What a year it has been! As I reflect on 2017, I am so grateful of all the amazing things I have been able to experience during my travels around Southeast Asia. I continue to be in awe by how beautiful and exciting this part of the world is. Looking back on the year that is 2017, many of the wonderful experiences in Southeast Asia have definitely been bucket list worthy.
If you are ready to plan your travel to Southeast Asia, I have worked with a group of amazing travel bloggers to bring to you the ULTIMATE Southeast Asia bucket list. Guaranteed that these activities will take your experiences in Southeast Asia to a whole new level of awesomeness.
So without further ado, PART ONE of the ultimate Southeast Asia bucket list covers Malaysia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Skip to PART TWO here.
Table of Contents
- Spend the Day on a Private Island
- Snorkel with Sharks at the Perhentian Islands
- Enjoy Afternoon Tea in a Room Full of Orchids
- Learn How to Cook Damn Good Malaysian Food
- Say Cheers to the End of the Day on top a Helipad
- Say Hello to Orangutans in Borneo
- Climb Up Mt Kinabalu
- Explore the Bako National Park
- Explore the Heritage Town of Georgetown through its Street Art
- Be Inspired to Paint Your House Indigo Blue at the Blue Mansion in Penang
- Get Padi Certified at Tioman Island
- Soak into Wellness at the Banjaran Hot Springs Resort
- Dine & Dangle 45 Meters Up in the Sky
- Go Island-Hopping on a Jet Ski
- Explore the Beras Besah Island
- Enjoy a Farm-to-Table Experience
- Sail the Turquoise Blue Waters of the Andaman Sea
- Experience Sunset Like No Other at Baba Nest in Phuket
- Sleep in a Floating Bungalow in Khao Sok National Park
- Explore the Ancient City of Sukhothai
- Be Mesmerised at the Festival of Lights, Loi Krathong
- Become a Dive Master in Koh Tao
- Indulge in a Full Day Spa Experience
- Bike Around the Ancient Capital Ayutthaya
- Go on a Off-the-Beaten-Track Food Tour onboard a Tuk Tuk
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Spend the Day on a Private Island
I used to think private islands were only for celebrities…well not anymore.
Located just off the main island of Langkawi is the private island Paradise 101, which is owned by adventure company Naam. It is 2-acres offering day-resort facilities, white sandy beach, tall casuarina and pinoh trees, and the beautiful Andaman sea.
It’s a great escape from the crowds, and offers a tranquil day of sunbaking, rest and relaxation.
Snorkel with Sharks at the Perhentian Islands
Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
When it comes to sharks, I have to admit…I am totally scared. But when Hubby and I visited the Perhentian Islands on the east coast of Malaysia, we were so totally mesmerised by its beauty. There was turquoise blue water everywhere – I couldn’t believe how beautiful and clear the water was. And one of the ‘must-dos’ was to go snorkelling with blacktip sharks.
So I put my big girl pants on and went into the water with a ‘can-do’ attitude. And wow what a cool experience it was to be snorkelling on top of blacktip sharks…a totally cool thing to tick off the Southeast Asia bucket list!
Enjoy Afternoon Tea in a Room Full of Orchids
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I love orchids, and another thing that I love about Southeast Asia is how well orchids grow. There are various ways you’ll get to see this beautiful flower. I recommend to take it to the next level and enjoy a traditional style English Afternoon Tea while sitting in a room filled with orchids. It truly is such a unique and colourful experience…and the food is delicious!
So if you find yourself in Kuala Lumpur (or planning a trip here), I highly recommend spending an afternoon drinking tea in a room full of orchids….definitely one of my favorites activities that I checked off my Southeast Asia bucket list.
Learn How to Cook Damn Good Malaysian Food
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
One of my favorite things about Southeast Asia is the food… especially in Malaysia. So it was a no-brainer to visit the LaZat Cooking School in Kuala Lumpur to learn how to cook my favorite cuisine. Doing a cooking class is such a great way to learn more about a country’s culture through its food. Plus, you’ll learn how to cook some delicious dishes (and get to eat it too!).
