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Location for laid-back week in SE Asia? (not just beach)

Location for laid-back week in SE Asia? (not just beach)

Old May 7th, 2015, 04:12 AM
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Location for laid-back week in SE Asia? (not just beach)

We have a week to kill in SE Asia between our month in Myanmar and some time in Singapore. We’d like this to be in one relatively low-key location so we can relax after a month of moving around.
(Sorry for the repeat post - I missed putting Thailand on the original post).

The ideal place would have:
Atmosphere/charm/architecture, ease of walking around
Good food
Some culture (history/art/museums)
Easy transport from Singapore (ideally not more than a 3-4 hour nonstop flight away)
A laid-back vibe

And it would not just be a beach town. Decent weather would be a plus.

To give you a sense of what we’re looking for, we loved Luang Prabang when we were there a couple of years ago. We were thinking about going back to Ubud, but were given pause by the fact that it’s rainy season (with the attendant need to repel mozzies due to dengue fever etc.). Maybe Penang’s Georgetown area? Or Melaka? (not sure what it’s like now - we were there decades ago).

Suggestions?
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Old May 7th, 2015, 06:52 AM
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Georgetown, Penang would be a great option! If the budget allows, stay at the E&O. Penang has such a rich, multicultural history! It's a great walking town and, of course, the hawker food is some of the best anywhere. We spent 6 days there years ago, and I'd gladly go back for a week.
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Old May 7th, 2015, 04:25 PM
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When will you be traveling?
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Old May 7th, 2015, 05:45 PM
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Thanks, Kathie, and hello again - I think I should just turn over my SE Asia trip planning to you ;-) We will probably rent an airbnb apartment since we are going to be traveling for more than 2 months in total and we find that apartments allow us to unwind more and to not have to eat out 3 meals a day (although we will try to take full advantage of the food scene if we end up in Georgetown/Penang!). Do you have any suggestions for good neighborhoods to stay? Perhaps close to the colonial heritage district? And we will definitely make it to the E&O for a meal/tea or two and take in the ambience.

I hesitate a bit about Georgetown because we're spending a week in Singapore after this week and I wonder if Georgetown is somewhat similar (albeit in a less sanitized and less international-city manner).

Our free week is in end-Feb/early March - sorry I missed mentioning that, marmot.
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Old May 7th, 2015, 06:05 PM
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I agree with Kathie that Penang sees to fit your wish list admirably. We spent about a week there last November and are considering returning to rent an apartment for a longer period.

Lots to see and do and some of the best and most varied food in SE Asia (with the possible exception of Vietnam!).

The colonial centre of Georgetown is the place to be, although the bus system makes it easy to get around.

The one thing Penang doesn't score highly on is its beaches.

Some more detail and photos of our time there on our blog
http://accidentalnomads.com/2014/11/22/penang/

One other thought is Kuching in Sarawak, Borneo. Years since we have been there but enjoyed it very much the last time we were there. We fly there again tomorrow so if you are interested I will report back.
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Old May 7th, 2015, 07:03 PM
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I'll be interested in an updated report on Kuching. I loved it, but it has been years.

Singapore and Penang have little similarity, IMO, except for the wonderful food! If you opt for Penang stay as close as possible to colonial heritage district - right in Georgetown.
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Old May 7th, 2015, 07:14 PM
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another option is Chiang Mai. Very relaxed, great food, lots to do in the area.
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Old May 7th, 2015, 07:36 PM
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By end February early March the rainy season in Bali will be winding down. It will still be wet, but shouldn't negatively impact your stay in Ubud. It's a quiet time between seasons and rates will be advantageous.

I would note that March 9, 2016 is Nyepi which is a wonderful holiday in Bali. Lots of processions in the days before. I especially like Melasti when thousands of people gather on the beach to purify their village effigies and the Ogoh-Ogoh parade of fabulous monster statues. Then on the holiday itself, a day of total peace -- no cars, no motorcycles, no TV, no airplanes (the airport is closed) and at night, no lights, just millions of stars. Everyone has to stay within their family or resort compound and the quiet is magical.
http://www.holidaysia.com/events/nyepi/
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Old May 7th, 2015, 07:59 PM
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That does sounds magical, Marmot!
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Old May 8th, 2015, 04:07 PM
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Thanks all, for the great suggestions.

As usual when facing the fodors smorgasbord of places you can go to, I was tempted to cram one more place in. But after being subjected to suitable spousal restraint, we’ve decided to go to just George Town (Penang) for about 10 days and will look to stay in or near the colonial district. Looking forward to checking out how the street food compares with Hanoi - the high water mark for us so far.

Kuching and surrounds also looked really interesting, but it would be hard to go there and not get caught up in taking trips to the national parks and so on. Since our point was to find a restful interlude, looks like Kuching/Borneo deserves its own separate trip (like Ubud).

And the Nyepi festival is really fascinating - thanks for that info, marmot. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a weekly sabbath as a way of refocusing away from the day-to-day routine, but this is taking it to a new level. I’m also impressed that the Balinese are serious enough about it that even the almighty tourist is required to stay indoors without electricity.
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Old May 8th, 2015, 05:40 PM
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Have great time. I know we all have different tastes, but for us, food in Hanoi (which was very good) didn't hold a candle to the food in Georgetown.
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Old May 10th, 2015, 07:54 PM
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Looking forward to the food scene in G Town then! We may have gotten a particularly favorable impression of Hanoi street food since we did a privately guided street food extravaganza which we could never have replicated on our own. Will look later for food recs in George Town, but meanwhile any specific (esp relatively recent) recs are welcome!

But for straight-out restaurant food, our favorite has to be Laotian. Even in SE Asia which has our favorite food in the world, it's a standout. Hard to find though - so I'm feeling particularly buoyed today after our first dinner in a great Laotian place in DC.
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Old May 11th, 2015, 07:28 AM
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It's been too long since I've been there for me to give you recommendations of specific hawker stalls. But there should be current books on the street food. We bought two books and used those to help us find the "best" places. Many of the best hawkers stalls when we were there we owned by people in their 80s!
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Old May 11th, 2015, 03:17 PM
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We found the easiest way to search out the best foodstalls in Penang was to look at a few of the food blogs for Penang. Just google them there are loads! Much more up to date and relevant than guidebooks. We tried loads of food stalls during our week or so there and found most just by wandering around ( and with a little help from some of the aforesaid blogs) and finding places we liked the look of.

Personally I would avoid the over-hyped Gurney Drive - expensive, busy and not the best food.

Loved the food scene in Hanoi but Saigon was even better! Penang is just so varied, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Nonya. The biggest problem is choosing!

One not to miss place is Andrews Kampung out at Batu Ferrengi. 20 mins by bus and not easy to find but well worth the effort. All you can eat for a fixed price. You order from the menu or at the waiters suggestion and the food just keeps coming. The food is simply excellent and great value.
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Old May 11th, 2015, 04:22 PM
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I'm not recommending guidebooks for Penang, but special publications on the hawker food. I expect you can find them everywhere, but if not, go to the gift shop at the E&O. I'm sure crellston's right that the local food blogs will have lots of info.

I agree with Crellston that the much-hyped Gurney Drive food was just ok, we found the best food right in Georgetown.
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Old May 14th, 2015, 06:58 AM
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Thanks, crellston and kathie. We too generally use food blogs for recs and will also look for the hawker publications at the E&O shop.
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