SoutheastAsia.org asked its writers what they would do with 2 weeks to spend in Southeast Asia.
As an Australian, I know my country is blessed with many natural wonders, but the allure of traveling abroad has always captured my imagination. Southeast Asia is particularly attractive because of its close proximity to Australia. The region hosts a myriad of fascinating cultures, has some of the most sensational scenery, and you can travel in style - hotels, clubbing and dining are a mere fraction of what they would cost on a European or North American holiday.
If I had 2 weeks in Southeast Asia (SEA) I’d want an experience which combined city, beach and rainforest. I’d want shopping as well as spas, sightseeing as well as sumptuous food, culture as well as clubbing, diving and trekking as well as delicious decadence. In a 2 week timeframe I know I could stamp my passport numerous times, but in that case I’d exert myself to the point where I’d need a holiday after my holiday. So my itinerary involves three countries and ensures at least 2 nights in each location to absorb and relax, as well as participate.
First stop: Kuala Lumpur for 3 nights
Selamat Datang (welcome to) Kuala Lumpur. Glimpses of modernity and Moorish, British Colonial, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic art all influence the architectural design of the city. The magnetic twin towers. The historic train station. The Islamic arts museum. Mosques, temples and Chinese shopfronts juxtaposed with glamorous downtown suburbs such as KLCC and Bukit Bintang where Louis Vuitton and Prada advertising billboards peer out over the urbanscape.In my view, Kuala Lumpur (KL) is the most colorful and cosmopolitan of all Southeast Asian cities. It is host to a multi-ethnic society and its individuals are by far some of the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve met in the world. And guess what? They speak English.
What I would do:
- Walk around the Central Market into Little India and back to Chinatown, soaking various sites, smells and shopping opportunities of the Central and Petaling St markets.
- Have a cocktail at Skybar in Trader’s Hotel overlooking the Petronas Twin Towers at night.
- Spend either a half day at Batu Caves (a Hindu temple atop hundreds of stairs in limestone caves in the north of KL) or FRIM (the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, host to an impressive jungle canopy walk and waterfall).
- Take an afternoon/evening trip to Kuala Selangor, home to a magical river lined by twinkling fireflies at night.
- Tuck into a “Duan Pisang” (banana leaf) lunch at a mamak stall in Brickfields or the trendier suburb of Bangsar.
- Go clubbing along Asian Heritage Row.
- See the Islamic Art Museum exhibits, the State Mosque and continue on from these landmarks into the lush lake gardens that also include a bird, butterfly and orchid park.
Second stop: Sipidan Island for 3 nights
Recognized as one of the world’s top dive sites, access from KL to Sipidan Island is easy and inexpensive. I’d choose a 3 night, 4 day package from the internet which included accommodation on a nearby island (Sipidan itself is protected), diving, and possibly return airfare from KL. Imagine descending down the vertical midreef wall, drifting along a current and suddenly finding yourself among dozens of green turtles, schools of sharks, vibrant sea fans, corals and all kinds of amazing aquatic life. Sipidan is an experience of a lifetime that is basically indescribable - it has to be witnessed first-hand.
Third stop: Bali for 2 nights
Getting to Bali from KL is a piece of cake. While this island is renowned for its beaches, particularly among Australians, I’d prefer to take in the thick forest landscape, romantic rolling rice paddy hills and cultural aspects of Ubud. I’d immerse myself in the magic of the traditional villages and scenery - the central volcanoes, caves and rural countryside. I’d stroll through the township where art galleries abound and visit the temples where the real cultural dances of Bali are performed. Importantly, I’d lodge myself in a hillside private villa where I could soak it all up in luxury, with a peerless vista and opulent spa. That inimitable Balinese massage is a must on my itinerary.
Fourth stop: Gili Islands for 3 nights
From the island of Bali, I’d take a private fisherman’s boat to one of the Gili Islands (these are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia). Here is where I get the ultimate remote, stunning beach experience required from my holiday agenda. Noise is minimal as motorized vehicles are banned - people get around by bicycle or horse-drawn carriages - and there are few tourists. The white powder beaches are iridescent. The turquoise waters are so clear you can see the corals and fish from land. I’d find a pleasant enough resort hut right on the beach and spend the majority of my time sunbathing, swimming, reading and relaxing (with a cocktail often in hand).
Final stop: Singapore for 2 nights
There are plenty of flights from Bali to Singapore, which would be my final destination. Singapore is a world-class city with the same multicultural elements of Malaysia, with a more sophisticated and evolved (well, constantly evolving) shopping, nightlife and entertainment scene. It is the most organized city of SEA and should be commended for being tourist-friendly with an abundance of activities. While many may start their Southeast Asian holiday here (to ease them into the Asian lifestyle so to speak), I’d rather conclude mine here. I’d lap up the effortlessness of the lifestyle (everything in Singapore is easy to understand and find, in fact Singaporeans will go out of their way to help you in any way possible) and I’d savor all the elements of this luxurious Asian city before returning home.
What I would definitely do:
- Jump on a bus that took me through the botanical gardens and main city sights.
- Stroll through Little India.
- Sample traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice.
- Enjoy a drink at Clarke Quay.
- Shop along Orchard Road.
- Have a dim sum breakfast.
- See the “Singing Birds” in Tiong Bahru.
- Sip a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar.
Amy Morison is a writer who lives in Hoi An, Vietnam. She is founder and managing editor of Live Hoi AN Magazine (www.livehoianmagazine.com) and director of the Central Vietnam Advertising & Marketing Company.