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discover hidden myths, taste diverse food and sleep below a sky full of shooting stars and galaxies every night
South and Southeast Asia are some offbeat options for experiential travelers, because they promise untold stories to be listened to. Although well known for their tourist centers and warm welcome, they have a lot left to be seen and shared by locals! That is why we have compiled this list of some life-changing experiences from across Southeast Asia.

When the Western independent travelers opened hipster routes on Southeast Asia, they went with the mainland SEA routes. This route later became popular that the tourism industry in these places grew quick accordingly. Like the Silk Road in Asia and Gringo Trail in America, the Banana Pancake Trail is not actually a physical route, it is merely an abstract path which commonly used as a metaphor of the Western travelers’ well-trodden path.

Banana Pancake Trail expands west to reach South Asia, passing Myanmar reaching Nepal and India, as well as Maritime Southeast Asia, reaching Indonesia and Philippines in occasions. These trails are used by many guidebooks such as Lonely Planet as the rule of thumb to experience Southeast Asia in one continuous journey. And in the era before the internet, the book became a blueprint of a standard trip plan.

Recently, some guides put Malaysia and Singapore into the route, however in the past, that was absolutely not the case. The first thing that we should have in mind is that Southeast Asian countries in Western travelers’ eyes do not stand as independent destinations, rather than a unified agglomeration.

Thailand-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia route is considered as more exotic than Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore route. With Bangkok being travelers’ main region hub for decades, going to the north or east makes more sense for the first-time travelers than going to the south.

Dream trips are selected Asian islands - a beautiful blend of fabulous nature, culinary pleasure and total relaxation. Why do so many of us thirst for travel? Is it our desire to explore other cultures from the inside out or just to add another stamp in our passport? Is it to mingle with people from far away countries who may speak different languages? Is it to worship different gods and eat different foods but are just like us in so many ways?

For those with exploration and adventure in their hearts, it is easy to understand the appeal of Southeast Asia. The region offers not only warm weather, friendly locals and pleasant conditions. It also offers some of the most extraordinary areas of natural beauty on the planet.

It boasts of some of the most diverse, fascinating and beautiful flora and fauna in the world. If you love animals, appreciate nature, crave adventure and yearn for a vacation that nourishes the mind and the soul, the region is an ideal choice for you. Thailand is beautiful, Philippines is fun, Indonesia is adventurous, Malaysia is comfortable, Myanmar is exotic, Singapore is sophisticated, Vietnam is bustling, Cambodia is inspiring.

The Southeast Asian region is home to an incredibly wide variety of food that are steeped in history. From French colonial-inspired bánh mì of Vietnam to Malaysia’s beef and chicken satay with peanut sauce; from Filipino's uber delicious Adobo Chicken to Singapore's famed chicken rice to spicy Thai tom yam kung - this is one collective cuisine that embraces an abundance of flavours and tastes to delight any palate.

Truly, Southeast Asian food could be the next gastronomic revolution.

Life Changing Experiences In Southeast Asia

If you want a vacation that allows you to grow as a person and expands your mind even as you relax and unwind, you could do worse than add any of the following best places to visit in Southeast Asia to your travel bucket list.

1. Taipei, Taiwan


Taipei is a popular tourist destination for solo travelers. If you are looking delicious street food, amazing nightlife, beautiful temples and visit old cities with rich culture Taipei is the best destination for you.

Located in the north of the island of Taiwan, the capital of the country, Taipei, is today one of the most modern cities in Asia. Considered one of the five most famous museums in the world, National Palace Museum houses more than 650,000 works of art from almost all periods of China's five thousand-year history. The museum building is built in the style of the palaces of Beijing.

It has unique works of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, of painting, calligraphy, and all kinds of artistic objects that show the richness and beauty of Chinese culture and art. It is a sanctuary of art that has become a must for anyone traveling to Taipei. There are places of rest and coffee shops, as well as two old-style Zhishan and Zhide gardens that make the visitor appreciate even more the spirit of Chinese art while travelling in Taipei.

The Taipei 101 skyscraper, until recently was the tallest building in the world. From the 85th floor observatory it offers an unparalleled panoramic view of Taipei and its surroundings. Despite its height, it gives the impression of great flexibility, and It is a harmonious blend of traditional Chinese architecture with typical elements of Taiwan.

The 101 skyscraper shopping center houses several banks, shops of the main international brands, bookstores, several Asian and Western restaurants, as well as small coffee shops and tapas and refreshment stands. It is located in the center of the commercial area of ​​Xinyi, and being surrounded by the World Exhibition Center, the International Congress Center, financial centers, five-star hotels, department stores, cinemas, nightclubs.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Building is a majestic construction built in memory of the late former president. The night markets have become the main attraction of tourists visiting Taiwan. Shilin night market is the largest of its kind and also the most visited by students to buy clothes and food at affordable prices in the city of Taipei. The temple of Confucius honors the most famous master of China.

