Phuket – Thailand
Phuket - Thailand

Phuket – Thailand

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The Pearl of the South

Time for a very well deserved relaxing days enjoying this little piece of paradise on the beautiful beaches and the resort’s pool. And i know, I know what you might tell questioning on why Phuket and no other of the many paradise islands they have in the country. Well, although obviously Phuket is the most visited of them all, it is actually one of the very best because it is the gateway to the Phi Phi islands, and that my friend, is worth it any travel. And also on a bright side, it is merely an hour away flight from Bangkok with flights every few minutes and quite inexpensive too.

What you need to consider is that most of the people who come here are on a long holiday, in all inclusive packages. That is anyway totally opposite to how I am and what sort of holidays I like. It was in fact really funny to get people asking and wondering if we were right about staying only 3 days here. Yes, absolutely; that is more than enough to see what we wanted to see and do. But yes, probably this is one of the few reasons I do not enjoy too much about this place, which is to be “trapped” in your resort and far from the nearest city.

If in the other hand you would not like to be dependent on being at a resort, then the choice gets reduced to merely 2 locations. Patong Beach or Phuket City, and believe me, that places are the ones you will not like once you get to know more, unless you are coming here on purpose for the obvious reasons.

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Ayutthaya – Thailand
Ayutthaya - Thailand

Ayutthaya – Thailand

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Venice of the East

Once of the major archaeological sites in Thailand, the once gloriously wealthy capital city of the former Kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1351 AD, and overtaking Sukhothai as the capital of Siam (nowadays Thailand), was ruled by 35 kings during its history. Reaching a size of almost a million inhabitants by the year 1700, making it one of the largest in the world at that time, it was also one of the wealthiest. Merchants from all over the world made from Ayutthaya one of the most important trading posts between Asia and the West. Unfortunately, the glorious past was pretty much destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 burning it to the grounds.

Nowadays, fortunately, you can see most of this imposing past from the huge ruins of the hundreds of temples around, with excavation and restoration continuously going on. It is one of the most complete historical site listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in the country.

The great side is how easy it is to reach from Bangkok. There is a god timetable of trains on this route, and forget what you read over the internet that the trip can take 2 hours or more. It’s merely 1 hour, or even shorter if taking the faster trains. I would not recommend you spend more than a day here. At the end, there is nothing else to do here than sightseeing the historical park, hence a day trip from Bangkok is more than viable without stress and getting tired at all. Or as how we did on another trip, leaving Bangkok early in the morning, being for the day in Ayutthaya, and then continuing on the night train to Vientiane, the capital of Laos at the end of the railway line. (more…)

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Bangkok – Thailand
Bangkok - Thailand

Bangkok – Thailand

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City of Royal Palaces

Incredible Thailand, and the astonishing capital city, Bangkok. To this date the fourth time here, and certainly looking for more to come in the future. Since 2011 when we first came here on what was the very first trip ever this far away, to now and the other times in between it still did not change anything in my opinion towards it. I simply love this place, more than ever. And not just the city, but this country itself, ranking among my top favourite 5 from the many I have been in the world, and that’s already over 100!.

It is such a gigantic city, with so many places to visit, ancient, historic and modern; so many temples, and so, so welcoming and charming, it feels the time is never enough, always short to do as much as you would like. Of course one of the reasons would be moving around the different areas and sights where you do require quite a long time.

The first impression a visitor takes, could not be better. Most of the international arrivals are in the spectacular Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is quite obvious why it has won so many prizes and awards for being one of the best in the world; it’s great architecture, easiness, environmental friendly and many more. So straightforward and quick to clear immigration, and so super fast to get to the heart of the city by the well connected railway links.

