29 Best Places to Visit in Southeast Asia (+Map)

Southeast Asia is a group of diverse countries between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, featuring indigenous cultures influenced by Indian, Chinese and Western culture. The region includes the most populous Muslim country in the world, very prominent Buddhist countries, and quite significant Christian, Hindu and Animist communities.

It has long been a favorite corner of the world for globe-tramping backpackers, known for its perfect beaches, tasty cuisine, low prices, and good air connections.

The countries of Southeast Asia represent a totally different culture for Western travelers. Instead of cathedrals, they’ll find temples. Instead of cold temperatures and snow in the winter, for the most part they’ll be bathed in a tropical climate. They may find simple accommodations in remote fishing villages but also luxurious five-star hotels in the bigger cities and on the more popular islands.

Southeast Asia will appeal to active, adventuresome travelers, who want to trek through steamy jungles, dive in some of the world’s best coral reefs, camp or go whitewater rafting on new rivers. But the region also offers the less active travelers something, who, after a day of visiting temples and other cultural sites, just want to relax in comfort in a luxury hotel. An overview of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia

Map of Southeast Asia

29. Vientiane


Both the capital and largest city of Laos, Vientiane is an underrated place to visit with lots of different sides to it. Besides boasting beautiful Buddhist temples, it is known for its elegant French colonial-style architecture and vibrant street food scene.

Set right in the south of the land-locked country, its charming tree-lined streets lie along the northern bank of the Mekong River. In recent decades, the city has doubled in size as malls, hotels and office buildings have shot up everywhere. While the traffic is much more chaotic now, its peaceful temple gardens and riverfront promenade are still wonderful to explore.

Other than admiring the glimmering gold Pha That Luang – Laos’ national symbol and most important religious site – you can amble about the many museums and night markets. Wat Si Muang and Buddha Park also attract visitors with their amazing architecture and artworks.

28. Sihanoukville


As it is home to many of Cambodia’s best beaches, Sihanoukville is a great spot to relax and unwind after exploring Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh. Lying along the Gulf of Thailand, it has heaps of fun watersports to enjoy with idyllic islands also located nearby.

Also known as Kampong Saom, the popular seaside city was quiet until pretty recently when swanky Chinese resorts and casinos were erected everywhere. Although it’s lost a bit of its laid back charm, there are now tons of restaurants and bars to try out.


Plenty of pristine beaches still line its coast with Ream National Park also preserving lovely mangroves and colourful coral reefs. Aside from sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling, you can rent jet skis or take boat trips to the gorgeous Koh Rong and Koh Russei islands.

27. Sapa


Nestled away amidst the remote mountains and rice terrace-filled valleys of northwestern Vietnam is the scenic town of Sapa. An increasingly popular tourist destination, it is famous for both its stunning landscapes and traditional hill tribe villages.

Overlooked by the rugged Ham Rong Mountain, the small settlement is surrounded by loads of spectacular nature. While some hike to Muong Hoa Valley for its picturesque rice paddies, others climb up the 3,141 meter-high Mount Fansipan – the tallest peak in Southeast Asia.

cat cat village

Many also come to learn about the isolated region’s unique cultural heritage and the ethnic minorities that live here. In addition to picking up some local handicrafts at its market, you can stay overnight at the quaint Cat Cat Village or trek to some of the other towns nearby.

26. Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Islands

Just a short speed boat ride off the northeast coast of Peninsular Malaysia are the incredible Perhentian Islands. Appearing as if out of a travel brochure, the jungle-clad archipelago and all its breathtaking beaches are surrounded by shimmering, turquoise waters.

Perhentian Islands

Meaning ‘stopping point’ in Malay, the cluster of coral-fringed islands are completely unspoiled with only the larger Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil being inhabited. Protected as part of Pulau Redang National Marine Park, they have some stupendous snorkeling, scuba diving and sea-kayaking to enjoy.

Perhentian Islands

After ogling at all its magnificent marine life, you can hike about its steamy jungle or lounge on picture-perfect beaches. Some epic rock formations also line their sparkling white sands with relaxing resorts and restaurants dotted here and there.

25. Hanoi


In stark contrast to the tranquil isles, the hectic, high-paced Hanoi threatens to overwhelm your senses. Once you get used to the constant traffic and hooting horns, Vietnam’s capital has much to love about it with millions visiting each year.