Say Cheers to the End of the Day on top a Helipad
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Yup you’ve heard it right…. you can actually sip on cocktails while watching the sun go down on an actual helipad in Kuala Lumpur. Heli Lounge Bar is located on the 38th floor of the Menara KH building in the heart of KL city. It has a fantastic 360-degree view of the city, including views of the KL Tower and KL Twin Towers. Best to book a table in advance, because this spot is very popular at sunset.
Say Hello to Orangutans in Borneo
Orangutans are native to parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, where they have called this region home for centuries. Being able to see orangutans in the wild is a wonderful experience, but unfortunately deforestation threatens the lives and homes of these beautiful animals. There are a number of centres set up in parts of Sabah, which allow travellers to visit, and get up close and personal with orangutans.
Climb Up Mt Kinabalu
Recommended by Jenny from TraveLynn Family
My knees may still not agree with me, but one of the highlights of our extensive South East Asian travels has to be climbing Mt Kinabalu in Borneo. Breathe in that fresh alpine air and savour those spectacular sunrise views from the summit at 4095metres.
The trek is generally completed over two days starting from dense jungle, gradually clearing to exposed craggy rock. It’s tough, but very doable for most people with a moderate level of fitness. You stay overnight at Laban Rata (a large, but basic, mountain hut) after the first day of trekking, before rising early on day two with your head torch to follow the line of trekkers in th dark to the summit for sunrise. You will then complete the entire decent after sunrise, including breakfast back at Laban Rata.
Places are strictly limited at Laban Rata and it does get booked up quickly. Plus it is compulsory to do the trek with a registered guide and climbing permit. Click here for up-to-date advise on bookings and access to routes. There are A LOT of steps and coming down is tough on the knees. In fact we found it much harder coming down than going up! So consider taking hiking poles and knee supports.
Explore the Bako National Park
Recommended by Daniele & Elena from Cycloscope
Bako National Park is the most famous park in Sarawak, and for a good reason! It’s here that most of the rare animals of Borneo can be found, such as proboscis monkeys, which are endemic of this island, silvered langur, plantain squirrel, Bornean bearded pig, monitor lizards and nocturnal creatures like colugo, pangolin, mousedeer, tarsier, slow loris, palm civet and many others.
Bako was founded in 1957 and is the first National Park of Sarawak, sadly it’s also the smallest (but no worries there’s a lot to explore). It sits on the north tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula, just 20km north of Kuching, and it’s also famous for its spectacular and weird limestone rock formations.
While many people visit the park on a day trip we strongly advise to overnight there, for several reasons:
- more time to see the park
- spend one night listening to the sounds of the jungle
- most of the animals go out on certain times, proboscis monkeys for example apparently show themselves in the early morning and at sunset, in both cases very difficult to be on time if on a day trip, due to the fixed schedules of the boat. Indeed, most of the visitors we met who were on a day trip didn’t see any monkey
- sleeping in the park is really cheap
- during the monsoon season, the last boat back is at 3 pm, because of the tides that make the sea to rough, definitively to early!
Explore the Heritage Town of Georgetown through its Street Art
Georgetown impressed me. I found it to be so colourful, and filled with so much culture and heritage….which mean some great food. I also loved the street art, which could be found all over town. Looking for street art in Georgetown is a great way to explore the area, while also learning more about its history. The street art is not random splashes of graffiti, but rather works of art that tell a story.
Be Inspired to Paint Your House Indigo Blue at the Blue Mansion in Penang
Ever since I visited the Blue Mansion in Georgetown, Penang, I have said to my hubby – I want at least one feature wall that is in the same blue as the Blue Mansion. The Blue Mansion in Georgetown is a beautifully restored heritage house that was once owned by tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze. You are able to experience the Blue Mansion two ways – firstly by staying overnight in their boutique hotel or by joining a guided tour.
