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Planning a Southeast Asia itinerary is a lot of work, AND a lot of fun! I decided to expedite my research by asking some top travel bloggers about their favorite Southeast Asia destinations, and I’m SO glad I did! I received such an incredible variety of responses.
Whether you are seeking temples, beaches, or eco-adventures check out this expert roundup of the best Southeast Asia destinations!
Sharon of Melbourne Family writes:
If there is one must visit destination in SE Asia, I think it is Bagan in Myanmar. The best part is that it's still not widely visited so you can really soak it up and enjoy it without huge crowds!
Bagan is home to a crazy amount of temples – they are everywhere! There are literally thousands and everywhere you look, you will find a temple, pagoda or stupa from the 12th century. Bagan itself is actually an area of three different towns called Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyuang U and a spread out area of temples.
Nyuang U is where you will arrive since it is home to a jetty, train station and airport. Old Bagan is home to many of the temples and ruins and where you will want to spend most of your time. New Bagan is a newer village created in the 90s to house the people who used to live in Old Bagan.
The main thing you will want to do in Bagan is explore the temples. Many people hire a bike or motor bike but it’s easy enough to walk between them – they really are everywhere. I preferred this option as it gave me time to take it all in and have many moments to myself.
I especially recommend visiting Ananda Pahto, Shwe Gu Gyi (for views), Thatbyinnyu and Buphaya by the river. Hot air ballooning of this region is very popular. I recommend you book before you arrive to ensure you don’t miss out if this is important to you.
Adding Bagan to your itinerary? Click here to find the perfect hotel for your visit!
Marianne of Mum on the Move writes:
Busy bustling Bangkok, in Thailand, has earned itself a bit of a seedy reputation thanks to stories of ladyboys and ping pong bars. But Bangkok has a wealth of cultural attractions, year round warm weather and amazing food to sample, making it an absolute must-do on your Southeast Asia itinerary.
Bangkok is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia, and sightseeing is easy thanks to an efficient public transport system – choose from the quick and clean Skytrain that links most areas tourists would want to visit, or take to the Chao Praya river on board one of the river taxis that continually whizz up and down the waterway.
No visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. This sprawling complex of intricately decorated temples is home to the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, and the highly revered Emerald Buddha, which is carved from a single block of jade. No matter how many temples you have visited, you can’t fail to be impressed by the sheer scale and opulence. Having your photo taken with the towering gatekeepers is a Thailand must-do!
Also be sure to explore the fabulous culinary scene in Bangkok. From curries and stir fries at a street stall to a high end restaurant, eating here is an absolute highlight of your visit.
Want to take the sleeper train out of Bangkok? Check out our guide to the Thailand overnight trains!
Planning a trip to Bangkok? Click here to find the perfect hotel for your visit!
Jess of Unearth the Voyage writes:
Huay Xai, a town bordering Thailand in the northwest corner of Laos, is definitely a must visit on your Southeast Asia itinerary.
One might ask what is there to do in Huay Xai? The honest answer is, not a ton. So why add it to the list? Because Huay Xai is the jumping off town for the incredibly famous Gibbon Experience. To take part in the zip-lining, tree house living, trekking through a jungle full of endangered Gibbons expedition, you must first find yourself first in Huay Xai.
The Gibbon Experience is well known for its 500+ meter zip lines, but is most famous for the 1-3 nights you get to spend in some of the highest treehouses in the world.
Besides being the jumping off point for the Gibbon Experience, Huay Xai is a nice town to relax in for a couple of days before or after your trek. Situated on the Mekong Delta, there are lots of restaurants and bars catering to backpackers looking to watch the sunset while drinking a Beerlao and eating delicious Laap. Don’t forget to take the slow boat that cruises slowly down the Mekong Delta to Luang Prabang- if you have time this is definitely an experience not to miss.
Want more information about visiting Laos? Check out our guide to backpacking Laos!
Adding Huay Xai to your itinerary? Click here to browse local hotels!
Melissa of Thrifty Family Travels writes:
Halong Bay is one of the most scenic regions in not only Vietnam but in SE Asia. The bay is filled with thousands of giant limestone cliffs which jut from the water and are covered with lush rainforests.
Halong Bay is best visited by a 1 or 2-night cruise. There are some great boats with rooms of various sizes that cater to couples or to the entire family.
