Best places to visit in Southeast Asia – Southeast Asia is one of the biggest heavyweights in travel destinations in the world. And really, what’s not to love? Stunning picturesque opportunities in every corner, street food as authentic and extraordinary as they come, increasingly convenient methods of travel in between countries, and not to mention the consistently and undeniably cheap airfares that seem to go on sale every odd week. Another popular reason why Southeast Asia often acts as the gateway drug to traveling for many people is because of how cheap it is to travel – from accommodation to food, to unique activities to sightseeing, it usually costs a fraction of the price compared to other western countries.
We’re offering this article as a piece of advice on how you can begin to tackle this incredible continent. The umbrella term ‘Southeast Asia’ encompasses so many differing opportunities of travel that you might be overwhelmed when trying to decide on your next place to visit, so we’ve rounded up the top (off the beaten track, even better!) 10 best places to visit to help you with your planning. Without further ado, read on and prepare to be wowed!
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #1 – Bagan in Myanmar
As one of the richest archeological discovery sites in the world, you can imagine how unique the site of Bagan in Myanmar is. Ancient Bagan began as the host of the Burmese Pagan Kingdom that once ruled over Myanmar, but now is one of the most popular places for people to visit in this charismatic country, particularly for those who are interested in exploring ancient temples and religious structures. Not only do they offer a world of history to appreciate, but they’re also stunningly eye-capturing as well, from their differing grand entrances to intricate internal detailing through murals, ceilings, relics, and more.
If you’re interested in getting to know Bagan in Myanmar more, click here for a more detailed post : Visit Bagan.
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #2 – Ayutthaya in Thailand
Another city which has stemmed from rich history, Ayutthaya (also spelt Ayudhaya) is another gem off the beaten path of Thailand, bursting with ancient temples to explore, monasteries to visit, and other religious structures to capture.
If Angkor Wat is on your list of places to visit, then we highly recommend adding Ayutthaya there as well, because the magnificence of this renowned archeological site is comparable to that of the impressive temple ground in Cambodia.
At Ayutthaya, you can expect to be able to rent a bike to assist with your exploration escapades (the views of flat grounds and ancient structures rolling past you as you pedal along is an experience quite unlike any other), see an ancient stone Buddha head wrapped within a tree, visit the remaining structure of the Royal Palace, munch on some boat noodles (which many claim to be Ayutthaya’s signature dish), and much, much more.
If you’re keen to learn more about this ancient temple city, we’ve detailed what an adventure there could be like right here: 8 temples to visit in Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Spot #3 – Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia
When you think about travelling to Cambodia, you think of the food safari in Siem Reap, the ancient temples of Angkor, and even the destructive aftermath of the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, but a stunning island adventure is most likely not on the list. However, we kid you not when we say that Koh Rong Samloem island in Cambodia is one of the most untouched and beautiful tropical islands in all of Southeast Asia, and the best thing about it? It’s off the (tourism) grid at the moment, so you get to share the unmatched solitude and beauty with only a tiny handful of other people.
Here is where you would settle in, unpack your luggage, change into bathers, head towards the beach on foot, grab a book and read right into the afternoon, enjoying the sun and the gentle lull of the waves, have a leisurely dinner and retire back to your room to just completely unplug from the world. The exquisite beauty of the place will help you with that!
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #4 – Angkor Temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia
The Angkor Temples, just outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia, are one of the biggest attractions in Southeast Asia, let alone Cambodia, and are probably the number one thing tourists put on their list to visit during a trip to Cambodia. Whilst this generally means that those who are turned off by big crowds, lines, and loud noises will most likely find the experience frustrating, the extraordinary beauty and sheer size of the site will astound even the pickiest of travelers.
As the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, Angkor now offers incredible insight into the architecture of religious structures, the grandness of their religious following, and is the perfect ground to appreciate the natural beauty of Cambodia.
We’ve detailed how you can make the most of this super popular tourist attraction here: Siem Reap and Angkor Temples.
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #5 – The Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
The Lion Rock in Sigiriya, located in Sri Lanka, is one of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it should be one of the things you have on your ‘definitely need to visit’ list for Southeast Asia. For those who love physical challenges, and also for those who don’t, this 1,200 step hike only takes around 45-minuets to get from the bottom to the top, which is a walk in the park for some, and for others, well, it could be worse!
What awaits you at the top of this 200m wide rock is a stunning viewpoint of what seems to be all of Sri Lanka. You’ll be able to pick out other attractions that you may have already visited in the distance, look down on the treetops of surrounding forests as if you were above the clouds (but trees), and spot mountains all the way in the horizon – suffice to say, the photographic opportunities up here are endless. Once you get to the top, prepare to spend around two hours simply exploring the rock and its features, snapping away and ensuring your camera gear doesn’t disappear with the cheeky monkeys located at the top.
Keen to learn more about this incredible natural landmark? Read more about it here: Sigiriya and the Lion Rock.
