(Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton Reserve Krabi, Thailand)
Over the past couple of years traveling around Asia, I’ve seemed to discover a few things about traveling as well as about myself along the way. This past trip, I spent a good 3 weeks traveling to Bali, Thailand, and Singapore. I returned to Bali almost two years after my first trip in 2011 and I saw Thailand after seeing almost every other country first. This was my third time back to Singapore. I can probably write 200+ tips, but here are 50 that easily come to mind:
1. Traveling and vacationing are two very different things. But you can both vacation and travel hardcore in Asia which is why it’s so much fun.
2. Bali, interestingly, is one of the most overrated tourist destinations in my opinion. It’s a beautiful country, the food is great, but it was a little disappointing this time around in Ubud. More on this to come in a later post.
3. If going to Bali, make sure to pick a great resort. Great doesn’t have to be expensive, just great in terms of ‘real.’ Much of the appeal of Bali is staying at a resort for a few days locked away in the rainforest. But it’s important to choose one that truly makes you feel the warmth of the beautiful culture because there’s only so much to Ubud to see before you get sick of yoga shops, vegan food, and tourist appeals. That’s assuming you’ve skipped over Kuta and the crazy south as well.
4. Vietnam is still my favorite SEA country. Vietnamese food is simply unparalleled.
5. If going back to Thailand, I would just skip Chiang Mai, and then hit up Chiang Rai instead. Wat Rong Khun is truly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen and the trekking is just as good. It made the trek up there completely worth it.
6. Riding on top of elephants’ backs in Thailand is animal cruelty.
7. I thought Phuket was too touristy (at least where we were) and in hindsight, I would have spent all my time in Krabi or exploring the islands. Krabi was a thousand times more beautiful.
8. Singapore is tied for my favorite country in Asia. I find it unparalleled. It’s so small, accessible, the food is the best, the people are so smart, and it’s so safe and secure. Plus the British colonial feel gives off this romantic old world feel, combined with some of the best modern architecture on this planet. There’s nothing like coming back to Singapore after weeks in SEA.
9. Singapore can also be too much to handle if you spend too much time around Orchard street. I imagine it’s like the most profligate part of Dubai. It’s fascinating, but kinda disgusting at times. And this comes from someone who really loves fashion and luxury accommodations. There’s only so many LV and Gucci stores you can see before you start to feel grossed out by all the excessive material crap. Who really needs a $23 million diamond??
10. Cab drivers have NO idea where they are going and will likely always get lost. They are great at pretending to always know where they’re going though. Except for in Singapore. They’re the best.
11. I’ve learned just how ‘first world’ I am and simply accept that part of me now. I’ve gotten over myself. When traveling, why stress yourself trying to be something you’re not? As much as I pretend to like camping, I really don’t if it’s anywhere near the jungle. Yes I can do it, but it’s just not fun. I also find venturing off TOO far to be incredibly scary in these kinds of countries because God forbid the chaos of something bad happening to you. There are no Western style medical facilities or ambulances within any reach. That kinda freaks me out.
12. Sleeping at rustic local guesthouses to try to experience more ‘culture’ was fun at first, but now the novelty is over and I really feel quite uncomfortable swatting mosquitos out of my room and killing ants on my toothbrush.
13. Stay away from lodgings that have a rooster on site. You won’t get any sleep.
14. I travel mainly for the landscapes and the food, not so much culture anymore. I’ve learned that people are people wherever you go so the cultural appeal of traveling has diminished, at least around Asia. I love experiencing culture, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I prefer some cultures over others.
15. Temples no longer impress me, except for some Buddhist ones. Sounds bad, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Except for a few exceptions such as Wat Rong Khun in Chaing Rai.
16. Air Asia pilots are the worst. The worst.
17. The Kuala Lumpur LCC Terminal is a nightmare and should be avoided at all costs.
18. Babi Guling is amazing. Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali is a must.
19. Chinatown in Bangkok is the best, followed by Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan. You feel like you’re going back in time.
