Sens Asia Travel offers a new approach to travel. Insider journeys across Asia with useful travel guide and tips for best countries and places to visit in Asia, things to do when traveling Asia and more!
The best season to travel to Bali, Indonesia is close. May, June, and July are the three best months to spend time on the island. Let’s soak up the sun and enjoy the sand, plus getting around and get lost among the green.
Your critical question is always come down to “Making my choice between staying in Kuta and Seminyak”?
“Which island should I get away for a few night, Nusa Penida or Gilis”:
Bali might be a relatively small island but it is a multi-faceted place and planning your trip to Bali could take as effort as go to a country.
Since everybody is different and all tips and advises from other are just reference. We have put together this information table for you and it’s extremely easy to use. You can quickly make up your mind on where is the best places to stay in Bali for you and where you should research further to click and confirm your Hotel reservation.
Sanur: Best for families
2. Seminyak: Young, Chic and relax
3. Kuta: Party, surf paradise & ready for the crowd
4. Ubud: Of course you will stay in Ubud, who don’t
5. Gili Islands: NO cars ! NO motorbikes ! NO worries. Fit for all
Consist of 3 small islands with 2 hours boat trip away. Come for some “get away from Bali”: Gili Trawangan, Gili Memo and Gili Air
6. Jambaran: Follow the great taste
7: Amed: Gear up and Dive down
8. Lovina: A calm paradise for couples and friends
9. Nusa Lembogan: Raw nature for the young at heart
A short boat trip from Bali: Nusa Pendina, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Lembogan are the 3 islands sharing great escape to a untouch and raw nature adventure
10: Canggu: Another quieter place to go
If you need any assistant on your coming trip to Bali and got lost among all the information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sensasia.com for some suggest trip and free consultancy.
Bagan is the mecca for travelers & photographers, most of the visitors had traveled thousands of miles to come and witness the sunrise/sunset, which is regularly ranked as one of the world’s “must do” experiences. The land is the home of more than 3,000 temples that stretch out as far as the eye can see. As a traveler, you may as well spend so many time reading and finding where are the best locations you can get that perfect shot at sunset? The lesser known temples that allow you to have the best view, away from the crowd and enjoy a quietness time with yourself…
However after the earthquake hit Bagan in 2016, a serious question about protecting the thousand years old temples vs attracting tourist by viral shots of sunrise/sunset from temple top had been raised.
Tourists take photos of sunset from the top of Bulethi in late January, despite the authorities imposing a ban on climbing the pagoda following a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in August 2016. (Theint Mon Soe — J | Frontier)
The Department of Archaeology and National Museums (Bagan) came to final decision to ban climbing on the ancient pagodas and temples which are aged around one thousand years and it’ll also reduce your chance of observed the view that so many others bloggers listed.
“Bymid-20177 and 2018, three manmade earthen hills have been established as sites for travelers to admire the beauty of Bagan’s scenery at sunset and dawn and there will be seven more additions to these three” according to an official of Nuaung U District General Administration Department.
Sens Asia Travel would like to update you with some of the accessible spots for watching Sunset in Bagan as following:
1.MAKE YOUR OWN FINDING TEMPLE
For a free travelers, you will sure be wandering with your E-bike around, there are many quiet temples nearby famous and big ones. Mark one with great nature surrounding, a decent height that allows you to access, having some nice shape temples between the one you chose and the sunset and return in the afternoon/ morning. It’ll be yours to soak in the quietness and the sunset view for your own.
Temple should have open staircases after 5PM many temples will be looked up their main doors.
Just make sure you pick a temple not too far from the main road and not too hideaway, after sunset it could getting dark fairly quick and you do not want to get lost if you are not with a tour guide.
Here is a list of temples in Bagan and their age, be respect the Ancient temple and pick new structure to gain your viewpoint.
4. FROM ONE OF MANY OLD BAGAN HOTEL AT THE RIVER BANK
Bagan River Hotel is situated in Old Bagan, on the banks of the Irrawaddy River will give you just a tranquil and relaxing sunset time. Forget about all the temple silhouettes and watch the sun go down behind rolling hills on the other side of the river, relax in a deck chair with a glass of wine.
Hope you will enjoy Bagan as I always do and hope your sun chasing is rewarded with a precious moment that you will remember it for long.
It seems like planning a trip to Southeast Asia should be simple. We live in the age of the internet and smartphones and drones after all. There is more information available to us than ever before – anywhere, anytime – at the click of a button or the tap of a few fingertips.
This is where it gets difficult, though. There’s so much information out there, so many competing brands straining to reach your wallet and so much choice. It’s overwhelming, if not a little daunting.
So, who can you trust and what’s the best way to get the information you need to plan your trip? While there is no definitive answer or ‘go-to’, we’ve compiled a few sources below to make things a little easier for you.
Lonely Planet travel guide
You can’t go past the tried and true. While a bunch of shiny new travel guides and websites are popping up left, right and centre, it’s always good to go with a trusted brand with loads of experience in the market.
Lonely Planet has been around since the 1970s and has guides for just about every destination you can think of.
It has many strengths: the guide is updated each year – meaning you can always be sure you’re getting up-to-date, relevant information; it suggests a wide range of accommodation and activities to suit different budgets; and the guide is packed full of useful information about each destination (history, how to be culturally sensitive, population, religious denominations etc).
It’s especially useful when you’re visiting a destination where access to WIFI or data is scarce.
But for all its strengths there has to be a weakness or two. Because it’s such a popular publication, its suggested off-the-beaten track destinations or activities tend not to stay off-the-beaten-track for long. It’s also easy to become too reliant on the guide book without following your nose and doing your own exploring.
