Southeast Asia has long been a travel spot for many thanks to its idyllic beaches with pure white sand, turquoise oceans, authentic food and a culture full of history and diversity. While all areas of the region are arguably a must-see, we’ve ranked the best countries to visit according to beauty, magic, and less crowds.
Brunei is one of the low-key destinations to visit in Asia, but arguably underrated. It has been voted as a country with one of the world’s highest standards of living thanks to its plentiful oil and gas reserves.
The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, has various points of interest including the stunning Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, the Istana Nurul Iman palace and the historical Brunei museum.
Just half an hour away from Bandar Seri Begawan lies the Tutong district, known for its natural beauty in the form of scenic beaches, its serpentine lake surrounded by swamps and the diversity of its people in the Rumah Budaya cultural village which showcases five ethnic Bornean groups that make up the district.
Malaysia is rich in cultural heritage with a mix of Malays, Chinese and Indigenous groups. Known for its tropical rainforests, national parks that are perfect for long hikes and a fantastic wildlife- watching scene, Malaysia is a vibrant country worth a wander.
The most popular national park, Taman Negara is perfect for long-haul treks, wildlife spotting and treetop walks. In this jungle you’ll find ancient trees, beautiful orchids and even the rafflesia, the world’s largest flower.
For those who enjoy city vibes, the capital, Kuala Lumpur is the place to be with its host of shopping malls, street markets and bright lights.
If you’re on the other side of the spectrum and thrive in nature, a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Pahang is a must-do. Not as hot as the lowlands of Malaysia, some have even compared the charm of the resort to that of typical English villages.
Myanmar, also known as Golden Land (or Burma), is often not included in the Southeast Asia travel to-do lists. It’s unfortunate, because it is home to gorgeous landscapes, ancient towns and sacred sites.
Top things to do in Myanmar include hot air balloon riding in Bagan, the Buddhist Sulamani Temple, the incredible golden Botatuang Pagoda and the serene Kandawygi Lake in Yangon.
It’s still relatively new to tourism, thus the majority of locals are open to meeting new people solely to have conversation, provide insight into their culture and give you a smile.
Technically a city-state off Southern Malaysia, Singapore differs from the rest of Southeast Asia in terms of how developed the country is. Seen as a modern and cosmopolitan city, it’s become a global hub.
Visiting Singapore, you’d need to be prepared to spend more as it’s not as cheap as the rest of South East Asia. If you’re willing to indulge, the city is great for shopping and leisure, with points of interest including Universal Studios, the Sky Deck and the Infinity Pool at Marina Bay Sand. Although urban, you can still expect to see luscious greenery in Singapore that’s present in the rest of the continent.
Thailand is no hidden treasure, and has been an attractive tourist spot for holidayers and backpackers for years. With good reason, too – the country boasts some of the world’s breathtaking beaches and is famous for it’s wild Full Moon Party in Koh Pha Ngan.
Thailand’s picturesque beaches of the island of Kho Phi Phi were even featured in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio film, The Beach. This South East Asian country is no stranger to beautiful architecture, from the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha in Bangkok to the Pavilion of the Enlightened in Mueang Boran. Nicknamed of the Land of Smiles and Enchantment, Thailand is an unmissable addition to your travel list.
Rich in history, delicious street food and proud owner of the greenest of jungles, Cambodia is another essential to visit when doing a South East Asia tour. Although the country is visited by millions of tourists each year, many parts remain untouched and unexplored by tourists. Despite being the obvious choice, the Angkor tourist site in Siem Reap is a site not to miss, the epitome of Khmer architecture with over a thousand temples including the popular Angkor Wat.
Another fascinating element Cambodia is the Irrawaddy Dolphin, rare mammals that live in a stretch of the Mekong in the North East. For art enthusiasts, Phnom Penh’s National Museum displays some of the most captivating art, including ancient statues and murals.
Laos is a country that lies between Thailand and Indonesia, and well worth a visit if you’re doing a South East Asia tour. Often overlooked by its neighbour Thailand, Laos has more to offer than you’d expect. The Mekong river is the seventh longest in South East Asia, surrounded by stunning forestry and mountains. Way off the tourist trail, you’ll find the Vieng Xai caves, which were originally intended to be bomb-shelter caves during the Vietnam War. In Laos, you’ll also find Luang Prabang, a remote city 700m above sea level and often thought to be more laid-back compared to other places in South East Asia.
Other interesting parts of Laos include Si Phan Don, a cluster of islands near the Cambodian border in the Pakse province and the Khone Phapheng Falls, the largest cascading waterfalls in South East Asia, in the Champasak region of Southern Laos.
Indonesia is a gorgeous country spread across thousands of islands, sitting on both sides of the equator. If you’ve heard all the talk about the beauty of Bali and would like to visit some of its islands, Kuta is your best bet. For those looking for something different and less packed, you will find it in Lombok, with it’s white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters, as well as plenty of hiking trails.
Indonesia also boasts the largest Buddhist temple in the world, the Borobudur in Central Java, and the largest mosque in South East Asia, Masjid Istiqlal in Jakarta.
Thought dragons were merely a fantasy? Think again – the Komodo Island is famous for its volcanoes and the Komodo Dragons of Rinca Island, the largest living lizards.
Vietnam is experiencing a revival since the horror of the Vietnam War forty years ago, with enlightened spirits, upgraded roads, new hotels and riddance of the Communist system.
The country has so much to offer in the form of its culture and beauty, from its temples and pagodas that represents the diversity of religions in the country, to the boat trips that explore the Red River Delta and the famous Ha Long Bay.
The breathtaking mountains of Sa Pa are perfect for a trek, overlooking the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley, while Hoi An is the destination for history buffs, with its colonial architecture and iconic Vietnamese tube houses.
1. The Philippines
The Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands and is best known for its capital, Manila, which, thanks to its high-paced lifestyle and urban architecture, is actually quite different to the rest of the country.
Highlights of the Philippines are Palawan, a dreamy island province with amazing exotic beaches and wildlife (rightly voted The Most Beautiful Island in The World by Condé Nast Traveler), a similar island named El Nido, and The Chocolate Hills (a geographical formation in the Bohol province).
What are your recommendations on which countries to visit in Southeast Asia? What are your favorites? Leave a comment for us below.