Leila loves travelling in Asia but is finding that she visits the same cities over and over. So, in this week’s Travel SOS, Kay O’Sullivan offers up some exciting and achievable alternatives.
My husband and I love Asia but are finding that we’re visiting the same cities – Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok over and over again. He’s not so keen on Laos, Cambodia, etc., but I really want to branch out. Is there a way we can both get something we want, without pushing his boundaries too far?
A. My suggestion is try the second cities. They are never as big or crowded as the capitals, but in Asia, there are always plenty of things to do. For instance, Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city, is a far cry from that 24-hour non-stop craziness of Bangkok. Chilled is the best description I can think of but it has all the elements we love about Thailand – fab food, history, culture, gorgeous people, markets and fair prices. There are numerous flights between the Bangkok and Chiang Mai each day so getting there is easy.
The French colonisation of Vietnam has created one of Asia’s most beautiful cities in Hanoi. Tranquil in parts, crazy busy in other areas, (but nowhere near as crazy as HCM City) you could make that your only destination and you’d have a very happy holiday. But I suggest that you add in a stay on a houseboat at nearby Halong Bay. You won’t regret it.
Now a plug for Cambodia and Laos. Leila, I think you should work on your husband and try to convince him to give them a go. I visited 10 years ago and both countries were really well developed in terms of tourism even then and so much has happened in the interim, with lots of new hotels, from luxury to boutique through to budget.
You could dip your toes in the water with a Mekong cruise covering both Vietnam, which you know, and ending in Cambodia, which I promise you will love. APT (aptouring.com.au) has numerous options that would be a gentle introduction to Cambodia, as you are on board most nights. You do stay in a hotel in Siem Reap, the nearest town to the magnificent Angkor Wat, but both the town and the largest religious monument in the world are worth it. Perhaps you could get him over the line by telling him that acclaimed chef Luke Nguyen, an APT Ambassador, will be on board for two cruises in 2016?
There’s a lot to love about Laos too. It’s smaller than the other countries you mentioned and tourism was slower to get going. It really only started to open up in 1995 but that doesn’t mean it is less appealing than its neighbours. Rather, the opposite is true, as Laos has learnt from the mistakes made by its neighbours when it comes to tourism.
The capital Vientiane is much more low-key than other Asian capital cities with life revolving around the banks of the mighty Mekong river. The French colonial influence is unmistakable with wide tree-lined boulevards, a mini Arc de Triomphe in the Patuxai Victory Monument, great coffee, cakes and baguettes. And if that is not enough, the local beer, Beer Lao, is reputedly the best in Asia. And if you do go, you must not miss Luang Prabang in the north. Again, you can fly between the two. So elegant and so tranquil –yes, there’s a lot that to love about Laos.
Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has written about travel for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.
Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to firstname.lastname@example.org