Almost everyone reading this probably knows quite a lot about Asia already. We know that it’s the largest continent, home to some of the most densely populated countries in the world, and has had some pretty huge and successful empires in history. Other than the general information, though, most people know surprisingly little about the continent.
In the spirit of bringing Asia back into relevance – as it was throughout almost the entirety of its history – we track down some of the most obscure and interesting facts from the numerous countries that call this vast continent home.
10. Valentine’s Day in Some Asian Countries is… Complicated
Valentine’s Day may be a pretty straightforward festival in most parts of the world, though that’s not the case in South Korea (and some parts of Taiwan and Japan). While they do have a Valentine’s Day on February 14, it only involves women giving gifts to their male partners. While anything goes nowadays, traditionally, the gifts are supposed to be chocolates or candy.
Then, one month later, they have something called the White Day, when the men are supposed to respond with gifts of their own; only they should be at least three times the value of what they received. It’s certainly a good way to ensure that both the parties end up with amazing gifts, as the women also have an incentive to spend more.
9. The Caspian Sea is Actually a Lake
The Caspian Sea is one of the most curious natural formations in the world. It’s the only landlocked sea we know of, and some people would even say that makes it a lake. And they’d be absolutely correct; the Caspian Sea is actually the world’s largest lake, though because of its saline water and other sea-like properties, it has always been classified as a sea.
There’s also geopolitics involved, as many countries – like Russia – want it to be classified as a lake. According to international law, lake borders are automatically divided up among nations that border it, regardless of how far they are. That’s not the case with oceans or seas, though, as they’re covered under international maritime laws.
To solve this dispute, five countries recently came together and declared that Caspian Sea is neither a sea nor a lake.
8. The Mysteries of Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
The Hang Son Doong cave system in Vietnam is by far the deepest and largest one of its kind in the world. Its sheer size is only apparent once you actually visit, even if you can only do that for research purposes right now. The reason is the near vertical drops of at least 85 meters if you want to enter any part of it, which explains why there are no signs of any previous human settlements inside.
It’s also one of the world’s most mysterious natural formations. While we know that it’s the largest cave system, some recent research suggests that even that may fall well short of explaining how big the caves really are. In 2018, some divers on a rescue mission accidentally came across an underground connection to another cave in the region: the Hang Thung. It suggests that the underground network is much larger than we anticipated, though it will likely never be fully explored due to most caverns still being underwater and hidden.
7. Vietnam’s New Years Is Everyone’s Birthday
The Vietnamese New Year is known as Tet, though it’s much bigger than any New Year’s celebration in the rest of the world. While it falls on the same date as the Chinese New Year, it’s a distinct tradition limited to Vietnam.
It’s by far their biggest festival, and goes on for as long as three days, when everyone dresses up, feasts and generally has a good time. Interestingly, according to tradition anyway, it’s also the birthday of everyone in Vietnam. Tet is when every Vietnamese person is supposed to turn a year older, and surprisingly, many people still observe that. According to Vietnamese culture, birthdays are more of a communal thing than a personal one.
6. China’s Hiking Trail To Hell
At around 7,000 feet high, China’s Mount Hua – located around one hour away from the city of Xi’an – is hardly a tall peak to scale. But it’s still perhaps the world’s most dangerous hiking trail, and you only need to look at it to understand why.
The entire way is only supported by thin planks and makeshift railings, and there are many treacherous points where you can slip and fall. Of course, not many people die here, as you can only visit with proper equipment due to accidents in the past. If you don’t like that and want the thrill of doing it on your own, though, there are quite a few similar routes in the same region you can explore.
5. Asia is Both the Richest and Poorest Continent
Wealth inequality is a real problem across the world, and has some huge effects on the economy. Consider what would happen if the bottom rung of the society exhausts its ability to keep buying new things? It’s a problem with no easy answers, and has plagued some of the best economists and thinkers of our times.
Nowhere is that inequality more visible than in Asia. It’s the richest continent by all measures, and even has the highest number of billionaires in the world. On the other hand, it’s also home to the world’s largest population of the poorest, in conditions that would be unfathomable to someone who has only lived in a developed, prosperous nation.
4. Asia’s Surface Area is Larger Than the Moon
When we say that Asia is the largest continent, it may be difficult to understand what that really means. The reason Asia has always had a high population density with more cultural and racial diversity than perhaps any other continent isn’t because they’re just culturally different. It’s because the continent is absolutely gigantic, covering about 30% of the entire land area in the world.
Of course, a huge part of that is Russia (Siberia alone is larger than entirety of Europe!) but even without it, Asia is ridiculously large. Its surface area is actually more than that of the moon, and houses some of the largest and most densely-populated countries in the world, like China, Russia, India and Indonesia.
3. The Himalayas Are So Young That They’re Still Being Formed
The Himalayas have been an immensely important mountain range in our collective history. They’re easily the largest mountain range in the world (though not the longest, which is Andes), providing water and climate control to a big chunk of the total human population. Himalayan river systems also gave birth to many different cradles of civilization, such as the Harappan and Indus Valley Civilizations.
What most people don’t know, though, is that the Himalayas are actually the youngest mountain range. They’re still growing at a rate of two centimeters per year, as the Indo-Australian continental plate collides with the Eurasian one. That’s why Himalayan peaks are so jagged and fresh, unlike older ranges with visible signs of erosion over time (like the Grand Canyon).
2. We Don’t Understand How Big the Asian Part of Russia Is
We all know that Russia is the largest country in the world by landmass, even after the dissolution of the humongous Soviet Empire, which was easily one of the largest empires in human history. What we don’t know, though, is exactly how big that is.
Russia is almost double the size of Canada – the second largest country – and its largest part doesn’t even lie in Europe. European Russian territory is actually quite like other Eastern European countries in terms of population density and size, as about 75% of the Russian population lives there. That begs the question; where’s the rest of Russia?
It’s actually in Asia, which contains almost the entire Siberian region, making up more than 75% of the total Russian landmass. If you’re not instinctively able to gauge how big that is, consider this; Siberia alone is almost one and half times as big as Canada, though only has a population density of 2.5 people per square kilometer, compared to the 27 people per square kilometers of the European Side.
1. There’s No Natural Border Between Asia and Europe
Asia and Europe have always been different continents, with their own unique set of cultures and beliefs. If you notice, though, they’re pretty much the only differences between the two continents. On a map, there are no rivers, mountains and or anything else that marks a clear demarcation, making you wonder if they’re even real continents.
In reality, they aren’t, and actually form the same contiguous landmass known as eurasia. Moreover, there are no natural differences between Asia and Europe. The border was first created by the Greeks, who just wanted to separate themselves from the ‘barbarian’ kingdoms of the East. The continents were just adopted by later empires who kept the names, as there have always been stark cultural differences between the kingdoms on both the sides of the border. For all intents and purposes, though, Europe and Asia are the same continent.