City vs. Countryside. Why you need to see both when traveling.

City vs. Countryside. Why you should see both when traveling.

City vs. Countryside. Why you should see both when traveling.

Some people prefer the life in the big city and some people prefer the relaxed life in the countryside and the province. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and the same goes for these two when traveling. As I have wandered across Southeast Asia but also during previous journeys, I visited not only off the beaten track destinations but also major metropolitan cities. A lot of people tend to not like them and are happy to leave them rather sooner than later. The call of beaches, palm trees, high mountains and picturesque villages  is just too intriguing. However, I think to really get an understanding of a country, its culture and its people, you should see both. City and countryside, both very distinct, very different and both offering totally different aspects of traveling. But both representing their country in their own unique way.


Life in the City

In terms of modern culture and the development of a country, the big cities act like a magnifying glass. Everything seems to be condensed, dynamic and ones impressions can be very diverse. Especially the Southeast Asian cityscapes can be a constant source of contrast and diversity due to the ever-present clash of old and new and the advance of modernity. This usually makes for a great mix and offers us tourists interesting opportunities to explore and discover.

Markets of every kind can usually be found in every bigger city. Let it be markets for food only or markets for literally everything like the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok for example. The hustle and bustle, the locals bargaining, the new and exotic smells, and foods which you maybe have never seen before all make for a unique experience. And they are usually a great a source for finding unique souvenirs for friends and family at home.

Market scene

Markets as interesting feature for your next city tour. Fish makes a bad souvenir though.

History and Culture
The big cities are usually the place to be if you are into culture and history. The biggest temples and best museums are found there.  Especially if you travel to a foreign country, checking out a couple of museums to learn a little bit about the country’s history is never wrong. It’ll not only help you understand the past but the present as well. And if you had enough of history and culture, a nice café or a quiet park to unwind are usually never too far away.

Royal Palace Bangkok.

The Royal Palace in Bangkok. One of the city’s main cultural sites.

Manila Sights

Intramuros and national hero Jose Rizal’s footsteps in Fort Santiago, Manila – The Philippines.

Street Photography
People in the cities are usually very busy. They have no time to deal with that foreigner stopping by. That is a great chance to observe the locals’ daily lives and can also make for some great photo opportunities. People who are preoccupied with what they do, won’t take notice of you, which will allow you to take interesting photographs. These street scenes, as I call it, are the essence of good street photography.

Hairdresser in Hanoi

Typical street scene in Hanoi, Vietnam. A hairdresser on the street.

Street photography Kuala Lumpur

Street photography in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Busy people.

The big cities usually offer a great variety of nightlife. Bars, restaurants and clubs and so much more. The way the locals go out at night is also part of the local culture and always worth to check out at least once. Sitting at a street corner on a small plastic stool in busy Hanoi, Vietnam and drinking an ice cold Bia Hoi among locals is sure an experience in itself. It is also great to unwind in a bar after a busy day of walking around or a long museum tour and reminisce about the day’s events.

Phnom Penh Night Scene

Having a drink on the balcony of the famous FCC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is a must when in town.

The province

The province or the countryside usually offer what the tourist is really after. Pristine beaches, impressive mountains, the unique local life and just that picture perfect place you have seen on the internet before. Whereas cities are always a little bit alike, the rural regions of a country display its true identity. Life how it used to be and life how it still is in most parts of the country. Apart from the touristic attractions themselves the provinces offer, there are certain factors which make exploring them so special.

Getting in touch with locals
In those regions not yet influenced by the effects of mass tourism, the locals seem to be more open and welcoming towards tourists. Meeting a foreigner is something that maybe doesn’t happen too often and is hence interesting. The tourists are not seen as a source of income but as guests. That alone can make for a great experience. In the end, traveling is not only about the touristic attractions but also about the interactions with the people, especially the locals. And those interactions I found a lot easier to come by and more rewarding in the countryside.

Gubat Sorsogon Group

Local friends in Gubat, Sorsogon – The Philippines.

I found people in the province being very hospitable. Maybe also due to the fact, that tourism didn’t have that much of an influence yet. The chances are high, that you might get an invitation for lunch or that someone invites you into their home. At the same time, accommodations tend to be much more localized. Small guest houses or even better, homestays can make for an authentic and very different experience.

Invited for a delicious, local lunch in Gubat, Sorsogon - The Philippines.

Invited for a delicious, local lunch in Gubat, Sorsogon – The Philippines.

The simple Life
Finally, what I love about roaming around the countryside is that you can set your perception of things straight again. You see how people go about their lives with the essentials, no luxuries and none of the things we might find necessary. And you know what, they are still happy, and probably even happier than a lot of other people out there. The simple life is the best life and a few days in the province help to again become aware of that. Return revived and inspired and with new appreciation of your life back home.

