Southeast Asia is one of the most sought-after destinations for travellers. With the welcoming nature of the locals, the vibrancy of every village, town and city and with a culture so different from ours in the UK, it seems impossible for anyone not to fall head over heels with this fascinating corner of the globe.
I recently returned from a three month trip visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. The experience opened my eyes to so much so it seems only fair to share some of this…
Khaosan Road, Bangkok – Although certainly not the most attractive part of Bangkok, this dynamic street is a hot spot amongst travellers. With an abundance of market stalls selling everything from fluorescent ‘I heart Bangkok’ vest tops to fresh Pad Thai’s costing just 50p to beautiful jade jewellery, there is something for everyone and is a great opportunity to test your bartering skills.
Wat Arun, Bangkok – Arguably the most impressive temple in Thailand’s capital city, Wat Arun should not be missed. The temple displays intricate detail as it is decorated with millions of pieces of coloured porcelain along with impressing visitors with its spire which reaches 70 metres high. There are also plenty of fat happy Buddha statues to get your photo taken with (they were a personal favourite of mine).
Jungle Trek, Chang Mai – This was one of the most enjoyable days of the trip. It began with a visit to the Long Neck Karen tribe who lived on the city outskirts. The women in this tribe wear heavy gold rings around their necks and the weight of the rings pushes their shoulders down and therefore elongates their necks. It was a unique experience to witness the simple lifestyle they lead. We then moved on to a nearby elephant camp where I rode on an elephants back through rocky rivers and around the steep landscape. Health and safety was nonexistent but this only added to the thrill and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Koh Phi Phi – Thailand is surrounded by hundreds of islands so it can be a daunting task when choosing which ones to visit. Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi made my shortlist and of those Phi Phi was my far my favourite. It’s the island where The Beach was filmed and anyone that has seen the film will know that the scenery appears to look like absolute paradise, and this was no lie. The landscape was a million times more beautiful in real life and for the three days that we were there, I was constantly in awe of my surroundings. Top tip – Take a taxi boat to Long Beach for a more remote setting. I almost had the beach to myself!
Halong Bay – Me and my friends booked an overnight trip on a junk boat which took us around Halong Bay. This World Heritage Site hosts thousands of tropical isles and as the weather was misty , the eerie scenery strongly resembled that in Pirates of the Caribbean as we floated past the suddenly emerging jungles. I took part in various activities such as kayaking and exploring the Hang Sung Sot cave and there’s a great atmosphere on the boat as you exchange stories with fellow travellers. The two day trip only cost us £35 and was well worth every penny.
Nha Trang – This attractive beach location was a welcome break from wandering around the heavily built up cities. My most enjoyable day here was when we visited Vin Pearl amusement park. We travelled from the mainland to Vin Pearl island via the longest overwater cable car in the world stretching 3320 metres. There is plenty to occupy tourists for the whole day, including a water park, rollercoaster’s, Underwater World aquarium and a stunning beach resort. All thrill seekers should try The Alpine Coaster!
Hoi An – This quaint town was my favourite location in Vietnam. With paper lanterns strung along the river, small streets which offer good quality but inexpensive tailoring services and an abundance of bars and restaurants with incredible seafood situated right on the riverside, what’s not to love about Hoi An. I would also recommend hiring a bike to explore the area (which doesn’t break the bank at 20,000 dong or 90p for the day) as you can reach the beautiful Cua Dai beach easily whilst admiring the surrounding paddy fields along the way.
Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) – I visited many museums in Vietnam as there is so much history to the country, but the one which really made an impact on me was the War Remnants museum. I knew very little about the Vietnam war before I came here, but this museum demonstrated the impacts on the country and its people in such a touching way. While not for the faint hearted, this is somewhere that must be visited in order to truly understand the strength of this incredible country.
For a slightly more light-hearted activity, water puppet shows are performed on a daily basis around the corner from the museum at the Golden Dragon theatre. As one of Vietnam’s oldest traditions, it is well worth a watch!
Siem Reap – I think it’s fair to say that the main reason travellers visit this city is for Angkor Wat. This ancient wonderland is like nothing I’ve ever seen before and like nothing I will ever see again. The only way to see the largest religious monument in the world is by tuk-tuk as they drive you from temple to temple. The most famous temple in the grounds is Angkor Wat which is not surprising considering its impressive size and structure, but I enjoyed exploring the tropical surroundings of Ta Phrom, the location where Tomb Raider was filmed. Top tip – try and arrive in time for sunrise for an unforgettable view.
Phnom Penh – The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are situated about an hour’s drive from the city centre. Each visitor is given an audio guide allowing you to walk around the site at your own pace. It’s a chilling experience to walk on the same grounds where such obscenities took place, but it is too large a part of Cambodia’s history to miss out and I felt honoured that I had the opportunity to pay my respects here.
Kuala Lumpur – By far by favourite city in Southeast Asia, KL offers everything a city needs; Incredible modern architecture, markets selling identical copies of designer accessories, beautiful botanical gardens and super friendly locals. As I was only here for two days, everything was a bit of a rush but I managed to squeeze in the main attractions. On my second evening in the city, I went up to the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers, witnessing a breath taking view of the city at night. The Towers is the tallest twin building in the world and there’s plenty to do inside with Petrosains Discovery Centre, a food court and plenty of shops.
For the ultimate shopping experience in KL, Berjaya Times Square mall ticks all the boxes. As I didn’t have long in the city, my time in the mall was restricted to a couple of hours but visitors could easily spend all day in there. With a theme park, beautiful dresses for as little as 10 ringgits (£2), karaoke bars and even its own hotel, this is the stuff dreams are made of!
The Perhentian Islands – The Perhentian’s consist of two islands; Besar (the larger isle) and Kecil (the smaller isle). I stayed on Kecil which has a more ‘backpacker’ feel and therefore prices are cheaper. The islands are pretty quiet (there’s not even an ATM on Kecil) and the main activity is to enjoy the peaceful scenery and snorkel in the clear sea. One day, I took a taxi boat out to Turtle Bay on Besar where I experienced swimming with Giant Turtles. Words cannot describe the feeling I got when saw such a large yet so graceful creature working its way through the turquoise water, a mere 10 feet away from me.