Day by day itinerary
There are two Bangkoks, the ancient soul of Thailand with its long and fascinating history and the frantic, modern metropolis that embraces the latest trends both Eastern and Western. The two blend together remarkably well—even the most jarring juxtapositions of old and new somehow make sense. Bangkok is not only the biggest city in Thailand, but also the most mesmerizing, with some of the country's most beautiful temples and shrines. The city's energy is palpable, especially at night, when traffic opens up a bit, its famous markets get going, and everything seems lit up—from its proudest monuments to its seediest streets. When Ayutthaya was besieged and pillaged by the Burmese in 1766, Thonburi became Thailand's capital. The Thais call Bangkok Krung Thep (City of Angels), and in 1782 King Rama I moved his capital here, just across the Chao Praya River. Laem Chabang is approximately 130 km (81 mi) from Bangkok.
Koh Samui is the most popular tourist destination on the Western Gulf coast, which isn't surprising, considering the island's gorgeous beaches, perfect weather, and sparkling blue, almost turquoise, water. Koh Samui has seen rapid development since the 1990s, and you'll encounter hotels in all price ranges.Koh Samui is half the size of Phuket, so you could easily drive around it in a day. But Koh Samui is best appreciated by those who take a slower, more casual approach. Most people come for the sun and sea, so they head straight to their hotel and rarely venture beyond its beach. But it's worth exploring beyond your lodging. Every beach has its own character, and you might find the perfect one for you. One beach many visitors find to their liking is Chawaeng. On Koh Samui's east coast, this stretch of glistening white sand is divided into two main sections—Chawaeng Yai (yai means "big") and Chawaeng Noi (noi means "little"). You'll find the greatest variety of hotels, restaurants, and bars here. Despite the crowds, Chawaeng is no Pattaya or Patong—the mood is very laid-back. A rocky headland separates Chawaeng Lamai Beach, whose clear water and long stretch of sand were the first place on the island to attract developers. More budget accommodations are available here than in Chawaeng, and there are some happening nightclubs.On the west coast of Koh Samui, Na Thon is the island's primary port and the spot where ferries arrive from the mainland. It's home to the island's governmental offices, including the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and there are banks, foreign-exchange booths, travel agents, shops, restaurants, and cafés by the ferry pier. A few places rent rooms, but there's really no reason to stay here—nicer accommodations can be found a short songthaew ride away.To the north and east of Na Thon lie a few beaches worthy of exploration. Laem Yai, 5 km (3 miles) north, has great seafood. East of here, a small headland separates two low-key communities on the northern shore, Mae Nam and Bophut Beach. Mae Nam is also the departure point for boats bound for Koh Phangan and Koh Tao . Just south of the Samui's northeastern tip you'll find sandy Choengmon Beach, a good area for swimming that's not overdeveloped.
Sir Raffles Statue, Singapore
The main island of Singapore is shaped like a flattened diamond, 42 km (26 miles) east to west and 23 km (14 miles) north to south. Near the northern peak is the causeway leading to West Malaysia—Kuala Lumpur is less than four hours away by car. It is at the southern foot where you will find most of the city-state’s action, with its gleaming office towers, working docks, and futuristic "supertrees," which are solar-powered and serve as vertical gardens. Offshore are Sentosa and over 60 smaller islands, most uninhabited, that serve as bases for oil refining or as playgrounds and beach escapes from the city. To the east is Changi International Airport, connected to the city by metro, bus, and a tree-lined parkway. Of the island's total land area, more than half is built up, with the balance made up of parkland, farmland, plantations, swamp areas, and rain forest. Well-paved roads connect all parts of the island, and Singapore city has an excellent, and constantly expanding, public transportation system. The heart of Singapore's history and its modern wealth are in and around the Central Business District. The area includes the skyscrapers in the Central Business District, the 19th-century Raffles Hotel, the convention centers of Marina Square, on up to the top of Ft. Canning. Although most of old Singapore has been knocked down to make way for the modern city, most colonial landmarks have been preserved in the CBD, including early-19th-century buildings designed by the Irish architect George Coleman.
Kuala Lumpur, or KL as locals refer to it, intrigues visitors with its diversity and multicultural character. The city's old quarter features stretches of shop houses that hint at its colonial past, while modern buildings—including the iconic Petronas Towers—give a glimpse of its modern financial ambitions. The city is filled with culturally colorful quarters dedicated to Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities. New shopping malls with designer labels, five-star hotels, and top-notch restaurants also proliferate in this bustling city of 1.6 million.
An island off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia, Penang is blessed with a multicultural history that's led to a fascinating fusion of East and West. Claimed by the British East India Company in 1786, the island's city center of Georgetown—listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is filled with colonial architecture, temples, and museums. The island has also attracted many Chinese immigrants, who now make up the majority of the population. On Penang you'll find an exciting mix of jungle, coast, farmland, and fishing villages, along with the country's largest Buddhist temple.
Long boats on island Krabi, Thailand
Though few tourists linger here, Phuket Town, the provincial capital, is one of the more culturally interesting places on the island to spend half a day. About one-third of the island's population lives here, and the town is an intriguing mix of old Sino-Portuguese architecture and the influences of the Chinese, Muslims, and Thais that inhabit it. The old Chinese quarter along Talang Street is especially good for a stroll, as its history has not yet been replaced by modern concrete and tile. And this same area has a variety of antiques shops, art studios, and trendy cafés. Besides Talang, the major thoroughfares are Ratsada, Phuket, and Ranong roads. Ratsada connects Phuket Road (where you'll find the Tourism Authority of Thailand office) to Ranong Road, where there's an aromatic local market filled with fruits, vegetables, spices, and meats.
Sabang, popular tourist and diving spot
Sabang is the largest city on the island of Weh or Pulau Weh. Weh is a small, active volcanic island, just northwest of Sumatra. It's at the northern end of the Indonesian Archipelago and at one time, was a coal loading station for ships passing between Europe and Asia. Today, the island is known for its ecosystem and much of its surrounding sea and inland areas have been declared as wildlife protection areas by the Indonesian government. Pulau Weh attracts visitors seeking underwater diving, hiking through the volcanic mountains and relaxation by the beach. Those venturing into the city will see some of the remaining colonial buildings and the large trees that offer them shade. The island and city are virtually untouched by tourism and a sense of adventure when exploring ashore is needed.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's capital and largest city, Colombo offers fine restaurants, a buzzing nightlife scene, and good museums, parks, and beautiful Buddhist temples that are all worth visiting. The beach resort of Mt. Lavinia is only a short taxi ride from the downtown area and offers a golden, sandy beach and sunset views to die for. As an exciting blur of colors and cultures, Colombo presents a neatly packaged microcosm of this island nation.
Traditional fishing nets In Cochin Fort, Kerala, India
Kochi, formerly and still commonly known as Cochin, is one of the west coast's largest and oldest ports. The streets behind the docks of the historic Fort Cochin and Mattancherry districts are lined with old merchant houses, godowns (warehouses), and open courtyards heaped with betel nuts, ginger, peppercorns, and tea. Throughout the second millennium this ancient city exported spices, coffee, and coir (the fiber made from coconut husks), and imported culture and religion from Europe, China, and the Middle East. Today Kochi has a synagogue, several mosques, Portuguese Catholic churches, Hindu temples, and the United Church of South India (an amalgamation of several Protestant denominations). The city is spread out over mainland, peninsula, and islands. Ernakulam, on the mainland 2 km (3 miles) from the harbor, is the commercial center and the one-time capital of the former state of Cochin. Willingdon Island, which was created by dredging the harbor, holds several luxury hotels as well as a navy base. The beautiful Bolghatty Island, north of Ernakulam, is a favorite picnic spot for locals. On it there's a government-run hotel in a colonial structure that was once used by the Dutch governor and later by the British Resident. Another local favorite is Cherai beach on Vypin Island, which is a 10-minute ferry ride from Fort Cochin. The Fort Cochin district, Kochi's historic center, is at the northern tip of the Mattancherry peninsula. Houses here often recall Tudor manors; some have been converted to hotels, others remain in the hands of the venerable tea and trading companies. South of Fort Cochin, in the Mattancherry district, is where you'll find the city's dwindling Jewish community. Their small neighborhood, called Jew Town, which is now dotted with cafés and shops selling curios and antiques, is centered on the synagogue.
