Southeast Asia, by Ted Cookson

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SOUTHEAST ASIA
by Ted Cookson
Published in November 2005
Water taxi on Bangkok's Chao Rhraya River, 16-second video clip
Water taxi on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River, 40-second video clip
 
Dancers in Ho Chi Minh City #1, 45-second video clip
Dancers in Ho Chi Minh City #2 46-second video clip
Dancers in Ho Chi Minh City #3, 52-second video clip
Cruising down the Saigon River, 16-second video clip

Busy Bogyoke Aung San Road in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, 29-second video clip
Scene inside Yangon's Bogyoke (Scott) Market, 33-second video clip
A walk through a Yangon street lined with fuit and vegetable vendors, 64-second video clip
Burmese dancers #1, 61-second video clip
Burmese dancers #2, 62-second video clip

Singapore Panorama from roof of Fullerton Hotel #1, 55-second video clip

Singapore panorama from roof of Fullerton Hotel #2, 35-second video clip
Singapore Harbor, 50-second video clip
Courtyard of Singapore's Raffles Hotel, 22-second video clip


A trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is the dream of many a traveler; and a side trip from Bangkok to exotic Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might make many think they had died and gone to heaven.  Singapore is an excellent stopover destination for those flying Singapore Airlines to southeast Asia. 

Thailand is an especially attractive tourist destination because of the large amount of variety it offers.  Sprawling Bangkok boasts temples, museums, a colorful floating market and terrific shopping.  Day trips can be taken from Bangkok north to Ayutthia, the ancient capital, and west to the bridge over the River Kwai, made famous by the movie of the same name.  The northern towns of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have positioned themselves as adventure outfitting centers, offering everything from dirt bike tours and jungle treks to elephant-back safaris.  In addition, tours to the colorful crafts factories in these northern centers can be fascinating.  It is also possible to visit tribal people in their homes in the nearby rain forest.  These hill tribes still eke out a very simple existence in the northern forests.  Finally, Phuket, Ko Samui and some other recently-developed beach resorts provide the ultimate in water sports and seashore activities.

Cambodia's prime attraction is Angkor Wat at Siem Reap, only a one-hour flight from Bangkok.  The huge Angkor complex, standing in a clearing in the forest, is akin to a Hindu Karnak Temple but in a jungle setting.  The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh has a few interesting museums, the royal palace, and colonial-era architecture.

Little-visited Laos is worth a visit for its former capital of Luang Prabang, which derives its name from the gold Buddha brought to the first Lao king by a priest from Angkor Wat.  On the other hand, Vientiane, Cambodia's modern capital situated 350 km south of Luang Prabang, is probably the sleepiest capital in southeast Asia.

Vietnam, with 57 different ethnic groups, is extremely diverse; and vast distances separate the major cities of this long and narrow country.  Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigan, is a bustling and dynamic metropolis which has a far different ambience than the more staid northern capital of Hanoi.  Pretty Hanoi is a city full of lakes and tree-lined avenues with both Chinese and French colonial architecture.  One of Hanoi's special highlights is an evening water puppet performance.  Hue is just over 100 km south of the former demilitarized zone in central Vietnam.  Because of its extensive ruins, the former capital of Hue, bisected by the Perfume River, is also included on Vietnam's tourist trail.

Much of the uniqueness of Myanmar is the result of the country having been isolated from the rest of the world for decades by its oppressive military regime.  Tourists often feel like they have walked through a time warp when arriving in bustling Yangon, the capital formerly known as Rangoon.  In fact, they feel like they are all the way back in the 1960's rather than in the twenty-first century.  The most famous site in Yangon is the incredible towering gold Shwedagon Pagoda.  Vendors selling incredibly inexpensive handicrafts of every sort are concentrated in and around the rickety Scott Market in the city center.  Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, situated on the eastern bank of the Irriwaddy River, contains the spectacular remains of a civilization that developed in the central Myanmar plains.  Now somewhat more than 100 monuments remain, mixed among some 2,000 pagodas, libraries and monasteries strewn across an area of 42 square km.

Many travelers from Cairo will elect to fly Singapore Airlines via Singapore to reach southeast Asia.  For those lucky tourists it is worth a short stopover in Singapore in order to savor this unique high tech and well-run city state which contrasts so sharply with most other cities in the region.  Singapore's downtown districts of Chinatown and Little India provide an ethnic flair, and the night safari at the Singapore Zoo is not to be missed. The Jurong Bird Park also stages outdoor shows which will delight children young and old.  In short, the ultra-clean and organized metropolis of Singapore has something for every stopover traveler.

PRACTICALITIES:

In early October 2005 the round trip airfare from Cairo to Bangkok on Kuwait Airways was approx. EGP 3,030.  Round trip airfare from Bangkok to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia was approx. EGP 1,455; and round trip airfare from Bangkok to Yangon, Myanmar was approx. EGP 1,630.  The round trip airfare from Cairo to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi on Singapore Airlines was approx. EGP 7,490.  This fare includes a domestic flight on Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. 

In general, the best time to visit Thailand is from November to February.  The best times to visit Hanoi in northern Vietnam are from late September to December and from March to April.  On the other hand, the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam is from December to April.  The best season for visiting Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar is from November to February.  In the case of Myanmar, March and April are also good months.  Singapore, situated near the equator, can be visited year-round. 


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

 

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