But, minor criticisms aside, it’s a reliable guide, with relevant and useful information for planning your trip and we highly doubt any traveller would regret having one in their back pocket.
More and more travel bloggers are popping up on the internet, and with each popular blogger, a slither of the travel industry’s market share goes with them. Though some have sponsorship deals and are associated with other brands, generally they are a great, neutral source of relevant and useful information.
You can find bloggers to suit any kind of traveller: from solo, to family, to vegan, to budget, to the allergen-prone or the fitness obsessed. The niches available in the blogosphere are endless.
Here are a few bloggers we recommend:
Where’s Sharon? : This blog is a great resource for those wanting to travel “smarter, cheaper and better” with kids. Sharon is married with two kids and she blogs about her family’s travels in all far flung corners of the world. [link – https://www.wheressharon.com/family-travel-blog-2/]
World Travel Family: This is another great family blog. The family has been traveling for four years non-stop to many destinations and it’s packed full of helpful tips and advice and child-friendly activities. https://worldtravelfamily.com/travel-with-children-family-world-travel-blog/
Nomadic Matt: This blog is aimed more at those who are looking to travel on a budget. It’s a well-designed website and very easy to navigate compared to some other blogger’s sites. On this site you’ll find all sorts of helpful tips, like what to pack for where and even detailed destination and city guides. https://www.nomadicmatt.com/
Ashley Abroad: Ashley has travelled all over the world and her blog is packed full of helpful advice and tips and great photography. It is especially inspiring for solo female travellers. https://www.ashleyabroad.com/
Bucket List Journey: This award-winning blog is written by restaurant owner Annette who travels all over the world, often with her husband. She offers great lists of activities in different destinations and as a restaurateur she is good at scoping out the best food joints. https://bucketlistjourney.net/about/
A World to Travel: This Spanish couple is passionate about travel and take a trip once a month. They’ve posted insider’s guides to Thai beaches, hotels they like, destination highlights and even how to get open water certified. http://www.aworldtotravel.com/
Booking.com is a great website which offers a range of accommodation options: from budget, to mid-range to luxury. The site gives plenty of options in the search bar to look up the type of accommodation you’re after, the number of people, your price range and other filtering options.
The only beef we have with Booking.com is that it can feel a bit spammy and dramatic when booking.
Any accommodation you choose seems to be about to sell out, and it will try to push you into booking by telling you how many people have booked similar rooms in the past hour. It’s easy to book in a rush thinking your perfect room will sell out only to find the same accommodation on the site days later.
It’s an excellent resource with some well-rated and trusted accommodation on there, but just breathe and take your time when booking.
Now, we tentatively add this option in. Trip Advisor can be a great resource but in some circumstances, it should be taken with a grain of salt. The platform offers user reviews of hotels, activities, restaurants and various other services you require or enjoy while traveling. It is a useful site for finding out information about activities or services you want to find out more about. Some reviewers put a lot of time and effort into their reviews and often include photos too.
But, there are cons. There is often a dichotomy of opinions, making it a bit difficult to know which reviewers to trust and if they share your tastes and preferences. Also, there are many fake reviewers out there too. So, while it is a valuable tool for getting an overview and finding out a little more, it’s good to be discerning when using Trip Advisor to plan or research.
Leave it to a pro
If you’ve done your research (or even if you haven’t) and you’re still feeling overwhelmed with the amount of time and effort that goes into planning, then why not contact a travel operator.
These companies have been around for a long time, they’re professionals, can generally work to your budget and know their destinations like the back of their hands.
As the travel industry has become more competitive, travel operators have greatly improved their destinations and travel style options and decreased their prices. So, now, more than any time in the past is the best time to book through a travel operator.
Once you’re away if anything goes wrong you can get your travel operator on the phone straight away to sort things out.
Annie Scrivanich, a senior vice president for Cruise Specialists, a Seattle-based travel agency said:
“The value of a travel agent is immeasurable. Today’s travel agent is highly trained, well-traveled and has an extensive Rolodex of industry contacts, just in case they need to call in a favor. You’d have to spend half your free time online and the other half on the road to come close to that level of expertise.”
We hope you gained some useful advice and tips from this article. If you need any travel advice or are interested in booking a tour, you can visit our website: www.sensasia.com then drop us a line. The consultation is free and there’s no obligation to purchase.
Vietnamese New Year, called Tet, is fast approaching. It’s the most important and widely celebrated festival in the country and is an occasion for Vietnamese to pay their respects to ancestors as well as welcoming in the lunar New Year.
The festival is normally held in late January or early to mid-February, depending on where it falls on the lunar calendar. And during this time, the country goes into over drive. Lights are strung up in city streets and brightly coloured decorations are sold everywhere. It’s an extremely busy time of year for traders and shop vendors, especially in the flower markets.
Flowers are a very important part of the holiday, so this is the best time of year to check out flower vendors in the country where you’ll be mesmerized by the abundance of brightly-coloured, fragrant blossoms.
Here’s a short list of the famous flower markets of Vietnam from North to South.
Quang Ba Flower Market – Hanoi
Visit Quang Ba Flower Market in Tay Ho to see and smell many beautiful and exotic flowers, in the midst of the freewheeling excitement and frantic trading of one of Hanoi’s biggest markets. Traders from all over northern Vietnam come here to sell their flowers in the capital. This is a fantastic spot for photographers to catch some exceptional and colourful scenes and to see the seemingly impossible bundles of flowers that can be attached to one scooter.
The market has two sessions, one from 2AM to 4 AM for wholesalers and another from 4AM to midday for retailers. It’s most active during 2AM to 4AM and is definitely worth either staying up late or getting up early for.
