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How does a month of flying around Southeast Asia for under $200 sound?
That's the question we asked back in December, when it was first announced AirAsia would introduce some sort of pass for unlimited flights. Well, that passthe AirAsia ASEAN Pass, named for the Association of Southeast Asian Nationsis official and available for purchase, beginning today.
The ASEAN Pass' original promise of travel to 10 countries has been kept, and passengers may elect to fly to airports in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma, Laos and Brunei. The greatest variety of destinations is of course offered from AirAsia's base in Kuala Lumpur, although Bangkok also has a bunch.
Popular leisure destinations in the passes include Bali, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Langkawi, and Puerto Princesa. With just those it'd be very tempting to turn an ASEAN Pass into a "best exotic beaches of SE Asia" pass, but culture and business travelers will find plenty destinations of interest as well.
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The culture, food, jungles, mountains, and beaches of Southeast Asia all provide platforms for travelers looking to make the trip across the Pacific. Some countries are looking to expand their offerings, and others are working to improve accessibility and attract Western travelers. After attending the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Myanmar, here's a breakdown of the latest buzz, country by country.
Considering a trip to Southeast Asia? Not sure where to go or what to see? Send us your questions and we'll answer them for you!
From the minute you depart the airport, first-time visitors to Hanoi will immediately feel the buzz of the city, specifically in the form of motor bikes and traffic patterns unlike anything seen or permitted in North America. While it takes a few minutes to get used to, this travel writer personally grew to love this aspect of the city, the endless stream of traffic that flows thanks to the lack of traffic signals.
Take a look at the photos. I mean really look at them. It might look like everything is at a stand-still, but trust in the fact that all the vehicles you see are in motion, each massaging their way and taking the shortest distance between their two points of travel. Cars. Motor bikes. Pedestrians. Bicycles. You even have motor bikes going between traffic in the wrong direction. The signs that do exist are pretty much ignored, and intersections become a game of chicken as parties approach from all directions. If you could only hear the horns.
When it comes to food and drink, Hanoi has it all going on. We already told you about how it boasts some of the world’s cheapest beer, and you’ll no doubt find it a good way to wash down all the excellent food found throughout the city. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street food vendors are where it’s at in the Old Quarter, serving their own takes on the country’s cultural dishes. As you make your way through Hanoi, try a few different versions of these traditional treats:
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Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
It's a long trip from North America to Southeast Asia, so when you make the journey, you'll want to be as prepared as possible. For this travel writer, a few pocket-size things make all the difference, the value of most learned via baptism by fire. Stick these in your suitcase to make life easier next time you find yourself across the Pacific:
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Halong Bay, or the "Bay of Descending Dragons," is about a three-hour car ride to the east of Hanoi, known for its remarkable scenery of 2,000 islands that rise up from its waters. There are literally hundreds of boats willing to take tourists out for a sail, some for the day and others overnight.
It is very important that you do your research before going, as there is a good chance you will end up disappointed if you show up and wing it. You can ask around amongst fellow travelers in Hanoi, or simply use TripAdvisor to see what others have experienced. Many tourists complain of paying too much for very little, and so you want to go with a reputable company. We sailed on the Emeraude, which our sis HotelChatter will dish on next week.
All the more reason to plan ahead is that many companies will transport you to and from Hanoi as part of the package. Although a day trip from Hanoi is doable, we recommend an overnight boat to maximize your time on the water and take in the different hours of daylight (plus, a six-hour roundtrip is a long way to go for a half day sail).
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Besides some of the cheapest beer in the world, visitors to Hanoi will find the city to be rich in history, specifically as it relates to America and the Vietnam War. There is much to see and to learn almost forty years since the end of the war, and trips to the National Museum of History and the Military History Museum are a good place to start.
But if you want to get a taste of what day-to-day life was like for locals during the 70s, a trip to Huu Tiep Lake should be on the itinerary. In 1972, as America bombed the city, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber was shot down and crashed into a small lake. It still rests there today, just poking above the surface.
It's more of a pond than a lake, and what surprised us most was its location in a colorful, intimate little neighborhood in west Hanoi. Half of it is sticking out above the water, revealing the top of the tires and a look at some of the damaged undercarriage. It's just been left there, untouched.
If the thought of a puppet brings dark, creepy images to the forefront of your brain, a visit to Hanoi's infamous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater might be just the thing to set your mind free of such stereotypes.
A staple of Northern Vietnam, the traditional performance hails from the lifestyle of 11th century Red River Delta country farmers, who would use water puppets to entertain each other when the rice fields were flooded. The story told today recreates that world, giving a glimpse into the rice-farming lifestyle with scenes entitled “Fishing,” “Agricultural Work," "Catching Frogs," and "Chasing the Fox That Tries to Catch Ducks."
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Typical Vietnamese cafe found throughout the city of Hanoi
The present value of the Vietnamese Dong will have visitors who explore the country’s capital quickly realizing that everything is extremely affordable for carriers of foreign currency. Luckily, this also includes the price you pay to kick back with a few cold ones.
In a recent study on the cost of beer around the world, Vietnam was number two on the list with an average price of 59 cents. And given that temperatures during the summer in Hanoi are in the mid-90s with maxed out humidity, beer is the drink of choice when it comes to cooling off (you'll want to stay far, far away from red wine or whiskey during the day unless you’ve got the a/c blasting full force).
Americans visiting Vietnam need a visa to enter the country, and there are two ways you can go about obtaining one. The most basic is to get one before you leave American soil by sending your passport and application off to the Vietnam Embassy in the States, but that process can take two weeks while at the same time putting your passport at risk of getting lost in the mail.
The other option is to get a visa on arrival, but it's not as simple as just showing up. While you technically receive it upon arrival, you need to have a letter of written approval in hand. We tested out this process on our recent journey, and found it to be the easiest process and much less stress than mailing off our passport.
Inside the Amenity Kit / Amenity Kits / Vietnam Airlines / Business Class Travel / Vietnam Travel / → All Tags
We come across some downright awesome airline amenity kits in our travels, and the surprises of each zippered pouch can often make or break comfort on a premium flight. With this in mind, here's to our new series: Inside the Amenity Kit, wherein we unzip, unwrap, and expose the loot inside:
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Last month, the 33rd annual ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) was held in Kuching, Malaysia (Borneo) and drew delegates from around the world. The ten member countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam - were all represented by their ministries of tourism. The conference takes place each year but its location rotates through the member countries. This year’s host, Malaysia, opened the gathering by highlighting ATF’s vision of “Ten Countries, One Destination.”
“I hope that this forum will chart the strategic directions to expedite the growth and development of tourism in ASEAN and enhance our collaboration towards projecting ASEAN as an attractive and multi-faceted single destination,” said Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.