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My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia – #8 – Singapore

In some ways, Singapore is the anti-Asia. But only in some ways.

It’s clean. It’s extremely functional. You could live in their airport and be quite happy. It’s orderly. Did I mention that it’s clean?

It’s like a beautifully developed city-state that just works.

Sparkling malls. Manicured lawns. Beautiful parks. One of the nicest zoos in the world. Large amusement parks. And it’s clean.

I remember the first time I want to Singapore. My wife and I flew from Hanoi for a few days, and Singapore could not have felt further away from dusty, chaotic Hanoi.

We felt like we had stepped into an alternate universe for a while. And then some friends picked us up and took us to the waterfront for the amazing, Singaporean chili crab. Oh my, I was in love. Luscious, large, whole crabs smothered in a thick chili sauce, served with deep fried bread for tipping. Wow! This alone was enough to make it onto my top ten list.

Good food, great shopping, excellent transportation, and cleanliness.

Singapore makes the top 10!

Let’s review the top-10 so far:

10. Malacca, Malaysia

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Singapore

7. ?????

My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: #9 – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have many fond memories of Chiang Mai, not the least of which is the day I walked my wife from the YMCA Hotel to Ram Hospital to have our second child. What an amazing experience that was! It certainly was easy, for this reason alone, for Chiang Mai to crack the top 10.

But, it would have made it anyways. Chiang Mai is a quaint little city in northern Thailand, surrounded by beautiful mountains and a laid back, friendly spirit. Chiang Mai has great food. I still remember fondly a small shop that served this out of the world ginger pork curry. It has one of the best and largest night markets in Asia, a sprawling scene with untold riches ready to be found. And it’s always fun to arrive in the Tuk Tuk, the small motorized vehicle which seats 3 or 4.

Just outside the city limits, you can go for elephant rides (a truly fun experience) see the massive snakes and a myriad of other interesting day trips. You can even head to the Golden Triangle for the day where China, Thailand, and Myanmar all meet.

If you ever get a chance, put it on your list! ┬áHere’s my daughter in Chiang Mai, testing out the wooden elephants.

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The list so far:

10. Malacca, Malaysia

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. ?

My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: #10 – Malacca, Malaysia

Malacca is located on the Malay Peninsula, an hour and a half south of Kuala Lumpur and five hours from Johor Bahru and Singapore on the peninsula’s tip.

The history of Malacca is what drew me to it; its charm is what keeps me going back.

The history stuff first. Malacca was taken over by the Portuguese in the early part of the 16th century, being a perfect outpost for their trade forays into the spice islands. They established a small settlement, including St. Paul’s church whose structure is one of the oldest European buildings in the region. The Dutch removed the Portuguese in the 17th century and the English returned the favor in the 19th century. The European colonialists provide a rich layer of history to Malacca with fascinating architecture and beautiful old colonial houses and shops.

Jonker Street and the surrounding streets provides a rich shopping experience for antiques, art, and varied knickknacks and rare finds. Malacca boasts some of the best Nonya (Straits Chinese) food in Malaysia.

In the past few years, the Malacca River has gone through a renaissance of sorts, lined with beautiful walks, refurbished ancient structures, and modern and sleek hotels and restaurants.

It’s a cultural and historical feast – as well as a gastronomical one. For all of these purposes, Malacca ranks as one of my top 10 places in Asia.

Here are a few photos from my last visit to Malacca:

Colonial era homes of the Straits Chinese
Colonial era homes of the Straits Chinese

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Dutch Square - Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.
Dutch Square – Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.
Jonker Street. Wonderful night street market with Chinese delicacies, art, antiques, and lots more.
Jonker Street. Wonderful night street market with Chinese delicacies, art, antiques, and lots more.
Statue of St. Francis Xavier outside St. Paul's church.
Statue of St. Francis Xavier outside St. Paul’s church.
Malacca River. Enjoy a night cruise.
Malacca River. Enjoy a night cruise.

My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: Not Making the Cut

I was doing an author’s interview recently and the interviewer asked what is my favorite place in Asia. That made me really stop and think. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to some pretty cool places throughout east and southeast Asia. So I decided to do my blog’s first 10 ten series. I’ve compiled my 10 most favorite places I’ve been to in Asia.

Now, of course, a list like this is very subjective. So I do have a couple of rules.

