Planning Southeast Asia

Remember when Theresa wrote up a details about all the countries in Africa we wanted to go to? Well around that time I was supposed to do my analysis of Southeast Asia in much the same way. And in typical Jeff fashion, here it is, three weeks late. In my defense, one of those weeks was in Sweden while the other was in San Diego. Throw in a weekend in Richmond, and here we are.

But tales of my procrastination and lack of organization are not why you are here. So having finally finished my leisurely 700 page read “Southeast Asia on a shoestring,” here’s the long list of places we’re most interested in going.

Cambodia: It’s definitive draw (justifiably so) are the Temples of Angkor, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. The whole country seems dotted with these Khmer temples about a millenia old. It’s probably not the coolest thing about me, but one thing I do love about traveling is the history lessons, and Cambodia seems to have them in spades. I’m sure Theresa will humor me. It’s more recent past with the Khmer Rouge is intensely sobering, though they are arguably more important history lessons. Memorials to those lost are also required visits.

Indonesia: We may be better off going by islands rather than nations because of all the islands in Indonesia, only Borneo, comprised of three nations, and Papua, comprised of two, particularly interest us. The more well known islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra seem overcrowded, touristy, and indistinct, respectively. Anyway, we love the natural beauty, rural setting and tribal dominance that exist on Borneo and Papua, not to mention Orang Utans, pygmy elephants and rhinos to see.

Laos: It seems to be the laid back country in the region, which sounds like a welcome change after Cambodian temples and Bangkok, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. Though I’m sure we’ll both relax comfortably in the charming French colonial city of Luang Prabang, I’m excited about spelunking at Vang Vieng and looking for the Irrawaddy dolphins at Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands).

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur and it’s incredibly diverse experiences is an obvious spot to hit, but we’re really intrigued by a lot of the other options on the peninsula: trekking between villages and tea plantations in the Cameron highlands, riding a train along the jungle railway, jungle camping in Taman Negara National Park. This doesn’t even include half of Malaysia that is on Borneo (already discussed under Indonesia), with more spelunking, 4000 meter tall Mt Kinabalu to hike, and did I mention pygmy elephants?

Philippines: There are three things drawing us to the Philippines, all of them in the water. The first is the islands around Cebu, connected with a dizzying array of ferries. The second are the Calamian islands, beautiful, laid back, with some amazing diving among WWII shipwrecks (see more about diving with Thailand). The third is swimming with whale sharks in Donsol, which has got to be ridiculously cool, I mean, they’re 50 feet long!

Singapore: I don’t have much to say here besides we know we will be going there. Since we know we’ll go there, I haven’t looked so hard into what exactly we’ll do there. That will come when we start to think about how much time we’ll want to spend there. Just another victim of procrastination …

Thailand: We’ll get the obvious out of the way again, because Bangkok will probably be our first stop on the whole trip (by default … we’ll probably fly in there). It does have an absolute ton of culture and history to offer in one chaotic, slightly dirty package (which sounds a lot like Cairo to us … and we loved Cairo). There’s a lot more to do though, the beautiful and crazy resort town of Phuket, the dive mecca of Ko Tao (where we intend to get PADI certified), elephant rides and treks to hill tribe villages near Chiang Mai, and the ancient cities of Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. Thailand has a great travel reputation for a reason.

Vietnam: Finally, there’s the country that conjures up all kinds of imagery to Americans. To be frank, we’re fascinated by the country, it’s beauty and it’s hardship. Hanoi houses Vietnamese and communist history in a French colonial wrapper, while Ho Chi Minh City reveals the hardship in the War Museum, the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace. In between lie beauty at the archipelago at Halong Bay, the ruins of Hoi An and the highlands of Dalat.

So that pretty much sums up where we want to go in Southeast Asia. The one that hurts to leave off is Burma, as it seemed like a fascinating place. But as we have earlier describe, we don’t feel right about going there and supporting the current regime, especially when the democratically elected leader under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi, has requested foreigners not to visit the country. Additional countries we won’t be traveling to include East Timor, since it is not particularly stable, and Brunei, since it’s on Borneo with Malaysia and Indonesia, countries we have more interest in visiting.

So anyway, all things considered, we’ve now finished the easy part (at least with Africa and Southeast Asia). The hard part is figuring out where we can actually go on our budget and time frame. There’s were the real parsing begins. And just like in Theresa’s Africa post, there’s a lot of overlap … beaches and islands and jungles and trekking, with a few large cities thrown in. Though to be fair, I don’t really get tired of those things.

11 Replies to “Planning Southeast Asia”

  1. Um, we know we’re going to Singapore. Hmm, I didn’t know that, so who is this “we” that you speak of. 🙂 Am I missing something, because, although i will admit that I know very little about Singapore, my interest in it is about as big as the space between these two words.

    Once again, we have way too many places we are interested in for the amount of time we have available. Narrowing down is going to be hard.

  2. I think this will be the part of your trip that I will be most jealous of! I’ve been wanting to go to Thailand forever and I’ll be really interested to hear about Vietnam. So what about Japan and S. Korea? Also, are you guys planning on going to India or Russia?

  3. Yup, little lady, we’re going to Singapore. How long we stay there or what we do there I still don’t know. But we’ll be there for a while at some point, probably in reality whether we like it or not, as it’s one of the main travel hubs of Southeast Asia along with Bangkok. The rest we’ll worry about later =).

    And Laura, while we’d love to go to Japan and South Korea, they don’t really fit into our budget for this trip (that also goes for two other countries I’m really interested in going to, New Zealand and Australia). Someday, someday. India is a country I have been making a push for as a stop between Asia and Africa, as I really want to see the Himalayan Plateau. And we are planning on doing a bit of Russia, though the other side … we want to go to St. Petersburg next summer when I am in Sweden *hopefully* defending my thesis. In total though, on this trip we’re staying south of China.

  4. Is Phuket rebuilt enough for visiting? It was the epicenter of the tsunami a few years back, was it not?
    I don’t know why, but Asia has never really interested me too much. Maybe its the huge culture differences, or the fact that we learn very little about the Far East in history class, but I know little about it. Guess that in itself is a good reason to go there.

    Sounds fun.

  5. Concerning Mark’s comment regarding the lack of educational emphasis on the Far East in history classes:

    We don’t learn much about the Far East because they possess three things Americans don’t believe in:

    1. A History of Communism and other frowned upon ruling structures.
    2. A country that will compete with America as a superpower in the near future.
    3. Defeat (cough:Vietnam:cough:Korea:cough)

    We’d rather teach about out great victories such as World War II and other “great” victories like the Trail of Tears.

    Personally, I’d love to go to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia.
    I was going to leave a separate comment but I was afraid you would get all excited, and then be disappointed when you realize it’s merely me.

    RE: Southeast Asia. Talk to Nick Mudd. I would recommend XMAS break, as he is currently swamped with/by Law School. He has amazing pictures and a “wicked” story about sun posioning. Let me know if you want his contact info. Or we could all just do Sushi.

  6. Come to Cambodia! yay-so fun! I’ve been living here for the past 6 months and will be here another year at least. Would love to play tour guide for some adventure exploring (the last category kind…venturer?). And am actually working with a non-profit funded by….yes, adventure tours. biking mostly, but others as well. Dont’ worry Jeff…not all history. Its actually a damn cool and beautiful place just to hang.

    (and you only need a day for singapore)

    Congrats on the plan for this amazing year–hope I get to be a part of it!

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