For those who’re wanting for one of the best locations to go to in Southeast Asia, then you could have already stumbled upon fairly a number of ranked listicles. Most of those function the identical 10 or so most iconic websites, which is sort of a bummer.
What I assumed I’d do as an alternative is share my general tackle every nation in Southeast Asia, which might then show you how to bounce off into additional analysis on nations or areas that you simply just like the sound of. That is actually the most effective technique for locating fascinating locations that aren’t but in all the highest 10’s!
Whereas I’ve not been in all places (has anybody?), I’ve traveled the area for a mixed 14 months on journeys from 2013 to 2019.
Different really helpful posts
This text is usually about the place to journey, however I’ve additionally written a lot about easy methods to journey in Southeast Asia. When you’re right here, you won’t need to miss these different assets for planning a visit to Asia:
Superior starter nation!
Low cost flights to Bangkok, Koh Chang archipelago, Mae Hong Son, Khao Sok nationwide park, superb vacationer infrastructure, unimaginable meals, enjoyable, celebration central
Hella touristy in most locations, celebration central
I nonetheless keep in mind what it was wish to arrive in Bangkok for the primary time. The temples, the neon lights, the smells of cooking oil from road meals distributors, the tuk-tuk taxis whizzing previous… it was like getting into an entire new world.
Regardless that my coronary heart now beats quicker for extra offbeat locations, I’ve to acknowledge what a tremendous nation Thailand nonetheless is. Southeast Asia could be bewildering at first, however Thailand enables you to ease into issues; it’s unique sufficient to really feel adventurous, however the journey logistics are straightforward, and the famed Thai hospitality will make you are feeling at house even when virtually nothing is acquainted.
Khaosan street, Bangkok
That stated, over 35 million individuals go to this nation yearly, and in all honesty, it exhibits — particularly alongside the seashores and islands within the south, the place mass tourism has really taken its toll.
You’ll not often be alone. That, in fact, can be a superb factor — and it’s no coincidence that so many (first time) solo travellers love Thailand a lot.
To get the most effective of Thailand you need to choose your locations correctly. For instance, when you don’t like mass tourism, don’t go to Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. Then once more, in case you’re coming to Thailand as a first-time backpacker chances are you’ll simply as nicely end up planning little or no in any respect and easily going alongside the well-established circuit. Likelihood is that you simply’ll have a good time!
In the event you’re merely in search of some sand and solar, then Thailand has received you coated. There’s additionally a famend get together scene, notably in Bangkok (Khaosan Street) and on the islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Phi Phi, attracting many youthful holidayers and hole yr travellers.
Fascinated with a extra genuine (or just quieter) Thailand? It’s nonetheless there if you recognize the place to look. I’ve a lot loved exploring the quieter southeastern elements close to Cambodia, particularly the city of Trat and the Koh Chang archipelago. I feel this little nook is secretly one of the best a part of southern Thailand. Northern Thailand additionally has loads of off-the-beaten-track locations.
Since Bangkok has numerous worldwide flight connections, Thailand makes for as a handy gateway to the remainder of Southeast Asia. And to so many globetrotters hooked on journey (like me), Thailand was their first ceremony of passage. It will not be the world’s most unique or adventurous selection, however who cares? It’s straightforward, enjoyable, a bit wild (in locations), and really has one thing for everybody.
For extra ideas, see my journey information to Thailand and pattern itinerary.
Distant jungles, quiet rural locations, river journeys, motorcycle loops
No huge cities, little or no nightlife (if that’s what you need)
There’s one thing particular about Laos that I simply love. In the event you’re in search of a bit extra authenticity and calm than you’ll sometimes discover in Thailand, you may need to begin wanting right here. It’s significantly superb, although I’ll admit that Laos in all probability appeals principally to a sure sort of traveller.
Positive, Laos lacks iconic sights, the best way Vietnam has Ha Lengthy Bay or Cambodia has the huge temples of Angkor Wat. There’s nothing essentially ‘epic’ that pulls individuals to it, however that’s additionally precisely why it’s so good to journey there. Go there for its nature, its Buddhist calm, and Mekong river views.