Thanh Tien village – Hue
It’s not only real flowers that are popular during Tet, but also paper flowers, and Thanh Tien Village is well-known for its 400-year-old tradition of crafting them. In the past they were used for ritual or worshipping ceremonies, but today they are popular for home decoration and for festivals.
Bamboo stems are used for sprigs, coloured paper for petals and cassava for pistils.
It’s definitely worth stopping by the village. You can meet the skilled artisans who create the delicate decorations and even learn how to make your own lotuses, poppies, tulips, or roses with paper and scissors.
Ho Thi Ky Flower Market – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh)
Stroll around the bustling Ho Thi Ky Flower Market (one of the oldest flower markets of Vietnam) in District 10 and lose yourself in its world of colours and aromas. This venue has a wide variety of flowers from the plateau of Da Lat and the Mekong Delta like lilies, roses, daisies, lotuses and hydrangeas. The market is not just for Saigon but also for the surrounding provinces, from Saigon to the Cambodian border.
The busiest time at the market is about 2AM but you can visit anytime from 11PM to 6AM.
If you want to plan an early morning visit to any of these flower markets when visiting Vietnam, drop us a line for planning tips from local experts!
Inle Lake is one of Myanmar’s top tourist destinations, and for good reason. The lake is large and beautiful, surrounded by mountains and bordered with stilt-house villages, pagodas and floating gardens.
The pace and mode of life on and around the lake seems little changed from how it must have been a century or two ago. People paddle around their floating gardens in shallow canoes, take their produce to lakeside markets which rotate around the various settlements on a five-day-cycle, and fish using a unique leg-rowing technique which leaves their hands free to handle their nets.
The difference is that these days, people going about their everyday activities are watched constantly by tourists who shoot around the lake in long wooden boats with large, loud, diesel motors on the back.
Inle Lake residents appear (from the outside at least) to have grown accustomed to ignoring the camera-in-your-face aspect of life. They look blankly through you, not malevolently at you.
To be fair, I suspect many local people’s lives are easier because of the tourist trade, after 50 years of serious economic mismanagement, Myanmar is a very poor country, and tourist kyats are welcome.
Despite being hyper-aware of my tourist status, the gorgeous lake was definitely worth a visit. And without further ado, here are my top five things to do at Inle Lake (and its surrounds).
1. Lake boat trip
Credit: Geoff Godden
Despite any reservations above, taking a day boat trip out on Inle Lake is quite magical. Even in peak tourist season the lake is big enough for the place not to seem too busy, and apart from a couple of enterprising former fishermen who wait for tourists to pay them to demonstrate the leg rowing/basket fishing technique, much of what you see on the lake is local people going about their daily business.
Credit: Geoff Godden
Most boat trips will gear the tour around wherever the rotating market is on that day, plus they will take you to the floating gardens, a lake pagoda, a couple of villages and (unless you resist) a handicraft workshop or two.
My tip: beat some of the crowds at the market by leaving at 7am, rather than 8am, when most boats set out.
2. Cycling around the lake
Credit: Geoff Godden
It’s easy and cheap to hire bikes in Nyaung Shwe, the little town where most tourists stay and it’s a great activity if you’re looking for different things to do at Inle Lake. From there you can do a circuit of the northern part of the lake, taking in the villages of Khaung Daing to the west (where there are hot pools), and Maing Thauk to the east (where the land section of the village is connected to the stilt part with a narrow bridge, and there is also a forest temple with fine views).
Oxen coming home, seen on the bike trip (credit: Geoff Godden)
To get between the two villages you take a boat trip across the lake, with the boatmen carrying the bikes too. Close to Maing Thauk is the Red Mountain Estate Winery, which offers a great setting, and expensive, mediocre wines.
My tip for independent travellers: The bike-carrying boatmen will try to charge you (for a 30-minute trip) about half what it costs to rent a boat for a full day. You shouldn’t need to pay more than 7000 kyat.
The most popular trek in the area is the two- or three-day walk between Inle Lake and Kalaw, a former British hill station west of the lake. Tourists get to see local villages and stay in a monastery and a homestay. All reviews of that walk I’ve seen make it sound fantastic, but busy. Far less touristy is the area to the east of the lake, where you can do similar length treks through the same sort of countryside and villages but without sharing it with dozens of other trekking parties.
My tip for independent travellers: If you are doing the trek in peak tourist season (December-January) it’s surprisingly cold and a bit uncomfortable at night in the villages. We slept on unpadded mats on the floor and despite two blankets each, the mountain air came through the gaps in the walls/floor. Don’t be put off – it’s definitely worth doing – but be prepared.
4.Pindaya cave pagoda
There are more than 8,000 Buddha images in the extensive and impressive limestone cave complex at Pindaya. Unlike some of Myanmar’s other cave temple complexes, this is well-lit and there’s a glass-fronted lift to avoid some of the stairs. The earliest golden Buddha statues date from the 1700s, and believers are donating more all the time (you can even buy your own bit of gold leaf to add to a statue).
My tip: You can visit Pindaya as a picturesque day trip from Nyaung Shwe (1.5 hours each way) or Kalaw (1 hour), or you use it as a stop off between the two. A third option is to stay overnight – as well as the cave, there’s tourist-avoiding trekking available in the area.
5. Inle Heritage centre
Credit: Geoff Godden
If you like cats, or even if you don’t, the Inle Heritage centre at In Paw Khon in the southern part of Inle Lake, is worth a visit, either as part of a lake tour, or on a separate trip (you can even stay overnight). Inle Heritage is a not-for-profit set up by a local business woman from a prominent local family, who modelled the main building on her grandparents’ beautiful traditional house in Nyaung Shwe, and uses the complex to try to preserve local culture and heritage.
