7/8 week itinerary for the highlights of South East Asia

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!

2 days in Singapore

Similar to Hong Kong and Bangkok, Singapore is a place that people tend to pass through rather than visit purely for the city on its own.  But, just like those cities, Singapore is really worth the stop over for a night or two.  More than anything it’s great just to see what the “model city” could look like – wandering around has the combo feel of Disney Land / Truman Show / Stepford Wives meets tropical island functional finance hub, and it all … well … works very very well. Always worth a trip into the future


I’ve listed below the top 5 things I really enjoyed doing, plus some extra tips


Bali – in and around Ubud

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)

Bali – in and around Seminyak / Kuta

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

Cycling around Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is one of the most recognisable ancient sites in the world and the surrounding area is said to be the greatest concentration of architectural riches anywhere – as one would expect, its a fantastic place to visit.  The problem is though, as with all such world-famous sites, how to enjoy it without having the commercialised tourist machine spoil the experience.   You’re looking for that feeling of wonder and adventure as you explore from one ancient temple being torn apart by the roots of giant jungle trees to the next, not trying to jump in between mega-phone wielding Chinese tour groups and trying to be original in your latest reason for why you don’t want a local Cambodian man to sell you a plastic statue


Whilst for the main temples, such as Angkor Wat itself, the crowds are largely unavoidable, the best way to avoid the crowds is to hire some bikes and cycle around the cycling circuit(s).  The roads are great, the distance is flat and easily manageable at 17km – 26km and you find yourself very quickly getting away from the crowds.  You can also largely make up your own route for large parts of it depending on how you’re feeling.  In fact, our favourite part of the trip was heading in the “wrong” direction and finding many of the less well-known temples largely to ourselves


Angkor Wat is awesome, it’s even better cycling it

India’s Golden Triangle – getting the most out of it

The Golden Triangle is viewed as the classical India trip – fly into the nation’s capital of Delhi, then to the country’s most famous site of the Taj Mahal, dip your toe in the highlight state of Rajasthan in the Pink City of Jaipur, and then a short ride back to Delhi.  All sites within around 200km / 125miles of each other, a very relaxed week-long itinerary or a rapid 4/5 days.  It will certainly give you a feel of India . . . BUT . . . it’s only major downside is that it only really includes one highlight of India and that is the Taj Mahal.  Delhi is a big dirty Indian city that I would struggle to put in a highlights reel of India and Jaipur, whilst nice to wander around the Pink City and visit the Amber Fort, is a far distant second to the outstanding highlights of the wonderful Rajasthan (Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur in particular)


My suggestions to enjoy your week in this part of India:

  • You will naturally fly into Delhi, but don’t spend too much time there.  The Red Fort is worth checking out, but other than that it is a big polluted Indian city
  • The Taj Mahal in Agra is a must and lives up to the hype.  One of the 7 Wonders of the World and described as “a tear drop on the edge of eternity”, you will find yourself staring at it, for hours, happily soaking up its perfect geometrical beauty.  Cheesy indeed, but I surprised myself by just how much I enjoyed just staring at it.  See the individual review here – The Taj Mahal
  • Fatehphur Sikri – before heading over to Rajasthan from Agra (or maybe just on the way), give yourself half a day to see the ghost city of Fatehphur Sikri, the magnificent ancient city that was the former capital of the Mughal Empire.  See the individual review here – Seeing the abandoned former Mughal capital at Fatehphur Sikri
  • Spend only a short time in Jaipur, or skip it altogether.  Walking through the Pink City is nice and so is the nearby Amber Fort, but deprioritise behind Rajasthan’s real highlights. See the individual review here – The pink city of Jaipur
  • Visit the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort and Blue City of Jodhpur – that view of the the bright white memorial of Jaswant Thada, with Mhrangarh Fort and the blue city of Jodhpur peering out in the background must be one of the most dramatic in all of India.  Combined with the exotic vibe of the Rajasthan desert, this one of the unmissable highlights of India and is in a different league to Jaipur.  See the individual review here – Viewing the Jodphur’s Blue City from the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort
  • If you have the time, make sure to visit Jaisalmer and Udaipur – other than the Taj Mahal, they, along with Jodhpur, are the highlights of this part of India

Joining the Sikhs for their pilgrimage to Amritsar’s Golden Temple

The golden temple itself, and the complex it forms part of, is impressive – gleaming marble paths, the exotic architecture of the surrounding buildings, and with the golden temple of 750kg gold sitting in the middle of a central lake.  But it is the overall experience of being so openly welcomed and very much part of this most sacred pilgrimage for thousands of Sikhs as you wash, eat and move en masse through their holiest site that makes this such a unique and unmissable experience


It’s very simple to join in. Simply rock up any time, no entrance fee, just take off your shoes and socks, wash your feet and borrow a head scarf that they provide. Then follow the crowds – they even feed you!


Whilst there isn’t that much else to see in Amritsar, and the Golden Temple is very much the highlight in this part of India, the nearby border crossing with Pakistan offers a very unusual display of transborder pomp as the two sides send in their tallest, most curly moustached soldiers to goose step at each other as they slowly lower their flags before the border closes . . . yes, super random.  Easy to get there – just get a taxi for the Attari-Wagah border and try to get their an hour before the start to get into the grandstand (yes, they have a grandstand).  Ceremony starts 530pm except for 430pm in winter

Getting lost in the kaleidoscope of colours in Varanassi

Varanasi feels like a microcosm of India – nowhere else will you see such such a vibrant variety of cultures, religions and colours, yet this is also combined with the thronging masses of people all around you and the rubbish and pollution that comes with such numbers


I loved my time in Varanasi as I just headed off to get lost in amongst the lanes, wandered into incense-heavy temples and looked over the riverside ghats as people washed themselves for ritual, or just washed themselves.   I can also understand though why some might find it a bit oppressive.  Either way, it feels like one of the must do experiences of this wonderful country


Some simple tips:

  1. Get lost in the small alley ways – its all part of the experience and you’ll no doubt find some cool temples and views of the Ganges that aren’t in the standard tourist route
  2. Try to avoid taking a standard tourist tour of the Ghats.  Instead, find one of the guys with his own boat near the water and get him to take you out.  It just avoids being crammed into a boat with 40 other fellow tourists
  3. Its India, so be ready for people near-constantly nagging you to sell you something, but it is probably a bit worse in Varanasi and it is a tourist hotspot where people tend to have spent a lot to visit