I feel Laos is the vacation spot for adventurers. Because of its pristine jungles and karst mountain landscapes, it might be the perfect nation in mainland Southeast Asia for mountaineering and trekking. It’s additionally a superb place for different outside actions like kayaking, zip-lining, caving, and mountaineering.
4000 islands, LaosKarst landscapes of northern LaosTemples in Luang Prabang
Landlocked Laos has been principally ignored by the plenty extra simply enticed by a tropical seashore. As a result of midnight curfews, there additionally isn’t a lot of a celebration scene (in contrast to what you might have heard). These elements have conspired to protect Laos as an unimaginable ecotourism and journey journey vacation spot. Crammed with quiet delights, I feel it’s one of many true backpacker highlights of the area. (Are you able to inform it’s one in every of my private favourites?)
Previous guidebooks speak about how troublesome Laos is to journey. Truly, the infrastructure has improved, and it’s now fairly simply accessible. You may nonetheless want a little bit of endurance, however journey occasions have improved, and there at the moment are bridges connecting Laos with Thailand on the borders.
Don’t miss the lazy 4000 islands archipelago within the Mekong, or lease a motorcycle and discover the countryside independently. And contemplate a keep on the Gibbon Expertise, which helps you to sleep in treehouses excessive within the jungle cover and fly round utilizing zip-lines, supplying you with a singular perspective on the rainforest.
Go to Laos – you gained’t remorse it.
Learn extra in my in-depth information to Laos.
Exhilarating cities, meals, practice journey, beautiful caves, struggle museums
Cookie-cutter excursions (see under)
I consider Vietnam as a conflicting place — one that may be each deeply fascinating and probably irritating at occasions.
To start out with the positives, it really has a few of the most vibrant cities round. In case you’re a little bit of an city explorer you then’ll certainly love wandering across the leafy conventional capital of Hanoi, or the frenetic business capital of Ho Chi Minh Metropolis (a.okay.a. Saigon). Snarls of scooters and small bikes will continually move you by, loaded with something from development supplies to complete households. The native meals markets are dizzying beehives of exercise, enveloping you in a pleasant sensory overload.
Dramatic landscapes additionally dominate the central and northern elements of Vietnam. At Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng, you’ll be able to go to a number of the largest caves on the planet. The well-known bay of Ha Lengthy is dotted with numerous limestone cliffs, feeling a bit like a mystical pirate’s hideout. You possibly can go on a 1, 2- or Three-day cruise round these breathtaking islands, however don’t anticipate to be alone at this extremely commercialized UNESCO World Heritage Website. (A quieter various is Bai Tu Lengthy Bay, which is additional away and out of attain of day-trippers.)
Ha Lengthy BayHanoi
The fishing village of Mui Ne
However whereas the tradition, scrumptious meals, and historical past are an enormous draw, the Vietnamese angle to tourism is usually a bit off-putting at occasions. They only know tips on how to package deal sure experiences in a factory-like method, and for those who stick too intently to the standard itineraries, you may quickly really feel such as you’re simply being rushed from one vacationer lure to the subsequent. A budget however cookie-cutter excursions to locations just like the Mekong Delta, Halong Bay, or the Chi Chi Tunnels are not the most effective this nation has to supply.
For that, you need to goal to discover independently. That is actually the primary tip I’ve for Vietnam: going the DIY route for many of your sightseeing journeys is what could make 100% of a distinction in the way you’ll expertise this nation. Probably the easiest way to do that is to lease or purchase a motorcycle and go on a street journey. You’ll see a unique — a lot hotter, far more human — aspect of Vietnam that many vacationers of their mad rush in the direction of Ha Lengthy Bay gained’t get to see.
One unlucky facet of Vietnam is that scams concentrating on vacationers are nonetheless an actual drawback, maybe extra so than in different nations. That is principally a problem within the cities and key vacationer websites. You may need to be in your guard a bit extra, although don’t let a damaging encounter damage your whole expertise. Once more, in case you keep away from the standardized excursions and enterprise past the standard prime 5 locations, you’re more likely to depart with a much more fascinating impression of Vietnam.
