8 Best Places to Visit in Southeast Asia

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. While Southeast Asia offers outstanding natural beauty, don't be fooled into thinking that the pleasures of the region are solely rural. Indeed, the area is also home to thriving cities that are teeming with activity virtually 24 hours a day.

Thailand is of course the most visited and has been at the top of most peoples searches. It is more developed than most of the other countries on this list but in some way they are all similar. All of the countries on the list are very affordable.

You can find a hotel for $10 a night or even cheaper if you don't mind to stay in a dorm room for $2, of course you can find plenty of western style hotels for similar prices as you would find in Europe or other places. Food cost around $1 for 1 meal for street food, for example spicey chicken over rice, similar prices in any of the above countries.

Tuk Tuk rides in Cambodia can be had for $1 to $2 across town, and in Vietnam for similar prices. Bangkok has better consumer and tourist shopping areas but be warned some are discount prices while others malls with prices similar to the USA, but you can also find things like a pair of shorts for $3 and a nice wallet for $3. If you are near the beach its a bit more tolerable, and the humidity is high.

Cambodia has some great reefs and clear water for snorkeling as does Bali and the Philippines. Here i would give the nod to Philippines because of the sheer number of islands available for boating, beach, snorkeling and other watersports like windsurfing. Phuket in Thailand is also a beautiful island but some would probably say over-touristy, while Cambodia’s Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanleom are underdeveloped but equally beautiful to visit.

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. 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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Luang Prabang, Laos

North of Laos, at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Kha rivers, is one of the most beautiful and most charming cities in all of Southeast Asia: Luang Prabang. It is one of the most picturesque and serene cities in Southeast Asia, with its traditional wooden buildings, and small golden-roofed temples. Here you can wake up early to witness hundreds of monks, silently walk through the streets to gather alms.

The Buddhist temple Wat Xieng Thong, is one of the most important monasteries in Southeast Asia. Travel to Luang Prabang night market, one of the most charming places in Laos.

In the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, there is also the Asiatic Black Bear Rescue Center, which houses about 20 specimens rescued from bile farms or from the clutches of hunters and traffickers. There are explanatory murals in which you can read much more about the bears, their circumstances and the reasons why they ended up there and, although it is not a very large place, the animals are in good condition.

Luang Prabang is the ideal place to enjoy gastronomy as it is full of restaurants suitable for all budgets. Eating good and cheap is also possible, of course, either in more modest places or on the street and here are some examples: In one of the alleys that lead to the night market they set up a vegetarian buffet every night in which there are many dishes to choose from. If you don't mind eating on the street, this is a very cheap place.

Tired of rice and missing bread? Well, you can't leave Luang Prabang without trying one of those sandwiches, the famous baguettes that they prepare at street stalls .

6. Phonsavan, Laos

If you come to Phonsavan in Laos is for one reason only: Plain of Jars in the province of Xiengkhouang. It’s a vast plain scattered with thousands of pieces of stone jars. Nobody know for certain the purpose of these megalithic structures. One theory is that these jars were used as funerary urns where corpses were left to decompose before it gets cremated. It looks like a version of the Stonehenge or the Easter Island statues, an awesome sight to behold.

The scary part is not the presence of these strange looking artefacts - it’s what lie hidden beneath the surface. Many parts of Laos are littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO) and clustered munitions, basically bomblets that failed to exploded upon impact.

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. Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng is especially popular among backpackers in Southeast Asia for its majestic beauty. After the United States’ wars in the region the town remained a sleepy hub until the idyllic vistas of Vang Vieng began to be discovered by tourists. But the tourists didn’t come alone, they brought their tourist dollars, pounds, euros and whatever else currency have you with them. Vang Vieng is where backpackers party hard and pay a price.

