SOUTH-EAST ASIA TRIP 2K19 (WHEN, WHY & HOW?)

My traveling year of 2019 has started with another trip to Asia. Unfortunately, I only had about a month this time but I still took advantage of the time that I had as much as possible. This was somehow the shortest trip that I went on so far. On the other hand, I was still able to enjoy it a lot and experience a lot of new things.


WHEN?

My trip lasted for 27 days in total from the time I left from home till I got back home. I was traveling between the 30th of January and 25th of February. February is a great time to visit Manila and the Philippines. It is not that hot yet and rainfall is in its minimum. Same goes for Bangkok. There might be some occasional rain showers although in my case I experienced just dry conditions. It is also not that hot yet but closer it gets to April hotter it gets. This South-East Asian metropolis was suffering by really bad air quality and haze just a few weeks before my arrival. During my stay, though, the air quality was much better. Furthermore, I never encountered bad air quality when I was in Bangkok at the end of February.

On the tip of the peninsula lies Singapore. It lies practically on the equator so therefore there is not any difference when you visit it. Rain is experienced every single month, usually in the afternoons and early evenings. However, there are two main monsoon seasons in Singapore. Northeast monsoon season (December-March) and Southwest monsoon season (June-September). And in Singapore is hot and humid practically every day of the year.

The best time to visit Myanmar is from November to February when temperatures are relatively manageable. From March to May, the country becomes very hot. I spent almost three weeks in Myanmar in February and I saw different weather situations there. In Yangon, the mornings were quite fresh but from about 1 or 2 pm till sunset it was quite hot. The temperatures were about 36°C or 37°C but my weather app on my phone said that the real feeling was about 43°C! That is why I spent most of the afternoons in the hostel. In Bagan, it was much better. Mornings were even fresher, someone could say a little bit cold already. Later in the day, it was also less hot than in Yangon. Similar weather conditions were also on Inle Lake but the morning when we went on the sunrise tour it was actually quite cold. On the other hand, Hsipaw and the hills surrounding that town was definitely the coldest in the mornings, evenings and during the night. On the 2nd evening was also the only time I experienced a storm in Myanmar. Even the guide said that that was quite uncommon.


WHY?

I went on this trip to experience new cultural things and try new food. One of the main goals was to visit Myanmar. This is my 2nd to the last country in South-East Asia that I have not been to yet. Myanmar, also known as Burma has just opened to tourism not that long ago. That is why I wanted to visit it before it gets too touristy. Hopefully, it will never get as bad as Thailand.

There are already some places that are very famous there. Bagan with over 2,200 temples and pagodas to visit. Inle Lake with its famous stilt houses and the fishermen (although those are mostly just for tourists nowadays). So I can say that my main reason for going there was a combination of nature, culture/history, and food. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning I have already been to a few places before (Bangkok, Manila, and Singapore).

I decided to return to the Philippines this time as well. I didn’t have that much time in total so I only stayed in Manila for a few days. That was definitely worth it as well since I was able to eat Filipino food after almost a year again. This cuisine is one of the best in my opinion because of so many diversity in flavors and dishes as well. Furthermore, I like returning here because Filipino people really proved to me last year that they’re one of the most welcoming people.

This time I started my trip in Manila and Singapore was in the middle of the way to Myanmar. I ended my trip in Bangkok with contrast to last year when I started my trip there. There were still a lot of things (especially in Manila) that I did not see yet and foods that I have not tried yet. Written below are some of the highlights from my trip although there are many more that I didn’t include in this list as well