For extra ideas, take a look at my Vietnam information (on account of be up to date in 2019).
Temples of Angkor Wat, laidback islands, Cardamom Mountains
Sihanoukville & Chinese language on line casino takeovers
There are primarily two huge explanation why you’ll need to go to Cambodia.
Firstly, there’s the spectacular Angkor Wat, which is among the largest historic temple complexes on the planet. This sprawling website can take days to discover correctly, and it’s simply of the highest sights in Southeast Asia. The close by metropolis of Siem Reap has turn into a fun-filled base from which to take excursions into the Angkor Wat archeological park.
Secondly, Cambodia has a few of the nicest islands within the area, that are nonetheless comparatively underdeveloped in comparison with these in Thailand or Vietnam. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem (amongst different islands) have a cool vibe and their seashores are principally unspoiled. It gained’t keep that method ceaselessly, so go there now.
Pepper farms in Kampot
Aside from this, Cambodia additionally has its share of quaint cities alongside the Mekong River with remnants of French colonial structure. Whereas the Cambodian authorities places little precedence on nature preservation, the nation does have some superb nationwide parks; I particularly advocate going to Chi Pat for wonderful ecotourism adventures.
Just a bit tip, don’t hassle with the resort metropolis of Sihanoukville. It’s a little bit of a dump, and anybody recommending it’s simply lazily copy-pasting info from 10 years in the past. My information to Cambodia has extra recommendations on find out how to cherry-pick the perfect of Cambodia.
Problem-free, multicultural, nicer islands than Thailand, Borneo wildlife
Extra conservative, Borneo not fairly as untouched as you’d think about
Whereas Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam which have been as soon as colonized by France, Malaysia was as soon as a part of the British empire. That provides its historic cities a special character. It additionally typically feels extra cosmopolitan and multi-cultural, residence to a mixture of Malays, Chinese language, Indians, and numerous minorities.
Malaysia is a little more rich, orderly, and conservative than its neighbors. It might be missing that rough-and-tumble really feel, nevertheless it additionally means it’s not as over-the-top as Thailand. Its seashores and islands (such because the Perhentian Islands) are comparatively low-key, and most of its different locations are family-friendly and properly arrange for guests.
Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary
I’ve to say that my information of Peninsular Malaysia is a bit patchy (regardless of two visits), although I feel the cities of Penang and Malacca are very fascinating. I purpose to return again someday to discover extra areas off the western coast.
As an journey traveller, I used to be extra enticed by the opposite a part of Malaysia on the island of Borneo. I spent most of my time within the japanese state of Sabah, the place you’ll be able to climb Kota Kinabalu (the very best mountain in Southeast Asia), go scuba diving at Pulau Mabul and Pulau Sipadan (simply a few of the greatest diving I’ve ever carried out), and go to nationwide parks such because the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (the place even on a nasty day you’ll be able to spot numerous monkeys, hornbills, crocodiles, and a lot extra). It’s all fairly rattling epic round these elements!
By the best way, you’ll want to finances a bit extra for Malaysia. Lodging and meals are nice worth, however native excursions, climbing journeys, or entries to nationwide parks do add up a bit quicker right here.
Tremendous clear, organized, trendy, superb meals courts, and has extra creativity/appeal than you may at first anticipate (see the Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown, Haji Lane, and so forth.)
The town-state of Singapore makes for an fascinating go to, given how strongly it contrasts towards different close by locations. It’s spotlessly clear and high-tech, and is actually a world aside from all of the chaos, smells, and congestion elsewhere. It’s a meticulously designed place, typically making you are feeling as if you’re wandering via the glittering futuristic visions from an architect’s dream.
