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Posts tagged ‘southeast asia’

2011 in Travel: The Year That Was.

Flipping through my travel archives of 2011, I am overcome with a strange sense of nostalgia. The world suddenly feels as small as that plastic globe you can buy off a children’s store.

I’m strolling on the beaches of Southeast Asia one day, and hiking on the countryside of Europe the next. One minute, I’m warming myself with a gelato in Italy, the next I’m sampling momos in the Himalayan desert of India. I’m going solo, over land and on water, unearthing travel secrets that conceal themselves from a large part of the world. Read more

A New Beginning.

No butterflies in my stomach, no goose bumps, no insomniac nights, no cold sweats; just 3 suitcases filled with life in Singapore and 6 years of travel memories from Southeast Asia. That marked my move last week. That has made Delhi my home atleast for the next one year. Read more

5 Years On, Singapore Still Surprises Me.

My 17-year old self landed on the shores of sunny Singapore in 2005, filled with curiosity to see the other side of Asia. Despite my 5-year long stint, some things about this tiny country continue to surprise me, and I’m not talking chewing gum bans and jay-walking fines. Read more

Nikoi Island: Ecotourism, Beauty, Magic.

I’ve often wondered how explorers must have felt chancing upon seemingly magical islands in their travels. Nikoi Island, off Bintan in Indonesia, is perhaps the closest I’ve come to experiencing that kind of travel ecstasy in Southeast Asia.

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, ecotourism, southeast asia

The journey to the island is a perfect prelude to the island experience. After the regular ferry ride to Bintan from Singapore, you are fast-forwarded through a special immigration to a one hour drive through the winding road and greens of Tanjung Pinang, to Nikoi’s personal jetty, to a one-hour speed boat ride on rough and breezy seas. If I understate it, arriving at Nikoi Island feels like you’ve entered a whole other world.

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism

Think beauty. Think isolation. Think perfection.

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism

Nature is the recurrent theme on the island. The chalets are purely made of wood, with not an inch of concrete, and some original tree-barks used as pillars & foundation. The openness of the rooms to nature is immediately striking, and in some way, leads to an openness of thoughts too.  You can let your doors remain open at night, with the waves soothing your every dream.

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism, sunset

For me, the monsoon season meant little sun and lots of wind, and an extremely stormy sea, aka just the way I’d like a beach holiday to be. We sailed and kayaked on high tide, thrilled to feel welcome even by the angst of the waters. That memory fills me with an urge to transform it into poetry.

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism, sunset

The jetty on the far end of the island is a piece of heaven, perhaps even a chunk. Each evening, it greets you with a fierce wind and fierce waves. As the sun starts to set, you can witness from this jetty, the entire sky turning a magical blue and blending with the color of the sea. It’s magnificent. It makes you want to close your eyes, feel the wind, and never leave.

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism, jetty

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism, rocks

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism, night

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism

nikoi island, bintan, indonesia, southeast asia, offbeat, ecotourism

I could afford a visit to this sheer beauty, only thanks to a contest I won on Nikoi Island’s Facebook page. Below is a video I created for the contest, purely based on my imagination & the pictures I saw. I can gladly say that Nikoi is all that I imagined and so much more!

Also read:
5 weekend getaways from Singapore to pamper you
5 offbeat travel destinations in Southeast Asia

5 Offbeat Travel Destinations in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is so much more than an oasis of Chinese culture. Its unique  landscapes and hidden islands are waiting to be discovered by mainstream tourism, and until that happens, it will be sure to please any travel-lusting wanderer. The isolation of  its beauty is perhaps what sets it apart from every place else in the world.

I originally wrote about these 5 undiscovered places in Southeast Asia as a guest post for GotSaga.

5. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

There is nothing like a rejuvenating getaway amid turquoise waters and white sands. Add to that snorkeling in an underwater world of sharks, smoking shisha on the beach under the stars, riding a speedboat on low tide under the moonlight, and an upbeat atmosphere created by half a dozen small cafes serving up the most delicious milkshakes.

Perhentian Island, offbeat, southeast asia
Flickr image by papaija2008

4. Taal Volcano, Philippines

Welcome to a volcano within a lake within a volcano within another lake! Hidden somewhere among the clouds, Taal Volcano is the world’s smallest active volcano, located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Tagytay City affords you breathtaking views of this natural wonder, while a climb up the volcano (strictly for the brave-hearted) can take you to the lake inside the volcano’s own crater, aptly called the Crater Lake.

