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Top 5 Markets to Visit in South East Asia

By on Oct 16, 2012 in South East Asia | 0 comments

Street Markets are one of my favorite places to visit whilst travelling in South East Asia. I enjoy meeting the unique characters, sitting down with the locals to eat the most exotic local delicacies and not to mention finding some great souvenirs to take home with me. The markets in South East Asia can vary in quality as well as product and produce depending on the region you visit. The hardest choice you will have when travelling through the region is to pick which ones to visit. From epic warehouse sized markets selling over priced “genuine” knock offs in big Asian Cities, to the smaller traditional markets in regional villages where you can buy everything from spices to buffalo. So with this in mind, I wanted to share with you my five favourite markets in South East Asia that are great for people-watching and shopping alike.  1. Luang Prabang Street Market, Laos After the sun sets on the main street of Luang Prabang, the red and blue tents of the night market take centre stage as the indigenous Hmong women flock to the town to sell their locally crafted and purchased wares. Surrounded by Wats and Temples, the market sellers intricately lay out their antique lookalike snuff bottles next to one off pieces of handmade jewellery, which wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Paris. Walls of colorful paper umbrellas surround you in every direction as you search for fisherman pants in your size. And no visit is complete without a pair of Hmong pants – just watch the first ten washes or so as the colour runs out. There are no crazy hawkers or intense crowds to deal with at this night market, just a very chilled out and relaxed vibe. The traders love a good conversation and it can provide an insight into the local indigenous way of living. Off the main road, the side alleys are full of freshly caught fish prepared on bamboo leaves  accompanied with steaming bowls of fragrant rice. Just pull up a seat with the locals and tuck into some amazingly delicious food. Once you’ve finished, try your hand at a street game, from popping balloons with darts to card games. All of this is why Luang Prabang market is my all time favourite in South East Asia and worthy of the arduous overland journey it takes to get there. Also don’t forget to checkout our etiquette guide about visiting indigenous communities in South East Asia for some handy hints and tips about visiting the Hmong. Best Buys: Paper umbrellas, snuff bottles, freshly cooked fish and Hmong clothing  2. Malacca Night Market, Malaysia A secret gem, the night market in the Portuguese town of Malacca in southern Malaysia is full of trinkets, local produce, cheap fashion and even the kitchen sink. Whilst not everything on sale will warrant a place in your luggage to take home, it’s a great place to dive into Malaysian street food and sit back and watch the world go by. A community market at heart, the vendors wind themselves along Jalan Hang Jebat – a short stroll from the central square. Surrounded by world heritage listed buildings, the street is rich in history with fascinating Chinese and Portuguese fused architecture. Whilst the vendors have interesting wares, the shop fronts also sell a range of oriental products including Chinese medicines, artwork and housewares. Best Buys: Antiques (Fake or real Ill leave it up to you to decide), trinkets, electronic gadgets and cheap oriental souvenirs.      3. Ubud Art Market, Bali Very touristy and slightly claustrophobic, the Ubud Art Market in the central mountains of Bali in Indonesia is an old favourite of mine. The market is known for is locally created art work, Balinese handicrafts, and its growing boutique fashion scene. Many of the products are crafted in the out lying villages then brought to market to be sold. You will need your bartering skills at this market as the Balinese start high with their price, but its worth noting that your money often goes directly back to helping the local villages – so don’t barter too aggressively. It’s best to stay in Ubud when visiting as you will be able to get up early or visit late in the afternoon to avoid the loads of tourists that arrive by  bus. Also, dont forget to try Pork Sucking at Ibu Oka, the best in all of Bali – the locals can point the way. Best Buys:  Local handicrafts, artwork, wooden statues, Babi Guling (Suckling Pig) and colorful gifts      4. Lantern Market in Hoi An, Vietnam If you’re anything like Niki and think that your life would be complete if you were surrounded by thousands of colorful Lanterns, then the Hoi An Lantern market in Vietnam is for you. Popular with the locals and travellers alike, this market in the streets of the old town of Hoi An comes to life at night as paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes light up the balmy evening. The streets fill with children as they run and play, the local river becomes a place of mystical creatures, whilst young couples canoodle on the ‘love’ bridge. The relaxed Hoi An Night market is a mix of street hawkers and historical shop fronts selling local artwork, boutique homewares and everything in between. After a night of shopping, I would recommend...

