Bali Lane, Kampong Glam, Singapore. Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino
Cities in Southeast Asia remind you of the kindred souls you met on your trips. They are varied and storied – some are intriguing, while others are relaxed, quirky, or simply charming.
Weekends in the city are often peppered with talks on food, on locals, on the bars to check out at night, and on hues of the streets. Often, they are punctuated with random walks to the destinations that the city is proud of and known for.
We asked six globetrotters to tell us about their favorite urban weekends in Southeast Asia: and found the answers to be as varied as the personalities involved.
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Photo courtesy of The Travel Sisters
Bandar Seri Begawan’s Mosques and Daily Life
Matilda Ge of The Travel Sisters visited Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei and had high praise of this off-the-beaten-track capital. “It’s a great city to visit on the weekend, and you can easily see the major attractions in a short amount of time,” she tells us:
“Bandar Seri Begawan is home to two of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Surrounded by an artificial lagoon that acts as a reflecting pool, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is beautiful to view both in the daytime and at night when it is all lit up. Built to commemorate the current reigning Sultan, Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is the largest mosque in Brunei.
“Take a water taxi to Kampong Ayer which is a large network of stilt villages that extends over the Brunei River. In the evening enjoy cheap and tasty food at the Tamu Selera night market which is tented, with several stalls and plenty of seating.
“Other attractions worth visiting in or near Bandar Seri Begawan include a morning market, a large park and the world’s largest residential palace.”
Hue, Vietnam Photo courtesy of Trip Gourmets
History along Hue’s Perfume River
Sarah Rothrie of Trip Gourmets considers two major reasons to visit Hue, a historic town on the banks of the Huong (Perfume) River in central Vietnam. “The first is its rich tapestry of history,” she says, “the other is the food.”
Hue’s history, Sarah tells us, is “decorated by its place as the Imperial capital of Vietnam and the seat of the Nguyen dynasty, but also spattered with blood from the Hue Massacre, which took place during the Vietnam-US War.
“To personally experience the history, visit the UNESCO Imperial City. Despite being damaged during the 20th century conflicts, the buildings have been subject to heavy restoration. The displays tell the story of the Nguyen emperors, who ruled from 1789 to the mid-20th century.
“To get your fix of 20th century history, visit the demilitarized zone (DMZ) outside of Huế. You can there see the Vịnh Mốc tunnels. The Vịnh Mốc villagers literally moved their village 30m underground to avoid the US ground attacks.”
For a Hue food fix, Sarah recommends the classic soup of the area. “Bún Bò Huế is a beef noodle soup, spicy and fragrant with lemongrass, that is rightly famed all over Vietnam,” she explains. “Grab your chopsticks and a plastic stool and slurp it down with the locals at Dong Ba market—the biggest in Central Vietnam.”
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park Photo courtesy of Continent Hop
Puerto Princesa’s Multitude of Islands
For Continent Hop‘s Lavina D’Souza, “Puerto Princesa, Palawan is where you should head to if you’re looking for activity and adventure yet feel that if you’d like to kick back and relax,” she says. “The beach, sun, and good food are steps away.”
Lavina enumerates the area’s attractions – all of which can be reached within an easy bus or boat ride from each other.
“Puerto Princesa is where the Subterranean River National Park is located, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s difficult to figure out the entrance to the river as it’s very narrow, however once you are inside, the structure of the caves is mesmerizing. There are rock formations and a variety of bats and fauna.
“If you’re more of a beach person, then you could go island hopping! Starting from Honda Bay, you could catch a boat and visit a multitude of stunning islands with white sandy beaches with treates such as fresh grilled fish and also massages! Many even have snorkelling gear for rent and it is definitely worth investing in it as beautiful fish can be seen a couple of steps from the beach!
“Ugong Rock is a must-visit if you’d like to explore caves. Ziplining is a tempting adventure too! You’ll never fall short of activities in this beautiful city!”
White Temple, Image Courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Chiang Rai’s Cultural Riches
Swedish Nomad Alexander Waltner tells us about a Thai city that doesn’t get as much press as it deserves. “Most people head to Chiang Mai or Pai, but there is one city in the north that deserves far more attention, and that’s Chiang Rai,” he explains. “A city filled with temples, massage parlors, authentic restaurants, and, of course, a lovely night market.”
A weekend at Chiang Rai, for Alexander, covers the following stops:
“Most people come here for the White Temple, which has become quite famous, but there’s more to Chiang Rai than just a spectacular white temple. The beautiful clock tower, for example, is a lovely landmark where you can enjoy a light and sound show at 6, 7, and 8 pm each night.
“The Night Bazaar and the food court is a great meeting place for locals and tourists. Go for a massage or spa treatment at half the price. Visit the many temples that lie within walking distance, including the famous Wat Phra Kaew where they found the Famous Emerald Buddha. Wat Phra Singh is another majestic temple with amazing details. And don’t forget to visit the Black Temple, previously the residence of the local artist Thawan Duchanee, now an interesting museum.
“The food is great too, and ridiculously cheap at most restaurants. We had a full dinner for two for less than 3 dollars, we paid merely 70 baths for two meals, including water.”
Marina Bay Before the Storm. Image courtesy of Our World to Wander
Singapore’s Leap into the Future
Singapore surprised Our World to Wander‘s Andra Padureanu profoundly. “I wouldn’t have thought that I would end up loving a city – I usually hate cities,” she confesses. “But Singapore is not an ordinary city.
“It’s like stepping in the future. It’s proud of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures. But it’s a combination that flourishes among impressive skyscrapers, futuristic architecture, and a well-organized society. We spent a weekend in Singapore, and it was an amazing one. We didn’t have any plans before getting there and ended walking around the city from the morning and until evening.
“Yes, the Marina Bay is a must. It can seem like a cliché to climb this giant building but the panorama is well-worth it. And definitely, try a lunch at the food court of Marina Square. You will really get a meal with a view!
“You could also try eating in Chinatown, at the famous Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle where you can get a meal for less than 5$. But it will be a Michelin one, as this humble stall got awarded a star by the prestigious guide. And do end the day with the show of lights and music held at the Gardens by the Bay.”
Cocktail with a view in Kuala Lumpur. Photo courtesy of German Backpacker
Kuala Lumpur’s Varied Visions
German Backpacker Patrick Muntzinger thinks of Kuala Lumpur as a seriously underrated city with plenty to go for it. “Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is often overlooked by travelers, but certainly worth a visit,” Patrick explains. “Kuala Lumpur is a wonderful place to explore—it’s clean, modern, safe, and easy to navigate.”
Patrick follows up with a short itinerary for a killer Kuala Lumpur weekend for newbies:
“Make sure to visit the iconic Petronas Towers and go for a stroll in the nice KLCC park right behind for a great view on the towers. Explore the street markets in Chinatown and visit some of the mosques to experience Malaysia’s unique Muslim flair.
“Leave the city center to visit one of Southeast Asia’s highlights—the beautiful Batu Caves. Climbing up all the stairs might be tiring, but visiting the huge caves on the top is certainly worth it.
A highlight of my stay in Kuala Lumpur was a visit at the ‘Heli Lounge Bar,’ which opens in the late afternoon. Go to the open floor on top of the building and enjoy a drink while watching the sun setting behind KL’s iconic skyline—you won’t regret it!”