The rich culture, beautiful landscapes, and exotic adventures of Southeast Asia make this part of the world a haven for unforgettable holidays and adventure. Whether you’re searching for a quick getaway to recharge, a romantic holiday destination, or a family vacation spot, Southeast Asia has something for everyone.
7 Top Places to Visit in Southeast Asia
If you’re wondering what sights and cities to include in your itinerary, here are our picks for the top places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Si Phan Don, Laos
If you have a taste for adventure, the islands spread across the Mekong River Delta in Laos are calling your name. Home to the majestic Mekong River, this area, also commonly known as Four Thousand Islands, is a breathtaking natural feature. The popular islands of Don Det and Don Khon are magical places to get your adrenaline pumping while kayaking with the rare Irrawaddy dolphins that the area is famous for.
For those who love to trek through nature, Si Phan Don has trails to the majestic Khone Phapheng Falls, the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. The view from the falls is spectacular and is one of the main attractions in the Four Thousand Islands.
If you’re up for a bit of culture, you’ll love visiting Wat Khon Tai. This Buddhist temple in Don Khon is built atop a former Khmer shrine. There are plenty of stupas and ancient Khmer relics in this area for history buffs to explore.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Rich culture is what Southeast Asia is known for, and Chiang Mai in Thailand does not disappoint. This city is a cultural and architectural landmark popular with digital nomads and tourists looking for an inexpensive and memorable spot to vacation or spend a long holiday. Chiang Mai offers all the trappings of Thai city life with world-class cuisine, beautiful temples, and colorful night markets.
There is plenty to do in Chiang Mai, including taking a tour of the more than thirty monuments and temples that date back as far as the 13th century. You can also experience wildlife at the Sri Elephant National Park and the Sri Lanna National Park. For a scenic view, visit the majestic Bua Tong Waterfalls, located in the national park.
If you’re up for some exploring, there’s the option to trek to the hill tribe villages, or even venture to Pai, a diverse mountain community that draws backpackers from all across the globe. Chiang Mai is also known for colorful festivals, so check out the calendar of events before you visit.
The Gili Islands, Indonesia
Beach holidays are always a good idea and Gili Islands, Indonesia boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia. These three islands are located off the Lombok coast in Indonesia and offer a great place to relax and enjoy the sun and sand. Beautiful blue waters and white sandy beaches deliver a beach holiday escape. If you’re looking for an alternative to Bali or something fresh to add to your itinerary, this archipelago of three islands hits the spot.
Apart from snorkeling and diving around the tropical coral gardens which are rich in aquatic life, there is also plenty to do on land. For those who want to enjoy an exciting nightlife, Gili Trawangan is a popular spot for partying. This part of Gili Islands is always lit up and boasts plenty of beach bars and restaurants.
There are also plenty of sports for surfers to enjoy the waves. The coasts of Gili Trawangan and Gili Air have year-round reef breaks and nice swells during the dry season. Apart from surfing the coast, you can also hike to a shrine at the top of a hill in Gili Trawangan. The views from this vantage point are unforgettable, especially at sunset.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Declared a UNESCO world heritage center in 1994 and featured in countless movies, the picturesque Ha Long Bay is truly extraordinary. The bay has over 1,600 limestone islands and islets spread over 1,500 km. If you’re looking to explore a unique natural feature that’s straight out of a movie, then Ha Long Bay should be at the top of your list.
Since most of the islands are uninhabited, the scenic beauty of Ha Long Bay is complemented by its rich untouched natural landscape. The area is rich in natural caves, towering pillars topped with greenery and the sheer cliffs that enclose the bay. If you enjoy photography, you will love the exquisite and unique scenery of Ha Long.
Apart from the natural scenery, there is plenty to do in Ha Long Bay. Visitors can enjoy boat trips around the Bay to take in the picturesque surroundings. Ha Long also has an array of waterfront venues that make for a romantic setting in the evening. The nightlife in this area is vibrant and there are a variety of seafood restaurants to explore in the area.
As one of the two locations on earth that still has wild orangutans, there is something truly special about Sumatra in Indonesia. Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and the largest in Indonesia. Apart from the wildlife, Sumatra is home to Lake Toba, the world’s largest volcanic lake. This lake has its own island which is known as Pulau Samosir. Samosir is a cultural and historic island that boasts a rich history of the Batak tribes.
From world-class surfing to historical highlands, Sumatra has a lot to offer visitors. For those who enjoy wildlife, Gunung Leuser National Park is an exciting natural jungle teeming with untouched nature and a wide range of wildlife. From elephants to orangutans and even rhinos, there is an abundance of wildlife to experience at the Gunung National Park.
For surfers and divers, the breathtaking Mentawai Islands in Sumatra are the place to go. The wide range of waves from 2 to 15 feet tall means that surfers of all levels will love this surfing paradise, while divers can explore the rich marine life below the sky blue waves. Whatever you’re into, Sumatra is one of the best places to visit in Indonesia and one of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Located in the northwest of Cambodia in Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is at the top of many world travelers’ bucket lists. This UNESCO world heritage center is an architectural masterpiece with its shimmering reflective pool and five lotus-shaped towers. The fortified city ruins of Angkor Thom add to the historic charm and culture of the site, putting it on par with some of the best historical locales in the world.
Angkor Wat is the largest temple complex in the world and dates back to the 12th century. The temple is surrounded by a vast circuit of temples that you can explore while you immerse yourself in the rich history of the place.
Some of the main sights of Angkor Wat are Ta Prohm’s tree-root clasped temple, the Bayon Temple which is famous for its 216 faces carved in stone, Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan. Visitors can also enjoy the vibrant nightlife and cuisine in Siem Reap.
Known for its antique shops and lively night market, Malacca in southwestern Malaysia is one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia. This city is not just famous for its exotic cuisine but also boasts impressive historical sites including the 17th-century Chinese Cheng Hoon Teng temple and the Kampung Kling Mosque.
From taking in the views at the 110-meter Taming Sari Revolving Tower to investigating the ancient Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, there is plenty to see and do in Malacca. You can also enjoy a walk around the Stadthuys, one of Malacca’s most famous landmarks. Stadthuys dates back to the 1650s and is a great place for history buffs to explore.
Visitors can also take a trishaw ride around the city and you will find that most trishaw drivers are happy to take you on a guided tour of Malacca. Don’t forget to check out the Jonker Walk Night Market which takes place from Friday to Sunday after sunset.
Final Word of Advice
Southeast Asia is home to 11 countries, hundreds of cultures, and some of the most remarkable historical and cultural sites in the world. From Malaysia to Vietnam and all across the region, there are countless must-visit destinations that should make it to the top of your travel bucket list.
This region of the globe boasts best-preserved temples and historical sites, and visiting some of these ancient cities is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Check out any of the cities on our recommendation list of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia for a truly memorable journey.