Southeast Asia is undeservedly underrated. Sure, it’s not Hollywood enough. The region also isn’t as urbanized and commercialized as Europe. But in a world where any establishments without free Wi-Fi are looked down on as uninhabitable, Southeast Asia is a gem. A rare one.
Southeast Asian countries have a very delicate mix of the old and the new, of culture and convenience, of tradition and development, and of romance and eccentricity. Travelers often remark that the region is a haven for backpackers. Anyone can backpack to the rest of the world, but nothing beats traveling in Southeast Asia with its rich culture, friendly population, fascinating heritage, great food, and cheap everything—food, transportation, accommodations, and activities.
Apart from budget travel and interesting cultures, every country offers unique travel destinations that you would be surprised even existed. There surely is a lot to do, and if traveling to Southeast Asia is not yet part of your plans in the coming months, here is a list of things you have been missing out all along—one awesome country at a time.
Brunei Darussalam: Experience the Wild
Photo courtesy of shankar via Flickr
People almost always associate Brunei with royalty and a tightly-regulated sultanate. Well, it is a socially-controlled religious state, but if you look beyond these common perceptions, you will realize that Brunei is one of the most interesting Southeast Asia travel destinations.
The wildlife in Brunei is epic. It is home to tropical and virgin rainforests that serve as a natural habitat to a diverse wildlife. The Proboscis Monkey is among the most fascinating species to see in Brunei. It is also home to many small animals, tropical birds, and reptiles. Mangroves and fern species also abound.
If you are a nature lover, make sure you drop by the Ulu Temburong National Park, which is known for its unspoiled nature heritage.
Cambodia: Fall in Love with Imperfections
Photo courtesy of Christian Junker via Flickr
Cambodia is a flawed country. It comes off as barren and development has been marred with corruption. But amid the imperfections is a captivating heritage that shows just how much potential this Southeast Asian country has.
Cambodia could single-handedly convince you to travel to Southeast Asia. There’s more to it than the Angkor Wat (although you should never leave Cambodia without seeing the magnificent temple ruins). Sail down the Tongle Sap River if you want to experience the local culture. Battambang, a farming area known for its French colonial architecture, is also a good place to experience the Cambodian way of life. Pepper farms, floating villages, and the Killing Fields will also tell you the story of the Cambodian people. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are awesome places, but it is nice to get off the beaten path when in Cambodia.
Indonesia: There’s Something for Everyone
Photo courtesy of Michael Dawes via Flickr
If you and your friends are planning to travel together but have varied interests, you should try Indonesia.
For people who love the beach or surfing, there’s Bali. It is also the go-to island for wild parties. If you are a city girl and like the bustling metropolis, there’s Jakarta. If you want a mix of the old and the contemporary, visit Yogyakarta, the tourist city of Java.
But if want to try something unique, you can see the Komodo dragons, admire Buddhist temples or climb a volcano.
Laos: Experience Laidback Charm
Photo courtesy of Daniel Gorecki via Flickr
For old-fashioned charm, put Laos on your list. Vientiane, the country’s capital, is undoubtedly one of the quietest capital cities in the region. Low-key villages adorn the city, but a few grandiose structures should not be missed. Temples such as Wat Sisaket, That Luang, and Buddha Park are must-travel destinations.
Tranquility is what the district of Luang Prabang is about. It’s a tiny mountain kingdom endowed with ancient temples and French-Indochinese architecture. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is careful not to turn itself into a modern architectural nightmare.
Malaysia: Feel Alive in Vibrant Cities
Photo courtesy of John Walker via Flickr
Some people feel that there’s nothing modern about Southeast Asia, as if development and technology have never reached the region. Well, that is hardly true. The region is fast-developing and is home to many conveniences found in major cities around the world. And Malaysia is a testament to that.
Malaysia is home to modern cities and energetic communities. The shopping scene is Kuala Lumpur is incredible. It is also your go-to place for dining and nightlife. Other vibrant cities include George Town, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, and Miri.
