Asia

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Kuala Lumpur for the lazy traveller

The usual 3-day itinerary in any place typically involves a clever mix of time-saving routes and an assumption of boundless energy that will enable any intrepid visitor to cover a key number of sights. In short, a brag-worthy itinerary for a short but exhausting period of time that you can confidently say to anyone ‘I’ve visited this place and have seen the top x number of things I should see in it’. Doing this in a place as dauntingly large as Kuala Lumpur is a difficult task to plan. Doing 3 days over a festive period (Chinese New year) with many Chinese shops (and areas like Chinatown) is impossible. But...

Eating in Siem Reap

Khmer cuisine is a curious thing, as it sits on the crossroads between Thai and Vietnamese dishes, though the dishes are slightly more sweetish, minus the stomach-burning heat yet still bursting with flavour with the abundance of herbs used in each one. Steven, our guide for the local food tour that we are taking of Siem Reap—and an ex-Scottish chef in a previous life—thinks that the cuisine in this region generally evolved at the same time, only with slight but distinct regional variations as national boundaries changed over the years. The tuk-tuk we pile on goes around the corner from where we stay and into a fairly large shop where...

Templed Out

Coming to see the Angkor temples was my primary objective in visiting Siem Reap and doing it during the cooler months from November – March sounded like a bloody good idea. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the whole world thought the same thing. Still, the best thing you can do is to plan…and plan well, just to avoid jostling shoulders with the huge crowds of Chinese tourists as much as possible. There are several ways to go about it: hire a tuk-tuk for a day or go with a tour operator, though choosing which one is probably imperative. A good guide makes all the difference and the stories he tells...

When the dust settles in Siem Reap

Siem Reap’s – quite literally meaning ‘Siamese Defeated – name is a (smug) testament to its history of conflict that Cambodia has always been embroiled in one way or another. And it isn’t a place that the travel companion (TC) and I actually envisioned visiting at all. But the idea the Angkor Wat Complex simply grew too big to contain. Knowing that the year end week-long holidays offered the opportunity to do just that, we booked our tickets still feeling uncertain, and that was that. If November – April is Cambodia’s driest and coolest period, the day we arrived proved the contrary. The sweltering heat and humidity meant the insects were...

When travel becomes lacklustre

It isn’t often that I feel dissatisfied after a trip, but a recent 5-day one to Khao Lak had wrong written on it from the very start. I’d planned to dive in the Similan Islands, taking advantage of the early diving season, but a sinus-infection (along with a doctor’s warning not to do it) meant that I was on the verge of cancelling the entire trip, only to go ahead the last minute. The hotel I was in was overwhelmingly stocked with Germans; my room had a variety of insects and bees in it and the deck chairs reserved the whole damn day with towels on them, while their owners remained...

Adventure prone

Waking up at 4 am is a hellish experience I wouldn’t ever want to wish on anyone. But the Travel Companion and I did it, in my 4th iteration of what has so far been an annual pilgrimage to Bali, that has now gotten past just scuba diving off the east coast of Bali and off Nusa Penida. I had a great time on Christmas with Jan and Markus (just the 3 of us, it seemed), since tourist numbers are madly erratic for this period. But perhaps what made it worth it as always, was the accidental conversations I fall into during these journeys. Jan and I spoke at length...

Beyond the culinary

The crowds and the smells always indicate that something food-related is near. Well, it’s certainly true of the legendary night markets in Taipei – there’re 14 of them at least, some lesser known to the tourists which locals frequent – that are noisy, bustling affairs of smoke, dirt and well, some delicious finds. We managed only 3 here and if the plan was to eat our way through the streets lined with stores and persistent sellers, there’s really only so much I could stomach when it comes to fried chicken, bubble tea and starchy oyster omelette, let alone consecutive days of this stuff. More traditional dishes do tend to be...

Taipei Eats: A food tour

It’s difficult to know where to begin with the mind-boggling food of Taiwan but one thing I knew when I planned this trip was that it would be near impossible to get around to the places the locals like without having an English-speaking local to bring us around. Going with Taipei Eats for a few hours of walking and eating traditional Taiwanese dishes was a god-send, as was the lovely guide Jean who took us through the maze of streets and wet markets – and straight into the heart of Taipei where shops could be holes in the wall with untranslated menus. The philosophy of Taipei Eats, as Jean explained,...

When mining mattered

I’ve hesitated for years about Taiwan, in part due to the language which has been prohibitive for me, despite how much friends of mine have said—and extolled—about this place. This time around, I have 3 travel companions with me and planning for all of them has been a bloody pain and travelling with them, an even bigger one. But Taipei at least, has impressed me from the very start and reminds me (and this is a complete generalisation here) of what China might have been like had Maoist communism   not taken root in the population. I found the people polite and incredibly service-oriented, almost like the Japanese in fact...

A brief excuse for adventure

I never though I’d find myself in Krabi again, but I did. And did so for a few short days filled to the brim with diving and climbing…with some backbreaking, painfully agonising Thai traditional massages in between that left me more bruised than diving or climbing every did. Wanting to do something new each time I dive, I opted to try the PADI digital underwater course with The Dive Ao Nang. The course itself was a disappointment (apart from the bits that taught white balance in the water and the effect of colours at depth) and the dive sites (at Phi Phi) were abysmal with visibility that was no better than...