In all of my travels around the world over the years, the majority of my time has been spent in Asia. In fact, I’ve probably spent the good part of a year of my life over there. In Southeast Asia, so far I have visited five countries – well, six including Singapore – and I thought that I would challenge myself to picking a favourite place in each of those five countries. This was a far harder challenge than I imagined. There are so many places that bring back amazing memories, and I keep thinking to change my choices, but here they are:
Hoi An, Vietnam
I fell in love with Hoi An almost instantly as I took my first walk through the Old Town. Its history, its atmosphere and its beautiful setting just captured me. I remember nights just walking through the lantern lit streets with my wife, sitting down to dinner overlooking the water, and then cycling out to the beach during the day. I’ll definitely keep coming back to Hoi An when I visit Vietnam.
I loved every single second that I spent in Cambodia. There wasn’t a place that I visited that I didn’t like, and choosing a favourite place was very difficult. Kratie is a small town, situated on the Mekong River in the Northeast of the country, and foreigners who venture here come to see the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins that inhabit a stretch of the river just north of town, but for me the town had so much more than that. It had a truly sleepy and laid back vibe, and stepping just outside of town puts you right in the middle of rural Cambodia. Memories of cycling around Koh Trong, an island in the Mekong River, brings a smile to my face, and sitting with my wife and watching the incredible sunset over the Mekong River in the evening just makes me want to go back there right now.
Vang Vieng, Laos
To be honest, I think I have even surprised myself with my choice of Vang Vieng as my favourite place in Laos. I was sure that I would choose Luang Prabang, one of my favourite cities in the world. The partying backpacker haven of Vang Vieng hardly sounds like the sort of place that I would love; however my mind goes back to Vang Vieng a lot, the reason being that there is so much more to Vang Vieng than partying, getting drunk and tubing down a river, which is what seems to label the town a lot of the time. For me, Vang Vieng is all about cycling through the beautiful countryside surrounded by bright green rice fields with tall limestone karst mountains towering over them, and in the evening relaxing in a laid back restaurant or bar overlooking the river. I have lots of happy memories from this place and I feel like returning there often.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai didn’t capture me so much when I first visited, and up until my six month trip in 2013 I would have chosen Bangkok as my favourite place in Thailand – it is, after all, my most visited city outside of Australia – but after having stayed in Chiang Mai for an entire two months, I completely fell in love with it; so much so that I could see myself living there no problem at all. It is just one of those places that I needed to forget about sightseeing and travelling, and instead just live, mingle with the locals and do everyday things. I discovered a city full of life and friendly faces. I just loved how I could walk down a busy road where I felt like I was in the middle of a big busy city, and then just step down a quiet alleyway and feel like I was in a small country town. I think about my time in Chiang Mai often and long to go back there. It was a very happy time in my life.
George Town, Malaysia
I kind of feel like choosing a favourite place in Malaysia, for me, is like choosing a favourite restaurant when you have only been to one. Although I have been to more than one place in Malaysia, there is still so much more of the country that I need to see, however when I do, I have the feeling that my choice may still not change. George Town, on the island of Penang, was the first place that I visited in the country and I loved every minute of my time there. The mix of culture is incredible and the atmosphere addictive. Then, there is the food – some of the best that I have had during my travels. I think, perhaps, that my stomach may even be making this choice for me. Happy memories seem to focus on meal times, walking through the streets of George Town with my wife and sitting down to an amazing meal in Little India or Chinatown. I would go back here in a heartbeat.
Have you been to any of these countries? What was your favourite place?