Disclaimer: Warwick ASEAN Conference would like to clarify that all opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ and editors’ own.
BY BENEDICT CHOONG
The idea of Southeast Asia invokes both excitement and mystery. Many countries exist within Southeast Asia, and there is no easy way to generalise the myriad of cultures within that part of the world. Okay, maybe we can call it The Land of Spicy Food, and it does help beat the winter chill, but we will touch more on that later.
It is this diversity, that makes this corner of the world a place to seriously consider this winter. Say goodbye to frozen fingers and faces, and hello to sunny, balmy, Southeast Asia.
This is pretty self-explanatory, since the whole point is to get out of the cold and into the tropical heat. Afternoons will peak at around the mid-thirties, starting from the late morning and extending into the early evening. This is your best chance to embrace the warmth as you proceed with the day’s activities. Evenings get progressively cooler, settling down around the mid or low twenties – perfect for a meal and a drink outdoors.
In fact, the end of the year often heralds the start of the cool season in Southeast Asia. There might be the occasional rain, but thankfully the clammy sensation some might get from equatorial humidity is pretty much non-existent. It is a good time to be out and about, and while you are out there…
Don’t forget to savour the local fare. It would be a wasted opportunity to visit Southeast Asia and only stick to burgers and pizzas. You’ll certainly find some pretty good restaurants that make you feel like home, but let’s save that for an article of its own.
Let’s talk about food. Southeast Asian ingenuity can be seen in the way plain rice or noodles are paired with a near-endless array of dishes reflecting the diversity that makes up the region. The usual range of poultry and seafood is readily available, either stir-fried, stewed, steamed, blanched, grilled or even curried with the local spice mix to create a dish that can range from light yet flavourful, to rich and intense.
Expect dishes to be aromatic, speckled with sweet and tangy notes complementing the usual umami – with the addition of heat. From the slow burn of ginger to the sensory ambush that is chilli and finely ground white pepper that tastes somewhere in between, let yourself be whisked away on a life-changing roller-coaster ride made up of exhilaration, sweat, maybe an occasional teardrop and the irresistible urge to be on the next ride.
Shop all day…
With modernisation sweeping across Southeast Asia, modern malls have sprung up in major urban districts. Expect air conditioning, familiar franchises mixed in with local enterprises and plenty of food options stacked up several stories high. There might be a squeeze, but that’s how you tell if the mall’s a good one.
…and all night!
The malls close late, think 9pm. No excuse not to double back and grab that item that you realise belatedly after dinner that you most certainly can afford.
But, should you be among those who somehow missed the mall’s closing time, I highly suggest Googling ‘night markets near me.’ Check out the ubiquitous night markets, where accessories and streetwear are sold without clearly marked prices, inviting you to start haggling. Expect crowds, where people are crammed shoulder to shoulder, gleefully accepting that the price of getting a good deal is personal space. The streets may be a little gritty but the prices will more than make up for braving the urban nocturnal chaos.
Southeast Asia is rich in history. Several major empires have called this region home for thousands of years, their artefacts evidence of their grand existence, their structures still surviving the eons of tropical weathering and their cultures still living on in their people. You don’t need to be a history buff to check out the many museums or heritage sites to appreciate the rise and fall of civilisations that once called this region home, and how modern Southeast Asian society treasures their ancient heritage. As an added bonus, many of these places are truly picturesque and photogenic.
There you have it. A comprehensive list that makes me, a native Southeast Asian, want to book the next flight back right away. Toss the scarves and jackets aside, whip out your Havaianas and be prepared to be the envy of friends, family, and whoever else there is on your Snapchat.
Cover Illustration by Taylor Simpson