Tips for travelers seeking cultural and culinary experiences in Southeast Asia
You don’t have to be crazy rich to visit southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. A sense of adventure, a desire for culinary delights and an appreciation for culture are drivers luring many North Americans to the cities they find to be as colorful and as tranquil as they are in the photographs of travel brochures and social media posts. Travel advisors at Travel Leaders Network are seeing an uptick in requests to Asian destinations and are responding with expert tips and advice to meet a variety of travel budgets.
“Requests for travel to Asia is outpacing planned vacations to South America, the South Pacific and Cuba,” said Travel Leaders Network President Roger E. Block, CTC, noting that Thailand topped the list among ‘up and coming’ southeast Asia destinations in a recent Travel Leaders Group survey, while Singapore moved up a notch from the previous year. Travel advisors say that movies such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is set in Singapore, add to the destination’s allure.
Perhaps surprisingly, Indonesia has no less than 17,000 islands. Bali, a luxurious paradise, and capital city Jakarta are the most well-known areas, with lots to explore. However, a trip to the world’s fourth largest nation would not be complete without a quick escape to some of its other islands, said travel specialist Sonia Tauer, with the Travel Leaders agency in Woodbury, Minnesota.
“The island of Sumatra has the beautiful Danau Toba lake in the north and in the west it has the highest volcano in Indonesia called Kerinci mountain,” she said. “Java is all about cultural tourism with Sultan palaces and temples. East Indonesia is all about nature. It has Komodo island, native home to Komodo dragons. True beauty abounds in every region.”
“Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in Asia and one of the best-preserved cities in Japan,” said Colleen Mortonson, a Travel Leaders Network travel advisor based in Delafield, Wisconsin. “The mountains dance in the wind with forests of bamboo and pine, while the vistas are breathtaking and the climate is temperate.”
A four-night stay in Kyoto, the formal imperial capital of Japan, along with a tour package to several sites and a private guided afternoon through the Geisha district with a tea ceremony at a Geisha teahouse would cost around $3,000, said Rebecca Hricovsky, a travel advisor at Capital Area Travel Leaders in Grand Ledge, Michigan. “A popular tour package, it includes a 4-star hotel, a half-day tour visiting two of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage sites: Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Nijo Castle, and finishes at the Nishiki Market,” she said.
“Even if Japanese food is not at the top of your list, you will be pleasantly surprised with the traditional culinary delights,” added Teresa Cavallo of the Travel Leaders agency in San Antonio, Texas. Other popular meals, beyond sushi, include ramen, soba or omen noodles or okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake that combines pork, shrimp and cabbage.
“Before departing Kyoto,” said Wally Jones, a Phoenix-based travel advisor for Travel Leaders Network who recently returned from Japan, “be sure to also do a little shopping at Nishiki Market to find some great treats and gifts to take home to your friends and family and for yourself.”
“Thailand has so many things to offer from peaceful temples to beautiful beaches and mountains for trekking,” said Shirish Trivedi with the Travel Leaders location in Baltimore, Maryland. “There are many Buddha temples in every town. The beaches in Phuket and Koh Samui are very clean and have blue waters similarly to what you would see in the Caribbean.”
Ellyssa Tai with Travel Leaders in Okemos, Michigan, recommends visiting the city of Chiang Mai to meet the tribal people and learn about their way of life. “In Chiang Mai you can go on elephant treks and visit the night market for food, while mingling with the locals,” she said.
“Thai people are very polite and that they speak English adds to the country’s popularity with Americans, especially honeymooners,” added LaVonne Markus, a certified travel specialist with Travel Leaders in Stillwater, Minnesota.
A trip to Thailand would not be complete without a stay in Bangkok, a great city right on the Chao Phraya River where people can experience the floating market or a Thai show with dinner. The city also has the amazing War Museum that chronicles the history of WWII.
“For people traveling with families who want to visit a less touristy area, travel to Koh Lanta, where the water is very calm and they have a good number of upscale properties that cater to families,” recommended Travel Leaders expert Valerie Lederle in Colleyville, Texas.
Interest in Singapore has soared since the best-selling novel and subsequent romantic comedy film “Crazy Rich Asians.” One way to visit Singapore is by cruise ship. Some offerings will cover Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam in a voyage that lasts about two weeks for approximately $3,000 for a balcony stateroom, minus additional taxes and port expenses.
“One of the best things that I love about Singapore are the Hawker food stalls,” said Lederle. “They are the heart of the food scene in Singapore and are found all over the city. They are inexpensive, have a great variety and the food is so tasty.”
“Three of my favorite places to visit while in Singapore are the Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown, said to have one of Buddha’s teeth, the colorful Sri Mariamman Temple, one of the oldest in Singapore, and the Lion City Gardens by the Bay – iconic and incredible, this garden features ‘super trees’ that light up the city at night,” said Mortonson. “Another not-to-miss place is The Raffles Hotel, made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.”
Singapore is also a family-friendly destination. The children will enjoy the S.E.A. Aquarium and the Adventure Waterpark, which features the first hydro-magnetic coaster in Asia.