After spending nearly a year in South-East Asia, I thought I would compile a list of the best places I’ve visited.
In some countries the choice was easier than in others. My choices are highly subjective and consider the amount of fun I had in the location, the right level of tourism, the people I met there and the things to do there.
So, let’s get started…
Indonesia is a very diverse country with many island groups, so it’s difficult to visit all of it in one trip. Apart from two particular areas, Indonesia is a touristic backwater. I spent most of my time in Java and Bali.
1 – Yogyakarta – Central Java
For the second most visited destination in Indonesia behind collectively Bali, Lombok and the Gili islands, there are relatively few tourists, yet there is still a fair amount to do. Most importantly there are two large temple ruins, Candi Prambanan and Candi Borobudur to explore. While there aren’t many westerners, you may be accosted by Indonesian tourists wanting to take photos of you.
2 – Bali
This resort island is so popular with Australian holiday makers it’s often called Little Australia. With beautiful beaches, so many markets, charming clifftop temples and myriads of restaurants, there is a lot to do here. The one problem is the sheer number of tourists and because of this the local sales people can be excessively pushy. As it is busy most of the year around, the popularity of the quiet neighbouring Lombok and Gili Islands has increased.
One of the four Asian Tigers, Singapore is the most expensive country in south-east Asia but for good reason. An island city with limited space, the nation still offers plenty for the tourist to see and do. Singapore is a great place to visit, but is more designed for the holiday maker with cash to spare than a long-term traveller.
With an eclectic mix of western and muslim cultures, Malaysia is one of my more favourite countries. It has a mix of mountains, sandy beaches, small backwater towns and of course, the gleaming capital, Kuala Lumpur.
1 – Langkawi Island
Langkawi is considered a resort island, although only one side of it is touristic. This is the beauty of the island, there is a place for those who like to touristy things, and then simply rent a scooter and five minutes out of Pantai Cenang you are away from tourists to visit serene empty gold sand beaches and waterfalls.
2 – Ipoh
Ipoh is the hidden gem of mainland Malaysia as it’s off the tourist route, with most travellers heading up to the more touristic Cameron Highlands instead. But the treasure of Ipoh is the dozens of cave temples scattered throughout the city.
Perhaps the country most sold out to tourism, Thailand is a very diverse country with much to see, from the drunken yet beautiful islands of the south to the peaceful mountains of the north. But let us not forget Bangkok, the city of temples.
1 – Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai – Thailand
Northern Thailand is the best place to go if you are looking to escape the party zone of the southern islands. It’s still popular among tourists but can still be an enjoyable place to explore.
2 – Ao Nang
Southern Thailand is a beautiful place although it does tend to be overrun by 18 to 21 year olds on holiday looking to party at every opportunity. If that’s your thing, fine, but if not, then Ao Nang is the place for you. It’s still very busy, but tends to be where families to holiday in and among the islands.
With limited time to get to know Laos I visited only three main locations on my way to Vietnam. Overall, Laos is one of the poorer nations in South-East Asia but it has a fair number of things for the traveller to experience here.
1 – Luang Prabang
Like all the major tourist places in Laos, Luang Prabang is based around the river. The city gives a more traditional look at life in Laos than the other places, although it’s becoming more touristic as time goes on. There are numerous things to do including just sitting back in these pools near a cascading waterfall.
2 – Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a touristic party town based around the river. After several tourist deaths in the last few years, a lot of the dangerous activities have been banned. While it still attracts partiers it’s at a more sedate level. The river is the major selling point of the town and there are several ways you can travel along it. I chose by kayak.
With much culture still spread across this country, the land known for the Vietnam-America war has a lot to offer, although a lot of it features a war-based sentiment that is often anti-American.
1 – Hoi An
While Hoi An is a tourist town not far the major city of Da Nang, it was a welcoming sight after more than a week riding through places where I was the only english speaker. The town is relaxing and enjoyable. Plus, I met a great group of people at the hostel to explore the town with.
2 – Da Lat
In the mountains of southern Vietnam, Da Lat is the flower capital of the country and is a beautiful city with some of the more oddball places to visit, including the ‘crazy house’.
While Cambodia is a lovely country overall, I got the sense that it has vastly sold out to tourism. Considering its recent history and the young population here it’s understandable. My two picks also offer very good reasons why this is the case.
1 – Phnom Phen
While Phnom Phen is a large crazy city, it still draws many tourists. The major draw to the city is the Killing Fields, the site of mass murders conducted by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. Just listening to the audio tour at Choeung Ek brought such emotion from so many visitors. And it is this alone that gave the place a higher rating in my books.
2 – Siem Reap
Siem Reap is home to Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex ever to be built and surrounding this amazing site are many different ruins in various states of repair. The entire area is beautiful, but it’s the popularity that is also its downfall with just too many tourists. On top of this, the locals push hard to win the tourist dollar and can often make a fantastic area a little unpleasant.
Only recently opened to tourism, Myanmar is still rich in its culture, although this is changing quickly as it begins to accept the tourist dollar. It will not be long before it becomes the next Laos.
1 – Bagan
A truly breathtaking place and perhaps my most favourite place in all of South-East Asia. There are so many temples here it’s easy to get lost in the atmosphere of the place. Just sitting for hours on top of a temple as it grows dark as temples begin lighting up is certainly an experience in serenity.
So that’s it, the best places in South-East Asia.
Until next time,