Get Padi Certified at Tioman Island
Tioman Island, Malaysia
Recommended by Callan from Singapore N Beyond
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to dive, or one step further get your PADI certification, Tioman is the answer. The Island is part of the Mersing Marine Park and lies about 32kms from the East Coast of Malaysia, so the water is warm and the climate is tropical. It is the largest of the 64 surrounding islands, yet is only 21kms from top to bottom.
The corals are pristine and filled with a variety of marine life. It’s not uncommon to spot enormous greenback turtles, blacktip reef sharks, blue-spotted manta rays, barracuda, parrot, clown and cuttlefish. Even snorkelers will be able to saunter into the water and instantly be welcomed to a thriving sea life.
There are beach front diving hotels all along the coast made specifically for easy access to the water, especially on the West. So your options for obtaining your PADI are boundless. And if your better half isn’t into diving, there is also the Berjaya resort to lounge around at, pristine white-sand beaches, moderate hikes to places like the gorgeous Asah Waterfall, or hitting the duty-free shops for some vino.
Soak into Wellness at the Banjaran Hot Springs Resort
Recommended by Dr. Cacinda from Points & Travel
This 17-acre wellness retreat sits in and around a natural geothermal hot spring which is surrounded by limestone cliffs, natural caves, pristine jungles, and a natural waterfall. The moment you arrive at the Banjaran Hot Springs Resort in Ipoh, Malaysia, you know that you have arrived at a very special place.
With rushing sounds of water, enormous black clay pots, and shimmering lily pads floating at the entrance, you will completely relax at this lush tropical property. This acreage easily made my ultimate bucket list for South East Asia by simply being located in the perfect setting for a wellness getaway to relax and let nature take your stress away. This place is not just another high-priced luxury resort, but a luxury wellness center that daily makes differences in peoples’ lives.
Dine & Dangle 45 Meters Up in the Sky
Various Cities, Malaysia
I am no fan of heights, but I do love an amazing view. I get those jelly legs whenever I am up high and it usually takes me a few minutes to get use to the height. So when I saw “Dining in the Sky” was available in Malaysia…um HECK YES I BOOKED IT! And what a totally fun and once in a lifetime experience this was…it totally nailed my Southeast Asia bucket list. We got to experience a 3-course dinner while dangling up 45 meters in the sky, with views of the KL Twin Towers and the KL Tower in the distance.
Go Island-Hopping on a Jet Ski
With over 100 islands to explore in Langkawi, how do you choose which one to visit? Well why not explore a few of them. And for a point of difference, why not try exploring the islands on a jet ski? It is an exhilarating experience riding out in the open water, exploring the many islands that surround the main island of Langkawi.
The tour takes around 4-hours and you can travel between 40-60 km per hour. It is a fully guided experience, and the guides are fantastic sharing great insight into Langkawi.
Explore the Beras Besah Island
Recommended by Arzo from Arzo Travels
Whenever in Langkawi, Malaysia, you need to do an island-hopping tour! It is one of the best things to do and seeing the most beautiful islands this way is fun.
One of the islands you must visit is the heaven like island called Beras Basah Island – I had never heard of it before but it is surely one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia and one of the prettiest islands I have been.
It is very tiny and there are not tons to do – if doing a boat tour you will most likely have less than one hour to discover the island, but it is actually enough. Though, for those amongst you who can never get enough of secluded beaches and pristine water it is might be not enough time. It is easy to spend a day just unwinding and relaxing at that little island (or as they are called “palau” in Malaysian) and just enjoy being away from the hustle and bustle.
If you need some action you can try to leave your bags unattended – as the swimming monkeys there will most likely try to rob you. Telling them off or running after your belongings might be a different kind of activity you could do on this dreamy island. Whatever you decide to do there – an island-hopping tour in Langkawi so you can see Beras Besah Island is a thing for your Southeast Asia bucket list!
