Rich in oil, yet oozing with unspoilt charm, Brunei is too often dismissed by travelers. Nestled between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, Brunei is almost entirely covered by pristine tropical rainforest with vibrant cultural landscapes that’s just waiting to be explored
Brunei: At a Glance
Experience the Best Attractions of Brunei
- Heavenly Beauty: With a dome made of pure gold, imported marble from Italy and a man-made lagoon, the Sultan Omar All Saifuddien Mosque is the pride of Bandar Seri Begawan. The mosque is visible from anywhere in the city, and the view from the top of the main minaret is enough to make you believe in heaven. At night, the mosque is lit up, literally illuminating its splendor!
- Dive Right In: Some of the best diving sites in the world are located off the coast of Brunei. The good news is, most of them have not been discovered yet. As an explorer, you therefore gain access to serene, clear waters, unspoilt reefs, and marine life and discover a few shipwrecks all on your own before the crowd gets wind of them.
- Midnight Feast: You are on holiday; you should be able to eat anytime you feel like it. Indulge those annoying nighttime hunger pangs at the Pasar Gadong night market. Choose from a tempting array of kebabs, seafood, and noodles, or taste a bit of all if you cannot make a choice. The food here is delicious and very affordable, and it will be hard to tear yourself away from all those tasty treats.
- Eat What?: Ambuyat, Brunei’s national dish, may raise a few eyebrows, but its fun to eat and even more fun to share. The dish is starchy and rather glue-like and is made from the sago palm, but its flavor comes from the cacah, or the variety of dips used to eat it with.
- Get Bucolic: Go back in time and discover the roots of Brunei, its time-honored traditions and rituals showcased through a homestay in a Bruneian village. The residents of Kampong Sungai Matan will be delighted to have you as a guest and will gladly share their way of life with you, demonstrating cooking methods, local customs, and arts and crafts and how to fish like a true Brunei native.
- Early Bird: Get yourself out of bed early for a sunrise safari through the Ulu Temborong National Park. This is a lush spot with more than a few mischievous monkeys you will need to watch out for. The view from the top of the 60 feet canopy, and the active local wildlife are worth waking up for.
- Life on the Water at Kampong Ayer: The pulse of Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, Kampong Ayer is the world’s largest water village, having been inhabited for an impressive 1,000 years. Get yourself a water taxi and go meet the locals in their stilt houses, set amid an array of wooden boardwalks and bridges.
- Wealth of Art: The Royal Regalia Museum gives you a glimpse of what life in the lap of luxury looks like. You will see treasures and ceremonial costumes from the Sultan’s own collection.
- Meet the Royals: The end of Ramadan heralds the festival of Hari Raya, Brunei’s biggest celebration of the year. During this time, the Sultan and his family throw open the doors of their palace and greet people in person. While you are getting friendly with the royals, you can also take a long look at Istana Nurul Iman, the largest residential palace in the world.
- Live among the Stars: The Empire Hotel and Country Hotel will astound you with its opulence. With a shopping arcade, a cinema, a private beach, and a golf course, among others, on the grounds, it is worth a visit even if you are not staying here. Fun fact: The Emperor Suite here has hosted both Prince Charles and Bill Clinton, and has carpets flecked with real gold!
Millions of visitors flock to the ‘Land of Smiles’ every year and it is easy to see why. Whether you want to party, laze on a beach, or stuff yourself with local delicacies, Thailand has something for everyone. Beyond its more obvious attractions, however, a little deeper exploration yields up Thailand’s subtler charms.
Thailand: At a Glance
Experience the Best Attractions of Thailand
- Boxing Days: Grueling training sessions, a rudimentary diet and sparse facilities—these are the staples of training for Muay Thai or Thai boxing. There are special camps run across the country that offer short-term courses for visitors. Most have English-speaking instructors, and training periods can range from one day to a few weeks. Check out the Lanna Muay Thai Boxing Camp in Chiang Mai and the Muay Thai Institute in Bangkok.
- Biker Fun: Thailand is great for two-wheeled exploration, as long as you can deal with crazy traffic. Check out the Big Bike Company in Patong. They rent out Honda CB 400 cc motorbikes that are fun and fast. Your inner petrol head will certainly be happy, especially when you hit the long, winding roads.
- Cook up a Storm: If you love Thai food and like pottering in the kitchen, why not combine the two and take in a Thai cooking class. The Baipai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok is a well-known institute in a beautiful location, and offers short courses run by English-speaking instructors. If you are in Phuket, the Phuket Thai Cookery School offers you a haven from the noise and bustle of the city. Located on Siray Beach, you can couple your cooking classes with panoramic ocean views and then walk off a meal in the evening or even take a siesta on the wooden sundeck.
