My Top 5 Uniquely Asian Activities

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of my Top 5 posts and as I sit here in a wintery Colorado, my mind is currently being transported back to wonderful Asia.

As you know, It is impossible to choose just five but here it goes, in no particular order, These are my top five uniquely Asian experiences.

Doing a temple stayIMG_9198

This was such an amazing experience that I will treasure for a long time to come. Asia is the best place to find a temple stay that will teach you about Buddhism and meditation. It’s a great way to strip away any stress that you may have and also learn a bit about the country that you are in.

Hiking in the Himalayasimg_4378

They are an amazing mountain range with the highest peaks in the world. There is nothing more magical than knowing that you are standing on the roof of the world and seeing beauty around every corner.

Seeing the Taj MahalIMG_5171

Few famous buildings live up to their hype but the Taj Mahal definitely isn’t one of them. I remember just being in complete awe when first setting eyes on it. It is amazingly beautiful and will leave you breathless.

tip: Go first thing in the morning to beat the crowds.

Seeing Orangutans in Borneocb61f-malaysia058

Okay, Asia has some wonderful wildlife and you can just as easily replace the word orangutans with turtles, whale sharks, tigers or rhinos. But for me, when I got to see orangutans up close and personal without barriers at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, it was astounding. It was something that I had dreamed about for years and when it finally happened I was left in awestruck.

Karaoke38255_1428887613677_7902928_n

Yes, I know that karaoke exists everywhere in the world, but to enjoy a karaoke session somewhere in Asia, it’s a completely different experience. Most singing rooms are small and fit a private group of people. While in the room, you snack on food, drink alcohol and sing songs while playing the tambourine. Also, most of these places are open 24 hours so you can enjoy it after a night of partying. I have had way too much fun in singing rooms over the years, especially the ones that have costumes!

 

Okay, so that’s my list…how about you? is there anything that you’d add, or remove from this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

My Top 5 Islands in South East Asia

There’s something about a South East Asian beach that conjures up images of white sand, clear water, delicious cocktails, friendly locals and massages on the beach.

I absolutely love South East Asia and it’s beaches, choosing only 5 of my favorites was a tough call!

But alas, here are my top 5 islands in South East Asia:

5. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (Islands just off of Kota Kinabalu, Borneo)kk1

Kota Kinabalu is such a great city and something that makes it even better is that it has a beautiful marine park with beautiful small paradise islands only a 15 minute boat ride away. Now I have to admit that you can only go to a few of the islands which means that there are some crowds…but that’s a price to pay for paradise.

4. Koh Chang, Thailand

Chang

Koh Chang has such an amazing vibe. Especially Lonely Beach where we stayed. The island was very quiet when we were there but it just made it all the better. The beaches aren’t as beautiful as my other choices, but the locals, food and activities definitely make up for that. It also has a big jungle and plenty of things to keep you busy.

3. Koh Rong, Cambodia

rong

After spending a couple of days in Sihanoukville (the jumping off point to Koh Rong) I was very unimpressed with it and wasn’t expecting much from Koh Rong. But the second that we arrived on to the island I realised how wrong I was. It is so chill and for $30 a night you can have your own hut right on the beach. The sand was so white and it squeaked when you walked on it. Heaven!

2. Koh Lipe, Thailanda1c4d-img_2377

Koh Lipe is the place that dreams are made of. It has beautiful white sand and clear blue water. It has become a tourist destination and I presume that it is getting busier and busier as the years go by. But, for such a small island, each beach has it’s own vibe and offers different things. We stayed at the beautiful Sanom Beach which had a few huts with a small beach to themselves, absolute perfection!

1. Nusa Lembongan
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Nusa Lembongan is only a 30 minute boat ride from Bali but it feels like another world! It is so relaxing and the beaches are unbelievably beautiful! There were so many times when we were the only people on these perfect white sand beaches. Add to that a combination of friendly locals and delicious food and you’ve got yourself the perfect South East Asian island!

