With its collection of unique but equally captivating countries, home to astoundingly beautiful and contrasting landscapes, abundant historic sites and ancient treasures, vibrant cities, weird and wonderful flora, and fauna, and diverse cultures and ethnicities, Southeast Asia is justifiably one of the world’s favorite travel destinations.
There is a seemingly never-ending tally of attractions, activities, and things to during your holiday in Southeast Asia, many of which offer once-in-a-lifetime, inspiring travel experiences that you won’t find anywhere else on the planet. This remarkable region offers something for everyone, be it adventure seekers, underwater enthusiasts, history and culture buffs, nature lovers, or hedonists alike. Amongst the many options to choose from, here are our recommended Top 10 ‘Things to do in Southeast Asia.’
Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is home to around 127 active volcanoes, but the most famous of all is Mount Bromo (Gunung Bromo), within East Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. At 7,641-feet-tall, this may not be Indonesia’s tallest mountain or volcano, but Mount Bromo and its otherworldly lunar-like setting is regarded as one of the nation’s most breathtaking natural wonders and is the most hiked peak of all. If planning a visit to Indonesia, make sure you put Bromo on your itinerary!
With its smoldering cone rising from a gigantic caldera, flanked several other volcanoes, Mount Bromo presents surreal beauty at any hour, but is at its most awesome as dawn breaks. Perched on the edge of a towering crater rim, watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo in the foreground and Mount Semeru, Java’s highest peak, smoking in the distance – one of Asia’s most jaw-dropping vistas. Afterward, clamber into the caldera, or climb to the top of Mount Bromo itself for the ultimate pre-breakfast adventure.
Regarded by many as one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders, not surprisingly, World Heritage Site, Halong Bay appears on everyone’s bucket list on visits to Vietnam. Within this vast ‘Bay of Descending Dragons,’ more than 2,000 limestone islands and islets rising out of the Gulf of Tonkin’s emerald-hued waters. Overnight cruises are the grandest way to experience this ethereal seascape and all of Halong Bay’s mythical caves, grottoes, and lagoons.
If you seek to avoiding the crowds, sail on to Halong Bay’s southern extension, the extraordinarily beautiful Lan Ha Bay, a relatively new tourism destination that with fewer tour boats around offers a more tranquil voyage. In addition to the equally stunning, karst-studded scenery of its illustrious neighbor, Lan Ha is home to jungle-engulfed Cat Ba Island and hidden coral beaches.
Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan was once the capital of several powerful Burmese Kingdoms, which explorer Marco Polo described as ‘one of the world’s finest sights.’ Today, an astounding legacy of around 2,200 of Bagan’s original temples, stupas, and pagodas now collectively form one of Asia’s richest archaeological zones and a stupendous World Heritage Site. There’s no better way to appreciate the true scale of these ancient religious sites clustered across the vast plains of Old Bagan, than slowly drifting overhead in a hot air balloon – an incredible travel moment that lingers long in the memory.
The bird’s eyes view of this otherworldly landscape is even more spectacular timed as the sun dramatically rises or sets over the dozens of dreamy spires peeking out amongst the trees and mist. Colorful hot air balloons sensationally clouding Bagan’s historic horizon have evolved as the classic Burmese picture-postcard scene.
Centuries-old cultural traditions and Buddhist practices still remain part of daily life in Luang Prabang, an enchanting former royal capital and the heart of Laotian spirituality. This includes ‘Tak Bat,’ or alms giving ceremony, a longstanding ritual in Laos Buddhist culture, now recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and one of Luang Prabang’s biggest drawcards. When visiting Laos, this is a not-to-be-missed experience!
You’ll need to get going before the sun rises, but the effort is well worth it. As dawn breaks, observe a snaking line of hundreds of saffron-robed monks departing numerous monasteries, then stooping to receive alms (donations of food, invariably rice), from local residents, who line the Old Town’s atmospheric narrow streets. This dawn procession amongst the mist-shrouded golden pagodas is a truly evocative sight and quintessential scenario– and cultural experience – of magical Luang Prabang.
Diving enthusiasts should set sail for Raja Ampat, a spectacular archipelago of over 1,500 islets scattered across the far-flung eastern regions of Indonesia. Only accessible by boat, Raja Ampat is truly one of Mother Nature’s last frontiers where few travelers are fortunate enough to venture. Embedded in the Coral Triangle and a pristine marine protected zone, this brilliantly beautiful archipelago and ‘underwater amazon’ is regarded as the planet’s most biodiverse marine environment with the richest coral reef ecosystems.
