Southeast Asia can be a little overwhelming at first but there is so much to see and experience in every country. The beautiful temples, historical monuments, beaches, mountains, and warm weather makes it a perfect holiday destination. The food of Asian countries makes it a perfect destination for foodies. Every country in Southeast Asia has something special to offer to a traveler. I have put together a list of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia for a traveler.
Some of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia for every traveler
Bangkok – Thailand
Most of the travelers visiting Thailand arrive in Bangkok first because it’s well connected with all major cities in the world. I had traveled to Thailand twice and on both occasions, Bangkok was my city of arrival. During my latest trip, I had explored many historical places and markets. I have planned and followed my 3 days itinerary for Bangkok to see all major places.
There is a certain charm to Bangkok though it is a busy city being the capital of Thailand and there is something for people of all ages.
Bangkok is considered as the party capital of Asia but it has many temples/religious places also. It has rich architectural heritage, monuments are beautifully constructed with details. The details and beauty of them left me wanting for more.
The beautiful Grand Royal Palace and temple of emerald Buddha are mesmerizing. The Wat Arun on Chao Phraya river looks mesmerizing not only during the day but also at night when it is illuminated. Wat Pho not only house the biggest recline Buddha but there is a school in it, where they teach Thai medicine & massage techniques.
The second most important thing for a traveler is the food in the city. Bangkok is a foodie’s paradise, there is so much to eat for everyone and for every budget. The street food of Bangkok not only tasty but clean. Other then cooked items, I found a wide variety of fruits. The main food markets are in China town, Silom road, and Soi 38 Sukhumvit.
For shopaholics, Pratunam market is a good place for fashion shopping. MBK mall is a good place to shop almost everything at a good bargain price.
For nightlife, Khaosan road is very popular due to its club and nightlife culture. Patpong market is for the people who are looking for some wild sex shows.
Floating markets of Bangkok are one of my favorite places to experience Thai culture, local food as well as a good place for shopping.
Bangkok is not a laid back city for holidays but there is so much to see and experience here.
Siem Reap – Cambodia
I traveled to Siem Reap by road from Bangkok by train. Crossing Thailand Cambodia border was an adventure in itself.
Siem Reap is like any other town in Southeast Asia and most people visit here for its famous temple complex. Like everyone else, temples of Angkor Wat were my primary reason for visiting Siem Reap Cambodia.
The temple complex in Siem Reap remains hidden in the forest for almost 400 years. It was rediscovered in the 19th century by a French archeologist. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge and movie Tomb Raider, Angkor Wat temples came into the limelight and tourist influx increased. Now millions of tourist from across the globe visit this famous temple complex every year. The temple complex is vast and in a day you can visit some important temples of Angkor Archeological Park. The important temples to visit in Siem Reap are Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom, Preah Khan, and Banteay Srei. It is good to plan how to visit Angkor Wat temples because mostly there is tourist crowd.
After visiting the Temples of Siem Reap during the day, you can go to Pub street. This is one of the most popular areas in Siem reap for party and pubbing.
For people who are into art and culture, they should visit Phera circus for a unique experience.
A visit to Floating villages of Siem Reap in Tonle Sap was one of the highlights of my Siem Reap trip. It was amazing to see how people live in the middle of the lake and make the best use of natural resources.
Cambodia is also popular for massage and having a foot massage in Siem Reap after a busy walking day is best relaxing therapy. Otherwise get a fish pedicure, it is is one of the most fun things to do. They have big tanks full of water and tiny fishes. These fishes bite the dead skin from feet and these soft bites of fishes give tingling feeling.
Siem Reap has a perfect place to experience the rich heritage and enjoy modern party places.
Luang Prabang – Laos
Luang Prabang is hands down one of the prettiest towns in all of South East Asia. Even better, it has a diverse range of activities to keep all types of travelers happy, whether you’re after a cultural, spiritual, gastronomical or outdoorsy break.
Luang Prabang boasts a beautiful Old Quarter to rival the best old towns of Europe, evidenced by its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The Old Quarter is a melting pot of European and Asian buildings. Here, you’ll find French colonial architecture interspersed with distinctly Laotian temples.
Luang Prabang is a city where you can do as much or as little as you like. It’s easy to while away a few days meandering around the atmospheric Old Quarter. Explore the ancient temples, climb Mount Phousi for panoramic city views, or simply park up at a roadside bar and enjoy the old town life.
For the spiritual travelers, get up before the crack of dawn to (respectfully) participate in the daily alms giving ceremony. During this ceremony, locals and tourists alike line the street to offer food to the procession of monks.
