Our journey through Southeast Asia continues with even more experiences in Southeast Asia. In part TWO of our list, we explore Laos, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam. If you missed our first cover on incredible experiences in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Timor Leste, and Myanmar, you should check our part ONE of our ultimate list of experiences in Southeast Asia.
Stop daydreaming, get planning, and start your Southeast Asian packing list for your next epic trip to Southeast Asia.
Table of Contents
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Visit the Ancient Town of Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang is an amazing town located in the north of Laos where the mighty Mekong River meets the Nam Khan River. In the late 1880’s, Luang Prabang became part of French Indochina, which meant French colonial influences is seen throughout the architecture and food in the area. Luang Prabang is a town protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason – it is a beautiful melting pot of cultures, heritage and history, and an amazing place to experience in Southeast Asia.
Witness the Alms Giving
Luang Prabang, Laos
This sacred ritual is also known as Tak Bat, and is performed in the early hours of the day. It is an important ceremony that takes place everyday in Laos (and in countries including Thailand). During this ceremony, locals kneel or sit along the sidewalk and offer gifts or food to the Monks. It is quite an experience to witness in Luang Prabang, however I urge you to show the utmost respect.
Ploughing Rice Paddy Fields with a Water Buffalo
Luang Prabang, Laos
Recommended by Heather from Conversant Traveller
So you’ve climbed the waterfall, seen the monks and admired the temples. What else is there is do in Luang Prabang? Spending the day learning about rice farming at Living Land Rice Farm just outside the city is one of the best travel experiences in Southeast Asia we’ve ever had, and think it should be on everyone’s Southeast Asia bucket list because it’s such a unique thing to do!
Being rice farmers for a day was a real practical, hands-on activity, and we tried everything from planting and harvesting to winnowing and grinding. But the best bit? Having a go at ploughing a paddy field using their water buffalo. It’s a lot harder than it looks, trying to keep up with the animal whilst wading through knee deep mud and keeping in a straight line. Yet it was so much fun, and we were so proud of ourselves for not falling over. At the end of the day we got to sample all sorts of different rice products (all of them yummy) and of course the rather potent rice wine.
The day certainly made us appreciate all the hard work that goes into producing the rice that we so casually eat for dinner. Best day out ever and such a fun thing to do in Southeast Asia!
Learn How to Cook Laotian Food
Luang Prabang, Laos
Recommended by James from Worldwide Shopping Guide
I loved the food in Laos. While some dishes were similar to Thai food, particularly Northern Thai food, Laotian food was unique. It was less spice-focused and more herb-focused than the food in Thailand, and I felt like it was one of the most unique cuisines of all the South East Asian countries that I visited.
Unfortunately, finding a Laotian restaurant outside of Laos and especially outside of Southeast Asia is very difficult unless you’re in the likes of a bit city like London, New York, or Sydney. If you want to continue eating Laotian food after you leave Laos, you’re just going to have to learn to cook it.
This is how I ended up taking a cooking class with Tamarind in Luang Prabang, easily the best cookery class I took in Southeast Asia. I learned to cook chicken inside lemongrass stalks, fish in bamboo leaves (Mok Pa), and one of my favourite Laotian dishes: Laap. While many bucket list experiences in Southeast Asia are simply nice memories, these are skills that I continue to use.
If you’re looking for a unique thing to do when in Southeast Asia, I would say that not only do you have to visit Laos, but you have to take a try a cooking class there as well.
Visit the Kuang Si Waterfalls
Off Luang Prabang, Laos
Recommended by Dave from Dave On Arrival
Kuang Si Waterfalls is one of the most popular sites to visit in the country of Laos. About 30 kilometers outside the tourist town of Luang Prabang, it is easy to get a taxi from the center of town or a tour shuttle from your hotel/hostel. Rent a motorbike if you’re feeling adventurous. Once at the entrance to the park, there is an admission fee of 20,000 kip, less than U$3.
On your hike to the falls there is a bear rescue center that is no extra cost to stop and look at the bears and photograph them playing and eating. The trail to the main falls only takes about 10 minutes total to hike. If you go during the dry season, Dec-Apr, the water is a stunning turquoise blue but there is not much water flowing down the falls. During the rainy season, the water is brown and the falls are much more filled out. There are pools to swim in as well to cool off from the Laos heat. I recommend going further along the trail to get to the top of the waterfall for great viewpoints and fun walking bridges.