- Leave the Road Behind: Go off the beaten track and indulge in some soft adventure sports in Nakhon Nayok. From rappelling to cutting through forests and streams on ATVs and white-water rafting, there are lots here for the intrepid adventure-lover.
- Get Wet: Thailand turns into a free-for-all water park once a year. The Songkran Festival is an unrestrained water fight, and visitors are fair game, both to be soaked and to do the soaking Images of the Buddha are ‘bathed’ and young Thais seek the blessing of their elders by pouring scented water over their hands. Held at the peak of the hot season, Songkran is quite literally a chance for the entire country, and all its visitors, to cool off.
- Join the (Yacht) Club: If your sailor self has been feeling neglected for a while, and you are feeling especially indulgent, Thailand has many great yachting options. A sailing holiday in Thailand is an especially beautiful experience with the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea and swimming and snorkeling at your leisure. Most trips are around Phuket and Koh Samui, and you will get to see other islands as well.
- Kick Back: Take a break from all that activity at Koh Phangan’s Sanctuary Island Resort. The Sanctuary is a laid back, alternative health resort on a isolated beach fringed by tropical forest and tropical seas. Your mind and body will both leave refreshed and ready to take on the world again.
- Festival of Lights: Come November, Thailand transforms into a veritable fairyland of lights, Loi Krathong is Thailand’s festival of lights held on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month of the year. If you are lucky enough to be staying on the coast, you will be able to see lights stretching far out across the water. The word ‘loy’ means ‘to float’ while ‘krathong’ is the lotus-shaped receptacle. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or a spider lily plant; it contains food, betel nuts, flowers, candles, and coins.
- Soup It Up: Thailand is known for its spicy, flavorful food and tom yum soup is one of the country’s best-known dishes. This clear, hot-and-sour soup combines herbs, spices, and seafood to great effect.
- Get Inked: Experience tattooing like no place else at Wat Bang Phra. The monks here create delicate sak yant (also known as yantra tattoos) following age-old methods, and bless them afterwards.
Laos was not really thought of as a tourist destination until the 1990s, when people realized it had more to offer than just pachyderms and Buddhist monks. Even as elephants and religion continue to drive the country, there are also dramatic landscapes, ancient architectural ruins and much history to be discovered, making it a wonderful spot for the inquisitive traveler.
Laos: At a Glance
Experience the Best Attractions of Laos
- Take a Walk: A blend of traditional architecture and urban structures, Luang Prabang is made for ambling around in. Make a stop at the Royal Palace Museum before heading on to discover the War Nong, Wat Sene, and Wat Khili temples. Chill for a bit at Dara Market, and later catch the sunset from the boat pier.
- Do a Temple Run: Visit one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang—Wat Visounnarath, which is home to the incredible That Mak Mo stupa. However, the most beautiful temple in Luang Prabang has to be Wat Xieng Thong, whose tiered roofs sweep low almost to touch the ground. The temple is considered a archetypal example of the Luang Prabang style of architecture.
- A Different Treat: Jump straight into the native experience and try a serving of fried crickets. These crunchy snacks are available both at street-side stalls and in some cafes and eateries, and are best eaten hot, and with an open mind! Khop Chai Deu in Vientiane is a safe place at which to try crickets and other local delicacies.
- Buddha Says: The Pak Ou Caves are a short trip upstream from Luang Prabang. This network of caves at the convergence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers is where you will find hundreds of Buddha statues left by devotees over the centuries.
- Explore Hidden Caves: The capital of the Khammouane province in south-central Laos, Thakhaek is a small municipality dotted with lots of lovely French architecture. However, its main draw lies in its limestone mountains—the site of hundreds of unexplored caves, including some that are believed to keep undiscovered treasures. How is that for adventure? The most well known among these is the 7.5km-long Kong Lor Cave. Also worth a dekko is the Buddha Cave, which holds, as the name suggests, rows and rows of gorgeous Buddha statues.
- Take a Cooking Class: If you have fallen in love with Lao food, take a cooking class so that you can whip up some of your favorite dishes back home. Tamarind offers cooking classes that give you a crash course in Lao cuisine, followed by a visit to the market to pick out fresh ingredients. You can learn to make mok pa, a dish of herbed fish steamed in banana leaves, or laab, a minced-meat and herb salad, among other tasty treats.
- Heritage up Top: Overlooking the Mekong River valley, the incredibly well preserved Wat Phu Champasak Temple complex is more than a thousand years old. Lined with jacaranda trees, this Khmer-styled temple was originally dedicated to Shiva, and later converted into a Buddhist temple. As you are walking around soaking in all the history and culture, keep your eyes peeled for the funny crocodile and elephant stones.