During the day you can go kayaking among the spectacular scenery, and during the warmer months you can even jump right off the boat for swimming. Most of the boats follow a similar itinerary, including a stop to explore some caves, as well as climbing to a look out where you can get a fantastic view across the bay - perfect family photo opportunity!
All meals are provided on board and most boats even have a bit of a karaoke party and disco.
Other activities during the cruise include night squid fishing and, if you can manage to get up early enough, Tai Chi. Some boats even have cooking classes. If you can manage to get a few minutes alone, I just loved
sitting on the deck and watching the gorgeous scenery pass me by.
There are a variety of cruise boats to choose from, but I recommend looking for a mid range one - as these boats usually offer the best value.
Cruises depart from Halong Bay, but the cruise operators will arrange transfers for you from Hanoi, around a 4 hour drive from Halong Bay.
For anyone visiting SE Asia, make sure you visit Vietnam and do an overnight cruise on Halong Bay.
Interested in a Halong Bay cruise? Click here to browse cruise options (and hotels for the nights before and after your cruise)!
Pam, of Hey Miss Adventures writes:
We weren’t sure what to expect when we decided to visit the lesser-known Dahican Beach in Mati in southern Philippines. The moment we set foot there, we were instantly captivated by the long stretch of soft, white sand – the blog posts we’d read didn’t lie. It was heaven.
I wasn’t in the best shape during our visit (I’d had a recent foot injury) but I thoroughly enjoyed our short stay there. The dad and daughter pair enjoyed their time in the water, and I got to rest my weary feet.
Dahican Beach is perfect for those who just love the water – swimming, snorkeling, surfing and swimboarding.
Be sure to drop by Amihan sa Dahican, home of the Amihan Boys (also the BEST skimboarders in the country), and learn how to skimboard. Or you can opt to set up camp there, just like we did, and pay a very minimal fee for your stay.
Dahican Beach has a lot to offer for everyone. Kids will enjoy hours and hours of play along its long coastline. Solo and couple travelers can enjoy the water or join in conversations with the residents and other campers there. If you want a different view, you can also take a ride over the coast of Dahican Beach on an ultralight plane.
If you’re lucky, you just might get there in time for the turtles’ hatching season and see them make their way to the ocean. Cool, yeah?
Grace, of Extreme Nomads writes:
Set into the jagged coastline of South Central Vietnam, Phan Rang is a bit of an offbeat destination that often gets overlooked in favor of its famous neighbors, Nha Trang to the north and Mui Ne to the south. But despite the fact that tourism is still in its infancy here, it’s an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous slice of the Vietnamese countryside, and is well worth considering for any travelers who value authentic local culture, nature, and outdoor adventures. Oh, and did I mention the wine?
The arid climate in Phan Rang makes for perfect grape growing conditions. The countryside is covered with vineyards, and you can find a few select spots to sample the local wines. Speaking of countryside, the real reason I have such a love affair with Phan Rang has nothing to do with a good glass of vino (which is unexpected, coming from me)- it’s all about the beauty of the great outdoors.
The towering granite mountains, hidden waterfalls, and miles of surf-washed coastline is just the beginning. Phan Rang also happens to be one of the best places in Southeast Asia for kitesurfing, and a few years ago this little place played host to a huge international competition from the Kiteboard Tour Asia. If you’ve got a streak of adrenaline junkie in you, think about getting in touch with one of the local kiteboarding clubs and signing up for a lesson.
Outdoor adventurers can also get their fix in the jungle-clad mountains of Nui Chua National Park (you’ll have to flirt with the right locals to find out where the most beautiful waterfalls are) or on the epic coastal road that connects Phan Rang with Cam Ranh- it absolutely screams “road trip”.
Adding Pha Rang to your travel plans? Click here to browse local hotels!
Josie, of Josie Wanders writes:
About three hours north of the better known Chiang Mai is the smaller, more laid back, town of Chiang Rai. It has recently started to draw attention as a must-see destination in Thailand thanks to the stunning White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) just south of Chiang Rai.
The northern part of the town recently built it’s own stunning temple, known as the Blue Temple. Continuing the color theme is the quirky Black House, an open air art gallery filled with macabre displays, mostly made from bones and horns of animals.
Just these three sites alone make Chiang Rai a unique destination worth adding to your itinerary. Additionally, you will find great street food, night markets, and plenty of places to relax with a traditional Thai massage.