 

How about you? Are there any beaches or islands that you would add to this list?

My Top 5…Cities in Asia

I’ve decided to start a new feature on my blog called “My Top 5…” it will be about anything and everything.

To start off, I’m going to give you my top 5 Asian cities. I have been lucky to have traveled extensively throughout Asia (although there are so many more places that I still want to go to!)

It was tough to choose, and even after choosing I am coming up with many more cities, but here are my top five cities in Asia:

5. Kota Kinabalu, MalaysiaMalaysia 032

 

Kota Kinabalu is the largest city in the Bornean state of Sabah.

I absolutely loved this city because it had the perfect mix of everything that you could want from a coastal city, delicious fresh fish markets, beautiful architecture, amazing beaches just a short boat ride away and out of this world sunsets

It’s such a fun relaxing city that both myself and Jason really enjoyed. We had fun wandering along the coastline taking in the views and eating the amazing food!

 

Malaysia 038

4. Kyoto, JapanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

If you are looking for culture then look no further because Kyoto is a city that has beautiful culture everywhere. Whether you are looking for the more modern Japan, you want to eat some delicious food and drink some sake, want to wander down the beautiful backstreets where geishas roam or want to take a short subway ride to see the beautiful golden temple you can do it all in a few days in Kyoto.

Kyoto has everything that you need to have an incredible city break!

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3. SingaporeIMG_7857

I absolutely loved Singapore. It is probably one of the  most multicultural cities I’ve ever been to and what makes it even better is that all of the different cultures and religions seem to get along harmoniously.

…and the food, don’t get me started on the food! it was so good!

I think I might have spent most of my time there trying to change Jason’s mind about moving to America and to move here instead!

 

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I could definitely live here and be happy…

2. Shanghai

Shanghai

Shanghai is one of those places where the different parts of the city feel like different worlds.

When we visited the French Quarter I was in heaven with the peacefulness, but getting on to the subway nearby brought me back down with a bang and made me realise that I would have a hard time living here with all of the craziness.

But to visit…it really is an awesome city destination.

You can spend your days wandering through old towns, shopping in the large malls, walking along the Bund in awe at the amazing architecture or drinking green tea in the beautiful old town.

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1. Kathmandu

The wonderful city of Kathmandu

WOW!

That was pretty much my expression for the entire time that we stayed here. The culture, food, architecture, people and sights all make this my favorite city in Asia.The wonderful city of Kathmandu

I have the fondest memories of sitting on rooftops with a tea, watching the people meander the beautiful old streets below. There are so many impressive buildings all over the city and even if you stayed there for a month you would still find something new and exciting to see everyday!

We found that we were never with a lack of something to do in Kathmandu. You can fly over Everest in the morning and stroll around the monkey temple after lunch.

 

It was such a cool city! I hope I get to go back there some day and especially after the horrible earthquake that happened recently, I’m sure that your tourist dollars would be much appreciated.

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What do you think?

Do you agree with my choices? Are there any cities that you would add to the list or take off the list?

I’d love to hear your opinion!

Why you should consider adding Malaysia to your SEA trip

When I did my round the world trip I went to the “usual” countries on the backpacker trail in South East Asia. They are Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. I had an incredible time but a couple of years later myself and Jason were planning our first long holiday together and decided on Malaysia.
We had an incredible time there and I’ve swiftly moved it on to my top countries list.

Why did we love it and why should you go?
Here are some reasons:

It’s South East Asia without the usual crowd:

So many people have done the typical SEA route that I myself did on my RTW trip. In fact it almost seems like a rite of passage. But very rarely is Malaysia put on that list so Malaysia ends up attracting only a fraction of the usual backpackers and therefore has a different vibe.

One of the islands off of Kota Kinabalu in Borneo.

It has awesome snorkelling:

We were surprised at how good the snorkeling was, I had dived/snorkeled in other Asian countries and on the Great Barrier Reef but this was the first place that I managed to snorkel with turtles. We also got to see lots of different reef sharks and tons of tropical fish (in the Perhentian Islands) and if you take a cheap flight over to Borneo you can dive in one of the top dive spots in the world, Sipidan.

