With South East Asia being a huge draw for tourists every year, it’s no surprise that it’s getting harder and harder to find a tiny little space just for you. The emergence of cheaper flights
from Europe and America has opened up the South East Asian countries to whole new levels of travellers arriving at airports.
Guidebooks and online blogs can become so saturated with the same activities and ‘paths’ that before long, one feels a little like there is little left to discover that is new. But with some
creative bus journeys, and a little research, South East Asia just keeps on surprising me!
So, below are just 5 of my top surprises for five amazing countries in this part of the world.
5. FLORES, INDONESIA
Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands, so naturally, one couldn’t hope to explore all of it. But with a sometimes chaotic public transport system, and a requirement to take LOTS
of boats in between islands, travellers can be put off exploring the less visited areas.
But the intrepid are rewarded with fabulous off the beaten track experiences. For me, this has to be the island of Flores. This emerald jewel is not only sprinkled with jagged jungle-strewn
peaks, but it’s also home to a mind-boggling array of diversity. For me, the surprise came from just how much variety there is. Trekking through forests dotted with waterfalls, visiting
ancient local tribes, gazing in awe at fabulous rice paddies, seeing the sun rise over ancient volcano crater-lakes and coming face to face with manta rays and komodo dragons. The list just
goes on and on, and with very little coverage, the biggest surprise was the ability to fill a month’s worth of adventure.
4. CAMERON HIGHLANDS, MALAYSIA
Strawberries galore, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
The nation of Malaysia is a gorgeous mix of heritage culture, buzzing modernity and jaw-dropping wildlife. Tourists come from all over the globe to tread through the Bornean rainforest or
glittering malls of Kuala Lumpur. Equally famous are the stunning coral reefs of Sipadan national park and Pulau Perhentian. However, a cooling retreat set in the mountains comes in the form
of the Cameron highlands, mainland Malaysia.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Once a retreat for British Colonists escaping the oppressive heat and humidity, the Cameron Highlands are now worthy of a visit in their own right. Rolling hills planted with tea and
vegetables greet the eye. Stunning colonial villas cater to tourists every whim and Malaysia’s phenomenal cuisine doesn’t get ignored. The choice of Malay and Indian restaurants is plentiful
but what really inspired me was the complete abundance of strawberries available. With several crops per year, the gorgeous red berries are used in as many recipes as possible and frankly, I
just couldn’t get enough of them. When you add in the Cameron Highland’s charming architecture, cool climate and superbly friendly locals, this was truly a happy Malaysian surprise.
3. ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA
Ok, so nobody would agree that the amazing ruins at Angkor Wat are a surprise. They are indeed Cambodia’s biggest tourist draw. For many travellers (both package tours AND independent) a
visit to the temples is a must-do on a South East Asian itinerary. The reason I list the ruins at Angkor are simply that the entire experience was the opposite of what I expected.
From speaking to other travellers and reading online blogs, I had begun to form the idea that Angkor Wat was going to be one of the following…crowded with selfie-snapping tour-groups,
hassling touts haranguing at every step, or temples so restored that nothing ‘original’ remains of them.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Thankfully, my pre-conceptions could not have been more wrong. Of course, there are tourists. Why wouldn’t there be tourists at Lonely Plant's 'Number one must visits
2015?'There were also a few touts. And yes, some of the temples have been restored rather a lot. But Angkor surprised me in so many ways.
From the outset I felt very relaxed and not hassled; it helps that by ‘chartering’ a tuk-tuk driver privately, one can visit most of the sites at different times to all the tour groups…this
meant that I was able to wander temple ruins totally alone at some points, and take in all the crumbling beauty in an un-hurried fashion.
I also found that I was not (contrary to my original worries) hassled the entire time by pushy touts. Yes, I was offered some trinkets to buy, and yes, tour-guide services were thrown my way.
But that’s it…there was no legion of people following in my wake, and after a few polite ‘no thank-yous’ I was left to wander the majesty of this amazing temple complex.
