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My Adventures in Southeast Asia

I spent 5 weeks traveling in Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore in January to February 2024. My only previous travel experience in this region was a trip to the Philippines about a year earlier, which sparked my interest to spend more time experiencing the nature, culture, and food of this region. I had a broad range of experiences, from city centers to rural villages. A few characteristics of the region really stood out to me:

  • Karst landscapes – one common features of the landscapes was beautiful rocks jutting out from the ocean or the landscapes. From Ha Long Bay and Tam Coc in Vietnam to Khao Sok and the many island of Thailand, these breathtaking landscapes were the backdrop for my trip.
  • Self-sustaining villages – both in Vietnam and Thailand I spent some time in small villages, tucked in the mountains an hour or more motorbike ride from the closest larger villages and cities. While it was clear they had some resources from the outsider world, like solar panels, their day to day needs were met by the local environment. They cultivated rice patties and a variety of other crops for daily eating, in some cases constructing complex water wheels to re-distribute water. They tended to fish ponds, ducks, pigs, and cows. One small citrus farm owner had recently built a house with the help of the community, and I got to join in his celebration over food and drink with the community that helped him. I was inspired by this local reliance in a world that often seems so dependent on resources coming from far away.
  • Cooking over open fire – From homes in small villages to vendors at markets in city centers, cooking over open fire was a common way of cooking, very different than the electric and gas stoves I’m used to. While this enables the flavors of the cuisine, I really appreciated the continuous work it took to keep the fires going and therefore the time investment. I also helped me appreciate health impacts I’d heard about from smoke inhalation through cooking, and made me wonder how these traditional ways of cooking could be compatible with healthy breathing.
  • Religion and Spirituality – Thailand is dominantly (93%) Buddhist, and I got to learn more about the practices and teachings through my visits to temples. Regular “monk talks” at these temples were a great way for me to ask the monks questions and learn more about their daily lives and experiences. In Vietnam, while religion was not as clear as the Buddhist presence in Thailand, nearly every home and business in Vietnam has an alter to honor ancestors.

Vietnam

I started my trip in Vietnam, spending some time in Hanoi but mostly getting outside of the city to see experience the natural landscape and villages of Northern Vietnam with a tour through Authentic Adventures.

In Hanoi I explored the Old Quarter and took a sunrise walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake. I saw a water puppet show, an art from that goes back a thousand years when shows were performed in the harvested rice fields.

I visited Ha Long Bay on a one night cruise. I got to explore Surprising Cave and Titop Island, kayak at Luon Cave, try my hand at squid fishing, learn to make spring rolls through a cooking class, and enjoy lots of amazing food.

I explored Ninh Binh on motorbike with my guide, Mr Thưởng. We started the day at Hoa Lua, seeing the temples of the Dinh and Le Dynasties in this former capital of Vietnam. We then went to Mua Cave, climbing lots of stairs for the good views. We had lunch at my guide’s home, and then had a boat tour at Tam Coc, admiring the karst rock formations that are common in the region. Finally we saw Bich Dong Pagoda.

In Pu Luong I stayed at a homestay overlooking the rice fields. The first day I went to Kho Muong Cave and explored the local village.

Thailand

I started my time in Thailand with two days in Bangkok. I did an evening food tour, where we drove between stops in tuk tuk, saw the reclining Buddha at Wat Phra, visited Wat Arun, and explored Chinatown and Wang Lang market.

From there I traveled to Koh Tao, where I stayed at the beautiful Sai Daeng Resort. At the resort I enjoyed daily yoga classes, massages, a restaurant right on the beach, and ocean views from my room. There was a great snorkeling right from the resort where I saw sharks and lots of other fishes. One day I took a boat snorkeling trip where I also got to snorkel at Nang Yung Island, Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay, and Shark Bay.

I spent a couple days in Koh Samui, arriving in time for the Friday Fisherman’s Village Walking Street market in Bophut. I saw the fire show at Coco Tam’s and enjoyed some great açaí bowls. I did a full day tour to Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park where I kayaked, snorkeled, and hiked up to Emerald Lake.

My first evening in Chaing Mai I explored the huge Tha Phae Walking Street Sunday night market with my cousin. I Chaing Mai I also visited several Wats (temples) where I got to talk with a monk to learn more about his life. I visited the Elephant Nature Park. I hiked the Monk’s Trail, visiting Wat Pha Lat and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep along the trail. I enjoyed lots of good food at Goodsouls Kitchen, a yummy vegan restaurant I discovered. I had a two day trekking trip, where I visited Mok Fa Waterfall, enjoyed the Pong Duet hot springs and geysers, spent the night at a village of the Karen hill tribe, and bamboo rafted along the Mae Tang river. On my final evening I visited the Chaing Mai Night bazar, enjoying Khao Soi (a coconut curry noodle soup local Northern Thailand) and roti, and then saw the nearby Chaing Mai Cabaret show.

My sister joined me for the last part of my trip. In the Krabi area we visited Ao Nang, Railey, and Phi Phi Island.

Koh Sok

I finished my time in Thailand in Phuket, enjoying some final beach time in this paradise.

Singapore

I spent the final few days of my trip in Singapore

Turkey

At the beginning and end of my trip I had layovers at the Istanbul Airport. At the end of my trip I got to get outside the airpot and take a short tour of Istanbul, enjoying some Turkish delight desserts.