After almost a year spent travelling in Southeast Asia, it’s time to do a wrap up of some of the best places I visited. I didn’t notice until I after I finished writing this, but there’s a clear theme in the kinds of destinations I enjoyed. Most of these places had a quiet, laid-back feel, a dash of culture, and beautiful natural landscapes. Here are my 7 favourite places in Southeast Asia:
I loved Melaka! This was the first place I visited on my trip around Southeast Asia, and it set the bar high for everything else that came after that.
What I liked about Melaka is that it oozed Old World charm. I stayed in the heart of Chinatown – a multicultural neighbourhood where Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism often coexisted on the same road. The streets where lined with mosques and temples, I was usually woken up by the call of prayer in the early hours of the morning, and I could always smell incense the minute I walked out the door.
Another thing I liked about Melaka is that it’s very artistic. If you’re ever up early in the morning, take a stroll along the waterfront and gaze at the masterpieces that street artists have created.
Where I stayed: Kawan Kawan Guest House – This was a cute family run guesthouse in a great location in Chinatown. They had a mix of private rooms with en suite bathrooms, as well as private rooms with shared bathrooms. The latter were a more budget friendly option, but even the shared bathrooms were kept incredibly clean a tidy!
Singapore completely took me by surprise! I had been doing quite a bit of reading about the destination prior to coming here, and the general consensus seemed to be that Singapore was a bland, orderly, over-surveilled city with serious repercussions for anyone who steps out of line. While there may be a sliver of truth behind that, I found Singapore to be exciting, vibrant, artistic, and full of joie de vivre!
The architecture behind places like the Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands was mind blowing, the colourful buildings along Clarke Quay brightened up the riverside, and the Arab Quarter of Kampong Glam won me over with its delicious cuisine. After a year in Southeast Asia, the clean streets and orderliness of it all were something I could really appreciate.
I also noticed that people in Singapore really enjoy their down time and there are always events going on to lure you into the city. I was only in Singapore for a few days, but they happened to coincide with the Mosaic Music Festival (where I got to watch a cool indie band hailing all the way from South Korea!), the Savour Food Festival fit for any gourmand, and there were also free outdoor concerts happening on at the Gardens by the Bay where people came with their families to enjoy a picnic and music on a Saturday night – I got to watch the Singapore Symphony Orchestra play songs from the Sound of Music for free!
To me, Singapore seemed like a very liveable city, and I’d come back in a heartbeat!
Where I stayed: Fragrance Hotel Sapphire – This was one of the most affordable properties I found in Singapore! The rooms were very modern and clean, and even though breakfast was not included, there were a whole range of Chinese and Indian restaurants just a few steps away.
Okay, so Sapa is a little touristy in the sense that you will be accosted by the local Hmong women as they forcefully try to sell you bracelets and purses, but if you can get past that, Sapa truly is amazing!
I finished off my month long trip of Vietnam with a visit to Sapa, and it was a welcomed change in scenery (hills!) and weather (cooler temperatures!). I booked myself at the Mountain View Hotel, which as the name suggests had some spectacular views, and I spent a few days wandering the town and visiting the local villages on foot.
I also signed myself to do a 2-day guided trek and it was one of the highlights of my time in Vietnam! The best way to enjoy the natural beauty of this place is to trek through the hills and rice terraces, and do a local home stay. We had a pretty cool group of travellers on our hike so it made the experience even better.
Where I stayed: Mountain View Hotel – As you can probably tell from the photo above, this hotel had some spectacular mountain views. It was definitely worth upgrading to the mountain view rooms for just a few extra dollars. Also, the staff here were extremely kind and helpful – especially when one of us came down ill.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An was the picture perfect town that made me extend my stay. Colourful silk lanterns swinging from the storefronts, delicious local dishes made from secret recipes, and a charming waterfront that came to life every night. What’s not to love?
Another thing I liked about Hoi An is that it was easy to escape to the countryside or even the beach. One of my favourite finds was the Tra Que Herb Village; a unique organic farming village that had its own little restaurant where they cooked with homegrown spices, vegetables, and herbs – everything was delicious!
And, did I mention that Hoi An is best known for its tailor shops? This is a shopper’s paradise!
Where I stayed: Vaia Boutique Hotel – This property was proof that you can enjoy luxury on a budget. The hotel was brand new with a very sleek design, and it was also very affordable. They served a really nice breakfast in the mornings, and they also had free bikes that guests could borrow during the day.