The part that most entertained our family group was a project aiming to reintroduce Burmese cats to their original homeland. The Burmese breed were originally royal and temple cats, but interbreeding with local moggies during the British colonial period wiped out all pure-bred cats. Starting with US and Australian-born Burmese cats, Inle Heritage is trying to build up a local population. Whatever the eventual success, the 40 or so cats on lake islands and pavilions are super-friendly and very cute. Inle Heritage also runs a boutique hotel, an Inthar cooking school and restaurant, and a shop selling fair trade-style local handicrafts.
My tip: If you want the cats to yourself, go early, before the rest of the tourist boats. We got there around 10.30am and we had the place to ourselves. And don’t miss the see-through fish (in the aquarium behind the cats), the ornate shrine upstairs, and the model of the grandparents’ bedroom (also upstairs).
We hope you enjoyed these ‘top 5 things to do at Inle Lake’. If you’re interested in exploring this part of Myanmar or have any queries, then drop us a message.
Nikki Mandow was a business journalist for almost 30 years in New Zealand, London and Vietnam. Since early 2017 she has been freelancing and travelling (see her travel adventures on her blog Good Content), mostly in Cuba, Greece and Myanmar. She infinitely prefers the latter to the former.
Temples in Southeast Asia are stunning, it can’t be denied. When I first flew into Bangkok, Thailand at the tender age of 13, I was in awe of the glittering stupas dotted all over the city. When stepping foot into my first one my eyes were wide and my jaw was nearly on the floor. I was absolutely spellbound. Monks chanted, the smell of sandalwood incense entered my nostrils and the incredible reliefs and paintings on the walls documenting Buddha’s life were unlike anything I’d ever seen.
But, after visiting about 10 famous temples, which were all fairly similar (though of course still magical), I must admit I started to develop the so-called ‘temple fever’.
A few years on (13 to be exact) and now working in the travel industry, I’ve figured out how to find a balance when visiting temples in Asia. The trick is to seek out a variety, which isn’t difficult. In Thailand there are myriad options (there are thought to be 40,700 Buddhist temples!).
I think it’s important to visit at least a few famous temples of a country to understand more about the region and its people. But, for those suffering from a bit of temple fever who want to see something a little off-beat, then check out our list of ‘5 unconventional must-see temples in Thailand’ below:
1. Wat Pha Sorn Kaew (Phetchabun)
Located five hours north of Bangkok, Thailand and hidden high away in the hills on an 830m peak lies Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, otherwise known as ‘Temple on the Glass Cliff’. The temple (which is also a monastery) is striking because of the contrast between its towering stark-white ‘five-sitting Buddha’ statue, and the rest of the complex which is colourfully adorned with over 5 million mosaic tiles. The temple is splendid, but even if the temple doesn’t impress, the incredible mountainous landscape will. It’s worth the trip simply for the breathtaking views out over the valley.
It should be noted that as this is a relatively new temple by Thai standards (built in 2004) and despite its dramatic appearance, it’s not widely recognized as a tourist attraction (even more of a reason to go!) so, it can be a bit difficult to reach. The must-see temple is located in Khao Kor in the province Phetchabun. It’s easiest to go via your own transport (moto, moto taxi or taxi cab) or with a private tour.
2.Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden (Saen Suk)
While most Buddhist temples evoke a feeling of peace and tranquility, this temple site in Thailand depicts quite the opposite – it illustrates the torturous sufferings of hell. Opposite the temple lies a ‘hell garden’ where grotesque sculptures of sinners are punished in awful ways for their bad deeds. The most standout sight is two, towering figures of a man and a woman (representations of ghosts from Thai folklore) with protruding eyes and tongues that stretch down past their waists.
There are many of these hell gardens in Thailand but this is the largest. In Buddhism, hell is referred to as ‘Naraka’ and in this hell sinners need not stay forever but will endure punishments until their negative karma is spent.
This temple site is located in the village of Saen Suk about 100km Southeast of Bangkok. The address is Sai 2, Soi 19, Saen Suk but it can still be tricky to find, especially since it can be easily confused with another temple, Wat Saen Suk. You can hop on a bus to Bang Saen from Bangkok and then travel the rest of the way by moto taxi.
If traveling from Bangkok be prepared for the journey there and back to take up the better part of a day. Think carefully about bringing children to this temple in Thailand, many of the figures are gruesome and may frighten little ones.
3. Wat Rong Khun (Chiang Rai)
Wat Rong Khun, also known as the ‘White Temple’ (for obvious reasons) is not at all what comes to mind when picturing a Buddhist temple. Situated in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, the temple looks like something you might stumble upon in Narnia. The pale structure is inlaid with glass that sparkles under the sun and has a range of unusual features, like hundreds of sculpted outstretched hands beneath the bridge to the main building symbolizing unrestrained desire. It also has murals inside with demon faces and Western pop culture figures like Michael Jackson, Freddy Krueger, Harry Potter and Superman.
The temple was built and privately funded by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who is still working to expand the site, and has said when it’s finished there will be nine buildings including an Ubosot, a hall to enshrine relics, a meditation hall, monks living quarters and an art gallery.
This is a must-see temple in Thailand and is located in San Sai, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai. It’s opening hours are: 6.30am – 6pm daily (temple); 8am – 5.30pm Mon-Fri (museum of paintings).
Note: the temple was damaged in an earthquake in 2014 so you can’t enter all parts of the temple complex.
4.Baan Dam / Black House (Chiang Rai)
While you’re in Chiang Rai visiting the White Temple, why not also pay a visit to Baan Dam, otherwise known as the ‘Black Temple’, the antithesis of the White Temple. Like the White Temple, Baan Dam is also the handy work of a local artist, named Thawan Duchanee who is the student of the creator of the White Temple.
