Southeast Asia is one of the most intoxicating, beautiful, and magical parts of the world. It’s a land of mythical temples, smoking volcanoes, steamy rainforests, spice-infused markets, and millions of growling motorbikes.
From the moment you arrive, it overwhelms you with its sights, smells, tastes and sounds, and it has a way of getting under your skin and captivating you with its unique allure.
As a region, it’s also incredibly diverse, so whether you’re looking to discover a beachside paradise, explore vibrant, sprawling cities, learn about local culture and history, or head into the wilds, there’s something for everyone.
So, to get you inspired and to give you a glimpse of the variety on offer, we’ve compiled a list of 10 amazing adventures in Southeast Asia.
1. Discover the delights of Bangkok, Thailand
Few cities in the world are as exhilarating as Bangkok. The Thai capital pulsates with energy and is a unique blend of chaos and refinement, old and new. It’s a city of historic temples and soaring skyscrapers, peaceful palaces and frenetic markets, gourmet restaurants and fragrant street food. There’s a reason why so many tourists in the city are return travellers!
Don’t miss Chatuchak Weekend Market, Asia’s biggest open-air marketplace, where you can browse hundreds of stalls for souvenirs. Sampling fiery curries, crunchy noodles, and deep-fried desserts is also a must, as is losing yourself in Chinatown; while the 16th-century shrine of Wat Pho, together with its golden Buddha, will show you another side of this city.
Discover the heady delights of Bangkok
2. Spot orangutans in Sarawak, Borneo
Borneo is home to some of Southeast Asia’s most fascinating natural wonders, and Sarawak is the gateway to these wildlife-rich rainforests. As the largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak is a place where you can explore jungled highlands, coastal forests, and vast cave systems, as well as dynamic cities like Kuching, where you can feast upon mouthwatering Malaysian cuisine.
But this part of the world is best known for its wildlife, and, in the jungles here, you can spot proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, and orangutans. Many travellers are especially keen to spot the latter, and you can visit orangutan rehabilitation centres to see these beautiful, intelligent animals in semi-wild environments, and learn how orphaned orangutans are taught to survive in the wild.
Spot orangutans in Borneo
3. Cruise through Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
If you want to explore otherworldly landscapes that are so ethereally beautiful you’ll feel like you’ve fallen into a dream, then few places can rival Ha Long Bay. As Northern Vietnam’s most popular tourist attraction, the appeal of Ha Long Bay is certainly no secret, but nothing can dampen the experience of cruising through these islands and witnessing their staggering natural beauty.
As you sail on the emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, you can admire the jagged limestone peaks that rise from the waves, and marvel at their forest-topped peaks. The bay is home to dozens of wind-and-wave-eroded grottoes where you can swim and dive in glowing plankton – and, after, you can explore secret caves via kayak, leap from the rocks, and be awed by the magic of nature.
Discover the otherworldly beauty of Ha Long Bay
4. Learn about Cambodian history in Phnom Penh
The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh is like no other city in the world. Once considered the ‘Pearl of Asia’, the city was devastated by war and revolution, and, in particular, the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge – but today Phnom Penh has risen from the ashes and is a modern, hopeful, and exciting city. If you’re interested in history and the incredible resilience of the human spirit, it’s unmissable.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Museum are where to learn about the atrocities of 1975–1978, and while harrowing, they’re considered two of Cambodia’s most important sites. However, there’s also a world of positivity to explore here, from the ornate Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda to the city’s thriving art scene, bustling bars and cafes, and world-class restaurants.
Discover Cambodia’s poignant past and inspiring future
5. Visit Komodo Island, Indonesia
Another must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts is the Unesco-listed Komodo National Park, which is located between the Indonesian islands of Sumbawa and Flores. The park comprises a 603 sq km archipelago, which is home to a remarkable yet terrifying creature: the iconic Komodo dragon, measuring up to three metres long.
These prehistoric animals are the world’s largest lizards, and watching them in their natural habitat is the closest we’ll get to seeing dinosaurs. It’s not all about the dragons though, as Komodo is home to 25 endangered species, so animal lovers will be happy! Plus, the mangrove-fringed island itself is beautiful and great for hiking, and the sparkling blue seas are perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
Discover the remarkable wildlife of Komodo Island
6. Explore Angkor Wat, Cambodia
It’s nearly impossible to underplay the beauty, scale, and grandeur of Cambodia’s vast and ancient Angkor temple complex. As the world’s largest religious monument – and one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of The World – Angkor Wat itself is the most famous temple and a true architectural masterpiece. But, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, as there are 72 other spectacular temples to explore.
