Mini Travel Guide - Top 3 Destinations to Visit In South East Asia This Summer
Ancient temples, remote hill-tribes and dreamy beaches - South-East Asia has been enticing backpackers and holiday-makers for decades with it's addictive mix of affordable, exotic adventure. I've had a long-standing love affair with this part of the world for over a decade. It's exciting, unpredictable and the food is outstanding. I'm at my most happiest wandering through the urban sprawl of cities, stumbling through ancient ruins and connecting with remote village tribes. In these mini travel guides, I share with you some of my favourite destinations that have been a source of inspiration personally and for Jewelled Buddha. If you're looking for an experiential holiday, check out these top 3 destinations to visit in south-east Asia this summer.
The perfect introduction to South - East Asia, Thailand has something for everyone. Glittering temples, tropical beaches and Thai massages, are all part of what you'll come to love about this country. Summer in the UK means the monsoon in Thailand, but don't be put off by this. Monsoon rains can be a welcome respite from the heat, are usually short-lived and won't disrupt your travel plans.
A swirling metropolis with a sophisticated edge, a few days spent here before heading to the islands is a must. Glittering mega malls sit alongside fragrant street food stalls and sky trains thunder overhead on elevated rail tracks. Bangkok has an energy all of its own with its hot, steaming streets full of people, bustling markets and chaos. But scratch the surface, wander through hidden alleyways and you’ll discover this place is home to thousands of expats who work, live and play in this colourful city. As night falls, you'll find Bangkok takes on a playful personality. Swanky hotels attract the in-crowd into their dimly lit minimalism and impressive rooftop bars, while dangerously young girls lure the grey nomads into the neon-lit bars with their blatant flirtation and cheeky one liners.
Koh Pha Ngan, Ko Tao & Koh Samui
The best of the weather during our summer can be found on the east coast. Head over to the islands of Koh Pha Ngan for some hedonistic playtime and white-sandy beaches. Koh Tao is popular for diving and hiking through lush jungles, while Koh Samui offer a chance to join the honeymooners and kick-back, enjoy international cuisine and indulge in high-end spas and resorts.
With a picturesque back drop of mountainous jungle, Chiang Mai offers a welcome alternative to the chaos of Bangkok. The crowd is laid-back with a slightly bohemian edge. Travellers, students, NGO-workers and cultural enthusiasts ensure an interesting mix with the Thai trilogy of temples, markets and street food stalls ensuring there’s plenty to see and do. It’s the goto place for trekkers who want to explore the surrounding landscapes and Burmese influenced North.
Must do: Shop till you drop in the air-conditioned shopping malls, wander through the gleaming temples and experience the night-life and international food scene in Bangkok. Head to the islands for massages on the beach, then grab a sundowner and hit a beach BBQ. Grab ring-side seats at a Muay-thai boxing match in Chiang Mai, spend a day at an elephant sanctuary or discover the secret of Thai food at the many cookery schools.
Vietnam has come along way in trying to shake off it's war-torn past. It's now a progressive nation with fast-developing cities, French colonial grandeur and gleaming sky-scrapers. It's a stunning country that will have you in awe as you journey through its jaw-dropping landscapes, tropical beaches and ever-green rice fields. The people are resilient, resourceful and fun. As for the food, it's use of fresh herbs and subtle spicing feels almost spiritual! For me Vietnam was the game - changer. It changed me from a holiday -maker to a traveller and inspired me to look beyond package holidays. It deserves to be explored fully and without hesitation. There are adventures to be had here, jungles waiting to be explored, cities to be experienced and mountainous villages to discover.
Head to the north and immerse yourself in the labyrinth of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Here traditional stone-carvers and hole-in-wall cafe's vie for space with merchants selling anything from fake goods to prayer flags. Practice Tai Chi in the peaceful surrounds of Hoan Kiem Lake or discover The French Quarter with its tree-lined streets and grand colonial architecture.
Lan Ha Bay
A less busy alternative to the ever-popular Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay won't disappoint. Thousands of spectacular lime-stone karsts, jagged peaks and tiny islands form the breath-taking view of this World Heritage site. Join an overnight tour and cruise through the limestone peaks on a Chinese junk boat. You can stop off at one of the islands to kayak, explore hidden caves or visit the floating villages.
Beaches - Nha Trang, Mui Ne & Hoi An
Late summer is a great time to visit the beaches of Southern Vietnam. Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Hoi An have an established tourism industry. Picture soft yellow sands, azure waters and a relaxed vibe with plenty to see and do. Traditional fishing villages rub shoulders with high-end hotels serving world-class food while you lie back and soak up the sun.
Must do: Join a motorbike tour and ride through the cities, jungles, Ho Chi Minh trail and see the stunning Hai van Pass. Chat to the locals over a Vietnamese coffee fix at the many kerb-side cafe's and wake up to mountain views in the terraced hill-station of Sapa in the North.
A vast archipelago of volcanoes, mountains, stunning wilderness and blindingly bright beaches makes Indonesia an exciting place to visit. It's cultures, customs and ethnic groups are diverse making it experiential, exotic and unforgettable. July through to September is a great time to visit with tropical temperatures sending travellers straight to this piece of heaven.
The only Hindu Kingdom in South-East Asia, Bali offers a delightful journey into visually captivating cultures and festivals. Kuta is perhaps the most popular with its 8-kilometres of sun-drenched beach, night-life and shopping. Down the road Seminyak, is the stylish home of many expats. Here you'll find designer boutiques, up-market restaurants and a whole range of hotels. More chic than Kuta, the beaches are less crowded and the night life more selective. If you're looking for a more laid-back cultural experience, head over to seductive Ubud. Here deep conversations over organic coffee’s, yogic retreats and breathtaking scenery are the reason many decide to stay. Tourists have been flocking here for decades, hoping their dreams of an “Eat, Pray, Love ” lifestyle would one day become a reality. Who can blame them! With its cascading rice terraces, yoga retreats and beautiful temples, Bali has a serenity that will have you contemplating the meaning of life.
One of the most compelling places I've ever experienced, Sulawesi has an untamed wildness that surrounds the emerald avalanche of rice fields, volcanoes and lakes. Four peninsulas make up the highland Torajans, the seafaring lowland Bugis, central highland tribes and Filipino descended Minahasans in the far North. The scenery and landscape is as magnificent as it is otherworldly. Start in the chaotic capital of Makassar for no more than a day or two of experiencing a bustling sea port and great seafood. After that, head over to Tana Toraja for a guided and unforgettable experience of ancient tribal ceremonies then travel to Pantai Bira to experience some great snorkelling and diving. The beaches here are breathtaking with their sparkling seas and blindingly white sands.
Nusa Tenggara Islands
if you're looking for breath-taking volcanic landscapes, white sands and cerulean seas the lush islands of Nusa Tenggara are heavenly. Head to Komodo National Park and get up close to the Komodo dragons. Lombok is the ideal location for diving and trekking to up the sacred elevation of Mount Rinjani, whilst Flores won't disappoint with its lush rice terraces, temples and exotic beaches.
Must do: In Bali, visit Mount Batur in the Kintamani region, marvel at the pristine Tegallang Rice Terraces and watch a sun-set over the famous Tanah Lot Temple. Hire a guide and explore the ancient cultures and rituals of the Toragans in Sulawesi by visiting the hanging graves and surreal Tongkonan houses. If you can stomach it, you can also visit a funeral at certain times of the year, but beware of mass animal sacrifice - it's not for the faint-hearted but will fascinate you if there's an anthropologist lurking inside you!