  • MANILA
    • Learning about the hidden historical sites of the Philippines on Corregidor Island with Sun Cruises.
    • Trying a five-course tasting menu at Gallery by Chele, a successor of Gallery Vask (35th best restaurant in Asia in 2017).
    • Eating many different Filipino dishes around the city (a cuisine that is one of the best in the world in my opinion and yet still quite underrated).
    • First time sleeping in an Airbnb (amazing place, more about it soon).
  • SINGAPORE
    • Witnessing the start of Chinese New Year with huge celebrations and fireworks.
    • Attending the bicentennial edition of River Hongbao festival with lots of performances and amazing food.
    • Watching amazing water & lights projections during the I Light Marina Bay festival, Asia’s leading sustainable light art festival.
  • MYANMAR
    • Watching the sunrise at Shwedagon Pagoda, the biggest and most sacred Buddhist pagoda.
    • Spreading my knowledge about Burmese food on Yangon by night tour with Yangon Food Tours.
    • Riding with the locals on Yangon Circular train for 100 kyat (0,05€ !).
    • Learning about British colonial architecture and history on a walking tour with Yangon Heritage trust NGO.
    • Exploring dozens of temples and pagodas in Bagan with an e-bike.
    • Climbing a high pagoda in Bagan on my birthday and seeing one of the best sunrises.
    • Watching yet another great sunrise on Inle Lake, followed by an all-day exploration of the lake.
    • Surviving a 14 hours long bus ride from Inle Lake to Hsipaw through dusty mountainous “highway” (the longest bus ride I’ve ever been on).
    • Trekking for 3 days and 2 nights around the villages above Hsipaw, learning different dialects and hanging out with locals (that even includes rebels!).
    • Riding the famous Hsipaw to Mandalay train with the scenic views from the Goteik Viaduct and be thankful when it was over because it was definitely the bumpiest train ride I’ve ever been on.
  • BANGKOK
    • A DIY Food tour of Yaowarat (T&K Seafood, Sweettime and many more)
    • Seeing Alita: Battle Angel movie in Krungsri IMAX at Siam Paragon (It was the first time for me to watch a movie in IMAX).

Sunrise in Bagan.

HOW?

Planning this trip was easier than before because I gain quite a lot of experiences from my past two trips to South-East Asia and I was going to the same part of the world so I knew a bit about what I can expect. Like last year, I decided to book an open-jaw flight, meaning that I started my trip in one city and ended in another so that I did not have to go back to the starting point. I saved some time by flying to and from some places (i.e. Bagan to Inle Lake).

  • PLANE TICKETS
    • I bought the return open-jaw flight Zagreb – Doha – Manila & Bangkok – Doha – Zagreb in December 2018 because I got an excellent offer with Qatar Airways for just 520 euros. I have flown with this airline last year and it was definitely the best airline that I used so far so I did not hesitate when I was buying the tickets. Note: I purchased checked baggage for all the flights where I had to.
    • One way flight Manila – Singapore with Scoot = 70 €
    • One way flight Singapore – Yangon with Jetstar Airways = 109 €
    • One way flight Bagan – Inle Lake with Air KBZ= 50 €
    • One way flight Mandalay – Yangon with Myanmar National Airline = 103 €
    • One way flight Yangon – Bangkok with Air Nok = 55 €
  • ENTRY VISAS
    • This information is for travelers from Slovenia, for information regarding visas for other countries check at the embassies or ministry for foreign affairs in your country. I did not need any visa this time in contrast with my trip to Asia last year when I needed a visa to Cambodia and Vietnam.
    • The Philippines – I do not require a visa for staying there up to 30 days
    • Singapore – I do not require a visa for staying there up to 90 days
    • Myanmar – Citizens of Slovenia need a visa to enter Cambodia. There are a couple of ways how to get it from applying for it beforehand at an embassy or getting an e-visa. I decided for the easiest option which was geting the e-visa. If I was in Bangkok before I would have applied for a visa at the embassy there because it would have been a bit cheaper. It was my first time getting an e-visa but it was not that complicated. It costs 50 US dollars and you need to upload a passport sized photo. You can get an express one for 56 dollars as well. In my case it said that the process time is 3 days but I got it in couple of hours or so
    • Thailand – I do not require a visa for up to 30 days when entering by air
  • TRAVELING AROUND THE COUNTRIES
    • I used all sorts of transportation during my trip from day and night buses, minivans, a boat, jeepneys, plains, and trains.
  • CURRENCIES
    • The Philippines uses Philippine Peso (PHP). The current rate is 1 EUR = 59,79 PHP
    • Singapore uses Singapore Dollar (SGD). The current rate is 1 EUR = 1,55 SGD
    • Myanmar uses Myanmar Kyat (MMK). The current rate is 1 EUR = 1721 MMK
    • Thailand uses Thai Baht (THB). The current rate is 1 EUR = 36,59 THB
    • The rates are valid for 4th of March

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