Best city in Asia to live as a base for SE Asia travel
I am seriously considering living in SE Asia with my wife and 2 kids for 3 or so months. We've traveled much of the world but have not been here.
I am thinking that we'd base ourselves in a city, get an apartment or house rental and then take 3-5 day excursions to a variety of different places. We homeschool and I simply need email for work so we have a lot of flexibility.
Any suggestions for a city that would make a great hub? I was thinking maybe Kuala Lumpar since Air Asia flies out of there.
It should be safe, clean and culturally interesting.
Some places we want to see in SE Asia are: China, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Angor Wat - Cambodia.
The obvious choices are BKK KUL Or SIN.
My choice would be KUL. culturally diverse, not monotonous like SIN (heavily chinese with smatter of others). AIR ASIA which has a hub in BKK as well. Availability of accomodation and also Singapore is expensive by any standards.
Air asia routes taken by me include: Siem Reap for Angkor, Phnom Penh, Kuching, Brunei, Bangalore Madras and Cochin in India, also HK. Air Asia and its CEO Tony Fernandes has done more for the region than any single political leader! Great Malay Indian and Chinese food with a smattering of european ones to satisfy your craving if you desire so. McDo if your children are into it. easy wifi access. good transportation to other parts of Malaysia.
you can also easily get to Laos, all parts of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Connected umbilically to the ancient Jewish community of the Malabar Coast of India, along Jew Street in Jew Town.
Singapore is an excellent choice if you have money. If you are on a budget, rent there is too high. Kuala Lumpur would be a better choice. Bangkok is potentially politically unstable. All 3 have cheap flights.
BKK would get my vote. In fact that's basically what i did four years ago.
1) 30 days stamped into country on each return
2) great selection of flights to everywhere
3) train to/from the airport
4) centrally located within SE Asia
5) intangibles (food, things to do)
6) much more enjoyable than KUL
If you're working from a 'I don't care how much I spend' position then HKG would be my choice.
Also, let me suggest staying away from Air Asia. They are often not the cheapest airline (even though they are successful at representing themselves that way).
Of the big cities, Bangkok would get my vote as well. As an alternative, consider Chiang Mai. A number of years ago I used CM as a base of operations for several months, and it was surprisingly cost-effective for regional travel. What you pay out in a bit extra airfare is more than saved in lower living costs. A more manageable and less-expensive city than Bangkok (which relatively speaking, isn't particularly expensive itself) yet with good infrastructure. A good city for kids.
SIN would be my next choice but only if budget isn't an issue. Rents aren't cheap in Singapore, and most everything else is on the expensive side as well, by SE Asia standards. It's a good hub though.
KUL is possible, but for God's sake, don't let the fact that it's Air Asia's hub be the critical factor that crowds out all other considerations in your thinking. Don't pretzel-twist your plans to fit around the Air Asia company.
HKG is very high cost for rents, and not as good for purposes of travel focus on mainland SE Asia though OK for southern China access. It's a nice place to visit while in the area, but as a base of operations, definitely not when compared to the other alternatives. Skip this one.
BTW, neither India nor China is are in "SE Asia." Nor do they lend themselves to 3-5 day excursions from a SE Asia base, once you figure in the cost of visas and travel. If either India or China is a priority, then I suggest you block out a specific time period (2, 3, 4 weeks, etc.). And then either front-end or back-end that time, so your base hub rental does not overlap--you don't want to be paying double for a place you aren't at.
I have similar doubts about 3-5 days for Indonesia excursions. In short, while I think your base hub strategy could work as a concept, you have way too much geography to deal with in "3 months or so." You'd really need more like 6-8 months for all this and it's really not possible to do the entire thing as short excursions. I suggest that if SE Asia is your focus, that you dispense with India and China and well, FOCUS. Or, reconceptualize this trip and just make it a continuous journey rather than trying to settle down at a base. You could do a hybrid and plan a sequence of mini-hubs of two weeks per hub, if that would help settle the kids slightly.
Visa strategy is an integral part of planning, so get familiar with the requirements of the different countries and what might be available to you.
For a family I'd have to agree that Bangkok would be the best all around, but for an individual or young couple, I'd say Hanoi. Don't miss the real sleeper in Indochina - that's Laos.
While I love Hanoi and have spent alot of time in Laos the visa costs need to be factored in. A charge of $35 per person each time you enter Laos disqualifies it as a base. The same problems with Vietnam, although it might be easier to get a multiple entry visa for the latter.
With the hordes in Vientiane and Luang Pabang, Laos is definitely not a sleeper.
1) SIN (if cost of accommodation is an issue, BKK takes the top spot)
SIN & BKK are major hubs, practically every airline operate from these airports. Few airlines fly to KUL which is dominated by the Air Asia-MH 'cartel' controlled by TF, meaning very few choices, higher fares and putting up with TF nonsense.
Hanoi may be a nice city to visit (and I usually do that several times each year), but it lacks the proper insfrastructure, convenience and facilities expected of a major city (which is the reason I rate it even below Jakarta). Vietnamese food is a little bland (not to say that I don't enjoy it) and after a week in Vietnam you would be yearning for something more "stimulating'. It's also not very pleasant dealing with the local business people, they are just too money crazy and look at foreigners as opportunities to make big money.
While I like Chiang Mai, as well as other secondary cities like Penang and Bandung; it's not very convenient if you need to fly around the region frequently. Nice for retirement or to raise a family, but not for a frequent traveller.
Singapore seems to be the perfect place, everything works well (almost) but cost of accommodation may be a big hindrance for many. Taking everything into consideration, I would probably vote for Bangkok; a major aviation hub, relatively low costs, good infrastructure and facilities, foreigner friendly, good food, very cosmopolitan and it feels exotic at the same time.