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I am looking into going to Southeast Asia for about 2 weeks in December over the Western holidays (xmas & New years). I'll be going with my girlfriend who is a little wary of the potential issues that could arise. Any suggestions on places to go where the "cleanliness standards" are high but I won't have to spend a ton? also some conveniences of travelling may be important. I may be asking a near impossible question (especially since I'm not looking for a club med).

Thanks for help

Paul
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Hi Paul
I spent 2 months in Thailand, 1 month in Malaysia and 2 months in Indonesia as part of a backpacking trip - I was there in the spring of 1999.

Thailand is great - lots of culture, good english, easy to get around with Thai air or the other airline (forget the name). People are very friendly and hospitable (But NEVER get angry or they will just ignore you- everything is done with courtesy and respect, even complaining)

If you want "touristy" and accessible, try Phuket for beaches (direct flights from Bangkok), with a side trip to Ko Phi Phi (Ko- pee-pee) which is the area where "the Beach" was flimed, Chiang Mai for hill tribe treks (email me for more info about this - careful!) and shopping (also direct flights from Bangkok). You could actually fly BKK to Chiang Mai then direct to Phuket and back to Bangkok in 2 weeks comfortably. You can also fly direct to Ko Samui but I thought it was a bit of a dive (gulf coast of Thailand)- lots of old German men sporting their 13 year old prostitutes for the week. Yuk

Malaysia is also nice but a bit too western for my liking, to get to the good areas might take more than two weeks. I didn't go but the Perhentian islands are supposed to be great (maybe a bit remote for your girlfriend). Indonesia, especially Bali and Sumatra are FANTASTIC - and VERY cheap. Even in Kuta (tourist surf trap - don't stay here too long!) I got a decent room with fan in a hotel with a restaurant and pool for about 85,000 rupees for two people (well, if you barter, anyway - that's about US$10-11). Bali is great - the beaches are not as nice as Thailand, but it is a small island and you can find lots to do. Kuta has surfing, beaches, lots of Aussies and cheap souvenirs (read poor quality not inexpensive - buy better stuff in Ubud), Ubud has culture capital with fantastic food and great cultural dancing and cheaper hotels than Kuta (must see monkey kecak dance and the Barong), Lovina has black sand beaches but not much else, Padangbai has colorful fishing boats and a really great little beach, there is a volcano in the middle of the island and lots of rice paddies and temples. If your girlfriend is wary of SE Asia (with no good reason you will realize once you get there you can adapt to anything, and it isn't as bad as you might expect) then Bali might be a good option for only two weeks.

I would suggest either the Bangkok-Chiang Mai-Phuket route, or fly to Bali and travel around, you can hire a driver to take you around for about $15 a day. Consider taking the ferry to Lombok and the Gili Islands that have good beaches. You can pick between a party island with lots of dive shops (Trawangan) to a remote island that is very quiet (Meno and Air).

I could go on forever - I am so jealous, I would love to go back.
If you have any specific questions about where i stayed, etc, I can give you more details. My personal feeling about tourists' behaviour in SE Asia is that bartering is great (with a smile, always, and lots of laughter!) but not a means to try to screw the locals out of as much money as possible. I saw a N. American couple coming out of the Hard Rock cafe where a meal costs more than a local's monthly salary. I was disgusted because he was aggressively haggling with the cab driver over the cab fare back to his overpriced 5 star hotel - it made a difference of LITERALLY 25 cents. He was probably paying about $75-$100 a night for the hotel, plus about $50 for the meal, both to large multinational corporations. I was so angry that he was being so cheap for 25cents with a local guy just trying to make a living!!

I think he was just trying to be macho. There is nothing wrong with bartering, but you can usually find a price that is agreeable to both parties (i.e. the first price is usually a RIP off, offer 50% and go from there) It is a lot of fun, but I feel sad for a lot of the locals, especially when I was there and the tourism was slow because of the imminent election, realizing that they were probably making 5 or 10 cents on some transactions because they were desperate to sell. Also please read up on local custom and respect it - women cannot touch monks, don't point your feet at monks, don't touch children on the head, NO topless bathing in Muslim areas, wear appropriate clothes (long pants and no tank tops) to temples and monasteries (you would think this would be obvious but you would be surprised).

