Saturday, May 3, 2014

the best of southeast asia

It's safe to say that Asia has become my stomping ground. I have lived on this continent for nearly two years now and I have traveled the region widely. Here is my list [not in any particular order] of Southeast Asia's best experiences.

1. Sailing Railay {Thailand}

Railay is situated along the Andaman Coast in Western Thailand. It is only accessible by long tail boat. Railay is essentially a strip of sand. What do travelers have to look forward to? Great beaches. Banana smoothies. Some of the world's best rock climbing. Hiking. Kayaking. Hanging out with monkeys. And sailing. We rented a boat and spent a whole day sailing through the limestone cliffs that jut out of the green blue water and snorkeling and swimming and simply marveling in the beauty of the Andaman Coast!

2. Exploring Angkor Wat {Cambodia}


Angkor Wat is such a contrast: a temple complex of marvel + beauty in a situation of ugliness. Cambodia was a hard country for me to visit. So much desperation still plagues the nation. However, stepping inside the compound of Angkor Wat was truly an exhilarating experience. I assure you that no matter how many temples you visit in your lifetime, none will be like Angkor Wat. Temple after temple dot this complex, each unique. In some, nature is reclaiming land and growing through and over the ancient stone buildings. In others, carvings stand nearly the same way they did thousands of years ago. Any trip to Southeast Asia warrants a visit to Angkor Wat! 

3. Releasing a sky lantern {Taiwan}
Every February in the small mountain village of Pingxi, Taiwan, thousands of people converge to celebrate the sky lantern festival. Over the course of the evening, thousands of red lanterns with well wishes scrawled all over them are released into the night sky. Long ago, the lanterns were used to warn of impending danger but now they are more commonly seen as a way to bring in the new year with hope. The festival is a truly magical experience! To learn more about how to attend the festival, click here.

4. Searching for the world's largest flower in the Cameron Highlands {Malaysia}
Trekking through the dense forest of the Cameron Highlands is a messy and muddy task. The forest is humid and brimming with all kinds of life, some of which terrified me immensely like the snakes and spiders. That said, stumbling upon the world largest flower, the Rafflesia flower, made the exhausting and dirty hike worth it a million times over. A great home base you can use for trekking in the Cameron Highlands is the rural village of Tanah Rata.

5. Zipping through Bokeo {Laos}
Bokeo is a nature reserve in northern Laos. It was created to protect the trees and wildlife from logging, which is occurring in much of the rest of the country. The Gibbon Experience makes zip lining through the protected jungle a possibility for adventurous travelers! While expensive, this is eco-tourism at its best and in my opinion totally worthy the extra cost. 

6. Cruising Ha Long Bay {Vietnam}
Confession: I first heard of Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site, in Top Gear, that British TV show where two guys drive their odd cars in different places around the world. But from the moment I saw Ha Long Bay via the TV screen, I was hooked on the idea of going. The bay, which is in the Golf of Tonkin, has more than 1,600 islands. There are many options for cruising Ha Long Bay. We choose the three day/two night cruise. I am not gonna lie: this was expensive. We got the nicest room on the boat with a huge balcony but I figure if you're gonna make a dream come true you better go big or go home. 

7.  Not sleeping a wink in Hong Kong
We took on the challenge of experiencing this city to its fullest in a less than 48 hour whirlwind weekend trip. We took the tram up to the Peak to get a scope of how crazy big [and tall] this city actually is. We walked along the Avenue of the Stars. We visited night markets and jade markets. We ate at trendy restaurants and wandered through high end shopping malls. I think Hong Kong is a city you have to see to believe. It's just that mind boggling.

8. Committing gluttony in Ubud {Indonesia}
Bali's biggest hit for me was the food. We actually took a half day cooking class and were introduced to the staple ingredients of the island. We got to try our hand at making some veggie, meat and rice dishes. As of now, Indonesia and Thailand and Italy are tied for my favorite places to go to eat. The thing I loved about Bali was how fresh and healthy many of the local dishes are. It is safe to say I gained a little bit of weight while on this beautiful Indonesian island. 

9. Temple hopping in Bangkok {Thailand}
Bangkok's temples are striking and beautiful. One of my favorite things about them is that they are interactive too, meaning you can literally climb all over them and experience them first hand instead of admiring them from afar. I think the best way to see Bangkok's temples is via water taxi. There are boat stations all up and down the river and many near by tourist sites like temples. My favorite temple is the Temple of the Dawn, otherwise known as Wat Arun

10. Hiking Taroko Gorge {Taiwan}
Taroko Gorge is, in my opinion, Taiwan's number one must see attraction. This marble walled gorge is perfect for hiking, biking or scooting. It is situated on the east coast of Taiwan and the closet home base would be the city of Haulien. The gorge is full of winding, twisting roads, tunnels, water falls and many beautiful temples. One thing to be aware of though is that the gorge is in Taiwan's most seismically active region. Earthquakes and typhoons are exceedingly common. Sometimes after a quake or storm, the gorge will shut down due to landslides.