The site is made up of 15 houses embellished and furnished with animal remains including skin, bones, teeth and preserved animals (which apparently all died of natural causes). The temple is Duchanee’s portrayal of hell and among the objects you’ll find at this temple are chairs made of buffalo horns, snake-skin table runners, skulls, an assortment of shells arranged in all sorts of interesting compositions and animal skin rugs.
The complex is situated among tranquil gardens where you’ll also find small statues and quirky objects.
To get there you can hop on a bus for 18 Baht that leaves from platform 5 adjacent to the night market in the middle of Chiang Rai. The bus goes to Mae Sai and leaves regularly. Make sure you tell the conductor you’re going to Baan Dam. Alternatively, you can hire a motorbike or take a taxi there.
Baan Dam is open every day (including weekends and holidays) from 9am until 5pm but closes for lunch between 12 and 1pm. While it used to be free to enter, it now cost 80 Baht for all visitors.
5. Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew (Sisaket)
Who ever thought a temple would provide a good lesson on recycling? This creative temple, also known as the ‘Temple of a Million Bottles’ or ‘Beer Bottle Temple’ is a Buddhist structure in the Khum Han district of Sisaket province.
The temple is made up of over 1.5 million used Heineken and Chang beer bottles. Construction for the temple began in 1984 when a group of monks had grown tired of seeing an increasing amount of litter in the Sisaket area. So, to lessen the waste the monks asked people in Sisaket to bring them used beer bottles and began the temple complex.
The main temple, which is a brilliant green colour due to the Heineken bottles, took two years to complete. Since then, the monks have created a crematorium, water towers, sleeping quarters and toilets. They even used bottle caps to create beautiful Buddhist designs inside the temple.
Despite its appearance, the unconventional temple doesn’t seem to get a lot of visits from tourists, probably due to its more obscure location.
The nearest city to the temple is Sisaket and the temple is based near the small village of Khun Han. You can train or bus to Sisaket from Bangkok (takes between 8 and 11 hours) and then hire a driver to take you to the temple once you’re based in the city.
We hope you enjoyed our list of ‘5 unconventional must-see temples in Thailand’. If you are planning your trip to Thailand and have any questions, drop us a message for direct support from local experts!
Christmas is fast approaching and in many parts of the world, Jack Frost is paying his annual visit, turning countries into winter wonderlands. While, in other parts of the world Christmas is a time for sunshine and barbecues on the beach. Whether it’s the beach or a vibrant city you’re craving this festive season, our guide for best places to spend Christmas in Asia has got you covered.
When the Christmas snow starts settling and the chill reaches your bones it’s easy to start fantasizing about a tropical getaway and Asia has many countries that are hot in December to thaw yourself out in.
Christmas in the city
Cities can be nice to spend time in during the Christmas period. It’s a time of year when fairy lights come out of their boxes to be strewn throughout the streets and coiled around street lamps, making everything look magical. If you’re a city lover, Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and Bangkok (Thailand), are both bustling hubs with plenty of places to enjoy a festive Christmas getaway.
Ho Chi Minh
Though Ho Chi Minh has a large Buddhist population, it doesn’t stop the city from getting festive. The city is decorated with beautiful lights and there are many activities to be found around the city.
Notre Dame Cathedral
One sight worth seeing is the mass at the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, which is decorated for Christmas Day. It attracts Christians as well as non-religious folk who simply want to take in the beauty of the church.
Then, why not pop up to Chill Skybar on the 26th floor of the AB Tower to enjoy a Christmas drink while looking out at panoramic views of the city.
Some other activities that would make nice Christmas outings in Vietnam’s largest city are: a visit to Starlight Bridge, where a display of colored lights illuminate a man-made waterfall tumbling from the bridge to the river; and attending a water puppet show at the theatres on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street .
Thailand is a Buddhist country and doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas. But, like Ho Chi Minh it’s easy to find places to enjoy the holiday.
Christmas is a time of the year where you should absolutely gorge yourself on good food and luckily many international hotels in Bangkok throw gala buffet dinners for Christmas travelers, such as the Millennium Hotel and the Intercontinental. Travelers should be aware that hotels normally charge extra for this service.
For those on a budget why not fill yourself up on Thailand’s delicious street food and sip back some cheap beer. Try Chinatown or the Ratchawat Market for some tasty morsels.
Khao San road
If you’re looking for somewhere to dance, Khao San road will be booming with many Christmas-themed parties. But be aware, this road normally attracts a younger backpacker crowd and isn’t the best place to bring children.
If you’re exploring these cities on Christmas, they tend to be busier than normal. So, make sure you keep an eye on your belongings and book accommodation well in advance.
For second-time visitors who are wondering what else to explore in the city of Bangkok, check out our Bangkok travel guide for second-time visitors here.
Christmas on the beach
Among beaches in South East Asia – Mui Ne and Phu Quoc in Vietnam; and beaches in the Northern Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Sea in Thailand are the best places to spend Christmas in Asia.
Temperatures will be around a comfortable 29 degrees, and underwater visibility is good this time of year, making December a great time for swimming and diving.
My advice for Christmas travelers to Vietnam is to visit Mui Ne or Phu Quoc after visiting Ho Chi Minh City, or visit beaches in the Northern Gulf of Siam or the Andaman Sea in Thailand after Bangkok.
Mui Ne Beach
Sandboarding in Mui Ne
There are many activities in Mui Ne that are good for solo travelers, couples or families. For a more unique experience, travelers can try hot air ballooning in Mui Ne over the open sea and desert, which takes three to four hours.
