1. Krabi, Thailand
Krabi is truly a unique experience. You will get limestone formations, caves that are on the coastline and inland, beautiful sandy beaches, fresh seafood at an after sunset barbecue, mangroves, rock climbing, monkeys, island hopping, and a chill party scene.
2. Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia
If you dig jungle and sea, this is your place. We spent most of our days in lush jungle, but spent our evenings on the beach. There are loads of national parks in the region, as well as ample opportunity to explore beautiful coastline.
3. Luang Prabang, Laos
This is up there as one of my favorite places I have traveled. It is the definition of chill. Everything moves slow and easy. It is an ideal place to practice Buddhism, which is why you see monks nearly wherever you go. It is along the Mekong River, where you will mostly likely see elephants taking baths, along with local children and even orange-robed monks. It is part traditional Laos, part colonial, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is definitely worth a visit.
4. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is one of the Wonders of the World and with good reason. This is an absolute must. We loved it so much we went twice. I wouldn’t mind going again, actually. It is the largest religious monument in the world, packed full of ancient temples. Interesting fact, it was built during the Khmer Empire, starting as a Hindu monument and over time evolved into Buddhist monuments in the 12th century. It shows up on their flag and has been studied for centuries. It is sort of the ultimate SE Asian experience. If you go, pay attention to all the detailed carvings. You must also stick around for a sunset or two within Angkor Wat. You won’t regret it.
Pretty cool entrance.
5. Koh Lipe, Thailand
If you like white sand beaches, scuba diving or snorkeling, and turquoise waters, this is your place. This was hands down my favorite place in Thailand. It was a bit of a trek to get to, but worth it. If you are coming from Bangkok, you fly to Hat Yai, bus a few hours to the ferry, and then catch a fairly short ferry ride to the island. Island life will await you. The food is spicy and flavorful, the sun is pretty much guaranteed, and there isn’t much to do beyond lay around on perfect sandy beaches–all things I look for in an island.
Nice side note, they are making an honest effort to be more environmentally friendly by having tourists buy a reusable water bottle and filling them up around different restaurants and shops instead of buying disposable plastic water bottles.
6. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
There is a lot to explore on Bali. It is a place you could visit over and over and still have more to see. Ubud is a great place to stay, but expect to explore other nearby towns. We rented a scooter and went around the island in a day. We took day trips to neighboring towns and islands to spend more time in each place. Ubud is great place to station yourself because of its focus on the arts, green location next to the mountains, and cultural history. On the main street, you find art galleries, art museums, craft shops, and art studios. Don’t miss the Ubud Monkey Forest, a natural forest sanctuary, the Tegallalang rice terraces, and the Pura Taman Saraswati temple.
7. Chiang Rai, Thailand
It is like Chiang Mai’s little sister, but arguably cooler and vastly overlooked. It is yet another chill place in Thailand with good food. Thailand tends to offer those attributes in most towns you will visit, but this one has fewer tourists, making you feel like you discovered one of the last few secret places in the country. One can plan some pretty cool trips from Chiang Rai to more remote areas. We did not get the chance travel outside of Chiang Rai (I was uber pregnant and just didn’t have it in me), but will go back someday and go into the mountainous jungles that are nearby. The White Temple is the main attraction, which is super cool, but don’t miss out seeing the Golden Triangle where Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos meet on the Mekong River. Save time for visiting tea plantations–they are a lesser known tour option, but ask your driver or hotel if they can arrange a visit for you. We learned about the process white, green, and black tea leaves go through and were able go pick some leaves ourselves. I was also really impressed with the Baan Dam Museum, or Black House. The teak wood structures were darkly weird and interesting.
8. HoiAn, Vietnam
Not to be confused with Hanoi, this is a riverfront town that offers some serious beauty. Rent a bicycle and tour around the temples and get yourself to a beach. Eat the local pho, fresh springrolls, or pretty much any of the street food. It is famous for its food–you would be hard-pressed to go wrong with anything you order. We took a boat ride along the river for a different perspective and to watch people fishing. You can even have a custom made pair of shoes made while you are there. They can make whatever you want.
9. Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya is the second ancient capital of Thailand, north of Bangkok. Fighting for more power, Ayutthaya Kingdom seemed to be in constant war with the Burmese and the Khmer Kingdom in Cambodia. At one point in the 1700s, it was the largest city in the world. In 1767 the Burmese burned it to the ground. There are the remains of temples, palaces, and monasteries left that offer some insight into what it was like. Ayutthaya is UNESCO World Heritage Site with an interesting orientation–it is an island surrounded by the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River. It is easy to get to by ferry.
10. Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is all about temples, hot-air balloon rides, and sunsets. It offers the densest concentration of pagodas, temples, and stupas built around the 11th and 12th century. When you are in any elevated area, you see these ruins for as far as you can see. Take the most impressive hot-air balloon ride in the world to see over 1,000 temples. We hired a driver and ended up seeing some really cool places. He had a key to some of the locked temples, showing us around and explaining the significance of each. Take some time to visit the Irrawaddy River while you are there.
There are so many places to see in Southeast Asia, but I tried to keep it down to my personal favorites. There are other places in Thailand that I love, like Khao Sok National Park, the whole Pattaya area, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, Khao Yai, Kanchanaburi, Koh Samet, and Rayong. In Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon are both cool places to see. I only wrote about places I have personally been, but I wish I had visited Halong Bay and Sapa, both in Northern Vietnam. I never got to the Philippines, but heard really amazing things about Cebu and Palawan. Hopefully, some day in the future I can check out more. It is such a culturally diverse and interesting place. I think that one could live a lifetime there and still have more places to see.
I would love to hear what your top 10 places in Southeast Asia would be! Post in the comments what you think.