How to spend 10 days in Southeast Asia
A veritable feast for the senses in every conceivable way, the 11 countries and 20,000 islands that comprise Southeast Asia offer a travel experience like no other. Whether you're an adventurous foodie looking to sample some of the most deliciously pungent flavors on Earth, a thrill-seeking globetrotter hoping to test your mettle in the region's dense tropical rainforests, or a leisure-loving sunbather in need of a pristine beach to enjoy, you'll find exactly what you're searching for – plus so much more – in this remarkable destination. Yet with such an endless variety of things to do, see and eat, planning your travel schedule ahead of time is essential. To maximize your vacation throughout Southeast Asia, here is a 10-day itinerary that will help you see more than you ever thought possible.
Days 1 & 2
Explore Bali's scenic temples and rice paddies
Begin your journey on the Indonesian island of Bali, which is the southernmost destination on your trip. Justifiably famous for its spectacular volcanic mountains, white sand beaches, and iconic rice paddies, Bali is the perfect place to acquaint yourself with the region. After checking in to one of the island's stylish hotels – like the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan – you'll spend your first day exploring the area's many natural wonders. Although the street food in Bali is second to none, there are also dozens of highly rated restaurants to choose from, like the beach-side La Lucciola, which specializes in Asian food with an Italian twist, and MÉTIS, which is part restaurant, part art gallery. On your second day in Bali, it's time to check out a few must-see attractions, including the cliffside Uluwatu Temple, the Ubud Monkey Forest, and a visit to the archeological treasure known at the Elephant Cave.
Days 3 & 4
Get crazy in Singapore
On the third day of your trip you'll head west towards southern Malaysia. Fans of the recent hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians" will definitely want to add the stunning island nation of Singapore to their Southeast Asia travel plans, since many of the most colorful scenes in the film were shot there. Arguably the most thrilling destination in the entire region, the only problem with visiting Singapore is trying to decide what to see, do and eat while you're there. The expert concierge at the historic Raffles Hotel will gladly point you in the right direction, but be sure to include the dazzling Marina Bay entertainment complex, the Clarke Quay riverside shopping and dining area, and the world's largest observation wheel – known as the Singapore Flyer – during your stay on the island.
Return to the past on Penang Island
Temple of snakes with real snakes inside on the island of Penang, Malaysia
Next, you'll travel north to Penang Island, just off the Malay Peninsula, where you'll discover an enormous variety of cultural influences on display. This type of dynamic aesthetic mixture is a common feature throughout most of Malaysia, but especially in Penang, where amazing Indian restaurants abound and Chinese elements can be seen and felt across the entire region. Spend your day exploring the capital city of George Town, which is named after England's King George III. It's a multi-cultural destination famous for its historic British colonial architecture. Perhaps more importantly, it's also home to the one-of-a-kind Snake Temple, which proudly features a massive number of slithering pit vipers living in a sacred religious space.
Shop the markets in Yangon
On the sixth day you'll head east to Yangon, which was formerly known as Rangoon. This capital city of Myanmar combines ancient cultural history with modern sophistication, making it the best of both worlds for virtually every type of traveler. Major attractions include the elaborate golden temple called Shwedagon Pagoda, the fascinating National Museum, the 2600-year old Sule Pagoda, which is incongruously nestled in the center of the modern downtown district, and the vibrant Bogyoke Aung San Market where visitors can sample deliciously distinctive Burmese foods while shopping for gorgeous handicrafts, clothing and artwork. If you're in the mood for 5-star luxury accommodations, the lavish Strand Hotel in Yangon is the ultimate place to stay while exploring this unique city.
Say hello to Koh Samui's Big Buddha
Heading back south again on day seven, you'll arrive at Koh Samui, which is the second largest island in Thailand. This is a solid choice for budget-minded travelers who want to experience all the natural beauty of Southeast Asia without spending a fortune. Instantly recognizable for its lush rainforests, palm-lined beaches, and endless coconut groves, Koh Samui also features a towering golden Buddha statue (nicknamed “The Big Buddha") that has to be seen to be believed. Hungry travelers who want to enjoy a romantic seafood meal directly on the beach at sunset should plan to visit Fisherman's Village in Old Town Samui. If the Thai temperatures get to be too much for you, head to the majestic Namuang Waterfall in Nathon, the island's capital, and take a quick dip in the rejuvenating waters.
Relax with a swim on the Cambodian South Coast
On the eighth day of your adventure you'll probably be ready for some swimming, snorkeling and relaxing, and the Cambodian South Coast is an ideal spot for these kinds of low-stress activities. This resort area has seen an influx of tourism lately thanks to foreign investors helping to re-develop it. Visitors can explore the banks of the Sanke River, admire the historic Old French architecture in the capital city of Kampot, or hike up to the ruins in the Bokor National Park. For some fun in the sun, the coastal city of Sihanoukville – often referred to as the Cambodian Riviera – offers several popular beaches to choose from. For lunch, the nearby town of Kep is the perfect place to go for incredible local seafood, especially their spicy blue crab dishes. And while you're there, be sure to take a short side-trip north to visit the astonishing Angkor Wat temple complex, which is one of the largest religious monuments in the world.
