Are you looking for a inspirational list of hands-on travel experiences in Central and East Asia? Then you’ve come to the right place!
Over the past years, there has been a big trend in tourism where travellers no longer want to participate in just the standard sightseeing tours and attend so-called ‘cultural shows’, but really feel the need to get involved in experiences that are characteristic to the destination that they are visiting. This is called Creative Travel.
- Buddhism Tour in Cambodia
- Learn to Grow Rice in Laos
- Taste Durian in Malaysia
- Fruit Carving in Thailand
- Rock Climbing in Thailand
- Thai Cooking Class & Local Market Tour in Thailand
- Authentic Thai Cooking Class and Farm Visit in Thailand
- Thai Cooking Class in an old Teak House in Thailand
- Traditional Ao Dai Dress Rental in Vietnam
- Traditional Ao Dai Cyclo Tour in Vietnam
- Ao Dai Photography Tour in Vietnam
- Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise with Kayaking in Vietnam
- Make a Lantern in Vietnam
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
- Creative Travel Definition
- Complete Hands-on Travel in South East Asia List
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN CAMBODIA
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN LAOS
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN MALAYSIA
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN MYANMAR
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN THAILAND
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN VIETNAM
- Do You Travel to Discover Hands-On Experiences?
- PRACTICAL INFORMATION
- Creative Tourism Network
- Map of South East Asia Creative Travel and Tours
- Creative Traveller’s Handbook
- Creative Travel Around the World
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
Creative Travel Definition
According to the Creative Tourism Network, creative travel is considered “a new generation of tourism”, that offers visitors the opportunity to “develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences, which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are taken”.
From volunteer travel programs and language immersion programs to cultural immersion travel experiences and real community immersion, Creative Tourism is a way of travel that really is for everyone.
Whether you travel alone, as a couple or with a family or group of friends, there are many activities around the world where that offer educational courses and workshops, creative experiences where you get to learn different art forms or even adventure activities where you interact with the local nature and people in a fun, yet authentic way.
Complete Hands-on Travel in South East Asia List
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN CAMBODIA
Take a Buddhism tour in Siem Reap
Buddhism is an integral yet mostly invisible part of everyday life in Cambodia. Siem Reap, the county’s spiritual heartland, is the ideal place to learn about Buddhist philosophy and how it weaves its way through Cambodian history and culture.
TIP BY: Emily, wander-lush.org (<< read all about tours in Siem Reap)
“A fantastic way to have a hands-on experience and gain a deeper understanding is by doing a Buddhism tour. Most people come to Siem Reap to visit the nearby temples of Angkor without realizing that there are some incredible pagodas in the city itself.
Socially responsible company Ayana Journeys offers a Buddhist-themed tour, which is suitable for people of all ages (including families with kids). The tour starts in the early morning. Travelling by tuk-tuk with your local guide, you visit several of the most sacred shrines and pagodas in the inner city.
There’s a strong focus on learning and reflection, with lots of questions, prompts, and time for reflection. At one pagoda, you get the chance to sit with two monks and chat about their life experience. They then treat you to a private Pali chant and a traditional Cambodian blessing.
To end the day, your guide leads you through a short lesson on Buddhist meditation. It’s a truly memorable travel experience you can’t get anywhere else in the country.”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN LAOS
Learn to grow rice in Luang Prabang
Did you know it takes 14 steps to cultivate rice? For such a staple crop in so much of the world, it’s hard to believe what a labor-intensive process it is to grow.
TIP BY: Samantha Glauser, myflyingleap.com (<< read all about her travels on the blog)
“You can learn all about the process from seedling to your table at the Living Land Farm. This organic farm is only 15 minutes from the historic center of Luang Prabang, Laos. In addition to teaching visitors how to grow rice, it also provides many of the local restaurants with rice, vegetables, greens, and herbs.
Fees raised are used to provide free English language classes for the children in the area. Visitors get a tour of the property then a complete walk-through of every step in the process of cultivating rice.
You’re not standing on the sidelines at this farm but you are actually participating in every step of the process. Select and prepare the seeds then work alongside Rudolph the water buffalo to prepare the paddy for planting. Learn how to plant the seedlings, harvest the rice stalks, extract the rice, and prepare it for a meal. The enjoy the fruits of your labor with a tasty tray of rice treats. I will never look at a bowl of rice in the same way again.”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN MALAYSIA
Taste Durian in Penang
Durian is dubbed as the “king of the fruit”. Well known for its strong odor, this football-size thorny fruit is perhaps the most divisive fruit in the world.
TIP BY: Ming Lee, flyerism.com (<< read all about their world travels)
“Some say Durian smells like “rotten onion with unwashed sock”, while others say it is a real godsend. Durian can be found in a few countries in South East Asia, though the best breeds are from Penang, Malaysia.