Once you’ve soaked up the Old Quarter, venture down to the Mekong River on the outskirts of the old town. Here, you can walk over rickety bamboo bridges and take a river boat to see the Pak Ou Caves.
Like the rest of Laos, Luang Prabang is also rich in natural beauty. Take a day trip to visit (and swim in!) waterfalls and pools with limestone formations in stunning shades of blue and green.
The biggest and most famous waterfall is Kuang Si waterfall, around 30km from Luang Prabang. Feeling adventurous (and fit!)? Skip the tour vans and cycle to Kuang Si. (Warning: You’ll battle some rather steep hills!) On the return trip, you can organize for a boat to pick you up for a slow relaxing journey home down the Mekong River.
Luang Prabang’s delightful Old Quarter also has some of the best food in Laos. There’s a range of local and international restaurants and bars to suit all budgets and tastes. Parts of South East Asia can be somewhat lacking in ambient bars, but Luang Prabang is an exception. In fact, the very best thing to do in Luang Prabang might be to choose a wine bar along Sisavangvong Road and watch the world go by!
Bali – Indonesia
Bali is one of those places that you fall in love with and wouldn’t hesitate to go back. Travelers are obsessed with Bali. What makes this Indonesian island so special?
From the friendly locals to the beautiful temples, adventure opportunities, beaches, and endless activities, there is something for all travelers. Bali prides themselves with their Balinese culture – a blend of Hinduism and Buddism, so you’ll see many temples everywhere on the island. You can easily go temple hopping and admire the architecture and learn about history.
If you have the chance, check out the famous Kecak fire dance at Uluwatu Temple. Some of the popular temple locations are Tanah Lot, Besakih, and Lempuyang. When visiting temples, don’t forget to cover your shoulders and legs with a sarong. Temples may provide sarongs for free or for a small rental fee.
Love nature and spending time outside? The island is surrounded by luscious greenery and trees. It’s an easy car, motorbike or bicycle ride outside of the main touristy areas to see remarkable landscapes of the luscious rice terrace fields, beautiful waterfalls (our favorite is Sekumpul), or the sunrise on top of Mount Batur. Bali also has numerous beaches for relaxation and plenty of diving and surfing locations.
One of the best reasons to visit Bali is the food. Balinese food is spectacular – a mix of bold spices and chili along with rice and meat (seafood, chicken, and pork). Bali is also vegan and vegetarian-friendly, especially in the Ubud area. Choose from sit-down restaurants to warungs (smaller, local restaurants), and you won’t leave your dining location hungry. Try nasi campur, a combo platter of meat with egg and peanuts and mound of rice, and tempeh, a type of soy product.
Now that you’re inspired to visit Bali, book a flight, figure out your Bali itinerary, and head here now!
Palawan – Philippines
The Philippines has been all over social media in recent years. And for good reasons. For one the country is absolutely beautiful and it’s affordable. From snorkeling with whales in Cebu to Partying on the beach in Boracay, Philippines seemingly has it all. But what’s really made a buzz in recent years is a little archipelagic province located in the western border of the country, called Palawan.
The island is only accessible by air and has three national airports, Coron, El Nido, and San Vincente and one international airport in Puerto Princesa. Most people typically fly into Puerto Princesa, because it has the most options in terms of times and locations. Once on the island, it’s popular to get a seat in a small van that takes you to different parts of the island. For example, the van from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is about 5 hours, mostly because of the rugged roads. Nevertheless, the trip is stunning, as you are surrounded by beautiful green trees. Its seclusion from the outside world and limited methods to visit is what has kept the island under wraps, until recently.
Its home to the pristine beach and gorgeous rainforests almost untouched by humans. Tourists come from all over the world to experience the world-class diving in El Nido, where you can surround yourself with sea turtles and seas of fish making you feel like you are experiencing real-life finding Nemo. Or you can go to Coron where you can dive in sunken ships left over from pirates, that have since turned into artificial reefs.
If diving is not your thing, then you can tour the underground river about an hour from Puerto Princesa also a UNESCO heritage site. The underground river, called Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a breathtaking cave system made of striking limestone rocks, home to a plethora of wildlife. You are pretty much guaranteed to see monkeys. Tours take you through the caves on a canoe type boat, where you can experience the phenomenon up-close.
Ayutthaya – Thailand
If you are into old temples and history the ancient Thai capital, Ayutthaya is the place to go. No matter if you want to visit as a day trip from Bangkok or as a more extended stop traveling across the country Ayutthaya has much to offer.
