“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”

– Francis Bacon

I fell in love with Southeast Asia after reading “The Beach” and “The Tesseract”, both by Alex Garland. Both novels weren’t part of the reading list, which was quite unfortunate. I could compose an essay in an hour or two, but it didn’t matter. The chance to travel to that part of the world came.

I was excited with my trip, along with my course-mates. I dreamed of a Robinson Crusoe moment in a desert isle, but the closest thing to that was Ha Long Bay. Colin, one of my three travel buddies in this trip, remembered our module on Ian Fleming and James Bond. We did went to Andaman Sea, where “The Man with the Golden Gun” was shot, but that would be another tale.

What was it about Southeast Asia that the likes of Graham Greene have used as backdrop for their novels? It was different from what I’ve seen here at home, or the continent for that matter, but that wasn’t the reason. It would be the destinations, but there was more. In other words, it was anything but dull. It was also unique.

Below were my five must-see places:

1. Wat Rong Khun (Chiang Rai, Thailand)

Designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, this temple war arguably the main attraction in northern Thailand. Compared to the other monastery temples (wat), White Temple was unconventional, which drew lots of tourists. I would recommend spending half an hour looking at the wall paintings, a mixture of Buddhist images and pop culture. So imagine the likes of Harry Potter in the presence of Buddha’s solemn face, which seemed quite awkward at first. Eventually, I warmed up to it.

2. The terraced fields of Sa Pa, Vietnam

This town in northern Vietnam couldn’t be in a better location, as locals would be greeted with the panorama of Phan-Xi-P«éng (Fansipan), the highest peak in Vietnam, every morning. It looked splendid on a sunny afternoon, but the countless terraces were the ones that tourists shouldn’t passed up. It would take a day or two for trekking, which might not be enough. Several ethnic groups lived there, and my interaction with them was priceless. Be warned that souvenir shops were ubiquitous in the village of Cat Cat, and the some of the locals were too persistent (in selling their items).

3. Angkor Thom (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

thailand travelNot that Angkor Wat was unattractive, but Angkor Thom had an august appearance. One needed an imagination, as all that remained were ruins, which looked gorgeous from certain angles. The Bayon Temple was my favourite, its solemn faces good enough for a postcard.

4. The temples of Yogyakarta, Indonesia

One must go the distance in able to see the Buddhist and Hindu temples in Yogyakarta, located in central Java. Borobudur, a pyramid-like temple, was a sight to behold. The summit looked like a page from a fairy tale, where tens of bell-like structures were arranged circularly. Not far behind were Prambanan and Ratu Boko, more reminders of a mighty civilisation that once flourished in this part of Asia.

5. Ho Chi Minh

East meets West, past meets present. This former capital of Vietnam had many landmarks that revealed its storied past. I visited the French section twice, where one of Gustave Eiffel’s creations could be found. I was referring to the Post Office, its remarkable interior had an old map of Saigon.

Lee Smyth studied Film and Literature, had a stint in dissertation writing services, and did freelancing jobs in writing and proofreading. He would pursue a graduate degree next fall. Check out his blog and Twitter account.