Having spent time on Java and Bali, I thought I had Indonesia figured out. After all, if you've seen one island you've seen them all, right? Sulawesi was a bit of a slap in the face to this narrow-mindedness. What I discovered there was an entirely different culture, as different from Java as any country in Southeast Asia is from its neighbours — in some places even more so. Travelling here offers the extremes of South Pacific geography, from cool rugged highlands to lush equatorial islands surrounded by intense blue waters. It is an experience like no other, a trip into the real heart of Indonesian island culture.
For most tourist visitors to Laos, Luang Prabang is the only game in town. Direct flights from various cities in Asia mean visitors can even bypass the charming capital city of Vientiane in their rush to reach what is admittedly one of the most stunning towns in the region, leaving the rest of the country still largely untouched by tourism.
Before Koh Phi Phi and Vietnam’s own Con Dao, there was the Malaysian island of Tioman. In the 1970s, Time Magazine called this jewel 30 kilometres off Malaysia’s eastern coast one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Since then, however, Tioman has slipped down the rankings and rarely receives foreign recognition — perhaps thanks to the absence of real estate behemoths building super resorts.
A location within kilometres of the Cambodian border causes many to write off Chau Doc as just another nondescript border town. But built at the confluence of three strands of the Mekong, like the waters of the rivers that converge on this French-designed market town, so the peoples here are also from afar, bringing with them a veritable hotpot of colours, race and religion.
When most people think of Quang Ninh Province, Halong Bay often comes to mind. However, few people visit Quan Lan, a hidden island about an hour past the renowned bay, where the crowds are small, the beaches big and the seafood fresh.
It’s not every day people plan a trip to Ca Mau, the southernmost province in Vietnam. But lucky for me, I’m here on a work assignment — travelling dirt roads lined with coconut trees and meeting inspiring HIV-infected youths. It’s bound to be another of those unforgettable 48-hour tourist-free journeys in Vietnam.