Make me want to go to Asia.
September 3, 2007 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Make me want to go to Asia.

Next summer I will be heading off to Singapore for a really good friends wedding, however it is only for a couple of days. The vague problem is that most of the other friends of the wedding party are planning on travelling around that part of the world for a few weeks afterwards.

However I have had very little interest in looking to travel in that part of the world. As in Malaysia, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia etc. So I am asking the Uncle Travelling Matt types of AskMe to sell Asia to me.

Interests include walking, swimming, historic sites, food that kind of thing. All of which I know are plentiful around those parts, but because I've not ever fancied Asia then I'm kind of clueless.
posted by djstig to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
well, you might want to go to the bookstore and read up on those countries. lonely planet and rough guides are both good resources for the younger traveler. talk to the others and see what they want to do. often, just being around enthusiastic people can help stimulate your interest. also, be open to the fact that once you're there, you might find it a lot more interesting than it seems in the abstract.

(i would say not to waste your money if you really have no interest, but i suspect the greatest expense is just getting there, and once you are there, you might as well check it out.)
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:44 AM on September 3, 2007

Best answer:
In 2007 an international team of researchers using satellite photographs and other modern techniques concluded that Angkor had been the largest preindustrial city in the world with an urban sprawl of 1,150 square miles. The closest rival to Angkor, the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, was roughly 50 square miles in total size.
If you've ever wanted to feel like Indian Jones, Laura Croft (Tomb Raider) or any jungle explorer, and if you've ever wanted to visit what can only be considered one of the wonders of the world, then look no further than Ankgor Wat in Cambodia. The buildings there date from 800A.D. to 1400A.D., are just massive in size and scale (elephant parking lots!), are scattered all over the jungle, and are totally accessible either on your own or with a guide.

Here's an example of what you can expect around the main temple.

Here's an example of one of the many trees that have grown through/over/in/around some of the temples..

Here's a shot of one of the roads.

Here's a (big) aerial photo that covers only a few of the temples.

It's so big that you need a good three days to explore most of it, although you could condense it to two or prolong it to a week. I recommend hiring a local guide on a scooter, he'll drive you around for under $10 a day and leave you on your own to explore buildings for hours at a time, waiting patiently in the shade or at the nearest stand. You'll see monkeys jumping from tree to tree, hear noisy insects without seeing them, see trees that are easily 8 stories tall (if not more) and get to climb on/in/around some amazing sites. The guides are also good enough to know which buildings to visit in the morning, which to visit at sunset, etc.

My only other suggestion, you'll have little kids hounding you to buy postcards, and no matter how many you buy, they'll hound you to buy more, so the easy solution is to buy a bunch of bananas each morning, and tell them you don't have money and offer a banana instead. Works like a charm.

Google Angkor, Ankgor Wat, Siem Reap (nearest town). Also, if you're worried about hassle over the overland route (from say Bangkok), you can fly directly into the town.

P.S. I went to South East Asia three years ago with the same opinion as you, and came back just madly in love with the area. It's a different way of life. Also, you are correct, it is expensive to get there, but once you are there, prices range from insanely cheap to very reasonable. Enjoy!
posted by furtive at 8:52 AM on September 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I didn't have much interest in southeast asia before I went, really, and I've ended up spending about a year out of the last three there.

Just go with your friends. You'll love it, I promise. And don't miss Laos.
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2007

Oh, p.s. - you can rent motorbikes everywhere for about $2-3 a day and do whatever you want. truly, paradise.
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2007

Singapore borders Malaysia, and Kuala Lampur is just a 6-7 hour train ride away from Singapore. KL is a dazzling mixture of modernity and tradition, a friendly, energetic city that shows how far Malaysia has come in 50 years of independence. It's home to the Petronas Towers, which were, at one time, the tallest buildings in the world. You might have seen them in the movie Entrapment, which was an okay movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was really, really hot at the time of shooting. Remember that one scene where she's practicing how to sneak over, under, and around the laser beams, and she does that crazy snake thing with her hips and her ass gets in just under the laser? That was pretty sweet.

