Explore the best of Southeast Asia with top destinations, travel tips and inspirational stories from Asia's leading travel company. Our mission is connecting people and cultures through extraordinary travel experiences.
This Valentine’s Day, couples of all walks of life are looking for that perfect getaway. Among gifts of chocolates, flowers and nice dinners, booking your first holiday together or that dream escape to Asia is bound to inspire romance. Here at Buffalo Tours, we offer a wide-range of tours for a romantic journey, but are fully aware of the changing dynamics in travel. More and more couples want not only a memorable holiday, but a responsible one, that can positively impact the communities they visit. To see a new corner of the world, enjoy the finer things, and meet people while encouraging sustainable development is the future. Asia has not only a wide-range of destinations perfect for a tranquil and amorous holiday, but also offers plenty of opportunities to travel responsibly, making it the perfect destination for romantic and responsible holidays.
For those aware of their global impact or seeking to make a difference on their journey, or even those who just want to retreat to a corner of paradise, it’s easy to be responsible on your romantic getaway. Responsible travel is not a burden, or obstacle, but merely a new way of looking at your adventure, made simpler with industry trends changing. Here are some tips for the couple looking for their next holiday to be locally based, environmentally friendly, and have a positive impact on the country they visit. A romantic and responsible holiday is easier than you think, whatever you’re style, budget or sense of adventure! Here are five tips to help you make the most of your getaway.
Responsible and romantic holidays in Asia can even happy in the lap of luxury! As responsible travel trends become increasingly integrated into the travel industry, the number luxury accommodations have increased all over Asia. A hotel or resort can have a great long-term positive impact for destinations and more remote communities. Providing long term jobs, built from sustainable materials, a platform for selling artisanal crafts and/or minimizing environmental impact are just a few of the ways eco-resorts can impact the community for the better. Not only do local economies, social conditions and environmental impacts improve, but you also can stay in a variety of destinations in comfort and style. From the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge in Cambodia’s Cardamom rainforest to the Misool Eco Resort perched on wooden slits by coral reefs in Indonesia, there’s plenty of options for the couple looking for the ultimate in responsible luxury holiday.
Some couples look for a more local and cultural adventure on their getaway. For those who want to experience local life firsthand, like adventurous treks or just exploring remote villages, homestays in rural corners of Southeast Asia offer the perfect glimpse into another world. Once a popular holiday destination during the French colonial era, a homestay in Sapa’s tiered rice paddy hills offer a glimpse into a completely different side of Vietnam. Staying with one of the region’s ethnic minority groups, you and your loved one can discover more about remote mountainous communities. A trip to Japan would be amiss without spending a night or two at a traditional ryokan. These inns offer a sumptuous experience of centuries old traditions. Enjoy an onsen bath, sport a yukata and tuck into a mutli-course dinner, or kaiseki. Whatever you both prefer, there are plenty of places to stay, preserve cultures and make lasting memories.
Dates on your journey can go beyond sightseeing. Activities can offer a fun and special way to support Asia’s diverse communities, preserve cultures and benefit social change. Why not work on a batik piece with your partner in a sleepy village in the valleys of Sapa? Or discover the role of bamboo in Laotian culture on a half day experience just outside of Luang Prabang. A venture in Tokyo learning tradition taiko drumming or taking a meditation course in Kyoto both offer unique experiences while preserving culture. Finally, after exploring Angkor Wat, why not have a date at the circus? Enjoy an evening under the big-top, with jaw-dropping acrobatic-dance performances by young Cambodian artists telling stories of their country. Not only will it be a night to remember, but all proceeds support the education programs that reach out to impoverished children and young adults in the community.
Responsible Dinner Dates
Dinning is half of the thrill of an adventure in Asia. For couples looking to enrich their holidays with memorable meals, many options provide not only chic-dining experiences but extraordinary ones. Consider a social enterprise restaurant, as more and more have popped up all over the region, offering training programs that help impoverished youth gain skills in the service and tourism industry. Not only does this offer an opportunity for sustainable employment, it’s a memorable way to celebrate Valentine’s and give a little back. Check out some of our Responsible Travel Guides here, for recommendations. Another great option is a street food tour, which offers plenty of opportunity for not only delicious local grub that goes into local pockets, but a memorable experience for the adventurous culinary couple!
Wherever you go in Asia there are plenty of convenient and charming transport options for the couple looking to offset their carbon footprint! Whether a trek to Inle Lake in Myanmar, or a cycle through Angkor Wat, the options are endless. Ride on the many canals of Bangkok for a view of the city from the waterways. Riding public transit in Hong Kong, whether subway or double-decker buses, offers endless opportunities to explore. The Japan Rail provides convenient transport throughout the island nation, at minimal environmental impact. The circle train in Yangon is an invigorating afternoon activity to discover lesser seen corners of the city amongst friendly local commuters. Finally, a tour of Vietnam by train offers spectacular scenery all from a charming car on the iconic reunification rail line. Whatever your preference or passion as a couple, Asia offers a wide range of options to help you get around with a minimal environmental cost.
As with all our destinations across Asia, we also encourage you to:
Dress appropriately, especially in temples and religious sites.
Throw away your rubbish in designated bins and recycling areas, even if you see locals doing the opposite.
