Enjoy Siem Reap while you’re there. Have breakfast at The Paper Tiger. Have drink at Angkor What? Bar. If you find the lady selling passion fruit sorbet on a narrow side street buy it. It’s magical.
Songkran – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Songkran celebrates the Thai New Year (April 13-15th). According to tradition monks gently pour a mixture of water and Thai fragrance over a person to bring good luck in the coming year. This still happens behind the protected walls of the temples.
Songkran celebrations can be found throughout Thailand and Laos but nothing comes close to the madness in Chiang Mai. For nearly a week the whole of the old city becomes the world’s biggest water fight. The streets are packed on both sides with people firing water guns and throwing buckets of moat water. The passing cars and scooters are armed as well. Tourists attack with any water they can get their hands on. The Thai people think ahead and ice down garbage cans full of water to give the farangs a frigid shock.
Me: No. That’s genius! I’ll be right back.
Do Something Artistic - Luang Prabang, Laos
Go Rock Climbing – Railay Beach, Thailand
It’s scary. It’s fun. It’s something you’ve probably never done before and might never do again. So why not?
Halong Bay Overnight – Vietnam
Most of the tour boat operators are surly and humorless. The lust for tourism dollars has led to a crowded bay, cave systems bathed in garish purple, pink and blue light, and an overall feeling of being herded and unwanted.
Once you’re lounging on the roof of a junk boat watching the emerald bay and limestone karsts unfold awe will overtake the bad parts.
In Vietnamese Halong means "Descending Dragon Bay." According to legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders.
You will take 100 pictures of what the dragons left behind and not one of them will live up to what you saw with your own eyes.
Eat Everything – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The cultural mishmash of Indian, Chinese and indigenous Malay give the cuisine unparralled variety. Stay away from the fancy places in the city malls. Go down to the markets and street vendors. Eat clay pot chicken at a street hawker stand. Dine at a hole-in-wall Indian joint. Soak up all the flavors of Malaysia in the places locals can afford. The flavors are dumbed down in the tourist traps. On the street you’ll get the real deal.
Rent a Motorcycle in Pai – Northern Thailand
Laid back in the extreme, Pai is an easy place to laze away your days on a riverside hammock. And you should definitely do that. Just not all your days.
Pai is surrounded by canyons, rolling hills, mist covered mountains and even a few vineyards. The roads are empty and well paved. Rent a motorcycle and hit the open road. It’s hard to find a stretch without picturesque views. Bring your camera and cruise slow. Enjoy the beauty and vastness of Thailand’s mountainous north.
Bargain With a Vendor Kid – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
There is no shortage of people trying to sell you things in South East Asia. In Thailand its women offering beach massages and henna tattoos while you’re trying to catch some rays. In Vietnam its aggressive men hawking sunglasses shouting, “You! You! Happy Hour” even though it’s not happy hour and you’re already wearing glasses.
There are many reasons to despise this practice. The kids are dirty and disheveled. They should be in school. Nearly all of their profits go to local gangsters. In many cases they are the family’s breadwinner. It’s tragic. But, no matter how you feel about it, they are going to come at you in waves.
You can’t engage all of them, but you can give a few the time of day. Buy a book. Pay full price for it. But, bargain first. Get the kids talking. You will find that many of them are clever, funny and genuinely love the banter. Most people blow them off or refuse to acknowledge their existence. Be playful. For as long as you have that book it will remind you of a place and a child and the words that child spoke.
Drink Cheap Beer – Hanoi, Vietnam
It has the best architecture in Vietnam and it's go go go all day long. You could risk your life crossing streets exploring the city. Or you could find a busy corner-store that sells Bia Hoi and let the city come to you.
Bia Hoi cost about 10 cents a glass. It’s not the best beer in the world, but it is an excellent people watching beverage. In the busy streets of Hanoi you will see it all; insane traffic, vendors carrying their wares on wooden poles, cyclos carrying tourists in ridiculous outfits. Settle into a miniature plastic chair, sip on a few luke-warm brews and enjoy the sights and sounds of Vietnam.
Go Scuba Diving – Koh Tao, Thailand
If you are a diving enthusiast the Similan Islands on the Andaman Coast may be more your speed. But, if you are a beginner or a novice Koh Tao is the perfect place to explore the bright blue coral depths.
Diving in Koh Tao is cheap and easy to arrange. Everyone books dive tours on Koh Tao. EVERYONE. If you ask the lady selling Pad Thai in front of 7-11 in Sairee Beach she can probably book your trip.
Walk around and talk to different shops. Many of them have package deals that come with a free night accommodation. Scuba Junction is good. BANS is good. Talk to a handful and see what works best for you.
Koh Tao itself is a beautiful spit of an island. From end-to-end it's maybe 5km long (drivable road). On one end is Sairee Beach the tourist center and home to most of the dive shops. On the other end is Freedom Beach a gorgeous bay perfect for snorkeling. See both sides of the island. Check out the view point. Take a day trip to Yang Nuan Island adjacent to Sairee. You won’t be disappointed.
Treat Yourself to Tailor-Made – Hoi An, Vietnam
Its architecture is old and well preserved. It has a quiet tucked away vibe. The kind of place that seems protective of its smallness.
You can get anything custom made in Hoi An; jeans, sneakers, suits, dresses, you name it. Take a slow walk through the city, bargain with the vendors and come back to the one that feels right. Hotels will tell you that they have “the best deal” with so and so shop. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. You are better off taking your time and trusting your instincts.
Camp on Maya Bay – Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Maya Bay is an extremely popular tourist destination. Its incredible beauty is sometimes marred by tourists playing Frisbee and screaming, “OMG, it’s just like the movie.” During the high season this is an unavoidable pitfall—unless you stay the night.
Stay on a Floating Bungalow – Cheow Larn Lake, Thailand
Its waters are clear, cool and surrounded on all sides by limestone cliffs. Hikes into the surrounding areas promise a diversity of flora and fauna. You may even run across a deer recently mauled by a tiger. I did. Spelunk Yeah!!
There are a number of floating bungalows on the lake. Most provide both room and board. For less than 40 USD you can spend two days/nights swimming, kayaking, and relaxing in an exotic, strikingly beautiful setting.
Walk on White Sands – Boracay Island, Philippines