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Thailand has long been a popular getaway for Australians. The country serves up an eclectic mix of vibrant cities, secluded beaches and mountainscapes that march far into the distance.
Sounds like paradise, right? Well, Thailand remains a cool country that offers tons of things to see and do, but the Asian nation is in a sad mood right now. The recent passing of His Majesty, King Bhumibol has cast a sorrowful spell over Thailand, so visitors to the country may not get the experience they bargained for when they touch down on Thai tarmac.
Additionally, the continuing political and civil unrest across Thailand (though largely confined to small pockets of the capital, Bangkok) also has the potential to throw a proverbial spanner into your holiday plans. So, what are you to do?
It’s understandable if you feel like giving the country a miss until the mourning period is over or the political discontent dies down. Here are three awesome Asian alternatives for you to try before you finally make that trip to Thailand.
For many, the word ‘Vietnam’ conjures images of countless war films, jungle combat and Agent Orange, all played out to William Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’, but Vietnam is so, somuch more than a war that ended over 40 years ago.
Today, it’s a thriving, intoxicating nation with much to offer the discerning traveller. There are countless places to go and see in Vietnam, so much so that you may struggle to squeeze them all in. The many temples and pagodas scattered across the nation are a great place to start, and Long Son Pagoda is one of the most striking. A Buddhist temple, complete with steep steps, mosaic dragons constructed of glass and an enormous white Buddha – what more could you ask for? By climbing it, you’ll be granted views of the sprawling countryside below.
If you’re in Vietnam for the New Year, experiencing a Tet event should be top of your list. It’s a celebration of colour, with flower markets, firework displays and dragon dances all par for the course. For an authentic look into Vietnam’s chequered past, be sure to head on down to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These subterranean marvels were initially constructed as a hiding place from the invading French army, and were then updated following the onset of the Vietnam War. Some of the spiked booby traps remain down there – your tour guide will point them out.
You’ll almost certainly Ho Chi Minh City during your Vietnam trip – we hope you’re ready for a hectic ride! Sure, it’s a crazy old place, and you’ll need some respite from time. What better place to rest your head than The Alcove Library, a sanctuary away from all the madness? With a name like that, guess what you’ll find in the hotel lobby? That’s right – row upon row of books, so choose a tome or two, head on up to your room and lose yourself in literature.
Okay, so it’s a officially a city-state, not a country, but here’s a cool fact – you could comfortably fit 11,000 Singapores into Australia, with a little room left over. It’s a superb destination for those looking for the best of both worlds.
Singapore is perhaps the only place on Earth where you can get the best of the West as well as the finest the East has to offer. An affluent, friendly melting pot of cultures make Singapore an intriguing destination. If you know where to look, it can be a pretty cheap escape, too. For example, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is totally free, and is open every day of the year, from 5 a.m. (though we don’t know who might be visiting at that time!) through to midnight.
There are countless plants and flowers on display, so have a leisurely wander before heading off to Tiong Bahru. This is a happening new neighbourhood popular with hipsters, but you don’t need a sweet beard, skinny jeans and a 1985 Sony Walkman to get the best from this place. It’s jam packed with awesome shops, inventive restaurants and cool bars, and there are a fair few restored shophouses for you to peruse. Just don’t forget your fixed-gear bike!
If you’re looking for a the best view of the city-state you’re exploring (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), make your way to the Singapore Flyer. You’ve all heard of the London Eye, right? Well, the Singapore Flyer is similar to that – only bigger. At 165 metres in height, you can’t miss it, so hop aboard and take in the sights!
A short word on the food on offer in Singapore. Though Thai cuisine is often fantastic, it can’t hold a candle to what you’ll find in Singapore. The place is known as the ‘food capital of the world’ – your tastebuds are in for a treat!
For the reallyadventurous among you, Cambodia simply has to be crossed off the list. It’s unlikely you’ll ever visit a more wallet-friendly place than this – you could live comfortably in Cambodia for AU$50 a month, with change to spare. You won’t have to save too hard before flying out, but Cambodia’s lack of expense is evened out by the fact that it’s still a developing nation trying desperately to move on from the tyrannical reign of Pol Pot, a leader who shunned modern development, education and welfare.
Cambodia was left behind, and its recovery is slow. That said, the nation is well worth visiting for the temple of Angkor Wat alone – the biggest religious monument in the world. Even if you only stop by for a week, you won’t regret it – and neither will your bank balance!
We’ve already mentioned Angkor Wat, and we’re going to talk about it again. It was built over 30 years in the 1100s as a home for King Suryavarman II – after he died. No one even knew it existed until France colonised Cambodia in the 19th century – the French discovered the building in the middle of an overgrown jungle, and today, it’s considered one of the Wonders of the World. Another temple, Ta Prohm, was reveled to the world via an unlikely source – the Tomb Raider movies. Yes, Lara Croft (or, Angelina Jolie, depending on how you look at it) ran around the grounds and catacombs of Ta Prohm during the film, its giant trees giving it a unique look that is sure to help you fill your Instagram account.
If you really want to try something new, we’ll bet that you’ve never had a go at eating a tarantula. Along Route 6, you’ll find several stalls that sell deep-fried eight-legged beasties, as well as crickets and birds. Don’t fancy it? Never fear – the vendors sell bananas and mangoes, too.
One of the great things about Cambodia is that, for an Aussie at least, accommodation is ridiculously cheap. For as little as AU$5 a night, you can stay in a place that more than meets your requirement, but in Cambodia, you still need to be careful. There is no official ‘star’ grading to hotels, and often the only indicator of quality is price – but this isn’t really that reliable either. Before you hand over your card details or cash, ask to be shown the room – this way, you’ll know what you’re getting!