From Bangkok to Hokkaido and Sydney, here are seven places with some experiences you’ll never get sick of, and others you’ve yet to discover. After all, as seasoned travellers often say: the first visit is for tourist attractions; revisits are for discovering the real deal.
1. KUALA LUMPUR
Jalan Alor. Two words that’ll cause foodies to salivate. This is a street dedicated to all sorts of local fare prepared in delightful ways. Perfect for sundown binge-eating missions. Don’t miss the BBQ chicken wings from Wong Ah Wah. Super sedap, and definitely an experience worth repeating.
If you’re looking for something new after nights of ferocious feasting, there’s Sekinchan (1.5 hours away) that bucks every stereotype you know about Malaysia’s busy capital. Think paddy fields, in gorgeous green. Zero traffic congestion—and a pace of life so drastically different, it takes some getting used to.
A walk through George Town feels a little like exploring a living art gallery, one whose pieces are constantly being modified. We’re not just referring to the already-popular street art, but also the historic shophouses. Look for those with layers of peeling paint—these are the ones with stories to tell.
Unfortunately walls can’t talk, so to glimpse life fifty years ago, make your way to the rustic town of Balik Pulau. For Singaporeans, the best way to describe this place is “the Pulau Ubin of Penang”. Best way to entice them there? Durians. Some swear they’re the best in Malaysia. We say you should try them for yourself.
3. HONG KONG
Remember the popular salted egg yolk croissant? It originated in Hong Kong. No surprise really, for Hong Kong is where ‘simple’ dishes (such as the congee) are elevated to a new level of yummy. It’s also where popularity of local inventions like yuan yang (coffee with tea) are not restricted by local boundaries. That’s why she always deserves a repeat visit.
But in this city of character and contrasts, there’s an infamous venue that few will suggest you visit—once. Chungking Mansions. It’s nothing like what you think a ‘mansion’ is, and more like a maze. Home for ethnic minorities and small businesses, its reputation has improved remarkably in recent years. Worth a look-see if you want a different experience.
Much of Japan adheres strictly to age-old traditions, but the northern island of Hokkaido is where Japan loosens its tie and relaxes. Given the abundance of onsens (hot springs), it’s easy to understand why. Onsens are addictive in a really really good way. Popular spots include Noboribetsu, Toyako and Yunokawa. Stunning sights included.
If the views you get in these onsens inspire you, make your way to Akan National Park for three pristine caldera lakes whose sceneries you’ll remember—even without photographs. Lake Kussharo is great for canoeing. Lake Mashu has an aura of mystery. Lake Akan is where you’ll encounter colonies of marimo, rare balls of green algae that feel like felt.
Longing for the sun, sand and sea? You can always count on Phuket. This lovely island has over 30 beaches, some with names you won’t remember (like Laem Singh) but with views you’ll definitely remember. So on your next visit, skip Patong and find a beach that’ll make your friends go “That’s in Phuket?!”
There’ll be travellers whose memory of Phuket will just be beaches, beaches, and more beaches. But if you’re willing to expand your horizons, leave your sandy towels behind and venture inland towards Phuket Old Town. Streets with plenty of personality and colourful Sino-Portuguese shophouses await.
For those who believe in retail therapy, Bangkok is a paradise always ready to welcome you back. There’s the legendary Chatuchak Weekend Market. Of course, Platinum Mall too—for shopping marathons that begins when the mall opens and ends when it closes, with few breaks in-between. It’s not a holiday, it’s a massive shopping spree.
But trying on clothes, walking, lugging heavy buys…these things take a toll on you. Soon, you’ll be feeling aches and pains that even a good Thai massage cannot instantly relieve. That’s when the booming Bangkok hipster scene comes in handy. Chill out at Rocket Coffee Bar. Roast. Or Skytrain Jazz Pub. Everything in moderation.
Sydney is probably one of the few places where coffee snobs can enter a random café and leave satisfied. Here, Starbucks struggles and independent cafés thrive. So you’ll always have someplace new for your caffeine fix each time you return. But first, try Mecca on King Street.
The best of Sydney isn’t all indoors. Everyone knows about Sydney Harbour Bridge, a comforting sight for returning visitors. But something this iconic is best viewed differently. Like from the waters, while kayaking. Kayaking in a city like Sydney? Yes. It’s possible. And it’s magnificent. You’ll understand when you do it.
There’ll always be destinations that we travel to just so we can say we’ve been there. To get a little taste, see the surface, the prettiest portions. But sometimes, we stumble upon one special place (or seven!) that captures our hearts, steals a little bit of our souls—and we just can’t help going back for an encore.