Planning a Ramble Around South-East Asia
July 19, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Having completed my research in Malaysia early, I find myself with two weeks to travel in South-East Asia. Where should I go? I have many options and not enough time to plan. Please guide me!

I will have finished my research in Malaysia two week before my return flight on the 15th of August. It's been a long summer, and a part of me is inclined to re-book my flight and come home early or hunker down in Kuala Lumpur, but I've decided to seize this opportunity to see some the sites. I'm open to going anywhere I can get to relatively cheaply with Air Asia, which leaves me with quite a lot of options.

My preferences: I am fairly adventurous, but I don't want to do do anything extremely exhausting or dangerous. I like relaxation and a nice beach, but I wouldn't want that to be the focus of my trip. Seeing local culture intrigues me more. I love Thai food (or the American and Malaysian versions I've experienced so far). Hong Kong, Cambodia and Myammar pique my interest, too. I rather not spend more time in Malaysia, though I know there are plenty of sites I haven't explored. I will be flying out of KUL and must return to KUL for my flight back to the states.

So, where should I go? What should I see? If you've traveled in the region, what experiences did you treasure most? Tell me how to spend my two weeks, Metafilter.
posted by reren to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Angkor Wat is the obvious choice.
posted by Sara C. at 7:41 AM on July 19, 2012

I vote for Chiang Mai, Thailand. No beach; instead, you get mountains and culture. There's enough tourist infrastructure to make it accessible, but it's easy to get away from the tourist area and experience the real place.
posted by ceiba at 7:55 AM on July 19, 2012

Some stuff I liked:

Angkor Wat
Chiang Mai and take a cooking class
Railay Beach for Rock climbing. Nice food markets in Krabi Town too. Take a boat tour that includes the Emerald Cave (but don't google to learn more about the cave - it's better as a surprise)
Vietnam - Ha Long Bay and Hanoi.
Southern China is pretty great. Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge. Yangshuo is beautiful too. These towns are filled with Chinese tourists, though, which might be off-putting if you're not a fan of more touristy things.

I didn't get to Malaysian Borneo, but I saw some amazing pictures and heard amazing things from other travellers. Same goes for Bali.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2012

I hate to say this, because Angkor Wat is so awesome, but Siem Reap is the worst place in Southeast Asia with the exception, perhaps, of Phuket.

I am going to have to nth Chiang Mai as being a great place to spend time. My wife and I both love it there, and there is more than enough adventurous stuff to do. And if you love Thai food, I think that the northern Thai cuisine, particularly Chiang Mai's, is the best there is.

I have also had great experiences in Laos, both Vientiane and Luang Prubang are great places to visit, although I would probably avoid Vang Vieng because it ranks only slightly higher than Siem Reap and Phuket as Southeast Asian hellholes (on my list, anyway).

Of course it really depends on what you are into. You say adventurous but not too exhausting, but in what way? SE Asia is so touristy that there is stuff available for any inclination. One of the best trips I ever had was with my brother when we rented dirtbikes in Phnom Penh (fantastic place to visit) and went north, visiting all these overgrown and uncommercialized Khmer temples. On the other hand, my wife's favorite trip was two weeks on Koh Phangan chilling out on the totally relaxed Than Sadet beach.

So yeah, more details, please, and I might be able to give better advice.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2012

I think it depends on whether you'll be coming back to SE Asia. If this is it, then you'll kick yourself for not seeing Angkor Wat when you had the chance or Pagan or Borobudur. For culture, scenery, food, and relaxation, Bali (especially Ubud) has all that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you know this already - but AirAsia is having a sale right now, for travel in the month of August.

Anyway, Hong Kong is totally doable, as I've heard. Although AirAsia doesn't fly there AFAIK, Tiger or JetStar do. Siem Reap, Cambodia, is pretty nice too, but it depends on how exhausting you think temple-trekking is. And in my experience, it's a really tourist-y place, which you might not like. Jogjakarta and Medan are popular short-trip destinations among the people I know, and last I checked, both are serviced by AirAsia.

backwards guitar mentioned Malaysian Borneo. Indeed it's a really interesting place, for instance if you like to learn about history and colonialism in Kuching, or eat, but IME not very easy to get around with little planning and no car.

Also, some vaguely-related stuff about taking a budget carrier flight in Malaysia, but you probably already know - you'll have to go the the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) which is not at the main airport itself. Buses from the lower level of KL Sentral go there cheaply (~RM10), like this one. Just mosey up to the guys outside the big red bus and buy a ticket, hop on and you're off.

Have fun!
posted by undue influence at 8:47 AM on July 19, 2012

Incidentally, I currently live in Malaysia and don't really love it, but there is a lot to do here. Don't exclude staying in Malaysia just because you have already spent some time here.