Singapore’s Marina BaySingapore’s Chinatown
The fashionable comforts could be a refreshing change should you’ve spent a while in much less developed elements of Southeast Asia. The meals in Singapore can also be phenomenal and no go to is full with out going to one among its many hawker facilities (a kind of meals courtroom) the place you possibly can pattern nearly any Asian delicacies — very cheaply and with hygiene requirements a lot greater than the road meals in different nations.
Singapore is a simple and cozy vacation spot, though a lot of the town can really feel fairly business-ey and too neatly maintained. It’s been getting extra artistic and vibrant although and it’s acquired loads of fascinating areas to take a look at. Singapore makes for a mild introduction to Southeast Asia or can function a handy pit cease on a bigger journey.
Do remember that costs in Singapore (aside from the meals) are primarily at Western ranges. That doesn’t imply it’s unattainable to remain there on a finances; I’ve listed some free or low cost issues to do in Singapore.
Volcano hikes, unspoiled seashores, snorkeling/scuba, wildlife, and an entire world to discover
Congested Jakarta and overtouristed Kuta on Bali
To state the apparent: Indonesia is large.
It’s, in truth, wider than america. It’s so massive that when you have been to write down an entire information to Southeast Asia, you’d in all probability should do a separate Quantity II simply to cowl Indonesia.
Most vacationers focus solely on a tiny half — the resort island of Bali — however past it lies an enormous space to discover, with unimaginable potential for off-the-beaten-track adventures. Blessed with 17,000 islands and quite a few volcanoes, Indonesia is a major vacation spot for browsing, trekking, diving, and wildlife recognizing (with an opportunity to see orangutans). It’s culturally numerous as properly, with totally different islands following the Muslim, Hindu, Catholic or Protestant religions.
Temples of Prambanan
For those who’re pressed for time, then spending every week on Bali is truthfully not the worst concept. Its capital of Kuta could also be nauseatingly business and targeted completely on mass tourism, however dive deeper into Bali and also you’ll uncover loads of lovely Hindu temples, inexperienced rice paddies, and laidback seashores.
A typical longer itinerary has you beginning within the metropolis of Yogyakarta on Java, then visiting the traditional temples of Borobudur, the epic volcano of Bromo, after which ending in Bali. This submit tells you, extremely, how this may be accomplished in a single week — although I like to recommend a minimum of 2 or Three weeks for this route.
The Ijen volcano craterThe colourful Gili Islands
Lombok, the island that’s adjoining to Bali, is full of surfer spots, waterfalls, and quieter seashores. Additional east, I liked exploring rural Flores and seeing the Komodo dragons at Komodo Nationwide Park.
To date I’ve been on two massive journeys to Indonesia, and I’m itching to return. The subsequent one will in all probability take me to the less-explored elements of Sumatra, Sulawesi, or West Nusa Tengarra. Indonesia feels to me like one of many ultimate frontiers of Southeast Asia.
The nation appears oddly ignored amongst journey bloggers (no less than outdoors of Bali), however I’ll exit on a limb and say it’s one of many actual highlights of Southeast Asia.
For extra, take a look at my run-down of all of the Indonesian islands.
Rice terraces, unimaginable island hopping, straightforward contact with locals (they converse English), tons of underwater wonders, really unspoiled seashores
Meh meals, congested Manila, El Nido may need gotten too widespread
That is Asia’s best-kept secret. I am keen on the Philippines and maintain recommending it to everybody.
Since many Filipinos converse fluent English, you will get lots nearer to the tradition. I’ve discovered myself travelling along with Filipino backpackers, made buddies in lots of villages, and sung karaoke with locals. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia the language barrier can put you in a bubble, however a lot much less so right here. I can’t emphasize sufficient how a lot of a distinction this makes.
Rice terraces of Batad, Luzon
The Philippines additionally occurs to have probably the most superb seashores and islands, arms down. The island of Palawan does appear to get a couple of too many vacationers today as phrase unfold quickly concerning the islands and lagoons round El Nido, although the crowds are additionally simply escaped if needed by going to the close by island of Coron or the small city of Port Barton.
