While we typically book our holidays based on the destination, it’s often the component experiences that really make or break a trip. Whether a half or full-day outing, day-trips within a longer trip, are the elements that make a vacation truly memorable. Still, making the most of your time can be challenging, so how do you ensure that you make your hours in-country count? Today, we’ll share some of our favorite, most rewarding, and memorable half and full-day experiences across the region that we’ve personally enjoyed to help you make the most of your time in Asia.
Every other week, we have a special Patron-only episode or video. Last week we shared a video of cycling Bangkok’s canals and next week, we’ll stick to the beer theme and have a chat with Brian Bartusch of Beervana Asia, who drops some knowledge about beers in Asia.
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How Scott and Trevor plan their trips:
Scott: researches a lot in advance, reads online reviews, suggestions. Make a 60% plan, typically I don’t book/do tours, not spots on Google Maps. If something seems time-sensitive or it will fill or I really want to do it 110% then I’ll book it in. I then do a big walk, see what I discover, suss out spots I thought I was interested in, talk to people I meet, then tend to dial-in the plan for my time in a spot/region.
Trevor: I like to do a lot of research, reading about the attractions in my destination as I’m planning a trip. For the most part, however, I’m a pretty DIY traveler so I rarely do organized “day trips”, but I like to have options and then, when I get on the ground, I’ll start to explore a bit, randomly cruising around along with visits to the places I researched beforehand. I’ve also worked in tourism, of course, so I’ve actually had to think about what quote-unquote “normal” people might enjoy on a day trip. I guess, today, I’ll share a little of both: some of my personal faves and a few I’ve promoted to visitors of various countries.
Experiences: We’re going to now go through some of our favorite days and half-days in various spots around Asia. Some are organized tours/experiences, many are ones we put together on our own. But they all made great use of time, were insightful and definitely fun!
Scott: Apes & Kayaking in Borneo
In 2015 my wife and I went to Kuching, in Malaysia Borneo. Great town if you’re nearby for a flight. Definitely worth it for a few days. It was a rare time I booked a full day tour but the company did a very good job. We went with Semadang Adventure who had a trip that took you first an orangutan sanctuary, then kayaking on a nice river for a few hours, with a tasty lunch along the way at a small village. It was owned by locals, they had it set up well and it definitely had a good, community tourism feel to it. Great day!
Trevor: Sights around Ubud, Bali.
I’ll stay in that region and give some day trips for Bali. Bali traditionally has bad traffic, so it’s best to spend nights in different areas in order to explore each of those areas. So, if you want to go to Ubud, don’t go as a day trip: stay in Ubud and do some Ubud area day trips, then go to the beach for a few days if you want to chill or explore other beaches.
Lots of people go to Ubud for its culture, but there’s almost not enough time for everyone to even realize that there are amazing historical sites, that are easy to combine with some rice terraces. Note, ideally you want to do this on motorbikes, so you can take backcountry roads and stop in little villages along the way.
The seat of power on Bali was once in nearby Bedulu and Pejeng, where numerous temples and religious sites were constructed over the centuries. With a car or motorbike, you can hit the sights in both these villages as a half-day outing, or combine for a full day with destinations further north, such as Tagallang, Tampaksiring, and Bangli.
Attractions on your half-day include Goa Gajah Elephant Cave in Bedulu. Goa Gaja is a UNESCO World Heritage site built over 1,000 years ago. The nearby carvings at Yeh Pulu draw less of a crowd, but should also not be missed. Five hundred meters east is the expansive 10th-century temple, Pura Samuan Tiga, one of the oldest and largest temple complexes in Bali.
Immediately north of Bedulu is the village of Pejeng, which features an equally interesting mixture of ancient religious sites. The star attraction is Pura Penataran Sasih, which houses the Moon of Pejeng, an ancient bronze drum that is the largest of such in Asia. Nearby Pura Pusering Jagat and Kebo Edan, as well as the Gedong Arca Archaeological Museum, combine to make the village temples a worthwhile stop, particularly when temple ceremonies are underway.
Farther north of Petulu, the road makes a steady climb towards Tagallalang and Tampaksiring. The first stop on this route is the Rice Terraces of Tagallalang, where numerous restaurants look across a valley to terraced rice fields on the opposite hillside. From Tagallalang, roads either wind through forests or pass alongside precipitous ravines on the way to the charming village of Sebatu, which features the spectacular Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu holy springs/water temple.
While in the area, might as well check out Tirta Empul and Pura Mangening both of which feature sacred springs where locals come for ablution and holy water for ceremonial offerings. You may not enter the holy baths, but you’re welcome to explore the temple grounds. Nearby is the mysterious Gunung Kawi, an ancient site worth the hike up and down the stairs required to visit it.
Cycling Angkor Thom wall in Siem Reap, Cambodia is one of Scott’s all-time favorite day trip.