Taal Volcano

Taal Volcano. Flickr image by Storm Crypt

Crater lake, taal lake, taal volcano
Crater Lake. Flickr image by deckchua

Further reading:
Tagaytay City, Philippines

3. Bunaken Island, Indonesia

It’s easy to lose yourself in this diving haven. Perhaps its remoteness is what makes it so desirable; you can lie on a hammock for days at end, watching the mist play hide & seek with the Manado Tua volcano. You can ride atop the roof of a speedboat at sunset, looking at the most magnificent sky. You can spends days exploring the beauty in an untouched underwater kingdom. And never once will you feel away from home in Bunaken.

Bunaken, Indonesia, Manado, Offbeat, Southeast asia

Further reading:
Bunaken: of blue seas & anonymity.

2. Halong on Land, Vietnam

You have probably heard of the natural wonder that is Halong Bay. If you dare, take a step into the lesser known north-west where a greater wonder awaits you; what locals dearly call the Halong experience on land. You’ll see landscapes stunning enough to trick you into thinking that you’ve entered the backdrop of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Halong on land, north west vietnam

Halong on land, north west vietnam, offbeat, southeast asia

Further reading:
Halong Bay|misty.mysterious.magical
The untouched gems of Vietnam

1. East Timor

Make your own trail in East Timor aka Timor-Leste, because there is none to follow. Contrary to accusations of being unsafe, the locals are welcoming & hospitable, and indeed the real charm of a country that has existed for less than 10 years. Its best-kept secrets include a host of lovely beaches and a beautiful countryside, and there’s no better time to visit than now.

East timor, southeast asia, offbeat

Flickr image by galimgill

Which of these have you been to? Have you stumbled across any other hidden gems?

Also read: 5 weekend getaways from Singapore to pamper you

To read & share more travel stories, join me on Facebook & Twitter.

10 Must-Try Vegetarian Food Places in Singapore.

Many people rave about Singapore being a food haven, but vegetarians probably try to steer that conversation towards shopping. Finding a satisfying vegetarian meal in Southeast Asia can be challenging, so I put together a veggie-loving, kind-to-your-wallet guide to finding some great vegetarian food in Singapore from all over the world. Click here to read my article on CNNGo.

vegetarian humor

Warning: The following content may cause you to rub your tummy, salivate in temptation, and rethink all your dinner plans. Read more

Halong Bay: Misty. Mysterious. Magical.

You’ve seen calm seas and you’ve seen sprawling mountains. Put the two together, throw in some evasive mist, dig up some extravagant caves, and shake a magic wand. You might get something close to Halong Bay in Northeast Vietnam.

Over 3000 limestone structures arise out of the waters, as though the heavens are really beneath the surface and gracing the earth, forming a spectacle of beauty, mystery and magic, like you’ve never witnessed before.

Halong bay, vietnam, north, southeast asia, natural wonder, gulf of tonkin

halong bay, vietnam

I cruised along these waters of the Gulf of Tonkin (Halong Bay) on the Imperial Junk, one of the many mid-range options to be part of the land on water phenomenon. Imagine sitting on the deck of the cruise, gazing at scores of limestone structures, each with it’s own touch of perfection, looking as stunning at sunrise as at sunset.

Imperial cruise, junk, halong bay

The Imperial Junk

Halong bay, vietnam, sunrise, travel, southeast asia
Halong Bay at Sunrise
Halong bay, sunset, north, vietnam, natural wonder, gulf of tonkin
Halong Bay at Sunset

Each cruise provides food (quality is proportional to the price of the cruise), water activities like kayaking and limestone cave exploration. The limestone cave open for exploration is decked up in lights, and although the ambiance is artificial, the intricate stalactites and stalagmites are very real and stunning indeed.

limestone cave, halong bay, vietnam, stalactites, stalagmites

Stalactites & Stalagmites

limestone cave, halong bay, vietnam, stalactites, stalagmites

The limestone cave

Although neither Halong Bay nor Halong on Land made it to Lonely Planet’s world’s greatest natural wonders, both are mysterious, magical, charming and perfect in their own ways.

Port Dickson: Living on Stilts!

Many people tend to diss Port Dickson as a disappointment on the shores of muddy seas. I was skeptical too, but my impulsive trip to this little town near Malacca turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

Another weekend getaway from Singapore’s bustling city-life, Port Dickson’s real charm lies in the chalets built upon stilts rooted in the sea bed. The Legend Water Chalets and The Legend International Water Homes are modelled on an open-living concept and are both extremely affordable.

Port Dickson, Malaysia, legend water chalets, international water homes

Chalets on stilts at Port Dickson, evening view

Legend water Chalets, international water homes, Port Dickson, Malaysia

Chalets on Stilts at Port Dickson, day view

The Water Chalets will charm you with their open-rooftop showers within the rooms – showering under the starry night sky is both chilling and beautiful, as is showering under the sunspots cast by the sun during the day. Each chalet has a private balcony that looks over the Straits of Malacca and is an endearing way to spend an afternoon. The day bed by the window overlooking the sea, and the marble bathtub in the living-room make you feel right at home in the chalets. The floor of each chalet has a small glass panel so you can view the sea directly beneath you, and although the water isn’t exactly blue, it’s surreal watching the waves hit the stilts so close to you.

Floor glass panel, Legend Water Chalets, Port Dickson, Malaysia

Floor glass panel at Legend Water Chalets

Open Rooftop Shower, Legend Water Chalets, Port Dickson, Malaysia

Open rooftop shower at Legend Water Chalets

The Water Homes are in a league of their own – each chalet comes with it’s own private Swimming Pool, and having a private Pool for a midnight dip (or skinny dipping for the bolder ones) is definitely underrated! Enough said.

Private swimming pool, International Legend Water Homes, Port Dickson, Malaysia

Private swimming pool at International Legend Water Homes

Read more TripAdvisor reviews on Legend Water Chalets and Legend International Water Homes.

The town area of Port Dickson is hardly bustling with pedestrians, tourists or activities – but being by the shore, it affords you a no-frills sunset by the beach (not a fancy one at that) or at one of the local eateries (or Pizza Hut if you’re a vegetarian like me).

Sunset, Port Dickson, malaysia

Sunset at Port Dickson

And it’s amazing how an activities-devoid weekend on the stilts can rejuvenate you!

Bunaken: Of Blue Seas & Anonymity.

My first memory of Bunaken is that of sitting on the roof of a speedboat, riding the waves of a turquoise blue sea, and gazing at the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen.

why Bunaken: We chose to travel to North Sulawesi in Indonesia to get past the touristy temptation of Bintan & Bali, and were pleasantly greeted by a world yet to be discovered and commercialized. Our base was Manado, a city-town in North Sulawesi, and the closest airport to Bunaken – which lay a boat journey away, untouched.

getting there: The public boat from Manado, used mostly by locals and extremely cheap, dropped us at the jetty at Bunaken Island. We were immediately greeted by the locals, who we first thought to be touts but soon realized were genuinely helpful and extremely friendly. That warmth of the people saved us the disappointment of realizing that this part of the island was more of a wet swamp than a beach.

Panorama Resort, where we intended to stay, was fortunately on the other side, and we managed to arrange scooter (two-wheeler) rides with the locals – a bone-chilling experience that took us through dirt roads and made us feel so unsure of where we were headed! Panorama’s side of the island turned out to be a pleasant surprise after the initial impressions we formed of Bunaken!

the island: The view from the balcony of our chalet was picture-perfect – beyond the white sand was a deep blue sea and in the distance, a volcano partially covered in mist, with clouds descending and rising from its peak every now and then. We spent a good deal of our stay just lying on the hammock in the balcony, watching nature as its loveliest!

bunaken, indonesia, sulawesi, sunset, volcano, misty

Sunset at Bunaken

Believe it or not, the only tourists that have ever stayed at Panorama before are either from Germany or the UK, and we met many during our stay. In fact, the diving instructor at Panorama is a German guy called Sven, married to a local Indonesian girl and settled in Bunaken. So, the best part about the island is its obscurity – it’s only popular among divers in the west – as a result of which it is scarcely inhabited (beach resorts are the only business) and even basic establishments like restaurants are nowhere to be found (food comes with the beach resorts)!

Like me, everyone who chances upon this beauty must regard herself as an explorer and discoverer, and a very lucky one at that!

must do: Snorkeling in the sea surrounding Bunaken was a stunning underwater experience with fish & corals that people come to study from far off places – and that amateurs like me can only gawk at in wonder! Add to that the most picturesque sunset seen from the open seas, a night sky sprinkled with stars, and some locally brewed alcohol – Cerang Onsari (which I won’t necessarily recommend any more than a sip, simply because you must try everything!)

Bunaken is such an undiscovered gem – that’s perhaps what makes it so beautiful, so memorable and so worth a visit.


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