Warning: long post!
I’m beginning to think about a 2016 trip in Asia and would love your opinions. I’ve been able to carve out about 3 weeks for our last few vacations (4 years away from retiring, darn!) and I've already planned our 2015 trip (Spain), so I’m planning that next big Asian adventure. Please bear with me as I think through my planning process – I hope that this doesn’t bore you and maybe it will help others in their own planning.
Last year, we traveled to India (Rajasthan + Varanasi) and more recently, we went to Thailand/Laos/Cambodia – we loved both trips, though India probably stands out for its intensity and that it was so overwhelmingly different from any place we’ve traveled before.
What we love in trips: a place that expands our understanding of the world -- that is, a richer perspective on history & culture; a sense of the people and unique way of life; beautiful scenery; and trying to experience that elusive quality of “other”. That last sounds a bit vague, maybe even pretentious – and it’s not easily defined, but we certainly did experience that in our trips to both India & SE Asia, though again, much more so in India. We like a mix of urban & rural, contemporary &'traditional, and are moderate range travelers (but I'm not ready yet to plan accommodations!). We can travel between January & June, so I'm not eliminating any place based on weather.
My current ideas are:
1) Indonesia (Java, Bali, +?)
3) Southern India
I’m leaning toward # 1 – I’ve read (devoured!) Kathie’s TR on Java as well as many others, and if we go to Indonesia, central Java is definitely part of the trip. Borodobur is a must.
Bali intrigues & fascinates me – first of all, it’s BALI, with all the romance that this island conjures up. I love that it’s Hindu, and the idea of perhaps seeing some festivals and experiencing something of a traditional culture has me intrigued. Ubud calls to me; Seminyak does not. The scenery looks gorgeous and appealing.
However, the more trip reports of Bali I read, the more I’m getting a sense that the traditional culture that I am interested in is lost in overdevelopment. The sense I have is that people go to Bali because it is a beautiful place but that the emphasis is on resort or adventure activities. I don’t want to go somewhere to be in a resort, even if it is an “exotic” location. Please do correct my impression as this feeling has been growing the more I read trip reports and generally read about tourism in Bali. I see a lot of writing about the resort culture, but less about genuine cultural experiences. Don't misunderstand-- we do enjoy R&R and a few days of somewhere on the water would be wonderful (Sanur? Lombok?), But the rest of the time, I don't want to be visiting an exotic version of Easthampton, an upscale ocean town on Long Island, New York with designer shops and fancy restaurants. I did read that the people in Bali are especially warm & welcoming, tho, and that makes me feel drawn there. And, I realize that this is a contradiction, but I don't think I'd go to Indonesia without going to Bali!
One more thought: we've never done any wildlife safari travels, but the idea of seeing animals - orangutans! especially in the wild, appeals to me, too, though I do understand that the time getting to these locales and the cost may make this unrealistic. Still, it's an idea. Borneo comes to mind, though I don't see this as a realistic option if we go to Bali/Java/and another place.
I would love to go to Vietnam, and we will definitely get there at some point. It hits all the important points, though my husband (M) is concerned that this will be too much like our recent trip to SE Asia and leans toward going somewhere different. If we do go to Vientnam, we would definitely include Sapa in the trip, and spend time in both the major cities (Hanoi, Saigon/HCMC), as well as the usual tourist destinations of Hoi An/Hue, and Ha Long Bay. This is a close second-- it was the one place I eliminated from my recent trip because we didn't have enough time to really explore, and it's definitely somewhere we both want to go. I'm just not sure if this is the "next" spot on our Asian exploration.
After our first trip to India, we were ready to hop the next plane back and see southern India; we loved the first trip and do plan on returning. We are very interested in seeing Kerala & environs; Tamil Nadu & the major temples; Mumbai; as well as some of the other tourist destinations in that area. We almost went to India instead of SE Asia, we liked it so much, but were very glad we went to a new region instead. Here, too, we plan on traveling sometime, but not necessarily our next trip.
I'm leaning most toward Indonesia, but feel some hesitancy now about Bali because of the above concerns. Would love feedback and comments from others, especially if you've been to Bali & Vietnam.
Many thanks! This board has been an amazing support & resource in planning my trips to Asia and I appreciate all the help that I've gotten from you all.
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Warning: long post!