Friday, June 24, 2016

The Alluring Artistic Cities of Southeast Asia

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(Museum Affandi in Yogyakarta. Image via

One of the best ways to discover a foreign culture and its heritage is through its art. While we love escaping to a little peace and tranquility in an effort to offset the daily 9 to 5, immersing ourselves within a city’s arts scene is also a great way to reawaken the senses and get our creative juices flowing. Art surrounds us regardless of where we are - from grand masterpieces to nondescript scratchings on a wall - and here in Southeast Asia, artistic communities are coming together stronger than ever to mould a flourishing landscape of vibrant and fearless forms of expression.

Art exploration is especially great for travellers on a shoestring budget; a good number of these places can be explored by foot and have a variety of affordable accommodations that can be booked online with additional savings through sites like Saleduck. Public transport is accessible and mouth-watering street food is also aplenty.
So without further ado, here are five cities in Southeast Asia that you should definitely visit if you’re looking to get a little inspired during your travels.

Chiangmai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is not so much targeted by those who journey to the land of smiles for its cheap alcohol, spirited nightlife and exotic islands. However, this gem of a city is the perfect place for those looking to lose themselves in a wonderland of offbeat creativity - it's often dubbed as Thailand’s art capital. Peek through the windows of quaint shops and dine in the quirkily decorated cafes that dot the trendy Nimmanhemin Road. Visit the galleries and independent spaces bearing the works of local and international artists. The tone here is modern, experimental and eternally evolving. Stop by C.A.P studio, Gallery SeeScape and Vichit Studio to acquaint yourself with the local community.

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(SeeScape Gallery, image via

Yogyakarta, Indonesia
While it is world renowned for its traditional art forms such as shadow puppets, batik and intricate silverwares, today’s Jogjakarta is is also a melting pot of alternative art spaces. The vibe is a little more DIY and raw in comparison to Chiang Mai, but the diversity of artists that come together makes it a great place to discover Indonesia’s thriving modern art scene. Most of the galleries are concentrated on Jalan Prawirotaman, Tirtodipuran and and Jalan Panjaitan - all within walking distance from one another - and boast informal, open-concept spaces with communal studios and artistic residencies. The Cemeti Art House is a pioneering hub that hosts regular showcases and installations ranging from political photography to sculptural works.
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(Cemeti Art House, image via

Battambang, Cambodia
Nestled amidst the sleepy city of Battambang is a spirited arts scene that transcends traditional media. Think poetry recitals, film screenings, culinary classes, digital exhibitions, visual installations and plenty more. What is most appealing about Battambang’s creative topography is its distinct familial quality. Painters, graphic designers, writers all come together in the most earnest of efforts to perfect and share their craft within a self-sustaining community that gives back to the city. Start your tour of the city at Sangker - a converted shophouse that focuses on collaborative works between local and international artists - and then head over to Kinyei cafe to recharge over a cup of coffee. Sammaki Gallery displays work by emerging young artists and also organises art workshops on the regular. If you need to unwind when the sun sets, Lotus Bar and Gallery is a great place to catch a live show or film over a drink and a light meal.

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(mural in Georgetown Penang, image via
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
The walls of the colonial-style buildings that decorate the streets of Georgetown, Penang, tell an abundance of stories. This is partly due to the history that surrounds them but also the murals that adorn their exterior. Depicting the humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, fascinating lives of its people, these paintings - which come courtesy of artists such as Lithuanian-born Ernest Zacharevic and Despond Yeo - are just part of what makes Georgetown such a fascinating hub for the arts in Malaysia. This UNESCO world heritage site s also home to a variety of art collectives and refurbished shop lots that have been converted into galleries, cafes, knick-knack shops and event venues. Visitors can participate in a variety of free walking tours of the city to really get a feel of how Penang’s past and present collide in the most harmonious of ways.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Due to the remnants of its authoritarian political framework, Vietnam is not a country that one would easily associate with the expressive nature of contemporary art. However, its emerging cultural scene is as dynamic as it is fascinating and Hanoi is the perfect place to dip your toes into the pool of Vietnam’s most promising creative talents. Start at the National Museum of Fine Arts to get a taste of its traditional folk art. The Goethe Institut and l’Institut Fran├žais de Hano├» is a great place to check out programs that encourage cultural exchange and interactions - language courses, lectures, visual exhibitions and performance arts are just some of the activities included in its repertoire.  Manzi Cafe and Art Space is another strong influencer and often displays work by Vietnam’s most interesting artists. For an experience that is a little more visceral, DOCLAB is a brilliant venue that showcases video art and documentary screenings regularly.

This article was contributed by Saleduck

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