8. 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. 1. Always fly into a hub. Absolutely. One of the advantages is that sometimes backpackers are looked at a little more attentively by Immigration than your average businessman. By having a return ticket between your home country and the hub (say Bangkok), you can go in and out of Thailand, and always have a so-called "onward ticket" wherever you go. You land in Luang Prabang? You have a ticket back to Bangkok. You arrive again in Bangkok? Even if you haven't bought your next trip, you have at least the return ticket back home. Some places are stricter than others – Singapore, and even KL. 2. Air Asia. It's mostly a crappy airline, but it is indeed cheap. Do make use of luggage lockers if you have excess luggage – LCCs tend to charge heavily for everything. Also, in Thailand there are a couple of other LCCs that do the job well, and go to places the full-service carriers won't find on a map. You can go to Vientiane, Laos, from Bangkok with Nok Air, for instance, for a fraction of the cost of Thai Airways or Laos Airlines. Bangkok to Udon by air, a van to Nongkhai and voilà! 3. Online paperwork. Listen to the man. Most visas can be applied for online. Two countries of note: Myanmar and Cambodia. You apply online in the morning, pay 50 bucks, and the next day you had a PDF. Those who've applied for a Myanmar visa at the Consulate know how wonderful that is. Same for Cambodia. You will save a lot of time vs waiting in line twice at the border. 4. Always book my accommodation ahead of time. Whether you book via your favourite platform, having bookings in hand will help when crossing the border if you look a little too much like a backpacker, and save you time. The point about cheap real hotel rooms is valid. You can stay at a very nice hotel in Phnom Penh for the price of an ok hotel in Bangkok, or a dump in Paris. 5. Always make a point of visiting the capital city. Indeed. Also, check out whether there was a former capital before the current one. Case in point, Laos, often mentioned in that answer: Luang Prabang, the former royal capital, is much much better than Vientiane. 6. Carry some USD, small denominations, for emergencies. In Cambodia they tend to price everything in USD for foreigners, although you can use the local currency, the riel. The visa on arrival in Laos is 30 USD. 7. Speaking of Laos, they require an ID photo, or charge you extra to take a crappy webcam pic. Bring a bunch with you – and if you forget, take some at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi before passing Immigration. The people who require a Visa on Arrival need one, and cash, so the exchange bureau near the VoA counters have photo booths. 8. If you are visiting a city with a functioning transportation network, it probably has a stored-valued card (Rabbit, Octopus, T-Money, Suica/Pasmo). Get one. You won’t have to deal with coins and change. And they can usually be refunded when you leave. And in the case of Suica/Pasmo, you can even get rid of some coins when recharging it – the machines accept 50 yen and up. 9. There is no such thing as a VoA in Vietnam. Period. A VoA is a visa you get when you arrive at a border crossing point with a smile, a passport and some cash, and apply for a visa. See Laos above. Not in Vietnam. What they have is a semi-official scam called a pre-arranged visa. The scam is more on the part of travel agencies and the like, but anyway. Basically you apply, online or offline, for a letter that says, yeah ok, we’ll get you a visa. BIG DEAL. So when you arrive at the airport, you queue once to get your visa, and another time to get your passport stamped. After doing all that online paperwork. And paid too much for the privilege. Yeah nah. Meanwhile other people with a visa or exemption walk directly to the counters. Check whether you can get an eVisa, or even can get in visa-free (not during Covid obviously). If not, apply for a visa directly at the consulate. Much easier… 10. Pleasure or Bidniss? In Indonesia, most foreigners used to have to queue twice at the airport: once to pay for a visa on arrival, 25 USD, Makasih Pak, and then at the immigration counters. Some years ago they changed the system so that tourists don’t have to pay and queue twice. Bagus. But tourists. If you come for business, well, you are going to do some tourism too, right? Goodie. 11. Excess luggage. Do try to limit your luggage, overall, to what you need. You arrive in Seoul, go to Dongdaemun market, buy everything you need. When you leave, throw away! It’s a holiday, not a fashion show. 12. Electric plugs. Whichever country you come from, your electric cords, chargers, etc will disagree with the country’s plugs at some point. Get an adapter in a duty-free shop or airplane’s duty-free catalog. If you have many devices to charge/power, throw away a few T-shirts and pack a power bar from your country. Power bar+adapter = bliss. 13. Avoid taxis. As an obvious tourist you are a ripe target. Use public transportation, and when you need wheels, check whether Grab is available – it’s a Singapore-based Uber-like company. 14. Roaming. While roaming in the EU is regulated, in Asia it’s not. You’ll need a local SIM card. They’re usually cheap. Avoid buying at the airport if you can: the options offered are often the more expensive ones. Go to a shop once you’re settled in. There’s plenty of wifi at the airport anyway.
Kalyan Panja