Some Random Travel Info and Advice on Southeast Asia

Thailand cooking class

Back in the good ole days when people used RSS readers instead of Twitter to follow blogs, I used to do regular round-ups of blogs posts from others about The World’s Cheapest Destinations. After all, I can’t be everywhere doing everything, especially since I’m running a business and have a family rather than backpacking around the world snapping selfies.

Vietnam travel Hoi An

My Hoi An memory, 1994

I kind of drifted out of the habit over time though, just as many readers drifted out of the habit of using RSS readers when Google unceremoniously killed theirs off. I’m jumping back into the fold this week. I’ve run across more good posts on Southeast Asia than other places, so I’m going to stick to one region this time around.

Hoi An is not some quaint Vietnamese town. The always reliably cynical Brian Spencer gives an example of the b.s. descriptions of Hoi An, Vietnam that you’ll often read in guidebooks and magazines, then talks about what it’s really like on your average night. Like many places around the world where people keep repeating long-gone characteristics (remote guidebook updating doesn’t help), it’s time to call a spade a spade. Or a dong a dong. This is a tourist trap now, so just accept that before arrival and roll with it.

Speaking of outdated expectations, Laos isn’t so cheap anymore, says Nomadic Matt. At least not compared to its neighbors. This is kind of a mystery since before it got popular it was the clear rock-bottom option. The theory seems to be it’s because it’s a landlocked country, China trade is drying up, and they have to import so much. Whatever the reason, he gives a great detailed rundown of prices from three weeks in the country and says a solo traveler should budget at least $20 a day now, probably more like $35 to be comfortable if you’re moving around.

“Cheap is relative. Cheap is an amount that’s only comparable to what is sitting in your bank account.” So says Chantae Reden when she discovers the difference between the Phnom Penh Night Market listed in her Lonely Planet book and the one she stumbles into by accident later. Hint: one has the words “Night Market” in neon in English…and smells better.

Phnom Penh real night market

The couple behind Grantourismo spends a lot of time in Cambodia and a lot of time in kitchens. So although I haven’t heard of a single one on their list of the best cooking schools in the world and I doubt they’ve actually tried every cooking school in every country, I’d trust their recommendations. Their list is probably 10 times more informed than the magazine listicles thrown together by some junior editor in a cubicle in New York City. Four of the cooking schools are in Southeast Asia.

If you are a traveler in Malaysia, you will probably end up in Penang at some point. Here’s where a local says to go to try the typical local breakfast there: Roti Bakar.

In case you missed it, here’s a great story from James Dorsey on the bizarre bamboo train in rural Cambodia. There’s only one class and it’s “Hold on for your life!”

This well-researched article from Jodi of LegalNomads is about the spread of chili peppers around the world so it’s not really about Southeast Asia, but where would Thai food be without chilies?

  1. Claire Algarme

    Thanks for putting together several posts in one article. I agree that cheap is relative. Although it is affordable to go gallivanting around Southeast Asia, affordability may not equate to value-for-money. Still, you can survive a day in any of the countries in this region with a few dollars in your pocket. And if you will look at the culture and attractions you can enjoy in Southeast Asia, the experiences you accumulate traveling around this part of the globe are worth keeping.

  2. chris edwards

    The trouble with paradise is that it is almost made to be lost: as fast as idyls seduce visitors, visitors reduce idyls. And as soon as a new last paradise has been found, so many people hurry to make claims on it that it becomes, almost instantly a lost paradise.
    If it is the first secret conceit of every voyageur to imagine that he alone has found the world’s last paradise, it is second to believe that the door has slammed shut right behind him. Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu

  3. Brian

    The internet giveth and taketh away.

  4. rebecca

    Thanks for these great stories. Personally still love RSS

  5. Saad Waqar

    Thanks for sharing it :)

  6. Carmen

    South- East Asia is one of the best areas to travel. I am glad you pointed out Vietnam and Cambodia which are off the beaten track and not so sought after. There is magic in these places, thanks for the good post.

  7. Bruno B @ Geeky Explorer

    Great selection of posts.

    It’s pretty much set in stone that Southeast Asia is cheap. The challenge is to find the best value for that little amount of money. I’ve been only to Thailand so far, but I was amazed with everything – specially the people so friendly!

    I’ve put together a guide to create an itinerary on the Andaman coast. As a first-timer, it was the most complicated part to come up with a plan!

  8. lara dunston

    Hey Tim, thanks for mentioning us. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been living in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for three years now. And before that we lived in Hoi An – which is still incredibly charming and while it maybe touristy, is hardly the ‘tourist trap’ that Bryan thinks it is. Most tourists are day-trippers, so the streets are pretty much locals-only early in the morning and are blissfully quite after 9pm or so when the tourists have finished their dinners and boarded their tour buses back to the beach. Hoi An’s locals are lovely and welcoming of expats (many still live in the old town) and the place is rich with history and culture that is lived on the street — from the tables of offerings that are put out onto the footpaths for special spiritual days to the funeral processions that would wake us at the crack of dawn.
    As for the cooking classes, Terence and I both worked in restaurant kitchens to put ourselves through uni in the late 80s and early 90s, we’ve been passionate eaters and hosts of dinner parties wherever we’ve travelled and lived, and we mainly write on food these days, so I guess that explains why we cover them so frequently. We try to test out cooking classes/schools wherever we travel and do a lot of research before we select which ones we’re going to try, always opting for the more serious ones, and nearly always trying a few if time allows (and it generally does as we nearly always travel slow and settle into places or return again and again). And by serious, I mean the kind that will teach participants how to make a soup stock rather than tell them to throw in a few Knorrs cubes. So just to clarify that we have done every class we write about on our site. In fact we don’t cover anything on Grantourismo that we haven’t sampled first-hand. We’ll soon be launching a site on the best culinary experiences around the world, including cooking classes.
    Thanks again for the mention!

  9. lara dunston

    (Not sure why my para spacing disappeared… sorry about that.)

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