But of course, amid the comforts of a well-developed city is a wealth of natural attractions, from beaches to rainforests.
Myanmar: Discover the Region’s Fast-Emerging Travel Destination
Photo courtesy of Jose Javier Martin Esparto via Flickr
For most people, the only thing they probably know about Myanmar is that it used to be called Burma, the country made famous by the political battles of Aung San Suu Kyi.
But there’s more to it than political turmoil. It is a fast-emerging destination for a good reason. Travel in Myanmar is not as convenient because it is only now that infrastructures are being built and the country has opened its doors to tourism. And that’s a shame because Myanmar is a diamond in the rough.
Its temples, rice fields, and mountain trails are a sight to behold. Yangon is home to the glorious Pagoda and several colonial-era buildings, while Bagan and the central plains still hint at the grandeur of the Pyu dynasty.
Philippines: Life’s a Beach
Photo courtesy of Mer S via Flickr
The Philippines is a tropical paradise for beach lovers. Forget Hawaii and the Maldives. The Philippines is home to several of the world’s most pristine and gorgeous beaches. But of course, a list of the world’s best beaches would not be so convincing if it didn’t have the perpetual favorite, Boracay. In October, the international magazine Conde Nast Traveler named Boracay as the Best Island in World for 2016 for its “gentle coastlines and transporting sunsets.”
There’s also the beaches of Palawan, Cebu, Camarines provinces, Palaui island, and so on. There’s practically a gorgeous body of water everywhere in the Philippines.
Boracay is a constant destination for those who love to bask under the sun. You can choose to travel on luxury or budget. Boracay backpackers are very common in the island given the wide array of budget-friendly accommodations, affordable and delectable food choices, and cheap tour packages and activities.
Boracay is famous for all the good reasons: powdery white sand, crystal waters, rich marine life, jaw-dropping sunset, and a thriving night life.
Singapore: Off the Beaten Track
Photo courtesy of Mika Meskanen via Flickr
The Singapore everyone knows is the one with Universal Studios, Marina Bay Sands, and Formula 1 night race. And of course, the one that is extremely developed and expensive.
But if you veer off the usual attractions, you will get to experience the real Singapore, which may excite you more. Go to Tiong Bahru and start your day with a local breakfast before heading to the market to observe how Singaporeans do their groceries. At night, drop by Bincho, a modern yakitori joint.
There’s also the Haw Par Villa, a Buddhist theme Park. Or visit the German Girl Shrine, a mysterious yellow hut in Pulau Ubin, where the remains of an unnamed German girl who lived and died before WWI is kept. The girl has since been considered a local deity.
Thailand: Indulge in Flavors
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Thai is among the most popular international cuisines. Whether prepared on the side streets or in upscale restaurants, Thai food is simply irresistible.
Tom Yum Gung, the masterpiece soup, unifies a host of well-loved Thai flavors: sour, salty, spicy, and sweet all in one bowl. Gang Keow Wan or green curry is also made from ever-present herbs of Thai cuisine such as lemongrass and lime. Kao Niew Moo Yang or grilled pork skewers in sticky rice, is available everywhere and at any time in Bangkok. And of course Pad Thai, which needs no introduction.
Vietnam: Discover Epic Beauty
Photo courtesy of Vincent via Flickr
The natural beauty of Sam Mountain and Halong Bay are enough to get you interested in Vietnam, one of the most charming places in Southeast Asia. Its sacred temples, pagodas, rice terraces, and beaches are also sights to behold.
Despite being a tourism hotspot, it is still relatively difficult to get around Vietnam. But that shouldn’t stop a real traveler from exploring the epic beauty of this Southeast Asian country.
Southeast Asia is perfect for travelers who not only want good value for their money, but those who appreciate true beauty and ready to experience rich cultures and traditions amid urban developments.
Emily is a busy housewife who finds the time to blog. She loves to travel, explore new places and experience new cultures.