One of the oldest cities on Earth, it exhibits a fascinating mix of East and West as concrete communist blocks lie next to French colonial buildings and ancient Asian pagodas. In its Old Quarter, there are atmospheric markets and alleys to explore with the tiny cafes along Train Street always a big draw.

Red Bridge

Other than trying terrific street food, there are numerous museums and galleries that cover the history and culture of the country. If the chaos ever gets too much, you can stroll about the handsome Hoan Kiem Lake or Temple of Literature.

24. Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Often called the ‘Adventure Capital of Laos’, Vang Vieng is renowned for its remarkable karst formations and fast-flowing river. Popular with party-seeking backpackers, it has lots of captivating caves and bucolic countryside to see nearby.

Vang Vieng

Located a couple of hours’ drive north of Vientiane, the small town lies along the Nam Song River, overlooked by dramatic, soaring mountains. Besides hiking or rock climbing, many go tubing along the river, stopping at various bars along the way.

Vang Vieng

With countless cool caves, waterfalls and viewpoints found in the surrounding region, most people book tours to places like Tham Chang or the Tham Nam Water Cave. Buggies and kayaks are also available for rent while fun ziplines shoot you above its pretty landscapes.

23. Phuket


The largest island in Thailand, Phuket has long been a top destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and bountiful dive sites. Connected to the mainland by a couple of short bridges, its many mountains and rainforests overlook the Andaman Sea.

Offering various exciting outdoor activities, the wealthy province’s pristine parks are great for hiking and motorbiking. As well as exploring the lush rainforest, you can snorkel, sail and scuba dive in the warm waters.


Many also come to pamper themselves at high-end spas, restaurants and hotels with the picturesque Patong Beach being known for lively street markets and loud nightlife scene. Phuket Town, the island’s capital, also has some centuries-old temples, shrines and Sino-Portuguese mansions to see.

22. Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

One of the most multicultural cities in the world, Malaysia’s sprawling capital Kuala Lumpur hums with energy at any time of day. Most known for the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, it has everything from old-time temples and markets to modern malls and skyscrapers to explore.

Since being founded as a tiny tin mining outpost in 1857, the dynamic KL has continued to grow and grow. Thanks to its large Chinese, Malay and Indian populations, the city has tons of tasty dishes to try with its architecture and historic sights being just as diverse.

Kuala Lumpur

Besides shopping at Berjaya Times Square’s stores or sampling Jalan Alor’s street food, you can enjoy awe-inspiring views from its high-up observation decks. The incredible Batu Caves and Genting Highlands can also easily be visited on day trips from the capital.

21. Gili Islands

Gili Islands

A lovely, laid back place to visit, gorgeous Gili Islands lie just off the northwest coast of Lombok in Indonesia. Fittingly meaning ‘small beautiful islands’, their wonderful white sands and warm, crystal-clear waters are easily reached by either ferry or fast speed boats.

Gili Islands

Although they have long been a popular tourist destination, the three secluded isles are still quite undeveloped despite more resorts and restaurants popping up each year. While Gili Air and Gili Meno are very relaxed, Gili Trawangan is much livelier with plenty of bars and clubs hosting party nights.

Gili Islands

All of them boast some breathtaking scenery and beaches with swimming, scuba diving and sightseeing cruises being their main activities. With no cars at all on the islands, their little cafes and beachside retreats make for a delightful getaway.

20. Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Once known as the ‘Paris of the East’ and ‘Pearl of Asia’, Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh has slowly overcome the abuse it suffered under the violent Khmer Rouge regime. While it is still a bit rough and rundown in places, the growing metropolis certainly has a lot to offer.

As it acted as a hub for both the ancient Khmer Empire and French colonialists, fine temples and villas were erected around the city. Although many were damaged in the seventies, the wide boulevards and riverfront promenades for which it is famed still remain.

Phnom Penh

Aside from wandering about its attractive parks or enormous Phsar Thmei market, you can admire its Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Visitors can also learn more about its recent sad past at the Killing Fields or in its moving Genocide Museum.

19. Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

The second-largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai is located in the mountainous north, amidst scenic countryside. One of Southeast Asia’s must-visit destinations, it is known for not just its atmospheric temples and old town but its fun night markets and street food too.

Once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, it was founded in the thirteenth century with some of the city walls and moat still intact today. These contain impressive temples like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. You’ll also find bustling Night Bazaar and all kinds of enticing street food stands to try out nearby.

