Overview: Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic regions on the planet. Fly one hour in almost any direction – from Bangkok for example, and you’re in a totally different world: a different language, culture, cuisine, arts, customs, and so on. Southeast Asia is a tapestry of sorts and the preceding factors are certainly some of the reasons that travelers are drawn back to the region time and time again.
While there are lots of diverse neighboring countries to explore, after more than a decade in the region Trevor and Scott feel like they’ve really only scratched the surface. On this episode of Talk Travel Asia we discuss some of our initial impressions traveling to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos as well as some of our most memorable experiences in these vibrant and diverse Southeast Asian nations.
Impressions of Different Countries in Southeast Asia
Malaysia: Scott discusses Malaysia’s Multiculturalism: a unique mixture that includes Tamils, Malay, and Chinese and how visitors can experience the different cultures through food. Trevor thinks that most foreigners have few preconceived ideas of Malaysia and has been impressed by Malaysia’s spectacular natural attractions, including the island of Borneo where wild orangutans still roam.
Thailand: Trevor discusses his first trip to Thailand and the many unexpected experiences that await visitors, including the first time a man massaged him in the bathroom. Scott talks about his first time to Chiang Rai province’s Doi Mae Salong: the hill tribes, Chinese residents, tea farms, and beautiful scenery.
Laos: Trevor reflects on his many months spent in the UNESCO World Heritage city Luang Prabang, particularly the friendliness of Laotian people and the charm of the slow-paced, ancient riverside city. Scott continues on the theme of Laotian smiles, how relaxing the town is, and his enjoyment watching men play a ball-game called petanque alongside the Mekong River.
Myanmar: Scott talks about his first trip to Myanmar in 2011, following the advice given by travel guru and former Lonely Planet writer Joe Cummings. On this first trip he learned about the harsh reality of the life of a local Yangon resident. He then talks about how great the changes were on his following trip in 2013. Trevor hasn’t been to Myanmar since 2002, but recounts his road trip around the countryside by car, where, among other things, he stopped in a small village to buy a hat from a local hat shop. He also recounts how impressed he was by Bagan, how impoverished the people were, and how his early impression was to end the tourist ‘boycott’ so that locals could earn enough income to survive.
Cambodia: Scott talks about his recent visit on motorbike to the remote temple complex of Banteay Chhmar. He muses about one of his overriding impressions of Cambodia: that anyone over 40 has lived through the Khmer Rouge days and has the resilience to carry on. Trevor agrees the Cambodian spirit is wonderful and welcoming. He then encourages people to get off the beaten path and explore more than just Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, such as the volcanic lakes of Ratanakiri province in Cambodia’s northeast.
Vietnam: Even after multiple visits to Vietnam, Trevor is still blown away by the sheer volume of motorbikes on the streets (and sidewalks!) and gives some advice on safely crossing the street. Scott shares a conversation with a little girl in Hanoi who wouldn’t believe that a lake like Hoan Kiem would freeze in Canada, then talks about some of the bizarre cuisine available in Vietnam, including the time he eat shark fetus in Hoi An.
Singapore: Trevor talks about how Singapore has ‘rebranded’ itself as a once-draconian authoritarian state to arguably the entertainment capital of Asia. One thing that hasn’t changed is the expensive price of beer and Trevor tells the tale of trying to drink a liter of ice-cold beer in under a minute to avoid having to pay $30 for the glass. Scott talks about the history of Singapore: how in the early 1970s the government sent a delegation to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to learn how to build a modern city and how far Singapore has since surpassed its fellow Southeast Asian capital.
Indonesia: Trevor discusses the diversity of the expansive archipelago of Indonesia, including his first visit to Sumatra in 1996 where he saw orang-utans in the wild and first woke to the sound of Muslim prayers. Scott talks about his lone trip to Indonesia, visiting the ancient temple of Borobudur where he met a really nice hippy guy – Fajar who drove him around in his VW Beetle.
Links to items discussed in this episode:
- Photo Gallery: Impressions of Southeast Asia
- Trevor’s Book: National Geographic Cambodia
- Groovy Map Cambodia
- Banteay Chhmar Cambodia Community Based Tourism
- Norden House Yak Lom Ratanakiri, Cambodia
- Ice Cold Beer, Singapore
To learn more about Scott & Trevor: