Early planning for 2016 trip

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Aug 9th, 2014, 08:16 AM
  #1
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Early planning for 2016 trip

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, +?)
2) Vietnam
3) Southern India

#1/Indonesia
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.

#2/Vietnam
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.

#3/Southern India
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.

Paule
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Aug 9th, 2014, 08:42 AM
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Any place that one hears a great deal about you can be sure will have lots of tourists and lots of businesses catering to them. The good news about Bali is there seem to be tourists ghettos and a short drive from them everything changes. I say "seem" to be because I've never visited anyplace in the vicinity of Denpasar but have always stayed outside Ubud. Which is not to say that the center of Ubud had escaped change, by any means, but if you look you find activities of a distinctly local variety and if you hire a taxi for a day there are any number of places in the countryside with no tourists in sight.

One night we went to a concert in an open-air theatre, an all-bamboo orchestra and local dancers. It was great! And more locals in attendance than tourists. On the way over a mountain to stay in Amed (which I didn't like) we passed through a town on top of a mountain in a coffee-growing area and I saw literally not one foreigner on the street as we passed through. I took note and next time I'll go there rather than anywhere that uses the word "resort".

You really ought to go to Bali. You can definitely avoid the hoards and it's, to me, kind of like Venice. Yes, there are lots of tourists but it's unlike anywhere else in the world and with minimal effort you can get off the beaten path and forget all the words wasted on saying how the place is ruined.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 08:50 AM
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Don't be put off Bali by those who only see the tourist-oriented surface. There is still plenty of Bali to be experienced by those who want the traditional Bali. Indonesia is a wonderful destination. I'm so glad my Java trip report has inspired you.

Instead of considering VN, I'd encourage you to consider Burma (Myanmar) It is an amazing destination and so much of the traditional culture is still relatively intact because of the decades of being shut off from the rest of the world. It is changing rapidly, so the sooner you can go the better.

Southern India also calls to me, and it is on our list.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 08:53 AM
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Oh, Bali vs. VN? For me, no question - Bali every time. And the fact they you would add in Java makes it even better. VN is actually my last favorite destination in SE Asia.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 11:00 AM
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Ditto kathie. We stayed in a villa that was half an hour to 45 minutes by car outside Ubud. We saved a considerable amount of $ over a hotel and had an incredibly beautiful home with a full staff. Had a car and driver so we got to visit all the less touristy sights and had lots of interaction with local residents. Also loved java, Borobudur visit at sunrise was one of our great travel highlights.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 12:47 PM
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Since you just did SEA I would say Bali over VN, although do try to find time for other islands as well, Lombok, for instance.

However, I second Kathie's suggestion of Myanmar. I was lucky enough to visit in 2004 (with a driver "adopted" by a friend the year before) and it sounds like it is changing so rapidly I might not recognize it soon.

I could also put in a good word for southern India. It is not quite as intense (or as dirty!) as the north. See my last visit starting here: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...omment-6834358
or here with pix: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...ing-hyderabad/ It doesn't include Kochi as I did that in 2001, and didn't feel a need to go back. It is more touristy than the rest of southern India.

But my first thought on reading your post was "what about China"? Or Japan? Or Taiwan if you're worried about pollution in China. I know, so many places...
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Aug 9th, 2014, 01:10 PM
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On the subject of "what about China", the country is a great deal more than Beijing, etc. I've traveled extensively in the south and southwest, small cities, presumably far fewer people in general and no smog of which I was aware, more culturally intact, especially in the rural areas and altogether fascinating.

See a number of my blogs on China and elsewhere in Asia here:
http://www.travelgumbo.com/blog/portmoresby-s-index
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Aug 9th, 2014, 01:51 PM
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Of course there are,rural areas in China, but how many first time visitors are going to want to skip places like Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Chengdu, etc?
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Aug 9th, 2014, 02:15 PM
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"..how many first time visitors are going to want to skip places like Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Chengdu, etc?"

I've spent many happy months in China and never been to any of the places you mention. For the most part, I don't like big cities and I'm fairly sure I'm not alone in that. With the emphasis they seem to have on traditional culture, rural places are often the answer.

In any case, I'm not sure I understand the need to ridicule others' suggestions, unless we're having some sort of competition here, of which I was unaware.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 02:29 PM
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I am a bit concerned about your timing, but you can explore that weatherwise..

june is the beginning of the higher season on bali, so that is good..

there are the tourist enclaves on bali (kuta the terrible, seminak, legian and sanur on the lite side, but nusa dua is the worst). they are easy to avoid... much of downtown ubud is touristy, but in a good way. that is why we like staying at alam shanti---short distance from the center and our room, gangga, is loaded with bali décor and looks directly out onto a working rice paddy. btw, unlike many places it is Balinese family owned.

using a driver like putu ($40-50/day) will get you off the beaten path for sure...

the subtle religious happenings and signs are wonderful, rather than in your face.

compare B to VN----we have been to both at least 2 times. we loved Hanoi, I was bored with halong bay (now full of tourists--we went before that), HCMC is worth a couple of days, hoi an was charming even tho overrun by tourists...
VN is totally different... most of the population is young and very ambitious, even $$ hungry. we did not go to sapa, nor do I have interest---imo sort of thai hill tribe-ish...

I think a combo of the 2 would make a nice trip, but with java that would not work, so I suggest Indonesia with a stop in Singapore, to or from or both.

I'm heading to ubud on sept 15.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 02:29 PM
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btw, VN is on part of our fall, 2016 agenda.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 02:56 PM
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@MmePerdu - you were the one starting an argument.... I have spent time in both cities and rural areas in China and enjoyed both, but I would not suggest visiting only one or the other.

@Bob - you don't go to Sapa just for the hill tribes. Markets and scenery. But the train ride up was a trial! Would add Hue as worth seeing.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 04:06 PM
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we were kept from hue by fog and plane could not fly there..

just read someone's report on hue and I decided I did not miss much
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Aug 9th, 2014, 04:42 PM
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Thank you all so much for your feedback! I knew I could count on you all to help me make the decision. So it's decided -- our next trip will be Bali + Java, and perhaps Lombok. I'm also considering a stopover in Singapore -- also thinking about Hong Kong, although the recent thread on the heat and humidity makes me think that May or June would probably not be a good time to visit.

MmePerdu - China is definitely on the travel list, although with only one trip annually, it will be a while before we get there. I do look forward to reading your blog -- I took your suggestion to include the Mekong River cruise to Luang Prabang, and that was one of the highlights of our recent trip.

Kathie & MmePerdu - thanks so much for the reassurance about getting beyond the surface Bali and finding a more traditional Bali; it's good to know that it it's not that difficult to find. And Kathie, that TR on Java is one I love -- not to mention the website, with Cheryl's gorgeous photos. I'm hooked.

thursdayd - thanks, too, for all your comments. Yes, Japan, too! Definitely on the list. I haven't listed all the places we'd like to go to but there are so many! Michael (my husband) has asked me to inform him of our trips one year at a time or else I will bombard him with a very long list.

Bob-- thanks for feedback. I've fallen in love with Alam Shanti from the pictures, and that is definitely in my plans. I've also been reading about using a driver such as Putu, and have noted his website, too. I love your choice of accommodations, having stayed in at least 2 places in Rajasthan that you had recommended.

FromDC -- Thank you! Your comments have helped!

Again, thanks! The finetuning will begin sometime next year, and I will count on you all to help me to plan a good itinerary.

Paule
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Aug 9th, 2014, 07:14 PM
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Thursdaysd, just for the record, as it happens I was agreeing with you about China, and trying to expand the possibilities there, in no way was I expecting an argument. I believe you misconstrued.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 07:37 PM
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Since you've already chosen Bali, I can spare you some rhetoric but I'd like to add a few reinforcements.

Bali, although a small area geographically, can present itself differently from the perspectives of different visitors. Yes, it's luxury beach resorts. Yes, it's party-hearty and shopping. Yes, it's swank restaurants -- and humble warungs. Yes, it's ocean and nature adventure sports -- surfing, diving, trekking, climbing. Yes, it's spirituality, wellness and healing. Yes, it's art, music, theater, dance. Yes, it's religious ceremonies and pageantry.

