Traversing South-East Asia: Documenting a 6-Week Adventure
In late June and throughout the month of July, Jose and Monica Irauzqui, President and co-Founder of Yampu Tours, traveled throughout South-East Asia with their two children for site inspections in search of the best accommodations, routes and excursions for Yampu travelers! The six week expedition of their South-East Asia tour included visits to: Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma). We recommend picking one or two countries for a two week tour to South-East Asia to thoroughly enjoy exploring these beautiful countries.
Hong Kong is a new destination for Yampu Tours, added after Jose and Monica visited and fell in love with this diverse region. The culture of Hong Kong is a wonderful blend of traditional Chinese influences and remnants of the British colonization construed into a modern society. And the cuisine is delicious; Monica recommends visiting for the food alone! Yampu currently has three Hong Kong tours, all including a tour of the city visiting the popular Aberdeen Fishing Village. These programs can easily be combined with Thailand or highlight tours to Singapore and Malaysia.
Leaving Hong Kong, Jose and Monica traveled to Thailand visiting Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. In the modern city of Bangkok the hustle of society meets the ancient Buddhist reverence. The highlights of a Bangkok Tour included Wat Pho, at temple recognized for the 150 foot long, 50 meters high reclining golden statue of the Buddha’s feet adorned on the bottom by mother of pearl. Here you can put coins in 108 buckets to make a wish. 108 in Buddhism symbolize the number of possible experiences.
Much of life here happens on the Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok and empties into the Gulf of Thailand. From this river there are many small canals where a long boat ride will give you a glimpse of how the locals live their daily lives: where they pray and go to school, and how they better their Karma. An hour or so out of town another highlight was a longboat cruise through the Thonburi Canals to the floating markets; they tried the Fried Bananas here but opted not to hold the huge snake! No Vietnam tour is complete without a visit to these beautiful markets.
Escaping the capital city, the next stop for the Irauzquis was Phuket in northern Thailand.
A popular coastal destination, Phuket is a great Vietnam beach tour. Phuket has several different neighborhood and beaches with different characteristics that attract a variety of travelers including families or singles, high-end or budget, and remote or popular beach destinations. During their time on Phuket the Irauzquis visited the vast majority of neighborhoods to develop expert opinions on which neighborhoods, beaches and accommodations are best matched to a client’s interests.
Their favorite activity in Phuket was sea kayaking in Phang Nga Bay, a park with emerald green water and more than 40 limestone islands jutting out from the sea.
While you kayak there are many caves to explore, and several deserted beaches perfect for a secluded picnic. For clients wishing for privacy, we can refine the private tour of the area to include a lunch on a secluded beach prepared by the local families.
During their stay in Phuket the Irauzquis also visited the site of home stays on the Koh Panyee, a floating Muslim village where they met their boat captain’s entire family of their boat captain, and bought some pretty souvenirs for friends back home.
The final stop in Thailand was Chiang Mai, the cultural and spiritual core of Thailand. Chiang Mai has several highlights including colorful markets and cuisine, stunning landscapes, unique indigenous communities, and beautiful, ancient temples including the beautiful Wat Prathat Doi Suthep.
The Irauzquis also visited the long-necked Karen Tribe, an indigenous hill tribe community, and enjoyed an elephant safari at the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp.
From Thailand the site inspection continued into Cambodia to visit Siem Reap. An Irauzqui favorite city, Siem Reap has great hotels, a relaxed atmosphere, gentle and kind people, beautiful temples, floating villages, and a general sense of adventure, without the stress.
Angkor Wat Temple, the largest religious building in the world, is absolutely a highlight of all South-East Asia. The Irauzqui’s suggest a sunrise bike ride around the property and an early morning visit here, just after the sunrise crowd leaves but before the big groups arrive.
The lesser known temples like the Jungle Temple and Ta Prohm are also fascinating and imprint lasting memories on a traveler. If you are lucky you can stumble upon a local party happening right there at the site of one of these temples.
Another allure of Siem Reap rests is the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia and the heart of the Cambodian fishing industry. The beautiful countryside scenery, friendly locals, rich traditions and amazing temples make Siem Reap a must-see destination!
Once a small fishing village, today Singapore is a diverse cosmopolitan city that combines cultural influences and cuisines of India, China and mainland South-East Asia. The city, recognized as the cultural center of Asia, is a popular foodie destination and boasts a myriad selection of shopping and entertainment attractions. This is a great stop for a couple of days to enjoy a very cosmopolitan city!
From Singapore the next stop was Bali, an amazing island destination that offers a variety of activities including visits to the local Munduk village, guided tours of coffee plantations, trekking, biking, or rafting opportunities and snorkeling excursions. A visit to Bali must include spending some time in the highlands near Ubud as well as picking the right beach destination for your travel taste.
Ubud is arguably the most recognizable because of the popular Monkey Forest…
…and due to its integral part in the culture and arts of Bali. From a small age in Ubud, children are taught artist traits in an effort to keep the traditional culture of Bali alive.
From Ubud you can bike or hike along the small country roads and rice paddy fields, go rafting or visit the Volcano. We also recommend visiting a dance company and a local family.
Moving from one beach town to another can take a lot of time during Bali’s busy season so we urge you to tell your travel consultant what kind of beach days you are looking for. If you want lots of beach clubs, night life and shopping, we suggest Seminyak. An option a little more laid back than Seminyak, we loved Jimbaran (especially the Jimbaran Puri; it was pure bliss). If you are looking to get away from it all we suggest a ferry to Lombok, in south-west Bali, if to enjoy a road less traveled spotted with rice paddies and black sand beaches.
From Indonesia the Irauzquis flew to Vietnam. The first stop was charming Hanoi, a pretty city with lots of gardens and lakes; the perfect place to rest and shop before heading to explore Halong Bay.
Halong Bay is one of the most impressive natural beauties in the world as limestone karsts explode out of the tranquil waters. Here there are a variety of accommodations including hotels or overnight cruises. The Irauzqui’s suggest booking a longer cruise, private if possible, and bringing a good book.
In this amazing landscape, kayaking is an absolute must to explore hidden caves and protruding beaches.
Traveling to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the Irauzquis enjoyed a tour of the city’s highlights including the Chinese community of Cholon to explore the markets, and visits to the Presidential Palace and the History Museum. Outside of Saigon, in the nearby Cu Chi Region, the Irauzquis explored the vast underground network of tunnels. Originally built as a defense against the French, the tunnels history deepens as they were later used during the American War.
This was 13 year old Paublo’s favorite tour of the trip. The whole family tried the caves, and the kids loved it. While Jose took an escape early route, Monica pressed on!
The final stop for the Irauzqui family was Myanmar (Burma). Cut off from the rest of the world for decades, Myanmar only recently opened to tourism, and as a result the infrastructure here is still developing. Not yet overwhelmed with tourists, and very safe, the country’s separation from the rest of the world has allowed them to obtain authentic traditions.
The Irauzquis explored Yangon, the capital city, and found friendly people, amazing landscapes and beautiful pagodas and colonial buildings. The hype around Myanmar only continues to grow because of the beautiful cultural attractions like the Temples of Bagan and remote, river cruises from Mandalay to Bagan. Myanmar tied Siem Reap for Monica’s favorite and she is already looking for dates to go back.