Mangalore, Karnataka, India
New Mangalore Port, established in 1974, is the major port of Karnataka. It has the distinction of the ninth biggest port of India. Its construction got completed in 12 years using the latest technology to provide the best port facilities. The port has been established in such a way that it can bear all kinds of climatic hazards. Mangalore is named after the goddess Mangaladevi. Mangalore is a panorama of palm-fringed beaches, lush green fields and enchanting forests. It is sheltered by the soaring western ghats on the east and the mighty Arabian sea roaring along its western shores. With an important port, this coastal town is a major commercial centre that still retains its old world charm-old tile-roofed buildings amidst coconut groves, fishing boats silhouetted against the darkening skyline, fishermen hauling in rich catch of fish, sea food served in spicy coconut curries.
As the gateway to Goa, Mormugao is a storied city, surrounded by beaches, fascinating heritage sites, and ocean-wary fortifications. As a former capital of Portuguese India, the colonisers who landed here embarked on an extensive programme of fortification, springing up defences along the region's pretty beaches. Mormugao was also an important location for the spread of Christianity, with significant missionaries landing here including Saint Francis Xavier - whose final resting place can be found in Old Goa.
Mumbai, sometimes called the Maximum City, after Suketa Mehta’s 2004 nonfiction book of the same name, encapsulates the dynamism and chaos of modern India better than any other city. In this sprawling, muscular place by the sea that you'll find everything from succulent street food to haute cuisine, bargain-basement bazaars to haute couture, humbling poverty to staggering wealth, sacred temples to hedonistic nightclubs. Mumbai is in many ways the New York City of India, and the many of the locals carry the same kind of chip on their shoulders—despite the madness, they wouldn’t trade it for any other place on Earth.Mumbai is a city of extremes, where slum-dwelling strivers making dollars a day serve Bollywood stars and industrial billionaires. It's a 24-hour city stocked with some of the best late-night street food in the world, as well as fine-dining restaurants of renowned chefs. It's a cosmopolitan city of people from all over India that's nonetheless home to strident parochialism. It's a city of dreams for millions of Indians that, at the same time, affords so few any measure of comfort. And it's a beautiful city of silver towers when viewed by twilight from the Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge over the Arabian Sea, but that sight quickly turns into a maze of winding, dirty streets and alleys when viewed up close.Sensory overload is the name of the game on the island formerly known as Bombay (and yes, most locals still call it by its previous moniker). The first thing that hits you when you arrive at the airport is the smell—spicy, fishy, and, to be honest, often not altogether pleasant. Next comes a crazed cab ride through the seemingly lawless streets (should your driver run a red light or, just as likely, drive on the wrong side of the road, try to remain calm). Then a traffic jam in the midst of a veritable symphony of honking, in which barefoot children, often holding infants, and tragically disfigured men and women knock at your window, begging for change. Persevere through, though; embrace and try to understand the natural hazards of the developing world, and you'll find yourself in the middle of a beautiful, often inspiring city.