I will get off my soapbox now. On the other hand don't overpay either, because when the long-term backpackers come along the prices are so inflated because 2 week holidayers think everything is such a bargain that they overpay. I guess it's a fine line.
In Thailand you should be able to get by comfortably on $30-$40 a day per person, in Indonesia (depending on where) about $20. I stayed in a few places in Indonesia (Sumatra) for US$1.25/night - my own bedroom, bath, etc. They weren't the Ritz but they were clean and safe.

Things to ask if they bother you: Is the toilet a western or squat? Is there AC or fan (I prefer fan, don't know what is growing in those AC filters), is there a mosquito net (if needed), Is the shower water FRESH or SALT (important in the Gili Islands on Lombok), Is the water HOT or COLD (often just a cold shower which is actually refreshing) Is breakfast included (most places it is), is there a discount (pick a reason - multiple night, multiple person, etc). Double bed or twin???
I am very excited for you, obviously, I have been rambling on here forever!!! Pick up a lonely planet (for more harder core backpackers, although pretty good, but all the hotels in the book usually really hike their prices once they get in the book, so the prices are all wrong), or Footprints guide or Moon Guide, to the area where you will be going. Lonely planet has a good website with a sample of what is in their books. The other ones might as well.
you can email me at c_brookfield@hotmail.com if you have any questions.
Caroline
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PS - forgot - if you are going over Xmas/NY you should book hotels in advance if you are only going for two weeks, you might find it difficult to get a room in the standard you are seeking otherwise.
caroline
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Hong Kong is clean. Amazing city. Singapore is even cleaner but definitely not as cool. Your girlfriend can get a lot of shopping done in Hong Kong. It certainly has the BEST Chinese food in the world: Cantonese, Pekingese, Shanghaiese, etc. Try this website for eating (http://www.foodeasy.com) and traveling (http://english.hongkong.com/hkdc/en/travel/0,1470,0,00.html) in Hong Kong. Things are pretty cheap there as it still hasn't quite recovered from the recession in 1997. Majority of people in Hong Kong can speak/understand English relatively well.
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I second the vote for Thailand.
I went to Bangkok & Phuket and had a great time. The beaches on Phuket were great and I rent a motorcycle and travelled all around the island. It's still possible to rent a beach hut for less than $10 per night in some areas. The Thai people are among the friendliest in the world but you also have to keep your guard up against skams. (Especially in Bangkok). I read on LonelyPlanet.com that Ko Phi Phi Beach (The Beach) is now totally trashed. Go elsewhere.

Letsgothere
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I second the vote for Thailand.
I went to Bangkok & Phuket and had a great time. The beaches on Phuket were great and I rented a motorbike ($6 per day) and travelled all around the island. It's still possible to rent a beach hut for less than $10 per night in some areas. The Thai people are among the friendliest in the world but you also have to keep your guard up against skams. (Especially in Bangkok). I read on LonelyPlanet.com that Ko Phi Phi Beach (The Beach) is now totally trashed. Go elsewhere.

Letsgothere
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Hong Kong is an amazing city, but I wouldn't call it cheap. Prices have have come down a little from a few years ago but a decent room will still cost $100 or more per night. I was lucky to find a room for under $120 when I went but with the recession and some additional research you may find something in the $70 -100 range. Stay a couple of days to see the sights in Hong Kong and spend the rest of your vacation in (inexpensive)Thailand.

Letsgothere
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In a word Bali.

Head to the northside of the island. It is beautiful, inexpensive, less crowded than the southside. There is a public bus or you can take a private car, we had the driver go round on the westside to get to our resort, we stopped in at his village and I believe we paid all of $25 to take this amazing private tour.

Kuta is touristy, lots of beach peddlers, and way overrated sunsets. Ubud has some truely fine art, the carvers and painters are some of the most skilled in the world.

Balinese sometimes charge tourists more for a ride on the minivans they use as local buses, since most of us take up twice the space as the locals, I think this is only fair. They are very cheap to begin with, so wink and pay the guys, they are just trying to support large families.

I felt the people in Bali to be some of the most gracious, lovely folk I have ever encountered in my world travels.

If you are considering Bali, email me personally at joella@rocketmail.com, I have info on a small resort for staying on the northside, you will love the place.
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If you are interested in Thailand, these sites are worth a look --

http://www.phuket.com/
http://asiatravel.com/thailand.html
http://www.thailand-hotels.freewire.co.uk/index.html

The last link is especially helpful and includes lots of comments and there is a very decent forum.

wyo
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