While in Chiang Rai try the delicious local noodle dish Khao Soy. It is available in chicken, shrimp and fish versions for just a couple of dollars from Pho Chai on Jedyod Road
For a break from the delicious Thai food, tuck into Cat ’n’ a Cup cat cafe for quality down time with some furry friends. If you are feeling like a sweet treat while there, try the waffle stack - but beware, it’s huge!
Chiang Rai is also the perfect place to begin day trips into the surrounding countryside. As you walk around the town you will notice many tour options including visits to local Karen long neck villages, the Golden Triangle, and tea plantations. Hiking tours to waterfalls and caves are also available, and many other attractions are within driving distance.
Want to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai? Check out our guide to the Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai bus!
Planning a visit to Chiang Rai? Click here to browse local hotel options!
Sam and Natalia, of Something of Freedom write:
Port Barton is a brilliant spot to add to your South East Asia itinerary. Found on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, this laid back coastal village is still relatively undiscovered. In fact, most properties in the area aren’t even able to offer 24 hour electricity yet due to the village’s somewhat remote location. Don’t let that put you off though as Port Barton has plenty to offer!
Since many destinations in South East Asia can get overly crowded, Port Barton is a lovely escape. Not too many tourists venture to this part of Palawan, with most opting to stick to the more popular destinations of El Nido, Coron and Puerto Princesa.
One of the best things to do in the area is take an island hopping tour. There are some brilliant islands to visit nearby, as well as some incredible snorkeling opportunities. If you’re a fan of marine life you’re in for a treat, as it’s possible to see turtles, sea snakes and more while snorkeling in the area.
Another highlight is simply heading to Port Barton beach for sunset. There are a few bars and restaurants along the beach to enjoy a drink at, and if you’re lucky you’ll be treated to a vivid sky as the sun goes down.
A wonderful place for a chilled out few days, Port Barton really is a perfect inclusion if you’re looking for something a little different for your South East Asia travels.
Photo credit to Kit Yeng Chan
Marco, of Penang Insider writes:
Penang Island lies off the northwestern coast of Malaysia, and is an ideal stop between the beaches of Southern Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, 370km to the south.
These days, travelers usually rave about Penang’s — well, actually only George Town, the island’s biggest settlement, where most tourist accommodation is clustered around the central lanes of Chulia Street and Lebuh Muntri — food scene (the island made Lonely Planet’s Best Foodie Destination in 2014) and colorful street art. In truth, staying only here means just scratching the surface, for Penang’s real beauty is the richness of its multiethnic history and traditions, which earned George Town a UNESCO inscription in 2008.
And please don’t expect postcard-perfect beaches — for those it is probably better to go from Penang to Langkawi— but think that a visit to George Town and its charming lanes, all filled with British-colonial heritage and beautifully restored Chinese shophouses, is a smorgasbord of smells and sights that defies any definition.
Rickshaw-peddling old men await next to shiny SUVs, while old aunties cook traditional Chinese noodles over charcoals next to sarong-clad Indian men who pray barefoot and shirtless at a street-side temple, and next to an Islamic mosque.
All the while, charming Western-styled cafes dish up burgers, espressos, and mochas to cater to the ever-increasing flashpacker population, who bring an international flair back to this crucial port city of the old British Straits Settlements.
If George Town is not enough or you have more time, the jungle-clad foothills of Penang Hill, a former British Hill station, and the lush Botanical Gardens, are only a 10 minute drive from the city, and offer plenty of macaques and dense jungle thickets.
For more hiking, Penang National Park, the smallest in the world, beckons on the northwestern corner of the island. There are also many beaches to explore: on the northern coast Batu Ferringhi is the most developed and exploited area, but in the south of Penang island, near offbeat Balik Pulau, it all goes back to a much better natural balance.
Adding Penang to your trip itinerary? Click here to see local hotels!
Kate, of Rolling Along with Kids writes:
Including Bali on your list of places to visit in Southeast Asia is a must for a cultural, as well as a tourist, experience. Bali has something for all ages and is a fantastic spot in Indonesia for both families and couples.
In the south of Bali you can discover all that the tourist areas of Seminyak, Canggu, Legian, Kuta, Jimbaran, Uluwatu, Nusa Dua and Sanur have to offer. With a huge range of hotels for all budgets, the hardest thing will be choosing where to stay!