Ballooning in Mui Ne
Otherwise, we suggest visiting the green dragon fruit farms, the white salt fields, Fairy Stream and try sandboarding on the dunes (costing only VND 20,000 – US $0.92 – to hire a plastic board with no time limit).
While there is accommodation in Mui Ne to suit all, families might prefer resorts that feel a bit more private like Mia Resort and The Cliff Residence. They are also only five kilometers to the ‘night seafood market’ (bo ke), 17 kilometers from the sand dunes, and 10 kilometers way from central Phan Thiet city.
Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand and is known for its pristine white-sand beaches and palm trees.
Phu Quoc beach
Phu Quoc National Park
It’s a great place to spend a Christmas getaway for those who simply want to lie back on the beach and bask in the warm weather.
It’s also the perfect location for nature lovers as more than half of the island is part of Phu Quoc National Park which features mountains, jungle, hiking trails and wildlife. Its largest town Duong Dong has bustling night markets selling all sorts of craft goods and tasty food.
There are many beautiful beaches which look postcard perfect including ones on Phi Phi island, Phu Ket, Krabi, Hua Hin, and Koh Samui.
For mid-range beach resorts for families, we suggest: P.P. Erawan Palms Resort (Phi Phi island), Katathani Phuket Beach Resort, Deevana Krabi Resort, Dolphin Bay Resort Pranburi (Hua Hin), and Baan Chaweng Beach Resort & Spa (Samui).
For activities, try: yachting, fishing, Thai cooking classes, Thai massages, and diving.
Cooking class in Hua Hin
As you can see there are a variety of options for ways to find the best places to spend Christmas in Asia. If you’re planning a Christmas getaway, our first advice is to make sure you book accommodations and tours in advance. This is a high season and sometimes, the availability is taken up by travel agents and tour operators.
Thus, if you want to enjoy a hassle-free Christmas in the warm zone, it might be better to reach out to a local travel company for planning a personalized tour package than booking individual services yourselves.
Christmas is a time when we tend to give gifts to our loved ones at the end of the year. While these are usually the kind of gifts that can be wrapped in nice paper and slotted beneath a tree, why not do something a little differently this season, and give a gift that will live on for years to come. Plant a fruit tree with locals in Siem Reap.
A Chinese proverb advises:
“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is now”.
We are offering you the second best time to plant a fruit tree in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is the jewel in Cambodia’s crown. The city is just a stone’s throw away from some of the most remarkable temples in Southeast Asia, most notably, the incredibleAngkor Wat – the largest religious monument in the world and a hallmark of the ancient, mighty Khmer empire.
No one should leave Siem Reap off their itinerary when traveling to Southeast Asia. And if you’ve traveled to Cambodia and are wondering what to do in Siem Reap, why not get your hands in the soil and give back.
There are communities in Siem Reap that are struggling, and we want to lend a helping hand.
Though the tourism industry is in good shape and the poverty rate has fallen in the past ten years, there are still many vulnerable communities that fall through the cracks.
After years of dictatorship in the 1970s where a quarter of the population was wiped out under the Khmer Rouge it’s no surprise the successive generations of Cambodia are feeling the ripple effect of this tragedy decades later.
So, you have no idea how much it can help a community to plant a simple tree with locals and we want to continue planting in villages, schools, orphanages, homes for the elderly and hospitals.
These trees will not only offset carbon but also prove bountiful for local communities, providing a sustainable food source for years to come.
A Nursing center in Saigon where we do our little garden there
Planting a tree on the island of Ha Long Bay
Since we opened our doors a little over a year ago, we made sure that implementing sustainable practices, responsible travel and respecting local culture were strong foundations underpinning Sens Asia. We believe every business has a responsibility to give back in some way, whether that is to the environment, or on a social level.
But, we cannot do this alone, and we need the support of our travelers to make a difference. We feel lucky that we’ve already attracted many people who care about culture, communities and the environment; and so far we’ve planted 500 trees all over Southeast Asia and will continue to plant more.
If you decide to plant a tree with locals in Siem Reap, you’ll be able to choose between mango and jackfruit, of course, keeping in mind which tree is most suitable for the soil and weather conditions. And after you experience the satisfying feeling of digging your hands into the soil and mingling with locals, you’ll be invited to a lively outdoor cooking class and to eat lunch at a green garden.
You’ll head home knowing you’ve given back in some way, reduced your carbon footprint and acquired a few new cooking skills to show off to your friends back home.
We think planting a tree should be one of the top things to do in Siem Reap. As it’s good for visitors, the earth and communities.
So, forget tinsel, Christmas decorations and traditional gifts this year and try something a little unconventional. The earth will thank you.
MELINDA MURPHY tries out new treats on a Vietnamese food-themed trip to Hanoi and Hoa Binh.
It was not your typical meal.
I stared at the rather large snails and, I swear, they stared at me back. I could almost hear the faint strains of “Duelling Banjos” in the background. “You gonna eat me? Really?”
The village elder smiled politely. I smiled back. Finally, I grabbed the shell, a toothpick-type instrument and popped the seal. Out came a long string of meat. I hesitated, then took the plunge, putting it in my mouth and – bam! – it was delicious!
Cooked in a tangy lemongrass sauce, the snail had a great flavour, even if the gooey texture was a bit hard to take. I washed it down with yet another celebratory shot of rice wine.
That was but a part of my amazing foodie adventure to Vietnam.
Snail with lemon grass
Hanoi home visit
The tour started the day before in Hanoi, with the Nguyen family from Hanoi Cuisine hosting us in their home, a house built by their ancestors, with three generations currently living under one roof.
The French high ceilings were once damaged when Americans bombed Hanoi during the Vietnam War (or, as the Vietnamese call it, the American War).
