Lunar Lunacy: Time to Plan Your Chinese New Year

I remember years ago, as a relative newbie to the Asian continent compared to who I ended up becoming, being asked “what are you doing for Chinese New Year?”

“What?”

It turns out everyone around me had been planning for months. It’s a huge celebration on this side of the world. In addition to scattered regional holidays, it’s a time to get together with family and reflect upon the year and dream of plans ahead.

However, if you’re an expat to the region, which many divers, travelers, and other types who end up settling down here are, it’s the time to find the best party.

My friend Phil hit me up. “We’re going to be spending a few weeks down in Southeast Asia.” I lived in Korea at the time, so getting out of the bitter cold and snow sounded like a great idea. After all, I hadn’t even though about the fact that I can just take off to all these countries I had read about and just plunk down throughout the hostels and small guesthouses of the world for five bucks a night in an effort to entertain the senses. For around a month I found myself landing in Phnom Penh, traveling around the Kingdom of Cambodia, and ending up all the way down in Phuket, Thailand, many a night bus along the way. So, this is where we’ll start our list of Lunar ideas.

Phuket, Thailand

Yours truly on the right, with Kevin, who would later be the best man in my wedding.

Just because it’s a personal favorite filled with great memories, including the hangover featured above, I’d highly recommend a getaway to Phuket. If it’s not in Phuket, you don’t need it for a holiday. In fact, the link above is simply to a wide array of dive options in the reason because there are simply too many to post just one.

Picture yourself on a lovely beach where, aside from occasionally being bugged to buy a bracelet or get a beachfront foot massage, and yes it will become bothersome, you’re mostly left alone. Furthermore, if you’re not feeling the town itself, there are boats headed out to the surrounding islands at just about any moment. Schedule yourself a tour, and get going.

When you return at night, it’s Thailand, there’s plenty of fun to be had and plenty of people to hook you up with it. My favorite gimmick is probably “Asia’s only bar with a glass-bottom pool,” and below it, “Asia’s only bar with a glass-bottom pool ceiling.”

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Untouched and primed for eco-friendly tourism. Photo by Wikirictor used via CC BY-SA 4.0

This is travel on the cheap, and it’s worth seeing before it’s entirely overtaken by outside investors. Sihanoukville has always had a sort of charm and flair that has separated it from the rest of the nation of Cambodia. While it still reels from the tragedies of the past, it has an upbeat, beachy atmosphere that seems to be appreciated by locals at least almost as much as visitors.

In Sihanoukville you can find your way to surrounding islands via boat, and when in town place yourself at one of the two major beaches, Otres and Serendipity. Otres Beach is the place to be if you’re looking for a laid-back, kind of hippie vibe with more western folks around. Serendipity is full of Chinese and Korean tourists and has a great row of seafood restaurants lining the sand. On the quiet side of the main drag is the only place I’ve ever been while drinking an Angkor Beer, playing pool, and listening to Radiohead in a grass-ceilinged hut of a bar. Charms everywhere, I tell you.

Kota Kinabalu, Borneo Malaysia

File:Filipino Market Kota Kinabalu.jpg
Kota Kinabalu Filipino Market. Photo by Eric in SF used via CC BY-SA 4.0

While not the only place in Borneo to touch down, it is the most accessible. With a modern, new airport you can get to Kota Kinabalu, hitch a ride, and be settled in quicker than you can on most island trips. While the city itself has access to modern luxuries, you can easily just get walking and find yourself in the middle of a rainforest. Jeep rentals and day tours are widely available to help you get in touch with your wild side.

Borneo is home to several endemic species. The island’s proboscis monkeys are a huge selling point of the tourist industry, and the good news for them is that you’re going to have to seek them out. Strict standards for conservation on the island make it so that many of the animals can only be held captive for scientific reasons and future preservation.

But the rainforest isn’t all the area has to offer. If you head down to the docks in an adventurous mood, you can simply talk to any of the men waiting by their boats and negotiate a price off to the islands or far reaches of the mainland. Nearby the docks is also the Filipino Market, a great place to grab some gifts for the folks back home.

Taitung, Taiwan

The village of Dulan is a twenty-minute ride north from Taitung City. Photo by Patty Hogan

Taiwan, now I’m a bit biased because I’ve called it home for six years, is an unsung hero for tourism in the region. If you’re looking to be surrounded by absolutely nobody, Taitung is a great place to start.

Situated on Taiwan’s East Coast, the city of Taitung is small by national standards and buses running up and down the coast will take you just about anywhere from the downtown station. For our first Chinese New Year in the city, my wife and I decided just to pitch a tent on the beach and see how it went. It went loud, but that’s okay, so do we. At times I thought the blaring fireworks were headed straight into our tent and that we’d simply not wake up, but hey, the booze helped.

When we awoke in the morning we got out of the tent and straight into the water. In Taiwan nobody really cares where you camp, and it’s safe enough that you can do it knowing that you and your valuables will be just fine, even in a city. Local police stations around the country have campsites as well, and during holidays where school is out the schoolyards are open to campers as well. A word to the wise is to be careful about fires, they’re only legal in very select areas.

Okinawa, Japan

Cape Busena, Okinawa Island. Photo by 663highland used via CC BY-SA 2.5

Another one of those places with just too much excitement to list, as you’ll see in the above link, Okinawa is a sea lover’s paradise. On top of simply being a beautiful place to visit, it’s also a health nut’s paradise. All of the food on the island is prepared fresh and a lot of it is grown or harvested locally.

Remember that you’re in Japan, and expect to be greeted with a few light, crisp beers to break up the warm days. Do as the locals do and simply unwind, after all, they have the longest life expectancy on Earth so they’re probably doing something correctly.

– Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor