Two centuries ago, travel to Southeast Asia was reserved only for wealthy merchants, ambassadors and colonial elites who could afford large and expensive voyages. But the story of the journey has been turned upside down.
With more affordable flights, cheap accommodation, trains and increased international connectivity, it is now much easier to visit Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is an affordable alternative destination for backpackers to high-end tourists from North America, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.
As a result, even though the world is hit by a prolonged economic crisis, a trip to Southeast Asia is the best option: affordable costs, first-class destinations, beautiful landscapes, and stunning cultural attractions. Here are the 8 best destinations in Southeast Asia according to CNN Travel.
Located off the west coast of Malaysia, the island of Penang is a mecca for food and architecture lovers. George Town, the island’s main city, is a cross town of Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures. The cultural beauty is manifested in British colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and ornate Chinese aristocratic houses.
This seaside city is recognized as one of the world’s top food destinations, serving a delicious mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine. Tourists can find hokkian noodles (fried prawn noodles), roti canai (an Indian-influenced flatbread dish with dal or curry) and laksa penang that scoop up a variety of Asian flavors.
El Nido, Philippines
Looking for a tropical paradise? You will find him in El Nido. Located on the northern tip of Palawan Island, in the southwestern Philippines. The archipelago has clear turquoise waters, silent lagoons, dozens of beaches, and secret caves.
Surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs, Bacuit Bay is El Nido’s gem. This is where you can explore the lagoon by kayak. Tourists spend their days snorkeling and diving, or exploring secluded and hidden beaches across the archipelago.
Many tour operators arrange adventurous boating trips, complete with the grilled seafood lunch served on board.
Bali has a beautiful panorama and culture, as well as being the center of world yoga. Bali is only one of the beauties among the 17,000 islands in Indonesia. Its beauty attracts 5.6 million foreign visitors every year.
Even in the midst of its popularity, the island offers both relaxation and religion. This can be felt all over the region – on the majestic cliffs of Uluwatu, the calm waves at Nusa Dua, the trendy beach clubs in Seminyak and the dramatic rice fields and temples in Ubud.
For those who love adventure, Bali has Buleleng canyon and various unexplored spots. After the adventure, enjoy a variety of herbal drinks, juices, and even a seafood grill by the beach.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
More than 2.5 million tourists descend on the Cambodian city of Siem Reap every year with the same goal: to see Angkor Wat. Dating from the 12th century, this Khmer temple which is registered as a UNESCO cultural heritage site, houses the Angkor Wat complex. Even though it is a temple, many call Angkor Wat a city.
Its extraordinary architecture features distinct towers, intricate carvings and stone corridors that feel cool below ground level. And inside the Angkor Archaeological Park, you’ll also find two other large temples – Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple – all surrounded by dense forest.
If you’re still curious, head to Banteay Srei (nicknamed the “Pink Temple” for its stone structure) or the 12th century Beng Mealea. The roots of trees and vines, hugging the temples create a frightening and mysterious atmosphere.
Hanoi and Phu Quoc, Vietnam
As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a center of history, culture and nationalism. For first-time travelers, the Old Quarter is a great place to start. The old city which has many corridors is French colonial architecture, which has a landscape of hard workers, displays of various handicrafts and restaurants.
The streets are bustling with motorbikes, creating little fun. After soaking up Hanoi’s history, tourists can catch the sun to Phu Quoc. This district is located off the coast of Cambodia but is still part of Vietnam.
Touted as the most beautiful beach in Southeast Asia, the longest in the world. Whether you want a vacation on the more advanced Phu Quoc Island or the very remote Hon Xuong: both island tours, snorkeling, diving, sandy beaches and more.
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Located near the Golden Triangle (at the confluence of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos) in northern Thailand, the city of Chiang Rai is often overshadowed by its neighbor, Chiang Mai. But for those who appreciate natural landscapes and a slow lifestyle, Chiang Mai is just the thing.
Among the highlights around the city, the 14th-century Blue Temple and Wat Phra Kaew Temple showcase historic Lanna architecture. Meanwhile, the photogenic Wat Rong Khun (aka “White Temple”) serves as a complement to beauty.
The dazzling white façade is covered with glittering mirrors, built with a taste of contemporary art. Chiang Rai also attracts tourists to sample northern style Thai food, best enjoyed at local restaurants and markets. Serving grilled pork sausage, khao soi (northern noodle curry) and gaeng hung lay (pork curry with ginger), are a specialty of northern Thailand.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The former capital of Laos, picturesque Luang Prabang is home to colorful temples and dramatic natural landscapes. It’s hard not to fall in love with Luang Prabang. Surrounded by mountains, the ancient capital of the UNESCO-protected Kingdom of Lan Xang provides peace of mind.
You are surrounded by sacred rivers and golden monasteries, cloaked monks and silent meditation – an ideal getaway for those who wish to escape the busy life. Apart from religious tourism, Laos culinary is no less beautiful. Laotian cuisine is famous for being fresh and drawn from local ingredients.
The most popular dishes include fish or pork dishes (similar to a spicy meat salad), khao jee pa-tay (noodle-style sandwich), paeng pet (spicy fried duck mixed with blood, offal and spices), sausage and buffalo jerky.
Located on the island of Java, this ancient city is considered the cultural capital of Java, thanks to its vibrant arts scene, indie boutiques, deep-rooted rituals and religious sites. It is here that you will find two of the most important archaeological sites listed on UNESCO: Prambanan and the Borobudur temple.
Built in the 9th century, the beautiful Borobudur is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in the world and is very majestic at sunrise. Meanwhile, Prambanan takes the form of carved towers and elements of Hindu architecture.
As an old tradition, Prambanan hosts performances of the Ramayana ballet every night – an unforgettable dance drama tapping into Javanese cultural roots – which is both enriching and entertaining.