The final element that was such a wonderful surprise for me, was the gorgeous sites themselves. The main complex, Angkor Wat itself, has been restored to its former glory and has all the
majesty one would expect. But the outlying ruins, the ones still being discovered, categorised and re-built….those are the ones that really inspired me. Seeing decayed old walls claimed by
the jungle and imagining all that they have born witness to, is a really special privilege.
Our tuk-tuk driver who was with us for 3 days and he was really excellent. I said I would share his name and email so that other’s could benefit. He has great English and his rates were
excellent. His name is: Chanthorn and email here.
2. DIVE VIETNAM
My first visit to South East Asia was 8 years ago, and due to time constraints and budget, I had to miss out Vietnam. This long nation running along the South China sea has since held many
expectations for me.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp
The biggest and loveliest surprise for me, was discovering that amongst the food, people, natural scenery and cultural highlights, it seems that I had been over-looking fabulous scuba diving
opportunities! Diving is something that many tourists enjoy in this part of the world, and rightly so. With many of the countries in this part of the globe falling into the coral triangle (the most
bio-diverse parts of our oceans), the underwater opportunities are numerous.
For me, the wonderful surprise about Vietnam was that not only are there tons of weird and wonderful critters to see and photograph, but also, a thriving dive education scene. The best of these being
Rainbow Divers; with experience in Vietnam spanning 17 years, Rainbow Divers really impressed me
with their organised outfit, professional attitude, and genuine interest in dive industry progression. They have shops dotted all over Vietnam, and being the only PADI CDC in Vietnam, means they are
the best place to begin a diving adventure, or progress further through the PADI system.
Of course, I might be bias as, I am a PADI Instructor, but having trained and worked all over the globe, I have seen some shoddy businesses handing out dive licences left, right and centre.
The wonderful surprise about Vietnam for me, was not only the perfect training conditions for diving, but also, there was a fantastic reputable operator ready to take me underwater and have some fun.
1.AFTERNOON TEA, BANGKOK, THAILAND
The Sukhothai Afternoon Tea
My number one surprise came in Bangkok, however. Now, Thailand is famous for many things….being the land of smiles, having amazing food, boasting a rich cultural heritage and now….enjoying a
fabulously elegant afternoon tea amid tranquil settings!
I would not have thought it either, but after a few visits to Bangkok over the years, I have started to tick off all the things there are to do in this buzzing energetic capital city. This is when I
stumbled upon The Sukhothai Hotel, located in the centre of Bangkok but nestled in a neat enclosure
surrounded by lush trees and delightful lotus ponds. It was a perfect find.
Bangkok is frenetic at best, obnoxious at worst, so the idea of a civilised afternoon tea to escape the blistering heat really appealed to me. The setting is just perfect…from the tasteful décor by a
world famous interior designer, to the fact that your view whilst enjoying hand-made treats is a delicate water feature framed by gorgeous hand-carved window features.
The Sukhothai Afternoon Tea
The entire set-up was just a joy. As for the food itself, there is a ‘western’ style afternoon tea, or ‘thai style’, both very different, both sumptuous in delivery. Delicate salmon croissants,
tender chicken satay skewers, classic thai dressing served in shot glasses…the savoury choices were stunning.
But onto the BEST bit. Yes, I am also a trained pastry chef, so the desserts at this sort of thing have a lot to live up to. Thankfully, The Sukhothai Hotelhas
a head pastry chef from Switzerland, and boy does it show. Fluffy choux pastry cases filled with cream, melt in the mouth shortcrust tarts, and velvety chocolate truffles…yes, these are just a
few of the things we had. In summary, considering the amazing price of their afternoon teas, The
Sukhothaicertainly provided me with a lovely surprise right here in the
bustling centre of Bangkok, Thailand.
Have you been to South East Asia?
What surprised you most when you were there?
Why don’t you let me know via one of the social media links or visit my contact page.
If you want to save money and find cool accommodation check out Airbnb