The Durian season typically starts in late April to August. So if you are around the neighborhood during these months, brace yourself and visit these Durian vendors for some gastronomical adventure.
#1. Bao Heng Durian Farm: the farm nestled on the slope of the hill with a great view overlooking Balik Pulau. Unlike the Durian in town, the fruits here are fresh from the tree. You can even walk into the farm and have your pick. Just a reminder, you will want to arrange in advance for pick up and appointment.
#2. Penang Green Acres: the farm contains 450 Durian trees of 35 variants. It is said to be kept chemical-free since it was farmed decades ago. In June and July, they offer 2-hour long Durian tasting tour where visitors get to harvest, pick and taste the Durian and other tropical fruits.”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN MYANMAR
Learn Thanaka making and application
If you have been to Myanmar, you will invariably see the local women and sometimes even young boys with a white paste applied on their face. This is known as Thanaka and its paste is applied on the face mostly the cheeks and neck for skincare.
TIP BY: Amrita & Agni, taleof2backpackers.com (<< read all about the budget for Myanmar)
“Thanaka is a traditional powder derived from the bark of certain trees grown in the arid central region of Myanmar. Application of Thanaka has become a part of the tradition and lifestyle of the Burmese women.
Thanaka paste is made from grinding the bark against a flat, wet stone and then it is applied on the face. It is used as a sunscreen and also acts as protection against acne and other skin diseases.
During my Myanmar backpacking trip, we came across little girls and women outside the pagodas approaching us to apply thanaka on our faces. They used to carry the bark, paste it there on a stone piece and then it was ready to be applied to the face. This entire thing might look quite trivial, but it is the part of the Burmese history for the last 2000 years!
To be honest, after the application of Thanaka on my face, I had a cooling sensation and my skin felt better as well. It is truly a natural sunscreen, better than the one I carried.”
Take a cooking class in Nyaungshwe
If you’re planning on visiting Inle Lake, Mercury Cooking Class is a great primer to the culinary foodways of Myanmar. The daily workshop is run by a Nyuangshwe local, Thi Thi, who donates the majority of her earnings towards serving her community.
TIP BY: Millette, thenextsomewhere.com (<< read all about her travels on the blog!)
“At the start of the day, Thi Thi gives attendees a booklet filled with recipes where you can choose a multi-course menu of one soup, three salads, and three entrees.
Then, it’s off to the marketplace to pick up fresh ingredients and glimpse into the everyday life of the Burmese. Afterwards, you’ll go to Thi Thi’s home, which has been transformed into an open-air cooking studio.
Unlike other cooking classes, this home-cooking class runs completely on rudimentary charcoal-fired stoves. Be prepared to be very hands on, as the creation of the feast is more about participating and less about observing. Thi Thi is typically assisted by her sister or husband so that there is always someone to help you during the cooking process.
During the meal, don’t pass up on the offer to try their fresh avocado smoothies; they are worth it! Also, the meals can accommodate allergies.
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- The 3-hour class is 15,000 Myanmar Kyat (~$10 USD) and can be booked by calling +95 9 253 796 716 or emailing Thi Thi at email@example.com.
- (See on Tripadvisor >>)
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN THAILAND
Participate in the Songkran festival
Songkran, the most celebrated holiday in Thailand, is the official Thai New Year’s national holiday. Just like how there is a Chinese New Year and that celebrates the new year on the lunar calendar, Songkran celebrates in accordance to the solar calendar.
TIP BY: Sean, livingoutlau.com (<< read all about his travels on the blog!)
“When the sun moves from Pisces to Aries in the zodiac, the Thai New Year officially takes place. The official date of the Songkran festival is on April 13th, but the festivities continue until April 15th.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the Songkran festival is the biggest festival in Thailand. Foreigners might not understand the intricate culture behind some of the ceremonies such as pouring water over the Buddha statues, which means purification and washing one’s sins and bad luck away.
Locals also visit temples and offer food to the Buddhist monks. However, one thing that foreigners can enjoy about the Songkran festival is the country-wide water gunfight. Every street and corner is filled with locals and foreigners waiting to ambush you with their water gun or buckets of water! Don’t forget to have a waterproof camera!”
Make silver in Chiang Mai
Creative and cultural types visiting visiting Thailand can kill two birds with one stone by taking trying their hand at silver making in Chiang Mai.
TIP BY: Rose Munday, wheregoesrose.com (<< read all about her world travels on the blog)
“This is a good way to learn about Chiang Mai’s long artisan history, as well as taking home a souvenir to keep. The best place for silver making in Chiang Mai is none other than Wat Sri Suphan, otherwise known as the Silver Temple.
Dating back over 600 years, this unique temple is made entirely of silver carvings, intricately handcrafted by the monks of the monastery. Showing religion images, scenes of daily life and battle, it’s of historical and religious significance for Thai people.
Another reason for travellers to visit Wat Sri Suphan is to attend a silver making class. But don’t fret – you won’t be expected to craft an equally impressive temple during your first try! Instead, the resident artisans will help you craft a piece of jewelry, for example a ring or bracelet.
You’ll typically use a stencil to hammer a design onto a sheet of metal which you’ll weld into the shape of your finger or wrist later on. While visiting the Silver Temple, you’ll also get to explore the site and learn about its history. There are plenty of tour companies that offer this experience or you can arrive directly at the temple and book a class.”
Try fruit carving in Bangkok
Taking a fruit carving lesson is a great way to unleash your creative side on a visit to Thailand. It’s a Thai traditional art form that dates back to the Sukhothai dynasty, and many people still take it seriously today.
TIP BY: Fiona Berry, passportandpiano.com (<< read all about her travels on the blog)
“I participated in a full-day course at the Siam Carving Academy. I had great fun although I don’t think I’ll ever be talented enough to participate in one of the countries competitions.
Carving fruits is a skill that requires a large amount of concentration and excellent knife skills. Wan, the lady who runs the course is fantastic and incredibly patient.
Throughout the day you learn how to turn tomatoes into roses and cucumbers into pretty leaves. I was amazed at how I managed to make a carrot look so beautiful, but it did take me several hours. Wan’s skillful hands are amazing at rectifying your errors, and she was so encouraging throughout the day.
The academy provides all of the equipment and half-day courses are available if you prefer just a taster lesson.”
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Go rock climbing at Railay Beach (near Phuket)
One of the best creative experiences you can sign up for in Thailand might be an unexpected surprise to you: rock climbing on a day trip from Phuket to Railay Beach.
TIP BY: Mikkel Woodruff, sometimeshome.com (<< read all about this rock climbing experience on the blog)
“We hired a guide, named Aon, from the company Gecko Thailand. He set up everything including pick up and drop off to our hotel, a van to take us to the boat and communication with the long-tail boat that would take us to the shores of Railay Beach.
We spent the day rock climbing on this beautiful island. I’ve never rock climbed and my husband has, yet only indoors, so this was a treat. Any nerves or apprehension left us when we felt the comradery of other climbers nearby, of all skill levels, there to enjoy nature in a unique way like ourselves.
Climbing is a solo activity, of course, though it was fun to be there as a couple. And you truly don’t need any prior experience with a trusted guide who sets the course for you and spots, or “belays”, you. The cost is about $160 USD per person, not including a tip for the guide (which he definitely deserves). We cannot recommend this enough!”
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Cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Taking a cooking class is an amazing travel experience; it’s a fun and interactive way to learn about a country’s food and culture.
TIP BY: Vicky Sosa, buddythetravelingmonkey.com (<< read all about this cooking class on the blog)
“While traveling in Thailand, we took a cooking class in Chiang Mai with Anne of Zabb-E-Lee. During the almost five hours we spent with Anne, we visited a local market, learned about typical Thai ingredients, and cooked five different items.
Anne keeps class sizes small, but our class consisted of a variety of different kinds of guests; there were families, couples, and solo travelers. Everyone enjoyed getting their hands dirty, so to speak, and creating their favorite Thai dishes.
Our favorite dish that we created was the Pad Thai. With Anne’s excellent guidance, it turned out delicious and restaurant-worthy! We were so proud and so happy to have taken the class.
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN VIETNAM
Have a Ao Dai experience in Hanoi
Ao Dai is a traditional Vietnamese long dress which consists of two parts: long-sleeved dress, ankle-reached trousers, and a high collar.
TIP BY: Inna, executivethrillseeker.com (<< read all about her travels on the blog)
“The modern Ao Dai doesn’t have to follow traditional standards: it may consist of a high collar, a low collar or no collar at all; the length of the sleeves can vary, as may the length of the dress itself and the height of the cut on the dress. Most Vietnamese women wear Ao Dai for special occasions. Also, some banks and shops choose Ao Dai as a uniform for their employees.
When you see a Vietnamese lady in Ao Dai, you will notice how perfect it fits. The secret is that each Ao Dai is made custom using a person’s measurements. The average cost of Ao Dai in Vietnam is about US$ 40. So, you can get a custom-made dress and, for instance, have a photo session in it. Or you can go further and for a similar price, you can participate in a workshop and make an Ao Dai yourself.
For example, you can join a sewing workshop in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. This experience will help you learn more about the traditions behind the Ao Dai and learn about Vietnamese culture and fashion.”
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Practice Tai Chi in Halong Bay
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that is practiced for multiple reasons including its defense training, its health benefits and meditation.
TIP BY: Julie Ruhl, ruhlsoftheroad.com (<< read all about her travels on the blog)
“If you ever find yourself in Vietnam, make sure to try Tai Chi as the sun comes up one morning. The main ideas of Tai Chi include mind incorporation with the body, a control of breathing and movements, focusing on the present moment and creating internal energy, mindfulness, loosening and serenity.