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Singapore
Singapore - Singapore

Singapore

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The City in a Garden

Returning once more to the most perfect “sin-city” in the planet, the stunning and shiny capital of this tiny nation-island, Singapore. While the first time I came here was as part of a wider trip visiting Thailand and Malaysia as well, on this occasion there was no difference. Coming from Malaysia, after spending two weeks travelling through Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. And funny-wise, it’s the matter of just a month after this trip that I will be returning to Southeast Asia, precisely to Thailand, one of my all-time favourite countries ever. No matter how many times I keep coming to Southeast Asia anyway, it is always so good that I cannot wait too long for the next one.

Singapore is the city of the future as many refer to it. A place where everything is being planned with a future perspective of 50 years ahead, and now even beyond. It is a very small nation, where space is their limitation. Completely surrounded by water, only a bridge links it to mainland Malaysia. Every project must be carefully studied and planned, and they excel at it like no other city in the world. From design, to comfort, environment, technology and efficiency; everything seems out of this world in the sense of cleanliness, safety, order and superb education and respect of its citizens. It’s really everything. A country which claims to have one of the highest educational levels and lowest crime in the world, and anyone can totally agree with that.

Now believe it or not, it is merely some dozens of years ago that this territory was in a completely different league and story. While it thrived as a British colony, it lasted until 1963 when the British left and so it joined Malaysia for a brief period of 2 years. For Malaysia, the fact that majority of the population was Chinese it was seen as a threat, hence on 9 of August 1965, Singapore became the first and only country in the world to gain independence against its own will. I’m quite sure Malaysia is still regretting such part of their history. Nowadays it is a non-stoppable growing Asian Tiger, like its other tigers Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

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George Town – Malaysia
George Town - Malaysia

George Town – Malaysia

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The Pearl of the Orient

From the three times I’ve been to Malaysia, on each occasion I get to visit a new place, and this trip is no exception, no other that one of the best kept gems and most visited in the country, second largest city after Kuala Lumpur, the gorgeous George Town in the island of Penang. North of the Malay peninsula not far anymore from neighbouring Thailand along the Strait of Malacca, home not only to a great colonial city but to lush jungles, pristine beaches and excellent resorts.

Founded by the British in 1786 as their first settlement in South east Asia which together with Malacca and Singapore formed the Straits Settlements that developed into a crown colony in 1867, it became the very first city in the modern history of the country, title granted by Queen Elizabeth II shortly before the dissolution and independence in 1957. The Japanese occupation in 1941 after World War II and their massacre of Chinese people, then the short period where the British regained the colony and all the troubles carried over on reconstruction, sanitation, crime, unemployment, decline…and an independent country that forgot about George Town for decades did deteriorate every side of the city until only quite recently from the year 2000.

With such a potential with regards to history, culture and heritage, no wonder by the year 2008 it was included in the prestigious list of World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. Continuous efforts in restoration, reconstruction and new construction; diverting the overcrowded traffic from the roads and great projects still going these days have transformed it into a thriving port city once again also becoming the major cruise terminal of any ship on an Asia/Southeast Asia tour.

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Malacca – Malaysia
Malacca - Malaysia

Malacca – Malaysia

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The Historical City

Malacca, one of the most historical and most visited cities in Malaysia is without doubt the little gem awaiting to be discovered. Often forgotten by visitors, yet still terribly overcrowded with countless foreign visitors, it is together with George Town in the island of Penang and of course Kuala Lumpur, the greatest highlights for anyone visiting the country. These are in any case just a small example of the incredible beauty and countless landscapes, lush jungle, historic cities or amazing idyllic islands and beaches scattered all over the nation.

Gladly, this is a second time for me in this city. And while back in 2013 it was a terribly rushed day trip from KL where we did only spend 3 hours wandering the streets, considering 2 hours to come and another 2 to return by bus, it was certainly not enough. On this occasion, it was well enough time and much better planned ahead hence a great chance for also updating this travel guide and bringing it in line more descriptively and complete.

