SoutheastAsia.org asked its writers what they would do with 2 weeks to spend in Southeast Asia.
Two weeks in spectacular, exotic Southeast Asia is an exciting prospect. While you can’t see everything, there are still myriad rich and varied experiences on offer. The following itinerary features a mix of personal favourites and as-yet-unvisited must-see destinations.
I’d begin in the country that popularised tourism in Southeast Asia – and stole my heart as a first-time visitor in 2002. It’s fitting the fictional backpacker idyll The Beach was set in Thailand, as some of my favorite white-sand stretches are located here. Each has its own distinct personality, so I’d visit a couple of them.
I’ve had my fill of unruly Full Moon Party. But I adore Koh Phangan’s secluded northeast coast – particularly gorgeous Thong Nai Pan Noi. This stunning semi-circular cove hoards a little slice of paradise, with pristine water, powdery sands, funky bungalows, and a laid-back vibe. Spending a few days here is like drinking a magical feel-good tonic.
I’d then hop further south to Phuket for a sunset meal at The Rockfish, overlooking tranquil Kamala Beach on the island’s west coast. Owner Richard gives friendly prices to familiar faces – and is usually happy to recount the time Kate Moss staggered in drunk with 20 mates and demanded steak off-menu – then had two bites and left the rest.
Check in with Cambodia
Call me “Mister Ego” if you like, but I once worked a stint at The Phnom Penh Post, so I’d stop by to see if the weekend lifestyle magazine I created – 7Days – was still going.
Plus, Cambodia finds itself at an intriguing juncture – historically, culturally, socially and politically. For budding amateur sociologists (like myself), just being there and talking to people offers endless fascination. It’s like Thailand must have been back in the 1970s: experiencing rapid change and discovering the baubles of globalisation, while the fascinating rites and superstitions of its traditional culture cling on for dear life. I’d take a tuk-tuk tour to survey civic developments and see if Phnom Penh was still airy and low-rise.
Unless travelling with companions who’d never visited Siem Reap, I’d skip the sprawling UNESCO World Heritage site surrounding majestic Angkor Wat. (You can only visit the same temples so many times in one lifetime, no matter how amazing they are.)
Checkout consumer paradise
Having traded colonial backwater status for today’s hi-tech metropolis, the region’s “economic tiger”, will always be the priciest destination on any Southeast Asia itinerary. But it’s worth splashing out on Singapore.
The city-state gets a bad rap for being uptight – but I’ve found just the opposite during nights out in the clubs and bars around Clarke Quay. There’s an undeniable buzz to the city-state’s cosmopolitan nightlife. I fuzzily recall an especially fun night out at Clinic, a unique hospital-themed joint, where you can suck spirits from drip bags, sip from test tubes and spin about in the provided wheelchairs.
I’d also be interested to drop by Southeast Asia’s first branch of Universal Studios, if only for the novelty value. It’s about to open on Sentosa – an island-based theme park off southern Singapore, which is served by a vertiginous cable car and hosts the annual ZoukOut Music Festival.
I’ve lived in Southeast Asia for almost a decade – but I still haven’t seen enough of the region. Here’s a rundown of destinations that remain on my wish-list:
Luang Prabang, Laos: I’ve heard the picturesque former royal capital (and UNESCO World Heritage site) makes for a romantic getaway, with a sleepy charm that’s reportedly stirring as more tourists arrive.
The Philippines (various): As a city-lover, I want to experience a thriller in teeming Manila. Off the beaten path, the party island Boracay sounds fun– as does swimming with whale sharks off Donsol.
Bali, Indonesia: I’ve been kneaded into submission by its famed massage techniques numerous times, but have never visited the source – known as one of the most visitor-friendly islands in the region. It’s high-time I did.
Hanoi, Vietnam: Reputedly one of the most beautiful colonial Indochinese cities, offering charm, friendliness and fat French baguettes!