The Jianguo Flower and Jade Market, located under the overpass of section 3 of Xinyi Avenue and Jinan Avenue, is only held on weekends and holidays. Yangmingshan National Park is located north of Taipei, in the central area of ​​Datun volcanic areas. Famous for its thermal springs, Beitou is an area north of the city of Taipei, surrounded by green hills and close to the Shamao Mountain.

From Taipei Main Station, you can go to Songshan Station and from there take the train to Jiufen Old Street. The journey is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Jiufen is a small town in the mountains of northeastern Taiwan, known as the little Hong Kong. Its charm is its mountainous landscape with views of the Pacific, traditional buildings, and the hundreds of lanterns that are scattered throughout the town.

Walk (and eat) on Jishan Street, go to one of their teahouses, and admire the landscape from a high point. It has unique surprises of this city, such as peanut ice cream wrapped in dorayaki or a kind of pancake.

All tourist attractions can be reached via train, and no entrance fees. Visit the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall, Longshan Temple, Sun Yat Sen, Martyr shrine, and hike elephant mountain all for free. Shopping is also popular in Taipei. Ximending is fomous for its shopping malls. It is often called as the Shibuya of Taiwan. You can also visit Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world.

If you want to experience the vibe of old Taiwan, visit Shifen and Jiufen. It is also a popular tourist destination in Taiwan. Light a lantern in Shifen for good luck and visit the old city of Jiufen!

2. Hualien, Taiwan


Most of the tourists arrive here to visit the Taroko Gorge, but Hualien is also the beginning of the trip through the less urbanized and more autochthonous Taiwan. From Taipei there are trains that surround the east coast of the island. There are many different types of trains and schedules, so it's easy to get close to the station window and find a train ticket for the same day.

The center of Buddhist studies is a mixture of university, temple and hospital surrounded by tranquil gardens with small samples of how people lived in the city centuries ago, when the place was mostly inhabited by the aboriginal Amis tribe. The market of stones show there the stone works that characterize the artisans of the Amis tribe of Hualien.

Some stones have curious shapes like a pig's foot. In the evening, free traditional dances are held which, despite having lost their original aura, are a good approximation to the aboriginal culture of Taiwan. Taroko : is the most spectacular mountainous landscape in Taiwan. Guangfu and Shoufeng is full of rice fields, coast and small aboriginal towns.

In Hualien there are trains to the tiny town of Chongde. A few kilometers away from the town station there is a beach area from which you can see the cliffs of the coast. On the clearest days the views are spectacular, but even if the weather does not go along, the visit is worth it.

Dongdamen night market in Taiwan is located on an esplanade next to the sea and there is a pedestrianized shopping area along which the old train line ran. Apart from a couple of bars, the other alternatives are the shopping center, a small cinema and three dumplings stores that remains open 24 hours a day.

They serve the fried dumplings with a truly appetizing sauce with a soy sauce base - which provides the salty taste, but it needs thinning out with hot water to reduce the saltiness and make way for some sugar sweetness, the zesty sourness of rice vinegar and finally spiciness from the addition of chili oil with lots of chili flakes and garlic.

3. Taichung, Taiwan


Although Taichung is the third largest city in Taiwan, and cannot be found on all travel itineraries, this city is a great stop on your route to the south while travelling to Taiwan. With the high speed train (HSR), Taichung can be reached from Taipei in about 40 minutes. The HSR train station in Taichung is located far from the center and, therefore, you will have to take a taxi or the shuttle buses that will take you to the city.

For example, visit Rainbow Village, an artistic village just outside the city center, for which 'rainbow' is almost a euphemism. The colorful buildings are painted by Mr. Huang, a Chinese war veteran who wanted to save the people from ruin in this way. And it worked!

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the best museums in the region and offers a good insight into the contemporary Taiwanese artistic world. You will find exhibitions of local and international artists, and it is also worth visiting the surrounding sculpture garden.

In addition, Taichung is a base for hiking in the nature reserves that can be found in the city. For example, follow the accessible hiking trails in Dakeng or the beautiful mountains around Dasyeshuan. One hour and a half by car from Taichung is Sun Moon Lake, a beautiful natural area around the largest freshwater lake in Taiwan.

This area can be explored by boat, bicycle or bus that makes several stops around the lake (tip: buy a day pass instead of individual tickets), in this way you will see much more. Sun Moon Lake is ideal as a day trip from Taichung, but if you have time, spending the night in this area is a magical experience.

Taiwan's most famous beverage, bubble tea, was invented according to several sources in Taichung. Try the original recipe with the manufacturer Chun Shui Tang. Do you prefer coffee? Taichung is known for its countless trendy cafes. Several streets in Taichung are full of night markets as dark as night, of which the Fengjia night market is one of the most popular and large. Go on an empty stomach, because there is so much to try!

4. Tainan, Taiwan


The city of Tainan is undoubtedly an essential visit during a trip to Taiwan. Located in the south of the island, Tainan is an essential city for those who want to know what traditional Taiwan is like. Forget the ultra modernity of the capital Taipei or Kaohsiung, here you will have the impression of discovering a new country, another Taiwan.

