Singapore can seem idyllic. There are no hurricanes, typhoons or earthquakes, and the favorable conditions make it the busiest port in the world. No family is homeless and unemployment is less than two percent. The country is far from self-sufficient, though. A lack of natural resources means most everything, even water, is imported. The cost of living, or visiting, is higher here than elsewhere in the region.
The food—from cheap hawker stalls at Maxwell Street Food Centre to fine Cantonese dining at Yan Ting—does not disappoint. Try a Chinese delicacy like fish maw or bird’s nest soup if you’re feeling adventurous. Stop by the classic Raffles hotel to buy pineapple cakes, a Taiwanese delicacy. Stay at the St. Regis Singapore for a refined atmosphere and elegant accommodations. The signature art collection includes originals from Pablo Picasso in the Astor Bar and abstract lotus ponds by Singapore’s own Chua Ek Kay in the lobby. Either before or after your long plane ride, stop in for a treatment at the Remède Spa. The argan oil and alum stone face and body treatment is the most luxurious of all, and will restore a radiant complexion even after 20 hours of recycled plane air.
Both historic George Town, the capital of Penang Island, and Malacca are UNESCO World Heritage sites where Chinese, Indian, Arab, Malay and European influences collide, most notably in the architecture and food. Majestic mosques, temples and churches are all within walking distance in Penang. Street vendors in both cities sell Hainan chicken rice and “nyonya” chicken curry side by side. Nyonya refers to the blend of Chinese and Malay culinary traditions, known for bold, spicy flavors. In Malacca, have lunch at Nancy’s Kitchen and you’ll feel like you’re dining in a local’s house. The sambal squid with bitter beans and fish maw meatball soup are nyonya standouts. Many meat dishes come with thick gravies that are delicious spooned over coconut rice.
With all the spicy food, you’ll want to cool off with dessert. Malaysian ice cream and light creamy snow ice in flavors like durian, jackfruit, black sesame and baby corn are refreshing treats on a sticky day. In Malacca, quench your thirst with a fresh coconut shake, which is much lighter than American milkshakes.
Nature lovers will enjoy hiking, kayaking and sailing on Langkawi, with its geoforest parks and mangrove forests. This island is well preserved, save for a crowded stretch of hotels, shops and restaurants on Pantai Cenang.
In contrast to Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city with nearly two million residents. The Petronas Towers are the most famous landmark and home to a Western-style shopping mall. For more local flavor, head to Central Market for batik printed scarves and dresses, pashmina and beautifully crafted pewter.
Phuket may be the most popular tourist locale in Southern Thailand. After dark, you’ll want to hit the night markets, where you can sample Thai delicacies like ripe red cashew apples.
For a relaxing day out of the relentless sun, spend a few hours being pampered at Sukkho Cultural & Wellness Spa. Indulge in Thai-style body scrubs, massages, facials and milk baths. Facials here are nothing like European ones. Instead of bright lights, extractions and serums, the focus is on a gentle cleanse and facial massage. A soothing aloe vera mask followed by a touch of powder will calm sunburned skin
Koh Yao Noi is less crowded, so it’s great for water sports and lounging on the beach. For the best food on the island, dine at Je T’aime, helmed by a French chef and his Danish girlfriend. The fusion of local flavors with European techniques is divine—try a refreshing mango shake and spicy banana blossom chicken salad followed by fresh black crabs or curry.
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