In the dinner, we were served with a feast of traditional home-cooked Vietnamese food. I loved the bun cha, a dish of rice noodles, fresh herbs and homemade fish sauce, topped with deep-fried spring rolls. But the real star of the meal was the lotus flower fried rice, cooked by Nguyen Quy, along with her daughter and daughter-in-law who all live in the home. Served in a massive bowl made out of leaves, the rice included vegetables and lotus flower seeds, which have a texture a bit like garbanzo beans, but a flavour far more delicate.
It was downright gorgeous. After dinner, their niece played the dan tranh, a native Vietnamese musical instrument, a harp of sorts. (Log onto expatliving.sg to hear what it sounds like.) What an incredible glimpse into local Hanoi life.
City to country
The next morning, we set out early for our four-hour bus ride to Hoa Binh province, 130km from Hanoi. Besides me and my fellow travel writers, were two very special chefs: Tu Nguyen, a Vietnamese “Iron Chef” known for a his unique take on oysters, and Nam Nguyen, a graduate of the Know One, Teach One (KOTO) school.
This programme takes at-risk kids from small villages and teaches them a skill –cooking – to help pull themselves out of poverty. Having the two chefs with us made the trip more of a give-and-take than your usual tourist visit to the Muong people, and it also aimed to inspire the local children.
Before we started up the steep, dirt road to the remote region, we grabbed lunch, made fresh in a roadside house. We sat on the floor, the food laid out in dishes atop banana leaves; there was a salad of bamboo shoots and carrots, fried tofu, a whole fish topped with tomatoes, a green veggie and fried pork accompanied chicken cooked inside a piece of bamboo.
The flavours were familiar, but combined into something new and wonderful to me. The Muong use very long chopsticks because all the dishes are meant to be shared. Everybody just reaches across everybody else to grab a bite.
Chicken cooked inside a piece of bamboo
Fish topped with tomatoes
When we finally arrived at Suoi Mu Lodge (suoimulodge.vn), villagers poured out into the streets to see us. The women were shown to our one-room lodge, our beds on the floor, draped in mosquito nets, while the men stayed with the host family in their home, a traditional Muong structure where the family lives above the livestock. The houses are built on stilts to help cool the buildings and combat mudslides during rainy season.
Muong tradition dictates that men and women –even if married – sleep separately when visiting their homes. A very nice, clean western toilet and shower with an inline heater were happy surprises. Turns out, these are a couple of the long list of government requirements to qualify as a homestay in Vietnam.
Off we set on a long, hot hike, gathering greens for dinner, the locals showing us what we could and couldn’t eat, while walking next to vast rice fields and up a hill to a magnificent waterfall. Everywhere I looked, there was another photo op: sunlit rice paddies, workers in the fields, oxen lazily strolling the dirt road and more.
Back at the village, the local children treated us like celebrities. They loved looking at the pictures and even trying their hand at using our cameras. Their life of freedom is vastly different than that of my own kids. These little ones wander the streets, playing volleyball, picking (very sour!) starfruit and bathing in the local river with nary an adult in sight.
Vietnamese food cooking class
That evening, the homestay host and chef, Thuc Bui, gave me a first-hand lesson at making a Muong speciality, thit cuon la buoi. The secret? Use young, tender pomelo leaves, put a small spoonful of spiced pork in the centre, then roll from the tip of the leaf to the stem. Each roll was inserted into a piece of bamboo cut into something resembling long tweezers and roasted over the open-flame hearth, on the second floor of the house.
Besides the rolls and snails, dinner included a feast of things I’d never seen before: fish stuffed with herbs, bamboos hoots with pork and more. It was all quite yummy.
Afterwards, the entire village turned out to watch amateur dancers from around the area, dressed in their native finest, and we all took turns trying the bamboo dance, which entailed jumping in and out of long pieces of bamboo being moved around on the ground by the locals. Such fun! Young and old alike enjoyed a local, weak alcoholic drink served in a big, earthenware jar filled with rice and liquor, sipped through shared, meter-long straws.
Thit cuon la buoi
Leaving it to the pros
The next morning, it was the chefs’ turn to put on a show for the locals, presenting big platters of small toasts, topped with typical western fare: pate, an egg and mayo mixture and chopped tomatoes. I loved watching each face as it tried something new. Some wrinkled in disgust, but most liked what they tried.
Even the village elders with their teeth blackened from years of chewing betel leaves, cautiously sampled the titbits.
Soon after, our bags were packed and we were headed home.
The woman in charge of tourism for the area, Him Bui, explained that westerners first arrived in large numbers in 2007 to study animals and teach the locals tourism skills. The village now has a cement road and a good school, and some homes have electricity.
Even with the improvements, they’re managing to hang onto their local culture. But for how long? I noticed plenty of western clothing – and also that the children could do a mean dance to “Gangnam Style.”
My advice? Go soon before the local traditions have faded, while you can still feel a bit like Marco Polo exploring a new world.
For more details about the adventures, please visit us: CLICK HERE
This is the kind of trip that Sens Asia Travel does well, an experiential trip designed to reawaken the senses, introducing travelers to new flavours, sights and sounds throughout Asia.
The company is quite conscious of the experiences it develops, working hard to find the balance between modifying a village for tourist comforts and making sure it doesn’t lose the very culture people come to experience.
“You need to be a part of the community and be friends with them. You must understand the local culture and client culture, and find a way to blend them together. We work hard to preserve the local way of life while also making their lives better,” said Sens Asia’s Managing Director, Bui Ngoc Linh.
** Note: we are not medical professionals. ALWAYS consult your doctor before traveling Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy.