Pulau Perhentian is possibly home to the most beautiful beach on earth, Pulau Tioman is a great place to chill out, and Pulau Kapas is a totally, totally chilled out, if that's something you like. On the west coast, you could visit Melaka, which is a really great city (plus, hey, I live there), Penang, or Langkawi. Or, if you are really into nature, Taman Negara (the national forest in Pahang) is really cool.

Or if you want to get out of your element, go on a Terengganu/Kelantan waterfall journey. Assuming you are in KL now, you could drive up route 8 to Gua Musang and visit Gunung Stong and (reportedly) SE Asia's biggest waterfall. Then you could head up to Machang before heading over to Besut/Jerteh (hey, while there take the ferry to the Perhentians), and slightly south to Latah Tembakah and Latah Belatan. Not only would you see some cool waterfalls, but the life in Kelantan and Terengganu is so different to that of the south and west it will blow your mind.

Renting a car to drive around for two weeks is probably not super expensive (sorry, I have no experience with rental cars here), and it might be a cool way to spend your time.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry - I just saw literaryhero's comment. For cool Malaysia adventures, there are cars for rent in Malaysia (which I didn't know about before this!), and for places like Penang, Melaka and other cities, there's always Transnasional and other bus services from central KL, though navigating those, especially getting tickets at Pudu, might require some local assistance. For Penang in particular, there are fancier coach services too. Also, there's the train, which can take you many places, including the East Coast.
posted by undue influence at 9:06 AM on July 19, 2012

Excellent recommendations here, but I'm going to add that Air Asia does fly daily to Hong Kong from Kuala Lumpur, if Hong Kong's high on your list to visit. And while you're in HKG, you could also stop by Taiwan as it's an hour's flight away. It's not South East Asia, but neither is Hong Kong. :) Here's a list of things to do in Taipei that I compiled for an earlier AskMe question, though if you were to spend a week there, you could also visit Taroko Gorge and Eastern Taiwan, including Green Island. Taiwan is quieter and calmer than Hong Kong, cleaner than most of South East Asia, and getting around is easy and inexpensive. I also find it politically fascinating, in a "what China might have been if the Republicans won" kind of way.

As a Malaysian, it pains me a little bit to hear that there nobody loves it there, though I totally understand why because heck, I left! But East Malaysia (Borneo) and the East Coast, which Literaryhero mentioned, feel so different they're practically different countries. Even better Thai food (as far as Thai food in Malaysia goes) can be found in Kelantan, which borders Thailand. Within South East Asia, I don't think you can go wrong with Thailand or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I did not enjoy Bali when I visited with my family, but that was partly because I travelled with my parents and we kept to very beaten, touristy paths. But I follow the founder of Deck of Secrets on Instagram who was in Bali earlier this year, and she will be releasing a guide to Bali soon, which I would probably use if I were to return to Bali on my own.
posted by peripathetic at 11:14 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Angkor Wat.

People may knock Siem Reap, but Angkor Wat is fantastic. And you are in the "neighbourhood". Do 5 or 6 days at Angkor then get a plane to Thailand and get on a beach. Air Asia is your friend. (I did this, would have stayed longer at Angkor but was travelling with a friend.)
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2012

Singapore for the street food (for example, at the Maxwell Food Centre).
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 5:15 PM on July 19, 2012

Thanks, to all of you. I've added Chang Mai to my list. I'm leaning towards going to Hong Kong then Bangkok, then to Chiang Mai, then back to KL. I'm tempted to go to Laos too, but that might be too much. Any suggestions for revisions to that itinerary or tips about those locations would be appreciated. Do any of you know: Would I regret taking the train from BKK to Chang Mai or is flying the only way to go?

A few notes:

To those suggesting Malaysian sights: I don't mean to demean any of the really alluring Malaysian travel options by choosing to leave the country for a while, but I've been here for two months and want to get a taste of some other cultures. That's all.

I don't know when I'll be back in the region but for some reason Siem Reap/Angkor Wat don't appeal to me right now. At the moment seeing modern life as it's lived seems more exciting.
posted by reren at 6:33 PM on July 19, 2012

If it was up to me, I'd ditch Chiang Mai for Laungprabang in Laos; it's a gorgeous UNESCO-protected site, and is on the verge of rampant commercialization with Chinese investment. The monks parade in the morning alone is worth the visit, although the Mekong is amazing in itself.

(I mean, Chiang Mai in itself is interesting obviously, but if I had to choose between Laos and this, I'd choose Laungprabang. )
posted by the cydonian at 10:46 PM on July 19, 2012

Don't go to Myanmar.

If you go to Chiang Mai look into something called elephant training.

I haven't done it but it was recommended to me by someone I met in Thailand.
posted by commitment at 7:47 AM on July 20, 2012

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