Enjoy a Farm-to-Table Experience
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
For a more organic experience while you’re in Kuala Lumpur, look to A Little Farm on the Hill – a lush green sanctuary that is less than an hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. The first Sunday of every month A Little Farm on the Hill host a Farmer’s Luncheon, which showcases more than 95% of the farm’s organic produce. It’s an idyllic setting, which is the perfect respite away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Sail the Turquoise Blue Waters of the Andaman Sea
The best way to soak in the beautiful islands that surround Phuket is by hoping onto a Catamaran and spend a few days sailing in Phuket.
Let me tell you that this was probably one of the best experiences I have ever had. No exaggeration… I love how postcard worthy this area is – perfectly blue water, lush greenery, colourful marine life, and calm waters.
Experience Sunset Like No Other at Baba Nest in Phuket
One of the things I always look out for when travelling are cool rooftop bars. I have been to a fair number of rooftop bars in my years of travelling, but never like the one I have experienced in Phuket. Meet “Baba Nest,” a rooftop bar with 360-degree views of Phuket and its surrounding islands, cool music, and delicious drinks located at the 5-star Sri Panwa Resort. It is so fabulous that CNN ranked Baba Nest as the 2nd best beach bar in the world.
It is a pretty epic spot and there are only 12 tables available, so reservations must be made at least a month in advance.
Sleep in a Floating Bungalow in Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Recommended by Maria from 203 Travel Challenges
There are probably a thousand ways to experience Thailand but one of the most memorable moments I’ve had on my trip to the country was the night spent in araft bungalow floating in the Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park. The lake is full of small islands and there are several floating complexes to choose from – from the most basic accommodation to luxury options.
The basic bungalow is clean and neat and contains nothing more than a mattress, a mosquito net, two pillows, and bed linen. Once the night falls, however, you will realize you don’t need anything more. As the sun sets, the jungle wakes up and all kind of unimaginable sounds come to your ears (according to our guide, it was all ‘bugs mating’). The billions of stars reflecting in the glass-like surface of the lake create a surreal atmosphere; if you forget where you are for a second, you might think you are floating in open space.
How to get there: Once in the Khao Sok area, you can easily book a 2 day/1 night trip to the lake with a night at a raft house included. Even in high season, we managed to book our tour only a day before.
Explore the Ancient City of Sukhothai
Recommended by James from World Travel Chef
The ancient capital of Sukhothai is located 430km north of Bangkok in Northern Thailand.
Sukhhothai which means Dawn of Happiness was the first real capital of Thailand (formally Siam). It flourished from 1230 until the mid 14th century under the rule of many kings but King Ramkhamhaeng the Great is credited with creating modern day Thailand. He was responsible for the Thai alphabet and laid the foundations in politics, religion and monarchy.
What makes Sukhothai so special is that so much of the ancient city still survives. Now a listed UNESCO world heritage site it is split into 4 areas each restored and looked after. The main area where Wat Mahathat is located is simply stunning. At sunset the sun sets right behind the buddha statues. When we visited it wasn’t overrun with tourists like Angkor Wat and you could feel the history in the ruins.
Further across to the west of the ancient city outside the still visible earth walls is a restored Buddha Wat Saphan Hin (Temple of the stone Bridge) that catches the sunrise over the whole area. 300m up a narrow clearing on the original steep stone staircase you can imagine how it was when King Ramkamhaeng, on his white elephant came to pay his respects 700 years ago. A must-do on your Southeast Asia bucket list!
Be Mesmerised at the Festival of Lights, Loi Krathong
Off Bangkok, Thailand
Recommended by Laurence & Jessica from Finding the Universe
One must-do things to check off your Southeast Asia bucket list when visiting Thailand is to experience Loi Krathong – also known as the festival of lights. This takes place every year in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, which usually happens in November in the western calendar.
The festival involves creating a small container, a “Krathong”, which one floats on water, making a wish as you do so. This is believed to honor the water spirits. The festival also coincides with Yi Peng, a northern Thai festival, celebrated with the release of thousands of paper lanterns.