Outside of the city are natural wonders like Doi Inthanon National Park and Hang Dong Quarry to discover. Many also go trekking to meet remote hill tribes or bathe adorable baby elephants at some of the sanctuaries.

18. Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Along with the ancient pagodas and temples of Bagan, Inle Lake has to be one of Myanmar’s most enchanting attractions. Tucked away amidst the rolling Shan Hills, its reflective waters are lined by charming monasteries and temples with floating villages, markets and gardens also bobbing about.

The second-largest lake in the country, it stretches 22 kilometres in length with lots of tribes living around it. Many motorboats and flat-bottomed skiffs take tourists out on the shallow lake so you can see the communities up close and learn more about their traditions.

Inle Lake

As well as visiting stilt homes and fishermen’s villages, there are centuries-old stupas and pagodas to see too. While puttering about, you can bask in marvellous views of the lake and the mountains far off in the distance.

17. Palawan


With all the alluring beaches, immense limestone cliffs and azure waters, it is no wonder that Palawan is considered to be one of the prettiest parts of Southeast Asia. The westernmost province of the Philippines, it has around 1,780 mostly unspoiled islands and islets to explore.

Set between the Sulu and South China seas, the long, narrow archipelago stretches almost from Borneo to Mindanao. Characterized by craggy limestone cliffs and colourful lagoons, its white sand beaches and dive sites need to be seen to be believed.


Among the region’s many highlights are the irresistible karst landscapes of El Nido and the underground river at Puerto Princesa. Tubbataha Reefs National Park also attracts divers as do the coral reefs and shipwrecks off of Busuanga Island.

16. Taman Negara

Taman Negara

Covering a massive part of Peninsular Malaysia are all the rivers, rainforests and mountains of Taman Negara. A must for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the country’s largest national park offers a myriad of unforgettable adventure activities.

Established in 1938/1939, it sprawls across three states with Asian elephants, leopards and Malayan tigers all inhabiting its wild confines. The vast park also protects some of the oldest deciduous rainforest in the world. Some estimates reckon it is over 130 million years old!

Taman Negara

Amidst its endless mountains and jungle, you can explore caves, climb peaks and enjoy cool canopy walks. Many also shoot down its rapids and take nighttime safaris through the dark rainforest to see its nocturnal creatures. There are also the tiny aboriginal villages of Orang Asli to visit where you can learn more about traditional life in Taman Negara.

15. Hoi An

Hoi An

Well-preserved, Hoi An’s little canals and lantern-lit streets are hemmed in by hundreds of historic buildings. A mix of eras and styles, they perfectly reflect the former trading port’s past and all the different peoples and merchants that have lived here over the ages.

Lying along Vietnam’s central coastline, it flourished for centuries until the mouth of the Thu Bon River finally silted up. Its attractive Old Town is home to not just Chinese-style temples and shophouses but French colonial villas and ornate Vietnamese tube houses too. Another of its main sights is its quaint Japanese covered bridge that crosses one of the canals.

Hoi An

At night, everywhere looks even more magical as lovely lanterns light up its narrow, winding streets and riverside. Besides shopping for souvenirs at its market and trying some delicious street food, many take trips to the majestic My Son ruins nearby.

14. Yangon


Formerly known as Rangoon, Myanmar’s largest city Yangon has much more to see than just its shimmering gold Shwedagon Pagoda. Other than the ancient Buddhist shrine, there are plenty of British colonial buildings, parks and religious sites to check out.

Despite being replaced at the capital by Naypyidaw in 2005, it still acts as both the country’s cultural and commercial center. As it exhibits a mix of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences, the city has loads to offer in terms of its historic sights, food and nightlife.


The undoubted highlight, however, is of course the gigantic golden Shwedagon Paya which is perched atop a hill overlooking the city. At its sizeable complex, you can examine its shrines and stupas and bang the giant Maha Ganda Bell for good luck.

13. Boracay


One of the Philippines’ most popular destinations, Boracay boasts some of the best and most beautiful white sand beaches in the world. A tropical paradise, all its relaxing resorts, spas and seafood restaurants lie just an hour’s flight from Manila.


Located just off the northwest coast of Panay, the idyllic isle is lined by soft, powdery sands backed by gently swaying palms. Aside from swimming and splashing in its turquoise waters, you can enjoy everything from sailing and windsurfing to snorkeling, jet skiing and scuba diving.


