Destination: Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia offers a lot of scope for an exciting holiday, without breaking the bank
By Simone Jeffery

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Land of smiles
 
Officially called the Kingdom of Thailand, the country is known for pristine beaches, jutting limestone karsts, Buddhist temples and jungle trekking. Due to its popularity, Thailand is one of the more expensive countries to visit in Southeast Asia. Even so, the prices are dramatically less than those in Western countries. To make your rands go further, stay away from the main streets or the main resorts visited by tourists. For a beach bum paradise head towards Phuket and Ko Samui. These islands offer everything from mini-golf and go-karts to a water park at West Sands Resort. For snorkelling, calm waters and good value guesthouses, visit Ko Chang, Ko Lak, Ko Lanta and Ko Bulon Lae (Ko means island in Thai). For cultural immersion, a culinary experience and to explore the jungle, a trip to Chiang Mai in the north will satisfy your adventurous spirit. Getting to your destinations can be done quickly via the domestic airlines – Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi and Ko Samui all have airports. But you can also make use of overnight trains and buses, which will add a few hours to your travel time, but give you an opportunity to see the countryside.
When to go
Best weather – November to February. For a nationwide “water fight”, the Thai New Year, or Songkran, takes place from 13 to 15 April each year.
 
Land of epicurean delights
 
Vietnam is a well-known destination among budget travellers, and while the costs are climbing, many of Vietnam’s attractions are based around its natural beauty and as such, cost very little. Tourists tend to be charged more than locals for everything so don’t be afraid to barter.
 
Vietnam is known for its culinary delights and one of the best places to experience the cuisine is in Hanoi, the capital city. Hanoi’s old quarter, the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake, is where the majority of the hotels, tourist shops and cafes are located. Explore the “36 streets” on foot or hop on board a cyclo – a three-wheel bicycle taxi – and you should be able to enjoy all the best sights of the city within a day. One recommended excursion is a guided street food tour or a cooking course, depending on your preferences.
 
Another interesting city is Hoi An, a historical port city on the central coast with plenty of charm and activities to keep children busy. The streets are narrow with canals carving through them and in the evenings the city is lit by old-fashioned lanterns. Join a Hoi An Free Tour on a bike tour through the countryside past rice paddies, quaint villages and fields of water buffalo. Children will also enjoy the tidal pools at An Bang Beach, planting vegetables at Tra Que village, and learning to paddle traditional bamboo basket boats on the Tra Nhieu Eco Tour.
When to go
Best weather – October to April. Têt, the lunar New Year celebrations, take place between late January and March. See how families celebrate their ancestors and enjoy the public festivities – pagodas (religious temples) are then especially busy.
 
The kingdom of wonder
 
Images of a swashbuckling Indiana Jones and Lara Croft come to mind when I think of Cambodia, with its numerous forest-filled temples crawling with the explorative roots of the Tetrameles nudiflora trees and markets serving deep-fried spiders. Despite being affected by decades of political upheaval and civil war, today’s Cambodia will welcome you with smiling faces and arms laden with souvenirs. Cambodia is still a very cheap travel destination, and it’s not difficult to find comfortable hotels at a reasonable price. However, you can expect to pay higher rates for the major, unmissable tourist attractions such as Angkor Wat. To save a few extra rands, plan your own excursions rather than opting for organised tours. Young children might not be able to understand the history behind all the sites, so try avoid temple fatigue by interspersing temple visits with lounging by the hotel pool during the hottest time of the day or visiting markets and city sites. Phnom Penh, the capital city, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville are the main tourist destinations and each has an international airport. Phnom Penh is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture, museums and markets, while Siem Reap is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to Angkor Wat. Head to Sihanoukville on the south-western point for its beaches, tropical islands and the mangrove jungles of Ream National Park.
When to go
Best weather – November to February. From December until February you can catch a glimpse of the Irrawaddy dolphin, an oceanic dolphin found in a freshwater stretch of the Mekong River.
 
Island of the Gods
 
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to family accommodation on the Indonesian island of Bali – from cosy family hotels and all-inclusive resorts, to villas with a private yard and pool. Hotels tend to be the cheaper option, while resorts charge a bit more and come with multiple pools and restaurants, a kids club, a gym and many other facilities. Go shopping and learn to surf in the beach towns of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, but don’t expect a peaceful holiday, as the streets are packed with rowdy holidaymakers. Rather head further south to Jimbaran and Nusa Dua where you can experience the same easy access to shops and bars, but a slightly more relaxed vibe. In Legian, take the children to Waterbom Bali (voted the top water park in Asia) and then head over to Pirates Bay Bali on the Nusa Dua peninsula for lunch in a pirate-themed restaurant. Inland you can explore the small cultural village of Ubud whose surrounding rice paddies make for brilliant photo opportunities. Here you can learn how to carve roses into watermelons and make wooden masks at Pondok Pekak Library. Afterwards, head over to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Padangtegal, which is home to more than 100 species of trees and over 600 long-tailed macaques that live and roam freely.
When to go
Best weather – April to June. See the Bali Arts Festival held from the second Saturday of June through to the second Saturday of July each year, and the Bali Kite Festival between the months of June and August.

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