A few notes on history, it was founded in the 14th century by Sumatran prince Parameswara, who escaped to the Malay Peninsula when the state-city once he ruled, Srivijaya in the island of Sumatra, fell to the Majapahit. The Portuguese soon saw the potential on such a strategical location at the confluence of the river and the Andaman Sea in a natural harbour on the Straits of Malacca, and conquered to their empire in order to grow their colonies in the hyper profitable trade route, yet not for long. The Dutch came after taking over the Portuguese and as last, the British in the 19th century until Malaysia’s Independence in 1963.

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Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

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The Garden City of Lights

Once more, back to the vibrant capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. An ever growing jungle of concrete where the sky is the limit. Booming more and more since how I saw it in the previous trips back in 2011 and 2016, now quickly transforming radically the skyline into another dimension. And not that it needed to really do anything about it since it is already one of the finest and most recognisable in the world with some masterpieces such as the Petronas Twin Towers or the Menara KL; but since space is the major limitation in an already overcrowded downtown core there’s nothing else that looking up. Merely three years later and the change is brutal. Unfortunately there is an ever growing concern and problem, the lack of any pavements to even walk the streets. How is it possible they do only care about building towers occupying every possibly limit, and zero space for a pavement? We find this very inappropriate and terrible, because slowly they are destroying the Central Business District. That said, you have been advised walking is difficult and dangerous to cross the roads.

Malaysia, although a Muslim country, is absolutely open-minded, friendly and respectful. A proper westernised country where the only time you will know you are in a Muslim country is when you hear the call to prayer over the loud speakers of the minaret mosques. Here religion is a fusion of cultures, and each respect the others on their beliefs. Mosques, Catholic churches, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese temples or synagogues coexists together and are a major reason for the success and great development of Malaysia.

It’s incredible to think how the city was only founded in 1857 as a small centre for the Chinese, Malay and Sumatrans tin miners. Destroyed several times in wars, suffering from fires, floodings and diseases, but was always rebuilt until it was made the capital of the British colony in 1880, moving it from Selangor and growing non-stop from this point. All the grand colonial structures date from these days, quite a wealthy city originally fuelled by the tin production and more greatly, the rubber industry in the 20th century. But a country rich in gas and petrol reserves, precious minerals, plantations among a strategical location translated in becoming a super-power for finance, insurance, business, tech, education, transport and tourism. Did you know it is the 7th most visited city in the world as it stands today?

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Mandalay – Myanmar
Mandalay - Myanmar

Mandalay – Myanmar

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Yadanabon: The City of Gems

Our third and last destination while in Myanmar, continuing farther to the north on this rather large country even if you did not realize; and after a very short 30 minutes flight we arrived in Mandalay. The second largest city in the country and one of the most historical and important, packed with temples everywhere and with three former Imperial Capitals on the outskirts. And yet even that we knew our time was meant to be very limited altogether, we managed to definitely be able to say we’ve really been there and visited almost everything!. Rushing at times, but well worth invested time. This was also our last place while in Myanmar before departing back to Bangkok; and for sure it is out of question we can clearly say how much we loved this country!

On a similar way Beijing in China with its Forbidden City, here in Mandalay there is also a huge Royal Palace in the middle of the city, completely surrounded by kilometres of walls and a water canal through its entire perimeter. This is the sight number one, but not the only one. We did not expect so many historical places in the city to be honest. Temple after temple, from large to an even larger! Thankfully most of them located towards the northeastern quarter of the city. Our trip could have not ended any better, but on this occasion, I must confess I was truly unhappy for having to return back to London after such a great time. Gladly I would have stayed for weeks discovering this fascinating country.

Now we also know there is an extra reason why to return to Southeast Asia. Not only that we are already so much in Love with Thailand, Laos and Cambodia ever since the first step we did in those; now, we have also to add Myanmar onto this list. I only hope this beautiful country, its people, culture and everything does not change too much since their long awaited opening to the world. It will be “too sad” to see in the near future McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and the likes of the Western World which you can find on every corner on at the neighboring countries, especially Thailand. (more…)

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