Not visit orphanages or similar institutions; this will encourage an exploitative and established system.
Not engage in public displays of affection.
Not give money to people begging, especially children. If you want to help, seek out a local responsible and reliable community organisation.
We hope you’ve found this romantic and responsible holidays guide helpful for planning your next escape in Asia. For more information on incredible adventures in the region, take a look at our tailor-made tours, for that perfect holiday for you and your loved one!
While environmental protection and cultural preservation are always high on the responsible travel agenda, there seems to be a lack of focus on what really makes sustainable tourism work: the well-being of people!
International organizations are often expounding on the benefits of tourism for host countries, the economic rewards, as well as the potentially positive effects on society. However, to have a real impact on poverty reduction, the travel industry must make an active effort to be more inclusive:
“… the pro-poor impact of tourism development is not only or not predominantly a matter of size (i.e. tourist arrivals and tourism growth rate), but depends on how the poor are integrated in, or can become part of, the tourism value chain.”
So what are Destination Management Companies and Tour Operators actually doing to make sure that the benefits of tourism reach those areas of society that need it the most?
Trickle Down Economy – The “Lose-Lose” Scenario
It seems to be a commonly accepted notion that growth in tourism automatically improves economic conditions for the poorest members of society, yet this is clearly not always the case. In many areas that have experienced a tourism boom, disadvantaged local communities have become increasingly marginalized.
This leads to a conflict of interest between locals and travellers, building resentment on both sides and ultimately creating an atmosphere that is less hospitable to travellers, as well as less profitable for local residents. It doesn’t take a lot of foresight to see that this situation quickly leads to a very undesirable state of affairs.
In many developing countries, this also results in a large section of the informal economy becoming involved in exploitative practices, such as narcotics, prostitution or other forms of crime. Rising property prices and the cost of living almost inevitably drives already struggling communities into desperation.
Inclusive Tourism Economy – The “Win-Win” Scenario
The goal of inclusive tourism is to empower disadvantaged local communities and provide them with tools to actively contribute towards tourism development. This not only creates access to economic rewards for otherwise deprived members of society, but also creates incentives for local populations to support sustainable tourism initiatives.
As local populations benefit economically from tourism, they are empowered and incentivized to preserve traditional culture and protect the environment, as well as to create a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere for travellers.
Providing access to training, education and employment, leads to local populations becoming increasingly invested in the success of sustainable tourism. Rather than being seen as a source of frustration or a resource to be exploited, tourism becomes a source of pride and the key to a better future.
Practical Ways to Fight Poverty – The Buffalo Tours Model
As part of a commitment to “giving back” to host communities, Buffalo Tours explores every possibility to promote inclusiveness and support sustainable local development, across all the 11 Asian destinations in which we operate. These initiatives primarily manifest themselves in four key areas:
Working with local organizers, government agencies and non-profit organizations to create community projects that leverage cultural heritage and make traditional ways of life profitable through responsible tourism development.
Providing training and employment opportunities, specifically targeted at disadvantaged members of society. Not only is this an investment in nurturing the future generation of tourism professionals, it also creates advocates for sustainable tourism within host communities.
Including social enterprises and traditional businesses in the supply chain. This empowers travellers to contribute to local economies in a responsible and sustainable way, while also providing high-value and quality experiences.
Funding local development, education and infrastructure. While it is an essential part of the Buffalo Tours philosophy that responsible development should be economically viable in itself, it is also recognized that tourism companies have a responsibility to offer monetary contributions and organizational support to local facilities, such as schools, libraries, bridges and roads in remote and underprivileged areas.
An important factor to the success of these initiatives is to also be inclusive of other industry players and organizations, so that we can all work together to fight poverty.
Buffalo Tours seeks to improve cooperation throughout the industry, so that non-profits can provide guidance, local operators can implement practical solutions, and source markets can help promote inclusive tourism development to travellers.
While the task ahead might seem overwhelming, it is vitally important to constantly take steps towards a sustainable and inclusive tourism economy, to ensure a bright future for travellers as well as local communities.
You can read more about community projects, training initiatives and social enterprise partnerships on the Buffalo Tours Travel Blog:
In continuation of our ongoing work in responsible travel, we are always focused on tailoring experiences for sustainable tourism. Travelling responsibly is much easier than it seems, with current industry trends focused on community development, wildlife protection and cultural preservation. This is aided by the fact that visitors are seeking out an exploration of the destination that is authentic and different, things that lend perfectly to a sustainable and responsible framework.
Although Laos may not be as busy as its neighbours, it is home to a relaxing culture that has faced a great deal of hardships throughout its history. Despite nine years of covert bombing operations, one of the regions poorest economies and relative lack of infrastructural development, this humble destination offers travellers a unique experience.
Laos is an ideal destination to visit as a responsible traveller! With verdant national parks and remote minority communities, not only is it a beautiful place to visit with charming attractions, it also can benefit immensely from sustainable tourism incentives, which are relatively easy to support.
With this in mind, we’d love to help you make the most of your visit to Laos. From local businesses, to destination and mindset, here are 6+ ways to support responsible travel in Laos.
