|The countries of Southeast Asia are located on the Pacific Ocean, south of China and north of Australia. Though there are close to a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore will be the focus of our first installment on this magical pocket of the world. The Philippines, with over 7,000 tropical islands and unparalleled natural wonders, is considered the “undiscovered paradise of Southeast Asia.” Indonesia boasts with 13,000 islands, bursting with a complexity of tropical sights, ethnology, and endless adventure. Malaysia is considered one of the most westernized countries of Southeast Asia, infused with a combination of modernity and culture. Finally, futuristic Singapore is impressive as a clean, safe location with the best to offer in culinary enticements.
Let us begin our adventure to a region that is rightly considered one of the most exciting travel destinations in the world.
The Philippines stands out for a number of reasons, one of them being the Filipino people themselves, who are well known for their enthusiasm, friendliness, and warmth. Travelers to the Philippines gain the opportunity to reach the heart of the country through the legendary hospitality of Filipinos, who often speak English as a result of the country’s ties with the U.S. The Philippines is the ideal vacation spot: its beaches and countryside, rather than its cities, are a treasure for relaxation, sunbathing, hiking, and adventure.
With a coastline twice the length of the United States, the Philippines holds a wealth of pristine beaches. Popular beaches are in Boracay Island, Cebu, Mactan, Panglao Island, and Camiguin. Set apart by 28,000 square kilometers of coral reefs, warm waters, and amazing sea life, the Philippines has among the finest scuba diving accommodations in the world. These can be explored through resort facilities in places such as Luzon or Mindoro Island, or via a specialized dive boat. Volcano peaks found throughout the Philippines make for another natural marvel for mountaineers and onlookers alike. Mount Mayon is considered the most perfectly formed cone in the world and stands at 2,646 meters high. The Philippines also offers legendary nightlife, elaborate festivals, and historic sights such as classic baroque cathedrals for adventurous travelers.
(Check out our June 2003 newsletter to read about the unique cuisine of the Philippines. Just click on the newsletter section on our homepage and follow the link to the newsletter archives.)
It is no wonder that Indonesia is known as the “destination of endless diversity.” Everything from snowcapped mountains, boiling hot swamps, flourishing rainforests, immaculate beaches, and much more can be found here. As a single nation, Indonesia is considered the most complex, its 170 million people come from a multiplicity of cultures.
The most popular destination in Indonesia is Bali. A favorite destination for travelers from all parts of the globe, Bali carries with it the notion of beauty and magic. Its appeal comes from a combination of heavenly beauty and cultural preservation. The people of Bali live by a sound dedication to the arts, which shines through the music, dance, and crafts that fill the island with characteristic beauty. Once such place to enjoy Balinese arts is Ubud, the island’s cultural center.
(Explore the arts and crafts of Asia with our specialized giftware selection. Under our Gifts category, you will find authentic Asian pastimes such as origami papers and calligraphy, as well as Asian arts and crafts products such as paper wallets, wall hanging and eglomise glassware.)
Java, known as the country’s political, economic, and cultural center, is another frequented travel spot in Indonesia. Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is located in Java, as is Bogor, where the Botanical Gardens are admired far and wide, and Yogyakarta, a wonderful cultural center alive with theatrical performances and abundant with Indonesian crafts.
The fifth largest island in the world is Indonesia’s own Sumatra, where a wealth of wildlife resides in swamps, jungles, rivers, and lakes. Such wildlife includes free-ranging orangutans, Indian elephants, tigers, leopards, tapirs, and bearded pigs. The great diversity of tribal populations that reside in Sumatra also make it a culturally stimulating destination.
Modernization has changed Malaysia, bringing transportation, order, and cleanliness that travelers welcome. Though Malaysia has embraced Western ideas, the country retains its traditional culture with magnificent festivals, good food, and exotic appeal stemming from a multiracial population of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous people. Located at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia has a tropical climate and is abundant with flora and fauna. Its natural beauty offers much to be explored in the way of national parks, rivers, and tropical jungles.
The majority of Malaysia consists of mountainous regions and tropical jungle. Malaysia’s East Coast is primarily inhabited by the Malays, who work as farmers or fishermen. On the East Coast, a more vibrant lifestyle ensues, offering more in the areas of shopping, architecture, and nightlife.
Taman Negara National Park is the largest national park in Malaysia, with jungle tours and wildlife observations available. Penang is one of the most popular destinations in the country, well-liked for a its charming character, architecture, food, and beaches. At Rantau Abang, visitors congregate to witness the yearly arrival of leatherback turtles from the months of May to September. In the village of Marang, travelers can get a sense of Malay village life, including the practice of Islam and the arts, crafts, and entertainment that permeate around it.
Called the “Garden City,” Singapore is clean and green, a modern island country filled with skyscrapers and shopping centers. The commercial center of Southeast Asia, it has a well-situated harbor that caters to the region’s shipping industry. Visitors come to Singapore for good shopping and good food in a safe environment. Three-fourths of the population in Singapore consists of Chinese while Malays, Indians, and Europeans comprise the remaining fourth.
Festivals are abundant in Singapore and include a variety of celebrations to honor Hindi, Tao, Chinese, Malay, Muslim, and Singaporean occasions. Indeed, cultural neighborhoods in Singapore make for a wonderful attraction. These consist of Colonial Singapore, where the architecture is largely British; Chinatown, where temples proudly signify the once lively center of Chinese commerce; Little India, where the 200,000 Indians in Singapore congregate at Serangoon Road; and the Muslim Quarter, where the Sultan’s Mosque, Sultan’s Palace, and Arab Street are in close proximity to numerous cafes serving delicious food.
(The Chinese New Year and The Lantern Festival are two major festivals celebrated in Singapore. Read about these and other Asian festivities through the newsletters provided in our archive titled Chinese New Year, New Year’s in Asia, and December celebrations in Asia. Then, browse through our website to see some of the ancient symbols that figure prominently in these celebrations, among them the mythical dragon and phoenix, the animals of the Chinese zodiac and paper lanterns.)
Outside the city, the Singapore Zoo is said to be the best zoo in Asia and Sentosa Island is a recreation resort with everything from a roller rink to an underwater world. The Chinese and Japanese Gardens are located side-by-side in Jurong, breathtaking in the company of pagodas, bridges, and lakes. The Japanese Gardens are the largest of their kind outside of Japan.
It’s clear to see that the most difficult thing about planning a vacation to Southeast Asia is deciding where to go. The possibilities for adventure, inspiration, and enjoyment are endless. Amazing sights, wonders of nature, historical significance, cultural beauty and diversity, and mouth-watering food each contribute to the mystery and allure of this magical place. It is no wonder that Southeast Asian countries are among the most highly sought travel destinations in the world.
Join us next month for a peek at Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
|| OUR 2004 NEWSLETTERS
Holiday Shopping Guide for Men
Holiday Shopping Guide for Women
Flowers in the Sky – Cherry and Plum Blossoms in Asian Culture
Travel to Asia: Southeast Asia II
Travel to Asia: Southeast Asia I
Travel to Asia: Korea
Travel to Asia: Taiwan
Travel to Asia: Japan
Travel to Asia: China, Part II
Travel to Asia: China
1,000 Cranes in Asian Culture and Art
Chinese New Year
Cookware for Your Asian-Style Kitchen