The Kingdom of Ayutthaya had significant influence over east-Asia from the 14th to the 18th century, and today’s city of Ayutthaya used to be the capital of this kingdom. Therefore it is no surprise that the old capital would have many glorious temples to show its riches and splendor. While most were destroyed during the Second Burmese war, which was the downfall of Ayutthaya, the old temples are still beautiful even today.
Some of the highlights are the Wat Phra Mahatat famous for the Buddha head embedded in a Banyan tree or the gigantic reclining Buddha at Wat Lokhaya Sutharam. There are many more amazing temples to visit if you have the time.
If you are into food, Ayutthaya has some delicacies you shouldn’t miss. The most famous is the Boat Noodles. They are named for the boats they used to be sold on and nowadays don’t have much to do with boats anymore. But they are delicious. For about 15 Baht you get a small bowl of noodles in a rich brown soup, topped with pork and spring onions. You will want a second (and even third) bowl after your first try.
There are also some more modern cafes where you can enjoy some cold drinks and delicious food. One that recently opened is called Celebb Rotea. They serve different kinds of Roti and delicious teas as well as other cold beverages for a reasonable price in a great modern atmosphere.
The best way to explore Ayutthaya is by bicycle. The distances are a bit far to walk, and going everywhere you want to go by Tuk-tuk is an option but more expensive than renting a bike for 5 Baht per day.
Hanoi – Vietnam
Hanoi is one of the best cities in South East Asia. Located in Northern Vietnam, Hanoi feels like it is stuck in time. The culture is extraordinary, whether it is women selling fruit and vegetables on their push bikes or early morning tai chi at Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi is a very special place.
Many people in Hanoi still wear the traditional conical hats making for some unique photo opportunities. The abundant cafés serve the best coffee in Asia. Be sure to try an egg coffee, a Hanoi invention, and absolutely divine. The city is vibrant and full of life.
You can get incredible food almost any time of the day or night. The decadent pho broths, delicious bun cha (grilled meat and noodles), cha ca (turmeric fish with dill), nem Chau be (crab rolls), and bun rieu (rice noodle soup with tomato broth) were some of our favorites. In addition to Vietnamese food, there is amazing foreign food at an affordable rate. Our favorite was Pizza 4P’s. You have to try the pizza with an enormous burrata ball placed on top; it will blow your mind.
There are lots of locations for beautiful and unique photography as well. The incredibly narrow and colorful train street is stunning. Watching a train pass by you only one foot away is an experience. Some other favorites include St. Joseph Cathedral, the various markets, the old town streets, and Bein Bridge.
A short ride away is the towering Halong Bay. One of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, which needs to be on everyone’s bucket list.
Another great day trip from Hanoi is Ninh Binh where the recent Kong movie was filmed. Seeing the boatmen navigate narrow waterways with their feet is astonishing. If planning on visiting South East Asia leave a few days for this amazing city. Your camera and belly will thank you.
Malapascua – Philipinnes
Malapascua is a tiny little island north of the Island of Cebu in the Philippines. The main draw is SCUBA diving, more specifically, diving to see Thresher Sharks. Malapascua is one of the best, if not the best, place to go diving with Thresher Sharks. But don’t worry, if you don’t dive, Malapascua is a great beach destination. I’m not a diver and I spent an entire week there.
Malapascua is a sleepy little island perfect for relaxing on the beach. You might even be able to find a small beach to have all to yourself. There is only one hostel on the island, so super budget accommodation is more limited, but there are tons of hotels and dive resorts with rooms $40+ a night, so they are still reasonable.
For being a tiny island with no roads, there is actually a lot to do. You can take an island hopping tour to nearby islands, go snorkeling, watch the sunset, walk all the way around the island (that’s how you find the empty beaches), hike to the lighthouse (you can’t go up to the top, but it’s a great place to watch the sunset), get a diving certified or take a diving course, and of course, just relax on the beach.
Malapascua is really easy to get to, too. First, get to Cebu, then take a taxi to the north bus terminal. Take a bus to Maya Port (or just Maya) and then get a ticket there for a boat over to Malapascua. The bus to Maya without AC is actually really enjoyable. It wasn’t super hot, but I did get a sunburn on my right side by the window, so put sunscreen on. Do that anyways because it is extremely easy to burn here.
I would leave from Cebu City early in the day just to make sure you don’t miss the last boat to Malapascua, which is usually between 6 and 7 PM. There is pretty much nothing in Maya.
Bagan – Myanmar
Myanmar, the land of Pagodas, has so many great attractions to offer and for most tourists, visiting Bagan, the ancient kingdom of Myanmar, is at the top of the list. Bagan is located in Mandalay region and it is one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.