Here are 6+ Tips for Responsible Travel in Laos
Laos is strikingly different from its neighbours. A completely land-locked country, most goods are imported driving up the cost of general services and items compared to Vietnam and Thailand. There are still a great deal of unexploded ordinances (bombs) left from the Secret War in remote areas, and threats to its expansive natural ecosystems and isolated minority communities stemming from resource development on behalf of foreign investment. Therefore, there are a lot of challenges facing Laos. If you have the opportunity to visit it, it’s important to spend a bit of time learning about its history for a better context of how people live there now.
As always, we recommend you use your knowledge to contextualize your choices during your visit. Bring a reusable water bottle for your journey, support local economies and go off the beaten track to truly interact with your destination. Be conservative in your apparel, respect monks and do not touch anyone’s head. However, on a more general note, you will notice that Laos has an almost laid back attitude. This quiet country has a contemplative and calm pace, making it a rather peaceful destination. However, it’s important to keep this cultural climate in mind if your transfer is running late or a vendor is taking a long time to decide on a barter with you. Patience and ease go a long way in Laos.
As much as possible we advise you to spend locally. Forgo dinner at your hotel in Luang Prabang for a meal at a social enterprise restaurant or a feast of barbequed goods at the night market. Be sure to check any products you are interested in, whether it was made by a member of a minority community such as Hmong people or that it does not contain any ivory or related endangered animal by-products. Generally, every kip spent should go into the pockets of the local community so that you can directly support this country’s local economy and encourage investment in these smaller regions.
Whatever your style of travel, finding accommodation that gives back to the community in Laos is easier than you think. For a luxurious treat in Luang Prabang, stay in the former royal residence of Victoria Xiengthong Palace. It features an open air cinema screening old Laotian films, traditionally inspired spa-treatments on hand and bamboo bicycles for free! For the adventurous, Tree Top Explorer Eco Lodge offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to sleep in the rainforest canopy of Dong Hua Sao National Park. Made from materials sourced in the forest, it is powered by a hydro turbine at a nearby waterfall, even your meals are locally sourced. Not only do you get to trek in the jungle and sleep in the trees, you’re main way to get around is soaring through the air like a gibbon on a zip line! Homestays in remote areas are also a great option for responsible travellers.
Our favourite piece of responsible travel advice is to go off the beaten track. With many remote and rural corners, Laos is perfect to explore beyond the highlights. The further you go, the more you can discover of its natural beauty while impacting communities for the better. With resource development being one of the main incentives of Laos’ economy, every kip spent on the traveller’s journey encourages sustainable tourism. Visiting remote minority communities in their natural splendour offers alternative employment opportunities to individuals without many options. However, these incentives need to be responsible for locals and travellers alike. One example of this effort is Vang Vieng, which has transformed from a backpacker party destination to a serene riverside paradise suiting both travellers and the local economy.
Responsible Wildlife Interactions
Laos is home to verdant rainforests, towering karsts, roaming hills and peaceful rivers. Offering a variety of natural wonders, it’s home to some of the most diverse wildlife of the region. There are still risks posed in resource development and illegal wildlife trade for animal by-products, however most travellers will not support this accidentally. One nickname for Laos is the Kingdom of a Million Elephants, and while that number has decreased, there are still quite a few roaming the jungle. As a visitor we encourage you to interact with them in a responsible way, meaning not riding the elephants and connecting with them in a positive environment. You can read more about this here, and find out more about our policy to sustainably support and audit elephant camps to improve the industry standard in Laos and our other destinations.
In order to directly contribute to responsible development and sustainable tourism on your adventure in Laos, be sure to visit some of the following social enterprises. Make sure you add these in your to do list for responsible travel in Laos:
On the 3rd of January 2017, Secretary-General Taleb Rifai of the UNWTO officially declared the beginning of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Under the slogan TRAVEL ENJOY RESPECT, tourism organizations, government agencies and businesses alike committed themselves to creating positive change within the industry.
As a leading tour operator and destination management company in Asia, Buffalo Tours embraced the concept wholeheartedly and doubled our efforts to promote responsible travel and sustainability throughout the region.
Our first step was to launch a global information campaign, promoting responsible tourism to travellers and travel industry professionals. We also put action behind our words with a range of new initiatives to improve sustainable development, promote social inclusiveness and reduce our environmental impact.
As the year draws to a close, we thought it would be a good idea to look back at what has been achieved and what still needs to be done.
Spreading the Word
We started off the year by publishing a comprehensive guide to Responsible Travel in Asia. As early as the 31st of January, this eBook was made freely available for download, providing practical information to help travellers explore Asia in a responsible and sustainable way.
Throughout the year, we used our Buffalo Tours Travel Blog to supplement the guide, offering tips and advice on responsible travel, as well as informing travellers about current events and developments in sustainable tourism.
Rather than place blame or shirk our collective and individual responsibilities, our aim has always been to promote cooperation and understanding so that travel professionals, travellers, local communities and governments can work together to help “Changing Lives Through Travel” in a real and tangible way.
Buffalo Tours has always been dedicated to continually improving the sustainability standards of our offices around the world, but to make sure we were really living up to our ideals we made it our goal to achieve the highest level of certification within the industry.
