Looking at the glutton of travel information available in magazines, blogs and via travel operators, making a list of favourite things is fairly common place. Personally, I have written articles and posts about many different aspects. I’ve talked about trains, I’ve talked about food. Hell, I’ve even talked about diarrhoea. But I have never drawn up a list.
So what better place to start than writing about something that I enjoy greatly; having a beer.
Whether it’s on a train, on a plane or down a dodgy side ally, gambling with the locals while eating chickens feet- having a relaxing ale is a reward for effort. Battling the throngs of other travellers, all clambering to see the same attractions can take it out of a person. Come the end of the day, being able to contemplate and reflect on the day’s events is therapeutic. Similarly, a beer at night can open the door to experiences not usually privy to daylight hours, making memories that last forever.
With that in mind, I want to detail some of my favourite places throughout Asia that I have sat down and had a cold beverage or six.
Hanoi is without doubt one of the most chaotically intense cities in the world. In particular, the 'Old Quarter' has so much going on that it makes the Game of Thrones storylines seem easy to follow in comparison. Scooter riders’ speed and swerve through traffic, buzzing so close to pedestrians traversing the narrow and overly crowded road sides that they could literally reach out and slap them on the back of the head if they felt the need. I’m sure they would do this more often if they didn’t overload their bikes with all manner of things (slaughtered pigs are the strangest cargo but empty water containers or panes of glass are not far behind).
What makes this a great place for a beer then, you may ask?
Well, the fact is that watching the reckless insanity is far more entertaining than any television show. I could watch for hours as tourists risk death all in the name of crossing the road. In particular, Beer Corner ticks all the boxes as you sit roadside on tiny chairs, beers appearing within seconds of ordering at prices that are hard to argue with. If you are lucky, a Vietnamese Michael Jackson will put on a show. No joke.
The only concern is figuring out which dark alley way you are supposed to urinate in. Restaurants do provide more comfortable seating and toileting options with similar views but where’s the fun in that?
Koh Tao, Thailand.
The small diving island of Koh Tao can be a relaxed, beachside retreat or a full on, clinically insane, debaucherous party.
I like having options. Knowing that you can either kick back and have a quiet ale or obliterate a fridge full of Singha’s is strangely comforting. Obviously the latter is optional but you catch my drift. With plenty of bars littered throughout the island, you are never short on choice and all are picturesque. Snorkelling and scuba diving are thirst enducing activities at the best of times, making the beer taste all the sweeter.
Bandipur is not a large town but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with uniqueness. The ratio of humans to chickens here is heavily weighted in favour of the poultry and any motor vehicles are banned. Dogs sleep throughout the streets, stirring for no one, and a strange silence sits calmly about the cobbled walkways. Buildings here are old, rustic even. Nepalese people are historically short and that is reflected in these buildings. It still remains one of the few places where even I felt like a giant, ducking through doorways and dodging low hanging beams.
The real beauty is the ridiculous mountain views in any direction you face. It is too easy to sit in silence and polish off a couple of large beers, looking out over a landscape that seems too perfect to belong on Earth.
Hoi An, Vietnam.
This is easily my favourite town in Asia and that is not a claim I make lightly. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not easily impressed, so the fact that Hoi An makes it to the top of my list says something.
With a mixture of riverside, beachside, historical or restaurant options for a cold one, Hoi An gets an ultimate tick. Across the river, people hand out fliers for drink specials like ‘$5 unlimited drinks’ and ‘2 for 1’ happy hours. Admittedly, unlimited drinks for such a small amount of cash traditionally leads to alcohol poisoning but the bars themselves are fantastic places to people watch. Of an evening, lanterns can be floated down the river in the name of luck and make for fun atmosphere. Beachside chairs come complete with waterside service so there is no need to even get up to go and get a fresh drink.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
I’m going to be honest here- I was never mesmerised by Ha Long Bay in the way the guidebooks demanded that I should be. Certain aspects of the place made me uncomfortable about excessive tourism and the impact on the environment. It doesn’t make the place any less spectacular, mind you.
Sitting on top of a boat in the evening, sipping on a beer, looking out over Ha Long Bay and the flickering lights of all the other tourist boats is incredible. Chatting away with new friends, never having to fetch your own drink is a luxury that- every now and then- is required in life. It’s like a lazy release that repays you in memories, ambiance and a bar tab that sneaks up on you and slaps you across the face at the end of your voyage.
It’s all worth it when you realise you are floating around a world heritage site and one of the most visited places in Asia.
Slow Boat, Laos.
This isn’t your standard choice and that’s probably what puts it on this list. The Slow boat travels down the Mekong River between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang in Laos. I have written about it before. It’s not a city, town or an island. Having a beer on here is more like drinking on a plane except the seats are more uncomfortable and the journey takes two days.
Jokes aside, having a beer passing by remote villages along one of the most famous rivers in the world is one of the cooler ways to not only make it to a new destination and pass the time, but also a special way to enjoy a beer.
Each to their own. Safe to say that it’s not going to matter where you have a lager and you’re not going to care. If you’re having a beer overseas anywhere, you’re relaxed and going to enjoy it, even if it’s lukewarm and tastes like an old sock.
Make the most of where you are, enjoy the beer- or whatever your beverage of choice is- and relax. You’re on holiday, have another one.