Jason during our snorkeling trip in the Perhentian islands.

And while we are at it, incredible wildlife too:

While in Malaysia myself and Jason got to see huge monitor lizards, orangutans, crocodiles, a Gibbon and lots of other types of monkeys. If you want to see wildlife in SEA then Malaysia and more importantly, Malaysian Borneo is the place to go.

A mother and baby orangutan
A leaf insect.


It has a beautiful world class city:

Kuala Lumpur is a great city to spend some time in. It has the iconic Petronas towers, a bustling China town, the biggest mosque in SEA and so many things to do. The shopping is also world class.

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

It’s a massive melting pot:

It’s predominantly a Muslim country but there is a large population of Chinese, Indians, Thais and many other nationalities so you can eat some legit food from different places around the world in one day. We had some awesome Indian food, Chinese food, fresh fish and afternoon tea while in Malaysia. You can also go visit Buddhist shrines, Indian temples and Mosques all in one day. It makes for a very interesting country.

The mosque in Kota Kinabalu
The Batu Caves outside of KL
Preparing to enter a mosque in KL
A beautiful Hindi temple that we stumbled upon in KL
Eating some good Chinese food!
The seafood was second to none!

You can take a break from the humidity:

While in Malaysia you can visit some of the many tea fields in the Cameron Highlands. They are in the high country so you can get away from the humidity, sleep with a blanket and feast on tea and scones while looking at tea fields as far as the eye can see. Also in this area you can go trekking and see the biggest flower in the world (The Rafflesia)!

Enjoying the endless tea fields.
The Rafflesia flower.

It’s the home of Air Asia:

I’m one of Air Asias biggest fans. The prices that they offer are second to none and with their hub being in Kuala Lumpar you can get a flight from any big city in Asia to KL for a low price.

The people:

Malaysian people are amazing! As with most other South East Asian countries, the people are warm and friendly and will welcome you with open arms.

Wonderful smiling faces!

It has everything you could ask for from an Asian country:

Beaches
Jungles
Temples
Great food
History
Shopping
and much more…
Sounds perfect right?

There are a couple of things to remember about Malaysia. Because it’s a Muslim country, alcohol tends to be more expensive than other Asian countries. I was a bit disappointed when I realised that I wouldn’t be able to sip on cocktails all day while relaxing on the beach. But if you aren’t on a backpackers budget and can drink local beer then this shouldn’t affect you too much.

Also they can be quite strict when it comes to Ramadan so make sure to check your dates and plan accordingly. We travelled during Ramadan and didn’t have many issues except for when we took a 12 hour bus and realised that there would be no restaurants opened in the smaller towns that we were stopping at so we had to spend the day eating snacks that we bought from the shop. But other than that we had no problems.

I would definitely recommend visiting Malaysia to anyone and if you have enough time visit Borneo as well and make it a truly magical trip!

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Borneo

A mom and baby that we saw when visiting the rehabilitation center.

Before I ever went, when I thought about Borneo, like most people, I thought of a rugged jungle island and of course the orangutans. The reality is quite a bit sadder than this as palm tree plantations have taken away much of its jungles and the orangutans are suffering because of this. They have lost their habitats and many are injured at the hands of the farmers.

I remember watching a t.v program about 7 years ago about the Sepilok Orangutan rehabilitation center. I was so interested in their work and seeing the love and care that they give to the orangutans was wonderful to watch. I never forgot about that show and then when I had the chance to go to Borneo in 2011 I jumped at the chance to visit the center and see the animals for myself.

We arrived in to Sandakan which is the nearest city/airport to the center and had a cheap delicious meal the night before going to the center. We had also booked a three day trip in the jungle after seeing the orangutans to hopefully spot some in the wild so it was a jam packed couple of days.

