Vietnamese woman crossing a street in Vietnam. Image courtesy of naidrok/Creative Commons
Equal parts strange, beautiful, ancient, modern, boisterous, calm: Southeast Asia’s massive and diverse range of attractions can be difficult to encapsulate. No list can really do the region justice.
But the essence of Southeast Asia can be found in encounters much like the ones we’ve listed here, courtesy of bloggers who’ve discovered them first-hand…
…Made a “Walk of Faith” in Vietnam
Helen Foster from Destination>Differentville (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) never thought crossing the street could be so suspenseful – until she came across Ho Chi Minh City and its streets full of speeding motorcycles!
“I’m going to spend my entire trip to Vietnam standing on the side of this one road,” was my overwhelming thought as I waited for the traffic to stop on a busy Ho Chi Minh street.
Hundreds of motorbikes, six abreast, carrying everything from people to panes of glass were travelling in every direction. Twice we saw a break in the traffic and stepped out – only for something to come at us from the wrong side of the road. It was like tourist Frogger!
Eventually, by watching the locals who seemed to glide across even the busiest intersection unphased (and unscathed), we came up with a technique. The first time I tried it, I was shaking – the 200th time I tried it I was shaking. I’m not sure that feeling of taking your life in your hands every time you cross the road in Vietnam ever goes away- which is why we named it the Walk of Faith.
Only in Southeast Asia can you get such an incredible sense of achievement from simply making it from one side of the road to the other in one piece!
Hikers climbing down Bromo in Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino
…Climbed a Volcano in Indonesia
Indonesia’s rice paddies, verdant rainforest and beautiful beaches are all great reasons to visit, but truly you haven’t experienced the best it has to offer until you’ve climbed one of its many volcanoes. As an archipelago perched precariously on the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are plenty to choose from: 147 in fact. But pick based on what you want to get out of the experience.
Mount Batur in Bali is a relatively easy climb; sunrise at Mount Bromo in Java affords a view out over no less than five peaks; Mount Ijen’s chief appeal is its flickering blue sulphuric flames that can only be seen in darkness, while Mount Rinjani is pure, masochistic challenge, with a hellish summit but unbelievably beautiful views from the top.
Just make sure to check the alert status of the one you want to take on… before you go!
Bamboo train in action, Battambang, Cambodia. Image courtesy of Chris Christensen
…Ridden Battambang’s Bamboo Train in Cambodia
The Amateur Traveler Chris Christensen (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) found an unusual transport system in Cambodia that uses existing train railways, but relies on a jury-rigged cart and some old-fashioned Khmer ingenuity…
Outside Battambang, Cambodia is a strange “train” to no where setup in the ride fields that is a quirky fun experience that I recommend for tourists.
Imagine, if you will, two steel train wheels with an axle connecting them. Take two of these wheels and put a light bamboo platform on top of them. Add a small motor to drive this contraption and a couple of pillows and you have the bamboo train.
Your driver will start his engine and your “train” will clatter along on very suspect warped train tracks out into the countryside. If you need to pass another car that is heading the other way, then you will stop.
They will have you get off and will left off the platform and the wheels from the tracks and then reassemble them to continue the journey. At the far end they will reassemble your “train” heading in the other direction.
Check out my video of the Battambang bamboo train if that isn’t clear!
Orangutan in the trees in Sabah, Malaysia. Image courtesy of Margarita Steinhardt
…Visited the Orangutans in Borneo
The Wildlife Diaries‘ Margarita Steinhardt (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) recommends arranging an impromptu family reunion with our Asian simian cousins: we have more in common with them than you’d think!
One of man’s closest living relatives, the Orangutan shares 98% of our DNA. This charismatic shaggy great ape, occurring on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, came to symbolize the wild side of South East Asia.
Sadly, the Orangutan is struggling to survive on both islands, having lost most of its habitat to oil palm plantations.
In Borneo’s Malaysian state of Sabah there are a number of wildlife rehabilitation centres where visitors can see rescued Orangutans, but nothing beats the feeling of spotting a wild Orangutan in the jungle.
For the best chance of spotting an Orangutan in the wild head to the lower Kinabatangan River near the village of Sukau, 130 km from Sandakan. The accommodation options on the river range from the luxurious Sukau Rainforest Lodge to the rustic Kinabatangan Jungle Camp.
The visits to the river revolve around early morning and late afternoon boat cruises in search of wildlife.
You have to work hard to spot an Orangutan in the thick jungle, but the feeling of finally coming face to face with this magnificent animal makes for an unforgettable experience.
Melaka River at night, Malaysia. Image courtesy of Pujarini Mitra
…Taken a Melaka River Cruise in Malaysia
MySoulTravels‘ Pujarini Mitra (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) wants tourists to discover the historic beauty of Melaka: a city both rooted in the past and living in the present, best seen from a boat cruising down its namesake river
You haven’t really seen Southeast Asia until you’ve taken a river cruise through Melaka river in the heritage city of Melaka. This river flows through the heart of the city and played a big role during the Malacca Sultanate in 15th century, as Melaka was an important trading port in Malaysia. The river is hence surrounded by some of Malaysia’s most significant historical buildings.
The cruise is a great way to witness the amalgamation of the heritage and the urban part of the city as the river walk gives way to the sky scrapers. We loved the street art painted on the walls of the buildings across the river and the traditional villages of Malay and Javanese settlers.
There are three jetties and you can take this 45 minutes cruise from any one of them. We did our first cruise at night when the sights were lit up and what a pretty sight it made! And then came back next morning to see and photograph the street art more clearly. If you can’t do both, we recommend taking this cruise at sunset. Do take the cruise from Muara jetty so that you can enjoy the street art in natural light before it becomes dark!
…Eaten at a Hawker Center in Singapore
Mike Aquino of Southeast Asia Time Traveler (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) visited Singapore’s hawker centers – again and again and again – and developed a taste for the inexpensive eats available throughout the island…
Singapore has an undeserved reputation as an expensive city – especially when its hawker centers offer excellent value on cuisine from all over Asia! With meals costing between US$4-8 each, you can choose from one of the following Singapore hawker center favorites:
Chicken rice: Singapore’s “national” dish by way of Hainan, China, this simple cold chicken dish can be found at almost every dining spot, humble hawker centres and high-end restaurants, too! However, the best of the lot can be found in Maxwell Road Hawker Center in Chinatown, where hundreds queue for this over lunch.
Chili crab hits all the right spots, with tangy gravy that seeps into the succulent flesh of the stir-fried crab. Go to the East Coast Park for the best local seafood experience, including this one!
Kaya toast is the ultimate comfort food for those with a sweet tooth, offering the right mix of crunch and sugar rush – a favorite breakfast for Singaporeans, especially when accompanied with a bowl of soft-boiled egg.