Have a good trip!
posted by bluejayk at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: Ankgor Watt looks like exactly the type of thing I'm looking at, thanks furtive. I've known about bits and pieces of SE Asia but not really looked in depth at it, these (and hopefully more) ideas are helping.
posted by djstig at 10:55 AM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: I can relate. I also REALLY never wanted to go to Asia. My friend's sister was working there in 1994 though, and so I agreed to go there for a month with her. Started off in Singapore, then up through Malaysia, and through Thailand. When the plane landed, I remember thinking, "I have no idea why I'm here. It's hot."

First off, if you've only travelled in westernized countries, you really have no idea what culture shock is. Going to Southeast Asia changed me forever as a person, it was one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. After being there a while I found myself really mellowing out about life in general. In my early 20s I think I was a bit of a whiner, and in Asia lot of things were really put into perspective for the first time in my life. My time there taught me how easy it is to be happy with little & somehow I learned a sense of peace I didn't ever have before. It also gave me a sense of fearlessness I didn't have before... because when I first stepped foot into Southeast Asia I was terrified out of my skull.

I had always traveled places where I blended in before that. I can pass for French or British. But I ain't passing for Thai. So that was really rough for me at first. People would actually call me "farang" when serving me coffee. Standing out so much was really hard for me to get used to at first.

Another thing that I had a hard time grasping at first was the lack of Western obsession with rules and safety... they aren't a litigious culture, so you pretty much are responsible for taking care of yourself. I learned to go with the flow of a place, was also a really great lesson for me. I remember about a week after I arrived we were supposed to get on a boat to go somewhere. The walkway to the boat was just a tiny plank. Being from America, my friend & I said, "That plank is dangerous. I could fall and hurt myself. I'm not getting on that boat." Well, meanwhile the boat filled up. It was clear that nobody was going to worry about me, that I had to worry about myself. So I got on the boat. And I was fine. When I arrived in the region, I was scared of everything. But within a few weeks I found myself completely ignoring the bugs and geckos that were everywhere. I could smile and say hello to the fish-head in my soup. I didn't freak out about riding elephants, feeding crocodiles, sleeping under mosquito netting, hanging out with hill tribespeople, peeing in Thai toilets, eating at hawker stands, riding scooters, wasting all day on a beach drinking cheap beer, eating things I couldn't identify (AND LIKING THEM!), hard-bargaining with salespeople, trekking through the rainforest, rafting on bamboo palettes, drinking thai whisky, learning to play snooker... I got to do all sorts of incredible things. And I HAD A BLAST. (The only thing thing I did develop a fear of was monkeys. Because they're evil.) My time in Southeast Asia taught me to be a much more low-maintenance, fearless and peaceful person. And to celebrate things like full moons.

There are things in Asia you just aren't going to see if you travel elsewhere. Not to mention that IT'S ONE OF THE CHEAPEST PLACES IN THE WORLD so you really do get a big ol' bang for your buck. I'll NEVER forget my time there... my amazement the first time I saw a street filled with entire families riding scooters (sometimes five people, holding chickens... sometimes even with sidecars to fit more), the first time I sat on a Thai beach drinking an 80ยข beer and eating incredible lobster for $1, a Thai girl trying to teach me how to bend and move my fingers like a Thai dancer, boating along the floating market, strolling through the Grand Palace, and OH MY GOD THE FRUIT THERE IS THE BEST YOU WILL EVER TASTE. It has so much more flavor than you ever knew fruit could contain.

And if none of that convinces you, try this. If you go, for the rest of your life you can possess freaking awesomely mind-blowing photos to impress chicks with.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2007 [10 favorites]

Not that I was trying to impress chicks, but I'm assuming you're a guy.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2007

The current issue of the New Yorker has an amusing article about going to Singapore simply to eat from the street hawkers. Apparently Singapore creates food court all over where it's not unusual to find a hundred different stalls. The article isn't online, but if you enjoy food, it'd be worth buying the current issue because the theme is food.
posted by slowstarter at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2007

I agree with furtive, Angkor is truly amazing. If you go there, be sure not to miss Beng Mealea where you'll truly feel like an explorer. I was there by myself (with a driver) for almost two hours. It was an amazing experience (see my photo).

