From the sparkling clear waters of the Teraja Waterfall to navigating through the ruins of centuries-old temples in Siem Reap. Put on your explorer hat, pack your sense of adventure and let’s go!
1. Archeological marvel in Siem Reap
We’ve all seen it before, the iconic photo of the Angkor Wat at sunrise mirrored in a lake. Simply stunning.
If you’ve got a long weekend to spare and are looking to awaken the lndiana Jones in you, then Siem Reap is the choice destination.
Angkor Wat literally translates to the “Temple City”, and surrounding this gargantuan monument are smaller ones which are just as beautiful and satisfying to explore.
What to expect?
The Angkor Wat and the temples that surround it sit on a land measuring over 150 acres. Whilst you do not have to explore the whole area, you still need to be prepared for a lot of walking and sweating.
The best time to go is before sunrise for that picture-perfect opportune moment when the first rays of daylight touch the temple. However, expect a long queue at the ticket purchasing area.
Your hotel can arrange for transport to get there and it should not cost more than $35 for a return trip. Alternatively, there are a lot of tuktuks ready to zip you away.
Which temples to visit?
Including the Angkor Wat itself, there are eight other temples in the vicinity. But if you’re strapped for time and have to choose just three (besides the main temple), then these are the top picks:
- The Bophuan Temple which, upon climbing to its highest point, will offer you an aerial view of what was once the city of Angkor Thom.
- Ta Prohm, made famous by the Tomb Raider movie, this temple is one of the most popular.
- Bayon Temple, which will impress you with carvings of stone faces and indulge your sense of adventure with its maze-like passages.
2. Beach getaway in Kudat
It sounds cliché but it is true: the tip of Borneo offers breathtaking views, powder soft sand and clear turquoise waters.
The drive — just three hours from Kota Kinabalu — will add to the experience with its scenic, winding single lane roads eventually leading to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, Kudat.
Once you reach the headland, it is a sight to behold. As far as the eye can see, you will be treated to the spectacular view where the South China Sea meets the Sulu Sea.
What to do?
There really isn’t much to do but relax and take postcard-perfect sunset photos.
Along the way, you will be greeted by beautiful beaches — Kelambu and Kalampunian — inviting you in with its sparkling clear waters and gentle rolling waves. So, be sure to pack some essentials and snorkels too.
Where to stay?
Whether you prefer to go glamping in Kudat, stay in a resort or a guesthouse, there’s sure to be an accommodation to suit every budget.
For those who prefer seclusion with access to a private beach, the North Borneo Biostation Resort makes for a great stay. With affordable rates averaging at $100/night for its tropical wooden villas.
If you’re looking for a more conventional stay nearer to the town centre, the Kudat Golf and Marina Resort is your best option.
3. Thermal wonderland in Bandung
Indonesia’s third largest city will leave you spoilt for choice. Bandung has almost everything — from outlet shopping to good eats and even volcanoes.
It is in fact, flanked by two major craters, the Kawah Putih to its south and Tangkuban Perahu to its north. Volcanic activities from thousands of years ago has made Bandung soil fertile and ripe with the bounties of nature.
How to get there?
You can take a three-and-a-half-hour scenic train ride from Jakarta or hire a car. Alternatively, Silk Air, Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines all offer good connectivity.
If you choose to go by train from Jakarta, remember to purchase your ticket early online. Trains depart from the Gambir Station and costs around $70 – $80 for a return journey.
Where to eat?
Make the most out of Bandung’s mountainous terrain and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city by dining at The View Restaurant in Dago Pakar.
If you’re looking for a place to eat, be one with nature as well as keep your little ones entertained, Dusun Bambu will tick all these boxes. You can sample authentic Sundanese cuisine in little huts by a lake overlookingg paddy fields and let the kids enjoy a little boat ride around. Just be sure to visit in the day time for the full experience.
4. Moroccan relaxation in Kuala Lumpur
While more synonymous to a shopping holiday, nestled in the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur is the nearest place you could go for a hammam.
A hammam is a time-honored tradition in Morocco, not unlike a Turkish bath.