Days 9 & 10
Expand your horizons in Ho Chi Minh City
The final two days of your trip will be spent marveling at the unforgettable sights in and around Ho Chi Minh City, which is one of Vietnam's top attractions. This historic city – formerly known as Saigon – is the ultimate Southeast Asian melting pot. Offering everything from luxurious spas and 5-star hotels to delicious casual street food markets and world-class coffee houses, Ho Chi Minh City will present you with an overwhelming sensory experience that will change the way you see the world. In between mouthwatering meals, make plans to visit the Vietnam War Remnants Museum and the Saigon-Notre Dame Cathedral, both of which rank among the most popular destinations in the city.
Carole Cary-Hopson, Newark Liberty International Airport Boeing 737 First Officer, remembers how it felt piloting her first United flight.
"Shivers" she recalled. "I felt as if this is what dreams are made of. Every single time I come to work, I feel that way."
"That way" was 14 years in the making for Carole. "What dreams are made of" dates back to her childhood in Pennsylvania and frequently visiting her grandma's home in south Jersey that was right by the Philadelphia airport.
"We would go and lie in the grass by the airport and note the colors of the planes coming in and leaving, how many would come through at a time; we made graphs," said Carole. "I was fascinated by it."
As Carole grew up, she held on to that fascination, but an undergrad and master's degree later, she found herself successfully climbing her way up the corporate ladder, from the NFL to Footlocker. As her duties and roles continued to evolve and grow, Carole observed that she was always on an airplane. In fact, it was on a work trip where that observation and her life-long fascination came full circle.
"I was on a KLM flight and the pilot noticed me looking around and observing everything," she said. "So, he offered me the jumpseat and proceeded to teach me everything across the North Atlantic trip. It was then and there I realized, 'I can do this.' It all came together in my head."
Not long after that flight, Carole went on a date with a man who she now proudly calls her husband.
"I told him on that date, 'I have something to tell you and if you laugh at me about it, I'll never see you again,'" said Carole. Carole proceeded to tell him about her dream of becoming a pilot. A few weeks after that date, he handed her gift certificates to attend a flight school right outside of Manhattan.
From there, Carole moved roles in her corporate career once more, taking a job with L'Oreal where she socked away her paychecks to save up for flight school. In the meantime, she began to network in the aviation world, attending events through Women in Aviation and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). It was there she met her mentors, one being American Airlines Captain Jenny Beatty who handed her a mug of Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African-American and Native-American descent to hold a pilot's license.
"I stood on that crowded convention floor with Jenny and Bessie at that time and just bawled," said Carole. "I kept asking myself how I could be an Ivy League graduate and had never heard of her. At that moment, I wanted to do something with her story."
Thus, along with training, becoming a pilot and raising a family, Carole began writing a historical fiction book on Bessie, a woman who had to go to France to learn how to fly because no one would teach her in the U.S. Today, the book is near completion and once finished, 25% of the proceeds will go toward the Lt. Colonel Luke Weathers Flight Academy, an organization within OBAP that aims to grow and diversify the future pilot pipeline.
"I hope Bessie is smiling down and has forgiven me for taking so long on writing this book," said Carole. "She continues to provide me with guidance and being an example of determination. I know she would tell me to keep going and to not even dare to stop."
Well, as if Bessie already doesn't know, stopping doesn't seem to be in Carole's vocabulary.
"When you have a goal, there are a series of definitive steps," said Carole. "Each one is important and sometimes, they take many years to reach. But each one of those goals I had in the past were steps that got me to flying."
And Carole's next step?
"Continue to fly and finish Bessie's book," said Carole. "And once the book is finished, the goal is a movie and then sending 100 black women to flight school. With the numbers being only 1-2% African-American's flying, we need to fix that, and I intend to!"
Sisters and United MileagePlus® Premier® 1k members, Kelsey and Courtney Montague, are constantly traveling to create street art pieces for communities around the world. This year they teamed up with us to travel to Peru to explore the beautiful country, and to create a custom mural for a very special group of young women participating in the Peruvian Hearts program. Peruvian Hearts, now part of our Miles on a Mission program, works to support female leaders with access to education, counseling and peer support
Finding tranquility at Machu Picchu
As we hiked up the ancient steps of Machu Picchu, we were surrounded by Incan merchants, servants and townsfolk climbing the stairs to start their day. As foreigners not used to hiking at 7,9000 feet, the locals sprinted by us as we struggled up the steep steps, with the lush rainforest behind us and ancient city just beyond. But even with burning legs and straining lungs, it's likely anyone's breath would be taken away (as ours was) once they reached the clearing above this sprawling city in the clouds. All thoughts of the slightly tortuous route we took to this dazzling ancient city were forgotten the second we laid eyes on this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Along with my sister Kelsey, our Dad and our friend Clay felt the power and mystery when we all arrived at the vantage point over the city of Machu Picchu. The day before we had traveled all day from Denver flying in United's stunning United Polaris®. We slept fully flat on two excellent flights, curled up on down pillows and wrapped in Saks Fifth Avenue comforters. We slept soundly after feasting on steak and chocolate sundaes and spent a layover chatting with bartender, Steven, as he made us cosmos at the United Polaris lounge in Houston. It was wonderful, but the best part? Arriving in Peru so rested and relaxed we were able to completely savor this moment at Machu Picchu. A moment only made sweeter when our Dad turned to us and thanked us for taking him on the trip of a lifetime and giving him the opportunity to see a place he never thought he'd get to visit.