I thought Chiang Mai had a very relaxed hippie vibe to it, but then I went to Pai – they take things to a whole different level!
I honestly can’t say there is a lot ‘to do’ in Pai, but that’s what I liked about – it’s the kind of place where you can just hang out, enjoy the natural beauty of the place, eat really great food, curl up on a hammock with a good book in hand, and maybe cross the bamboo bridge over to the Sunset Bar which looks a lot like a hangout for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
My time in Pai was all about relaxing for a few days, so I rented a little thatched bungalow overlooking the rice fields and it was the kind of place I just didn’t want to leave.
Also, while traffic in Southeast Asia if for the most part insane, Pai is the one place where I felt confident renting a scooter. I was staying in the outskirts of town where the roads meandered through the countryside with hardly another vehicle in sight, so I broke my no scooter rule, and set out to explore hillside. It was wonderful!
Where I stayed: Pai Chan Cottage – Pai Chan Cottages were located just outside of town, which was only a 5 minute walk to all the bars and restaurants. The property had great views of the rice fields and the mountains in the distance, and they also had a pool where you could cool off in the afternoons.
I came to Bali to relax, so beaches and a nice swimming pool were all I was really after, and the island certainly delivered in that respect!
If you have preconceived notions of Bali being a secluded island paradise, you are going to be disappointed by this island, however, if you come here for a beach holiday sprinkled with a bit of culture and natural beauty, then you might just enjoy this place.
Ubud is considered the art and cultural capital of Bali, so you may want to spend a few days here – go to the Ubud Monkey Forest, attend a Fire Dance, visit the temples, and stray down the side streets in search of rice paddies – but a few days is really all you need. Ubud has a bit of a traffic problem and it’s teeming with tourists in search of their own Eat, Pray, Love experience.
After a few days in Ubud (and climbing a volcano!) it was beach time for me. I chose Sanur on the southeastern shores of the island and was very happy there. There are plenty of great beaches to choose from in Bali – just don’t go to Kuta; that’s considered the backpacker ghetto and the beach is covered in garbage.
Where I stayed: Jalan Jalan Villa & Spa in Ubud and Swastika Bungalow in Sanur. – The first property in Ubud was located slightly outside of town, so it was quiet and great for a few days of relaxing and wandering around rice paddies. They also had a really great breakfast with lots of fresh juices and tropical fruits, and it was a short walk to the Monkey Forest. The second property was located in the centre of Sanur and it was a short walk to the beach. What I loved about this second hotel is that they had 3 different swimming pools to choose from!
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang is another one of those places that I was sad to leave behind. I loved the French colonial elegance of the place, the misty mornings along the river, the presence of young monks running down the street in their orange robes, the restaurants who were pushing the limits and experimenting with their cuisine – The Apsara and Tamarind being two of my favourites!
The town had a very sleepy feel, but that seems to be what I enjoy these days. If you’re planning a trip to Laos, be sure to save a few days for Luang Prabang.
Where I stayed: Oui’s Guesthouse – This was a nice property located on a quiet street right on the riverfront. The rooms were very clean, the staff was very attentive, and they served a delicious omelet breakfast in the mornings.
And that sums it up! I certainly didn’t get everywhere I hoped I would this year – Burma, Bangladesh, and the Philippines will have to wait for another time – but now that I’ve had a taste of Southeast Asia, I’m sure I’ll be back again in the future.
How about you?
What are some of your favourite destination in Southeast Asia?
Yes! Thank you for this list, just got to Asia and am looking for travel inspiration!
Awesome! I hope you enjoy the region. Southeast Asia is a lot of fun! 🙂
I simply love Singapore. I read the same things as you about it before I visited the first time and a few people actually turned their noses up at me for visiting (some of them have since been and loved it, ha). Its such a diverse city with so many interesting and fun things to see and do.
I’m glad to hear you had a positive experience in Singapore. It’s a destination that often gets overlooked, but I thought it was so worth the visit!
Great list! Need to see so much more of this great big world! Totally agree with Hoi An. We loved the vibe and the charm of the city. Tra Que Water Wheel was one of the most delightful places on our entire Vietnam trip.
As far as other of my favorite SE Asia destinations, I definitely loved Koh Mook in Thailand. It’s an island waaaay south of Phuket and off the tourist trail. There is one main beach but there were hardly any other people there. Just pure paradise!
Koh Mook sounds nice! I stayed in Patong Beach when I went to Phuket so I didn’t enjoy it as much. I found the town so seedy, so I spent most of my time enjoying the pool and the private beach at the resort. I feel like I need to give the Southern Thai islands a second go!
