When traveling to Southeast Asia, one most definitely has to witness the chaos of its big capitals. The traffic jams, the pollution, the stink, the sweat, the dirt… the smiles, the smell of fresh fruit, the children running around, the markets, the yelling… LIFE. However, this post is not about big Southeast Asian cities, but rather on charming little towns, historical sites and tropical paradise islands. Here are some definitely worth exploring Southeast Asian places:
1) SUKHOTHAI, THAILAND
Sukhothai (“the dawn of happiness”) is located 430 km north of Bangkok. It was founded in the 13th century and it was the capital of the Thai Empire for 140 years. The old city had four gates and a triple wall. In the center of the city there was a pond, to the west a monastery, to the east a lake, to the north a market, and to the south the Khao Luang hill. Till today 193 temples have been excavated and partly reconstructed. You can get there by taking a bus from Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and find cheap accommodation in the modern city of New Sukhothai. The best way to see the ruins in this historical park is by renting a bike and riding through the old city as it’s quite big and the ruins are quite scattered so it might be hard to see everything on foot.
2) CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
It is situated 700 km north of Bangkok amongst the highest mountains in the country. Its historic trading importance comes from the proximity to the Ping River. Slowly growing in cultural, trading, and economic importance this city gained a status of the unofficial capital of Northern Thailand. There’s so much to see inside the walls surrounding the old city – temples rise from each and every corner, there’s a lovely night bazaar and on Sundays the principal street becomes a huge market for which even the traffic stops and traders from all over the province come to sell their goods. After exploring the city make sure to visit Doi Suthep hill to the northwest – there’s a wonderful temple on the top, Karen long neck village – with strangely long necked women and Rajapruek Royal Park – a place where countries of the world are represented in their traditional gardens.
3) LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
Northwest Laos, 300 km north from the capital Vientiane. The old town center of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main part of the city consists of four main roads on a peninsula between the Khan and Mekong rivers. Besides the charming night market, the dark rivers, the glorious mountains and numerous Buddhist temples, the most impressive thing is the walk of alms – every morning, hundreds of monks from various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms from the citizens. So make sure to wake up at sunrise to witness this lovely ceremony.
4) SAPA, VIETNAM
Northwest Vietnam, 380 km northwest from the capital Hanoi. Sapa is a quiet mountain town and home to a diversity of ethnic minority people, out of which only 15 % live in Sapa and the rest is scattered in small communes throughout the district. Most people work on their land on sloping terraces, since the majority of the land is mountainous. Sapa is now in full economic boom, mainly due to tourists who come here to walk the hundreds of miles of trekking trails between and around the villages of Ta Van and Ta Phin. If you’re more of a nature type and you prefer active vacation – make sure to visit this lovely mountainous area.
5) HALONG BAY, VIETNAM
Probably the most impressive bay in the world consists of thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate which has created fascinating biodiversity. You can take a three hour bus ride from Hanoi to get there and then you’ll have to get on a boat to explore the bay. The downside is the fact that there are tourists, a lot of them, but the upside is that you’ll be so amazed by the beauty of the weird shaped islands and caves – you won’t think about other tourists much. Definitely a must see in Vietnam.
6) HOI AN, VIETNAM
The most charming little town located in central Vietnam, on the coast of the South China Sea. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is not at all surprising – considering the amount of history you can find in its buildings and streets. The ancient town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, which is why both local and foreign influence is visible in the city’s architecture. After exploring the ancient town, rent a bicycle or a motorbike and hit the coast. Not only is the ride itself amazing as you’ll pass by many rice fields and witness amazing scenery, but lying under a palm tree on a sandy beach will definitely do you good. A cool thing to try out here is to get enrolled into a cooking class and learn how to prepare traditional Vietnamese food – yum!
7) SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
The city with colonial style architecture, old markets and fishing villages is most famous for its proximity to the Angkor temples – which is the most important must see in Southeast Asia, whether you’re a Lara Croft fan or not. Angkor Wat is the most relevant feature of the UNESCO World Heritage Site containing remains of the Khmer civilization. However, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Ta Som and many other temples are just as interesting. Make sure to wake up before sunrise and check out the pink sky as the sun rises above the Angkor Wat. Also, make sure to try the Cambodian fish amok – a traditional Khmer dish.
8) BATTAMBANG PROVINCE, CAMBODIA
Battambang city is the capital of Battambang provice – however, you won’t find much to do there. The thing to do is to rent a tuk-tuk (a typical Southeast Asian three wheel mode of transportation) or a motorbike and to explore the province. Full of rice fields, small villages, scattered temples, mountains and smiling faces, this province shows the true, very modest yet happy local life in Cambodia. The people are way nicer as they’re not exposed to tourism on daily bases, the food tastes better as it’s prepared on the spot and the scenery is simply breathtaking.
9) TIOMAN ISLAND, MALAYSIA
Tioman island is a small island in Pahang province, Malaysia, located about 30 km off the east coast of the state. Consisting of small villages and poorly inhabited, it’s a perfect getaway if you’re looking for some tropical paradise peace and quiet. Numerous coral reefs with diverse marine life make the island even more appealing to divers, while others have more than enough to explore in the inland rain-forest. According to the legend, Tioman Island is the resting place of a beautiful dragon princess who was seeking comfort in the crystal clear waters of the South China Sea on her way to visit her prince.
10) GILI ISLANDS, INDONESIA
The Gili islands are an archipelago of three small islands: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan – the largest of the three. The Gili islands are located northwest of Lombok island. What’s special about this tropical paradise is the fact that motorized traffic is forbidden, so you can either walk, cycle or take a carriage ride. The coral formations around the islands are the cause of a very diverse marine life, which makes diving quite popular. You can get there by taking a local boat ride from the northwest of Lombok island.