Experiences of South-East Asia?

(14 Posts)
crazyspaniel Sat 10-May-14 17:45:09

I'm hoping some of you will be able to offer your experiences of travel in South Asia.

I have a big birthday next year, and plan to offset the anticipated depression with a 2-3 week holiday. I would like to go to somewhere in South Asia, though I appreciate that the period during which I can go (anytime from end June - mid Sept) may not be the best weather wise. I have been researching various destinations and am becoming more and more confused. Here is the list so far:

Thailand: I like the sound of a few days at a cooking school in Chiang Mai (am a real foodie), sightseeing in Bangkok (or a side-trip to Luang Prabang) and a beach stay on the east coast (where I gather the weather would be OK in July). But is it over-touristed, and are there lots of shady ex-pat types / seedy old Western men, or can these areas be avoided?

Bali: love the look of Ubud's scenery and cultural scene, but again worried that it's overtouristed. There seem to be so many hotels in and around what is essentially a village.

Malaysia: a bit confused by the various locations (peninsular, islands, Borneo, etc) and how I could do some cultural sightseeing, plus nature/relaxation without excessive time spent travelling.

Vietnam: sounds fab, but maybe not a good place to go at this time of year. Also, it would seriously ruin the trip (because I would find it so upsetting) if I saw dog meat for sale, or dogs being caged for this purpose. Perhaps it's best avoided, then?

I'm open to other suggestions!

A bit more info: I don't have children. I don't like the backpacker scene, and would prefer to stay in boutique-type hotels / more quiet locations. I like beautiful landscapes more than beaches (hence Ubud over beach locations). In terms of previous travel to Asia, I've been all over India on various trips and absolutely love the country. I've also been to Japan but didn't like it as much (found it a bit sterile and European).

If anyone has travelled in this part of the world, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

crazyspaniel Sat 10-May-14 17:49:53

Sorry, I'm not sure why I've written South Asia thoughout - I obviously mean South-East Asia. I'll see if I can get the thread title changed.

cazakstan Sat 10-May-14 18:28:43

You'll love South East Asia...Chaing Mai has one of the best cookery schools in Thailand...some really lovely boutique hotels too. I've been going to Thailand 2 or 3 times a year for the past ten years now...we're real foodies too. Koh San Road is a fantastic area in Bangkok...amazing street food...It's where all the backpackers head to...don't be put off by this...
I wouldn't be too worried about the seedy side of Asia...you don't really see too much of it. The weather June -Sept if fine...around 35 degrees...with maybe some rain. But seriously it may rain for an hour then it passes.
I'm off to bangkok and north Pattaya in June with my DP, DD and her DB. We love it...We stay 5* every time.
You can get some great deals on multi centre holidays...Malaysia is ok...a couple of days in KL is fine. Bali is a must if you really want to do that extra little bit of travelling. To be honest I think...Bangkok, Chaing Mai, Loas, Vietmnam, Cambodia would be a great 3 week trip with lots of culture and fantasitc food. If you would like any info on who to book with or anything please message me. Happy Holiday.

crazyspaniel Sat 10-May-14 21:53:09

Thanks for your reply Cazakstan - Thailand is definitely top of my list. I'll drop you a message.

ChandlersFarang Sun 11-May-14 10:18:55

Hi crazy spaniel! I live in Thailand - have just sent you a PM. Very happy to advise on any of the stuff you need! smile

crazyspaniel Sun 11-May-14 10:38:42

Thanks Chandlers - have replied to your message!

specialsubject Sun 11-May-14 11:06:34

you are a tourist and well-visited places are well-visited for a reason. Don't worry about that.

Do the Vietnamese particularly eat dogs? I have to say that someone as well-travelled as you has probably seen far more upsetting sights than the ones you describe.

For Malaysia - I second a couple of days in KL to admire architecture and also take a trip out to the Batu caves. I'd also recommend Melaka if it is the right time of year. I've been to some of the West coast islands: Penang, Langkawai, Pangkor - all wonderful (and you'd love Penang) but as you mention your trip timing means the east coast is probably better.

The peninsula isn't malarial but I think Borneo is, and of course dengue is everywhere. Having been to India you are presumably thoroughly inoculated against everything else.

also don't rule out Singapore. Plenty to see and do there, and I don't mean shopping or the theme park on Sentosa. Just because the water is drinkable and the streets clean doesn't mean it isn't a fascinating destination.

crazyspaniel Sun 11-May-14 11:23:40

Thanks for that specialsubject. Actually, I'm quite keen on Singapore (though I hate shopping!)- I have a friend there who I'd like to visit, and I like the sound of Little India and Chinatown (the general cultural mix, really), it sounds fab.

I think my problem is that this is a region that merits several trips, and I can't decide on where to visit this time around. I don't want to be flying from one country to another and not really get a feel for any of them.

specialsubject Sun 11-May-14 12:03:46

as always, you have to work on the basis of 'it will still be there next time'.

I really liked Singapore and oh, the food... some suggestions in no particular order. But do check because this was a few years back and Singapore is always changing.

- fountain of wealth in the Suntec centre (and the nearby food court, not the 'real' restaurants' but the place where all the local workers go)
- Botanic Gardens (BTW very good food court there)
- Fort Canning
- Changi Museum
- if you can stand the heat, the green areas in the middle. Mind the monkeys.
- the zoo is wonderful; go in the daytime to see it all at your own pace rather than the restrictive night safari. It will take all day.

hotels (again a while back) - Albert Court in Little India, the South-East Asia in Bugis. Or for a bargain, less luxury but some local life, the Fragrance Emerald in Geylang. Yes, I know it is the 'red light' area but we felt fine there and the hotel is surprisingly quiet.

crazyspaniel Sun 11-May-14 22:46:44

Thanks for those tips, special subject. You're so right about these places still being there for another trip - I always get a bit like a kid in a sweetshop when it comes to planning travel and want to have everything! Singapore does sound like a great city...