Audrey, that really is a great list and I am totally with you on Luang Prabang, Hoi An, Melaka and of course beautiful Bali. Sapa and Pai are two places that I haven’t been to yet, but since they sound really good in your description, I will make sure to remember especially Pai when visiting Thailand again. What I would add to the list would be Bagan and some of the villages in Myanmar as they were not only great places to visit, but they also completely redefined the term Southeast Asia for me… 🙂
I would have loved to visit Bagan! That’s the one place in Burma that I most wanted to visit, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t make it there this time around. I’ll have to prioritize Burma next time I come back to the region.
Even though you say there is a common theme throughout, it seems like each of these destinations offers something unique, and I like that… this is a great list for someone who has never been to SE Asia before (me!)… can’t wait to go. My boyfriend is now starting to talk it up after I took him backpacking last summer, and that would be an awesome trip to do with him!
YES!!! Sounds like you converted him into a backpacker. 😉
Great overview! I’ve only been to two places on this list – Singapore and Luang Prabang – and they are among my favorites as well! I also really enjoyed Chiang Mai and Ho Chi Minh City. I could easily see myself living in any of those four locales. And once I make it to Malaysia and Indonesia, I’m sure I’ll fall in love all over again 🙂
Oh, HCMC! I didn’t include it because I found it a little bit too chaotic, but at the same time I loved its big parks and night markets. I also ate some of the best food there!!
Ah, dying to get to Bali. I have to say, I am still deciding on Singapore. I enjoyed so much of it, but I did feel like it lacked a certain homey touch, & unless I was making loads of money I wouldn’t be able to have enough fun living there!
I see your point, I definitely found Singapore to be on the pricier side (though it’s even worse here in Australia!). That’s one of the reasons why my visit to Singapore was also a brief one.
Hope you get to visit the Philippines next. I’ll be waiting 😀
I know, I know, I owe the Philippines a very loooong and thorough visit! 😉
Loved Melaka too when I was there. Cannot wait to go back and travel more in SE Asia before I feel like I’m too old.
You’re never too old! We just finished backpacking around SE Asia with my boyfriend’s parents. They are in their 60s, but they strapped on their backpacks and joined us for 2 months of travel! 😀
Amazing, they are an inspiration.
SEA is such a big place I can never decide where I want to go. This is a great listing!
I hope it provides some inspiration!
I’d say that roundup is a good one for SEAsia. Haven’t been to Singapore for some of the exact reasons you listed. But it’s good to know it’s got some interesting things to explore and lately I’ve been seeing photos of some cool architecture. I’ll have to put it back on my travel list.
Yeah, Singapore was a lot pricier than my wallet had become used to while travelling in SE Asia. However, I think it’s worth the visit even if it’s just for a couple of days. Because it’s such a small city, you can actually cover most of the attractions in a very short amount of time.
Ive always wanted to go to laos. A few friends have said there is nothing to do there. Would you agree? It looks beautiful but im not the hiking or trekking type.
Most towns in Laos are a lot sleepier than destinations in Vietnam or Thailand. If you’re craving that big city feel, then Laos won’t be your scene, but if you’re okay chilling out and enjoying slow life for a few days, then I highly recommend it. It’s quite a beautiful region.
I love many of the places you mention. In fact, a few of them, Hoi An, Pai and Bali and among my favorite places on the planet! In fact I am visiting Bali, right now, for the second time. Not too keen on Singapore though. Maybe it will grow on me.
That’s cool that you’re revisiting Bali! I only got to visit Ubud and a couple of the beach towns. What are some of your favourite spots on the island?
I also loved my stay in Singapore. Everything was so amazing from the food to the night view!
Totally agree with you! I loved the hawker food scene, and I also found a lot of great little Indian restaurants – yum!
Saving all of your SEA tips for my travels starting this summer. I have to say, I can’t wait to see Pai after everything I have read about it, it really seems like my kind of place. My rough plan is to aim for there and see what happens!
That’s great to hear, Lisa! I hope they provide some inspiration for your upcoming trip. And Pai is a great little spot. It’s too bad I didn’t head there sooner because I might’ve ended up living there for a few months as opposed to Chiang Mai. That’s how much I liked it!
Beautiful photos! Love all these places except that I haven’t been to Laos 🙂
Thank you! I hope you get to visit Laos someday.
I’m really bummed about not making it to Sapa and Pai on my first trip to Southeast Asia – must get to both those places next time!