We explore the ruins with the wide eyes of children, enjoying every view and savoring every piece of information from our guide. Llamas 'own' the ruins and gently nudge tourists aside as they scamper between buildings to their favorite pasture. The terraces on the outskirts of the town were used to prevent soil erosion and to farm maize and beans. Condors soar above our heads, their keen eyes hunting for chinchillas tucked into the terrace rock walls.
Incan community members that lived or worked in Machu Picchu must have felt the same way we felt the first time they came across this thriving metropolis, situated on top of a mountain. Incan urban planners neatly organized centers for astrological studies, religious ceremonies, sports, commerce and farming. The buildings were built from granite and limestone, likely from a quarry located on the same mountaintop. Some buildings were so finely constructed scientists still don't quite know how the Incans did it.
At the end of the tour we come to the sacred rock — a perfect, flat replica of the Yanantin mountain behind it. Some mystical members of society believe that touching the rock transmits tremendous power. I won't lie that I quietly let my fingers graze the stone as a I walked by. Did I feel a sudden power rush? No. But did I leave Machu Picchu filled with a sense of wonder and a reaffirmed belief that anything is possible? Yes.
Partnering with Peruvian Hearts
The next morning, we awoke ready to tackle the most meaningful part of our trip to Peru — working with Peruvian Hearts.
Peruvian Hearts works to support women by giving them access to education, counseling and peer support. They are currently working with 32 talented, bright young women who they have hand-picked from secondary institutions across Cusco. They focus on supporting brilliant engineers, psychologists, teachers, scientists and doctors. These are the future female leaders that will change their communities, their country and the world for the better.
When we arrive to meet these scholars, they cheer, and each young woman gives Kelsey and me a hug. Overwhelmed, we both begin to cry. We are so grateful for our job as a traveling street art team, but we are on the road so much we are often very lonely. We can't remember the last time we received so many hugs or saw so many bright smiles.
When we arrive to the Peruvian Hearts headquarters a number of the young women tell us how they found Peruvian Hearts. Aldi, a brilliant engineer in training, was asked to join this special organization because she was first in her class in secondary school. She grew up in tough financial circumstances — her mother is ill and unable to work, and her father works in construction. As the only person in her family who has attended university, she is the primary hope of her family. Tears stream down her face as she describes how tough it has been for her family to survive. So many of these young women tell similar stories and carry the weight of their entire family's future squarely and proudly on their shoulders.
These stories reaffirm the reason Kelsey and I decided to join forces with United — we hope to make that weight on their shoulders a little lighter. As we worked on the mock-up for the mural to commemorate Peruvian Hearts, United decided to help in another way by including Peruvian Hearts in their new Miles on a Mission program. A first of its kind program, United MileagePlus members can now donate their miles to nonprofits they care about. Miles that will help young women like Aldi attend conferences in the United States or study abroad in Mexico.
Other women will be able to travel more freely between their studies in Lima and their families in Cusco. The young scholars were so excited to now be part of the United family and to have access to the connections a major airline can bring.
After an ideation period Kelsey decided to create a large-scale heart flock mural with 32 hearts on one side to represent the young women in the program and 32 hearts on the other side to represent those to come. Over two days we painted the piece and filled it with items that represent Peru (a llama, a condor, Peru's national flower and butterflies), Peruvian Hearts (pencils, books, and a shooting star) and a United airplane. As we worked on the piece the ladies sang, danced and told us their dreams. Dreams to travel, learn new languages, start meaningful careers and change their communities for the better.
When we finished the piece — two massive streams of hearts that appear to be coming from the person standing in the middle of the mural — the girls came to thank us. With cheers, hugs and kisses they explained how proud they were that this mural was for them and how it would continue to lift them up as they work hard to improve their circumstances.
At the end of this project Kelsey and I felt so blessed to be connected to such a wonderful group of women. At that moment we realized that is what art and travel should be about. Art and travel should connect us to each other as humans and to something deeper within ourselves — a desire to lift each other up.Visit United's Miles on a Mission program to support Peruvian Hearts .
February 12, 2020
As we continue to evaluate our operation between our U.S. airport hub locations and Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai as well as Hong Kong, we have decided to extend the suspension of those flights until April 24. We will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate our schedule as we remain in close contact with the CDC and other public health experts around the globe.
We suspend travel to Hong Kong
February 4, 2020
In response to the continued drop in demand, we are suspending travel to Hong Kong beginning February 8 until February 20. Our last flights will depart San Francisco on February 5 (flight 877 and flight 869) and the last returning flight will depart Hong Kong on February 7 (flight 862).
Please check united.com for important travel information as well as current travel waivers.