38 comments

  1. This is awesome! We're tentatively planning a move to Asia for next year and this is soooooo inspiring!

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    1. Oh I hope you do move to Asia! I think you will just love it!

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  2. Great list - I am happy to see that Taiwan got some love as well!! Love Taroko Gorge - I have seen it on foot, on the back of a scooter, and through the window of a car!!

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    1. I know. I have come across very few people in my travels who have gone to Taiwan or even consider it a place worth going to. After living here for 2 years, it boggles my mind! Taiwan is a great, cheap, fun and safe country. I think it's one of the easiest countries in all of SE Asia to live in/travel around.

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  3. How about river rafting (in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines)?

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    1. I've never been to the Philippines! I am more interested in the Chocolate Hills in Bohol :)

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  4. You've got a ton of good experiences on your list. I agree that Angkor Wat is fantastic. We were in Tanah Rata but unfortunately no Rafflesia were in bloom at the time. A massive paper lantern release and sailing on Halong Bay are both on my bucket list.

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    1. Seeing the Rafflesia was one of the coolest things in the world!!! We trekked for hours and hours and I actually ended up throwing away the clothes I wore because they were so.dirty and so.muddy and so.smelly but it was a seriously cool experience.

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  5. Wow! What a fantastic bunch of places! I have visited a couple, but I need to go back to Asia to visit more! :)

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    1. Asia is full of amazing opportunities... but then again so is the whole wide world!

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  6. Southeast Asia looks full of adventure, I must visit one day.

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    1. I think everyone should check it out!

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  7. Great post and photos! These are all definitely things we are looking forward to doing and experiencing once we make our way to SE Asia. Thanks for sharing and safe travels!

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    1. Thanks! If I had to choose one experience, I would say definitely go to Laos and try out the Gibbon Experience.

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  8. Beautiful post. Great photos. I have yet to visit SEA but look forward to doing so one day, and am even more determined to go after reading this :)

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    1. Thanks :) It's definitely worth a visit!

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  9. What a fantastic round-up of places - I would love to visit all of them! I love the temples and the scenery.

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    1. The temples are one of my favorite aspects of Asia. Each country has a different take on it but they are all so beautiful!

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  10. So many awesome experiences! I haven't traveled too much in Asia yet, but I have been to Angkor Wat which was amazing. I would love to do the rest of these things one day. Thanks for linking up again :)

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    1. Angkor Wat is a breathtaking place! I think Cambodia has a lot going for it, I just missed out on some other experiences in that country.

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  11. I only spent one year teaching in Asia and you are making me want to return! Great list!

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

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    1. I think I will miss Asia a lot when I move, which is funny because right now all I want to do is go home to the US for a while.

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  12. These are some great places and activities! I've never been to Asia but Hong Kong somewhow speaks to me although I usually can't stand megacities. The view on the city at night looks absolutely stunning though!

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    1. Hong Kong was a weird place to be. I don't think I will ever go back but it was fun to experience once.

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  13. I would love to attend a lantern festival, looks so beautiful!

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    1. It was a once in a life time thing!

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  14. I think South East Asia is my favourite region in the world. I loved Halong Bay and found it so peaceful (despite all of the boats!) My favourite on this list is the lanterns - that would have been magic

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    1. I could have stayed in Ha Long Bay forever. I loved it so much!

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  15. oh my goodness. so many good things, i cant even. so jealous!

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  16. all these pictures are absolutely gorgeous and fascinating! It's making me want to jump on a plane to Asia right now. Very interesting post! :)

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    1. Do it! You absolutely would not regret it!

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  17. I'd love to do every single one of these things! Ziplining is on my bucket list and I've always wanted to visit Angkor Wat xx

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    1. Zip lining is so much fun!!! I have done it three times and each time I was scared to death but so happy I did it! It has to be one of the coolest feelings in the world.

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  18. Oh. My. Gosh. You saw a Rafflesia?! I'm a total botany nerd and really want to see Rafflesia so bad!

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    1. Yes, we did! It was amazing! We had a very crappy camera and terrible lighting in the forest but I will try and find the picture of it and post it :)

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  19. aaaaand I'm ready to go! sheesh. it's all so beautiful!

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  20. Good blog at all, you wrote very easy about what you've been experienced in the region.In my opinion Halong Bay and Angkor Wat are really hard to be missed. Thank you and keep it up

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