The main wealth of Tainan is the number of temples it houses. They are absolutely impressive and the religious activity in them is usually intense. In fact, attend the celebrations of the main Buddhist festivities. After long cultural days, discover the nightlife. Do not forget to sit at the table of a small street restaurant. Tainan cuisine has the reputation of being the best in the country.

Taiwan’s most famous dish is arguably Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. The rich and elaborately prepared soup has a complex taste involving dozens of ingredients with their own flavour; and a variety of cooking methods includes decocting, frying and boiling - it is a delicacy from the Fujian province of China.

The pot is simmered for 5 hours with a slew of ingredients (recipe varies) such as abalone, shark’s fin*, sea cucumber, scallops, bamboo shoots, bamboo fungus, chestnuts, spare ribs, fish maw, ham, pork knuckle, quail eggs and Shaoxing wine plus additional ingredients such as gingko, wolfberries, and monkey head mushrooms (aka lion’s mane mushroom). A mini size potion for 1 person can costs up to US$100 at a specialty restaurant.

Rural Taiwan can sometimes look like rural Japan (with villages that look like Japanese villages) but it’s uniquely Taiwanese. Some places really had great scenary with Chinese temples. Overall, you do see some old houses, lots of plantations, it’s relatively clean and quiet and it’s truly traditional. People at the rural places are really friendly.

But if you’re a Foreigner traveling to rural places, you might sometimes encounter language problem if you do not know Mandarin or Taiwanese Minnan (Hokkien). Rural places in Taiwan tend to speak more Taiwanese Minnan rather than Mandarin.

5. Kaohsiung, Taiwan


This is a travel guide to Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Take a high-speed train to Kaohsiung. At the HSR station, buy a ticket for Zuoying Station, in the northern area of ​​Kaohsiung. Depending on the train you take, the trip will last from an hour and a half to two hours, with a good view of the west coast. From Zuoying you can take the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), a subway system that goes to different points of the city.

You can buy the tickets at the counters destined to it or in automatic machines. The price depends on the distance you are going to travel. Mark the desired destination and it will tell you how much money to insert (it is easier if you have coins, since not all machines accept bills or credit cards). You will obtain a blue chip with which you can pass the winches.

The main part of the city is located around the harbor area and the Love River. The Tuntex Sky Tower or 85 Sky Tower is the tallest building in the unofficial city and icon of it. You can go up to the 74th floor and enjoy the views of the city, beautiful but not like from the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower.

There are several parks in the city and its surroundings, but Lotus Lake, near the Zuoying station is surrounded by numerous statues, temples, pavilions and trails, which offer good photos and a quiet night walk. The Love River area is popular at nightfall, as are the various night markets in Taiwan that come to life at sunset.

The Maolin National Scenic Area is in the rugged Central Mountain Range that serves as the backbone of the island. The main attraction, apart from the magnificent mountainous landscape, is its location as a highlight to see the purple crow butterflies, which abound at certain times of the year.

In the immediate vicinity is the Duona suspended bridge , which is exactly what its name suggests. This huge pedestrian section crosses a beautiful gorge, where you can take impressive photos. Although Mandarin Chinese is the official language , most of the signs are also in English, so it should not be difficult to find streets, buildings and orient yourself on the subway.

6. Phonsavan, Laos


If you come to Phonsavan in Laos is for one reason only: Plains of Jars in the province of Xiengkhouang. There are several esplanades where a kind of stone cubes are kept, of which the origin and purpose are unknown. From Luang Prabang you can go by minivan or by bus. Depending on your taste, you can visit the Mining Advisory Group (MAG) - a humanitarian organization that recovers the remains of the conflict for the benefit of local communities around the world.

There are still thousands of unexploded bombs threatening in the fields, and impeding the normal development of the country. It is estimated that 30% are still undetonated (these are the so-called UXO: Unexploded Ordnance). Today they continue to kill and maim many Laotians who work in the fields and are caught by surprise.

Observe the local daily life of the ethnic groups and visit a small monastery in Ban Xiengdi through areas that were important battlefields during the American war. Continue the tour with Muang Khoun - the only place located in the old provincial capital that was not destroyed by the US bombing.

7. Brunei


Brunei is a very small nation on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, which aside from on its coastline is entirely bordered by Malaysia. The Sultan’s Mosque is absolutely beautiful of course. The seat of the nation’s government is Istana Nurul Iman.

This gargantuan palace is the largest single-family residence in the world, with 1,788 rooms, a banquet hall which seats 5,000, a garage containing 110 cars, and a stable of 200 ponies. In terms of floor area, it’s nearly thrice the size of Buckingham Palace. The palace is located a few kilometres southwest of the Bruneian capital, Bandar Sewi Begawan.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the capital (Bandar Sewi Begawan) is the area named Kampong Ayer (a neighbourhood who has houses above water), nicknamed Venice of the East. The entire settlement, is built on stilts above the Brunei River. It has existed for centuries, and was even written about by the famous Antonio Pigafetta, who sailed with Magellan. Visit the Kampung Ayer, and try Nasi Katok, a rice delicacy from Brunei.
Kalyan Panja Kalyan Panja Author
wordoftravel said...

A great post - we've added this to our Featured Guides on Asia on wordoftravel!

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