Southeast Asia is a tourist hotspot, but it still maintains its authentic vibe. Choosing a place to go is perhaps the most challenging part of visiting this section of the world. With so many great options, it’s hard to narrow it down, but to help you get started, this post looks at five of the area’s best travel destinations.
1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Situated in northwest Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a World Heritage site and the country’s largest religious monument. Its ruins include hundreds of sandstone structures, spanning over 162 hectares. In addition to exploring the ruins of this 12th-century wonder, you can also learn about more recent history at the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center and the War Museum located in nearby Siem Reap.
In this traveler’s paradise, you can enjoy the unique vibe of country residents and vibrant cafes, or you can wait until after sunset and hit the clubs. Shopping includes two massive markets offering gifts, souvenirs, food, and more.
2. Koh Samui, Thailand
In the past, Koh Samui was a prime destination for backpackers exploring the best travel destinations of Southeast Asia, but over the last few years, it’s become a high-end destination full of resorts and posh spas. The white beaches, however, are just as pristine as they ever have been. If you want to get out and explore, the Ang Thong Marine National Park offers trails running through a tropical forest to hidden waterfalls and a 12-meter-tall Buddha statue.
3. Bagan, Myanmar
If you like temples, then Bagan, Myanmar needs to be on your must-see list. Nestled next to a mountain range, this UNESCO World Heritage site features over 10,000 pagods and Buddhist temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries. Currently, the Bagan Archaeological Zone features 3,5000 buildings and over 41 square miles to explore.
The Ananda Temple features a blend of Mon and Indian styles, and if you want to learn more about the area’s historical architecture, you can head to the town’s Archaeological Museum, which includes countless artifacts, including a Rosetta Stone that’s over 1,000 years old.
To learn about the area’s modern culture, check out the lacquerware art workshops in Myinkaba. Then, hit the sunset at the Shwesandaw Paya pagoda — with just a bit of climbing, you can catch a 360-degree view of the area.
4. Bangkok, Thailand
The capital of Thailand, Bangkok is a great jumping-off point for other destinations in Southeast Asia, but this world-class city also merits a stay. Over 24 million people visit Bangkok every year, and they get to enjoy the pleasing contrast of contemporary skyscrapers and ancient temples. You can do a lot of sightseeing in the area’s temples, museums, and the world’s largest teak building — the Vimanmek Mansion. Use a tuk-tuk taxi or a water bus to get around, or simply whip out your phone to contact the local ride-share company Grab. You can also dive into modern culture at the city’s clubs and cafes.
5. Luang Prabang, Laos
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang features stunning architecture that combines the best elements of French colonial and traditional styles. Its location along the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers offers stunning natural beauty. With just a short hike, you can check out the Kuang Sit Falls or Pak Ou Caves, which are full of mini Buddha sculptures. On most mornings, the town fills with the color orange as local monks take to the streets for Alms Ceremonies.