Top 5 South East Asian Budget Airlines

By on Aug 4, 2012 in Travel Advice | 1 comment

With the huge growth of budget airlines over the last 5 years in South East Asia,  air travel has become a whole lot more affordable. It has also opened up a range of destination that use to take days of intense travelling just to visit. Personally I still prefer getting on a bus and hammering out the distances, however in the age of the “Flash Packer” who is limited by time and other constraints, budget airlines can help make the most of your adventures. With budget airlines seemingly popping up every other day in South East Asia, its hard to know which ones to choose. So with that in mind here is my list of top 5 budget airlines in South East Asia that will help you travel to your next destination.   1. Air Asia You really can’t go past them. Apparently owned by Richard Branson’s former accountant, this great airline offers cheap tickets to almost every major city in South East Asia. Based out of Kuala Lumpur, I’ve flown them countless times with no delays and good service.   2. Jetstar Qantas’s budget arm, Jetstar hubs out of Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore. Good prices if you want to fly into Vietnam or get connections onto Qantas to Australia. I’ve flown them a few times and found their aircraft to a be a little older however the service is fine. Being backed by Qantas is always a good thing.   3. Tiger airways Based out of Singapore, Tiger Airways is continuing on the trend of caging tigers by cramming people into small seats. I fly them when I have to, mainly due to their incredible low costs to some destinations. There on time performance can be questionable, however if you’re on a budget and want a safer airline, these guys will do it.   4. Firefly Another new one based out of Kuala Lumpur. Seemingly owned by Malaysian Airlines who wanted to create a “community” airline, this one specialises in cheap destinations within Malaysia and Borneo. Safety records seem to be intact and this one is worth researching.   5.  Lion Air The largest private carrier based in Indonesia and specializes in island hopping the great archipelago. Their website is advising a brand new fleet, however I have always slightly worried about aircraft maintenance done in Indonesia (especially after I worked for one). This is one of the better budget airlines in Indonesia; however try the other airlines mentioned above first.   This list doesn’t include any government carriers, however they’re always worth a look in for budget deals. Personally I find Air Asia generally has the better deal all-round for my travelling adventures. Check here for every budget airline in South East Asia. Happy...

The Vietnam Conclusion

By on Apr 1, 2011 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam.   After three intense and chaotic weeks of travelling through Vietnam, Nic and I had made it to our last destination, Ho Chi Minh City airport for our flight home. It was with a mix of sadness that we were to be concluding such a great adventure, yet relief as my travel worn body, challenged at every corner on this overland trip, was glad to be heading home to the comforts of a clean shower and a comfortable bed. We had done it! A journey that so many dream of and a journey that will remain with me for the rest of my life. In retrospect, Vietnam is what I had always been looking for in my South East Asian adventures, rough and ready travel, chaotic Asian influences, amazing food and the chance to really get off the beaten track with no one holding my hand. Yes I nearly got Niki injured a few times, yes Giardia is not a good travelling companion and yes I was pick pocketed, however we can’t overlook the most important aspect. We had successfully travelled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City for our honeymoon and Niki and I were still married by the end of it (not to mention the rules of marriage I learnt) – that tells me my marriage is as strong as Vietnamese rice wine. Wrapping up the Hello what’s your name? Blog Series, I want to share my thoughts with you on a country that is rapidly opening to tourism and some of my highlights over the three weeks. Hanoi, like an estranged lover, just as you get close it bitch slaps you and puts you back in your place. I liked Hanoi for this reason. It’s a political capital city with hard liners and a do or die attitude which more resembles China than South East Asia. I won’t lie though, I can see why this city wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It’s not relaxing, you’re constantly on edge from touts and manic traffic and you never quite feel like you’re welcome. Halong Bay. It’s touristy, it’s expensive and its one of the best indulgent activities I have ever participated in. Let’s face it, this is Halong Bay, nothing else in the world is similar! Splash out and spoil yourself with this one, its well worth it. Sapa’s uniqueness comes from the gracious Hmong indigenous people of the area who single handedly make it worth the 12 hours of train travel it will take you to get here. Its cultural vibe is rivaled by nowhere else in South East Asia as its not staged for tourists like Thailand. Well worth a trek to Ta Phin if you get the chance and the whole experience is a must when travelling to Vietnam. Hoi An is Vietnam’s tourist town and is polished, buffed and presented in a neat package. Needless to say Hoi An is popular and you’ll be surrounded by tourists from all over the world and from all walks of life. However if you’re like me and you wish you could have seen Asia in the times when Singapore was the whore of the east, Hong Kong was the opium capital and sea traders ruled South East Asia, then Hoi An can give you a glimpse into what a trading port would have looked like. No opium or ladies of the night (not that I saw) but heaps of great restaurants, relaxed nightlife, clean beaches and of course lots of lanterns. Hue! I don’t really understand where Hue fits into Vietnam. Torn apart by war, centered on its cultural history of emperors and moving forward whilst watching its back. Perhaps I was in a travel low whilst here or perhaps travel shouldn’t always be fun, sometimes it should be hard going and thought provoking – which Hue certainly is. Nha Trang is a small town and reminds me of the coastal towns of Spain – English breakfast cafes, themed pubs, tourist development, the beach and not much to do. Nha Trang was comfortable but I personally don’t know why people stop there. The beaches are better near Hoi An, there aren’t many attractions and unless you’re into getting cheaply drunk all night………ohhhh that’s why people stop there. Apparently it’s a good dive spot too! Ho Chi Minh City. I have to admit I didn’t give enough time to explore this city, only staying here for two days. Saigon as it was formerly known is just as crazy, chaotic and thrill riding as you expect it to be. It’s also very sobering with the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace giving a horrific glimpse into Vietnam’s history. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time when visiting this city and hold onto to you knickers you’re in for the ride of your life! So with that I say thank you for sticking with me over the last five months, the trip to Vietnam was life changing. I really encourage you to visit Vietnam before it starts to open to the mass western tourism that so much of South East Asia has already adopted. Vietnam isn’t a walk in the park however if you’re thinking of travelling to Vietnam, you probably already know that.  That’s it for “Hello, what’s your name?” and with that I’d like to say my name is...