Fortuitously, the Philippines has over 7,000 islands, so I don’t assume it is going to be operating out of wonderful spots any time quickly! Palawan is certainly lovely however my private suggestion is to go to the central Visayas — notably islands like Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, and Camiguin. Apart from seashores, there are extra numerous actions there and also you’ll in all probability have a greater probability of attending to know the native life.
The banka, a standard boat
The Philippines was a Spanish after which an American colony, which is mirrored within the faith, structure, and language. The meals does take numerous inspiration from American quick meals or Spanish asado and appears much less involved with Asian spices. That’s a little bit of a bummer, although that is additionally clearly a matter of style.
Because of its unimaginable islands, beautiful rice terraces, volcano hikes, pretty individuals, and an interesting cultural melting pot, I feel the Philippines is a real spotlight.
One tip although: it’s value departing the capital of Manila shortly, because it’s tremendous congested and never very good.
Be sure you take a look at all of my articles on the Philippines.
Temples of Bagan, fantastic practice journey, utterly undeveloped seashores, tourism continues to be in its infancy in most locations
Troublesome political state of affairs in the intervening time
Myanmar is a relative newcomer to the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit, as previous to lifting of worldwide sanctions in 2012 it was troublesome to go right here. Whereas it’s been quickly opening up, you’ll nonetheless discover genuine tradition and a relative lack of cynicism in the direction of vacationers in Myanmar.
The hundreds of historic temples at Bagan present some true pinch-me vistas, notably at sundown. Burmese delicacies is massively underrated and a foodie goes to have a good time. Take a practice no less than as soon as: the creaking previous carriages are one thing to expertise.
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
Placing a slight damper on issues extra just lately is the federal government’s prosecution of the Royingha minority, which the UN has characterised as ethnic cleaning. Myanmar is clearly going by way of some robust points proper now, though boycotting would additionally harm the incomes of many locals who’re completely uninvolved in these occasions. The journey group is usually bitterly divided on these points and I feel it ought to in all probability simply be as much as the person.
Current headlines apart, Myanmar is a very pure journey vacation spot with none social gathering scene and barely any seashore resorts. Till just lately, it was even completely untouched by globalization (although the primary Starbucks popped up in Yangon in 2017). Very similar to Cuba, it’s a see-it-before-it-changes sort of place.
You’ll be able to learn my ideas for travelling in Myanmar, together with info on easy methods to get visas and which areas of the nation are permitted to journey in.
Southeast Asia value of journey
Aside from going to the nations you assume might be fascinating, one other issue to remember is the price of journey round Southeast Asia.
Not all over the place in Southeast Asia is equally low cost. Make sure you take a look at my Southeast Asia backpacker budgets together with common lodging costs and up-to-date prices for numerous fashionable excursions, journeys, and park entries.
For those who’re on a shoestring finances it’ll be best to stay to northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia. These nations are the most cost effective (apart from the Thai seashores) they usually additionally type fairly a compact circuit, chopping down on transportation prices.
When you have a bit room in your finances, then different locations will provide you with wonderful worth as nicely. Nations like Indonesia or the Philippines are shaped of islands and are extra fragmented, so remember you might have to price range a bit extra for flights there.
Want extra assist?
As must be apparent… Southeast Asia is an enormous place!
Should you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed whereas planning your journey, that’s comprehensible (belief me, I’ve been there). Luckily, I’ve additionally acquired one thing that may make issues a bit of simpler.
My in-depth information to touring will make it easier to plan, pack, and put together in your journey. Readers have stated it seems like having a good friend sit down with you to mull over your journey goals and switch them into actual plans. With my professional information, you’ll be capable of higher analysis your locations, create a sensible however adventure-filled route, and put together your self for something Southeast Asia may throw at you. Whereas it may be used for travelling anyplace, the e-book is crammed with many classes I discovered (typically the arduous means) whereas touring round Southeast Asia for a lot of months on finish. You possibly can test it out right here.
P.S. I’ve not but been to Brunei or Timor-Leste! Maybe I’ll have an opportunity so as to add these nations right here sooner or later.