I know what you mean! I spent almost a full year in the region, and I still left feeling like I didn’t see everything I wanted to. I’ll definitely be revisiting at some point!
So many colours! I really want to visit Singapore one day.
It’s a very colourful city! Lots of pastel colours to brighten up the streets. 🙂
Very nice list, I haven’t finished mine stay yet but I would definitely add Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angkor Wat…) and Yogyakarta, Indonesia (Borobudur…) and Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia (jungles, orangutangs…). I liked Malacca but I would put those 3 above Malacca (same thing for Singapore) – for myself of course. I would keep Ubud, Bali, Indonesia on there. I plan on Vietnam and more Thailand and more Indonesia.
Where’s the Philippines? :O
I know! Like I mentioned, I didn’t get to the Philippines this time around, but I’m certainly planning to visit in the future. 🙂
Ahahah, ok xD you should definitely do!
Pai and Melaka sound amazing to me! I’d love to visit Pai for its natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere. Even I like such places where I don’t have much to do. I like savoring the atmosphere.
Loving this post! I haven’t made it to Southeast Asia (though a trip to Thailand is currently in the works for December!), but I really want to go explore that part of the world. It looks so beautiful and also different from East Asia. I’d love to see the differences and similarities between here and SE Asia.
Hate to be a copycat but my favs coincide with your favs. But I haven’t been to Melaka. I remember reading your posts when you were there and making a mental note. It now has two asterisks in my mind. Definitely need to visit it’s old world charm.
My favorite place: panglao island in Bohol, Philippines. Very relax.
Great write up Audrey! I think many people are in agreement including me!
Sam- Bro, rockin the stash! 🙂
I’m with you Audrey on the criteria which tends to appeal. Aesthetically pleasing on the eye locations and not overcrowded or overrun as too touristy. I’ve not really visited many of the places you’ve selected but I can support Agness in the admiration of Singapore.
We loved Hoi An too–and we also extended our stay there! I’m guessing they see that a lot 🙂 I’m so so sad that I didn’t make it to Pai–I was really hoping to go there and just did not budget enough time for it. Sad day! Next time for sure 🙂
hello,yes it is a shame that more writers don’t include philippines as a destination.let me assure you as an australian retired in this country,everything you can do in the above mentioned places is here and generally better.sapa is a perfect example.the local people don’t hassle you either here in north luzon.the rice terracing is world heritage listed.beaches,mountains and volcanoes in volcanoes.in manila alone you can shop till you drop and so much cheaper than singapore.that’s enough for openers.
Great list, we have hit them all but Malaysian city. Hoi An was my favorite on your list. Happy travels 🙂
Great post, Audrey!
I hope you can see the Philippines too…..hope some of my blog post will convince you 🙂
I just wrapped up seven months in SE Asia. I started my journey off in Thailand, and Pai still sticks out as one of my favorite places. Haha, like you it was the first place I felt brave enough to rent a scooter. Maybe that’s why my experience was so special. I was able to see all of the city’s beautiful surroundings while cruising around on a motorbike. It was the best!
Lovely photos of colourful Singapore! I loved exploring that place myself… striking beauty everywhere. I could barely put my camera down.
I loved Melaka a lot too, in fact we supposed to stop there for only few days and ended up staying for two weeks instead.
Definitely agree with you on the point about Singapore being so clean after Asia – for me, arriving there after 2 years in China was a fantastic experience. Really enjoyed all that Singapore had to offer, attractions and food-wise!
Great list! I loved Bali and Hoi An. Though they are both a bit touristy, they still have so much charm and culture. Though next time I go to Hoi An it’s with an empty suitcase to fill up 😉
We’ve yet to explore Asia but your post is making me want to change our plans and head over there asap. We’ve been in New Zealand for the last 18 months and we are heading to the USA in May. it would be wonderful to see the vibrant cultures, architecture and delicious food you’ve showcased here!
Its funny we’ve been traveling Asia for about 8 months now, and haven’t made it to most of the places on your list. Its amazing how long you can really spend exploring this region and still have so much to see, do, and experience! Some of our favorite places in this region have been Hpa-An – Myanmar, Koh Lanta – Thailand; Kampot- Cambodia; and Saigon – Vietnam.
