South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region. A big call? For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:
- World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
- World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
- World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
- World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan
And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in. A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!
I love Bali – the dense jungle hiding vibrantly green rice terraces, old Hindu temples, and a chilled out Balinese hippy-yoga-heart-rate-so-low-you’re practically-dead vibe throughout. Closest thing you can get to the Jungle Book and Ubud is the centre of this
Hit the world-class restaurants in Seminyak and surf bliss of Uluwatu (see brief entry Bali – in and around Seminyak / Kuta for some tips), but make sure you actually stay in a jungle villa in Ubud (would recommend Villa Kalisha)
Kuta and Seminyak are the places that most first time travellers to Bali spend their time looking for that idyllic beach vibe. Problem is that they are becoming super commercialised and, to be honest, the beaches can be a little underwhelming compared to others in the region mainly because of the sheer number of fellow tourists and amount of plastic waste. My tip would be to spend your time either to the south in the Uluwatu area for some truly beautiful spots and to visit UluWatu itself and Padang Padang Beach, or just to the north in Cangu, which has a similar beach to Kuta and Seminyak but is worlds apart in vibe
All that being said, Seminyak in particular is worth some day trip visits as it has some truly world class restaurants and beach bars – Potato Head is in my view the best beach bar in the world, with Kudeta not far behind. Sardines, Sarong and Mehra Putih are restaurants I’d also really recommend. And . . . if you must . . . visit Kuta if you’re on a stag do or just generally want some dirty lash
Raja Ampat is about as close to tropical paradise as you can get – white sand beaches, turquoise waters and jungle islands, with some of the best scuba diving in the world. Plus, it is still remote enough that you will have beaches and whole dive sites to yourself – in short, an adventurous scuba diver’s dream
The key question comes down to how much you’re prepared to spend. On one hand, you can stay in an eco lodge or a live-aboard yacht with the various “luxuries” that go with them, and the luxury price tag . . . for two people for 7 days and an average of 2 dives a day, around USD4,000 for the eco lodge, USD8,000 for the liveboard . On the other, you can stay in the local homestays that are dotted all around the islands, are super cheap (USD900 including diving), right on the beach, but will be some of the most basic accommodation you will have stayed in. We went for the later as we were short on cash and, whilst it was at times difficult to sleep, it gave us that real Robinson Crusoe feeling in . . . well . . . paradise
If an adventurous diver, Raja Ampat, however you do it, is a must
The Komodo Islands are best known for the Komodo Dragons, and rightly so because seeing these awesome creatures in their natural habitat while walking across the islands is a wonderful experience. But, it’s actually the islands themselves that are the real star – jagged savannah-covered mountains meet bright white sand beaches across 30 islands surrounded by gorgeous turquoise waters filled with manta rays . . . indeed, truly awful
Best way to explore them is by boat for 3-4 days, either in luxury-style with an expensive live-aboard (around USD500 per person per day), or through chartering a local boat with a few other tourists from Labuan Bajo (the main hub you will fly into) for a fraction of the price. The boat will be very basic and move at a snail pace, but it’s all part of the adventure and the surroundings more than make up for it, plus the crew will bend over backwards to make sure you have a great time. Aim to give yourself a week in the Komodo Islands – for flexibility to be able to get great deals, and for some world-class scuba diving and snorkelling day trips from Labuan Bajo
Note that the recent changes in 2020, whereby entrance prices for visiting the islands will greatly increase, will obviously make this trip more expensive. But I still recommend the above approach as it’s sailing round the islands that is the highlight experience – bite the bullet for the entrance “membership” and enjoy a truly world-class experience . . . hopefully with even fewer fellow tourists . . .