A year's worth of travel for 2013

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Updated on 25th January, 2013. First published 17th December, 2012

We're often asked about our picks for where to go when travellers have a certain amount of time up their sleeve, or what the best time of year is for going to this island or those mountains. With weather in mind, and pretending for a moment that we could travel right through 2013, here's where we'd go in Southeast Asia over the next year based on where we've already been and what we've read about when it comes to where we want to go.

January: Ko Kut, Thailand
This is one of the few developed Thai islands that we've never set foot on. Our researchers have though and Ko Kut sounds like the perfect kind of place to ease in the New Year. Think long beaches, a comprehensive range of accommodation (from the cheap to the super luxurious) and in January, delightful weather.


February: Hoi An, Vietnam
I've been to Hoi An many times over the years and while it's a fully developed tourist destination nowadays, it remains a beautiful and charming town. Get up early to wander the fresh produce market by the river, munch your way through the day at the many cafes and noodle outlets and wind up on the beach for the late afternoon. And if the vendor hassle gets too much, make a beeline for nearby An Bang beach, where the monsoon should just be easing off.

A quiet road in Hoi An.
A quiet road in Hoi An.

March: Hua Phan province, Laos
One of Laos' most isolated regions, Hua Phan's history is as fascinating as its landscape is stunning. Spend time visiting the cave systems that first served as shelter during the American war and then prisons afterwards. This is untouristed Laos at it's best.

The road to Sam Neua.
The road to Sam Neua.

April: Perhentians, Malaysia
It's been almost 15 years since we've wandered the beaches here and we'd go back in a heartbeat. On this first (and only) visit we stumbled upon what remains one of the most stunning beaches we've seen in Southeast Asia. We need to revisit Little Perhentian to see if it is still there; we wouldn't mind another swim with the turtles, either.

May: Flores, Indonesia
With its fancy new airport, everyone is talking about Lombok, but I'd suggest casting a stone a little further east to Flores. Once there, I'd be setting aside a considerable stretch of time for beach and snorkelling research.

June: Si Phan Don, Laos
The 4,000 islands in southern Laos get pretty busy (by Lao standards) in high season, so why not buck the trend and go at the peak of the wet season in June? The crowds should be as low as the river is high, making for a relaxing slow week aside with just a hammock and a river view to distract. Take some good books and get offline for a bit.

Slow days on Don Dhet,
Slow days on Don Dhet.

July: Joochiat, Singapore
Joochiat remains our favourite part of Singapore. Excellent food, a vibrant night scene -- it's sleazy by Singaporean standards so not uncomfortably so -- and a hop, skip and a jump into the more central parts of the city where we'd get our museum fix and do a bit of shopping. We thoroughly recommend doing the Betelbox food tour for a taste of what's on offer around here, too.

Go fly a kite.
Go fly a kite.

August: Sumatra, Indonesia
Another Indonesian island province we're yet to explore, in August I'd love a lazy month taking in Sumatra from top to tail. Kick off at Pulau Weh, then Aceh and Lake Toba before slowly weaving our way down the spine of the province, finishing off with a view to Krakatau off the southern tip. Oh and eating quite a bit. No, actually a lot.

September: Kuching, Malaysia
Just about everyone I know who has been to Kuching says they'd happily live there, so I'll be a visit virgin in 2013 both for the town itself and the outlying Bako National Park, which our researcher in Sarawak has handily just covered.

Croc or cannon?
Croc or cannon?

October: Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia
Cambodia's poster child for eco-tourism, the reports remain resoundingly positive from the interesting and low-key Cardamoms. I'd probably cheat and combine it with a revisit to Koh Kong which itself has some great beaches, river trips and other distractions.

The boat from Andoung Teuk.
The boat from Andoung Teuk.

November: Umphang, Thailand
Umphang is one of our favourite destinations in Thailand. Stunning scenery and, if border conditions/security allow, we'd love to finally undertake the seven-day trek south to Sangkhlaburi, which weaves you across (illegally) into Karen State in Burma. Best thing in doing this is getting to go to Sangkhlaburi too.

Now that's a bridge. Sangkhlaburi.
Now that's a bridge. Sangkhlaburi.

December: Koh Rong, Cambodia
Where better to finish 2013 off than the picture-postcard perfect island of Koh Rong, off the Cambodian south coast. Koh Rong is appearing at the top of a lot of hot destination lists at the moment, so this is one of those places we'd advise heading to sooner rather than later.

Just another day on the beach...
Just another day on the beach...

What would be on your wishlist for 2013?

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 6 comment(s)

  • Just to straighten one thing up, Sumatra is a major island in Indonesia consisting of eight provinces. Nine if you count Bangka Belitung Islands Province, which used to be part of one of the eight.

    Posted by bekabuluh on 18th December, 2012

  • A lazy (assuming you mean relaxing) month down the spine of Sumatra? Ha! You spend most of your time in Bali, so you must be able to find a map of the island. It consists of 8 provinces. Assuming that you don't own a private jet and that you plan to see the scenic side of the island, these 8 provinces are linked together by an extremely long and rough network of roads. Though the 4 times I have traversed the island from tip to tail - as you put it - were on bicycle, I've talked to plenty of people over the years who have tried to do exactly what you have described on a 30-day Indo visa. Most either bail or get side tracked in places like Toba. None that I have talked to ever made it the entire way and none have ever beamed about the "lazy" nature of travel on this island.

    Indonesia, in general, is a rough place to travel. Sumatra is no exception, but rather the rule. It requires patience, a VERY flexible time table and itinerary, and the ability to cope and even embrace high levels of discomfort in order to simply get to many destinations. This helps to keep away hordes of backpackers who might otherwise turn the place into something akin to Vang Vieng, Khao Sarn, Patong, or Bali's very own Kuta. Instead, most of Indonesia remains well off the beaten path and is left only for intrepid travelers with genuine interest in the country's myriad cultures and environs to explore and sometimes even trail blaze. It's but one of the many things that makes Indonesia so fantastically unique and special.

    If a person had a month to explore Sumatra, they'd probably be best off exploring and getting to know just a few places that the island has to offer. With the time they put in doing that, they might just get a knack for the language. They might meet and truly befriend a family there. Their glimpse of this island might set in their bones, and then they would have all the reason in the world to make it back and see more. I find it hard to believe they would leave Sumatra, after their 30 days traveling the length of the island, without certain feelings of regret, perhaps even animosity towards what was supposed to be a nice vacation but turned into a grueling road trip. I also find it hard to believe that, at a relaxed pace, seeing and delving into just a few places on the island, they wouldn't leave with a strong passion for the place and a desire to come back again.

    My response, if scathing, comes from a place of deep love for the entire country of Indonesia, Sumatra included. I've seen the results of tourists fooling themselves into believing Indonesia can be made to fit their expectations and their time tables. Look no further than Sumbawa (specifically the port of Sape). Personal experience dictates much of my disdain for people who underestimate Indonesia and what it can throw in the faces of the flippant. Ultimately we are guests in that land. We are blessed if given the opportunity to experience it. Better to use that opportunity to give back more than we take and to leave with feelings of compassion and gratitude towards its people, rather than the negative feelings people so often take with them AND leave behind when their impressions of relaxed and lazy travel are squandered by the realities of tough going.

    Posted by Alex on 18th December, 2012

  • 10 if you also count Kepulauan Riau - Riau Archipelago Province. Thanks, though, for acknowledging the immense size of the area.

    Posted by Alex on 18th December, 2012

  • Alex & bekabuluh thanks for the notes re Sumatra - fixed my province slip up, & well gotta start somewhere - see what one can do in a month & return for more next time -- as you say, Indonesia is a bit of a big place :)

    I do agree though that Indonesia is where it is at for independent travel in SEA -- and you'll be reading a lot more regarding it on Travelfish through 2013.

    Cheers for the comments.

    Posted by somtam2000 on 18th December, 2012

  • Thanks for the review of travel spots in South East Asia. On my travel list of 2013 there are two more places in Cambodia I have not yet opportunity to roam: i) Preah Vihear and 2) Kulen Mountain ( near Seam Reap. Beside eco-attractions of those places, I have learnt experiences of Yoga practitioners who said that those two places are the best location for Yoga exercise. This is to recommend

    Posted by chidzung on 21st December, 2012

  • Great choices ... I've been to a few (and LOVE the Pehentians) so may call in when I go Borneo in July!

    Posted by Heather - the kiwitravelwriter on 3rd January, 2013

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