Mist-topped jungles peppered with the ancient temples of the Khmer, scintillating beachfronts on the Bali Straits, noodle-scented French towns on the edge of the South China Sea – the gems of Southeast Asia are pretty much endless. Here's our pick of ten of the top spots…
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
There's really nothing quite like wandering between the lichen-spotted stupas and mysterious Buddhist inscriptions, the sculpted Khmer temples and the ancient Hindu murals of Angkor Wat: one of the most-photographed and famous worshipping sites in the world for sure! Yep, people flock to this corner of Cambodia to wonder at the 900-year-old rises of the colossal lotus spires, and to seek out tales of old mythology between the misty Asian jungles. Of course, the place is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is still undergoing considerable restorations to its great sculptures and edifices.
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
Gili Trawangan is one of the most amazing places in Southeast Asia for a whole different reason to Angkor Wat. While the temples of Cambodia ooze culture and history, this speck of an island in the Bali Straits between Lombok and the Isle of the Gods is home to some of the most paradisiacal sands and most gorgeous palm-fringed beaches in the world. And just when you thought the whole thing couldn't get any better, Gili comes at you with its awesome nightlife, which means flitting between Irish bars and hitting bamboo reggae shacks to watch the sunrise. Woop!
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi is like the Land of Smiles' answer to Gili Trawangan. Set out in the salty swells of the aquamarine Andaman Sea, this much-loved island on Thailand's western coast is home to wild nights and raucous clubs that thump with EDM and chart tunes on the beaches. By day, backpackers can be seen sizzling off their hangovers on cotton-white sands at Monkey Beach, or hitting the waters to boat around to Maya Bay (the very place where Leo DiCaprio came to party in the hit film The Beach!). Add in a cocktail of great diving, street stalls and bargain guesthouses and you've got yourself one truly amazing spot…
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Ha Long Bay is a world wonder that really needs no introduction. This breathtaking conglomeration of karst-rock needles that soars from the sparkling waters of the South China Sea is now one of the veritable touristic magnets of Vietnam as a whole. Boaters come to weave between the majestic peaks on old-school dhows, to kayak through the cave systems, and to discover hidden bays where corals sparkle underwater. It's also a fine location to seek out rare monkeys on the coastal reserves, or to simply take those ubiquitous selfies with UNESCO-tagged mountains in the background. (LBW go here on our Vietnam Explorer trip, just in case you were wondering!)
You'd be hard-pushed to find a traveller who didn't like Pai. Set between the dusty hills on the northern fringes of the Land of Smiles, this lazy and laid-back place is a welcome break from the frenetic energy of Southeast Asia. Long-haired hippy types and veterans of the Woodstock circuit can be seen drifting up and down the sun-baked roads, and flitting between Ting Tong's cocktail bar and Bamboo Club in the evenings. The days are just as lethargic too, with relaxing trips to nearby hot springs or thoughtful walks along the ridges of beautiful Pai Canyon on the menu. (Oh, and it's a stopover on our Treasures of Thailand itinerary!)
Erawan sits in the wild Tenasserim Hills that bubble up to form the rugged border between Myanmar and Kanchanaburi Province. It's a wondrous spot that's often hailed as Paradise on Earth by all those travellers lucky enough to pass its way. The main attraction has to be the gorgeous seven-tiered waterfalls, which cascade down the rock-ribbed hills in a series of turquoise-colored fountains. They weave and wind through groves of teak trees, and form plunge pools that are perfect for swimming in the shade of the jungle vines. There are nibbling fish in the water too, just in case you were after a free pedicure, and – be warned! – some seriously cheeky macaques in the surrounding canopies.
Bagan is perhaps the most breathtaking and amazing sight in all of Myanmar (sorry Shan Hills!). Occupying a flat floodplain on the bends of the Ayeyarwady River, it was once the capital of the mighty Kingdom of Pagan. The kings of that great dynasty raised multitudes of temples and stupas and shrines and palaces here from the 9th century onwards, and today it's estimated that as many as 10,000 individual structures can be seen peaking above the tree tops and low hills. The best way to see the area is undoubtedly by balloon, and you'll be able to spot the great orbs ascending into the hazy sky each day.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Perched atop the banks of the mighty Mekong River as it winds eastwards towards the heart of the Indochina Peninsula from the Thai border, the city of Luang Prabang is the most culturally loaded in all of Laos. The whole place boasts one of those coveted UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which was awarded on account of the patchwork of gorgeous gold-topped temples and Buddhist monasteries that occupy the hills and caves around town. Another major attraction has to be the night market, which is packed with sellers touting everything from pickled snake heads to whittled wood souvenirs.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Ask any traveler of Southeast Asia where they fell in love with the quickest, and the charming post-colonial town of Hoi An will invariably be high on the list. Why? Well, because the UNESCO-tagged downtown area here is awash with charming low-rise cottages with tiled roofs and Francophone touches; because the city beach is a sparkling stretch of golden sand that slopes gently down to the South China Sea from its groves of swaying coconut palms; because the earthy cao lau noodle stalls serve up some of the top spicy broths in Southeast Asia (and it's only available here, too!) – that's why! (Of course, LBW pass this way on their acclaimed Vietnam Explorer trip!)
Ifugao is home to some of the most mind-boggling, eye-wateringly wonderful cascading rice terraces in the world. Perched high in the mountains of Luzon, it's a rustic place where the farming folk have spent millennia carving out arable land from the steep-sided valleys. The result is a patchwork of colorful, emerald vistas and earthy agricultural hamlets that seem unchanged by the centuries (the Spanish didn't ever manage to exert their control of this far-flung area of highlands). Trekking and cultural encounters with the Igorot people are some of the top draws.
Of course, this list of the most amazing places in Southeast Asia is hardly going to be able to cover all of the awesome jewels this bucket-list region has to offer! If you'd like to add any more, be sure to make your voice heard in the comments below or click HERE!
We believe that travel is not a reward for working, but the most valuable and impactful form of education for life. We aren’t just a travel company; we were built to introduce you to the rest of the world. LBW Travel is about more than taking vacation time. We connect you with people and offer experiences that will change the way you look at your world. Travel reminds us what is truly important: family, friendship, love, exploration and adventure.
Sign up for newsletter & get travel guides