Fiji/New Zealand/Malaysia/Thailand/Nepal suggestravaganza
June 23, 2013 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Please help us create itinerary bullet points for a massive trip to Fiji, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia!

My wife and I are going on a mighty jaunt between August and November: Fiji (one week), New Zealand (three), Malaysia (two), Thailand (three), and Nepal (three). We don't have any particular agenda items in mind now, but are looking for any recommendations on places to stay and things to do, especially off the beaten path; we have the typical travel guides but we'd also like to get experiences that are less catered to tourism (any suggestions will be welcomed, though).

Money is pretty flexible, but we're not generally looking for much of a "high life" experience. Something expensive is okay if it really has a stupendous payoff.

Similarly, we're gladly up for outdoorsy activities within reasonable ranges. Not going to be scaling Everest, and since we'll be packing for a much broader set of activities, multi-day camping probably isn't realistic unless there's good infrastructure for it. Single-day outdoor excursions are fine though, we're both in good health.

We're also willing to hop over to a nearby country as needed along the way, those are just the milestones for the itinerary.

posted by Riki tiki to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The thing to do is NZ is multi-day tramping. If that's not you, what kind of activities did you have in mind for NZ?

And what sort of things are you packing, going multi-country? To me, that would seem headache-inducing on all these travel portions, unless you pack pretty light. Interesting to do so many places, in such a break-neck place. Any reason not to stay longer, in one spot? Sometimes that best parts of a country only reveal themselves with a little more time invested in them.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:39 PM on June 23, 2013

Best answer: As an Australian who has been to Thailand, Malaysia and NZ (the latter twice) I actually think the time frame is pretty good with the exception being that you might want to do limited traveling in each place- esp the Asian countries-- unless you have boundless enthusiasm for crappy roads and/ wasting time queuing in airports. But I think you can get a taste of each place...prob not Fiji really but I believe it's fairly difficult to do truly non-tourist Fiji anyway. Also possibly not so safe. I don't feel that I've done any of those places in the manner that you intend to for various reasons so I'll let others comment on locations.
posted by jojobobo at 3:01 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suppose the thing to do in Southeast Asia is to eat, so while you're in Malaysia, head up to the state of Penang, esp the island side. It's a city and highly urbanised, so that's not where I would recommend for beaches (but if you're heading up north, you can go to Langkawi island or straight up to that side of Thailand). This post (in fact the whole blog) has a pretty good post on what makes Penang a destination for people who just enjoy eating good food cheaply.

The trick about getting off the beaten path in (Peninsula) Malaysia is move out of the West Coast Peninsula into the Central, Southern and Eastern regions. The peninsula is especially well-served with above average highways and roads, so you could rent a car and do short trips (with the new East Coast Expressway you could get to Kelantan and Terengganu in under 6 hours I reckon), though be prepared by our idiosyncratic way of providing directions. Peninsula and even the more developed parts of East Malaysia is well-mapped on Google, so I suppose you could buy a short-term mobile broadband to navigate yourself. Asking an average Malaysian about attractions however I would venture would disappoint you, unless you ask about where to eat, then that's a subject we devote a lot of time to.

East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak are also lovely. Sabah is the place of Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the region. Sarawak's capital Kuching still has an old-world colonial feel to it, if you like to give a visit.
posted by cendawanita at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Milford Sound, south end of the south islandm NZ. Stunning. Must see.

posted by gnossos at 6:03 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Come to Kuching, Sarawak. The city itself is nice - historic downtown waterfront with water-taxis, interesting museums, old kampungs right downtown. Within an hour's drive of the city, you can hit the rugged approachable-only-by-boat Bako national park, climb Mt. Santubong that rises out of the sea, visit a Orangutan rehab center, swim in a boulder-strewn river-park on the slope of Mt. Serapi, visit the Indonesian border, go stay in a longhouse, or visit the Sarawak Cultural Village. There are also resorts along the beach at the base of Mt Santubong. Basically 5-7 solid days of gallivanting, easy. I live here, feel free to email.
posted by BinGregory at 8:38 PM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

+1 for Kuching.

I've been to Fiji twice. First time was on the main island up and down the coral coast, which was nice, but busy, and variable quality. The second time we went to the Blue Lagoon resort (named after the film that was shot nearby) on the island of Nacula, which is a sea-plane ride (or 5 hours by boat) from Nadi airport. It was spectacularly relaxing. You get off the plane and it's like you've been there for 50 years - it would make a great 'rest' stop on your trip, even just for a long weekend. It's also more expensive, but totally worth it.