Trevor: Phnom Penh: Free the Bears and Phnom Tamao
This is typically an organized trip. I believe it can be a half-day, but it’s best as a full day, including lunch and then a visit to the adjacent Phnom Tamao animal sanctuary. Both are located south of Phnom Penh, around 40km. Next month we’ll have an entire episode dedicated to Free the Bears, who operate in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For now, trust me. This is a great family-friendly day-trip experience. The Sun Bears and Moon Bears protected by the program are so charming and really fun to interact with (one activity is hiding food around an enclosure, which the bears enjoy hunting for, as they typically do in the wild). Great Khmer food lunch. Then the sanctuary at Phnom Tamao is a great way to see indigenous animals that are increasingly difficult to see in the wild. All are rescue animals and include, last time I visited, gibbons (of course), otters, a clouded leopard, and a binturong (a bearcat that looks like a ginormous raccoon and smells like popcorn)
Scott: Bang Krachow Cycling
Get to the pier at Khlong Toey pier, go across and rent a bike. Use Googlemaps to navigate roads, and don’t be scared to take some canal paths. You can head past the Bangkok Tree House – that path is nice and has guard rails (look for dotted green lines on the map – there are khlong paths). Visit Bang Nam Peung Market if it’s a weekend, have duck noodles at and you could also enjoy some lunch at Baan Baan or another cute spot. Ride through Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park and Botanical Garden on the way back to the pier. You can easily spend a few hours here, low cost, interesting and fun.
Trevor: Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok
Take the train to Ayutthaya, bike around the ruins and visit a palace on the way back. The day train costs less than a dollar and it’s a charming experience in itself. Once you arrive in Ayutthaya there are bicycles for rent at the station. The whole city is flat, there are ruins everywhere (I especially enjoy the less touristy ruins near the train station (as opposed to in the center of the historical park). Aside from the ruins of the ancient city. Ayutthaya also has a pretty cool boat museum, for those interested in boats (I’d like to think the man who build many of the boats as the Royal Boat Builder, is sill there to show you around, but he was pretty old). Otherwise, the Japanese village to the south of the city is pretty good introduction to the cosmopolitan makeup of ancient Ayutthaya, before it famously fell to Burmese invaders who sacked the city. On the way back, it’s an easy stop at Bang Pa In palace, a royal retreat for the kings of Thailand that’s pretty, inexpensive, and interesting.
Scott: Castles, Beer & Art:
Was June 2019 and I was in Japan for work, went to mountain bike in Nagano, did one day, but so much rain bailed on the second day and took a train to the small city of Matsumoto, which was awesome. Had a nice katsu curry, then visited the Matsumoto Castle, which is one of the oldest and largest in Japan, then visited the very cool permanent exhibition by Yayoi Kusama at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, which was fantastic. Then went to and drank beer at Matsumoto Brewery Tap Room and Bacca Brewing. Great day out!
Trevor: Nha Trang, Vietnam
Mud bath mineral springs, Cham Temple, and local crab restaurant for dinner.
Scott: HCMC History, Beer and Pho
Using Grab bikes and foot power, started with some food at the famous, but very local Phở Hoà Pasteur – awesome! Then checked out the really fascinating, stuck-in-time Independence Palace. Rewarded ourselves with a range of Vietnamese craft beers at BiaCraft, dinner at Pizza 4P’s, stroll by Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, the Opera House, then finish with more craft beer at Heart of Darkness. 5-star day!
Trevor: Exploring Phang Nga, Thailand by Rental Car
I’ve always liked to explore, and in southern Thailand, I used to rent a car, particularly out of Phuket airport. So, if you’re staying in Phuket, especially northern Phuket, get yourself a rental car, and drive north into Phang-nga province. check out some less explored beaches along the Andaman coast. I’ve tagged some spots to check out on a Google map, including Thai Muang Beach and Khao Lampi National Park. It’s a fun drive, lots of hills, trees on either side, especially while driving through the park, and there’s waterfalls and hot springs here and there along the way. Better yet: Stay in Phang Nga and you can do day trips to these beaches AND Khao Sok, which is one of Thailand’s most impressive National Parks.
Scott: Galle: Nautical Museum & City Wall
Former Portuguese, Dutch and British outpost of Galle, Sri Lanka, surrounded by its fortifying wall. Walked along and atop as much of it as we could. Saw amazing colonial buildings, visited the very interesting National Maritime Museum (Sri Sanchanalai pottery), and stayed at the very nice Mango House. Saw cliff divers, and other neat stuff. Great half-day, but we stayed for a couple days. Well worth a visit.
Trevor: I’m going to say just explore somewhere by bicycle. Anywhere. You can fit in a specific attraction, but otherwise just explore a bit. In Champasak, Laos, the main thing to do is the temple Vat Phu, but just riding a bicycle around town is such a great experience. Wherever you are, particularly somewhere rural, explore on a bike. Otherwise, check out Episode 44, Great Day Hikes in Asia. So… what else you got for us, Scott?
Scott: Cycling Mekong Islands in southern Laos
We’ve talked about the 4,000 Islands and Wat Phou, Laos on Ep. 85.
While on Don Det and Don Khon, which are connected by a little bridge built by the French to move their boats up and over the rapids. Small country bike, had some really nice Larp, checked out a nice waterfall, had a beer at Khongyai Beach, checked out the Old French Port, rode along the old railway bed, had lunch along the river. Great outing, just using pedal power, and diving deep in history. Mad About the Mekong is a Great Book about this region and more.