I’ve just returned from a long awaited 2-week holiday to Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia. In those 2 weeks, we stayed in 5 hotels, traveled to 4 cities, were on 10 flights and ate more KFC than I thought possible. You might think that it’s a lot of traveling to do in 2 weeks but the holiday was a perfect combination of culture, shopping, and beach bumming so I could not be more satisfied.
My husband and I visited Thailand about 18 months ago and got bit by the South East Asia bug. I always had the idea that traveling to the same place twice was pointless because there’s so much more of the world to see. However, when I left Thailand the first time, I felt there was so much more to see and I yearned to explore some more.
Being the frugal and thorough planner I am, I started planning 6 months in advance and managed to get flight tickets on sale through Emirates and used my Discovery Vitality membership for a discount (Score!). I will leave the flight details for another time. We initially planned on going around Easter to maximize our leave but the flight and accommodation prices were about 50% more – so we thought, screw it, let’s just go when it’s cheapest.
We landed in Kuala Lumpur (KL) after 19hrs of travel and lost 6hrs of time, so we were pretty jet-lagged. We only had 2 and a half days in KL. Central KL is pretty much a concrete jungle with very odd weather patterns – really hot and then suddenly stormy. We struggled to find Halaal Malay food in the tourist area of Bukit Bintang which is odd in a Muslim country. Most of the food joints around our hotel were Chinese and pork-heavy. On the final day, we managed to find a mall (Pavilion) with a fantastic food court. Pity we didn’t manage to find it earlier. In KL, there are about 3 major sites: Petronas Towers; Islamic Art Museum and KL Tower. Batu Caves is another attraction but it is a bit out of the city.
We decided to visit the Petronas Towers and forego the other attractions. When we found out that we had to be there at 6am to get tickets as it was too late for online booking, we were like “hell no” as our jet-lag was in full effect by then. We still got the obligatory KL pic:
Oh and there are tons of malls. Enough to keep you busy for a few days. The question most people want to know is “are things cheaper in Malaysia?” High-end clothes are more or less the same as in SA but there’s a greater variety. Their currency is 3X ours at the moment. Market clothes are cheaper but not as cheap as in Thailand. Electronics are cheaper than both Thailand and SA.
Our next stop was Siem Reap, Cambodia. We loved Siem Reap. The people are really nice and their culture is so relaxed. Yes, there are taxi and tuk-tuk drivers everywhere but they are not as aggressive as in Thailand. The driving style is a bit too relaxed where it seems there are no rules, just courtesy. I’ll get into that again. The temples are amazing with so much history and culture ingrained into them. I, like most people, loved Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm was the temple used in the Tomb Raider movie. It’s amazing how the massive trees have grown through and around the brick building- an eerie reminder of how nature is stronger than whatever humans can create.
Did I mention it was about 40 degrees there? It was ridiculously hot – day and night. The heat made admiring the sites much more difficult. It is advisable to visit during the rainy season.
Next stop was our beloved Bangkok. Bangkok was supposed to be the shopping part of our holiday. Everyone who’s been there knows it’s shopping heaven. Not just crappy, market clothes that you find at flea markets in SA, but really stylish and trendy clothes at unbeatable prices. After being there for a day, I came down with the flu. I was flat out in bed for most the time. I tried to fight in and go to the malls and markets but once there I would start getting weaker and weaker. This resulted in very little shopping. So sad.
I am very lucky in that I saw the major sights such as the Grand Palace and the floating markets during our previous visit, so I was actually grateful for the timing of the flu. I would’ve been really sad to have gotten sick on the next part of our holiday…
Flights to Koh Samui are relatively expensive because Bangkok Airways basically own the airport. A one-way ticket costs around R2000 for a 1hour flight. We decided to take Air Asia’s sea, air and land combo at a fraction of the price. It consisted of a 45min flight, a 1hr bus ride and a 90min ferry to the island. I was more than happy with the decision as you get to see more but it does take a lot more time.
Koh Samui is stunning. We stayed on Chaweng Noi which is a quiet part of the most popular Chaweng beach. The hotel was right on the beach with beautiful soft sand and clear, blue water. The water in Chaweng Noi has a stronger current and is deeper than Chaweng but the beach itself is more peaceful and romantic. Even at its noisiest point, Koh Samui is far more chilled than Phuket. The sex trade is also far less apparent. The party scene is more subdued and it is easier to get away from it if that’s what you want. I would recommend Koh Samui for romance and families and Phuket for the night life. I will get more into details in later posts. We had a wonderful time relaxing on the beach and exploring the island.
Getting home was tough. We basically took around 30+ hours and 4 flights. Would I have changed anything about the holiday? Maybe just added a day or 2 to properly relax on Koh Samui but I couldn’t be more happy about the trip we planned.
So what is it about South East Asia that keeps people coming back? There are few other places in the world where you can get it all – food, shopping, culture, history, beaches and all at a decent price. Would I go back? In a heartbeat. But I am far more fulfilled than I was the first time. What can I say? I’m in love.