By: Sam Sakocius
From the untouched beaches and transcendent temples of Myanmar to the mystical mountains and blinding tropical white sand beaches of Vietnam, to the otherworldly destination hot spots like Cambodia and Laos, to the well-oiled golf tourism machines of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, SE Asia may be the best bargain in exotic golf today.
While golf is in a funk around the world, fair winds are blowing through SE Asia as operators are inventing new ways to attract some tourist dollars already flowing through the region.
The winners are savvy golfing tourists!
Bali National Golf Resort, Indonesia.
There are amazing packages online in Thailand and other nearby countries playing on courses ranging from above average to great. These packages coupled with a good deal on airfare will surely transform the concept of picking up a few extra tourist dollars, into packaging real destination trips of a lifetime.
A new golf development boom is blossoming in places like Vietnam, Myanmar, and even Cambodia with many of the new venues aimed at destination travelers with a penchant for golf plus a little or a lot more.
Golf and Beach packages abound in infinite variety in terms of accommodations and quantity and budget
Whether you want lots of beach and a little golf, an equal does of each, side tours, or full blown gorging on a two serving ad day golf buffet, you can have it. Like never before, tour operators are eminently flexible in customizing and even making last minute adjustments.
Working around the rainy seasons can result in some ridiculous bargains. What many international tourists don’t get is that there is a lot of golf played in the rainy seasons here. In many countries few locals even carry umbrellas as the rains are fairly predictable and easy to wait out. While there are some extra heavy times of the year, region by region to be avoided, the early to middle parts of the rainy season are often a good bet for some great golf at some very low prices.
Storms blow up mostly in the afternoons and pass quickly. Even on courses where play is suspended for the day, the course is usually ready to go by morning.
Many of the best courses are sandcapped and drain off minutes after a heavy rain. A short wait for a thunderstorm to pass, sometimes as little as a half hour, is often rewarded with a rainbow and a leisurely finish to the round.
With the focus not only on golf, there are tons of activities to be had on short notice when the weather just won’t cooperate.
Padang Golf Sukajadi, Indonesia.
Temples, Jungles tours, Mountain Hikes, Local Markets, Cooking classes, and much more can be key options to have in one’s back pocket to turn a rainout into a spontaneous and exciting adventure.
Spas, Oh glorious spas! For value and top shelf treatment one cannot beat the fare offered throughout SE Asia. ….. Every country has a distinctive style of massage that is worth trying at every new venue. The facilities can range from dirt cheap but highly satisfying local store front places to magnificent luxury retreats complete with fragrant lush gardens, flowing water features, natural hot springs, expert staff, and every treatment imaginable.
Private Clubs not so private, accessible
The term private club is a little different in Asia. Nearly all the best places to play are accessible to tourists for a daily fee. Particularly those that have a hotel attached. Many hotels have deals and reciprocal agreements with other clubs so that the variety of choices seems never ending.
Bali National Golf Resort, Indonesia.
First Rate rentals
Bring your own shoes
Rental clubs are common and reasonably priced but golf balls are expensive. It is highly recommended you bring your own along with your favorite pair of golf shoes.
One think about the golf slump around the world, the most famous and best designers have been flocking to SE Asia for years. Many of the courses they have produced are on a par with some of the world’s best. Names like Dye, Faldo, Norman, Jones, and Nicklaus are all here.
But don’t discount the many gems by lessor known designers found in every country.
Be prepared to be surprised. Do you know there are over 120 golf courses in Myanmar? Admittedly many are super minimal built by the British in the early 1900’s when the country was still called Burma. But some of the layouts are quite interesting from a strategic and historical perspective. Many Burmese love golf and are beginning to see developing the game as one way to entice travelers and reintroduce the world to the magic of their land.
Traveling country to country is easier and less expensive that most think. While Visa rules vary depend on your nationality, most countries can be entered by arranging entry documents online. Fees are reasonable. I often tell my friends just get to a major hub like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur and the rest is easy. Discount airlines abound which makes for very competitive pricing and the advantageous flexibility of last minute bookings.
With operators offering more, it is getting easier to work golf into family or couples vacations where not everybody is a golfer.
Indonesia Open, Jakarta City Government Tourism and Culture Office.
The options are plenty and of bucket list significance.
With thirty seven World Heritage sites in SE Asia, any multi-country trip is bound to come within day trip distance of several. Imagine a mist shrouded morning at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, a sunrise Balloon ride over the Temples of Bagan, or a kayak tour amongst the limestone pillars, caves and secluded beaches forming the sea scape of Ha long Bay. How about a bit of excitement on a wild multiple zipline exploit for hours through the jungle, a hands on eco-elephant sanctuary experience or a water sports package with all the latest aqua related thrill activities set against some of the world’s most beautiful seaside landscapes.
You can do a version of what Koreans and Japanese golfers have been doing for quite some time. Korean golfers, for instance, with a bit of planning, can actually fly to SE Asia, stay at a great resort for a long weekend, play every day, and fly home for what a few rounds might cost at one of the upscale clubs near Seoul. While golf is very affordable in Europe now, the experience/value quotient in SE Asia is off the charts.
SE Asia is not for everybody. To uninitiated travelers the cultural experience can sometimes approach overwhelming. Life in third world countries, should you choose to get out amongst the locals, is in your face around the clock. There isn’t much zoning so the trappings of the very rich are right up against the squalor of the very poor. While there is little a tourist can do to relieve inequities they see, they can take some comfort in that many of the people who are now working as tour guides, hotel workers, drivers etc. have been given a chance to improve their lot as a direct result of your tourism spending.
Whether it is a trip of a lifetime, a rollicking budget jaunt, or an escape to some peace and quiet, you can find it all in the rapidly evolving SE Asian region.