It is no exaggeration to say that South-East Asia is a traveller’s paradise. This region boasts incredible history filled with intriguing characters, mouthwatering food that features fresh ingredients and unique tastes, and rich and warm culture influenced by various schools of philosophy.
Best of all, it is a very affordable place to travel, with good transport links and no shortage of things to do and see for visitors of all ages. So, while every place in the region has its own charms, here are our five favourite countries to visit in South-East Asia.
Closed to travellers for many years under the control of a dictator, Cambodia has opened for travel much to the delight of visitors who seek out its fascinating history, stunning natural beauty and warm, friendly local people.
The jewel in Cambodia’s tourism crown is the enigmatic Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious site and a truly spectacular wonder. Nearby, other temples including the Bayon, Ta Prohm and Banteay Srei also delight visitors who walk in the footsteps of the former Khmer Empire.
Cambodia is more than Angkor Wat, however. In its capital, Phnom Penh, there are sobering monuments to the tragic Khmer Rouge era, whereas laidback Sihanoukville offers a beautiful beach and a party that never seems to stop. Those seeking solitude will surely love remote Mondulkirri, a mountain town that’s only recently seen the arrival of electricity.
Although the rapidly growing popularity of tourism has seen prices rise, Cambodia remains an incredibly inexpensive country to visit. Here, you can find delicious meals for just a few dollars, always served with a kind smile and willingness to stop and chat. While it may be Angkor Wat that draws people in, it’s the beauty and kindness of the Khmer people that really makes Cambodia shine.
Picture the sun rising over a land that time forgot, which is covered in fog and populated only by a long line of Buddhist monks cloaked in saffron orange robes.
This is Luang Prabang at dawn, one of the most incredible sights in all of South-East Asia, and reflective of all of Laos, a beautiful, sleepy country rich in Buddhist treasures. In fact, the entire city of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site on account of its dozens of beautiful Buddhist Wats, many gilded in gold that glitters especially at dawn and dusk.
A little beyond Luang Prabang, visitors will be rewarded by the spectacularly blue Kuang Si Waterfalls, the Free the Bears Sanctuary and the glorious Pak Ou Caves. Along the way to any of these trips, brave travellers can also try the country’s ‘snake whisky’.
Further afar from the tourist hotspot of Luang Prabang, Laos is almost entirely hidden from the touristic view. There are endless hidden treasures, such as the mysterious, prehistoric ‘Plain of Jars’ in the country’s north, or the network of underground caves at the Khammouane Khast National Protected Area.
Malaysia is a country of contrasts, where every day offers the opportunity to discover something entirely different. Being a melting pot of cultures including Malay, Chinese and Indian, Malaysia is incredibly unique and absolutely spectacular.
While frenetic Kuala Lumpur is an assault on the senses that might take a few days to get used to, it also offers incredible cuisine, fantastic shopping and a pumping nightlife that seems to never end. Within easy reach of the capital is cultural landmarks such as the Batu Caves and firefly-filled Kuala Selangor.
Beyond Kuala Lumpur, the natural beauty of Malaysia beckons. Remote islands such as Redang Island and Kepas Island offer the chance to escape from the pace of the city and lose yourself in the tranquility. Then there’s Penang, a foodie heaven that is considered the food capital of Malaysia.
There’s simply so much to do that one trip might just not be enough.
Intriguing Myanmar (formerly Burma) is unlike any other country in South-East Asia, and that is a big part of its charm. For decades, travel to the country was prohibited or only allowed under strict conditions, meaning the country has not seen the rapid development of its neighbours like Thailand. Many visitors remark that it is like the South-East Asia of forty years ago.
Of course, no country can hold off development forever, so Myanmar is likely to change rapidly. Today, however, Myanmar retains is deeply historic and traditional charms, offering visitors a chance to step back in time. It’s not as easy to travel as some other South-East Asian countries, but those who visit will be richly rewarded.
The capital, Yangon, is filled with stunning pagodas illustrating the country’s strong Buddhist beliefs and traditions, as well as colonial-era buildings from when the country was under the control of the British. There’s also no shortage of authentic restaurants serving delicious Burmese dishes.
Known as South-East Asia’s rising tiger, Thailand is simply brimming with enthusiastic travellers who have fallen for its many charms and return year after year. And why wouldn’t you? Thailand, once the base of the mighty Siam Empire, is filled with amazing historical sites as well as architectural wonders like the magical Golden Palace.
Not just rich in manmade treasures, the natural environment of Thailand is equally beautiful and inviting. The Thai islands are spectacular, with party hotspots such as Koh Phi Phi as well as undiscovered charmers such as Koh Kood. To the north of the country, the mountains around Chiang Mai offer amazing hikes. Best of all, the cheap and efficient transport system makes it easy to get around.
Of course, you can’t write about Thailand without mentioning its delectable food. Even the pickiest foodie will surely be in love in Thailand, whether its eating at a tiny hole-in-the-wall food stall or a Michelin starred luxury restaurant. After dinner, it also boasts hearty nightlife to keep you dancing the night away.