Many people’s introduction to South East Asia is Bali and many head over to get away from the chill of Perth in winter to some sun on their face and sand in their toes. Once they experience Bali and realise how accessible it is many return home with a thirst to see more. If you have a fascination with the rest of exotic and mysterious South East Asia here is a list of my recommended 10 places in South East Asia.
Bali’s popularity is huge, regarded by some as the ultimate holiday destination and this is one place that is actually an advantage to fly from Perth, as its on the same time zone and a mere 3hr flight away. Although it lacks in physical size (just 140km’s or 90 miles from East to West), this does not imply choices are limited. It’s a wonderful place to explore and experience a unique culture alive with food, arts and spirituality.
Many head over to Bali, drink a few bintangs, soak up the atmosphere, partying, relaxing, swimming and maybe hiring a colourful Jukung to an offshore reef for some snorkelling. Others will head to the traditional and peaceful areas of Bali surrounded in tropical terraced hillsides, visit sacred temples and a coffee plantation. They will be mesmerised watching a Balinese dance with precise hand and eye movements to the sound of the gamelan.
Bali is a paradise island for those who want to experience relaxation on a grand scale, it has it all, with its lush rice terraces, temples, rain forests, beautiful coast line, beach life, the great outdoors, culture, fabulous food and fun. It’s a holiday destination for all the senses; this stunning place will make you want come back again and again.
Bangkok an enchanting city on the Chao Phraya River offers a rich and ancient culture. You can visit magical places where graceful dancers perform in shimmering silk gowns, temples are adorned with gold leaf harbouring priceless Buddhas or take a riverboat through the maze of canals or roadside markets selling freshly cooked foods, produce from the coconut and mango plantations, orchid farms. You have options for a Thai Apsara dance show with its strong hand and feet movements, charming elephant shows or a cheesy lady boy cabaret show with a setting reminiscent of Moulin Rouge. Bangkok can be the place to be pampered with 5 star hotels and luxury massage boutique.
Ho Chi Minh City
In Ho Chi Minh City you are immediately met with the sounds of honking horns and banter from street hawkers. Despite many friendly faces with warm greetings the crazy traffic of mostly bicycles and motorbikes is not for the fainthearted. Previously known as Saigon this bustling metropolis is a major trade centre. The scenery driving along the Saigon River into Ho Chi Minh City is a landscape of small village, rice fields and oil and rubber trees. There are many historic buildings, the 19th century red brick Roman-Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, French Colonial Post Office, the stately Reunification Palace, City Hall and the Rex Hotel. You can pass time at Chinatown, Ben Thanh Market, Thien Hau Temple or a buffet lunch at a deluxe hotel which offers traditional Vietnamese entertainment. Lacquer ware making is one of Vietnam’s most popular exports and you can watch the demonstration at the Minh Phuong Lacquer Factory. Another great place to stop if you want to shop is Dong Khoi Street full of artisan stores, cafes and hotels.
Previously noted for its coconut plantations and rubber production, today Ko Samui is renowned for its powdery white beaches, crystalline waters and Buddhist temples. Despite being Thailand’s third largest island the casual and unspoiled air has still been retained. There are many highlights to this island paradise, breathtaking beauty, serene elegance and green countryside. Big Buddha temple is 39 foot high and a major meditation centre for locals and tourists. Nearby, Plai Laem Temple is home to Kwan Yin, the 18 armed Buddhist avatar of Mercy and a massive Smiling Buddha. This temple is famous for the hundreds of big fish that live in the lake. You can also see frisky monkeys who have been trained to harvest coconuts as they scale coconut palms at a local plantation. There are luxurious upscale resorts set on the pristine white sands, where you can enjoy local dance and delicious buffets meals on the beach. Or you might prefer Ko Samui’s most popular beach, Chaweng Beach for some fun in the sun on the powdery white sands in the turquoise waters.
Kuala Lumpur is a fascinating metropolis of steel and glass towers alongside graceful stone colonial buildings and mosques. KL is the commercial, financial, economic and cultural heart of Malaysia founded in 1850’s as a tin mining outpost. Petronis Twin Towers reaching over 1,400 feet high is one of the architectural wonders of the world and still remains the world’s highest twin towers with a skybridge rising 557 feet above street level connecting the two. There is much to see here, National Museum for some culture and historical heritage to the Lake Gardens to see the National Monument, Orchid and Hibiscus Gardens and the Butterfly, Deer and Bird Parks. KL Tower offers a panoramic view over the city and has an open air amphitheatre, observation deck and revolving restaurant. You can also visit the Merdeka Square and Royal Selangor Club. Jamek Mosque is the cities oldest mosque and first Malay burial ground. After the 272 stair climb at the sacred temple complex, Batu Caves you will find one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India, full of statues and monkeys.