There’s an aptly named spa in Bangsar which offers a near authentic Moroccan experience complete with its beautifully tiled interior and inspired fountain courtyard.
What to expect?
Once you get to the spa, you can be sure that you will be scrubbed down (gommage), bathed, steamed and pampered.
Prices range upwards of $50, but you will walk out with baby smooth skin, feeling super fresh especially after being served a cup of specialty tea.
What’s in the area?
When in Kuala Lumpur, why not indulge in a little retail therapy as well?
Asides from the Bangsar Village mall which houses the spa, the trendy Bangsar area is teeming with boutiques, cafes and eateries.
5. Living history in Hoi An
The best of central Vietnam is all within reach from the UNESCO world heritage site of Hoi An.
Take a walk through the old town to get a feel for this ancient port city — the beguiling riverside is lined with mustard-yellow merchants’ houses, Chinese temples and centuries-old teahouses.
At night, watch as coloured lanterns light up the cobblestoned streets as you dine on the town’s fabulously fresh seafood.
What to expect?
Yes it’s touristy, but there are so many boutique hotels, cafes and shops that you can definitely carve out your own slice of seclusion and get lost in the town’s dreamy atmosphere — the name literally means “peaceful meeting place”.
If you fancy a bit of shopping, Hoi An’s streets are lined with skilled tailors that can design and produce entire outfits, leather bags and shoes with a fast turnaround — and at prices far below their counterparts in Bangkok and Hong Kong.
How to get there?
Just an hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An is welcome respite from Vietnam’s busy urban centres. It’s a very walkable city, although many tourists prefer to rent bicycles to explore the city and nearby paddy fields. The white sands of An Bang Beach are also five kilometres from the old town but feels like another world.
6. Foodie haven in Kuching
Don’t let Kuching’s sleepy exterior and laid-back vibes fool you — there are so many hidden gems in and around this unassuming city.
While the Sarawakian capital has always been proud of its indigenous heritage, the city has become decidedly hipster in the past 10 years, with trendy bistros, indie bookshops and funky handicraft shops popping up around town.
What to eat?
When visiting Kuching, the late Anthony Bourdain declared Sarawak Laksa one of his favourite meals — particularly the one from Choon Hui Cafe. But if you want to grab a bowl of this sublime prawn-based broth, come before 8am because they usually run out by mid-morning.
Other Kuching standouts include the ‘White Lady’ (an icy milk-based dessert with fruit, jelly and cendol) from Lock Ann or Swee Kang; and dabai (kembayau) fried rice from the Malay stalls along Padungan Road/Carpenter Street.
You don’t have to go far to experience East Malaysia’s fascinating ethnic heritage — the Sarawak Cultural Village is about a 40-minute drive from the city centre. Nestled in between Damai Beach and Santubong National Park, it is a living museum showcasing the traditions and way of life of the tribes of northwest Borneo.
For nature-lovers, a trip to Bako National Park and Semenggoh Nature Reserve are definitely worth your while. The latter is a sanctuary for orphaned orangutans who are being trained to survive in the wild.
7. Off the beaten path in Teraja, Brunei
What kind of list would be complete without a shout-out to our hometown? If you’re looking for an authentic and undisturbed eco-experience, then look no further than Teraja — a remote Iban settlement at the very edge of Brunei.
What to do?
Teraja is known among the locals for its turquoise waterfalls — there are more than 50 in the area, some frequented by trekkers, but most are largely unexplored. For first-time visitors, employing a guide from the Iban longhouse in Teraja is recommended — both for safety as well to point out the unique flora and fauna contained within Brunei’s virgin rainforest. Guided treks start from $60 per group.
Where to stay?
Teraja is about an hour and a half from Bandar Seri Begawan. At the end of Jalan Labi, you’ll find a sole Iban longhouse whose residents are more than welcoming to visitors.
As a way to provide sustainable income for their tiny community, the residents of Teraja have started a homestay programme showcasing Iban food and culture, with prices starting at $15 a night. Visitors are recommended to go either on Friday or Sunday, when most of the Iban community return from working in Seria to help out their elderly relatives.