Kuang Si Waterfalls is a great half day adventure. There are even more trails to explore, there are places to eat, places to swim, and places to just relax. Do yourself a favor and don’t rush your time at this place.
Exploring Bolaven Plateau by Motorbike
Southern Laos, Laos
Recommended by Megan from Bobo & ChiChi
One unforgettable experience in Southeast Asia would be exploring Laos’ Bolaven Plateau via motorbike witnessing one magical waterfall after another. The Bolaven Plateau is famous for being the coffee region of Laos since it has a higher elevation and cooler climate than the rest of the country. Within the coffee plantations are one majestic waterfall after another that you wonder why this area isn’t more talked about.
Spend as little as 3 days doing a shorter version of the motorbike loop up to 7 days visiting the different villages in remote parts of the country where you won’t see another tourist, just friendly locals who live in this beautiful enchanting area.
A few highlights include Paksong where there are incredible waterfalls like Tad Fane, a double waterfall that drops hundreds of feet, the gorgeous falls of Tad Yuang, and Tad E-tu. Be sure to make a stop at Tat Lo, one of the best villages to just chill and hangout and stay in a bungalow overlooking a waterfall as well as day hikes to more waterfalls. And a must woud be visiting Tad Tayicseua, private land owned by a woman who lets guests stay near her 15 waterfalls that are all located close together and can be seen in less than an hour and half of walking.
Travel by Slow Boat from Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang
Mekong Delta, Laos
Recommended by Danielle from Like Riding a Bicycle
You can get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in one of two ways: you can either take bus and then a fast boat, or a bus and then the slow boat. You’re thinking you should totally go for the fast boat, right? I mean, who wouldn’t? You want to make the most of your trip and get from point A to point B quickly.
That’s what I thought. And I was so wrong.
For one, people tend to get sick on the fast boat so I’ve heard. They also have a nice tendency to crash on occasion. But that’s not what makes the slow boat so spectacular. It is a boat with car seats to in, complete with bathroom and snacks sold. But it’s so much more than that. They sell beer, and it becomes a complete party. You make friends with everyone on the boat. You can have a smoke in the back and befriend locals (who might offer you some mystery food as they did me), and just have a great time. Meanwhile, you’re going through some of the most spectacular scenery you’ve ever seen.
The slow boat takes two full days, with a stop in a random tiny town in Laos along the way to sleep. You’d think you’d be dying to get off by the end, but all I wanted was to travel everywhere like that!
Experience Sunrise at the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia
The ancient temple of Borobudur is a must visit when in Indonesia. This 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple is located just outside of Yogyakarta in Central Java, and is spectacular. Planning a visit? Make it an even more magical experience by visiting Borobudur at sunrise.
Surf Some Epic Waves in Indonesia
If you are a keen surfer, then it’s time to get packing and head over to Indonesia.
A pro surfer? Check out Lhonknga, near Banda Aceh or the Mentawai Islands. Still a beginner? No worries, there are plenty of places around Bali that are perfect for learning. Numerous surf schools are setup in Bali to help you get started. You could even try out night surfing at the Komune Resort in Keramas, Bali.
Hiking Mount Bromo
East Java, Indonesia
Recommended by Patrick from German Backpacker
The Mount Bromo volcano on Indonesia’s island Java should be part of every travel bucket list – you’ll have an unforgettable experience!
I visited Mt. Bromo on my overland journey from Yogyakarta to the east, towards the neighboring island Bali. Arriving quite late at the small village close to the mountain, I only had a short sleep since I wanted to make it to the volcano right in time for sunrise. In the middle of the night I woke up – it was freezing outside thanks to the high altitude – and made my way up to the observation deck from where I had an awesome view on the volcanic landscape. Although it was crowded with other tourists, it was incredible to see the sun slowly rising over this surreal scenery.
Afterwards, I made my way down the hill and went closer to the volcano. While some people rented horses, I rather hiked up to the edge of Mt. Bromo. The volcano is very active and rising smoke from the crater once again reminded me of it. It’s awesome how close you can actually get to the volcano, you can hike around the crater rim for unforgettable views. This is hands down one of the best experiences in Southeast Asia which you can’t miss!