During the 11th-13th centuries, thousands of pagodas and monuments were built in the area and even nowadays, there are more than 2000 temples in Bagan, some of which are under renovations, or closed to the public but there are more than enough temples and stupas you can explore in the area. Some of the most famous pagodas in Bagan are the Shwesandaw Pagoda, the Sein Nyet Sister Temples, Thatbyinnyu Temple, and Ananda temple, but don’t forget to visit the less known pagodas as well if you want to avoid the crowds.
The best way to explore this large area is to hire a driver/guide or to rent a bicycle so you could reach all the different temples in the compound. In addition to exploring the different temples, the highlight of our visit was watching the sunset and sunrise from the top of the temples. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.
If you have the time and money, you can also take a ride in a hot air balloon over the temples at sunrise, can you imagine watching the sun coloring the pagodas of Bagan in golden hues? The Bagan area itself has such a wonderful atmosphere and a lot of things to do other than exploring its pagodas.
From visiting the local family-owned factories and learning more about Myanmar’s handmade crafts, to shopping at the local market and visiting the surrounding villages, you’ll have plenty of attractions to choose from. If you are not convinced yet why Bagan is one of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia, just look at the pictures!
Yangon – Myanmar
Yangon is the former capital city of Myanmar, and it is one of Myanmar’s most busy and exciting cities. But let’s be honest…how many people are actually interested in visiting Yangon? Maybe there are not many world famous things to do in Yangon, however, there is no doubt you will fall in love with the city. It is a perfect city to walk around on foot to see what there is to discover, eat, and love.
If you are in Yangon, you must visit the 2,500 years old Shwedagon Pagoda. Shwedagon Pagoda, also known as the Golden Pagoda, is a stupa in the center of Yangon. The Golden Pagoda was truly mesmerizing, and it was probably the most impressive Pagoda I’ve ever seen. The opening hours are between 4 AM and 10 PM. Since the Pagoda gets crowded during the day and sunset, I suggest you visit at sunrise. The entrance fee is 10,000 Kyats per person. Just be mindful that visitors need to dress appropriately and modestly. Trousers or at least knee-length shorts or a skirt is required, and you are also expected to be barefoot when entering Shwedagon Pagoda.
Exploring downtown Yangon was also my favorite memory. The buildings in Yangon were heavily influenced by British architecture, but there were unique touches of buildings in disrepair with moss and shrubs growing out of every nook and cranny. Colorful and chaotic, Yangon is a feast for the senses.
It is undeniable that Yangon’s most iconic sight is Shwedagon Pagoda, but what makes it worth visiting is their vibrant life that spills out of people’s homes and onto the streets.
I recommend you just walk around without any specific plans and enjoy learning about their beautiful culture. This city has tons of things to offer, and you will not be disappointed.
Phu Quoc – Vietnam
A still relatively undiscovered gem of Vietnam, Phu Quoc is the beach destination you will not want to miss when traveling in South East Asia. Easily accessible by plane or ferry, the island is just the perfect mix of relaxing beach getaway and cultural destination.
On a sunny day, make your way to the southern tip of the island for some of the best snorkeling in Vietnam. Clear and warm waters make the island formations south of Phu Quoc ideal to observe a variety of sea life. Private boats are inexpensive and allow you and your friends to enjoy your day as you wish. Alternatively, you can take the world’s longest oversea cable car to get breathtaking views of the crystal-clear waters and the green islands from above.
For beach days on end, Phu Quoc has miles of sandy coasts for your enjoyment. Don’t miss the white sand of Sao Beach, a true postcard destination! You will also find less touristy spots for sunbathing and swimming along the west coast of the island.
Make sure you spend some time getting to know the cultural side of the island as well. Visit a black pepper cultivation plant, a pearl farm, a fish sauce production, and a honey bee farm to learn how these things are made and cultivated in the region. Taste the sim wine at the production plant while you walk around the garden. The old Vietnam war prison is an eye-opener and an important landmark to the Vietnamese people. Finally, the beautiful Buddhist pagoda has views to die for, and the night market in town tasty treats for all tastes!
For such a small island, Phu Quoc has so much to do. Don’t hesitate to rent a moped to make sure you can enjoy it all, the streets of Phu Quoc are some of the best in Vietnam to learn how to ride!
Tam Coc – Vietnam
You’ve probably heard of Vietnam’s world-famous and UNESCO-protected Halong Bay – the area is off the country’s northern coast, where forested limestone mountains rise straight from the water. But while Halong Bay is famous for its beauty, it’s unfortunately also getting a reputation for being polluted and crowded, and over tourism is starting to take a toll on it’s ecology.