Hey, great sum up – Bali is one of our favourites, and you’re right about Ubud getting over run following the whole eat, pray, love thing. But, there’s still much to see further afield (the west coast is less frequented – mostly surfers). Hoi An is a dream! The Mountain View hotel in Sapa was booked out (no wonder!) upon our visit, however there are great, budget rooms upstairs at the Village Noshery (their food is delicious, and if you need a good coffee it, they’re it). And, yep, Australia is expensive 🙂
Pai!!! It is definitely one of my favorite places I’ve been in Thailand. I try to go every month actually. Love the vibe and also how relaxing it can be. I haven’t had a chance to go any of those other places yet but I will!
Bali is def on top of my list too, not a shocker seeing that I chose to live there for a year. I really enjoyed Hoi An and Singapore as well. Still need to check out Pai, seems like a lovely place. Do you have a similar list for Latin America?
I am most definitely going to travel solo in Southeast Asia after my first year in university… Thanks for showing me these amazing places that I should definitely visit! Did you visit the caves in Malaysia anyways??
I was surprised by Singapore too. I spent three days there and two of the days I was hiking in jungles. MacRitchie Park and Pulua Ubin are two beautiful places to hike in. Hard to believe you could be in a Southeast Asian jungle during the day and then return to the ultra modern city at night.
Wow – I have not done Southeast Asia yet but have been wanting to for some time! I’m bookmarking this page to come back to when I begin planning.
Current Post: Foodie Travel – Let’s Talk About Buffalo Wings.
Great choices Audrey!
I was hoping to see Myanmar on the list. MAybe your number 8? 😉
Great page and photos! Congratulations!
I was in Southeast Asia earlier this year, and I loved Hoi An as well! We rented bikes and spent time cycling around town and beyond – it was beautiful. I’d love to get to some of the other destinations you mentioned too. So much to see, so little time!
I so need things to do – specifically, the weird and wacky sort of places. Funny – my wife and I lived in Chiang Mai for 6 months, and not once did we have the urge to check out Pai. It’s good to hear it’s relaxed, though. Agree on Malacca / Melaka; haven’t yet been to Singapore yet…
Nicely compiled list! I love Hoi An and I really want to check out Pai. Looks like a little piece of paradise.
My favourite spot in SE Asia is probably the laid back and spirituality-infused northwest coast of Koh Phangan in Thailand.
I loved reading your favourite spots. They are some of my favourite too, but I’d swap Singapore for Siem a Reap xx very keen to explore Laos one day too! Beautiful pics xx
Melaka and Bali are the two on here I most want to do – I love the idea of Bali having so many different facets, including culture, outdoorsy activities, beaches etc – I’m so jealous that you’ve seen so much of South East Asia, which is one of my favourite parts of the world!!! 🙂
Fantastic list indeed! Luang Prabang, Hoi An and Melaka would make it to my personal list of gems in SEA as well. And reading about and seeing the pictures from Pai and Sapa make me realize that we probably missed out while travelling in this part of the world a few years ago. The picture of your room in Sapa looks stunning! I probably would have risked to not leave the country before the visa expired…
Thanks for bringing back some lovely memories and happy travels!!
I totally agree on your list! Hoi An was definitely ma favorite city in Vietnam, and I still regret the fact that I couldn’t go to Pai … such an amazing little city. I see you’ve been to Laos, have you been to Huay Xai to do the Gibbon Experience? If you ever consider to go back to Laos, you should definitely experience this adventure! It’s such crazy and unique. I can suggest you to read my post about the reason why you should do it. http://www.myrainbowtravel.com/?p=80 I would love your feedback! Also, keep going! Great job for your blog!
You should visit the Philippines next time! There are a lot of beautiful places there. And a lot of stores to buy souvenirs too. You won’t regret visiting Philippines! =)
Love your photos from Sapa, Vietnam so much it’s a must see for me.
My favorite SE Asia spots are both in Cambodia – Ream National Park and Kampot.
Being Asian (Indian) and living in Singapore, I would like to suggest some places. Cambodia – Siem Reap where you can enjoy some magnifienct re-stored temples and how nature has encroched these temples ( Ta Phrom Temple). Also can see how people have survived harsh politics and eating insects as a street food. Also not so high in tourism, Yogyakarta and Dieng Plateau in Indonesia is worth a watch which is known for their live craters and Volcanoes. You can see people boiling eggs in the Volcano and bubbles on the lake coming from Volacano under it Or a sulphuric acid lake.List is never ending and I just loved these two countries.
As for me and my girlfriend Malaysia so far has been the best country in Southeast Asia so far, because they have 50% Malaysians 30% Chinese and 20% Indians living there, which means they have the BEST foods there in ONE country. And it is cheap!
To see what we saw, I made a video about the trip: