Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Southeast Asia Travel: Five Highlights

Traveling is what we love to do most, and Southeast Asia is our first love.  However, it is a big place.  What is it exactly that we love so much?  To answer that question, we've put together what we think are five highlights.  Are these the "top five travel destinations" in Southeast Asia?  Maybe not--but they are certainly not to be missed if you are in the area.  If your particular favorite destination didn't make the list, let us know!

1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is certainly one of the highlights of Southeast Asia.  Part of an extensive temple compound, Angkor is just one of many temples in the area just north of Siem Reap, Cambodia that date from 800-1400 years ago.  It is the largest--in fact, it is the largest religious structure in the world.  Other noteable temples in the area are Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, and Preah Khan.

2. Pagan, Burma

When we first visited Pagan (also known as Bagan) in Burma late last century, Myanmar was still largely closed off from the world.  In fact, we were told that there were no more than 25 tourist visas given at any one time.  While there have been developments since then, including a golf course built by the military junta, one really feels like one has gone back in time as one explores temples, many still very active, set among fields and home to herds of goats.  Explore it by bicycle or take a horse cart.

3. Luang Prabang, Laos

This sleepy Laos city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos. The main part of the city consists of four main roads located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The city is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. One of the major landmarks in the city is a large steep hill on which sits Wat Chom Si.

4.  Koh Mook, Thailand

The islands of Southeast Asia, from the Philippines all the way to Vietnam, are spectacular.  Koh Mook made our highlights for a few reasons.  First, it tends not to be as touristed as places like Koh Phi Phi or the other Andaman Sea Thailand isles.  It also contains a gem, the so-called "Emerald Cave" or Morakot Cave. The cave entrance is a small passage on the islands western side that is accessible by boat during low tide although usually you have to jump out and swim throughh it. The cave itself winds for about 80 meters to the other exit, opening onto a clean white beach with an emerald color open pool which is surrounded by high cliffs.

5. Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

This is another "largest"--in this case, the world's largest crater lake.  This breathtaking volcanic lake, located within Indonesia's Sumatra Island--with an island in its center, Samosir--was formed by what is known as The Toba Eruption (the Toba Event) occurred at what is now Lake Toba about 67,500 to 75,500 years ago.  The last eruption had an estimated Volcanic Explosivity Index of 8 (described as "mega-colossal"), making it possibly the largest explosive volcanic eruption within the last 25 million years.  It is also very possible it almost led to the extinction of the human race--according to the Toba catastrophe theory proposed by Dr. Stanley H. Ambrose, human populations may have been reduced to only a few tens of thousands of individuals by the Toba eruption.  Few if any plants and animals in Southeast Asia would have survived.  Today, though, it is one of the most laid-back places in the world.  The native Batak population, converted to Christianity by intensive missionary work, are known for playing guitar, drinking tuak, or fresh palm wine, and marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms show up on menus.


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