This resulted in Buffalo Tours being awarded with Travelife Partner Status for 10 destinations in Asia, including Hong Kong, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Buffalo Tours Japan and Buffalo Tours Malaysia were the first companies in these countries to receive Travelife Partner Status.
Travelife Partners are certified according to strict guidelines on labour conditions, human rights, environment, biodiversity and fair business practices. We were extremely proud and satisfied that our offices were able to live up to these standards, increasing our determination to further improve our sustainable policies and practices.
You can learn more about Travelife Sustainability Standards below:
An integral part of our sustainability goals for 2017 has been to make sure that our travel activities and experiences benefit local communities and that disadvantaged groups in society are able to share in the rewards of sustainable tourism.
To achieve this, Buffalo Tours set about integrating social enterprises into all of our supply chains, empowering travellers to support responsible local development by visiting restaurants, attractions and entertainment venues that contribute to improving social and environmental conditions.
Another initiative to help spread the benefits of tourism was to establish the Bali Guide School. This school offers free education, training and job opportunities to disadvantaged youth in Bali. Buffalo Tours provides instructors, language teachers and training material, as well as offering a stipend so that participants can support themselves during training.
Check out some of our other community development projects:
Environmental and wildlife protection is one of the most important aspects of sustainability in tourism. Since beautiful scenery and fascinating animal life are a major reason for why we travel, it is our duty to make sure they are preserved for the next generation of travellers.
In 2017, Buffalo Tours strengthened our resolve to dramatically reduce our contribution to plastic waste. Determined to reduce our strain on the environment, Buffalo Tours is introducing reusable water bottles, as well as switching to environmentally friendly and biodegradable wet towels for our guests.
In collaboration with Pure Napkins, Buffalo Tours is replacing our wet towels with a bamboo based compressed napkin, that is 100% biodegradable and disposable. Not only is this a hygienic and non-allergenic alternative, it is also much more efficient to transport, further reducing its impact on the environment.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Buffalo Tours successfully launched many responsible initiatives in 2017, resulting in real progress, but now is not the time to slow down. In the coming year, we hope to increase our cooperation with social enterprises, introduce more ecofriendly tours in all our destinations, as well as expand on our community development programs.
Working with local and international organizations, we aim to influence the industry as a whole, promoting cooperation and leading the way towards a sustainable future for tourism in Asia.
Want to learn more about responsible travel in Asia?
Check out more of our responsible travel guides on the blog:
Buffalo Tours is always striving to help improve standards for responsible travel and sustainable tourism in Asia. We are committed to working with international organizations and regional partners to continually develop strategies for improving environmental protection, social equality and economic empowerment in our local communities.
For this reason, we are happy to announce that Travelife has recently accredited Buffalo Tours with Partner Status, as a result of our efforts and achievements in promoting sustainability. It is our sincere hope that through increased collaboration between tour operators, travel agents, local government agencies and NGOs, we can all work together to raise the standards of responsible travel and create a bright future for sustainable tourism in Asia.
What is Travelife?
Travelife was founded in 2007 and provides training, tools and guidelines for sustainable practices in the travel industry. Their standards promote compliance with guidelines on labour conditions, human rights, environment, biodiversity and fair business practices. The Travelife Sustainability System resulted from the collaboration between ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents), the UK Travel Association and the Dutch ANVR Travel Association, supported by the European Commission, Lund University and Leeds Metropolitan University.
Buffalo Tours has been working closely with Travelife to develop new initiatives for sustainable tourism, especially in relation to animal welfare in Asia. Together with Travelife, animal protection agencies and interest groups, we helped to develop and pioneer an innovative Elephant Camp Audit that has been shown as successful in improving conditions for elephants throughout the region.
With the support of Travelife experts and using our slogan “Changing Lives Through Travel” as our guide, we have sought to create immediate and tangible change for Asian elephants in captivity. Following our example, this has inspired many of our partners, peers and suppliers to invest themselves in supporting the Travelife auditing process.
In our quest for ever-increasing sustainability, we do not intend to rest on our laurels. Using a holistic approach to sustainable tourism, Buffalo Tours has recently implemented several new initiatives that cover all the major pillars of sustainability, including environmental, social and economic aspects.
A guide school program, helping empower disadvantaged youth to benefit from sustainable tourism development.
Several initiatives to reduce plastic waste, including refillable water bottles and environmentally friendly wet towels.
Incorporating social enterprises into our supply chain across all of our destinations, allowing travellers to easily support local community development.
Buffalo Guide School - Student Interview - YouTube
By continually developing new initiatives and seeking guidance from international experts on sustainability, we not only seek to improve our own practices, but also hope to inspire travellers and travel professionals to get involved in supporting responsible and ethical tourism.
You can find out more about Travelife by visiting their website here. If you are interested in learning more about our Buffalo Tours sustainable tourism initiatives, visit our blog or website and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook!
Travelling to Hong Kong or Shanghai in the near future? Despite their many differences they have common threads, particularly the ever popular brunch mayhem that’s best known as dim sum. A longstanding tradition of many branches of Chinese cuisine, this meal consists of a variety of small plates served with a hot pot of tea. Dishes fly out of the kitchen and onto your table if you request it as the cart zooms by, but you may not be familiar with them. So with that in mind, here’s a handy guide to the best dim sum dishes and how to enjoy them.