(And as I learned when I couldn't get an appointment with my dentist during the month of August, it's even become a destination for dental tourism!)

Amid this identity crisis the "real" Bali which is the culture and religion of its people pops up everywhere -- not just in the villages of Ubud but also in the most touristed beach areas. You will see it the way people interact with grace and sincerity, the ubiquity of temple ceremonies, processions and offerings, the sublime natural beauty of rain forests, volcanoes, rice paddies and the ocean.

So choose the aspect of Bali that appeals to you and match your destination accordingly. The Balinese culture and character can be found all over the island, not just in Ubud, but what how you spend your time will vary.

April/May/June are generally good months for Bali and Java. You'll get mostly dry weather and it's not too crowded (though you want to avoid the Easter holidays in Bali if you can). Galungnan which is the most important religious holiday in Bali. falls in February and September in 2016. Nyepi, Balinese quiet day, will be on March 9. This is one of my favorite times to be in Bali -- 24 hours with no electricity, cars/motorcycles, airplanes, work or noise -- but note that you won't be able to step outside of your resort/villa/hotel compound for 24 hours either.

But really you'll find temple ceremonies and festivals in every part of Bali every day of the year. The ones we stumble upon can be the most charming. I walk on Seminyak beach several times a week and almost always witness a ceremony -- intimate or elaborate -- at Petitenget or one of the other temples along the way.

in 2016 Ramadan starts in early June so that's not the best time for Java.

As for other parts of Indonesia to tie in with Bali/Java, Lombok offers a low key beach holiday. Or you could go further afield for more intense cultural experience like Sulawesi or Flores/Sumba/Sumbawa.
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Aug 9th, 2014, 08:11 PM
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Progol - isn't it fun to plan future trips! We too have future plans for an Indonesia/Malaysia trip with time in bali. Kathie's trip reports have inspired us and we look forward to spending time in the Central Java area. We would also like to do a second trip to india to explore the southern region. Having been to vn, I would say definitely not to miss sapa. We took the overnight train, and while admittedly, it was not one of the best train rides we've taken, it was certainly manageable. Sapa was one of the highlights of our trip to Vietnam. Also, IMO you should not skip hue, as we considered it a other of the highlights of our trip.
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Aug 10th, 2014, 05:27 AM
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Thanks, marmot & dgunbug, it's so helpful to get the feedback!

marmot, I was hoping to hear from you--I've been reading many of your posts, and your knowledge and perspective is invaluable in understanding Bali. I think the challenge will be to find the Bali that,does interest us, and I will be counting on your advice when we begin to really plan. I'm very intrigued by some of the options farther afield - Sulawesi sounds remarkable- tho I'll have to see what,works within the limits of our trip. I also appreciate the info re: Ramadan. Wouldn't that affect our travels through other parts of Indonesia as well (other than Java)? I was considering travelling in June, but now I wonder if that makes sense.

dgunbug-- it is fun planning, tho I'm now impatient to see so much that making choices is difficult! I'm amazed, actually, that we spent so many years doing the usual European travels, and never considered Asia-- and I now am more like the kid in the candy shop wanting it all! Retirement is not soon enough! But I have to bide my time.....since I'm the planner, DH really only wants to discuss trips one year at,a time so this particular dilemma is all on me!

One more caveat-- one well-traveled friend answered my question about Bali/indonesia vs. Vietnam entirely differently, and felt that Vietnam was the preferred trip, hands down-- so it really is a question of individual tastes and experiences. And, I suppose if I were answering someone with this problem. I'd say, there's no wrong answer -- but that brings me back to the beginning again! For the record -- as of now, we are planning Indonesia, and will begin focusing sometime next year.

Again, the feedback is invaluable!

Paule
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Aug 10th, 2014, 06:27 AM
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"VN is actually my last favorite destination in SE Asia."

Kathie, may I ask why?
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Aug 10th, 2014, 07:54 AM
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it IS all an individual choice.

I meant to mention Lombok... good place for 3-5 days.. qunci villas are fab, but not an alam shanti
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