Grand Mosque of Muscat, Oman
Oman's capital city is hemmed in on one side by spectacular jagged-peaked mountains and on the other by royal blue sea. The architecture is a traditional, sophisticated arabesque blend of white-washed, low-rise buildings surrounded by manicured palms, intricately designed domes set atop the minarets of the mosques, sand-colored villas, a surprising blend of modern art installations, like a giant incense burner that towers over the Corniche, and ancient forts set in the rocky hills. Though tradition abounds, from distinct, local cuisine to the widely worn national dress, the dishdasha, Muscat is a completely modern city, featuring opulent luxury hotels, international restaurants, excellent cellular and data service, sprawling shopping malls, pristine beaches, lively nightlife, world-class performing arts, and a highly educated population, most of whom speak English, Arabic, and often Hindi. Muscat is the ideal base for exploring other areas of the country since many of the most desirable destinations are within a few hours' drive.
Dubai sits on a golden sandy coastline in the Arabian Gulf, where the warm azure waves of the sea meet the desert. A high-rise oasis, this city is a pleasure-dome surrounded by dunes; one of the most fashionable on the planet thanks to its ability to satisfy the needs of legions of demanding vacationers. Dubai is about having fun—and it's one big adult playground.Nature plays her part here, with year-round sunshine, gorgeous beaches, dramatic arid landscapes, and warm waters, but it's the man-made attractions that make Dubai so alluring. You can launch yourself into high-adrenaline desert adventures, diving and water sports, and some of the world's best golf courses. The 5-, 6-, and 7-star hotels offer the ultimate in luxury, and the party scene is hot. Shopping malls are the biggest in the world and are packed full of high-class merchandise. And with hundreds of restaurants with cuisine from around the world, you can munch your way from Mexico to Malaysia.Dubai is an Arab country with a long history as a trading port. Traces of its traditional life, customs, and architecture can still be seen and explored, but today and tomorrow are much more important than yesterday. Almost every building in this metropolis is less than 20 years old and the most dramatic developments—groundbreaking megaprojects—have just been completed or are still under construction.The city is certainly unique. Islam is its anchor, but it has opened its doors to the rest of the world and has invited them in to work, rest, and play, which creates a truly international atmosphere. Unashamedly modern and materialistic, life here takes place at breakneck speed. The landscape is stark, the confidence is sky high, the can-do spirit is palpable, and the bling is in your face. Dubai produces strong reactions in people, but one thing is certain—love it or loathe it—you will not forget it. It is without a doubt, one of the world's true must-see destinations.Shisha: Smoke Without Fire. Emirati men love socializing, but as they don't drink alcohol they get together over coffee and shisha instead of a drink at the bar after work. The shisha, or hookah, is a smoking device, usually made of glass, that filters smoke through water before it reaches the smoker's mouth. Shisha tobaccos are aromatic and are often mixed with apple, cinnamon, or cherry, so their taste isn't as strong as other tobaccos. Smoking shisha is said to induce relaxation—but you'll have to decide if it's for you!
Just a few decades ago, Abu Dhabi, the island capital of the United Arab Emirates, was a small fishing village with houses made of mud-brick and palm fronds. Today, as a result of revenue from oil, Abu Dhabi is one of the world's richest cities, with wide, tree-lined okulevards, lush green parks, gushing fountains and imposing skyscrapers. Somewhat of a dichotomy, Abu Dhabi is a combination of ultra-modern sophistication and Arab mystique, with friendly and hospitable people offering a warm welcome to visitors. Abu Dhabi's history originated in the 18th century, when, according to legend, a group of tribesmen pursuing a gazelle came upon a freshwater well which they named Abu Dhabi, or "Father of the Gazelle". In the 19th century, the first fort was built over this well by a sheikh of the Al-Nahyan dynasty. The fort's name is Al Husn Palace, also known as Old or White Fort, and it is one of the few buildings in Abu Dhabi that is more than 25 years old. Its whitewashed walls are eye-catching amid the backdrop of today's skyscrapers. Presently, it is home to the Cultural Foundation and serves as a documents centre. Abu Dhabi had little significance until the discovery of vast oil reserves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the years following, the city's economy and infrastructure developed rapidly and changed Abu Dhabi beyond recognition.
Read the latest luxury cruise news - find out which ships are about to be launched, where you can go to inspect a cruise ship before booking.