My suggestion for Loy Krathong is to attend it at the ancient city of Sukhothai, once the capital of Thailand, where Loy Krathong is thought to have originated. The city ruins are found around 16km from the new Sukhothai, and is today a UNESCO world heritage site.
Here you can make (or buy) your own Krathong, and set it afloat in the old cities waterways. Following this, there is a large lantern release and a sound and light show. It’s a really big event, with tens of thousands of attendees, food stalls and an excellent atmosphere, and many Thai people see it as something they want to do at least once in their lifetime.
Become a Dive Master in Koh Tao
Koh Tao, Thailand
Recommended by Tom from TravelTomTom
While traveling you can explore only 30% of our amazing Blue Planet, as 70% of the Earth is underwater. While scuba diving you can explore the other 70% and therefore I would strongly suggest you to get your Open Water diving certificate and make your first steps in breathing underwater.
Koh Tao is the number one place in Thailand to learn scuba diving as it has the perfect underwater climate and has dive sites for all levels ranging from 6 meter to 40 meter deep with a very diverse marine life. Living and diving in Koh Tao is an amazing experience, as you will get to know so many new people and make friends for a lifetime. Open Water courses are full of like-minded travelers just like you who are all after having a good time and learning an incredible new experience.
Besides the amazing scuba diving there are many more things to do in Koh Tao like hiking to viewpoints, exploring deserted beaches, coastal walks, amazing sunsets, beach parties and simply living a laid-back island life. Everything is within walking distance and the only things you will wear are flip flops, your swim wear and a simple t-shirt. Life on Koh Tao is uncomplicated, I am 100% sure you will have the time of your life and fall in love with the island just like me…
Indulge in a Full Day Spa Experience
If there is one thing I absolutely love to indulge in (apart from food), it is a good spa experience. And all over Southeast Asia you’ll find some amazing spots to pamper yourself while on holiday. From body scrubs to facials to full body massages – there are so many wonderful options to choose from. Many spas offer great packages, which are intended to fully pamper and relax you.
Some of my all time favorite spa experiences have been in Thailand, such as at the Cool Spa at the Sri Panwa Resort and The Spa at the Mövenpick Resort at Karon Beach.
Bike Around the Ancient Capital Ayutthaya
Recommended by Nancy from enSquaredAired
For anyone who is planning their bucket list trip in Southeast Asia, I highly recommend biking around Ayutthaya as a must-do activity! Here’s why: My wanderlust for this UNESCO site began when I saw photos of Buddha’s head inside tree roots. Since then, Ayutthaya has been on my bucket list for almost a decade before I finally paid a visit to this ancient capital.
To fully immerse myself in the place that was once the largest city in the world over 300 years ago, I decided to spend a few days in Ayutthaya. Most travellers usually take a day trip from Bangkok to visit Ayutthaya, but I knew that would be too rushed for me to explore the ruins. Instead, I wanted to spend a few days biking around the city to see the ancient capital. In doing so, I was able to explore the park at my leisure.
If I felt like staying longer in a particular place, I could do so until I felt ready to leave. Because I spread my visit over a few days, I was able to bike around ruins and find beautiful places where I could catch stunning sunsets.
Go on a Off-the-Beaten-Track Food Tour onboard a Tuk Tuk
Thailand is a food haven, so when you’re anywhere in Thailand, sample the local delicacies is a must. While in Bangkok, it’s easy to head to those cafes or restaurants that make the top 100 on TripAdvisor…but what about those local eateries that are completely off the beaten track and are only known by locals? The best way to experience real off the beaten track dining in Bangkok is through a food tour…onboard a tuk tuk! It’s a totally fun experience and a great way to see a very different side to Bangkok, from a more local perspective.
Explore Jaco Island
Recommended by Nikki & Michelle from Cheeky Passports
Imagine a beautiful, almost deserted island surrounded by pristine white-sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters. That is Jaco Island in Timor-Leste, one of the least visited countries in Southeast Asia.