Tai Chi classes can be found all over Vietnam including unique experiences such as classes on the beach at sunrise or on the rooftop deck of a cruise ship floating through Halong Bay. Many tours will even come with a short 15-30 minute Tai Chi class.
Wherever you are in Vietnam you will be able to find a class to participate in. Simply ask the front desk of your hotel, search Tai Chi in your Google Maps or ask a local! Tai Chi can be practiced at anytime throughout the day but it is recommended to do it first thing in the morning to set your intentions for the day.
Anyone can participate, including children and elderly. The best part is you don’t need any special equipment to try this local experience or even a big space. As long as you can reach your arms out to your sides and above your head you can participate.”
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Make coconut candy in the Mekong Delta
A 2-hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City, the picturesque village of Ben Tre lies in the Mekong Delta. Made famous due to its coconut candy, much of the town works in the candy making factories.
TIP BY: Delilah Hart, ourtravelmix.com (<< read all about world travels on the blog)
“Women here work stirring cauldrons of the sticky syrup, pouring it into molds, and cutting it into delicious treats. Visiting the Mekong Delta should be on anyone’s itinerary for Vietnam, and Ben Tre makes the perfect day trip away from the more popular tourist destinations of My Tho and Tra Vinh.
The short trip can be made year-round and can be done by booking a tour, however, it’s easy enough to do as a DIY day out. Whilst here, visiting one of the local factories allows you the opportunity to learn from the locals how to make tasty coconut candy treats the traditional way.
Many also make and stock other products, both for locals and for tourists. Ranging from souvenirs and trinkets, to bottled snake wine drunk by local men to improve virility! This is one of the best, and easiest, ways to get a more local and authentic feel for Vietnam.”
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Make a lantern in Hoi An
If you’re looking to get creative in Vietnam, why not have a go at making your own lantern in the streets of Hoi Ai?
TIP BY: Ben Reeve, thesabbaticalguide.com (<< read all about more great places to travel in the world!)
“Lantern-making. Not something we’d planned to do on our trip to Hoi An in Vietnam but a very memorable highlight. The best teacher of lantern-making in town is the appropriately named ‘Lantern Lady’ who patiently walked us through the process – bending the bamboo struts into a frame, reinforcing them with wire and then cutting out coloured silk to be stretched out and glued into place.
The whole experience cost us around 4 USD and at the end of it we walked away with a souvenir better than any we’d pay for in a store (if not in quality, definitely in memories!). You can also buy supplies whilst you’re there which make perfect gifts for the family when you get home.
This truly is an experience for the whole family with kids welcomed alongside parents. To book a slot just search for ‘The Lantern Lady’ online, or look out for the posters around town. You can also just drop in and they will do everything they can to accommodate you.”
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Do You Travel to Discover Hands-On Experiences?
Let us know in the comments below what your favourite activity in this list is – and if you have any great additions to share with us. We are always adding to this page, so keep your suggestions coming! Look below for more information about creative travel and where else in the world you can have great hands-on experiences:
Creative Tourism Network
If you are looking for more creative tourism examples, then make sure to head over to the website of the Creative Tourism Network, as they are a fantastic source of information and inspiration for your upcoming travels.
The Creative Tourism Network is the international organization for the Creative Tourism development worldwide. They offer consulting and training to tourism professionals and also host the Creative Tourism Awards to reward projects, companies and destinations that foster the new generation of tourism with the active participation of tourists in creative activities.
Map of South East Asia Creative Travel and Tours
Creative Traveller’s Handbook
My travel blogger friend Elena wrote a wonderful book about creative travel that I can highly recommend reading. In this inspiring handbook, she answers not only the question who creative travel is for, but she gives practical tips on how to be creative on your own travels and how to plan your next creative trip down to all the details.
Read my full review of the Creative Traveller’s Handbook >>
Creative Travel Around the World
Read our other articles:
- Creative Travel: Is This The Best Way To See The World?
- 14 Hands-on Travel Experiences In Africa You Need To Know About
- 6 Hands-on Travel Experiences in East Europe You Need to Know About
- 7 Hands-on Travel Experiences In South America You Need To Know About
- 14 Hands-on Travel Experiences In South Asia You Need To Know About
- 10 Hands-on Travel Experiences In Japan You Need To Know About
- 3 Hands-on Travel Experiences in Central and East Asia You Need to Know About
- 4 Hands-on Travel Experiences in Central America & The Caribbean You Need to Know About
- 8 Hands-on Travel Experiences in The Mediterranean You Need to Know About
- 10 Hands-on Travel Experiences in West Europe You Need to Know About
- 8 Hands-on Travel Experiences in Oceania You Need to Know About
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