Known as the biggest continent in the world, Asia offers a diversity of experiences, languages, cultures and cuisines. And while it is common for many to include India and Japan on their travel bucket lists, the countries in Southeast Asia almost go largely unnoticed. Yet, travelers looking to recreate an “eat, pray, love” experience should give the region a serious consideration. You can visit temples, hike through mountainous terrains and lay on pristine white-sand beaches. The best part of all is that food in the Southeast is very delicious and cheap. Every city you visit boasts of a unique local cuisine, and it is absolutely not ambitious for you to expect every meal to be a feast for the palates.
Here’s the lowdown on the best places to hit and the best times to go:
Home to one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, Cambodia is most famous for the Angkor Wat. It was built during the 12th century and is often described as one of the biggest monuments in the world. Watching the sun rise behind the majestic temple of the Angkor Wat is a completely grounding and humbling experience. While you’re there, you can go ahead and visit the other surrounding temples as well. The whole area stretches out to over 400 square kilometers and houses more than a thousand temples. The southern part of Cambodia is also home to beautiful beaches. You will find them in Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. The best time to go would be during its driest month which is in January. This is when Cambodia experiences little to no rain and the humidity level is low making it the perfect time to see the temples and experience the beaches.
Hiking Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia should be on top of your list when visiting the country. It is the highest peak of the Southeast and it offers absolutely epic views of the island. Remember to have someone arrange this for you in advance, as you need a guide and a permit to be able to climb the mountain. If you’re not the hiking type, you may want to visit the Limestone Caves of Batu instead. It’s a limestone hill that has a series of caves and cave temples. It boasts of a popular Hindu shrine that is considered the focal point of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. Religious devotees would make a big celebration out of this festival for their god of war. And for outsiders, it’s truly a cultural experience you will never forget. The festival is being held on either January or February, and generally, that is a good time to visit the country as well.
Thailand has a wide array of food to choose from – ranging from savory meal dishes to dessert-type street food. It is also known for their wide selection of shopping centers, whether you’re in the mood for fresh tropical fruits at Thailand’s floating market or for clothes at their popular night markets. Prices are bound to go lower than they’ve originally been quoted at, so don’t feel embarrassed to bargain. After all that’s the name of the game. While you’re in Thailand, do not forget to pamper yourself by getting Thai massages after a long day. The best time to go to Thailand would be on November, as it is the coolest month in the year for Thailand.
Vietnam is world famous for Halong Bay, which has been declared as one of the “New Seven Natural Wonders of The World” in 2011. It is a bay filled with limestone karsts that’s absolutely wonderful to experience. You may also want to go through the Cu Chi Tunnels, the network of connecting underground tunnels outside Saigon. For travelers interested in doing kite and wind surfing, the village of Mui Ne is the perfect place to go to in Vietnam. While you’re there, visit the sand dunes as well, as they are a great sight to behold during sunset. Vietnam is generally experiencing spring from March to April. This would be the best time to go and visit.
If you want to experience the daily life in a remote ethnic minority village, Laos is the place to visit. It has over 47 ethnicities all with its own uniqueness and they all continue to practice the traditions of their ancestors. You can go to Vang Vieng not only to experience indigenous living but also to go river tubing, cave spelunking or cliff climbing. Laos is also home to several temples and a riverine archipelago which makes it worth the visit. The best time to go visit this country would be during November to January, especially if you want to do traveling through the Mekong River. Passage along this major waterway is much easier during this time, as this is when the water level is at its highest.
As majority of Singapore’s activities take place during June and July, this is the best time to visit. You will be able to experience the Singapore Food Festival, the Great Singapore Sale and the Singapore Arts Festival. Avoid traveling to Singapore from November to January, as this is when most of the major monsoons hit the country. If you’re not into the festivals and just want to go sight-seeing, you may opt to go during February. This is the best time to go looking for the Seven Merlions in Singapore, eat at the Hawker’s Market, visit their countless art museums, see the animals at the Singapore Zoo or the Night Safari and experience the hustle and bustle this city offers.
As Southeast Asia is a melting pot of different cultures, you may need to stay in each place for a short while in order to thoroughly appreciate its beauty. Yet, if you don’t have the luxury of time, a lot of these fun urban and outdoor activities can be squeezed into a few days’ travel. Regardless of how long you go, these countries will surely provide you with unsurpassable memories.