Dive with Manta Rays
Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Recommended by Lotte from Phenomenal Globe
Ever since getting my PADI I’ve been trying to dive whenever possible. So far I’ve been lucky enough to go diving in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Australia and …. Indonesia! On the small island Nusa Lembongan (next to Bali) I went on a dive trip to Manta Point, which is near Nusa Penida. It’s called Manta Point for a reason.
Because there are a lot of plankton and jelly fish in the waters around Nusa Penida, the majestic manta rays can be seen feeding here year-round. You have to be lucky to see them, they are wild animals and go wherever they please. But usually they can be found swimming and feeding in the beautiful ocean of Nusa Penida. It was such a magical and humbling experience to swim with these gentle giants… Needless to say you have to keep a safe distance, but a big manta swam over us and it’s one of my most cherished memories.
If you love diving you must go to Nusa Penida to swim with the Manta Rays! It’s something you’ll never forget and a great thing to tick off your Southeast Asia bucket list!
See the Blue Flames from the Ijen Volcano
East Java, Indonesia
Recommended by Rachel from Grateful Gypsies
Kawah Ijen is an active volcano located in East Java. This isn’t like other volcanos, though. This volcano emits gases that burn bright blue at night. Many believe that it is lava but in fact, it is the light from the combustion of sulfuric gases. The gases escape through cracks in the volcano at high pressure and temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius. It looks like lava because some of the gases condense into sulfur and continue to burn while it rolls down the mountain.
The best way to visit the volcano is by arranging a jeep to take you there and then a guide to walk you up the mountain and show you the safest way down the crater. They’ll also provide gas masks to protect you from the poisonous gases coming out of the volcano. The hikes are not usually allowed to start until 3 am. It’s almost like a race; everyone and their guide wait at the starting point until they’re allowed to go. Then it’s a mad rush up the volcano to see who can get there first.
When you arrive at the top, you’re greeted by the men who come to mine the sulfur for the rubber industry. Then you’ll make your way down towards the largest crater lake that’s filled with hydrochloric acid, giving it a bright green color. After you’ve had your fill of the blue flames and dodging the poisonous gases, you’ll head back up to the crater rim where you can enjoy an incredible sunrise above the clouds.
Trek Mount Batur at Sunrise
Recommended by Hannah & Adam from Getting Stamped
Southeast Asia is full of bucket list activities. The first one we ever checked off our bucket list was while on our honeymoon. We set our alarms for 2 am, why you ask because trekking Mount Batur at sunrise was on our bucket list. The hike up is pitch black but we went with a trekking guide that knew the way and our headlamps helped lead the way.
I remember starting out the trek freezing covered in layers and by the time I made it to the top of Mount Batur I was down to shorts and a sports bra. Once at the top, we sat and waited for what we came up there for the sunrise. It didn’t disappoint!
We enjoyed taking in the view and warming up with tea and a breakfast of boiled eggs cooked by the heat of the mountain’s hot springs. We let the other people head down early so we could have some extra time to enjoy the view and chat with our local guide. We slowly made our way down the mountain and onto the next bucket list item!
Swimming with Turtles
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
Recommended by Greta from Greta’s Travels
Swimming with turtles is an experience that can’t miss from your Southeast Asian bucket list. Just off the coast of the beautiful island of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia there is a stunning underwater world to discover. While it might not be as rich in corals as some of its other Southeast Asian counterparts here there are a lot of turtles that you can easily find and swim with.
In the central area of the island there are a lot of companies that offer turtle exploration excursions, or all along the beach you will find kiosks where locals will rent you snorkelling gear at cheap prices if you want to do your own thing. We decided to do our own thing since our hotel, Wilson’s Retreat, provided free snorkelling gear to its guests and a reassurance that we were in the best turtle spot of Gili Trawangan.
While we had our doubts they quickly went away after we jumped in the water and after only 20 minutes of swimming spotted the first two turtles. These close encounters in the wild are a truly magical experience that I recommend to everyone who is travelling in Southeast Asia. Gili Trawangan is also the perfect island on which to relax between a swim and the next, with lots of bars on the beach, no cars or scooters only bicycles or horse carts to get around, and stunning sunsets.
