Southeast Asia is a destination hotspot for many reasons. Tropical weather, historically rich, diverse culture, and friendly people is what makes this part of the world an absolute must. Whether you are on a winter holiday from work or a long haul backpacking adventure, Southeast Asia is a perfect destination to site see, relax, and experience a whole new culture and cuisine. From luxury private villas to busy backpacker hostels, there is accommodation for any budget.
Each country has its own unique value and experiences to take in. When running against time, visiting each country may be out of the question. After spending half a year in Southeast Asia, I became acquainted with many areas and have provided a little more information on the top Southeast Asian countries for your visit.
Cambodia caught my heart for the rich history. In the northern region, you can visit the ancient city of Siem Reap where you can learn the history of the ancient civilizations from long ago. You can tour through the magical historic buildings and walk through the remains of the Temples of Angkor. As you travel more central, to the city of Phnom Penh, you will learn the heartbreaking history of the Khmer Rouge – one of the world’s worst mass killings from within the 20th century. You may need a tissue or two after a tour through the ‘Killing Fields’ and ‘S21 Museum’ but it is worth learning an important (UNESCO) piece of history. As you take the journey further south, you will see the city culture transition into the beach culture with some of the most beautiful secluded islands and best beaches in all of Southeast Asia. Be sure to take a late night swim to witness the bioluminescent phytoplankton light up in the sea!
One of my absolute favorite countries in the entire world, Indonesia. Breathtaking landscapes, amazing culture, and great food! From exploring lesser-known islands to venturing up an active volcano at 2:00 am in time to catch the sunrise at the top, Indonesia will leave you speechless. My favorite part of this country… surfing! With so many surf spots, Lombok and Bali are the best places to catch a wave!
Located between Thailand and Vietnam, this beautiful country is known for morning markets, Buddhist monasteries, and the Mekong River. Walk through markets and grab some fresh fruit, head to the beach, or go for a trek through the jungle. Definitely take a venture over to the Kuang Si Falls, a massive three tier waterfall in the Northern part of the country. Driving through Laos is a breeze with the scenic views of rice terraces and open land.
Malaysia is known for its diverse culture, as you will learn through the museums and see through the cuisine. Malaysia has a huge variety of traditions, clothing, customs, and food! That being said, it is still a peaceful country and is quick to become a travel hotspot. With wild jungles, white sand beaches, and shopping filled cities, Malaysia is a must when traveling Southeast Asia!
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a beautiful historical country, with ancient Buddhist Pagodas filled with relics dating back centuries ago. A place like no other, Myanmar is not as touristic as some of the other countries on the list but is well worth the visit. A mysterious atmosphere washes through the country as you come across hidden gems that will leave you in awe. Travel back in time to the ancient kingdom of Bagan and learn all about the early legends as you walk through the vast archaeological site.
The Philippines, also known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient Seas’, is home to over 7,000 islands. The Spanish colonized the country as you will see through the culture and language. Known for the rich biodiversity and phenomenal dive sites, the Philippines has become a true hotspot for travelers from all ends of the world.
The lush green scenery, jagged limestone cliffs, and white sand beaches will capture your heart. Palawan is a must-see for people seeking phenomenal beaches, crystal clear waters, and perfect snorkeling in an ultimate paradise. Go north and you will come across the amazing Banaue Rice Terraces. Start making your way south to Cebu, and check out the Kawasan Falls for the bluest water you will ever see. Head further south to Bohol to see the ‘chocolate hills’ – a one-of-a-kind geological formation.
Singapore is modern and advanced with a variety of unique landmarks. Never get lost thanks to the high-quality transportation system that’ll take you exactly where you need to go. Get your retail therapy in one of many malls, learn the history of Singapore at the National Museum of Singapore, or have a fun-filled day at the Universal Studios. Along with the shops and buildings, Singapore is also known for parks and outdoor events. With an abundance of green spaces, Singapore is a great place to visit for the nature-lovers. Take a stroll through ‘The Gardens by the Bay’ – A nature park created on reclaimed land with a sustainable purpose.
Known as ‘The Land of Smiles’ and for good reason! Everyone here is extremely friendly, welcoming, and will make you feel right at home. Thailand is one of those places in the world that you’ll keep going back to. The South Islands are busy with tourists but if you stay long enough, you may unlock the secrets to a few hidden and secluded beaches around the area. Central Thailand, home of the Big Mango, is filled with shopping, Muay Thai, and excellent cuisine options. The North is the best way to get the most cultural experience in Thailand, as the number of tourists that travel these areas drastically declines. See lush jungle, beautiful rice terraces, ancient temples, and perhaps an elephant or two.
Vietnam is an amazing country with a huge variety of cuisine, accommodation, and activities. Head North for some of the most breathtaking views of the Southeast Asian landscape. Dipping through valleys, you can head to the northern village of Sapa and trek for days through the spectacular rice terraces and experience the local hill-tribe culture – although most of the hill-tribe people speak their local dialect, smiles are always given! I also highly recommend heading central Vietnam to the city of Hoi An for some custom made clothing, adorable cafes, and cultural museums.