Har Gow Dumplings
This classic steamed dumpling is usually shrimp based, and has a delicate aroma. Occasionally you can get varieties with dill or green onion added, but this fresh dumpling should be neatly tucked in its crystal clear rice wrap. Feel free to dip yours in a splash of seasoning, personally, I’d vouch for hot mustard.
Siu mai is another classic, however this one is open faced. A mix of ground shrimp and pork, topped with a touch of roe, this dumpling takes names. If you have the chance to try it at a high end dim sum restaurant, it can be surprisingly impressive and elaborate.
Wrapped in lotus leaf, steamed and usually served with Chinese sausage and pork inside, this flavourful dish is a must. It’s always reliable, and provides a good base for a dim sum newby. Be sure to share it though, as sticky rice is ultra-filling.
Taro—a starchy vegetable, is very common in Asian cuisine. Be sure to sink your teeth into a taro puff, for a flavourful and textural experience. These deep fried puffs have a crispy shell filled with a sweet yet savoury cloud of fluffy taro and minced pork.
These pork dumplings have a thicker skin than most. Therefore, they’re seared to perfection and characterised by a slight char on the outside. Filled with minced pork and green onion, be sure to try it with some red wine vinegar to break up the richness.
A personal favourite, turnip cake is made from rice flour and shredded turnips, mixed with a touch of Chinese sausage, made into squares and seared. It’s a perfect mix and a tasty, simple treat, for any dim sum meal. Be sure to try it with hot mustard!
Slippery, savoury noodle rolls are a dim sum staple. Usually filled with either shrimp or BBQ pork, these rolls are tricky to nab with chopsticks, so don’t be afraid to get your bowl close to your gullet. They’ll have a sweet soy sauce poured over them when served, so again, no need for additives.
Possibly the best dumplings to have ever taken form, soup dumplings are a truly special delicacy. Be careful when tucking into these: nibble off the top of the dumpling, suck out the hot broth and slurp the rest of the dumpling up. Results in a burst of juicy meat perfectly packaged. A must try for anyone in Shanghai!
Egg tarts are surprisingly delicious, with a flaky yet thick crust cradling a rich yet sweet custard. A perfect way to finish off your meal!
Street food is an important aspect of anyone’s travels to Asia. Not only is it widespread, locally sourced, produced and consumed, it reflects longstanding culture and culinary tradition. There are a variety of informal instructions that can be followed, or safety rules for keeping a happy tummy, however, we’ve condensed it down to 5 easy tips for your culinary adventure. So here are 5 tips for safely eating and enjoying street food in Asia!
1. Be Smart
When walking around a city or town for some street food, don’t be nervous about making a judgement and tapping into your common sense, especially in terms of what you eat where. All over Asia, regions with specialities will advertise them locally, so keep an eye out for signs and where’s busy in town. Pay attention to the times of day stalls are busy, because if you eat with the rush you’ll be sure to get a fresh serving. Use your nose too; sniffing is a great way to tell when somethings gone bad or been out too long. Keep your nostrils open and your eyes peeled and you’re bound to find something that’s locally sourced, delicious and safe to eat.
2. Bad Hygiene Isn’t Always Where You’d Think
Food poisoning is always a risk with street food, and personally, my stomach will revolt at the slightest possible attack. However, it is far more common to get food poisoning from water than the food itself. For example, as tempting as the fresh lettuce with pork balls under the overpass in Bangkok may be, there may be harmful bacteria in those greens. Lettuce rinsed in tap water has a higher chance of being a disaster for your belly. Despite street food often being very rich, it’s probably a safer alternative to fresh vegetables and pre-cut fruit. Also, a poorly washed cup is guiltier of making you sick than those freshly grilled BBQ pork skewers, so be aware.
3. Ice Ice Baby
Expanding on street side hygiene, ice is key. Travelling through balmy and humid Southeast Asia where temperatures rocket and the sun takes no prisoners is a challenge. Add avoiding ice to be on the safe side, and you’ll be fuming. You can still have ice in steamy Asia, and many cafes, even ones set up on the curb with plastic stools, have treated and clean ice. Keep in mind, if you see someone smashing your ice with a mallet, there’s a good chance it isn’t clean. Generally though, the rule of thumb with ice, is to check for holes, usually purified ice is cylindrical with holes down the centre.
4. Do as the Locals Do
See what’s on the table and how people use it. In Thailand, you’ll have peanuts, sugar, fish sauce and limes laid out on the side. In Northern Vietnam, pickled garlic, limes and hot sauce are standing by to garnish almost anything. Don’t be afraid to add something extra as it’s completely normal and encouraged to customize your plate. Just make sure you taste the dish as is first. Furthermore, you may notice no bin under your table, and locals throwing their trash on the curb. As unappealing as this seems, street side business need to keep their service fast and efficient and it’s often easier for them to sweep up the mess under the table and give it a wipe before the next hungry customer pulls up a stool. So don’t be afraid to throw your napkin to the curb! Finally, if you’re eating rice or noodles, don’t ever leave your chopsticks sticking up in it. Throughout most regions of Asia, a bowl of rice with chopsticks stuck in it, is an offering to dead ancestors.