Fortunately, Vietnam has another spot that’s just as striking, and it’s less than two hours south of Hanoi: Tam Coc. They call it “Halong Bay on Land,” because the same karst mountains rise up from land, creating a similarly breathtaking landscape.
Tam Coc is a small town just down the road from the larger Ninh Binh. While both have plenty of hotels and the area’s attractions are easily accessible from either, Tam Coc is more scenic and has less traffic tocontend with. Many people visit only as a day trip from Hanoi, but it’s well worth staying for a couple nights in Tam Coc and taking more time to explore.
One can’t-miss activity is the boat tour of the nearby Trang An Grottoes, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where local guides paddle rowboats (often with their feet!) through several caves, stopping at small temples along the way. Parts of the movie King Kong: Skull Island were filmed at Trang An, and some of the tours stop at filming locations as well. Trang An gets few foreign visitors but is super popular with Vietnamese tourists, giving it an interesting offbeat vibe.
Trang An makes a scenic bike ride from Tam Coc, and the nearby Bich Dong temple is also easily reached by bicycle. Lots of guided activities are available around Tam Coc, but it’s an area best experienced independently, and cycling might be the most enjoyable way to do it. For anyone who loves spending time outdoors and exploring breathtaking countrysides, Tam Coc is not to be missed.
Penang – Malaysia
Malaysia, a country that is home to the highest mountain of Southeast Asia, some of the most stunning dive sites and vibrant cities. One of the most vibrant of them all is the beautiful city of Penang. Located on Peninsular Malaysia, Penang is a city that attracts many tourists and locals on a daily basis, and there are many reasons why.
This city is not only known for its amazing street food, but it is also one of Malaysia most cultural and diverse places to visit. Take a stroll through little India, admire some of the most beautiful temples the country has to offer, this place has it all.
However, one of the most unique things to do in Penang is admiring the street art in Georgetown. In 2012 Penang hired artist Ernest Zacharevic to paint street art on the sides of Chinese shop-houses and in the depths of the many small alleys of Georgetown, Penang. The street art turned out to be a big success as it is now one of the main tourist attractions of Penang.
Many travelers and tourist wander the small streets and alleys with a small map provided by their hostel or hotel trying to find every single piece of street art on the list. And what mind sound easy, leaves you in a bit of a hunt searching for more as soon as you have found your next treasure of street art, it is an activity that can easily keep you busy for a couple of hours.
If street art is not for you, don’t worry, Penang has a lot more to offer. If you are looking for something a bit more unique, away from the touristic crowds, be sure to head to the Kek Lok Si temple. Whilst located slightly out of the touristic center, it is an impeccable and unique temple that will offer you a great view over Penang, one of the most beautiful destinations in Asia
Chiang Mai – Thailand
Chiang Mai is a historical city in northern Thailand. This small town in the mountainous region has no emerald beach Thailand is best known for to the outside world. Then, what is it about Chiang Mai that attracts many international travelers to this remote town?
Once the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is a land of the historical and cultural heritage. The gilded stupa and temple of Wat Pra That Doi Suthep continue to be the spiritual symbol of Chiang Mai until today. The elaborately decorated Buddhist temples and monuments in the old city remain to show its glorious golden times. However, there’s much more to this historical city than glitzy temples.
Contrary to the historic old city, Chiang Mai exhumes the modern, hipster vibes with quaint cafes and trendy shops along the Nimmanhaemin Road. With the booming cafe culture here, it’s not a coincidence Chiang Mai has become a hub for caffeine-fueled, laptop-equipped digital nomads in recent years.
This laidback and quiet city turns into a party central in April every year for Songkran Festival. Many believe Chiang Mai is the best place to wring in the Thai New Year. Armed with water guns and baskets, thousands of people from all around the world congregate to celebrate the Thai holiday with a giant water fight.
A short drive away from Chiang Mai is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Known for its natural beauty and hill tribes, the Doi Inthanon National Park on the highest mountain in Thailand is a destination for hiking and waterfall chasing. The spectacular view from the summit after hiking through the lush forest will be an unforgettable memory.
Chiang Mai is also a home for many animal sanctuaries. Although some criticize exploiting animals for tourism, locals and like-minded community have continuously been making conservation efforts to protect wild animals and their natural habitat. Animal lovers can enjoy a friendly encounter with elephants in a jungle. Visitors are advised to check if the nature reserve is a true non-profit animal sanctuary.
Now, do you need any more reason to visit Chiang Mai?
These are some of the best places for holidays in Southeast Asia. Please add your favorite places to travel in Southeast Asia.