The ports of Southeast Asia have plenty to offer the adventurous cruiser. Kathleen Davidson explains.
Thailand's largest island, on the southwestern side of the country, is best known for its beautiful beaches fringed with lush jungle, towering limestone cliffs and rock formations, crystal clear waters — and its raucous nightlife.
The latter you'll find in the western part of the island at the party capital of Patong — there is literally something to suit all tastes — while the quality of the former varies in terms of how many travellers frequent each. For example, the famous Phi Phi Islands (or Ko Phi Phi) were thrust into the global spotlight after being used as a location for Leonardo DiCaprio's The Beach in 2000. Since then, millions and millions of people have made the journey to see the real beach, which was badly hit by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, and the island's natural habitat has suffered as a result.
There are plenty of places on these coastlines where you can find other less compromised slices of paradise, such as Kata Noi, Kata Beach and Freedom and Bamboo bays. And if designer boutiques, extravagant spa treatments and decadent dining is your thing, you won't be disappointed; however, if your budget is more on the conservative side, there's plenty of cheaper options for you on Phuket too.
Many people travel to Penang simply to feast on its melting pot of cuisine offerings, but this lovely island off the northwest coast of Malaysia — one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country — has many other points of interest.
Number one would be a stroll around the island's capital of Georgetown, a designated Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site, to check out the art that lines the streets of the city centre. The rock stars are the works by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, often constructed around existing infrastructure such as windows, plaster cracks and even real life props including flower pots, swing sets, motorcycles and push bikes.
You also can't miss the contributions by local company Sculpture at Work — Penang dioramas made from steel rods depicting often humorous cartoons complete with words.
Explore the street art on foot with a walking map, or take a guided tour with a local.
While it is known for its treasured heritage buildings — mostly Chinese storefronts, but temples and colonial mansions too — Georgetown has no shortage of attractions for those who enjoy boutiques, galleries, hipster cafes and quirky speakeasies.
Cruise ships berth at Port Klang, an hour southwest of Malaysia's sprawling capital. Like most of Malaysia, the beauty of Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is widely known, is its multiculturalism, though the food and shopping are legendary too. A good place to start is the "Golden Triangle", the main shopping, commercial and entertainment district where you'll find Berjaya Times Square. Not only does this 48-storey shopping mall — one of the largest in the world — house a hotel, a 3D cinema and a bowling alley, it is also home to the country's biggest indoor theme park.
Keep an eye out for the theme park's multiple-inverted roller coaster, the Supersonic Odyssey, which roars about the building at a top speed of 80km/h.
The capital of the Muslim-majority country is a drawcard for fans of modern Islamic architecture, most famously the famous Petronas Twin Towers, best viewed from a bar or restaurant at a skyscraper nearby.
More traditional Islamic architecture can be found at the Central Market Kuala Lumpur, which dates from 1888, when it started life as a wet market. These days you'll find more than 300 shops selling Malaysian arts and crafts such as textiles and souvenirs, as well as eateries serving traditional dishes such as roti canai and mua chi.
Langkawi is actually made up of 99 islands just off the northwestern coast of Malaysia.
It's another major drawcard for travellers seeking beautiful beaches and amazing food, and has a wide range of adventure activities too. A must-do is the popular cable car at Oriental Village which ascends Mt Mat Cincang to the Langkawi Sky Bridge, a 125m-long viewing platform suspended 700m in the air.
The island's largest indoor attraction is the massive Underwater World aquarium at Pantai Cenang; for a different sort of creature encounter travellers can visit Gua Kelawar, which has a large population of giant Malaysian fruit bats.
Travellers can get their food fix at the night market, held in a different place every day. The crowds — local and tourists — typically arrive at sunset, so if you can get there earlier it'll be easier to find the dishes you want to try. Kuah and Pantai Cenang are two of the market's most popular locations.
The former British colony of Singapore may be a tiny nation but it is jam-packed with diverse cultures, amazing food and shopping and plenty to see and do. Again, Chinese, Malay and Indian food dominates and if you can make it to one of the area's hawker centres (or food courts) you could sample all three for very little cash. The largest is the Chinatown Complex Food Centre with more than 260 food stalls, but you'll find them everywhere.
Orchard Rd is the famous shopping strip for high-end designer wares; if you're after something more unique head to boutiques of Haji Lane in the Arab Quarter.
TOP TIP For something completely unique, head to the fantastical Gardens by the Bay nature park in the centre of the city. Featuring three waterfront gardens spread over 100ha, the green space is best known for its colourful Supertree Grove — a giant forest with steel-framed "trees" covered in plants and flowers.
The trees star in a free daily light and music show (Garden Rhapsody) at 7.45pm and 8.45pm, and you can pay a few dollars to walk among three of them on the OCBC Skyway at Supertree Grove, a 128m-long aerial walkway sitting 22m above the ground.
An eight-night fly-and-cruise package in Asia with
starts at $3029pp.