Visit Angels Billabong
Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Recommended by Claire from Claire’s Footsteps
Nusa Penida is nowhere near as well known as the rest of Bali, but it’s quite possibly the most scenic of Bali’s islands. It includes some amazing attractions, my favourite of which was Angel’s Billabong.
Located near Broken Beach, it is a natural pool amongst two cliffs, with the underlying rock and blue water creating a breathtaking natural effect; it will be where you take some of your best Bali photos for sure! You can climb down into the billabong and swim in the cool waters, but be careful – the waves in Nusa Penida are lethal, and people have died by going too close to the edge.
No buses run on Nusa Penida, so the only ways to reach the billabong are by renting a scooter or organising a private driver. If you’re not confident on dirt roads on a scooter, be aware that the roads are very bad leading up to this area of the island – local drivers are cheap, so it may be an idea to take a lift instead. There is no entry fee to reach the billabong, so it’s a great place to visit if you’re travelling in Bali on a budget.
Diving at the Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park, Indoensia
Recommended by Stefan and Sebastien from Nomadic Boys
The Komodo National Park just off the Flores island in Indonesia is by far one of the best places we’ve gone scuba diving in our travels. The Komodo National Park forms part of the Coral Triangle, which contains one of the richest marine biodiversity on earth. It’s so stunning here that it was even selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011.
The Coral Triangle is also the global heart of lots of marine biodiversity, holding 75% of the world’s coral species, 6 of the world’s 7 marine turtle species and 3000 marine fish species. That’s why it’s a paradise for scuba divers.
We absolutely loved it here and were spoilt rotten. In every dive we’d see a plethora of reef sharks, turtles, rays, many tropical fish, and in one, we even saw moray eels out of their holes, fighting.
If you love scuba diving, then diving in the Komodo National Park should be top of your Southeast Asia bucket list!
Go Hunting for Speakeasy Bars in Singapore
Go on a search for Speakeasy Bars in Singapore. It is so totally fun to try and find them…and once you’ve found them, many of them are worth the search. From seemingly ‘locked doors’ to tea shops asking you for a password…looks can be deceiving, but behind the walls you might just find a super cool bar serving up delicious cocktails. Ohhh Singapore at night is just so much fun to explore!
28 Hong Kong Street was named Asia’s Top Bar in 2016 (and 7th in the World), and it totally lives up to its reputation. It’s a quaint little bar located on Hong Kong street in Singapore and it serves some of the best cocktails around. Not sure what to order? Just let the bartender know your spirit of choice and they will surely whip something delicious up.
Or visit The Library, where from the outside looks like a hipster tea and spice shop. But the hostess won’t let you through the walls until you can answer one simple questions…”What’s the Password?”
Eat Up at Singapore’s Famous Hawker Centres
Recommended by Jonathan from The Royal Tour
Singapore is a world-class destination. It has amazing architecture, fantastic museums, and a truly inviting cultural mix. But the real reason to go to Singapore is simple: it is one of the best cities for food on the planet. And, unlike other food cities like New York or Tokyo, the best food in Singapore won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The best food can be found in Hawker Centers.
A Hawker Center is like a food court on steroids. Each booth pretty much serves a single dish. Singapore has more than 100 of these centers, totaling more than 6,000 food stalls. You can identify the best ones by the lines; Singaporeans will wait for food. And this food is truly great. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in a Chinatown Hawker Center won a Michelin star!! Their signature dish will run you about S$1.50. If the world’s cheapest Michelin starred food – along with the rest of its incredible tasting neighbors – isn’t a bucket list item, I don’t know what is.
Swimming in the Infinity Pool at Marina Bay Sands
Recommended by Nicholas from The Rambling Feet
While the Marina Bay Sands resort doesn’t have Singapore’s only infinity pool, it’s become the one to go to. It’s also the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool, but that statistic isn’t the main draw.
The edge of the 146-metre long pool gives a fantastic view of the Singapore skyline. From 191 metres above the ground, you can spy on the tourists posing for pictures with the Merlion fountain and your resort. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down behind the skyscrapers and colonial edifices. In addition, you can watch events like the Singapore Grand Prix and the National Day fireworks display from the pool.