FWIW, right now I'm in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. They're much more back-packery, and good if you like diving, but not for much else. If you go here, book accommodation early, as the longer you leave it the crappier it gets.
posted by cogat at 10:04 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In Nepal, it's certainly possible to do multi-day hikes without taking tents and cooking equipment and so on. We hiked in the Annapurna region, which was beautiful and it was very easy to walk between guesthouses on the popular routes. We did need to take sleeping bags, but everything else was provided. The main guidebooks deal with this very adequately.

Other than that, we enjoyed the city of Pokhara most in Nepal, especially hiking around the lake. I would have liked to head into the Tibetan communities more.

Chitwan national park was head and shoulders above everything else we did in the country - staying in a jungle lodge with elephant rides in the morning to see the rhinos. I would have loved to stay longer than two days. That was expensive though, even though the lodges are nowhere near luxurious. I think you can actually do white-water rafting to get from Kathmandu to Chitwan if you're into that. You can stay outside the national park and make it cheaper, but waking up to jungle noises at getting on an elephant at 5am was a massive park of the experience. We stayed at the Island Jungle Resort but I think it was substantially cheaper to book with a tour agency once you get into the country.

These things are all very much on the beaten track, but they're there for a reason and I wholeheartedly recommend them. I found travelling around in Nepal to be a huge pain in the neck, with sitting on buses for whole days and tiny winding roads clinging to the sides of mountains. Once you have a firm plan, you might want to choose internal flights. Be warned that the weather is unpredictable and might delay your ability to get back to Kathmandu for your onwards flight. Also, Kathmandu airport is also affected by the weather - our outbound flight was delayed for 4 hours, making us miss all our connecting flights.
posted by kadia_a at 10:57 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My wife and I just did the New Zealand and Fiji portions of the trip you're describing in February for our honeymoon. We had a super awesome time and have *a lot* of suggestions. I'll list a few highlights here, but would be happy to write some more detail if you end up needing it.

New Zealand - we spent a total of 2.5 weeks with about 2 weeks on the South Island.
• Photos here - not all uploaded yet:

• Rent a campervan from Jucy or similar rental agency. Its very common for visitors to tour the country in small / medium sized RV's and every town we visited was well set up for it. There are RV parks in the heart of nearly every city and town, and every single one we stayed in was nice. They have communal kitchens, clean bathrooms, and are generally walking distance from downtown. We rented a 1974 VW Campervan from, and it was excellent.
• There are good written guides and iPhone apps to picking campgrounds. We didn't plan it campgrounds more than 1-2 days in advance throughout our trip.
• Leverage the iSite visitor info office every place you go. They have good info and will book just about anything you need for you, free of charge. They are paid by local tourism taxes (we think), so they never appeared biased to use with scheduling. Incredibly helpful.