Sepilok is one of only four orangutan rehabilitation centers in the world. Thy help orphaned, injured, rescued and displaced orangutans learn how to live in the wild again. They have a huge jungle area where the animals can live. There is a feeding stand where the animals can be fed during the day. What’s interesting is that when the orangutans become confident they can live in the outer areas of center away from all humans and survive by themselves, preparing for being released in to the wild. Sometimes these orangutans may only be seen at the feeding area only a couple of times a year.

Arriving at the center we were given some basic rules to follow (no flash photography/no loud noises) and were ushered in to a beautiful jungle walk. There are no cages so the animals are completely free in this area. When we walked in a man working there pointed up to a tree and we saw it moving, then an orangutan started climbing down and swinging down closer and closer to us. Before we knew it a beautiful mom and her baby were standing right next to us on the walkway. We were both mesmerized by her, she started walking along the walkway with us and then we saw another one, this time a male. It was so amazing that we got there at the time that we did as many people didn’t have a chance to see them. It was probably one of the most memorable experiences in my life. We stayed for another while watching their feeding time and taking it all in and then watched an information video.

Coming closer to us.
Beautiful mom and baby.
Mom checking that baby is doing okay.
Scoping us out from afar.
Jasons “I just saw an orangutang” face.
An older male.

It was an incredible experience and I think we both walked around with huge smiles on our faces for the rest of the day. If you ever get the chance I would definitely recommend visiting the center and seeing all of the wonderful work that they do for the animals of Borneo (they also house baboons, sun bears and other animals)

It isn’t just orangutans that you can see at the center.
 
How to get there:
 
Air Asia flys daily from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan. You can get a taxi from Sandakan to the rehabilitation center.
Where to stay:
 
We stayed in a guesthouse in Sandakan on the first night (I can’t remember the name of it) and then joined the Uncle Tan’s adventures for 2 more nights in the jungle. They have an office right by the rehabilitation center. There are also many hotels on the road that leads up to the center. You can find out more about Uncle Tan’s here
You can find out more about Sepilok and the Orangutans here

Our first day

February 28, 2013
So today was the big day. The day we’ve been planning for such a long time, neither of us can believe that it has finally come! Right now we’re on the flight from Seoul to KL. Then we have another flight from KL to Langkawi.
But to even get this far we had to go through a couple of high-pressure days of clearing out our apartments, going to goodbye dinners and meeting up with friends. Yesterday was very stressful. We had a train booked from Busan to Seoul for 11:30p.m and we managed to finish moving everything by 9:30p.m (just in time!)
The train was surprisingly ok, a sweet little toddler got on and we instantly became best friends so I was playing with her at about 2a.m. She was so fascinated by Jason, he was wearing his eye mask and sleeping and all she could do was stare and point at him. Once my little friend left I managed to get a little sleep and we arrived into Seoul station at 4:30a.m. It had been quite hot on the train so Jason took off his socks. A lovely Korean man started chatting to us and had just returned from travelling around Asia for 9 months. He was so nice and when he noticed that Jason didn’t have any socks on he went into his own luggage and gave Jason a pair of his own socks. This right here is Korea! You could be having the most frustrating day and then something like this happens, and it happens a lot more than you can imagine! Even though Jason had his own socks it is considered impolite to refuse so he took the socks graciously.
We haven’t really booked much for our travels, in fact we don’t have any accommodation booked for tonight or our ferry booked for tomorrow (which we are now regretting). But we did book a weeks accommodation on the Thai island of Koh Lipe which we will hopefully go to tomorrow. We just wanted to relax on a really nice beach for a while…Well imagine our disappointment when we checked the weather earlier and found out that it is supposed to rain for about 5 of those 7 days, including tomorrow, the day we are supposed to get the ferry there. We are hoping that it won’t be raining for the whole time and that the sun will come out at some stage (praying really) and that we manage to get on to the island at all!
We’ll keep you updated J

Us on the plane

The lovely Dasher helping me pack 🙂