A Year in Asia: Must-See Adventures and Unforgettable Journeys

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Looking Back Over Our Year in Asia

I’ve been able to cross many things off my bucket list. The year 2016 has been a banner year for travel during my year in Asia. We found ourselves on a few boats and a limb out of our element. It was a zip line—but you get the point. We’ve seen ancient temples, explored native peoples, and eaten some of the best foods. I feel blessed to have slept in the jungle, in complete luxury, on the beach, and in the clouds. Here is just a sample of this year’s travels in Asia in review.

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Asian Travels in Review

Let’s begin my year in Asia with a bang. Our first trip of the year took us to a place I had never expected to see in my lifetime.

Bali

Bali is a beautiful island, and February is an exciting, albeit hot, time to explore it during my year in Asia. One of the largest islands in Indonesia, Bali is synonymous with an exotic retreat. It’s on the radar for most tourists traveling to Southeast Asia. However, there are still opportunities to get off the beaten track. Enjoy the natural beauty of the island’s monumental temples, beaches, and mountains. Explore the jungles, waterfalls, and rice terraces. We drank kopi luwak, also known as cat poop coffee. We saw a bunch of playful monkeys. And received numerous blessings that involved having wet rice placed on our foreheads.

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Bintang and Aussies 

A few said don’t bother; Bali is overrun with tourists, especially from Australia. And yes, if you stay on the beaten path, you’ll encounter a mix of Aussies in muscle shirts with open containers of Bintang and a recent influx of Russians and Ukrainians seeking respite from the conflict. We found a driver on viator.com initially, but he drove us around his Bali for two more days, which was amazing. Bali ended up being the perfect start to this year in Asia.

Check out Top 10 Things to do in Bali20 Things You Will Learn in Bali and Bali Beaches are Beautiful but Blazing for things to see and do and where to stay.

Kuala Lumpur

Our second trip was a long layover we spent on our way to and from Bali during our year in Asia. We spent 40 hours in the capital city of Malaysia. The first day we spent 21 hours, long enough to see the Twin Towers, eat some delicious street food, and climbed all the stairs with monkeys trying to steal our belongings at the Batu Caves, with plenty of time left over to visit a mosque, buy an Indian sari, and see the Petronas Twin Towers.

More Than the Twin Towers

I learned that long layovers can be your friend. We were able to visit a destination we hadn’t planned on seeing at all. We also learned that the public transportation system in Kuala Lumpur is very easy to navigate to and from the airport, making KL a great destination for long layovers. I heard the food was good and we ate street food like banana leaf rice, nasi lemak, and roti canai, as well as yummy veggie Indian food in Little India.

Our next trip was back to our favorite Asian country, Thailand, during our year in Asia. We spent our 20th anniversary in Phuket the year before and, even though we had planned to visit just once, we loved the food, weather, and people so much we decided to go back.

Bangkok

Bangkok ended up surprising me. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did because I don’t gravitate towards the big cities. I prefer the small towns and villages where modernity hasn’t caught up with the streets, the markets, the architecture and the way of life as much. We learned that Steven gets templed out quickly, so he went to a craft brewery and electronics shopping to keep the peace.

Lady Boys

What I would suggest is to really do your research before deciding on a bar. We jumped into a cab and found out our intended destination was, well, ladyboy heaven. The taxi driver suggested my hubby take me back to the hotel and go alone. Lol, he teased him all the way to our alternate destination at one of the sky bars.

Thankfully, there is a little of “all the above” in the city. I loved exploring the Grand Palace and The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and the markets by tuk-tuk. But I also loved shopping in the malls, eating at the world-famous Gaggan Restaurant, and drowning in the luxurious pillows at the Grande Centre Point Hotel Ratchadamri Bangkok.

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Ayutthaya

During our year in Asia, I was initially skeptical about attractions like the floating markets, so I decided to skip them. However, I learned to appreciate their beauty and practicality. There was also something else I wasn’t going to miss on our visit to Bangkok. I booked a side trip to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam, known for its historical park filled with ruins of old temples and palaces.

Ayutthaya is about 80 kilometers north of Bangkok. It once flourished as the capital of the Kingdom of Siam and was a bustling international trading port from 1350 until it was destroyed by the Burmese. The ruins are now part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which features palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries, and statues. This includes the iconic Buddha in the tree, a sight I had longed to see since childhood.

We took a river cruise that allowed us to enjoy the historical sights while savoring a delicious lunch on board. Would I recommend a day trip to Ayutthaya? Absolutely. A guide can elevate the experience, transforming it from just taking photos to immersing yourself in the site’s rich history.