5. Variety is the Spice of Life
Wherever you’re headed in Asia, street food offers an adventure in every bite. It’s fast, fresh, cheap and most importantly local. However, keep in mind regulations throughout the region change. For example, Vietnam and Thailand have recently seen a surge in governmental efforts to clear out street food, however for the time being it remains a cultural staple. Singapore is no longer a heaven of the pavement, yet offers colourful hawker centres bursting with various cheap and flavourful grub. China has seen a push indoors, yet many tucked away markets in Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu offer delightful grub on the go. There’s even a small street snack scene in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo, as well as offerings at morning markets throughout the country. Markets are always a good bet for food in Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, as they are bursting with street food options. So foodies rest assured, wherever you go in Asia, there’s a street food stall that awaits you.
We hope this guide helps you make the most of Asia’s scrumptious street food. If you’re curious to explore more of the region and enjoy tasty travels, consider a half day street food tour or a multi-day gourmet adventure. Let Buffalo Tours help you discover the flavours of Asia!
Shopping for souvenirs on your journey can be a daunting task, but most major tourist hubs across the continent feature a wide-variety of unique gifts to bring back to your loved ones. If you’re concerned about finding something special, we’re here to help! Here’s a list of souvenirs for each one of our South Asian destinations, and the type of person who’d like them. Offering you easy to find, affordable and easily packed presents for everyone back home. Presenting, souvenirs of Southeast Asia: a little something for everyone.
Pop-up cards are everywhere in Vietnam, particularly the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. These cards are meticulously cut, feature lovely renditions of famous historical sites or cultural wonders (from the Temple of Literature, to charming cyclos) and are a great simple yet classic gift for folks back home. They usually cost about a dollar per card.
For the Foodie: Vietnamese Coffee Filters
Vietnam has a lovely affair with coffee. From high quality beans to their very own process of brewing, Vietnamese coffee is one of a kind. Rich, thick, chocolatey and slow, the filters are a must for any foodie curious about the flavours of this coastal nation. Found all over Vietnam, and generally single serve, these offer a great gift for the culinarily inclined. Also, just add ice and condensed milk to make a classic, ca phe sua da.
For the Oddball: Propaganda Posters
Since its beginnings in the 1940s, propaganda posters were a unique feature of Vietnam’s national spirit. Reprints and copies of a selection of posters from the last 50 years are available in abundance to visitors in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. At a reasonable cost you can find something special, from profiles of peace, anti-Nixon and US pieces or calls on the domestic front, these posters offer one-of-a-kind décor for the quirky friend or family member.
Something small and easy to bring back for many folks is charming and intricately carved flower soap. Particularly Thai, these soaps are lovely, ornate and fragrant. They call on the details of Thai craftsmanship and are easy to carry on your trip back. You can find them in major cities, but Chang Mai’s night market has the best and most colourful selection.
For the Foodie: Thai Rum
The tropical paradise that is southern Thailand is home to an abundance of goods any foodie would love, but the rum selection is the highest quality that you’ll find in Southeast Asia. Not only is it generally higher quality, it’s also available in most major sites. Brands like Chalong Bay are easily found in most supermarkets, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, and on most of the major islands in the South.
For the Oddball: Boxing Shorts
Sure, there are a multitude of wacky souvenirs all over Thailand. You can find just about anything here, especially in Bangkok. But, why not pick up something uniquely Thai, like a pair of boxing shorts. Muay Thai is a centuries old technical sport, that was used in warfare and entertainment, so picking some shorts of the’ Art of Eight Limbs’ would definitely stand out amongst your gifts.
While less famous than in Thailand, silk weaving is a longstanding tradition of Cambodia. The industry has begun to blossom over the last ten years, employing more weavers and encouraging the study and discipline of this skill in rural areas. You can find scarves, table runners or pillow cases in Siem Reap or Battambang, however we urge you to purchase from artisanal shops rather than in markets. This assures that your gift was made locally and woven by hand, so seek out a socially responsible enterprise to buy from.
For the Foodie: Kampot Pepper
Intense yet aromatic, Kampot pepper is some of the world’s finest in terms of quality and flavour. Completely organic, and top tier ingredient, it’s a must have kitchen staple with unique flare. Whether you pick up red, green or black, any foodie would be over the moon to add this spectacular item to their cupboard. Be sure to get it at the source, Kampot or Kep-sur-mer, but it’s also available in Phnom Penh. As the first controlled product that was ever produced in Cambodia, the real deal will come with a seal on the bag and should set you back approximately 8 USD for 100g.
For the Oddball: Recycled Products
With waste always being a large issue across the continent, Cambodians are countering its effects with social enterprises investing in making products from recycled materials. Not only do these make great quirky gifts, they’re also supporting Cambodian families, by creating sustainable employment and income. Be sure to check out Friends n’ Stuff in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for a newspaper notebook or paper bead necklace.
There are impressive weavings and silks all over the continent; however Laos has not only an excellent selection of materials, but a large variety of techniques. With many different ethnic communities, there’s an abundance of fabrics to choose from, whether you’re looking for a scarf, pillow casings or a blanket. Look for pieces that have a more worn look to them, or a more distinctive pattern if shopping at Luang Parabang’s night market. Without a doubt be sure to stop at Ock Pop Tok, a social enterprise supporting female artisans throughout the country.