You have the famous Waterbom water park in Kuta that is a huge favourite with visitors to Bali and if you are in Bali on a Sunday, be sure to indulge in a Sunday Brunch at a 5 star resort like the St Regis in Nusa Dua.
After all of the fun of the south, venture into the cultural heart of Bali to Ubud. Here you will find rice terraces, infinity pools overlooking the stunning rivers below, amazing food and best of all, the gorgeous Balinese people. A fantastic way to enjoy the Bali countryside is to join a cycling tour that finishes for a delicious lunch at a local warung. Immersing yourself in the culture by really experiencing the smells, the sounds, and the heat is what travel is all about.
If you are still keen on traveling further off the beaten track, Bali is an untouched paradise on the west and north coasts. You will not see tourists for days and Menjangan Island, just off the North Bali coast near Pemuteran, has some of the best snorkeling in Southeast Asia.
Bali will grab your heart and not let go. But to experience this you must venture out of the tourist areas to connect with the heart of Bali, its people.
Planning a visit to Bali? Click here to find the perfect hotel for your visit!
Keri, of Little City Trips writes:
Singapore is arguably one of the best cities in Asia to add to your Southeast Asia itinerary. It is safe, clean and jam packed full of fun things to do.
It’s lack of chaos compared to many Asian cities may have earned it an unfair reputation for being ‘sterile’ and ‘boring’, but this just makes it an easy and pleasant city to hang out in. Anyone who has spent some time really getting to know Singapore will soon tell you that it is far from boring.
Some of the top tourist attractions here include the world famous Singapore Zoo, Universal Studios Singapore and the fabulous ArtScience Museum. There is also the beautiful Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay to wander around, beaches to hang out on, the Singapore River for sightseeing by boat, and colorful neighborhoods, such as Chinatown and Little India to explore.
Trying out some of the local dishes in Singapore is an absolute highlight of visiting the city, so be sure not to miss out. Hunt down one of the hawker centers (Singapore’s answer to street food) and enjoy some local satay, chili crab, sambal stingray or chicken rice. Finish your evening with drinks with a view at one of Singapore’s fabulous rooftop bars.
Planning a trip to Singapore? Click here to find the perfect hotel for your visit!
Judith, of Temples and Markets writes:
The happy traveller will find so much in store upon a visit to Hoi An, Vietnam. This is a land of rich and vibrant culture that is steeped in so much history. The humid weather acts as a soft haze that is broken by the beautiful lanterns, the wafts of ethereal music, and the smiles and good temperaments of those who live in this other-worldly ancient city. There is just so much in favor of a visit to this town.
Hoi An dates back (in recorded history) as a fishing port in the 15th century but seems to have been here since the dawn of time. The French colonial buildings, harking back to previous occupiers, dot the streets and are leaned up against by the buildings constructed by the villagers. The fresh food markets, the music and dancing, the lazy beers while sweat drips down your forehead – these are the markers of a truly incredible holiday and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There is so much on offer for the intrepid traveller in this beautiful ancient city.
The markets, wares, handicrafts and artworks on sale by the locals are truly inspiring. These are crafts that are created with love and in good faith. Ensure if you are making purchases here that the goods have been ethically sourced and that you are paying a fair, accurate and just price for work that has come from someone else’s heart. It can be easy to become caught up in the drama of ‘the haggle’ but please take a step back and consider the value of these local artisans and their incredible talents.
You can take a cycling tour of Hoi An, go on diving missions, engage in cooking classes, laze on the beach (unless it’s the weekend as they become quite crowded!) or simply stroll the town at your own pace. The Old Town is UNESCO-protected and is simply begging to be experienced – and photographed! Light a lantern, indulge the senses with a hot bowl of Pho and take your time to truly experience a wonder of South-East Asia. Word to the wise – you would be doing yourself a serious disfavor if you missed the night markets.
There is no airport in Hoi An – one must fly into neighboring Da Nang city. You can get a bus from the city to Hoi An and, upon arrival, your best method of travel is either by pedal or by foot. This is an adventure very much outside of your own lived experiences – and one you will not be quick to forget!
Want to make your Hoi An trip a beach vacation? Check out our guide to Hoi An beaches!
Adding Hoi An to your itinerary? Click here to browse local hotels!
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