Ho Chi Minh City – The Remnants of War

By on Jan 3, 2011 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. “Peter….arhhhhh….it hurts…..this isn’t good…..I think….oh hang on, maybe not…actually yep….I’m going to be sick!” And with that Niki shot out of bed and made a run to the bathroom of the hotel we were staying at in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. My horrible friend Giardia, which I managed to loose in Hoi An, had made an untimely return, this time attacking Niki.  Sadistically, Niki falling ill has become a bit of a tradition of ours whilst travelling. Since I first met my now wife, we haven’t had a single trip where she hasn’t got horribly ill from Giardia or some other mysterious stomach ailment. The poor thing has her heart set on visiting India one day, however I reckon her stomach might explode if we do. Whilst noises vibrated from the bathroom similar to the sounds Chewbacca makes in the movie Star Wars, I sat on the bed reading my guidebook with a sense of accomplishment. We had made it to our final destination, Ho Chi Minh City. Given our hectic itinerary, we had only allowed ourselves one day to spend here before we flew home to Perth the next day. With Niki feeling under the weather, I reluctantly shrank our Ho Chi Minh to-do list down to the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum and Ben Thanh Market. Rule No. 15 of being married – Never under any circumstances tell your wife as she is in the bathroom being sick “May the force be with you”. You’ll regret it later as she walks out and says very sternly whilst grabbing hold of anything she can throw, “I’ll give you the bloody force”. With a bathroom stop along the way and a few traffic moments that had Niki looking familiarly like a stunned deer in headlights, we had successfully walked to the Ben Thanh Market. As soon I walked in and got lost in the labyrinth of everything from clothing, fabrics, produce, tourist products and handicrafts, I knew it was a bad idea to bring Niki here. The market was great, but coupled with the intense Ho Chi Minh humidity and the energetic, some may even say fearless, market touts pulling us in every direction, the unwell Niki was not going to cope. Realising the danger, I turned back to see Niki engulfed by ten ladies who were keen to sell her a life time’s supply of souvenirs. Then in a fit of slow motion heroicism, only fit for the movies, Niki scrambled free of their clutches and passed me in a slow run heading for the closest exit and bathroom. As I stood there watching her run with my jaw dropped, whilst the ten ladies looked at awe at the one person who ever escaped their clutches, I simply turned to them and said “That’s my wife” and took off after her. Leaving the market behind us, we headed for the Reunification Palace. Built in the 1960’s it was once the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam, before being infamously photographed as the communist tanks rolled through the gates to signify the end of the war. The palace had been strangely left in a sort of  time warp of what it looked like on that  very day, with outdated maps, stuffed colonial animals, old photography gear, military aircraft and stately furnishings found throughout the palace and the grounds. Entry is 20,000d, just be aware that the ticket counters throughout most of Ho Chi Minh city close for lunch. After our interesting bit of time travel, we decided to grab a bite to eat and wait for the War Remnant Museum to open. After looking at a few restaurants, walking out of one due to the fact that they served snakes and something that resembled a porcupine, we found a great little cafe. It had to be good, it was full of Vietnamese locals. After 3 weeks of  South East Asian travel, their western food was great and Niki loved the fact that their bathrooms were modern and clean. Feeling well fed, we psyched ourselves up for the War Remnants Museum. I say psyched because from what I had been told, this museum was going to rip our souls apart, they weren’t wrong. The War Remnants museum is principally about the Vietnam/American war.  The grounds of the museum are dotted like a used car yard with American and Vietnamese weaponry. Everything from fighter jets and helicopters to rockets and bombs. Inside however, was a trip into the dark side of humanity. With exhibitions aimed at exploring the devastating impacts of Agent Orange, Napalm and the effects of war. The exhibits range from poignant photography of dismembered people to a real fetus showing the continual effects of chemical weapons on generations to come. It didn’t stop here though, the museum had also developed a realistic representation of a concentration camp and still months on I can still see the horrific images in my head. Niki had to walk out after the first exhibition with tears streaming down her face; she was uncomfortable with what was being shown and I could empathize with her. I on the other hand wanted to see it all, I thought it was the least I could do to remember the people who experienced the war and by the end, was emotionally drained and on the verge of tears...