This will probably be the trickiest blog I’ll ever write but I’d like to try and summarise the best and worst bits of my travels in Asia (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore). I’m going to be as objective as I can. These are still my own personal thoughts and opinions so don’t be offended if I think something was a worst and you think it’s a best. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you’re allowed to have differing ones so no bees in bonnets please.
There’s some categories where I have winners and runners up because it was too close for me to call a single best or worst.
Siholme Backpackers, Vientiane, Laos
Although I only stayed a single night I was still very impressed. The dorms were great, the bathrooms were clean and modern, the atmosphere was friendly, there was a movie room, a pool table, a bar, friendly staff and amusing murals/slogans painted around the place. Just a great all round hostel with, honestly, no bad points.
Mojzo Inn, Nha Trang, Vietnam
This place was amazing. The breakfast included in your room price was cooked fresh for you and there was a choice of four things. The dorms were air conditioned all day and there were decent sized lockers in the rooms. The refillable water tap was great. The WiFi was fast and available all over the hostel. The place is a two minute stroll from the beach and the staff are so lovely it’s ridiculous. The only reason Mojzo Inn isn’t the overall winner is because the dorm was a little small for six people and the bathroom did smell a little bit musty.
The food in Taiwan is plentiful, cheap, fresh, full of flavour and a great balance of traditional and modern novelty . I was not disappointed with anything from the food markets or restaurants in Taiwan. It was consistently superb. Taiwan has some amazing night markets where you can get some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Do not miss the Taiwanese milk tea. It’s absolutely delicious and you can get it with tapioca pearls or jelly to make it more of a dessert than a drink. Don’t be surprised or concerned if your food/drink is served to you in a bag, that’s normal. Basically, go to Taiwan and eat all the food.
Thai food is full of flavour and reasonably cheap. It’s also on the milder side of spicy. Traditional dishes such as pad thai, thai red and green curries and massaman curries are widely available and generally very tasty. Restaurants and food stalls seem to turn out a similar quality of food. My ‘don’t miss’ food in Thailand is sticky rice. It doesn’t matter if you have mango and sticky rice as a dessert or get a savoury sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf from a stall, just make sure you try it!
When it comes to resilience, determination and a forgiving spirit, I don’t think you will find a nation of people who can best the Cambodians. They are simply some of the friendliest, kindest, most welcoming and genuinely happy people I have ever met.
When you look at Cambodian history, it really does paint a grim picture, it’s all war, death and strife. The most recent horrors happened when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge tried to reshape Cambodia as a self sufficient, farming Country. It ended with an incomprehensible genocide leaving around 1 in 5 Cambodians dead or missing. This was all very recent, we’re talking within my parents life time, so there are Cambodians alive today who remember the regime, their dead relatives and everything that went along with it pretty vividly.
Despite their recent and harrowing past, Cambodians are upbeat and optimistic. There’s no wallowing or ‘woe is us’ attitudes, only respectful remembrance and an upbeat attitude towards the future. For me, this is a singularly amazing thing. An entire nation was subjected to immense tragedy and hardship but have emerged the other side determined to right the wrongs and heal their communities.
This, coupled with their enthusiasm, genuine nature and overall loveliness, makes the Cambodians my favourite people in Asia.
Taiwanese are incredibly hospitable and happy go lucky. I don’t have a bad word to say about them. If I needed help and someone didn’t speak English, other locals would pitch in to help and make sure I was ok. They really are fabulous and never got annoyed at any level of incompetence on my part. Simply lovely.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Amazing mix of markets and super modern malls. The shopping here really has something for everyone. Want some good fakes? Head to Petaling Street. Want something crafty for a souvenir? Get to the central market. Want to feel more at home with western brands? Any air conditioned mall will sort you out with a good range of budget to luxury brands. I really mean it when I say I think you could buy anything in Kuala Lumpur.
Best Historic Sights
Angkor Historic Park
I did three entries on the Angkor temples so I’m not going to repeat myself. I’ll just say, do not miss.
Best Natural Sights
Again, I wrote a while entry dedicated to Sapa so I won’t re-cover old ground. Amazing views across an amazing Country. Make time to go to Sapa.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Truly lovely landscape in the Cameron Highlands. Lots of winding roads and walks to do. It’s the runner up here as the area does feel very much like it’s all for tourists but you can escape that if you walk the right paths. The touristy aspect does spoil the natural beauty of the area a bit for me though.
Best Modern Sights
Singapore is a clean, shiny, modern metropolis with stunning high rise buildings. It’s well planned and executed better. Stunning modern city with a stunning modern price tag.
