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My Favorite Places in Southeast Asia

If you haven’t yet, check out my guest post on Lesley’s blog By the Porchlight for all the reasons you should visit Southeast Asia! Now that I’ve convinced you to travel to the region, where exactly should you go? Here are a few of my favorite places:

• The River Kwai Jungle Rafts in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. This floating hotel is only accessible by boat and has no electricity! But it was amazing. You can jump off the front deck and float down the river or watch elephants bathe from the hammock on your balcony.

River Kwai Jungle Rafts

• The Puerto Princesa Underground River on Palawan Island in the Philippines. Named one of the new wonders of nature in 2012, you can take a boat ride on the river into an enormous cave. On land, you’ll see giant monitor lizards and monkeys hanging out together and the most gorgeous green water you could imagine.

Underground River

• Street food stands in Hanoi, Vietnam. I don’t even care for Vietnamese food, but the pho I ate at one of the many tiny tables set up along the sidewalks of this charming city was so delicious. Chances are there won’t be any English spoken here but a little pantomime can go a long way. After dinner grab a beer at a roadside bia hơi joint.

Hanoi

• Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos. Best swimming holes in the world! But please be respectful of the local culture and wear a t-shirt over your bathing suit. There are tons of signs posted yet I saw so many foreigners in bikinis. Also be sure to visit the Bear Rescue Center at the entrance to the park!

Kuang Si Falls

• Beng Mealea near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat gets all the hype but I preferred this remote temple that can be reached by tuk-tuk in two hours. Prepare for a dusty, bumpy ride… But it’s worth it! Beng Mealea has been consumed by the jungle and left to ruin, which to me only adds to its beauty. You can climb up and over fallen rocks and rubble. Since there are many trees, it is also much shadier than other temples.

Beng Mealea

• Phang Nga Bay Sea Kayaking near Phuket, Thailand. Definitely do the Hong by Starlight tour with John Gray’s Sea Canoe. Expensive but so worth it! Amazing guides, great food, beautiful scenery, monkeys, swimming… I also loved making krathongs out of banana leaves and flowers and making a wish as we watched them float away in the candlelit lagoon. Magical!

Phang Nga Bay Sea Kayaking

Nipah Guesthouse in Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia. This is the best hotel I have ever stayed at because of its owners. Nicest, friendliest people you will ever meet! Alicia and Anuar really went above and beyond to make our stay exceptional. This is a great place to visit if you want to relax for a few days… Read in a hammock, take a leisurely stroll to the beach, munch on banana fritters, and feed the hornbills. Walking to Coral Island during low tide is fun too!

Pulau Pangkor

• Buddha Park near Vientiane, Laos. There isn’t much else to do near this city so if you’re in the area, definitely check out this sculpture park! So many bizarre Hindu and Buddhist statues. There’s also a giant pumpkin with three levels (hell, earth, and heaven) that you can go inside. From the top there’s a great view of the entire park.

Buddha Park

• Bali, Indonesia. This island is my favorite place in the world (so far). I love the offerings that are EVERYWHERE. Balinese people are very spiritual. They believe that Bali is populated with gods, ancestors, spirits, and demons and the offerings are meant to show respect and gratitude. I saw many items presented in the offerings, such as fruit, candy, cigarettes, money, crackers, and incense.

Bali

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P is for Paris, Phuket, & Pulau Pangkor

Paris, France

I visited Paris with my friends Breanna and Hazel in May 2004. It was part of a whirlwind European backpacking trip that I had planned as a college graduation gift to myself. We visited many awesome places in the city, including (pictured) Sacré Cœur, the Catacombs, Notre Dame, and Centre Georges Pompidou.

Phuket, Thailand

I went to Phuket in July 2011 with my friend Lienna. We had so much fun! Activities included riding elephants, sea kayaking, getting massages, visiting temples, and a Thai cooking class!



Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia

I visited this island in February 2011. It was one of my best trips in Asia because we had a group of friends come along too! We had fun just eating, drinking, chilling on the beach, and hanging out at the awesome Nipah Guesthouse.

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Tune Hotel KLIA

While overall Tune Hotel is a fine place to stay, I did not have a good experience there. I arrived after 1am and when I checked in I was told they were out of towels, even though I had ordered and paid to rent one. They refunded my money but all I really wanted to do was take a shower! Then when I got to the room the card wouldn’t work. So I had to go back down to the front desk and get a new card. Frustrating. The room is small (but not that bad) but the bed and shower are nice (if you have a towel!). I paid for AC so it was very cool. I walked there from the airport (LCCT) but took the shuttle in the morning. I was led to believe the shuttle was complimentary but the driver asked everyone for 1 ringgit after we were already in the van. Luckily I had the money for the towel refund or else I would have had no Malaysian money on me. Also if you want to take the shuttle get down there early; mine was full and some people had to wait for the next one (not sure if they came back right away or made them wait the whole half hour).

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K is for Kyoto, Kuala Lumpur, & Ko Phi Phi

Kyoto, Japan

Daniel and I visited Kyoto in July 2010. I really loved the city (much preferred it to Tokyo). There were so many awesome temples; we were there for four days and didn’t even see a fraction of them! My favorite was Fushimi Inari Taisha (which is technically a shrine). I also loved floating down the Hozu River on a wooden boat and the bamboo forest in Arashiyama.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Daniel and I visited Kuala Lumpur in February 2011. We only stayed one night (we spent most of our time in the country on the island of Pangkor). I really loved the city; it was so clean and modern but not expensive like Singapore! We stayed in a nice hotel, swam in the rooftop pool, ate a delicious buffet dinner, and I got a body scrub at the spa. But the highlight was visiting the Petronas Twin Towers at night!

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

I visited Ko Phi Phi solo in July 2011. (Ko means island and Phi Phi is pronounced “pee pee”.) I was so disappointed. I had heard so many things about how beautiful it was (and how the movie The Beach was filmed there). What a dump. It was filthy (I ran into a giant pile of trash while snorkeling) and packed with tourists. Add to that a horrific boat ride from and back to Phuket (so many people vomited and I was almost one of them). I was so glad I only stayed one night! Not recommended.