The main island known as Pulau Langkawi is one of a group of 99 tropical islands lying off the north western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Langkawi is shrouded in intriguing heritage legends featuring ogres and birds, warriors and fairy princesses and myths of battles and romance. The island has a UNESCO Geopark with beautiful geological heritage, stunning landscapes, caves and fossils dating back 500 million years. The cable car system takes you up to the second highest peak in Langkawi and over jungle waterfalls and a thick carpet of virgin rainforest. The Budaya Craft and Cultural Complex celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Malaysia with an assortment of craftwork and a workshop displaying craft techniques. We watched artisans hand draw silk batik and weave songket, a brocade textile interwoven with gold and silver threads. One other exhibition is devoted to local legends and displays traditional wedding ceremony exhibits and was very interesting. We also visited Laman Padi, the Rice Museum, a most comprehensive display of artifacts and rice planting tools and demonstration.
Separated from Bali by the waters of Lombok Strait, Lombok seems reminiscent to Bali some 30 years ago before its development and commercialisation. There is also great natural beauty from the tropical rain and cloud forests and the dramatic rice terraces and plantations of nuts and spices. At Lingsar Temple worshippers feed hard boiled eggs to the eels in the water. Mayura Water Palace is an open sided hall that sits in the middle of an artificial lake surrounded by groves of mangosteen trees. In Sukarare, a craft village we saw artisans produce exquisite brocaded songket cloth, a colourful, hand woven silk or cotton brocade embellished with metallic threads. We were mesmerised as the weavers skilfully and patiently created some of the brightest fabrics interwoven with intricate designs. We also saw elegant woodcarvings and superb pottery made from local hillside clays. Senggigi Beach is a peaceful resort area.
Penang, Isle of Betel nut was originally a major trading port tea, spices, china and cloth. George Town is a cosmopolitan city with a unique heritage and exotic blend of European, Malaysian, Hindu, Arabic and Chinese cultures. You can take a scenic driver through the city’s commercial district or enjoy a stroll around the lively wet market, watching locals barter for fresh meats, fruits and vegetables or Little India where the air is heavy with the odour of spices and lanes are lined with shops selling spices, vegetables, fabrics, cooking ware and jewellery. The Kuan Tin Teng or Goddess of Mercy Temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Penang, a bustling friendly town.
Sihanoukville is renowned for its excellent cuisine featuring superb seafood. Developed as Cambodia’s sole deepwater port, this pristine resort on the Gulf of Thailand boasts beautiful beaches and crystalline waters. There is excellent dive sites and some of the world’s finest big game fishing from the offshore islands. Sihanoukville is on the peninsula 155 miles southwest of the capital Phnom Penh. Commemorating Cambodia’s war dead there is a War Memorial at Victory Hill and Independence Square. At the base of Sihanouk Mountain is Wat Krom (lower Temple) a Buddhist temple where you see excellent views of the sea. Psar Lu Market located near Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor Wat is a bustling marketplace with colourful displays of fish and shellfish, poultry, palm sugar, tropical fruits, flowers and craft. Wat Leu or the Upper Temple is on Mount Sihanouk. Sihanoukville Beach is a most popular beach with fine white sands where you can swim, snorkel or relax.
Singapore, the commercial centre of Southeast Asia is a metropolis of modern high rise buildings, Chinese shop houses, sturdy Victorian buildings, Buddhist temples and Arab bazaars. Singapore has a very westernized façade with its modern skyscrapers and bustling business areas in contrast to the cultural beauty and history and never disappoints. A beautiful city by night, lit up over Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay, the iconic Merlion Statue, Sentosa’s spectacular Crane Dance and an array of brightly lit restaurants along the bank of Singapore River in Clarke Quay. In contrast to the spotless city is the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel where the floor is littered wit peanut shells. Singapore is an ever fascinating island boasting colourful traditions and luxurious hotels, it is clean and safe with a spotless backdrop.
So there you have it, some beautiful South East Asian cities, each with their own unique appeal, diverse landscapes, stunning scenery and laid-back locals. But the common thread throughout is the delicious cuisine. There are still so many parts I am still to see, Laos, Burma, Borneo, Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar to name a few.
Where in South East Asia have you been or where would you like to visit?
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