Jaco Island is located right on the eastern part of Timor-Leste and is difficult to get to unless you are driving a rented vehicle, which cost is prohibitive in Timor-Leste, unless you’re travelling on a higher-end budget.
Getting to the Jaco island using public transport is notoriously difficult, though not impossible. We managed to get to Jaco in four days using different forms of local transport although it is manageable in 2-3 if you are lucky. Getting there involves the use of buses, angkots (local over-crowded minibuses), possibly hitch-hiking and a steep 8km trek down to a beach opposite the island from where you can then ask a fisherman to take you to the island.
Although the island is very “off the beaten path”, the natural untamed beauty of Jaco Island, outweighs any difficulty encountered in getting to it. That’s why we believe that it should make the list of every intrepid traveler looking for a raw but pristine experience in Southeast Asia.
Balloon over Bagan in Myanmar during Sunrise
Peacefully floating up in the sky over the ancient town of Bagan is pure magic, and an experience like no-other. The mist, the gentle pastel colors of the sky, temples and trees just make this such a unique experience. What better way to soak up the sights and sounds of Bagan then on a sunrise hot air balloon ride? It’s such a great experience to have when traveling through your Southeast Asia bucket list.
Exploring the Pagodas of Bagan
Recommended by Tasha from Backpackers Wanderlust
Bagan in Myanmar is no doubt a wanderlust bucket list destination. With pagodas with go on as far as the eye can see you will in absolute awe exploring this amazing place! Make sure to hire an ebike to make the most out of your time here, it will allow you to get off the beaten track and check out of hidden gems. If you are not comfortable driving your own vehicle everywhere has bicycles for hire and you can even hire a horse carriage for the day!
Be prepared for lost of early starts, though trust me its worth it. Watching the hot air balloon float in the sky with the sun rising for the day, changing the clouds all different amazing colors; it’s a site you will never forget. Just remember to pack some warm clothes as it gets freezing on the back of an ebike in the morning darkness.
To get to Bagan is fairly simple and easy to access from either Yangon or Mandalay, both of which are major cities in Myanmar. There is also an airport so if you are not comfortable with 6+ hour bus rides this is definitely the best option for you.
Train Ride over the Gokteik Viaduct
Hsipaw to Mandalay, Myanmar
Recommended by Teresa from Brogan Abroad
The train ride between Hsipaw to Mandalay, is one of the most exhilarating things that you can do in Myanmar. It goes over the Gokteik Viaduct, which was built in 1901 during the British Rule and was once the longest railway trestle in the world.
The viaduct is now a crumbling antique, and the crossing itself can be a white-knuckle experience. So much so, that the train has to slow right down to a creeping speed. The narrow gauge track makes the train carriages rock violently from side to side when at normal speed, and with no security rails on either side of the bridge, I am sure it wouldn’t make it across if it didn’t slow down.
It takes 7 hours Pyin Oo Lwin, where I would recommend getting off. From Pyin Oo Lwin to Mandalay it’s only 2 hours by taxi versus 5 hours by train, and it’s the least interesting part of the journey, so you’re not missing out much. Make sure you buy an ordinary class ticket at 1,200 kyats (£0.70). It’s not as comfortable as first class, but it is the best way to interact with the locals. You will also get the train vendors bringing in food, snacks and drinks.
Sunset Atop Ruins in Bagan
Recommended by Erin from Traveling Thru History
Viewing a sunset from atop ruins should be on anyone’s Southeast Asia bucket list and the best place to do so is in Bagan, Myanmar. Sunsets in Bagan are a pretty magical experience due to the many temples and pagodas that dot the landscape and the limited amount of modernity in the area, but being able to watch a sunset from the top of an ancient temple makes the experience so much better.
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you visit Bagan. Cell service is sparse and one of the best ways to travel between temples is via cart pulled by oxen or horses. When you climb to the top of a temple ruin, you won’t see telephone poles, satellite towers, modern buildings, or paved sidewalks, you’ll see trees, dirt roads, temples, maybe one or two paved roads, and a lot of wide-open space.
As the sun starts to set, vibrant colors play across the sky and chase shadows across the ground. The landscape moves and changes before your eyes as the colors intensify, and the shadows reach out towards you, stretching out from the trees and temples that cover as far as the eye can see. You’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time as you stand upon the ancient stone with your little cart down below. Finally, you’ll stand in awe as the colors change while the sun slowly descends below the horizon and then, when darkness finally settles, you’ll feel the magic of having been transported to a place you’ve never been before and never want to leave.
Mountain biking around Angkor Wat
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Recommended by Jean from Traveling Honeybird
Angkor Wat is an iconic tourist mecca in Cambodia. No matter your thoughts on religion and politics it’s near impossible to visit Siem Reap and not visit Angkor Wat. Unlike the thousands of other tourists playing Tomb Raider either on foot or in the back of a tuk-tuk, we decided to take out our mountain bikes and explore unseen areas. By spending the day peddaling around we’re able to see different areas of Angkor Wat, take the time to talk to the local children as they run between school and lunchtime visits to their parents.
So why should you ride a bike around Angkor Wat? Not only do you get to explore areas that only locals use you also get the see the popular areas at a muh quieter time. Avoiding the waves of tuk tuk drivers and tour buses.
Watching the Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Recommended by Christabel from Where’s Bel
Every year my best friend, Karla, and I make plans to meet each other somewhere in the world. One of our trips earlier this year took us to Cambodia where we started our travels off in Siem Reap, home of the Angkor temple complex, something that has been on both our travel bucket lists since high school!
Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage site is the world’s largest religious site and an important archaeological area in Cambodia. The Angkor complex comprises of a number of temples, the most famous one being Angkor Wat. The temple was built by King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire to honor the Hindu god, Vishnu, and represents Mount Meru, the residence of the gods in Hindu mythology.
While exploring the temples of Angkor needs to be on your list when you’re in Siem Reap, something that you just cannot miss is watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat. As someone who doesn’t often chase sunrises (I’m a night owl and much prefer sunsets), I can safely say that getting up at 4:00am and taking a tuk tuk to the Angkor Wat complex in order to quietly watch the sun rise with hundreds of other like-minded people was 100% worth it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to see the sky change colors and get more intense as the sun rises over Angkor Wat, an architectural work of art. If it’s not on your Southeast Asia bucket list, it definitely needs to be!
Visiting Chi Phat Ecotourism Project
Chi Phat, Cambodia
Recommended by Miranda & Mark from The Common Wanderer
Our ultimate Southeast Asia bucket list item is the Chi Phat community-based ecotourism project nestled in the lush Cardamom Mountains. The area was once the last stronghold of the violent Khmer Rouge regime, and their impact left the community with little choice but to turn to illegal logging and poaching of local wildlife (elephants, big cats, gibbons, pangolin) in order to survive. In 2007, the Wildlife Alliance launched a project here to educate and assist the local community to support themselves on tourism rather than animal trafficking. Today, those same villagers are wildlife experts, and now lead tours through the thick Cardamom Jungle, work as homestay operators and chefs, or conservation staff.
It’s an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with jungle treks, waterfall spotting, cave-exploring, kayak and bicycle tours, and wildlife and bird watching all on offer. For three days there, we trekked through the jungle, slept in hammocks under the stars, ate delicious meals made from forest vegetables, learnt survival tricks (like drinking water from vines!) that only the locals there know – and even had a scarily close encounter with wild elephants. Having epic adventures while knowing we were supporting a community that had turned its fortunes around was incredible – it was the absolute highlight of our 4 months in the Southeast Asia bucket list!
And we’re live for PART TWO, where I showcase experiences in Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Laos… start planning your trip to Southeast Asia with part two of our ultimate Southeast Asia bucket list
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