For the Foodie: Coffee Beans
Laos has some of the best quality coffee in the world, although less famous than its neighbour to the east, it produces a wide selection of fine beans. Sip on some while you’re there and be sure to pick up a bag of Robusta or Arabica beans when departing Vientiane at Savannakhet airport’s duty free shop if you don’t have a chance to visit Paksong, Laos’ Coffee Capital. Most of these beans come from the temperate Bolaven plateau, a natural wonder of Laos just east of Pakse.
For the Oddball: Lao-lao
This uniquely Laotian whiskey is made of rice fermented over charcoals and extremely popular throughout Laos. It’s easy to find in markets, particularly Luang Parabang, but there are also distillery villages, such as Ban Xanghai that are well worth a visit. While they vary from seller to seller, the best is lao khiaw, which has a light green colour, strong and smooth, however cobra variations are also available for your friend who likes an adventure.
There are many great souvenirs to have of the plains of Bagan, but sand paintings stand out. A one-of-a-kind technique using sand to create a textured wall hanging, it’s a must souvenir for someone special back home. The best way to get it is by the temples of Bagan, where many friendly locals pedal their wares by chatting visitors and showing them hidden corners of the pagodas. Not only does it give you the opportunity to support local artisans, you can also have a special memory of the ancient plains.
For the Foodie: Lahpet
Laphet is Burmese tea from the northern mountains, and a culinary staple. Whether dried (lahpet chauk), wet & pickled (lahpet so) it makes for a one of a kind ingredient. Used for a sweet and comforting cup of tea or crunchy and scrumptious tea leaf salad, it can appeal to the classic or more adventurous gourmand. Be sure to pick some up from either a market stall or grocery store in Yangon or Mandalay for that friend who loves to discover unique ingredients.
For the Oddball: Thakana
Myanmar still has strong ties to its cultural traditions, whether in terms of entertainment, dress or leisure. A simple gift that stands out is the traditional Thakana, a yellow paste made from tree bark that is used for cosmetic purposes throughout the country. Not only used to protect the face from the rays of the sun, it’s also painted on people of all ages in elaborate or simplistic designs for aesthetic beauty. You can find it at local markets throughout Myanmar, and it won’t set you back much either.
Escaping on a whirlwind holiday in Southeast Asia? Take a look at some of our day tours, adding more wonder to your journey. Or, plan with us from the start to have a custom tailored itinerary that suits you.
If you are looking for the perfect combination of culture, relaxation and adventure, then Vietnam offers one of the most unique luxury travel experiences in Southeast Asia. From the elegant heritage hotels of Hanoi and Saigon, to the exotic mystique of Halong Bay and Vietnam’s exclusive island resorts, luxury travel in Vietnam provides the perfect destination for seasoned and sophisticated travellers looking for new experiences.
In this guide, we explore the highlights of luxury travel in Vietnam with a proposed itinerary that takes you from the mountainous North to the fertile South. Along the way, we will propose high-end accommodation, exclusive experiences and exciting modes of transportation that will ensure you have an unforgettable journey through this spectacular country.
Heritage Hotels, Art and Theatre in Hanoi
Begin your voyage in the heart of historic Hanoi, surrounded by French colonial architecture and colourful markets teeming with life. The Sofitel Legend Metropole was founded in 1901 and still retains some of the decadent atmosphere associated with the French Indochina Era. The immediate surroundings offer a plethora of cultural experiences, such as a concert in the Hanoi Opera House or a performance inspired by traditional Vietnamese goddess worship (recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO) at the Viet Theatre.
For those interested in traditional and contemporary art, we can warmly recommend a tour of the city’s many museums and galleries accompanied by an expert art historian. The labyrinthine alleys of Hanoi’s old quarter also contain numerous hidden galleries, with contemporary masterpieces waiting to be discovered by discerning connoisseurs. For history buffs, it is also possible to visit the bomb shelter below the Metropole where American actress Jane Fonda and folk singer Joan Baez sought shelter during the Vietnam War.
Luxury Trains, Traditional Culture and Crafts in Sapa
The closest thing to riding the Orient Express in Southeast Asia is taking a journey through the picturesque rice fields of Northern Vietnam on the Victoria Express to Sapa. The cool mountainous region of Sapa was once the favoured destination of French officials seeking to escape the hot summer months of Hanoi. Besides the breath-taking scenery, Sapa is also home to fascinating hill tribes such as the Flower Hmong and Black Hmong ethnic groups.
The markets of Sapa are a gathering place for the various ethnicities of the region and the their intricately woven textiles make perfect souvenirs. There is a good selection of reasonably priced boutique hotels and resorts in Sapa town, but for a truly memorable experience we recommend the Topas Ecolodge. Located on a hilltop in the beautiful Hoang Lien National Park, this luxury lodge provides spectacular views from their incredible infinity pool overlooking the surrounding mountains and seemingly endless rice fields.
