Image by Jakob Owens
Words by Shivika Singh
A classic on a traveller’s bucket list is South East Asia. It is a perfect blend of a traditional yet modern destination. It’s famous for its rich history, vibrant culture, picturesque landscapes and sensation tingling cuisines and experiences an inflow of tourists throughout the year. This region, which includes countries like Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, has something to offer people of all ages and provides amazing opportunities whatever the budget. It is an ideal getaway for a gap year student as well as a dream vacation for a high-end tourist.
Thailand is the best place to begin your South East Asian journey as it is the most well-trodden backpacker trail in the region.
Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, has become the most popular tourist destination out of all the South Asian cities. Bangkok is well connected with all other major European and US airports and flights are regular and cheap. It is also a sociable city where one can meet many like-minded travellers and make buddies for further ventures.
Thailand also has a lot more to offer outside Bangkok. The northern part of the country is known for its splendid natural beauty and trekking sites, with the Banana Pancake Trail being the perfect place to start off your adventure. The most prominent tourist attraction in the region is Chiang Mai. This place is famous for traditional markets, nature, mouth-watering street food and cultural activities such as Thai massage, yoga and meditation. Tourists often take biking adventures around the city to explore the activities.
On the way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a historical site called Sukhothai is a great place to explore. This ancient capital of Thailand, and now a world heritage site, has some ancient monuments, old temples and cultural sites on offer.
Pai, a mountainous hippie town, is also an all-time favourite tourist destination, as it offers waterfalls, natural hot springs, canyons and live music.
Chiang Rai is a quieter town, which is famous for the White temple and Black house and it provides great trekking opportunities to the indigenous community of Thailand.
A slow boat ride from Thailand to Laos is a favourite backpacker way to enter the country. The small town of Leung Prabang is full of old temples, artistic scenery and French style Cafés. Kuang Si then falls just outside the city and there are great natural sites to see.
For tourists looking for adventure, Nong Khiaw is the place, as it offers rock climbing, trekking and kayaking.
Laos’s capital, Vientiane, is a touristy place famous for its laid-back vibes, grand colonial architecture, splendid scenery along the Mekong River, French influenced Cafe culture and Buddha Park.
The next country to discover after Laos is Vietnam, and the bustling capital, Hanoi, is definitely worth a visit. The major tourist attractions in the city are Tran Quoc Pagoda, Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Hoan Kiem Lake. Vietnam is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha long Bay. Ha long bay is made up of floating villages, beaches and caves and is a popular cruising destination.
A small nine-hour drive south of Hanoi is Phong Na National Park and is a must see destination. It is home to the world’s biggest cave, Han Son Doong, and is a perfect place for trekking, rafting and biking. Other cities worth exploring in Vietnam include the ancient city of Hue, UNESCO World Heritage city of Hoi An, the mountainous town of Dalat and the bustling Ho Chi Minh City.
The next country to visit is Cambodia. The popular tourist sites in the capital, Phnom Penh, include The Royal Palace, The National Museum, Tuol Sleng’s Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. If you wish to admire Cambodia’s coastline and white sand beaches, a visit to Koh Rong is a must.
The Cambodian destination that attracts the most tourists is Siem Reap. This is home to the Temples of Angkor, the world’s largest religious building. You can also visit Tonle Sap floating villages, the Siem Reap night market and the Pub Street.
The next stage of the Banana Pancake trial involves entering the Southern part of Thailand and then venturing out to Malaysia. However, this step could be skipped and flights to Malaysia are available directly from Cambodia.
Malaysia is the home to widespread rain forests and exotic beaches. Langkawi Islands and Perhentian Islands are famous beach hangout destinations and provide plenty of opportunities for snorkelling, diving and beach parties.
In the Malaysia Peninsula you will find the Taman Negara, a dense rainforest that is an absolute paradise for nature lovers. It provides opportunities for jungle trekking and wildlife spotting. Also situated in the Malaysia Peninsular is the Cameron Highlands, which is a group of tea plantation sites, colonial British Estates, strawberry farms and Edwardian Houses.
The Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a meeting point of different cultures and is famously known for its incredible food. With Chinatown, the Botanical Gardens, Petronas Towers, Batu Caves and Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur has plenty of sightseeing to offer.
The majority of tourists bring their South East Asian adventure to an end in the Malaysian capital as it is well connected to the rest of the world. However, neighbouring Singapore is just a few hours ride from Kuala Lumpur and is worth paying a visit. This island city is the perfect mix of buzzing European city vibes and traditional South Asian elements.
A South East Asian getaway is truly a traveller’s paradise. It offers so many multicultural experiences and incredible natural scenery.