You’ve been dreaming about visiting Southeast Asia for a long time now. Its white-sand beaches, friendly people, tasty food and incredible wildlife have been calling out to you. But one thing is holding you back – an allergy to peanuts and these crunchy morsels happen to be included in a lot of Asian cuisine.
And you’re certainly not alone. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) allergies to peanuts/tree nuts more than tripled among U.S. children between 1997 and 2008. In the worst cases, sufferers can go into anaphylactic shock where the throat can swell, blocking the airways.
In Asia, to compare, peanut allergies are not much of an issue. Westerners are about twice as likely as East Asians to be allergic to peanuts, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
If you suffer from a peanut allergy and have decided to travel to Southeast Asia, we’ve compiled a few tips to help keep you safe.
1. Consult your doctor first
Always seek medical advice from your GP or a travel doctor before traveling Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy. It’s likely you won’t be the first person to ask your doctor about traveling with this particular allergy in Asia, so your GP should be well-prepared with guidance and be able to advise the medication you’ll need to bring with you on your travels. You should also ask your doctor to write you an official note explaining your peanut allergy and your required medication, so that you are prepared if you’re asked any questions at airports or in the places you are traveling.
2. Be careful when eating street food
Photo via Flickr user J Aaron Farr
If your peanut allergy is at the severe end of the spectrum, it may pay to avoid street food altogether, as you can’t be sure of what’s in it. However, experiencing street food is a large part of enjoying and getting the most out of your Asian travel experience and some bloggersallergic to nuts tend to prefer eating street food as you can see the chef and all the ingredients right before your eyes. But if you don’t want to take the risk, often in cities like Bangkok (Thailand) or Hanoi (Vietnam) you can also find tasty street food dishes in restaurants.
Restaurants might be a little pricier but if it’s a tourist-geared restaurant the staff will be more likely to speak English and it should be easier for you to communicate your allergy and find out what does or doesn’t contain nuts. However, even in a restaurant one should always be cautious and inspect food closely before eating it.
See some common dishes that contain peanuts below:
You should also be particularly careful with dipping sauces. Often peanuts can be blended in and combined with another sauce (barbecue sauce in Hue, Central Vietnam, for example) which means the peanuts are far less detectable.
3. Carry a translated note
Bring a translated note with you (otherwise known as an allergy card) in the most common language of the country/countries you’re visiting. The note should explain that you have a peanut allergy, include an image of a peanut for further transparency, describe what could happen to you if you ingest peanuts and instruct on what to do if you should suffer a reaction.
For example, if your allergy is severe and there’s a chance you could go into anaphylactic shock and require a jab from an Epi Pen – make it clear that you carry a pen on you. If you have a number to call or a hospital address, include it on the back of the note, along with the phone number of your country’s embassy.
Brokerfish.com offers free, printable allergy cards in Chinese and Thai and Foodallergytranslate.com offers an app allowing you to store digital allergy cards on your phone, or create printable cards; and you can select from a range of Asian languages including: Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese.
4. Find your closest hospital
Spend some time researching hospitals in the locations you are visiting when traveling Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy. You could ask your travel insurance provider to recommend some safe hospitals with high-quality medical care. Keep a note with the address and telephone number of the closest hospital to you in your wallet or purse in case you should need it.
5. If your allergy is severe, consider traveling with someone
Having a travel companion is a good idea if you suffer from a peanut allergy. This way if anything should happen, you’ll have someone to help you find treatment as soon as possible. The companion should be briefed on the warning signs for if you have a reaction and told what to do if one occurs.
6. Visit local markets and cook your own food, or try a cooking class
Asia is a place full of bustling markets and visiting them is a great way to get a taste of culture. Why not head to the local market and pick up some fresh produce. There are Airbnb’s all over Asia, many of which include their own kitchens for cooking. And many hostels also have kitchens and cooking appliances for guests to use.
Otherwise, why not try a cooking class? You can easily find classes in destinations all over Asia, run by English-speaking chefs. This way you can be 100 percent sure what you’re preparing doesn’t contain nuts and learn some new cooking skills to take back home with you.
7. Notify your airline in advance
When traveling to Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy, always notify your airline in advance about your allergy so when booking meals they can ensure you aren’t served any food containing nuts. If you want to be extra safe, bring your own food with you to eat on-board and wipe down your seat and tray table before sitting down. Even if you’ve notified your airline about your allergy in advance, remind them again when you get on the plane. And if you have an allergy card or doctor’s note, present it to them.
8. Carry medication with you at all times
This might sound like an obvious pointer, but always make sure you carry any required medication at all times. Stay in the habit of putting it in the same place and always check you have it before leaving your room. You should also bring more medication than you need and store it in different places in case you happen to lose any.
9. Bring some food with you
It’s a wise idea to have a back-up plan. So, bring some non-perishable food with you. This will be especially useful if you want to travel further out from the city where there are fewer hospitals and reliable medical treatment.
It may not be as tasty as Asian cuisine, but you can rest assured knowing you’ll be safe while eating it and you won’t go hungry. You can find non-perishables easily at supermarkets in the capital cities of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Try to look for food with English labels so you can be sure there are no traces of nuts.
10. Follow travel bloggers with nut allergies
Of course, one of the best ways to ensure safe travels with your allergy is to hear first-hand from someone in the same position as you. There are many bloggers online who have traveled Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy.
We suggest the bloggers below:
A blogger who travels the world with her family and has a son who suffers from a peanut allergy. Together they’ve traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan and India.
An American blogger who travels the world despite suffering from a severe peanut allergy.
Morawetz has written about her experience staying a month in Thailand with a peanut allergy and offers advice to fellow sufferers.
We hope our 10 tips have been helpful. But, once again, always seek medical advice from your doctor before traveling to Asia with a peanut allergy.