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Guangzhou

Since long layovers worked so well in Malaysia, we decided to do it again. This time we spent an overnight in Guangzhou, just north of Hong Kong and the capital of Cantonese cuisine. I hired a tour guide on viator.com for a walking tour through the city that included a riverboat ride, street food tasting, and cultural and architectural tour.

We also enjoyed a sit-down dinner at a popular dumplings restaurant after exploring the herb, fish and silk markets. We were lucky to get a promo rate at the luxurious Pullman Hotel adjacent to the airport and utilize the public transportation system which was surprisingly easy to use.

Loving Long Layovers

Is Guangzhou worth a day trip, yes? Life in that city is in your face and you’ll get an amazing chance to learn about the popular food, the culture, and the architecture which is highly regarded.

Read more about China and its people in China and the Chinese will Surprise You

I’m still pinching myself when I think of our next adventures during our year in Asia; the term “bucket list” just doesn’t do them justice.

Hanoi

Hanoi is a fascinating capital city with French and Chinese influences and amazing food. The heart of the city is the chaotic Old Quarter, where the narrow streets are named after the market guilds that once inhabited the area and mopeds whiz to and fro in a rhythmic dance that make no sense to visitors. There are many small temples, the Hỏa Lò Prison where American soldiers were held during the Vietnam War, the Đồng Xuân Market, and the French Quarter where French architecture, cuisine, and history abounds. The level of service, the freshness of the food and gritty beauty are hallmarks of the city.

Visa Increase

Our trip started off on a horrible note. I hadn’t re-checked the visa requirements, which had changed two weeks prior. The price of the visa went from $45 to $135 each and the customs dude in the airport was a huge jerk… “you pay or go home”. We had heard that there was a lot of pay for play in that country and couldn’t confirm the price increase until we met another American couple, who by the way, wasn’t treated much better. Thankfully once we left the airport, the exceptional humor and kindness of the people were our constant companion.

The new visa is for one year and multiple entries, and I wouldn’t mind returning to visit another city or its southern beaches.

Read more about the city of Hanoi in Hanoi & Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Halong Bay

The itineraries are based upon the length of stay. This was our itinerary for a three day/two-night stay. It included a very special day we didn’t have to share with anyone but the cruise staff. No matter what junk boat line you decide to go with, choose the 3 days/2-night option. All the other options are nice but rushed. The beauty of being on the bay is having time to sit back and enjoy it by doing absolutely nothing at all.

Junk Boat Travel

Halong Bay is a body of water in northeast Vietnam known for its emerald green waters and thousands of limestone islands topped by rainforests. Junk boat tours, like the Signature Cruise Ha Long Bay, offer 1, 2 and 3-day tours that include everything from sea kayak expeditions and swimming to fine dining shopping for pearls on water.

I was overwhelmed by how beautiful the cabin was in person. The level of service and quality of the food served on the junk boat was amazing. The engine that runs the boat is quite loud. But the serenity of the scenery speaks even louder. I especially enjoyed the day we had a whole boat to ourselves. We had learned to kayak together for the first time.

Read more about Halong Bay and our trip and itinerary on Signature Cruises here.

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You need more than q couple days to explore all the temples in the Angkor Wat Complex, the surrounding countryside and river ways.

Siem Reap

After 6 days in Hanoi we flew to Cambodia to experience the man-made beauty of Angkor Wat. And I suspect I don’t have to tell you that Siem Reap was AWESOME!!! I stumbled around thinking I was the luckiest girl in the world. Siem Reap is a dusty resort town in northwestern Cambodia. It is also known for good food, its markets, and Pub Street. But it is primarily known as the gateway into the ruins of Angkor Wat. It was formerly known as the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the 9th–15th centuries.

Angkor Wat Temples

Angkor Wat’s vast complex includes the very well-preserved main temple, which is on the Cambodian flag and still a functioning temple to this day. Other highlights include Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, with its large carved Buddhas, the intricate carvings at Banteay Srei, and Ta Prohm, of Angelina Jolie fame. Pre Rap is where I had a front-row seat to a captivating sunset over the jungle.

It’s hard to say. But I think Siem Reap was my favorite destination in 2016. The temples, the people, the culture, the food, the weather were amazing. I hope to return to Cambodia one day soon.

Read My Top 10 Siem Reap Cambodia: Temples and Everything Else.