Malaysia to Singapore
Overall it was the least worrying and easiest to navigate because the English spoken on both sides was of a good level.
Hanh Cafe Sleeper bus from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, Vietnam
The route has decent roads, the bus was swanky and single seated (so no snoring stranger in your ear hole) and the ticket was a reasonable price.
Best Overall Value Attraction
Huê City, Vietnam
Lots of the heritage sites in Huê don’t have an entry fee so it’s incredibly cheap to see lots of important historic and cultural areas.
Best Overall Value Country
Accommodation and food in Laos is cheap and generally of good quality. Entry fees to attractions seem to be good value and shared taxis/tuk tuks make travelling short distances reasonable. Longer distances can be covered by boat or bus at, again, a pretty good price. Overall, Laos works out as the best value for me.
Best Overall Town/City
Tokyo might be expensive but it’s worth it. The city is huge, sprawling and complicated but it’s fabulous. There’s still plenty of hidden gems in alleyways nestled between modern high rises to discover. There’s also tonnes of heritage stuff to see and explore. The Japanese definitely put a lot of emphasis on preserving their history and culture. As modern as Tokyo is, if you look around, you will find temples nestled in the centre of busy metropolitan areas.
It’s a unique city that I enjoyed immensely. If you want more details, you can see my blog entry on Tokyo.
Personal favourite thing
SCUBA diving, Koh Tao, Thailand
Learning to dive was the single best experience I had on my trip in Asia. My dive school (Big Blue) was well organised, the instructors (and trainee instructors) were friendly and professional, the island is beautiful and the diving itself was fabulous.
SCUBA diving is the overall winner because it’s something I can do for the rest of my life and will be doing again on the rest of my trip.
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Walking around with, washing and feeding elephants is something I probably won’t ever get the opportunity to do again and it was incredible. If you want more details on the park, please see my blog post on it.
Rainbow guesthouse, Khao San Road, Thailand
Hideous! Awful mattresses, dirty dorms, terrible security (the door to the room didn’t lock and the provided lockers in the restaurant are less than ok), disgusting bathrooms, air conditioning was inadequate and got turned off at 8am, sheets were stained and the whole place was just worn down and broken.
The food in Hong Kong is questionable unless you are paying top dollar for it. I was never really sure what went into any of the food I ate and a lot of it was flavourless mush. There’s a few hidden gems but, on the whole, food in Hong Kong is dodgy.
I found the people of Vietnam to be consistently rude and biased against foreigners or to be the nicest people in the world. There seemed not to be a middle ground. I found the prejudice really hard to deal with and the attitude of locals intent on not accepting tourists onto buses or into food places really tainted Vietnam for me. It’s a real shame because the lovely locals really were very helpful and sweet but they didn’t quite off set the venom I felt from everyone else.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh didn’t seem to have much in the way of shopping. Even in the markets it was mostly food, household items or technology. Even though there would be many different stalls, they seemed to all sell the same items. Just not very varied or accessible for most people.
Worst Historic Sights
Singapore is very shiny and new so it doesn’t really have much in the way of historic buildings or culture to experience. If you want new and modern, Singapore is for you. If you’re into history, maybe think carefully as it how much time you need in Singapore.
Worst Natural Sights
Bangkok really doesn’t have parks or walks you can enjoy. It’s all incredibly built up and concreted over.
Worst Modern Sights
Cambodia had a distinct lack of modern buildings and very few high rise buildings. Most Sights in Cambodia are old and for history buffs. There’s no shining buildings beautifully lit at night to stroll around in Cambodia, it all has a rustic feel.
Thailand to Cambodia
This border was the worst because it was the only one I could not get an international bus for. Having to work out onward transport from the border further into Cambodia was pretty slap dash. It’s a stressful feeling when you’re doing it alone, for the first time so I guess that’s why it was the worst.
Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand
This was an overnight bus along scary, winding mountain roads. The turns were so sharp that my head hit the widow on several occasions. It was a sitting bus so sleeping was an unlikely prospect anyway but the turns made it completely impossible. Just a long, scary journey.
Worst Overall Value attraction
Royal Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
600 baht is too expensive. Full stop.
Worst Overall Value Country
Singapore is just heinously expensive for everything. Considering labour is still relatively cheap in Singapore, there’s no real justification for it.
Worst Overall Town/City
I just didn’t like Bangkok. It wasn’t for me. I felt like everyone was out to fleece me for all the money they could and that the locals were insincere. It smells funny too.
Personal least favourite thing
Asia is too hot and humid for me.