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.
Sounds like the perfect combination of everything you would want out of a holiday!! Dying to go back and discover more!!
Do it. You will love it. Cambodia was amazing.
I really hoping to go there soon! Sounds amazing!
Taking to the Open Road
It’s a pity that you didn’t manage to have the full food experience in Malaysia. It’s an amazing food paradise! Bukit Bintang is the heart of KL and historically Chinese, but there should still have been quite a few halal options around, so I’m surprised you say you couldn’t find any. Also – the weather you describe is spot on – sunny and then stormy the next – welcome to the tropics! 🙂 Perhaps your next trip to SEA can be to Chiang Mai in north Thailand, or the jungles of Borneo, or to Bali in Indonesia. There’s still plenty to see!
Thanks for the comment. I suppose we were just looking in all the wrong places for food. We were basically next to Lot10 which had a huge Chinese food court. The night market we went to the one night was also mostly Chinese. We had a limited time so I guess we couldn’t appreciate the city as it should be. I have been to Chiang mai on my last trip. Would love to visit bali one day. I do love SEA
Sounds fantastic definitely on my bucket list:) great pics and lovely post !
Thanks Telma. I can’t get enough of SEA. It should be on everyone’s bucket list
Well written, great story
Thanks, much appreciated
Awesome pics 🙂
will you care if I tweet this page?
Not at all. Go ahead!
my wife and i have a similar trip in mind (malaysia/thailand/cambodia) and stumbled upon your blog. please can you email me a more detailed itinerary if possible? i would really appreciate it
Hi Imran. Please leave you email and I will send you my itinerary as soon as I have time. This trip we didn’t actually plan our activities per day. We wanted to explore at our own pace so basically just pre- booked accommodation and flights. . Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can ask specifics
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Very cool, that you guys visited and yes, like you said there is still lots to do. I usually travel by bus, train or van between the countries as for me it is not about the destination, but the journey, the people I meet along the way, who know the ins and outs of places far better than a tour guide and they do it from their heart nit for monetary gain. You guys should also try Homestay accommodation, similar to guest houses(much cheaper), that’s where you meet interesting peeps,who give you the inside scoop of places. Great that you went without a tour group. Now to venture on the other non touristy islands (yes, I know you hate the word, salts(smiled a little, then stopped).Koh Tao, Koh Lanta, Koh Chang and you definitely need to visit Kanchanaburi when next in Thailand the cheapest place around (food,accomodation, massages, etc. Sometimes clothes are cheap there too) oh and it would be good to remind others that when taking dollars to most SEA countries they need to keep it looking brand new and uncreased.
Hi Gilbert. Thanks for the great comment. I really wish I could SEA like that. Sounds like a real adventure. My problem is always time constraints with work. One day I would like to spend a solid few months exploring all the hidden gems of the region. It’s still a dream at this point. Maybe one day I can make it a reality. Good point on the crisp notes. Will add it as soon as I have time.
I want to visit THailand and Cambodia soooooo badly!