1) This list includes only places that I have visited. Yes, there are a lot of great places not on the list which I simply haven’t been able to get to. So don’t be offended if your favorite place isn’t even mentioned. I probably haven’t been there.

2) Some of the places are more regional, and others more specific. I didn’t want to just say “My Top 10 Favorite Cities” because some of my favorite places aren’t necessarily in a city.

3) Some of these places I haven’t been to in years so my thoughts are based on my experiences whether recent or long ago.

So with those ground rules, I’ll be posting my picks over the next few weeks. I’d appreciate your comments.

Today, I’m starting with seven places which just didn’t make the cut. It’s not like I didn’t like these places; it’s just that only 10 places fit in a top 10. Here are a few leftovers in no particular order:

Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok is a sprawling, bustling city, that always feels extremely hot. The temples and palaces are beautiful and the food is great. But it wasn’t enough to crack my top 10.

Vientiane, Laos – I remember driving through the capital for the first time and asking myself, ‘where’s the capital’? It’s an extremely laid back place. Very friendly people, but not a whole lot to do.

Bali, Indonesia – Some will wonder how this one didn’t crack my top 10. The beaches are beautiful, yes. However, I was turned off by the crowds. Everything was so busy and chaotic. It wasn’t the relaxing beach destination that we were looking for. It is pretty, though.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The capital of Cambodia is an interesting place to visit. A must are the relics which reveal the horror of the Killing Fields. The Cambodian people are fun and gracious.

Tokyo, Japan – It was big, confusing, and really expensive.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – KL is an interesting city with some fun stuff to do. I always like stopping by the administrative capital of Putra Jaya to the south. But really, if you are going to Malaysia, there are more interesting places.

central Vietnam – This one was hard to cut from my list because there are some really nice places to visit there. Hoi An, the ancient city, is quaint and pleasant. Danang has the wonderful China Beach, Hue, the former Imperial City, has some wonderful old palaces to visit. Come to think of it, how did this one not make the list?

These ten ahead of it must be something special.

Up next: #10

Ipoh – Lost World of Tambun

I’m not much of an amusement park or water park person, but I spent yesterday at Sunway’s Lost World in Ipoh and thought I’d share a few items.

First off, the setting is breathtakingly beautiful. The park is nestled in Ipoh’s iconic limestone peaks and cliffs and the park really uses the natural surroundings to their full potential – a wonderful tea house in a side of a cliff, a cave banquet hall, and the beautiful wet-lands – richly preserved are fantastic. In fact, there is so much greenery that much of the park is hidden under its canopy – a wonderful feature.

As for the attractions, I’m not one to give much insight. I did see, however, many people enjoying the large wave pool, the impressive water slides, and the pools of the hot springs. My group especially enjoyed the petting zoo – quite a misnomer, I believe. It’s a far step up from the “petting zoos” that I took my kids to when they were growing up. This was interactive with some wonderful animals – a fun bird aviary – and raccoons, of all things, which were a treat to watch. We also enjoyed the majestic Siberian tigers roaming freely in their beautiful habitat set against the mountain.

The amusement park side was certainly the weakness of the park. No real rollercoaster other than an extremely tame one that would be in most kiddie parks in America. There were also very few other rides of appeal – especially for me since I don’t like rides.

The other drawback was the food. Actually, it’s quite a shame. Malaysia has some of the best food anywhere, but they served poor quality, poor tasting food that was completely and utterly uninspiring. The best praise for the food was from a group of teens who said, “it’s not as bad as airplane food.” Faint praise, indeed.

But overall, I enjoyed my time there and see it as a fun destination for anyone visiting Ipoh.

Here are a few photos:

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Cambodia: The Discovery of the Kingdom of Angkor

The great Kingdom of Angkor arose in the 10th century and lasted into the 14th century until it faded from regional consciousness, having the jungle wrapped the marvelous splendors of the era in its never ceasing grip. Why did the great kingdom fall? There were many reasons. Wars with the Siamese. Eroding aqueducts. The importance of the spice trade necessitating a move toward the coast. The rise of Buddhism. All of those contributed to the population base shifting away from northwestern Cambodia. The modern day Siem Reap became lost to the ages – except to the small number of locals who continued on in the region.

Fast forward to the latter half of the 19th century. The French had been capturing or influencing parts of Indochina including Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina – all three of which make up modern day Vietnam. They pushed westward into Cambodia and Laos – both extremely remote areas that the western world knew very little about.