Standouts are overgrown, jungle-shrouded Ta Prohm and atmospheric Ta Nei, and you can lose yourself in mysterious passageways while marvelling at the intricate sculptures and carvings. Angkor was the seat of the Khmer Empire from the ninth to the 15th centuries, and no visit to Cambodia is complete without seeing these temples and learning about this fascinating civilisation.
Be awed by the beauty of Angkor Wat
7. Lose yourself in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is a place that’s synonymous with excitement and diversity. One of Asia’s fastest-growing cities, it’s still smaller than many other capitals, which makes getting around and seeing its highlights even easier. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century, Kuala Lumpur – or KL as it’s more commonly known – is a fabulous blend of cultures, styles, and histories.
The modern skyscrapers of the Petronas Towers and the iconic KL Tower loom over old colonial buildings, and on the streets, Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures collide. If you’re a foodie, things get even more exciting, as KL is viewed as one of the world’s top gastronomic hotspots. From Chinese stir fries to Indian banana-leaf curries and Malaysian laksa noodles, there’s something for everyone.
Discover diversity in Kuala Lumpur
8. Find paradise in Phuket, Thailand
As Thailand’s largest island, Phuket (pronounced ‘Poo-ket’) has long been attracting visitors – and if you’re dreaming of kicking back on the beach and enjoying an island adventure, you can’t go wrong. Home to white-gold beaches, sapphire waves, and handsome towns that hum with life, Phuket is also extraordinarily diverse, and gives you a fascinating insight into Thai culture and history.
Many visitors pass right through the island’s capital, Phuket Town, but the colourful Old Town is a real pleasure to explore; complete with charming shops, excellent restaurants, bustling markets, and truly mouthwatering street food. The diving and snorkelling off the coast are some of the best in the world, and the reefs and islands around Phuket are perfect for exploring on boat trips.
Find paradise in Phuket
9. Discover Javanese culture in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Bali might be Indonesia’s most popular island, but Java has just as much going for it – particularly if you’re interested in culture, history, and art. The Javanese city of Yogyakarta is Indonesia’s cultural and spiritual heart. It’s home to ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples; quiet courtyards of Islamic palaces; traditional arts like batik; gamelan music and dances; and wayang puppet performances.
After you’ve got your fill of impressive architecture and unique arts, you can enjoy browsing for trinkets in Yogyakarta’s vibrant central market, and sampling dishes from the countless street food vendors around Jalan Malioboro. For those looking to explore the country, the volcano-studded land just outside the city is ideal for hikes, and there are dazzling mountain temples to explore.
Discover Javanese culture in Java
10. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
To really feel like an intrepid adventurer – and to see some of the most spectacular scenery you can imagine – head to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. This remarkable region is home to Asia’s oldest karst landscape, a 400-million-year-old system of caves and underground rivers where more subterranean secrets are being discovered every year.
The park is known for its rugged terrain (it was the location for Kong: Skull Island) and Son Doong Cave, the largest cave in the world. The stalactite-and-stalagmite-adorned Paradise Cave, with its deceptively small entrance, is also awe-inspiring; and Hang Toi, which you have to swim, kayak, and zip-line into, will take your breath away. Visiting is a once-in-a-lifetime underground adventure.
Uncover the underground world of Phong Nha-Ke Bang
What adventure looks like differs for everyone. To some people, it means exploring secret cave systems, learning about different cultures, or observing wonderful wildlife, like Komodo Dragons. But, for others, it’s about admiring ancient and ornate temples, losing yourself in sprawling cities, or simply swimming and sunbathing to your heart’s content.
Whatever adventure means to you, the beauty of Southeast Asia is that it has something for everyone and visiting will always be an unforgettable experience.
For more travel ideas and inspiration, head over to the travel section of our website.
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Have you been to Southeast Asia? Have you visited any of these destinations – or do you have your own suggestions for some of the most amazing adventures in this part of the world? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.