Travelling Southeast Asia

Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia

Traveling around Southeast Asia is one of the most adventurous and amazing things you can do travel wise. It is a completely different world than what a lot of us are used to from western culture. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Southeast Asia is all the same and that it is quite small so doesn’t take much time to explore. This is not the case. Countries in Southeast Asia can vary so much in so many ways and they’re much bigger than a lot of us have been led to believe. On the one hand, this is great because there’s so much to explore. On the other hand, this does mean preparing a little more in advance or on-site regarding where you’d like to go.

The term Southeast Asia includes all of the following countries: Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and finally, Vietnam.

It’s important to try and vaguely plan in advance which countries you’d like to visit so that you can brush up on the visa regulations and the seasonal weather in those countries beforehand. Don’t get caught up in booking everything before you get there and planning every last detail because you never know what’s going to happen once you’re there. You may end up wanting to stay in one place much longer than expected or move on from another much sooner. It’s nice to have the freedom to be spontaneous. 

I always think it helps to have a game plan but it’s good to leave yourself some wiggle room. This way you have a good idea of where you’re going and what you want to do but without having to worry about fixed dates and bookings. So, to start with, have a look at which countries are on the top of your list for your Southeast Asia trip.

Before getting into the details and my own experiences, a little disclaimer: I’ve not visited Brunei, East Timor, Laos or Myanmar yet and my trip to Indonesia and the Philippines was sadly cancelled due to COVID-19 but will be caught up on soon enough. 

Now a little more on the countries I have already been to, so that you have a bit of an insight into what each potential destination has to offer.

Vietnam

In 2019 I visited Vietnam for a couple of weeks, and it was certainly an interesting trip. If you’re interested in history especially surrounding the Vietnam war, then there’s obviously no better place to be than in Vietnam. Even if you’re not particularly interested in it before your visit, you will be – even if it’s just a little bit – after a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City, also referred to as Saigon. The Viet Cong had one of the most interesting and ruthless war tactics in modern warfare and the tunnels are a very apt representation of how and why. Northern Vietnam and Ha Long Bay are known for stunning surroundings and are great summer destinations. Personally though, my favourite areas were the citadel of Hue and of course, the wonderful city of Hoi An. Hoi An is one of those places that no matter who you ask, it has to be on your Vietnam agenda. It’s a fun, lively and interesting place day and night. 

Most nationalities don’t need a visa for Vietnam as long as their stay is for less than 14 days. As soon as you’d like to stay longer, make sure you look into what kind of visa is necessary for your nationality and apply early enough to get it sorted. 

Malaysia

The country of Malaysia is the fluid transition from typical Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand to the more westernised and very modern Asian country of Singapore. There are gleaming cities full of nice places to eat, bars and a buzzing atmosphere next to small villages, tea plantations, temples and caves full of culture and natural beauty. George Town in Penang is a great city that is very well known for the various forms of street art that can be found in so many places. There is also a great night life scene here much like in Melaka! If you prefer exploring the natural land, then the Cameron Highlands are a great place to visit. Of course, the main Malaysian city to visit is the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The Petronas Towers are a well-known highlight but the city itself is worth exploring all around. 

Singapore

If there’s one Southeast Asian city-state that is known for skyscrapers and glamour, it has to be Singapore. In comparison to the surrounding states, this is not a cheap place to holiday, but it doesn’t look like it either. There are roof top bars and fancy restaurants with wonderful views of the skyline. The Marina Bay Sands is a world-famous building and one of the highlights in this city-state and the Merlion is another great artistic feature from which you have a great view of the Marina Bay Sands and the light shows that happen there every now and then. The whole city is decorated with various artistic features – some permanent and some temporary – making every trip here unique. It is also an absolute must to visit the Gardens by the Bay! Explore the domes during the day and then enjoy the light show with musical accompaniment in the evening. 

No matter what you’ve done in Asia before arriving, Singapore is a great place to finish your trip or use as an in between stop if you plan on flying to your next destination, as Singapore has one of the best airports in Southeast Asia, after Bangkok. 

Thailand

As you can probably guess the most popular destination for holidays in Southeast Asia, for backpackers and resort holidayers alike, is Thailand. One of the reasons for this is Thailand in general is well set up for tourists and very accommodating for a more than reasonable price but another reason that a lot of people don’t realise until they get there, is that Thailand has so much to offer on so many different levels. When flying to Southeast Asia, Bangkok is one of the cheapest places to fly into and a good place to get started. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time in the city, but the Grand Palace is definitely worth a visit. 

The north of Thailand is a beautiful place and Chiang Mai is a great place to start when visiting the north. There are stunning temples nearby and you also have easy access to the natural surroundings that are simply waiting to be explored. Near Chiang Mai, as in many other places in Thailand, there are elephant sanctuaries that are an amazing experience! When picking an elephant sanctuary or camp, it is important to try and pick one that treats the animals correctly. This means making sure you avoid places that let visitors ride the elephants or keep them in cages. Good sanctuaries usually let you feed, clean and walk around with the magnificent animals and of course you’ll be able to take phenomenal pictures because, let’s face it, any picture with a Thai elephant on it from close enough is a pretty cool picture. If you fancy reading up on sustainable and respectful travel, have a look at some of my other articles.

No matter where you go in Thailand, a national park is never too far away. It could be all green like Khao Sok or a little more water based like Ang Thong but they are all absolutely beautiful. To top it all off, the south of Thailand has some of the most amazing islands to visit! From fun islands like Koh Phi Phi or Koh Samui to calmer places like Koh Lanta. You can’t go wrong with any of them just be sure to check what kind of island you fancy next and if you get the chance, explore each one to the fullest! Be it by walking, renting a scooter, kayaking, whatever you fancy! There’s a reason so many people visit this fantastic country.

Cambodia

Last but not least, my Southeast Asian highlight was certainly Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Cambodia in itself is a wonderful country to visit in parts. Personally, I can’t recommend the capital of Phnom Penh too much. All I can say is if you want to visit the city, then don’t plan too much time there and if you already have or plan on visiting the Grand Palace in Bangkok then save your money and skip the palace in Phnom Penh. There are so many other places in Cambodia that are so much better and worth investing time in. The Sihanoukville beaches for example, offer a relaxing and calm atmosphere during the day and then come to life at night. You can rent a boat with a guide for a reasonable price from most places and explore the surrounding islands and beaches. Kampot is a lesser known also interesting and cultural area of Cambodia but there is one sight that, in my eyes, trumps all others. 

Angkor Wat is an absolutely breathtaking temple complex near Siam Reap. It is also the largest religious monument in the world. I highly recommend buying tickets beforehand and then arriving on the day in question before the sun rises. Across the water from the main temple is one of the best places to watch the sky change colour as the sun slowly rises and you start your day of adventuring through these amazing temples. That is only one of the breathtaking views this complex has to offer. Each part of the complex is unique and beautiful in its own way and the history behind it is fascinating. Remember to bring or wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees so that you can access all available areas respectfully. 

When you have an idea of where you want to go, that’s the first important step done. Now it’s on to the flight booking, packing and perhaps a bit more detailed planning. Hopefully, I’ve been able to give you a helping hand in starting your Southeast Asia travel plans and if you’re interested in more details on the specific destinations, packing tips or general travel planning advice, check out some of my other posts and stay tuned for more!

If your questions aren’t answered here or you have any comments or personal experiences you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to get in touch and let me know!

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