Also, a boat trip on Halong Bay in Vietnam is truly amazing.

And just walking across the street in Saigon is an experience you won't forget.

Oh, and if you like swimming, then diving into Halong Bay around sunset is awesome!
posted by einarorn at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2007

Try blackened stingray in Singapore. And learn to speak some Singlish. It's fun, la!*

*Yep, she's speaking in english. It's basically the valley talk of Singapore.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:40 AM on September 3, 2007

Here's a start.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2007

Everything miss lynster and einaron said. Go to Southeast Asia because it is unlike anywhere else you have ever been, and that is good for you.

Nthing Angkor Wat, Beng Melea, and Halong Bay. Take a boatload of pictures, even if you don't think you are a great photographer, you will get some amazing shots.

But don't forget your malarone/lariam/doxycycline. Malaria is one souvenir you don't want to bring back.
posted by ambrosia at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2007

One thing I forgot to mention. Another reason to go is that if the only part of Southeast Asia you see is Singapore? That's just a crime. You'll be missing so much of the true flavor of the region.

Not Singapore-ist... as the joke goes, it's a fine country (you get fined for this, fined for that). It tries hard to be Westernized, and goes about it in its own way. You should definitely explore beyond it's clean, gum & litter-free walls.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:47 PM on September 3, 2007

No, no, Singlish is not valleyspeak! *distressed* It's the local slang!
posted by Xere at 1:51 PM on September 3, 2007

I'm from Southern California. TO ME, valleyspeak is local slang.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:05 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: I've marked a couple of best answers as they have definitely given me a flavour of what people get out of going to SE Asia.

More specific places and reasons would be great though.
posted by djstig at 2:50 PM on September 3, 2007

I was you 9 years ago, when I wound up doing a study-abroad program in Thailand almost by accident (the program I wanted to do fell through, I still had a grant to study somewhere, the Thailand program had spots open, I liked Pad Thai) and fell in obsessive love.

Many great reasons have been given, so I'll keep this brief: there is nothing like traveling in South East Asia. It is both easy to travel there (much English is spoken, everything's cheap) and totally challenging, in a way that is really refreshing and invigorating. It's beautiful, it's fun, the food is awesome, the beaches are perfect.

The only danger is that, like me, you may find yourself permanently bit by the travel bug there.
posted by lunasol at 4:04 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should go because it will likely be the most amazing experience of your life so far, and you will learn more about yourself in a few weeks than you would in years at home.

Nothing makes you feel more alive than where there are surprises around every corner, with new experiences to be had and new things to learn every day.
posted by gemmy at 4:13 PM on September 3, 2007

Go to Chang Mai, Thailand.

Not overwhelming, western toilets and edibles can be found in city, but a short tuk-tuk ride out and you are in paradise. Waterfalls, butterflies, hilltribe folks, awesome CHEAP food-aw danngit I wish I could find my passport. I wanna go back.
posted by konolia at 6:23 PM on September 3, 2007

And just walking across the street in Saigon is an experience you won't forget.

Yes, definitely. In my case, by the time I learned to do so without stress, I had to go home.

Like you, I wasn't interested at all in going to Vietnam before I had a chance to do so. But I'd love to go there again, to another city next time to see what it's like.

And this might sound weird, but I'm Japanese and even for me, an Asian, I probably experienced the biggest culture shock of my life during my week in Vietnam - not when I lived in North America or traveled in Europe.

And miss lynnster makes me want to toss aside my job, grab my passport and hop on a plane to SE Asia RIGHT NOW.
posted by misozaki at 6:46 PM on September 3, 2007


Enough said.
posted by divabat at 3:58 AM on October 5, 2007

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