What’s the price of this privilege? If you want to stay on the right side of the law, room rates start from S$450 a night. There are security measures to keep non-guests from sneaking in, but they won’t deter some people…
You can pay a lot less for a ticket to the observation deck next to the pool or a drink in the restaurant behind. However, it just isn’t the same as cooling off in the tropical heat while you enjoy the view.
Go Island Hopping
Recommended by Jules from Don’t Forget to Move
If you’re looking to add one thing to your Philippines travel itinerary, then you can’t go past hopping between the 7,000+ gorgeous islands that make up the Philippines archipelago. From the unforgettable stretches of white sand at Kalanggaman Island, to swimming with sea turtles at Apo Island , the Philippines has something for the adventure traveler, the relaxing beach goer, the cultural enthusiast or all three.
Aside from being one of the most beautiful countries, Filipino hospitality is equally impressive and world class. Friendly hellos and big smiles welcome you at every island you visit and locals are always recommending hidden treasures to explore along the way.
The best way to island hop in the Philippines is via motorcycle, as you can get around the quickest and avoid long, crowded buses. The Philippines has a well-established network of ferries and boats to transport you from island to island, so you can ride on and ride off without too much hassle. If you’re not game to take on a motorcycle, you can also find relatively cheap flight between the major islands and use public or private transport along the way. However you choose to travel, island hopping in the Philippines is one adventure you won’t forget when you’re traveling around Southeast Asia.
Spelunking and Visiting the Hanging Coffins in Sagada
Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines
Recommended by Kevin from The Outcast Journey
Sagada is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. It is home to the Northern Kankana-ey ethnolinguistic group or commonly known as Igorots which means “people of the mountains”. It’s great to see that these people still preserve their culture and tradition that can definitely be felt as you make your way around the place. One of these is the Hanging Coffins, a popular spot for the tourists, showcases the Igorots’ burial tradition wherein dead people are placed inside a rectangular wood assumed to be in a fetal position and are hung from the cliffs depending on the ranking of the deceased.
Another must-try activity to add to your ultimate Southeast Asian bucket list is to try spelunking in Sagada’s big caves. The basic yet tiring one is to explore the Sumaguing cave that has the largest chamber which connects all the 60 caves of the town. This paradise is blessed with stalactites, stalagmites and columns, and has actually stages; first stage is the ‘descent’; second part is just to be amazed with the hidden gems inside the cave while walking through slippery stones; and the last stage which requires your upper body strength as you will need rope to climb and pass through some rocks, prepare also to get wet in this stage.
If you want to experience a tougher cave activity, the ‘cave connection’, as they call it, might be perfect for you in which you are ought to do spelunking in two caves that will roughly take about 3-4 hours.
Island Exploration at El Nido
El Nido, Phillipines
Recommended by Alejandro from Visit Copper Canyon
El Nido is located on the northern tip of the Filipino island of Palawan. The island of Palawan itself has been ranked by different media sources for multiple years running as the most beautiful island in the world.
The ranking is certainly justified as some of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen are concentrated in an archipelago around El Nido, a town which is not yet easily accessible to tourists. This only heightens the allure with a rugged, unspoiled paradise-like feel.
Untouched by large hotel chains the town is small and it’s inhabitants friendly. Booking an island hopping tour is easy and prices are negotiable. They’re usually group tours but can be booked privately if your budgets allows for it.
Most tours are one day but some agencies offer two-day tours where you spend the night on one of the deserted islands, camping on the beach.
With each tour there’s time for snorkelling and it’s the most incredible snorkelling I’ve ever experienced. The water is warm and the biodiversity is simply breath-taking. Don’t forget to wear biodegradable sunblock and don’t step on the corals. Keep Palawan beautiful!
Visiting an Indigenous Tribe in Kalinga
Recommended by Katherine from Tara Let’s Anywhere
For the last several years, Kalinga has rarely made it to the travellers’ lists of cultural experiences in Southeast Asia. Today though, this province is now open to everyone who wish to see the mountain sights in Kalinga and get to know the Butbut Tribe, one of the 30+ ethnic groups in the area.
The Butbut Tribe lives in a simple community composed of about 200 households. They live in stilted houses. They take care of black pigs and farm – in fact, the rice terraces they tend to, known as the Tinglayan Rice terraces, is one of the most scenic landscapes in the Cordillera Region. They also make their own Arabica coffee.