Many holidaymakers also make the most of its many spas and massage stations that border the beach. In the evenings, there are tons of lively bars and restaurants which offer superb music sets and sunset views.

12. Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

Rising dramatically above the rainforests and rivers of Borneo is the massive great Mount Kinabalu. The highest peak in the Malay Archipelago, it towers 4,095 meters in total with numerous hiking trails winding their way about its rugged slopes.

Considered sacred by the local Kadazan Dusun people, its wild reaches are now protected as part of the national park of the same name. One of the most biodiverse areas on Earth, it is home to around 6,000 plant species. Over 300 kinds of exotic birds also flit about its dense foliage.

Mount Kinabalu

Despite its soaring summit, the mountain is actually quite easy to hike if you are moderately fit. After taking in all its astounding views and nature, you can always go and see adorable orangutans at one of the nearby nature reserves.

11. Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park

If you’re after a sighting of the world’s largest lizard, then the incredible Komodo National Park is the place to head. Part of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Indonesia, it also preserves some spellbinding mountains, beaches and marine life.

Founded in 1980, the important biosphere reserve includes not just the large islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar but dozens of smaller ones too. Here, you’ll find thousands of the remarkable creatures which can impressively grow up to three meters in length.

Komodo National Park

In addition to actually seeing the dragons, you can spot wild horses, water buffalo and other endangered species. Many also camp and kayak at its pristine white sand beaches with the park’s colourful coral reefs being amazing to snorkel and scuba dive above.

10. Singapore


Set off the southern end of the Malay Peninsula is the tiny city-state and island country of Singapore. Often called the ‘Switzerland of Asia’, it is a very prosperous and diverse place with its population speaking English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

Since being established by the British in 1819 as a small trading colony, the city has grown considerably. Still home to one of the world’s busiest ports, its iconic skyline includes famed, futuristic landmarks like Marina Bay Sands Resort and the Gardens by the Bay supertrees.


Nearer the ground are cool districts like Chinatown and Orchard Road to amble around with Singapore known for its tasty food and terrific shopping. Although it is one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities, it also has lovely jungles and beaches to enjoy.

9. Ko Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi

Even more picture-perfect still than Phuket is the nearby archipelago of Ko Phi Phi. Home to some of Thailand and Southeast Asia’s most attractive islands, its charming coves, cliffs and sandy beaches are surrounded by the sparkling Andaman Sea.

Part of Krabi Province, its enchanting isles number five in total with Ko Phi Phi Don being the largest and only one that is inhabited. Towered over by tall karst cliffs clad in greenery, their beaches are often featured on the front of travel catalogues. It’s easy to see why as all their white sands contrast so stunningly with the emerald waters around them.

Ko Phi Phi

One of the most famous is Maya Bay which was the setting of the hit 2000 film The Beach. As well as sunbathing and swimming, you can take boat trips about the islands and snorkel and scuba dive in their waters. Ko Phi Phi is also known for its lively nightlife and fire shows.

8. Luang Prabang

Rightfully renowned for its countless temples and shrines, Luang Prabang is nestled amidst gorgeous green hills in northern Laos. Meaning ‘Royal Buddha Image’, its historic old town is very atmospheric to wander around with several waterfalls also found nearby.

Situated at the spot where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet, it acted as the country’s capital until 1975. At Wat Xieng Thong or the Temple of the Golden City, you can see where the Laotian kings of old were crowned. The nation’s most important monastery, it showcases some exquisite architecture, statues and murals.

In the Old Quarter, you can still see monks collecting alms in its laidback, stall-lined streets. Once you’ve explored its temples, make sure to take a trip to the fabulous Kuang Si Falls or carved Buddhas in the Pak Ou Caves.

7. Borobudur

The largest Buddhist temple in the world, the absolutely massive Borobudur monument lies in the center of Java, just northwest of Yogyakarta. Just one of Indonesia’s many must-visit sights, its collection of stupas look particularly spectacular at sunrise and sunset.

Dating to the ninth century, its enormous square platforms and circular terraces are made out of two million blocks of dark volcanic stone. Decorating the entire complex are elaborate relief panels and Buddha statues. These depict daily life, the concept of Karma and various fauna and flora from around the island.

