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12 hours in South East Asia

So, you have 12 spare hours in South East Asia, what could you do with them? Take a look at some of our tips from our Asia Product Manager, Chris Ellis.

Rangoon, Burma

• Rangoon’s commuter train travels in a circle around the centre of the city and transports everyone from street sellers and families to robed monks. The clattering 45km route is a bumpy introduction to the city, where interaction with local life is genuine and photogenic.

• You could easily spend half a day wandering around sprawling Scott’s Market (or Bogyoke Aung San). There are more than 2,000 shops selling traditional crafts such as lacquer boxes, shoulder bags from Shan, longyi and slippers and Burmese rubies.

• The gilded stupa of Schwedagon Pagoda is covered in 27 metric tonnes of gold leaf, along with thousands of diamonds. Striking during the day, at night the pagoda blushes a deep crimson and is lit up by thousands of tiny lights (plus the air is cooler and there are fewer crowds).

• Head across the river to the village of Twante where you’ll find interesting pottery workshops and artisans practising crafts that have passed down through many generations. Twante’s pottery is an ideal keepsake to take home, and they still fire pots in the traditional way.

Bangkok, Thailand

• For a pricey view that’s worth every baht, head to the Skybar at Sirocco for sunset. Located on the 64th floor of the Lebua hotel, it’s the highest open-air bar in the world and a cooling retreat from sultry Bangkok nights. Don’t miss the Madamme Lapsang – cognac, lapsang tea liqueur, ginger, honey and lime.

• Colourful Patpong Night Market is the place for honing your haggling skills, where hawkers cry out from stalls as diverse as street food to bootleg designer watches. You can pick up almost anything here, though the magnet for savvy souvenir shoppers does get very lively in the evenings. Go with the flow and bargain with determination and you’ll get the best deal.

• Try the perfect incarnation of Thailand’s national dish, pad Thai, at Thip Samai; they’ve been serving the city’s finest noodles for around five decades. Get there before 5pm when the fires are lit – there’ll already be a queue (try the ‘superb’ version for an extra £1.50 – wrapped in a wafer-thin omelette).

• Wat Saket, or the Golden Mount, is a low hill capped off with a gleaming gold chedi temple. Reaching the top requires a thigh-burning 300-step climb, but you’re rewarded with a beautiful setting, murals that depict Buddhist hell and a wall of bells. Go for sunset to make the most of the far-reaching vistas.

Hanoi, Vietnam

• Pho – pronounced ‘fuh’ – is a warming Vietnamese soup cooked long and slow with beef bone broth and slippery rice noodles. The city of Hanoi practically runs on pho with many eating it for breakfast or a late night snack; head to one of the noodle bars in the historic French Quarter (we like Pho Thin, open since 1979) and pick up a steaming bowl for around £1.50.

• Legend has it that in the 15th century a giant golden turtle once plunged into the depths of Hoan Kiem Lake; nowadays the beauty spot is popular for a relaxing stroll to escape the perpetually busy traffic. Visit early in the morning and you can join locals practising tai chi on the lakeshore.

• Water puppet shows date back to the 11th century, interpreting folk tales through amusing skits accompanied by an orchestra playing traditional Vietnamese music. Visit Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – a Hanoi institution – to see a performance for yourself.

• Hanoi’s Old Quarter is known as ’36 Street’ – though there are actually a lot more than 36, with names like Medicine, Headstone and Silk. Weave through the streets dodging power cables and motorbikes, and shop for iced coffee, silk prints, fans and beautiful paper products.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

• The Foreign Correspondents Club is a hotel, bar, restaurant and a Siem Reap institution. Enjoy dinner or drinks at the serene whitewashed colonial villa and rub shoulders with other adventurous travellers in a beautiful setting serving no-frills East-meets-West cuisine.

• The Angkor temples are not to be missed, but consider escaping the tourists for a day trip to Beng Mealea, northeast of Siem Reap. Built on the same floorplan as Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea offers the full Indiana Jones experience; here nature has well and truly run riot.