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You want this. We ate khao soi more than a couple of times when we were in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai

Our anniversary in December marked our return to Thailand, where our year in Asia had started. We had been to Thailand twice before, first visiting Phuket and then Bangkok. Chiang Mai, nestled in northern Thailand near the borders of Laos and Myanmar, is celebrated for its mountainous landscapes, fresh food, hilltop villages including the Long Neck Tribe, and stunning temples and trekking opportunities. Additionally, it’s a favorite among expats and digital nomads due to its low cost of living and inexpensive accommodations. During one of our visits, we even took a day trip to Chiang Rai to see the infamous White Temple.

But it was Chiang Mai that truly stole our hearts and continues to haunt them now. Who knew that we would return to Chiang Mai three times over the next few years?

Expat Friendly

I think of all the cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai would probably be the best suited for me long term during our year in Asia. Unfortunately, I received some bad news prior to the trip that made it almost impossible to enjoy. However, I can confirm that the food was the best I had tasted anywhere in Thailand. I can’t wait to return just for the khao soi, a dish of yellow noodles in curry and coconut milk with chicken, which was a highlight.

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Comments

  1. Lisa Rios

    Both me & my husband loves traveling a lot and it sounds like you had a wonderful year as well with some fun travel experience. Malaysia is one of my favorite destinations in Asian countries and Thailand looks gorgeous too to visit anytime!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I didn’t get to spend as much time in Malaysia as I would have liked, but we are planning some time on the coast soon.

  2. Shannon

    2016 was a great year for you! So much travel. Wife and I have done a YouTube video recapping our travels as well in 2016. Looking forward to 2017

  3. Emma white

    You have certainly done alot of traveling in 2016! I have heard so many good things about bali and i would definatly love to go there as it really sounds and looks beautiful although i dont like being to hot so i definatly wont be going in feb!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Bali is amazing. It was my top Asia destination and I feel like I should pinch myself for having seen it.

  4. Ashlea

    These all look like amazing places to travel to. I honestly haven’t heard of most of them. I love the view in Halong Bay. It would definitely be romantic watching the sunset with a nice glass of wine and picnic style dinner

  5. Krysten

    Wow, you’ve been so many places in the last year! The only traveling I did was to the UK so my kid could see his family!
    I think of all your adventures, Bali would have been my favorite. It’s been on my list for years!

  6. Erin

    Oh my goodness! What an amazing experience wrapped up into one year! I absolutely LOVE your idea of purposely creating long layovers to allow yourself time in a completely new city!

    I have bookmarked viator.com for future reference as it might come in handy on a future trip of ours!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thank you so much. I hope do do a few more long layovers this year to Singapore and Hong Kong. We had a few great experience this past year. Viator.com is so useful. Even if you don’t book with them, its a great resource to use to create your own trips.

  7. Valerie Jane

    Now this is how you go through a year!! Awesome!! And I love the beautiful pics. Bali is so high on my bucket list, I can’t even tell you!!
    Hope you get to travel more!

  8. Michelle Catallo

    What a wonderful year for you! In the Pacific area I have been to Bali, Hong Kong, Singapore, Saipan, Guam and Thailand. My bucket list? Vietnam and China. Would love to visit Halong Bay! Have been to Australia but, not New Zealand. I admit my inner geek wants to go to New Zealand to see the Shire LOL

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I will probably have to choose between Australia and NZ this time and the prospect of seeing the Shire and Mt Doom made that choice a simple one for me.

  9. Jenni Petrey

    It looks and sounds like you had a great year. I’d love to travel to Malaysia and Cambodia at some stage. Hope you have a great travel year this year too!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thank you. My plans are ambitious. I hope to get to Australia and New Zealand. I hope you have some great travel plans in 2017 as well.

  10. Claudette

    Asia is somewhere that is on my bucket list. What your post has done for me is to give me some specific ideas regarding possible destinations! Thank you.

  11. Becki Svare

    Wow! What an amazing year you’ve had! I’ve never been to anywhere in Asia. Coming from US it seems such a long journey, but looking through your post, it seems so worth it! A lot of these places I’ve never heard of, now I’d love to visit! Siem Reap in particular looks amazing!

  12. Author Brandi Kennedy

    Sounds like it was an utterly amazing year for you, with lots of travel and lots of adventure. I love the photos you shared, and especially the bits about your time at Angkor Wat. Cambodia has been on my bucket list since I was a child!

  13. Amber Myers

    What an amazing year you had! I personally have always wanted to check out Bali. I enjoyed looking at all these photos, because odds are, I’ll be staying in the States this year.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Bali was also my dream destination. The awful thing about travel is that once a dream destination is achieved its replaced with another one.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Bali was beautiful and the Halong Bay cruise was exciting from the moment we arrived. I highly suggest either, but you should definitely do both.

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