Simple life. Good family life and everybody healthy and happy. Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Simple life. Family, friends and everybody healthy and jappy. What more to ask for. Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Last thoughts

The countryside and the cities – sometimes two different worlds within one country. But both represent it’s culture in their own way. If you are exploring a new country or even your own, you should take time to see both. In the end, taking the time to enjoy one of them makes you appreciate the other even more. It is a good mix of both that makes traveling most enjoyable. And don’t get put off by other people’s opinions about places, you have to go and see for yourself.

What do you think? Do you prefer big city life or roaming around in the provinces? And which is your favorite big city. Mine is probably Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Bangkok in Thailand.

Categories: Inspiration, Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “City vs. Countryside. Why you need to see both when traveling.

  1. another worthwhile read phil. keep us inspiring to travel. cheers. 🙂

  2. Esabela

    This is so true. No matter you’re a city or a country pal, when traveling, one should see both. Get the most out of the travel and people experience. For me, it’s probably Saigon because of the abundance of cheap and safe food – especially the sweetest of fruits (which I btw experienced first in BKK). But this is relative because Vietnamese cuisine is my favorite. I also like Shanghai because it is modern yet there’s a suburban feel to it (perhaps bec of the expat families living there). And of course, Manila – especially when I see photos of it. I think the lost charm of Manila prevails in photos and (unfortunately) not so much in the experience of it.

    • Hey Esa, great that you feel the same way about seeing both aspects of a country. Saigon is a special place, no doubts. I kinda like it even if I had my camera stolen there. It’s got an interesting vibe and it is full of history. I will go again but then I will be extra cautious. I was actually positvely surprised by Manila. A lot of people had warned me about it and urged me to leave the city better sooner than later. But I had a good experience there. Maybe also due to the fact that we had local friends shwoing us around and all. Cheers Esa, take care

      • Esabela

        It does make a difference when locals show you around the best way they know how. Or at least bring you to the food joints not frequented by tourists. Then you get an authentic experience. Thanks Philipp, more power to you!

    • That is definitely right…. It is hard to find these joints if you are not with a local. But it makes a lot more worthwhile …..

  3. very informative info. thanks!

  4. very informative… i’m glad i chanced upon your site.. i usually travel with friends… and the funny thing is we just take pictures…this type of blog would help us appreciate all cultures… thanks!

    • Hi Ilana, glad you liked reading my articles and that you found a little bit of inspiration.. All the best to you and happy travels …

  5. apology for the multiple receipts of comments…i keep on editing, and can’t delete. you can’t delete the first two. have a great day! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping Ilana. I appreciate it, and don’t worry about the comment. I can admin it from here.

  6. Hello there..

    I experienced living on both. I grew up in province and practice my career in the city before living overseas. I can say that I would still prefer the life in my hometown. I have this long time dream to travel around the world and experience different cultures (i’m a dreamer hehehe) may God grant me enough time and resources to do that. As of now, I’m learning a culture too far from my own but not as part of my travel plans but because of my work..hehe. Later this year I will start a small step in making my dream come into reality….im eggzzoited! hehehe.

    • Where do you work now then? I think if I would live in the Philippines, I would also prefer living in the province…. I like the serenity, the nice people and to be in touch with nature. Especially the sea and the mountains. It frees my mind… After having spend too much time in the city, I really need it ….. Cheers Tata!

      • In Doha, imagine how different their culture here..respect for culture differences is one way to blend in harmony with the locals. Yeah mountains specially the sight of hidden beautiful waterfalls are worth the long hike. I miss my home. 😦
        Cheers! More exciting travel experience for you and please continue to share it on your blog for reference to other travelers too 😉

      • Hi Tata, I have never been to Doha. I bet it must be totally different from your home… Totally understandable that you miss it …. Thanks for your support … I will try to keep it coming …

  7. Jenn

    I like quaint little towns the most when I travel, some favorites are Luang Prabang in Laos, Sagada in my country, the Philippines, Shaxi in Yunnan… My all time favorite big city would have to be San Francisco. 🙂

    • Hi Jenn, wow you have been to nice places. I also liked Luang Prabang a lot. How was Yunnan? I really wanna go there some day…..

      • Jenn

        Hi Phil, Yunnan is beautiful, although some places are tourist traps already, there are still quaint towns worth seeing. Dali is one, I love the vibes of old and new, similar to Luang Prabang. Shaxi, is just magical, like you are coming out of a set of a shaolin movie. Lijiang is more commercial but we stayed in the outskirts, Shuhe is pretty quaint, my friend said that it is comparable to hoi an in Vietnam. Find your way there if you can.

    • Hi Jenn, thanks a lot for these tips. That just sounds great. I am sure I would like the places you mentioned. How much time did you spend in the province then?

    • Ahh ok….2 weeks is not too bad. I will try to make my way there …. Cheers for the info Jenn!

  8. Love it! I completely agree with you. You need to see all aspects of a country; the big city life and the rural areas. My favorite city is Bangkok since it’s my hometown and it still amazes me. Great post! 🙂

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