Hidden for centuries under thick layers of ash and rainforest, it is very well-preserved with a couple of museums explaining more about the site. Every June, traditional Javanese dances are performed at Borobudur, highlighting its history and how it was constructed.

6. Ifugao Rice Terraces

Yet another picturesque place to visit in the Philippines are the beautiful Ifugao Rice Terraces in the northern part of Luzon. Tumbling their way down the sides of steep, sweeping valleys, their vivid green hues make for some phenomenal photos.

For thousands of years now, the Ifugao people have practiced rice farming this way, hidden away amidst the Cordilleras highlands. Carved into the side of the mountains, the irrigated paddies are an astounding feat of engineering. Some even label them the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.

Aside from visiting viewpoints and snapping photos of the remarkable rice terraces, you can trek around and stop by some traditional hill tribe villages. Many sell woodcarvings and handicrafts with plenty of families also offering homestays.

5. Bagan

The highlight of most people’s time in Myanmar has to be watching the sunrise above all the stupas, temples and pagodas of Bagan. Rising above the trees and plains about them, its more than 2,200 spires make for an unforgettable sight.

Built between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, the immense archaeological site was once the capital of the powerful Pagan Kingdom. Actually described by Marco Polo himself as the ‘gilded city’, it contained over 13,000 monasteries and temples at its zenith.

As the complex is so large, you’re best off choosing a few specific places to visit. Among the most popular, impressive and important are Ananda Temple and Dhammayangyi Temple. A lot of people also take hot air balloon rides at dawn to see Bagan from above and enjoy the glint of the rising sun on its stupas.

4. Bangkok

One of the largest, liveliest cities on the planet, Thailand’s capital Bangkok is certainly not to be missed when in Southeast Asia. Famed for its fantastic street food and nightlife scene, it also has magnificent temples and palaces to check out.

Home to almost 11 million people, its seemingly endless urban sprawl surrounds the Chao Phraya River. Numerous canals also branch off it with many taking peaceful cruises to avoid its intense heat and heavy traffic.

Alongside all its towering skyscrapers, you’ll also find interesting historic sites like Wat Arun and the Grand Palace. Trawling its vibrant markets is loads of fun too as is sipping cocktails at one of the city’s many rooftop bars. With luxury spas and shopping also on offer, Bangkok has something for everyone to enjoy.

3. Ha Long Bay

Often listed among the world’s natural wonders, Ha Long Bay’s incredible karst landscapes really are special to explore. One of Vietnam’s top attractions, it lies right in the northeast of the country, not all too far from Hanoi.

Actually meaning ‘Bay of Descending Dragons’, its almost endless emerald waters are home to almost 2,000 islets. These mostly consist of craggy limestone outcrops, topped with lush green foliage or jungle. Some also have cool caves for you to enter and stunning swathes of sand to relax on.

On tranquil junk boat trips about the bay, you can visit its floating villages and kayak about its grottoes. Many also take Tai Chi, yoga and cooking classes aboard the ships while taking in the stupendous scenery all around.

2. Bali

Fittingly known as the ‘Island of the Gods’, Bali more than lives up to its name with all its romantic landscapes and revered religious sites. Lying right between both Java and Lombok, its rich culture, resplendent nature and warm hospitality make it the most visited of all the Indonesian islands.

Often described as a tropical paradise, its marvelous mountains and rice terraces give way to rugged cliffs and sandy beaches. Scattered about are thousands of ancient Hindu temples and fabulous valleys, paddies and waterfalls to hike or cycle to.

Other than spending time in Ubud, its cultural center and arts and crafts hub, you can enjoy the pounding nightlife and vivid sunsets at Seminyak. Many also attend yoga retreats or surf and party at Kuta Beach.

1. Angkor

Covering an enormous area, Angkor in Cambodia contains the remains of several capitals of the ancient Khmer Empire. Fascinating to wander around, its hundreds of highly symbolic stone temples can be found just outside of Siem Reap.

Now believed to have been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, the important political and religious center was largely constructed between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. After its decline, the ruins of the temples were eventually reclaimed by the jungle.

While the iconic Angkor Wat may be its largest and most elaborate structure, there are also tons of other temples like the breathtaking Bayon and tree-covered Ta Prohm to see. All of them exhibit some amazing architecture and are decorated with detailed reliefs, statues and carvings. A place like no other, Angkor is a must-visit when in Southeast Asia.

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