An explorer named Henri Mouhot was leading a trek up the Mekong River and through the remote jungle of northwestern Cambodia when he stumbled upon the massive ruins of the Kingdom of Angkor. Imagine the scene – walking through a primitive landscape to suddenly stumble upon ruins of epic proportion. Towering structures with intricate carvings. Temples constructed with incredibly complex technology to rival any of the wonders of the world. He had ‘discovered’ a civilization which was previously unknown to the west. The discoveries were staggering.

One hundred and thirty-some years later, the discovery of the Kingdom of Angkor is still staggering. The temples, shrines, and structures are spread out over a huge area, each one seemingly bigger than the other. Angkor Thom and its massive stone pilings and passageways seems more like a surreal movie backdrop than a temple. You will stand in awe wondering how they built that in a place like this. And then, the granddaddy of them all – Angkor Wat – complete with moat, and surrounding gated wall that is impressive in itself. The famous reflecting poor which mirrors the spiraled stone steeples rising from the temple – the bathing pools – the stone carvings – all of it is awe-inspiring.

It’s one of those must places to visit during your lifestyle. Come discover for yourself what the Frenchmen couldn’t believe. You’ll feel the same way.

Road Trip (Take 2 – This time with actual pictures!)

Had a two-day, whirl-wind road trip to Malacca, Putra Jaya, and KL.

Here’s the Putra Mosque which we toured and had an excellent 15-minute presentation from one of the gentlemen inside. ┬áHe even invited us to dinner at the end of Ramadan when they break the fast. Sorry, can’t make it. But the mosque is beautiful and impressive. Capacity- 15,000.

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From the inside:

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My son (on right) and friend, heading in.

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Here’s the main gate to the Prime Minister’s Administration Building. Kind of like the Malaysian White House without the residency.

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More later!

Another Short Jaunt in Penang

If you know anything about Penang, you know that food is king. This is my favorite roti canai place on the island. A small shop in Telok Bahang called “Ibriham”. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Just perfect. Here he is making them:

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The finished product with some fresh ice lemon tea and some spicy curry sauce for dipping.2013-06-20 15.22.02Then we found this cool Hokkien cemetary out in the middle of no where.

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And you’ve never had Nyonya Food?

The Peranankan Chinese or the Baba Nyonya describes the ‘Straits Chinese’ – those who settled in places like Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. As generations of Chinese made the Malay Peninsula their home, their food was diffused by Malay and Indian cuisine creating a wonderful hybrid which is truly unique and truly wonderful. You can get it nowhere else in the world, as far as I know. Here are a few dishes we had the other night in Malacca. Truly amazing!

It was unreal! Some of the very best I've ever had anywhere.
It was unreal! Some of the very best I’ve ever had anywhere.
These were going so fast I had to eat my only one without even noticing what was inside it. It was amazing!
These were going so fast I had to eat my only one without even noticing what was inside it. It was amazing!
A delicate fresh fish, cooked in a thin curry broth with lady fingers and chili. Wonderful!
A delicate fresh fish, cooked in a thin curry broth with lady fingers and chili. Wonderful!
Water spinach (kancang or rau muong) cooked with sambal - spicy, chili and fish paste concoction. So good!
Water spinach (kancang or rau muong) cooked with sambal – spicy, chili and fish paste concoction. So good!

Not Pictured: Mixed Vegetables and sambal shrimp (tastey!)

Nyonya food is not to be missed. It’s worth traveling to Malaysia just to experience it.

So you haven’t visited Malacca? Here’s a few photos from my trip.

Dutch Square - Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.
Dutch Square – Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.
Jonker Street. Wonderful night street market with Chinese delicacies, art, antiques, and lots more.
Jonker Street. Wonderful night street market with Chinese delicacies, art, antiques, and lots more.

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Colonial era homes of the Straits Chinese
Colonial era homes of the Straits Chinese
Statue of St. Francis Xavier outside St. Paul's church.
Statue of St. Francis Xavier outside St. Paul’s church. After he died, his body remained here for a few months until it was returned to Goa in India.
Malacca River. Enjoy a night cruise.
Malacca River. Enjoy a night cruise.

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Inside St. Paul's church - built by the Portuguese in 1511.
Inside St. Paul’s church – built by the Portuguese in 1511.

Tomorrow I’ll show you some of the food!