Southeast Asia, thanks to its diversity and exotic grandeur, has been revered as one of the world’s must-see destinations for solo travelers, globetrotters and backpackers. Addictive and utterly entrancing, it’s a fabulous hodgepodge that will put you on a state of euphoria with its buzzing cosmopolitan cities, small ethnic villages, rice paddies and UNESCO World Heritage sites. What’s more, Southeast Asia is blessed with a wealth of natural wonders, including rivers, thundering waterfalls, verdant mountains and pristine beaches.
Planning on visiting Southeast Asia? Wondering where to travel in Southeast Asia? Whether you want to escape your daily grind, experience the real culture of a country or go on an epic outdoor adventure, we have a rundown of some of the best bucket-list-worthy things to do in Southeast Asia. Check them out!
1. Hiking in Sapa, Vietnam
Famed for its marvelous rugged scenery, Sapa is a rather photogenic Vietnamese town that will unleash your inner shutterbug with its plunging valleys, alluring rice terraces and thick mist rolling across it peaks. Established in 1922 as a hill station by the French, this burgeoning destination also boasts a myriad of delicious Vietnamese treats and charming French colonial villas. To top it all off, a visit to this part of Southeast Asia lets you meet its hill tribe as well as immerse into their culture.
2. Hit the enthralling lakes of Coron Island, Philippines
Not a lot of lakes in the whole Asian region are as hypnotizing as Coron’s natural gems – Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda.
3. Travel alone in Bali, Indonesia
Traveling alone in Southeast Asia? Billed as one of the best places to travel alone, Bali will sweep solo travelers off their feet with its sandy beaches, flourishing rice terraces as well as varied landscapes of hills and mountains. Globally celebrated and award-winning, Bali has a glut of archaeological and historical attractions as well, and will heal your weary spirit with its deeply spiritual and unique culture.
4. Explore Hoi An, Vietnam
Lauded for its great ambiance, this charming town has narrow and winding lanes lined with traditional wooden houses, beautiful old architecture as well as hundreds of tailor shops that sell everything from souvenirs to clothing.
5. Go on an eating spree in Penang, Malaysia
With its tasty blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, Penang is truly an attraction in Southeast Asia that should be savored in the most literal sense. Known as a foodie’s nirvana, Penang is teeming with mouthwatering dishes that will surely appease your cravings, such as savory soups, delectable laksas and spicy curries. Plus, most of the restaurant food here is incredibly cheap, allowing you to binge without spending a fortune.
And when you finally have had enough, head to Georgetown (its capital), which is a UNESCO World Heritage site that serves as a home to colonial buildings as well as 200-year-old mosques and temples.
6. See the gleaming Supertrees in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
With its lofty heights and bright illuminations, Singapore Supertrees look like dream setting or a scene from the 2009 blockbuster film Avatar.
7. Get up close with the Komodo Dragons in Komodo National Park, Indonesia
The Komodo National Park, voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, is a remarkable wildlife haven that should be on the bucket list of every animal lover. Home to the Komodo Dragon (the largest lizard in the world), this UNESCO World Heritage site will wow you with its mighty and gigantic lizards and other interesting animals. But, honestly, there’s more to this national park than its fierce reptiles. Here, you’ll get to hike scenic trails, enjoy spectacular sunsets, and go scuba diving. And, did I mention that it has a wondrous pinkish beach?
8. Be wowed by the stunning sunrise in Mount Bromo, Indonesia
Want to catch an unforgettable sunrise in Southeast Asia? Mount Bromo is, without a doubt, one of the most striking places on the face of the earth to watch a sunrise. While it’s full of tourists, the desolately gorgeous caldera will still leave a lasting impression, no matter who you share it with.
9. Wander around Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Famous tourist spots and attractions in Southeast Asia can suffer from unrealistic and inflated expectations. But, that’s never the case with the majestic Temples of Angkor in Cambodia. The sheer size of the renowned temple complex, paired with its intricate carvings, will surely impress even the most seasoned traveler.
Most travelers and tourists flock in the main events, such as the vine-covered Ta Phron Bayon and Angor Wat. How about the rest of the 400-square-kilometer area? Well, it’s all yours to explore and discover. Generations of Khmer leaders built a plethora (hundreds actually) of architecturally breathtaking temples around this area, meaning one day isn’t enough to see all of it.
10. Catch the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Even though it was built as a Buddhist temple, Wat Rong Khun quite frankly looks like a fortress in Game of Thrones, with an eerily magical façade as well as interior walls splashed with disturbing dark cartoons.
11. See the wonderfully symmetrical Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines
Symmetrical and awe-inspiring, Bohol’s Chocolate Hills are an iconic landmark in the Philippines that every bona fide travel junkie should see before they die.
12. Sail Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay is an incredible 580-square-mile natural cove that contains around 2,000 verdant islands – all occupied only by monkeys, birds, ferns and trees. It’s these towering peaks – some of the hewn and cragged by years of erosion into eye-catching shapes – that have inspired hundreds of years of Vietnamese paintings and poetry.
13. Lay eyes on the skyscraping Petronas Towers, Malaysia
The Petronas Towers, with its towering structures and enthralling architectural design, are a sight that will surely take your breath away in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
14. Experience the beauty of Borobudur, Indonesia
No list of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia is complete without Borobudur. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this Indonesian complex is, after all, one of the world’s greatest ancient monuments. Deemed as the largest single Buddhist structure in the planet, this ancient site will amaze you with its elaborate designs and carvings as well as its impressive size. Furthermore, it has a mesmerizing backdrop of steep volcanoes that further enhances the sense of awe and drama.
15. Take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar
There are very few sunsets in the world than can rival to the light that shines on the cluster of temples on the plains of Bagan. The appeal of Bagan’s temples lies not in their individual beauty, but rather in the high density as well as the endless array of similar structures dotting the plains. More than 12,000 temples used to stand in Bagan – the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Pagan. Today, 2,000 of the still remain, and it’s this spiritual plentitude that really makes Bagan a must-visit place in Southeast Asia.
16. Experience Boracay Island, Philippines
When backpacking Southeast Asia, don’t forget to swing by the party capital of the Philippines – Boracay. Praised for its crazy beach parties, Boracay has an electric and magnetic nightlife circuit that can give Ibiza and other party capitals in the world a run for their money. Of course, the island has soft white sands, beautiful clear waters and a host of thrilling water sports and activities.
17. See the Batu Caves, Malaysia
Want to see something spectacular in Malaysia? Marvel at these limestone cliffs studded with caved cave temples and beautiful caverns.
18. Take a plunge at Kuang Si Falls, Laos
When it comes to tourism, Laos doesn’t get as much as attention as the other Asian countries. But, make no mistake about it – the country has no shortage of diversions and splendid sites. And one of the best attractions of Laos is Kuang Si Falls. Although it’s a bit crowded, the waterfall can still give you a swell time with its refreshing waters and dazzling scenery.
19. Plunge into the mystical Enchanted River, Philippines
There aren’t any mermaids, pixies, fairies that swim around this river. But with its ethereal clear and bluish waters, you’ll think this river was touched by the supernatural, magical beings in the Philippines.
20. Go on a hiking adventure at Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
They say that on a good day, you can see all the way to the Philippines from the top of Mount Kinabalu. Quite frankly, you’d rarely see this neighboring country from the peak due to frequent rain and fog. Still, a climb to the highest mountain in Borneo is a fascinating adventure that should be on your bucket list. The ascent to the peak is technically straightforward, and it is also one the world’s most accessible mountains.
21. Visit a colorful floating market in Bangkok, Thailand
Full of color and life, these floating markets offer a memorable and fun experience in Southeast Asia, even though they aren’t as romantic as Venice’s gondolas.
22. Experience Ifugao Rice Terraces, Philippines
Overland migrants, a few thousand years ago, went down to the Philippines from what’s now known as China’s Yunnan province, and brought with them their rice terrace technology. Today, these creations layer the stunning hillsides of country’s Ifugao Region.
Entirely built supposedly by hand, the mud and stone walled terraces are irrigated by mountain springs and streams, and are tiered on incredibly steep slopes. During the harvest season in the villages of Batad and Banaue, when the rice plants are their greenest and brightest, the valleys essentially glow in the sunshine, making trekking a surreal experience here.
23. See the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand
When November sets in, head to Chiang Mai, and see thousands of floating lanterns illuminate the sky beautifully during the Yi Peng Lantern Festival. One of the most magical festivals in Southeast Asia, this extravaganza transforms Chiang Mai’s sky into a wonderful and otherworldly sea of golden lanterns.
24. Visit the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, Philippines
One of the best ways to enjoy Palawan – the world’s best island – is to experience a one-of-a-kind boat ride along one of the Seven Wonders of Nature.
25. Go for a dive at Tubbataha, Philippines
For diving connoisseurs, a dive at Tubbataha is a must-do, when visiting Southeast Asia. Discovered in the 1970s by divers, this glorious dive sport is filled with jaw-dropping underwater sights, incredible coral reefs and large marine life.
26. Sand dune surfing in Mui Ne, Vietnam
More than just a beach destination, Mui Ne has awesome sand dunes that can certainly quench your thirst for outdoor adventures.
27. Learn the art of Muay Thai, Thailand
If you want to learn a new skill, get fit, or just want to know how to kick ass, then this is something totally worthy doing in Thailand. There are institutions and schools all over this Asian country, from season pro to absolute novice. It’s a little grueling physically, but a great way to get back into shape, after indulging on many Asian delicacies.
28. Check out the awesome street art in Penang, Malaysia
Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic left his mark in Penang, with incredible murals of children across Georgetown. The artworks are fascinating, funny and very open to everybody’s interpretations.
29. Find your beach bliss in Krabi, Thailand
Looking for the ultimate beach escape in Asia? Look no further than Krabi, Thailand. Even if it’s filled with tourists, you can enjoy a laid-back trip here on the province’s secluded islands.
30. Cross the bustling streets of Hanoi, Vietnam
Not for the fainthearted, this is by far one of the craziest bucket list things to do in Southeast Asia.
31. Snap a jillion of photographs of Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Brunei
Completed in 1958, this imperial mosque will give you an urge to snap hundreds of photographs with its reflecting pool, luxurious carpets, glittering chandeliers as well as lavish walls and floor made from the finest Italian marble. Moreover, it flaunts a 3.5-million-piece glass mosaic that overlay real gold leaf covering the main dome.
32. Cruise the famous Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Mekong Delta, fittingly nicknamed as the rice bowl of Vietnam, is carpeted in a dizzying medley of greens. It’s a unique water world moving to the rhythms of Mekong, where markets, houses and boats float upon the numerous streams, canals and rivers criss-crossing the landscape like arteries.
33. Be utterly amazed by the grandeur of Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda is a delicate pagoda that you should see at least once in your life. Not only does it have an incredible height of 99 meters, but it also flaunts a starling and unique architectural design. Not to mention, it has a glittering gold-plated dome topped with a stupa containing over 5,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires.
34. Soak in the lovely feel in Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang – a UNESCO World Heritage city – is a wondrous patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses as well as hints of European Architecture. With its charming and atmospheric personalities, Luang Prabang is now on the radar of many travelers who are dreaming of going to Salzburg and Venice.