• Cambodia has long been cursed by land mines, a leftover from three decades of war. The Land Mine Museum at Banteay Sri was opened by a DIY de-miner and features eye-opening displays including mines, mortars and weaponry, plus a mock minefield where you can attempt to locate deactivated mines.

• Siem Reap is famous for its delicious street food. Try out some basic Khmer at some of the stalls in Psar Leu (Old Market) and order dishes like banh sung (ribbons of noodles tossed with spring rolls, pickles, pork scratchings and a hot-sour sauce) and spongy palm sugar cakes from hawker stands – just avoid the prahok, a pungent fermented fish paste.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

• Old Saigon is famous for its tailors, with fabric shops lining many of the old streets – their front windows vibrant with bolts of shimmering silk in every colour imaginable. Get yourself a suit tailored to fit or for ladies, a traditional Vietnamese ao dai – the brighter the better.

• Moving, sombre and educational, the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City offers a shocking and brutal reminder of the long Vietnam War, where you can see many photographs plus military equipment including a helicopter, tank, aircraft and a bomb.

• Located right in the heart of the city, Ben Thanh market is one of HCMC’s liveliest and is packed with hawker-style food stalls, clothing shops and souvenirs. Bargain hard and you’ll get a great deal, whether that’s on a piece of traditional Vietnamese art or a plate of fiery wok-fried noodles.

• The Vietnamese consider the drinking of coffee an artform – almost as much as the Italians. The country is the second largest exporter in the world and HCMC has its own preferred ways of drinking the beverage: pull up a chair at a pavement café and order a ca phe da (iced coffee) or ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk). If coffee’s not to your taste try nuoc mia – pressed sugarcane juice served from street carts that’s refreshing and surprisingly not too sweet.

Sanur, Bali

• Bali may be an island itself, but it’s surrounded by smaller satellite islands that offer than Robinson Crusoe dream of paradise beaches of white sand shaded by coconut palms. Take the 45-minute boat transfer from Sanur to unspoilt Lombok or direct to one of the car-free Gili Islands (Trawangan, Air and Meno) for that no shoes, no news, no worries feel.

• Indonesia’s national dish is nasi goreng, literally ‘fried rice’ served with sweet soy kecap, shredded meat and vegetables. Head to one of the traditional food shacks called warungs along the beachfront and pull up a plastic chair alongside Balinese locals for a plate of the best nasi goreng with a fried egg on the top.

• Sanur may be blessed with its own beautiful beaches, but for the ultimate shoreline scene head to Seminyak on the west coast, just a 40 minute drive away. Relax on the powder-soft white sands and then watch the sun go down from one of the relaxed beach bars.

• Temples abound in Bali, with some of the best located just a short drive from Sanur on the west coast. Uluwatu’s clifftop temple is home to catcalling monkeys, while Tanah Lot sits offshore on a tiny islet accessed by a narrow spit. Avoid the day-trippers and visit at sunset for one of the most spectacular views on the island.

Manila, Philippines

• Feel the wind in your hair as you explore the old walled city of Intramuros on a sustainable bamboo bicycle tour. Learn about the history and culture of the Filipino city while supporting local craftsmen working with a community charity.

• Manila’s complex backstreets conceal a number of speakeasy style bars, hidden behind markets and diners often without signs. Coffee shops by day and cocktail dens by night, try expertly mixed cocktails and listen to live music, or belt out your own tunes at some of the city’s karaoke bars.

• Weekends in Manila mean the chance to shop in some of the city’s pop-up markets. At Salcedo and Legazpi markets you can sample locally-made Filipino dishes and freshly brewed ginger ale while you browse for everything from colourful backpacks to woven mats.

• The oldest Chinatown in the world is in Manila, in the labyrinthine alleys of Binondo. Learn about Tsinoy history as you eat your way around Chinatown’s traditional shops and restaurants on a walking food tour; try pillowy kuchay pork dumplings rolled fresh in front of you, stuffed pancakes, kiampong sticky fried rice and golden pork floss.

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