Seaplanes and Luxury Cruises in Halong Bay
Taking a cruise of Halong Bay on the deck of a classic Vietnamese junk is probably one of the most iconic experiences for travellers to Vietnam, but there is a huge difference in quality depending on what cruise provider you choose. For the most unique and exclusive experience, it is possible to fly straight from Hanoi to Halong Bay onboard of a private seaplane, circle the majestic karst islands and land gracefully next to your luxurious cruise ship.
For the ultimate immersive experience, you can choose either the luxurious L’Azalea junk or the atmospheric Emeraude Cruise, a reconstructed steamer from the French Colonial Era. The Emeraude was inspired by postcards discovered in a Parisian flea market, depicting a magnificent fleet of steamships that once operated in Halong Bay.
Shopping and History in Hoi An
The ancient port town of Hoi An is widely acclaimed as one of the most charming and romantic towns in Vietnam. These lantern-lit streets are lined with traditional craft shops, selling exquisite silk, lacquer and embroidery. Hoi An is particularly famous for their tailors and cobblers, who can produce high quality bespoke garments in a very short time.
This historic town is also a melting pot of culture and architecture, with buildings inspired by Chinese, Japanese, French and traditional Vietnamese styles. During festivals, all the electric lights in Hoi An are switched off and replaced with a multitude of colourful lanterns that give the town an enchanting atmosphere.
Nightlife and History in Saigon
As the old capital of French Cochinchina, Saigon has always had a reputation as an exotic and vibrant city with unique cultural offerings. While it may lack some of the rustic charm of Hanoi, this sprawling metropolis more than makes up for it with its rich history and lively nightlife. One of the main attractions of Ho Chi Minh City is the fascinating and often disturbing legacy of the Vietnam-American War, with the centerpiece being the opulent Independence Palace (also known as reunification Palace) which is lavishly furnished and served as the seat of government under former president Ngô Đình Diệm.
A visit to Saigon is also incomplete without a visit to the legendary Caravelle Hotel and its infamous rooftop bar. The Caravelle served as home to war correspondents during the 1960s and was fully fortified with bullet proof-glass windows. From the Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar, journalists would sip cocktails while watching the night sky light up as flares dropped over the frontlines.
Luxury Living on a Prison Island
Con Dao is known for its pristine beaches, beautiful views, coral reefs and abundance of marine life. However, this island paradise also has a dark past and served as a prison colony for political prisoners under French rule. Today, Con Dao is dominated by the exclusive Six Senses Resort on a long stretch used by sea turtles for nesting. The waters around Con Dao are also inhabited by the endangered Dugongs, a marine mammal known colloquially as the sea-cow, and Six Senses is heavily involved in helping to protect these amazing animals and their environment.
For more information about luxury travel in Vietnam, visit our website or contact us for detailed information on any of the activities, hotels or experiences mentioned in the article.
Travelling to Asia offers many thrills, one particular is the excitement of the barter. Haggling is a way of life throughout the continent, and when travelling through visitors have the unique opportunity to get in on the deals. However, many people get intimidated by the venture, as it can be both stressful and overwhelming if the buyer is uncertain. Struggling with the concept of haggling? Don’t worry, Buffalo Tours is here to offer a hand. Read below for 10 easy tips on how to haggle in Asia!
1. Shop Around
Never take the first price offered. Walk around the stalls to see if others have the same item, and that way you can compare prices for a better deal!
2. Be Smart About Cost
After walking around the market, you’ll have a better sense of what’s available to you and at what cost. Turn around, and don’t be afraid to use momentum. For example, if you want an item in a specific colour that only one vendor has, you can still compare their price with a neighbouring stall.
3. Start Low
Never quote a price first to a vendor. Hear how much they want, then lower the price. A good rule of thumb is to offer at least half of the seller’s price. Remember, you can never go any lower than what you ask for.
4. Be Patient As You Play the Game
You and the vendor may take at least a few minutes to come to an agreed price. Remember, haggling is an art and a way of life, and you can’t rush it.
5. How Much is it Worth to You
Use logic. If you wouldn’t pay over 5 USD for an item, that’s a good rule to follow. Think of what you could pay for the same item to a frame of reference, and how much you are willing to part with. Think about what’s fair to you, and what you really want.
6. Buy More, Pay Less
The more items you get, the more likely the seller will give you a deal. For example, if you want a nicer or larger item and they won’t lower the price, say you’re ok with that, if they can add in something else. Or say you’d like to buy 4 of them at a lower individual cost, and they’ll usually agree!
7. Save Face
Never let a vendor know how much you want an item. Be willing to be nonchalant or walk away from the stall. You don’t need it that bad, and they want business, so don’t be afraid to stay cool and leave the stall.
8. Bring Change
Always have small change ready for haggling. If you pull out only small bills, you can clearly communicate that’s all you have and are willing to pay.
9. Is This The Place?
There’s a ton of opportunity to haggle in Asia, but sometimes it’s just not the place for it. Don’t bother haggling with taxis in Thailand, and don’t try to barter over a bowl of Pho in Vietnam. You’ll know when you can make a deal if you observe the environment.
10. Respect the Seller
As much fun as it is to haggle and get a deal, it’s important to have it in perspective. As addictive as it can be to get a deal, it’s not always worth it. If you argue constantly over a small amount, you are forgetting that 1USD is far more to the vendor than it is to you. It’s more important to be respectful of locals than to save a quarter.