Spot #6 – Dalat in Vietnam
Vietnam is known for its amazing streetfood, stunning coast, and incredibly rich history and culture, but when you’re feeling like you need a breather from all the traffic and the loud vendors and the boat and motorbike rides, we recommend Dalat in Vietnam, often aptly referred to as “The Paris of Vietnam”. It’s a mountainous region known for its natural beauty and laidback vibes, and offers plenty of variety of activities to do, from hiking up a mountain to hiking to a waterfall, visiting ancient temples and pagodas, visiting a stunning flower park that’s renowned across the country, and riding a scooter across the city. A few days here would be a wonderful escape from the hustle and hustle of the larger cities.
To find out more detail on what there is to enjoy in Dalat, read more here: Dalat Vietnam.
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #7 – Port Barton in the Philippines
As far as undiscovered gems go, Port Barton is a diamond. Located in the San Vicente area of Palawan (Philippines), its incredible ability to fly under the radar given its extraordinary beauty is something to be in awe of. There is no need to share the pristine clean, white sand beaches with any crowds, island hopping is just magical with most tours offering snorkeling as part of the package and there’s a chance that you might stumble across starfish, sea turtles and even sea snakes; we probably don’t even need to mention how breathtaking the sunset is, but if you can’t imagine, well, just think of a sunset so grand, it’ll remain etched in your mind for years to come.
To find out more about this wonderfully off-the-main-grid island, read more about it on our blog here: Port Barton Palawan Philippines.
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #8 – Siquijor Island in the Philippines
Located in the central Visayas region of the Phillipines, Siquijor Island may not get as much love as its western counterparts, but that just means there’s more for you to love. Don’t let its reputation of being entwined with witchcraft alarm you (ancient lore), because the sheer perfect beauty of the waterfalls, the white sand beaches, the corals, and the ancient caves are so indescribable, you need to see it to believe it.
On another note, the tropical vibes of this place is out of this world, so it’s quite a wonder why there aren’t more tourists flocking to this island to soak up on its total Instagram-worthy picture opportunities. From the centrury old ‘Balete Tree’, to the rope swing at Lagaan Falls, to the cliff jumps at Salagdoong Beach, it can’t get much more ‘tropical island adventure’ than this.
Interested in this island? Read more about what it has to offer here: Siquijor Island Philippines.
Spot #9 – Ubud in Bali, Indonesia
Whilst Ubud is undoubtedly one of the most popular places to visit whilst in Bali (aka party central of Southeast Asia), it’s still remarkably the area that tourists go to when they’re seeking a break from all the partying, drinks, music and dancing, the crowds, the traffic, and the city lifestyle.
If you’re basing yourself in Ubud, you are basically surrounding yourself with ancient temples, royal palaces, rice terraces and mountain ranges, cultural landmarks, small markets, museums and galleries, yoga retreats, and much, much more. The adventure out here is (just quietly) different from that of the party central Kuta, or the coastal city of Seminyak. You could say it’s more spiritual and more green.
We’ve got loads more information on what beautiful Ubud has to offer, and if you want to read more about it, click here: Best things to do in Ubud Bali.
Best places to visit in Southeast Asia #10 – Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
Singapore’s most recently revealed Gardens by the Bay is a stunning 250 acres of floral masterpiece, set right in the bay area of Singapore (of course). It’s huge, it’s colourful, it’s family-friendly but also romantic, it’s a futuristic park with loads of picture opportunities, and it even offers a ‘skywalk’ across the top of the gardens.
A bit of an interesting fact about this attraction: Singapore wanted to raise the quality of life of the country by enhancing greenery and flora in the city, and what better way to do this than to create the largest greenhouse in the world, smack bang in the middle of the city?
While you could spend hours walking around, taking photos of flowers all day (we’re not joking, the amount of different flower types here is immeasurable to us mere mortals), there are other activities you can also participate in, including visiting the Cloud Forest for information on rare plants and get a great view of the mountain, walk along Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes, walk across the 128m OCBC Skyway (a great vantage point for the Garden Rhapsody light and sound show that comes on during the evening), and even grab a coffee 50m in the air at the bistro on top of the 50 meter Supertree-top at the Supertree Grove.
Singapore is full of fascinating places to visit, so if you’re interested, we recommend you reading more here: Singapore Travel Blog.
We’ve reached the end of the list, and we bet you’re quite surprised! You probably rushed through this list, continuously adding location after location of endless new places to visit whilst in Southeast Asia. We know what it’s like, starting with one attraction, which leads to a nearby attraction in the same country, which leads to a nearby attraction in a neighboring country, which is all entirely possibly if you’re already in Southeast Asia. We hope we’ve shed some light on some of the lesser known destinations, and that you’ll somehow find it in your holiday planning to squeeze them in. If you’ve been to any of the above and have your own suggestions on what you enjoyed there, we’d love it hear it below!
PS: For more amazing spots to visit in SEA, you can also read this blog post: Best beaches in Southeast Asia.