- Fun in the Water: Drive, trek, or hitchhike your way past forests, villages, and rice fields to the cascading waters of the Kwang Si Waterfalls. Dive in for a bit of a paddle, walk up for pretty views, and then dig into your picnic basket for a well-deserved meal. Remember to stop at the Asiatic Black Bear Rescue Centre that looks after bears rescued from poachers.
- Mountain Shrines: Bang in the heart of Luang Prabang’s old town, Mount Phou Si is a small hill of religious significance to the locals. It is sandwiched between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, and offers great vistas over the city. Two shrines call Mount Phou Si home, namely War Phou Si, halfway up to the top, and Wat Chom Si, which sits at the peak.
- Night Owls: While Luang Prabang has no dearth of charms through the day, its night market is worth exploring, too. With what is possibly the largest collection of Lao handicrafts available for sale in one place, it is a great place at which to buy souvenirs to take home.
Great things do come in small packages, and Singapore is the ideal example. From quirky, obscure bookshops, gritty designers and excellent cuisine to exemplary street food and sophisticated bars and watering holes and even extraordinary wildlife encounters, this power-packed country offers you a holiday experience you will definitely never forget.
Singapore: At a Glance
Experience the Best Attractions of Singapore
- Down the River: If you always wondered what lies beneath the waters of the Mississippi, you need look no further than in Asia’s first river-themed wildlife park. At River Safari, you will meet over 5,000 aquatic animals, spread out over 300 species. Documenting life in eight river habitats, here you will learn about the giant river otter, the endangered Mekong giant catfish, and much more. This is one experience you will not want to miss.
- Animal Magic: Known as one of the most spectacular zoos in the world, spread out over 26 hectares of intimate viewing platforms and sensitively constructed habitats, the Singapore Zoo is your ticket to wildlife wonderland. You could make friends with the free-ranging kangaroos in the Australian Outback, then head to the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia to see the Hamadryas baboons.
- Something Fishy: Singapore has some of the most superb seafood in the world, none more iconic than its chili crabs. Recognized as an unofficial national dish, this delightful dish involves crab slathered in a sweet-spicy sauce and served with fried mantou (buns) with which to mop up all of that extra sauce. No less well known are the pepper crabs. Served in a black-and-white pepper sauce, these are hugely enjoyable treats.
- Love’s in the Air: What better way to proclaim or re-affirm your love than at 165m above the ground in the world’s largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer is one of the most beautiful ways to take in the magic of Singapore. If you are looking to spend a special evening, book the Moet and Chandon Champagne Flight. Raise a glass of bubbly in this especially themed capsule as you take in the sights of the city and splurge on a romantic four-course meal that comes with a personal butler.
- Green Thumbs: If you are craving some open green space, this 101-hectare horticultural attraction with over 250,000 plants will give you just the breather you have been looking for. A mere five-minute walk from the city, the Gardens by the Bay are made up of three spaces—Bay Central, Bay South, and Bay East. The view from the promenade is resplendently beautiful and the grounds are a great spot for a stroll in the evening followed by a family picnic on the lush lawns amid plain trees.
- Filmi Business: All you movie lovers, who are always dying to be part of the action, get to Universal Studios. Go on rides designed to take you through the worlds of Madagascar, Shrek 4, and The Mummy Returns. Scream your lungs out on the world’s tallest dueling coaster ride at Battlestar Galactica and prepare to be amazed by unbelievable special effects in the Transformers ride.
- Flying High: Experience the heart-thumping rush of skydiving without the risks at IFly, the world’s first vertical wind tunnel for indoor skydiving. With a flying height of 17.22m (the equivalent of five storeys), anyone between seven to 106 years olds can fly. The technology ensures a high degree of safety, and the massive wind tunnel lets you try out free flying and even formation skydiving.
- Something for Everyone: There is not much that Clarke Quay does not have. Whether you are looking to eat, drink, party, or shop for antiques, this colorful entertainment center will have it. At night, the entire zone is lit up and the fountain grooves to suit the mood of the moment. With loads of dining, dancing, and partying options, Clarke Quay is a meeting place for people from across the world.
- Go Peranakan: Descendants of 17th century Chinese traders who migrated to the Malay Archipelago, the Peranakans, brought a rich convergence of Chinese and Malay cultures, with sparks of Dutch, Indonesian, and Portuguese influences, to Singapore. Along with religion and traditions, their food has distinguishing flavors, with recipes that have been handed down for generations, and is a must-try at restaurants like Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road.
- Dining with the Stars: Marina Bay Sands houses some of the most exquisite restaurants and celebrity-chef outposts in Singapore. Here, you can sample culinary masterpieces cooked up by some of the world’s best-known chefs, including Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, and Daniel Boulud.