Ha Long Bay

 

Ha Long Bay is a natural wonder of the world, a Unesco protected region and a world famous tourist destination and as such needs no introduction for most people. For those who are not familiar with this location, the bay is located in NE Vietnam near Hanoi and draws in tourists from all over the world. What makes this location so unique is the seemingly endless mountains, spires and rock formations of limestone that emerge straight from the ocean and are covered in thick lush plant matter. This unique formation coupled with bright blue, almost teal water and Vietnamese junks and floating villages and pearl farms are what makes this location so unique and enticing. I would suggest booking one to three-night cruises in the bay if you are budget conscious, if not stay as long as you possibly can and take in all that the bay has to offer. For my visit, I booked a three-night cruise but decided to stay an extra night on Cat Ba Island, so just left my cruise group and took the morning boat back to the mainland aboard another boat operating a day behind ours. Some of the attractions to look forward to apart from Cat Ba are ocean kayaking, cave exploring, visiting pearl farms and floating villages, as well as karaoke and cooking lessons onboard the boats. Even if it’s just for a night, I highly suggest experiencing what Ha Long Bay has to offer and checking one of the natural wonders of the world off of your list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pakse

Pakse is a small city in the south of Laos and makes a great stopping point if traveling from the 4000 Islands to Vientiane. While there isn’t much to do in the city, it makes a relaxing rest stop and gives you a glimpse into everyday life in Laos. In the city, you will find some fantastic temples and a very large market complex that stocks everything from watches, phones, and clothes to snacks and hot food. Outside of the city, you will find peaceful country roads and small towns to visit for some fresh produce. Also located near the city is a hike up to a large golden Buddha statue, which overlooks the city and the surrounding area. There are also plenty of great restaurants located throughout the city where you can get cheap but delicious traditional Laotian food. If you are making the trip North or South, then I advise spending a day in Pakse, just to unwind and split up your travel time.

 

Ko Phi Phi Don

Ko Phi Phi Don is the central island in a collection of islands known as the Phi Phis. This island has become a tourist haven in recent years, drawing an astounding number of visitors for its size. While the island is somewhat of a tourist overload, you can put up with it due to the absolutely stunning scenery. Views from this island are almost unreal, with clear blue, bathwater warm water, white sand beaches and palm covered hills. Sadly for me I only had one day on the island and poorly allocated my time, spending almost the entire day getting a tattoo done, traditionally with a stick and poke needle. It was a unique experience that I cherish and would not trade, but it did however prevent my from seeing much of the island. As such, my review of Ko Phi Phi Don is limited to the town center, a tattoo parlor and the central beach. Despite that, the beach on the island alone was worth the trip and I spent several hours there relaxing and swimming. sssss

 

Langkawi

Langkawi is a tropical paradise located off the coast of Malaysia. Not only is the majority of this island area a nature reserve, but the entire island is tax free, making it even cheaper than mainland Malaysia. There is one central urban area, consisting on a coast-hugging  main street with a few alleys branching off of it. Along this street you will find hostels, hotels, pubs, clubs, shops and restaurants. Despite being an increasingly popular tourist destination, the island has yet to be developed to the level of its counterparts in Thailand. Here you will find beautiful beaches, lush jungle terrain, mangrove swamps, mountain terrain and plenty of wildlife. I highly recommend taking a couple of days to spend on the island as I personally wish I had stayed longer myself and not booked a return trip ferry ticket from Georgetown.

 

 

Islands Day Cruise

This tour can either be done in a chartered boat or in a shared boat for a fraction of the cost. Its a fantastic way to spend the day both seeing the islands and relaxing. You’ll get to experience SE Asian motor-boating if you have yet to do so, which is an experience in itself, as well as seeing some beautiful scenery. You will be able to swim on tropical beaches and see some forest areas with local wildlife up close, particularly native sea eagles. Finally you will get to visit an island lagoon that you are able to swim in.

https://www.viator.com/tours/Langkawi/Island-Hopping-Tour-from-Langkawi/d338-3705LGK12

 

Cable Car

The Langkawi cable car is the longest distance free-spanning cable car in Malaysia and takes you from the base of the island to one of its highest peaks. This will give you a fantastic view of the area surround the mountain. Once at the top of the mountain, after taking in the view, you will begin your descent to the starting point. On the way down you will be able to cross over the sky bridge, a glass walkway built between two peaks overlooking jungle area. Sadly when I was there it was in the process of being repaired. The trek will take you down through the jungle back to the starting area, with a guide explaining the terrain around you on the way down.

http://www.panoramalangkawi.com/

 

River/Nature Reserve Day Tour

This day tour in my opinion lets you see more than the island hopping tour. While the scenery is not as spectacular, this tour will take you through mangrove forest areas allowing you to see plenty of monkeys and eagles up close, and to feed tropical fish by hand. The tour will also take you through a bat cave where you will see numerous sleeping bats in their natural habitat, as well as visiting a fish farm and a floating restaurant.

https://www.viator.com/tours/Langkawi/Private-Half-Day-Tanjung-Rhu-Beach-and-Mangrove-Forest-Boat-Tour-in-Langkawi-Including-Eagle-Watching/d338-29580P19

 

Sunsets

If you decide to spend no money on tours in Langkawi, then the sunsets on the island alone will make it worth the visit. The view of the sun setting over the ocean from the islands beaches is spectacular and draws a large crowd every evening.

 

Monkeys

If you have yet to see monkeys in their natural habitat, Langkawi is the place to do it. There are PLENTY of monkeys spread across these islands and you can get pretty close to them on several occasions throughout any tours taken or just walking around the island yourself.

