I’m targeting sometime between Labor Day (early September) and the end of October. I don’t usually like hot and humid climates but since they’re prevalent in Southeast Asia, I’ll just have to deal with them. I plan to visit two cities , with possible day trips, for 5-6 days each, excluding arrival and departure days. Ideally, I’d find a reasonably priced hotel , similar to Premier Inn in the United Kingdom, under USA $125 per night. I’ve noticed Ibis has properties in Asia and I’ve had good luck with Ibis in Europe.
I enjoy experimenting with food, but my tastes aren’t very exotic. I’m comfortable with most Chinese, Thai, and Banh Mi places in Chicago , Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. I also love a good curry.
If at all possible, I’d like to avoid being hounded by children or beggars every time I go out. I’d also like to avoid places plagued with petty crime. I live in Chicago and have basic street smarts but I don’t want to be checking for my wallet every ten minutes.
I’m traveling solo and will be avoiding theme parks. I far more prefer a couple of beers and to watch football or any local sport.
September can be on the hot and humid side for much of Asia, but generally tolerable. October as a rule is generally the “best” season.
Something like Tokyo and Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City or Thailand or someplace in China) would probably be a pretty awesome combination and provide 2 very different “flavors” of Asia. Logistically, routing through Tokyo probably makes good airline sense with a connection on. Alternatively, you could fly to Seoul as your Asia hub.
For Tokyo, a big part is if you are into the Japanese food culture. That doesn’t necessarily mean sushi, but food is a huge component of Japanese culture. Going to find that perfect bowl of ramen, the “stand up noodle bar at the Naka-Meguro station”, okonomiyaki sorta crepe pancake things, the fish market at 5:00am, etc. It can be reasonably priced, especially if you have time and want to experience some adventure. If the food part of Japan doesn’t thrill you, then I would recommend skipping Tokyo. Not sure if baseball season is still going, but going to a Japanese baseball game is a hoot and is kinda a parallel universe thing. It’s baseball but it’s in Japan and therefore Japan-ified.
My experience in Saigon was limited about 8 years ago for a team meeting with plenty of sightseeing. Honestly, the Saigon colonial wharf area looks a lot like the Shanghai Bund area from 20 years ago (interesting and not yet cleaned up).
Purses seem to get snatched a fair amount but other petty crime seemed pretty distant. I’m sure prices have gone up but we stayed in a beautiful 5 star hotel that Prince Andrew visited at the same time for $100/night with a sumptuous breakfast (my cappuccino came with some serious foam art).
Anyhoo, I’m sure you’ll get tons of suggestions and beer is plentiful (usually a lager of some sort with more craft brewing cropping up).
I think the OP is wrong about Cambodia not being good for a first-time visitor to Asia. Angkor Wat alone justifies the effort.
Asia is big, spanning Turkey and Israel to Japan. Japan is just about my favorite place in the whole world. Yes, it is expensive, but mostly accommodation. Food is surprisingly reasonable.
If interested in East and Southeast Asia, maybe Singapore would be good to ease your way into the continent, as it’s Western standards all the way. Expensive too, but more easily seeable than Japan and a good jumping-off point to elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
The Indonesian island of Bali is good. I agree with Beijing, I like it a lot. In addition to what has already been mentioned here, the Temple of Heaven is one of my favorite buildings. I really didn’t care for Shanghai. Hong Kong is worth a look too.
Vietnam is a very interesting place, and tourism is picking up. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is no great shakes, but Hanoi is good, as is central Vietnam including the fantastic Unesco World Heritage town of Hoi Anh.
I would recommend Nepal, but I’m not sure what’s going on there now after the big earthquake.
I can tell you that for mainland Southeast Asia, that is the height of the rainy season, so it’s going to rain a lot. The good news is it’s not that bad. It will rain every day but (usually) not all day. Maybe a daily downpour or two. It helps to keep the temperatures down but raises the humidity. But it will be green.
If you see Bangkok, I urge you to go upcountry too. Bangkok’s not really representative of Thailand. It’s almost like two separate countries.