In this thriving subterranean metropolis, dive amid over 1,300 species of tropical marine fish, 600 coral varieties, and every conceivable underwater habitat imaginable. See the steep drop-offs, marine lakes, and untouched coral gardens. No wonder Raja Ampat ranks as the planet’s ultimate diving site!
Off the beautiful coastlines of Phuket and Krabi, southern Thailand’s Andaman Sea is popular for its impossibly picturesque bays, idyllic beaches and surreal limestone rock formations. And this includes Phang Nga Bay, instantly recognizable for its series of peculiar-shaped, sheer karsts jutting out of azure waters.
This calm, shallow marine park with clear conditions is perfect for the most relaxing holiday time. Hop aboard a local-style longtail boat, or a sea kayak, for the more adventurous, and leisurely glide amongst these towering, limestone islets, mainly inhabited by monkeys and other wildlife. Don’t miss Phang Nga’s celebrated ‘James Bond Island,’ an iconic pinnacle, named after starring in the Bond movie, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun.’ Explore hidden sea caves, then stop off at a dazzling white sand beach to relax, or snorkel amongst multi-colored tropical fish.
Dragons really do exist, and you’ll find them in Komodo National Park on a Komodo cruise in the western parts of the Indonesian archipelago. It is here and especially on the Park’s main islands, Komodo, Padar and Rinca, that the legendary Komodo Dragon has peacefully existed for millions of years. In fact, this dinosaur throwback is endemic to this region and the Park was created to protect what is now an endangered creature, said to number approximately 2,500 amongst the forests and volcanic landscapes.
Like a Jurassic Park-inspired adventure, join a guided hike to spot Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat. Get up-close, but not too close, this fork-tongued ‘King of the Lizards’ and planet’s largest reptile can weigh on average 170 pounds, reach up to 10 feet in length and run amazingly fast in short bursts.
Undeniably, Cambodia’s star attraction is the magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex, one of the world’s greatest ancient wonders and largest religious monument, iconic for its distinct five-tower structure which even features on the national flag.
Angkor Wat however is just one of hundreds of centuries-old temples and monuments within Angkor Archaeological Park, a World Heritage Site in Siem Reap containing the stupendous remnants of a once-mighty Khmer Empire. Don’t miss out on many other, further afield Angkor temples and the lesser-frequented, but still impressive sites. Forgo the tour bus and instead, embark on leisurely bicycle rides along forest trails extending through the walled park. Cycle to temples far from the madding crowds and discover the fascinating history and serene tranquillity.
One of the most unforgettable travel experiences imaginable is observing the iconic orangutans in one of their last remaining natural habitats. In fact, living the wildlife with orangutans is possible in Kalimantan, the Indonesian region of exotic Borneo island.
Board a locally-built vessel and embark on an epic “orangutan Borneo river cruise” along remote waterways deep in Kalimantan’s dense primeval rainforests. The best places to see orangutans – and other amazing endemic wildlife – in the wild are within some of Indonesian Borneo’s protected national parks, especially, world-famous Tanjung Puting and its acclaimed orangutan conservation center, Camp Leakey.
With likely the planet’s largest wild orangutan population, Tanjung Putting presents the greatest opportunities to spot primates swinging through the jungle canopies and gathered at the odd feeding station.
Southeast Asia’s longest river and one of the world’s most spectacular waterways, the timeless Mekong River is the stuff of legends, the source of livelihoods, and the provider of truly memorable voyages. Whether it’s on a sampan, deluxe cruiser, or converted rice barge, the mighty Mekong transports you to lesser-traveled parts inland, where authentic riverine life brimming with rich culture, biodiversity, and history unravels before your eyes.
Explore the Lower Mekong River, meandering through southern Vietnam and Cambodia and its tableau of stilt-house villages, vibrant floating markets and crumbling Khmer temples, besides pulsating Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, two cities that bookend this mesmerizing waterway. Alternatively, from the Golden Triangle’s dense jungles on the Thai-Laos border, cruise along the relatively uncharted Upper Mekong, passing Laotian rural scenes little-changed over the ages.
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