 

Sea Eagles

The island of Langkawi itself and the surrounding islands and mangrove forests are home to vast numbers of sea eagles. Luckily the island has been declared a UNESCO protected ecosystem and as such the habitat of these animals has been protected, accounting for their vast numbers.

 

Melaka/Malacca

Malacca is a very interesting city due to the large number of historical cultural influences that have shaped its past. The city has a rich Malay history prior to European arrival. After that it went to the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally ended in the hands of the British. Throughout the city you will find remnants of each stage of the city’s past. The city has an enormous historic district that falls under UNESCO protection. This includes the old city center with churches, houses, forts and shops. Also included in this protection is what is known as Yonkers Street, by day it acts as an antiques district and by night it transforms into a bustling night market. The city is filled with canals that run throughout the central area, these are used for transportation and for boating tours. Not far from the city is a botanical gardens, bee center, zoo and cultural park which are worth taking a day trip for. However, if you do decide to visit these locations be aware that dengue fever has been contracted in the forests surrounding the botanical gardens. Located throughout the city are museums and galleries, so even on rainy days with bad weather, you can find plenty to do. If you are looking for thrills and adventure then Malacca may not be the right place for you, but if you are looking for history, culture, markets and amazing street food then this is a must visit location.

 

 

 

UNESCO Heritage Site: Historical Buildings

As stated, the city has a rich historical heritage. You can literally spend an entire day just walking around the city visiting historical sites. What makes the sites in Malacca so unique is the broad variety or European colonial era buildings in the city.

http://www.malacca.ws/attractions/melaka-historic-cities.htm

 

Canals/Boat Rides

Malacca is well known for its canals and waterways, which run throughout the city and provide an important form of transportation. If you take the tour I recommend using Melaka River Cruise, I did my tour with them and had a fantastic time for a relatively cheap price. They will take you throughout the cities canal systems showing you art that can only be viewed from the water itself. Houses and other buildings lining the water, have in many cases been painted with murals or bright colours.

 

http://www.melakarivercruise.com/

Nearby Attractions

The area just outside of the city has many attractions within walking distance of each other. You will find botanical gardens, crocodile pits, a bee/honey center and a cultural park. The botanical gardens are quite nice as they are to some extent a jungle setting and house plenty of monkeys. If you have never seen a monkey in the wild before, this is a pretty easy way to do so. The cultural park is the highlight of this area. The park has replicas of traditional Malay homes from each state of the country, showing their differences and similarities. You can enter and explore each house in the park. Additionally, there is a stage show put on every few hours which features traditional Malay dancers, for which I was called up onto stage to participate in front of an audience.

Coffs Harbour

 

Coffs Harbour is a fantastic hidden gem on the East Coast of Australia. The town is located between Brisbane and Sydney and is well worth the stop if you are making the journey. My family would come here every year for a holiday, just to get away and relax. Coffs isn’t an overly large city, but has a lot to offer. The town is situated between the beach and the mountains, providing some great scenery. You will find mangrove forests on one side and banana farms on the other, covering the hills. The town is home to some great wildlife and if you look you will be able to find bearded dragons throughout the city. The sea is home to plenty of dolphins and whales and the nearby island, Muttonbird Island will let you see muttonbirds in great numbers if visited at the right time of year. The town is famous for its Big Banana, which is a banana farm that literally has a giant banana built out the front, attached to a banana café and banana gift shop and museum. If you get a chance, the food there is pretty fantastic. The Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens is worth a visit if you have time, you will get a chance to see some crazy tropical plants and walk through a mangrove forest.

Mangrove Forests

The coastline and river inlets in Coffs Harbour are a unique biosphere. Mangroves themselves are highly unusual trees, growing in salt water with their roots protruding from the water and soil upward to allow them to breathe. The root areas of these trees create a unique ecosystem themselves. Mangrove forests are home to a plethora of mammal, reptile, amphibious and insect species.

Muttonbird Island

Muttonbird Island is a small island just off the coast of Coffs Harbour, so close in fact, that the city has constructed a walkway to the island itself. You can simply walk from the beachfront, all the way to the island. The view from the top of the island looking back at the coastline is fantastic and worth the walk. On the way there and back you will pass the marina and see some very nice boats.

 

BANANAS! The Big Banana

The Big Banana, much like other BIG THINGS in Australia is a famous tourist icon. The building and facilities around it represent the importance of banana farming to the region. The hills surrounding the facility are covered in banana trees. The hills above the city make a nice drive and provide a view of the city below, as well as allowing you to pass through banana farms on the journey. If you happen to visit the café on site, it has fantastic banana based desserts that I highly recommend trying.

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast consists of a number of coastal and somewhat inland neighboring  towns located north of Brisbane. The area is filled with beautiful beaches and lush vegetation. The major southern towns worth visiting are Caloundra, Maloolooba and Alexander Headland. In the northern area of the Sunshine Coast is Noosa, a fantastic beach town. There is a large backpacking community present in the town at all times. Despite its size, Noosa is extremely upmarket, with boutique shops and gourmet food options, art galleries and cafes. There are several fantastic hikes leading from Noosa through the nearby forest and along the coastline. Dolphins can often be seen in the harbor just in front of town and are often friendly with swimmers and surfers. There are some fantastic shopping malls in and around Caloundra and Alexander Headlands, with the largest being Sunshine Plaza. The region is also well known for its street markets, the best of which in my opinion is the Caloundra Street Fair, operating every Sunday. From the Sunshine Coast, the Glasshouse Mountains are clearly visible in the distance, randomly protruding in strange angles.

http://www.sunshinecoast-australia.com/sunshine-coast-markets.html

http://www.caloundrastreetfair.com.au/

http://www.sunshineplaza.com/