By Ken Scott
The ten countries of ASEAN pride themselves on being a destination of great diversity. But if you made a commitment to ‘do ASEAN,’ to ‘do Southeast Asia,’ to hit the road and sample the diversity, what kind of trips would await you? Here is a sample of ideas, themes and tours to whet your appetite. Most of them visit at least two ASEAN member countries.
World Heritage Focus: Love UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Indulge yourself with BMC Travel’s 16-day Asean and UNESCO World Heritage Sites tour. It starts and finishes in Kuala Lumpur. It takes in Bangkok, Penang, Malacca (three days there!), Yogjakarta (Borabadur), and Kuala Lumpur. That’s three countries: Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. A good traditional primer to the region – very much urban based. Highlight: serene Borabadur in Java.
Accent on the Mekong Region: Asian Trails offers a more northerly take on ASEAN with its 15-day Golden Triangle Three Country Tour. Elephants, temples, hilltribes and a boat ride on the Mekong River will make the illusive and formerly lawless Golden Triangle of yesteryear come alive. This trip has more of a Buddhist heritage and rural focus on developing countries. Expect a trip of great contrasts as you take in Chiang Mai, Chiang Klang, Houeixay, Luang Prabang, Pakbeng, Vientiane, Bagan, Heho, Mandalay, Yangon. Highlights: the temples of Bagan and cruising down the Mekong.
A Matter of Taste: For themed tours, who could resist the Flavours of Southeast Asia by America-based Artisans of Leisure. It’s very much a luxury tour with a culinary emphasis. The 16-day trip to Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand starts and finishes in Singapore and takes in Saigon, Hoi An, Hanoi, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In between trips to markets with chefs, enjoy cooking classes and exposure to traditional artisan markets. Highlight: the private cooking class in Hoi An focusing on local specialities.
Luxury on the Rails: If you love trains and doing it in style, try Bangkok to Singapore (or vice versa) on the Eastern & Oriental Luxury Express. The three-day trip includes side excursions to historic Georgetown in Penang and Kanchanaburi to see the Bridge on the River Kwai. Highlights: luxury comfort as the rice paddies go by and the heritage of Georgetown.
It’s More Fun Here! If you like fun and getting out and about, the Philippines is the place for you. An innovative travel operator such as Intrepid, which likes to push the boundaries, can bring you activities such as discovering the energy of Manila, travelling to the mountain retreat of Baguio, experiencing the tranquil surrounds of Sagada, staying overnight in a remote Ifugao village, trekking through lush, green rice paddies, snorkelling in the turquoise waters of Puerto Galera, and taking in the sensational views of the famous rice terraces of Banaue and more: Highlight: the irresistible fun loving Filipino people
Deep Forest Experience: If you are an ecotourist, you are spoiled for choice in Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak. The island of Borneo is synonymous with raw, unspoiled nature and Brunei, situated in its heart, is a shining example of natural beauty. More than 70% of Brunei’s land area is covered by primary rainforests, which the government has taken great strides to protect. Try a deep forest experience with Brunei, Borneo and Beyond. Highlight: climbing Mt Kinabalu and relaxing in a hot spring afterwards.
Rural Cambodian Discoveries: Cambodia is also an eco gem. If you want to support community based tourism and nature, try a river life adventure in Northeast Cambodia. The UNWTO and its NGO partners have created three innovative itineraries called the Mekong Discovery Trail. Within which you can choose: the Kratie Discovery Trail, the Stung Treng Discovery Trail or the Mekong Discovery Cycle Trail. Highlight: seeing a Mekong River dolphin.
Like Raiders of the Lost Ark: Discover archaeological gems in the forest. Khiri Travel has pioneered the Sambor Prei Kuk community homestay project in Kampong Thom province. This is community tourism at its best. A dollar spent here really makes a difference. Highlight: cycling through trees to see temples that pre-date Angkor Wat.