• Arrived in Auckland, stayed with a friend. We loved swimming at Piha Beach and had good food at the Piha Beach Cafe. Great food and ice cream at Takapuna Beach Cafe.
• Hobbiton was neat, good day trip on the way to Waitomo.
• Waitomo glow worm caves were really cool. Thought it would be touristy but it wasn't overcrowded. Turns out almost nothing in NZ was.
• Lake Taupo was quite pretty and we could have spent more time there. Very good fish and chips from Grand Central Fry in Taupo. Get some and enjoy it on the beach!
• The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposed to be one of the best 1 day hikes in the world. Unfortunately as of February 1/2 of the trail was closed because of volcanic activity. We also had truly horrible weather, including 6 hours of torrential rain and hail. We had a really bad time, but some photos on Flickr are just incredible. I would try again. We spent the night at the Discovery Lodge near the park entrance - great place to stay.
• In Wellington definitely visit Zealandia which is a huge bird and native animal sanctuary. Do the night tour and see kiwi birds! Also visit WETA Cave, which is the studio that did many of the effects for the Lord of the Rings movies. Really neat tour. The botanical garden was nice, too.
• Early morning sailing on the ferry from Wellington to Picton was beautiful, good light.
• We drove from Picton to Abel Tasmen on Queen Charlotte Drive. It was one of the most beautiful drives of my life - absolutely stunning country. The whole of the South Island was just mind blowing for that matter.
• Abel Tasman National Park was great, we should have spent more than one night. Go kayaking, a full day trip or more if you can do it. Do whatever kayak tour will take you into the marine sanctuary so you can see seals and maybe penguins! Definitely have a burger at Fat Tui Burgers - they were enormous and awesome.
• From Abel Tasman we drove to the West Coast. This was a long drive to start after dinner, which no sane person should do. We stopped at Pancake Rocks on the west coast which were neat.
• Franz Joseph Glacier is quite spectacular. Spring for the helicopter trip and 3 hour hike up on the glacier. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
• We drove from Franz Joseph to Queenstown in one shot. I would consider stopping in Wanaka on the way, it's a beautiful mountain lake town. The Cardrona Valley Rd route from Wanaka to Queenstown was spectacular and quicker than the longer highway route.
• Queenstown is awesome. Do the Routeburn Canyoning adventure for a full day. Canyoning is where you put on a thick wetsuit and then jump / slide down a river canyon, all with a lot of safety equipment and help from guides. Totally awesome. The jet boat is also awesome. Bring at least 1 bottle of sauvignon blanc and hike from the lake up to the top of the Queenstown Hill. Kiss your wife and enjoy the best view of Queenstown.
• Tramping - we did the 3 day Routeburn Track in "reverse" from the Te Anau side. I could write a lot about the Routeburn Track - it was absolute magic. It's not incredibly hard and the accommodations are quite good. Not roughing it. Pack 1 bottle of wine in a Nalgene bottle and bring lightweight stuff. The scenery is just spectacular. You can rent everything you need in Queenstown, or you can pay for a guided hike with more deluxe accommodations.
• Glenorchy is on the lake near Queenstown and is a cute little town. I had one of the best sandwiches I've ever had at the Glenorchy Cafe - seriously. We drove way out of our way to go there a 2nd time.
• Milford Sound was totally excellent. Take the earliest tour to avoid crowds. Bring industrial strength DEET for the sandflies (which I forgot to mention earlier). They're nuts, but won't bother you on the boat at least.
• We drove from Queenstown to Dunedin. Stop at a roadside fruit stand or two or three.
• Dunedin was a surprise hit. The Otago Peninsula was sensationally beautiful and the Royal Albatross Colony was really great. We went back at night to see the Blue Penguins come ashore. That was totally awesome, and you get to see tiny penguins! Dunedin was also very beautiful, had a good time walking around and some good cafe food.
• Heading North we stopped at Katiki Point Lighthouse north of Oamaru. We ended up spending 3 hours there totally surrounded by yellow eyed penguins. They're all over the place there in the later afternoon. Tons of seals and sea lions, too. This was a highlight.
• We spent a night in Akaroa and went swimming with the dolphins. Akaroa was one of the most beautiful places we visited, and there were many really beautiful places. Stunning water, great views, and swimming with dolphins was excellent.
• Our last night was in Christchurch, which is really a weird place right now. We stayed at an AirBnB close to the "red zone" and it was honestly pretty depressing. The old downtown is nearly completely destroyed. If you want to see what that looks like I would go to Christchurch, but sadly I would not visit again for 5-10 years minimum.

Fiji - fewer notes here, but Fiji was totally awesome.
• Blue Lagoon Beach Resort is far out on the Yasawa island chain. It's gorgeous, has great snorkeling, and the folks who run the place are really great. We rented the largest bungalow at BLBR and loved the outdoor shower. We took the Yasawa Flyer to get out there and really enjoyed the 4 hour ferry ride.
• We took a seaplane from BLBR back to the mainland, and then a 2nd sea plan to Vomo Island Resort. If we'd slipped the pilot a $50 he probably would have landed at Vomo and delivered us directly.
• Vomo is an ultra deluxe, extremely expensive resort. We had a super great, comfortable time there. They totally pamper you. The snorkeling is outstanding - we saw tons and tons of varieties of fish and excellent soft coral. Twice we had a black tip reef shark pay us a visit, which was really exciting (good).

Phew! Man, I loved our trip. I hope some of this is useful!
posted by pkingdesign at 11:01 PM on June 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Great advice from pkingdesign on NZ. I'd add that Rotorua could be worth a look (geysers, mud pools, lots of outdoor activity; good for a look at Maori culture, albeit in a 'packaged for tourists' way). Also Kaikoura if you're into whale watching. If you have time in Wellington, Te Papa (the national museum) could be worth a look - it's very interactive and visitor-friendly, though some say this comes at the expense of serious scholarship.

Word of warning: driving time in NZ will be more than you are used to in the USA. The roads are often hilly and winding, and there's no equivalent of the interstate highway system. So when planning, try to get local advice on driving time, rather than looking at the distances and estimating times.

Oh, and a second word - you're not really going at the best time of year. I'd try to hit NZ in November rather than August, if possible.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:00 PM on June 24, 2013

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