has spent decades working here. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, turn around to be greeted with an astounding view of the surrounding wilderness.

The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

One of Japan’s most iconic sites and a must visit while in the city of Kyoto. The pavilion has a history dating back to 1397 and was originally a villa belonging to a powerful statesman. Besides the obviously beautiful Zen Buddhist temple, to which the original villa was converted, the site is home to some of the most spectacular gardens in Japan and that’s really saying something! Designed as a “strolling garden,” the location implements the idea of borrowing scenery or ‘shakkei’ integrating the outside with the inside and creating an extension of the views surrounding the pavilion, connecting it to the outside world.

Frequently asked question about North Asia and Japan

China requires that most nationalities obtain a visa. Inverted Atlas will supply you with the necessary documentation. Please be aware the if you decide to travel with a Chinese airline to another destination transiting in China (depending on the city) you may require a visa. If you intend to travel to your destination via China and then enter China as part of your trip at a later point, you may need a double entry or even a multi entry visa.

Taiwan allows many countries to obtain a 90-day visa on arrival and for Hong Kong nationals of 170 countries can enter visa free. Please double check with your consulate if you require a visa prior to departure.

Mongolia requires most nationalities to obtain a visa. Please check with your local consulate for requirements for your nationality.

Japan has a visa on arrival program for nationals of 68 countries. Please check with your local consulate if your country is among these.

South Korea permits visa free entry for many nationalities. Please check with your local consulate if your nationality is among these.

North Korea requires that all travellers regardless of nationality obtain a visa. The visa will be obtained by the local partners of Inverted Atlas and is included in the price of the trip.

Yes, for most countries. For services you undertake independently such as a meal in a restaurant you should budget roughly a 10% tip. Tipping is of course discretionary and should be in line with the quality of service received.

Tipping for local guides, drivers and other providers whose services are listed on the itinerary are included in the trip price.

Tipping is not customary in Japan.

Japanese Yen is easily obtainable via reliable ATM’s or by exchanging US Dollars, Euros or Pounds Stirling. Credit Cards are widely accepted.

In China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea you should bring a good amount of US Dollars with you to exchange. ATM’s are available but can be unreliable and sometimes do not work with foreign cards. Credit cards are widely accepted, but sometimes don’t work in some local machines.

In Mongolia ATM’s are readily available in the capital and are fairly reliable. It would be handy to bring a good amount of US Dollars to exchange when ATM’s are not available in more rural and remote locations. Please note, the Mongolian currency, the Tugrik has no worth outside Mongolia and should be exchanged or spent prior to leaving Mongolia.

North Korea cash is king. Bring US dollars, Euros, pounds or even Chinese RMB to exchange or spend. Credit cards are useless, and ATM’s only work with local cards.

You should check with your local provider if coverage is provided in the countries on your itinerary prior to departure. Make sure you are also aware of their international roaming charges.

This is one area of the world where picking up a local SIM is not easy. In China the best place to get a SIM is at the airport on arrival. If you need to get a SIM when you get to town you will need to go to the head office of the telco to get it!

In South Korea also the best place to obtain a local SIM is on arrival at the airport.

In Mongolia you can obtain a local SIM card from telco’s located in the shopping centre which is attached to the Shangri La hotel in Ulaanbaatar and this is a fairly quick and easy process.

Local SIM cards are easily obtainable from vendors in Japan. North Korea – forget it.

If you wish to use a local SIM you will need to ensure your phone is unlocked prior to departure from your home country.

Internet access and WiFi in Japan and South Korea is probably going to be some of the best you have ever used.

Internet and WiFi are widely available in China although due to the countries firewall it will likely be some of the slowest you have ever used. Please be aware that China’s firewall blocks out social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, communication apps like Whatsapp and Messenger, as well as information services like Google, Google maps, Gmail and Wikipedia to name a few. If you wish to use these services, we recommend getting a good VPN prior to departure.

Internet and WiFi are good in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, in remote destinations there is unlikely to be any connectivity.

North Korea does not have reliable internet and WiFi and these services are primarily used by government officials.

Toilets – All hotels in North Asia have clean, upright western toilets. Public toilets you encounter will likely be of the eastern squat variety. In Japan all toilets may have some automation, play music or even have heated seats. Do not be alarmed.

Pharmacies – Pharmacies are readily available in major cities, although it is unlikely that the pharmacist will speak English. If you require medication from a pharmacy, please let your trip leader know as far in advance as possible. They will be able to arrange your local guide to go with you to collect what you need, or the local guide may be able to pick up what you require on your behalf. Pharmacies are available in most places in Japan and South Korea.

Hospitals – Hospitals in large cities are generally of a good standard (with the exception of North Korea). Hospitals in Japan are state of the art. We ask that if you are feeling unwell that you let your trip leader know as soon as possible and consider their advice when it comes to hospital admission. Trip Leaders have the discretion to remove someone from the trip if they feel that continuing would endanger their health.

Please ensure you purchase adequate travel insurance that includes repatriation to your home country in the event of a medical emergency.

For all medication please carry a note from your GP detailing what medication you are on and why you are taking it to show to officials should you be asked.

You should be aware that some prescription medications are illegal in North Korea and China and could be confiscated on arrival. Unfortunately, it is also the case that legal medication could be confiscated through lack of education or because the official is simply being overzealous.

Absolutely not. Please do not even brush your teeth with the water. Most hotels provide complimentary bottled water for this purpose.

Drinking the water is likely to result in hospitalisation.

In Japan the water is clean, however, different chemicals are used during the purification process so it could still cause a mild stomach upset. We would still recommend drinking bottled water in this instance.

The food differs from location to location.

In China, Japan, North and South Korea the cuisine is very heavily based on rice and noodles. Soups and stir-fries are also common.

Mongolia’s cuisine is very meat heavy. It is not uncommon for an entire sheep to be served up onto the table! BBQ and hotpot are also popular dishes.

In Japan and South Korea absolutely. Please disclose these when you secure your place on the trip so that we can make our local providers aware.

Dietary requirements such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten free are very hard to cater for in Mongolia, China and North Korea. We will do our best to ensure your needs are met, however this may not always be possible especially in remote locations. If you would still like to join us despite this, please consider bringing some food from home for the occasions your dietary requirements cannot be accommodated.

Your trip leader may not be able to accommodate any dietary requirements that have not been disclosed in advance.

If you are visiting western China you may be visiting a number of mosques. Women should bring a scarf to cover their hair, as well as long pants or a skirt for these visits.

Men should bring long pants for visiting mosques.