SnowCoveredHills Mon 12-May-14 10:55:27

I've travelled to all of the places you mention, I LOVE SE Asia, happy to help you plan your trip.

A few impressions:

Thailand - yes it can be touristy, depends on which bit. Have you considered Southern Thailand - I went to Ko Phi Phi (nice scenery, diving, chilled beach scene) last year, but there are lots of 'quieter' islands which are lovely. I also visited Khao Sok national park, north of Phuket- stunning mountain scenery, wild gibbons calling in the morning, and stayed on a floating lodge on the lake. Wonderful.

The food in Thailand is just wonderful. have never had a bad meal there, from the smallest street trader, to the ramshackle wooden beach huts, to the nicest restaurants - it's all fabulous.

Vietnam - very different to Thailand, fascinating in its own right. People, culture, history, scenery - well worth a trip ,especially to the highlands in the North.

Cambodia - humbling place, wonderful people, Angkor Wat is astounding.

Bali - went there a very long time ago, pretty if you stay away from Kuta. Ubud is fascinating. I also did a trip across to Java to see Borobodur temple - it's amazing.

Borneo - possibly my favourite place. I've travelled through Sabah & Sarawak - wildlife, scenery, wonderful people. Some of it is depressing because of the obliteration of the rainforest, but what remains is inspiring. Orang-utans, elephants, and turtles laying eggs / hatching on the beach. The diving there (not sure if you dive) is out of this world.

You could do several of these places with a bit of travelling, trains can be fun, internal flights are cheap.

Anywhere you go, you'll be surrounded by lovely people, amazing food and lots to see and do. I'm jealous now!!

Boleh Mon 12-May-14 11:20:03

I live in Borneo and would highly recommend it. July to September is dry season so a perfect time to come. The coast is not malarial but some of the interior is. There are 'touristy' things and areas but on the whole they are busy because they are awesome - Sepilok orang-utan sanctuary and the Kinabantangan river nature cruises for example, use Trip Advisor to find the best hotels. If the budget can stretch the hotel in Danum valley is supposed to be amazing (Wills and Kate went there on their honeymoon) and have fabulous wildlife.
You will be able to get cultural experiences, museums and so on in the bigger towns like Kuching and Kota Kinabalu but also by staying in a longhouse homestay in the interior (I 100% reccommend staying with Sinah Rang at Bario Asal Longhouse in Bario for example). The Mulu National park is stunning and the park accommodation air conditioned chalets are lovely, although not boutique hotel style! You do cross paths with backpackers sometimes but on the whole if you choose the air con upgrade on accommodation it's perfectly nice and you find a few really interesting folk whilst tuning out the 'when I was in...' conversation from the next door table!
The people here are generally relaxed and friendly, it's very rare to get someone trying to rip you off the way that seems to be standard in Thailand (we've only been to Phuket so maybe saw the worst of it!) and they are 'obsessed' by food! Some of the best food is at the least promising looking places, plastic chairs and tables at streetside cafes are the norm and the quality of the decor does not reflect the quality of the food! I'm sure you could find people doing cookery lessons but you may need to search them out. I have never felt so totally welcomed as I did in Bario - it makes me realise how fortunate to be able to say honestly to the homestay owners that yes, we promise we will be back.
You could easily spend 3 weeks here but you could also cram a lot into 10 days or so then fly direct from KK or via KL to somewhere else in Asia to do more of a relaxing boutique hotel type experience.

ShanghaiDiva Mon 12-May-14 14:20:44

Agree with Boleh summer is a great time to visit Borneo. I prefer Kuching to Kota Kinabalu - great restaurants, go kayaking, longhouses and orang utans, just fabulous.
I think air Asia's hub is in kl and this is ime a decent budget airline and it should be relatively inexpensive to travel from kl to another se Asia destination.
Chiang Mai is lovely, but rainy season in the summer. I have been to a cookery school there, so pm me if you want details.
Ubud had amazing scenery, but traffic in Bali can be horrendous and as previous posters have mentioned, avoid kuta.
Cambodia has excellent food and Angkor wat is amazing. It's also easy to get a bus from there to Phnom Penh and to visit the royal palace and killing fields for an insight into Cambodia's tragic history.
Hanoi is lovely, water puppet theatre, museums, narrow streets, great food and not as much traffic as hcmc. I am going to sapa this year, but not sure what the weather is like there in summer. Not sure about the dog issue, as the only place I have seen butchers selling dog was in a market in Seoul.
Laos is a sleepy backwater compared to the rest of se Asia. Luang Prabang has countless temples, great markets and fair trade shops and good food. Have also done a cookery course there. Vientiane is probably the world's quietest capital city - you can stroll along the Mekong, visit the carol Cassidy weaving workshop and enjoy a reaxing coupl of days there.

crazyspaniel Tue 13-May-14 06:59:43

Thanks for all your posts - Borneo is certain getting rave reviews. Wildlife is a particular interest for me as well, and the Borneo Rainforest Lodge does look amazing. This is really helping focus things down for me - I'm thinking of perhaps flying into Bangkok, then going onwards to Chiang Mai, Laos and Borneo, and then flying back from Singapore. Too much for three weeks? Perhaps I need a sabbatical from work for a year to see all these wonderful places everyone is recommending!

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