20. Tokyo is probably my favorite city in terms of culture and the people. No one ever pisses you off there.
21. Sometimes you just need to order room service after a long day of traveling and get over the $20 burger.
22. Don’t push it when you’re exhausted if you want a vacation. I tend to do this and end up feeling like I need a hospital when I come home because I don’t slow down. Just relax when you need to and skip some sites. It’s way better to actually be able to enjoy them.
23. Don’t shy away from restaurants that look run down or not up to Western code standards. Some of our best food experiences were in Vietnam from shacks with even rats running around. You’ll also meet the kindest people who love nothing more than to hear how much you enjoyed their food.
24. In many parts of Asia, it’s quite wise to pack your own roll of toilet paper. The bathrooms are really messy and many make you pay for it.
25. It’s ok to splurge on accommodations that are truly unique and worth it. Those memories are often the best.
26. Trip Advisor is an awesome resource, but it’s failed me in the past. But most countries rely on it.
27. Never book a flight before checking on visa requirements and passport rules.
28. Pho is actually a breakfast food and isn’t really the best of Vietnamese cuisine.
29. Upgrading to club level at a nice hotel is usually always worth the cost.
30. Thai drivers (and likely those outside the 1st world), but especially Thai are notoriously bad. Thailand is notorious for having the most number of deadly car accidents. NEVER take an overnight bus to get somewhere. I was paranoid after reading CNN stories of deadly bus crashes because of a lack of rules and rampant drunk driving. It’s best to spend the money to take the train or hire a private car when traveling late hours.
31. Drinks served in Thailand and Bali at some popular restaurants can’t always be trusted.
32. Room service hamburgers are generally always disappointing.
33. The DMZ/ JSA visit at the North/South Korean border is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
34. Don’t get into tuk tuks or cabs without agreeing first on a rate.
35. Don’t drink the water, but most toothpaste contains antibacterial so it’s ok to brush out of the tap.
36. The TWG tea shop in Singapore MBS is well worth an hour.
37. Ku De Ta at the top of the Marina Bay Sands is one of the best bar views.
38. Toast Box in Singapore is always a must.
39. Taiwan was more impressive than Beijing & Hong Kong. The memorials in Taipei and Taroko Gorge were some of the most beautiful things we’ve seen.
40. Kimchi in South Korea tastes even better when it’s grilled.
41. Busan, South Korea is a really cool place.
42. There’s really only so many pictures of markets you need before they become completely unoriginal.
43. Every major city around the world is the same. Don’t spend most of your trip in larger cities because they all have Starbucks, McDonalds, LV, Gucci, malls, and the same crap. Why even leave America? Go off the beaten path and actually see something!
44. In SEA, your stuff is always a target. Always keep your camera around your neck and carry a modest purse next to your side because some motorbikers will snatch it as they ride by. Wearing any jewelry should be avoided as well.
45. The Hawker food in Singapore is the best in all of Asia.
46. The best Banh Mi in the world is at Banh Mi Phoung in Hoi An, Vietnam. Holy shit. I will fly back there just for that.
47. Always bring hand sanitizer and clorox wipes. It’s disgusting to think about all the germs on airplane tray tables (yes people change diapers and pile snot rags there) and hotel remotes are notoriously gross.
48. Low cost airlines always get you on the bags. Pre-pay for your bags before your flight to avoid a 1000% increase in baggage costs.
49. Phnom Penh, Cambodia should not be missed while on a trip to check out Angkor Wat. The country’s political history is so rich and vast and the city is unlike any other.
50. Some Buddhist temples have the most peaceful and positive energy I’ve ever felt. Longshan Temple in Taipei and one I stumbled upon in Bangkok come to mind. Upon stepping inside, your state of mind is altered instantly to one of peace and warmth. It’s incredible how strong and vivid the energy is, it’s so real it’s almost tangible. I find this absolutely fascinating.