As a tourist, you can experience first-hand their community life, explore the surrounding rice terraces and waterfalls in the area and learn about the locals’ history. Moreover, you can meet Apo Whang-Old, a 100-year-old tribal woman in the community. Apo Whang-Od is always sought out since she is considered the last mambabatok (hand-tapped tattoo artist) in Kalinga. She uses traditional materials such as thorns to tattoo ethnic designs, previously reserved for specific cultural and aesthetic purposes (ie, recognition for warriors and body decoration for the women).
Visiting Kalinga is a must-do item especially for those who want to delve into the roots of culture in the Philippines and experience something different when they travel to Southeast Asia.
Explore the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
El Nido, Phillipines
Recommended by Megan from Red Around the World
The subterranean river often gets overlooked on trips to Palawan for island hopping in El Nido. It’s the perfect activity for a free morning or afternoon and can be done on your own or as part of a tour. It’s a short boat ride from Sabang to the western side of the island near the Saint Paul mountain range.
Once you get there, you get into a smaller boat and head into the rather unsuspecting entrance. There are bats flying above you while the guide explains everything and shows you around with the flashlight. It’s a short trip, but cool to see.
Ride a Motorcycle Across Vietnam
Recommended by Alya & Campbell from Stingy Nomads
Riding a motorcycle across Vietnam is a bucket list item that all adventure junkies should add to their list! Vietnam is a long, narrow country, perfect to cross without missing any of the spectacular sites. This famous road trip is on the Ho Chi Min way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min (previously Saigon) in either direction. Since there are more than 39 million motorbikes on the road, finding cheap bikes on the second-hand market is easy and selling it after your trip won’t be a problem. The average price for a Honda Win 110cc Chinese copy is about $200. The trip takes 2 to 6 weeks.
We had so many adventures on the way, Scuba diving, hiking and exploring the unique and fantastic sites throughout Vietnam. With mountain passes, many trucks, thousands of motorbikes on the road and constant rain it is not the safest roadtrip to go on. Fantastic coffee, beautiful scenery, interesting people and scenes like motorbikes loaded with cages of chickens or even pigs are guaranteed to leave you with memories you will treasure for life.
Exploring the Con Dao Islands
Con Dao, Vietnam
Recommended by Shweta from Zest in a Tote
Researching on luxury beach resorts in Vietnam for our 2-week family trip, we stumbled upon Con Dao islands. Con Dao islands have been protected for decades as a national and marine park. There are thick forests on these islands, as well as lovely beaches, bays and coral reefs.
We took a direct 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Son. Pristine as it is now, it is difficult to imagine Con Son as ‘hell on earth’ – thousands of prisoners were confined in jails during the French rule (The Prison tour is quite popular with the locals visiting).
I dived close to the shore, but dive operators can take you to islands further off. Being a protected national park has ensured that there is lot to see underwater – the variety and the colours of the corals are a delight and so is the colourful fish and other marine life. These islands are also home to the largest natural turtle population in Vietnam. From May to October every year, visitors arriving on Con Dao Island have the opportunity to experience turtles laying eggs and baby turtles hatching.
There are some white sandy beaches around the island – the best part is they are never too crowded.
Sailing through Halong Bay on a Junk
Off Hanoi, Vietnam
Recommended by Alan & Rosalind from Frequent Traveller
Halong Bay had long been on our Southeast Asian bucket list, and planning an overnight cruise in the bay on a Junk was a dream come true. With its emerald waters surrounded by limestone islands and breathtaking scenery we knew we were in for a treat as soon as we boarded the boat that was to be our home for two unforgettable days.
Legend has it that Halong Bay was created when a mountain Dragon flew down to the coast. As he dashed about, his tail gouged out valleys that filled with water when he descended into the sea. It’s easy to relate to that tale as you sail through the crystal waters between islands that look as though they magically rose out of the bay.
One and two day overnight cruises are extremely popular with visitors to this pristine waterway which is only a few hour’s drive from the bustling city of Hanoi in Northern Vietnam. The cruises offer a range of styles to suit all tastes and budgets. Our cruise included sunset cocktails on deck, followed by a scrumptious four course Vietnamese meal prepared by the onboard chief, and followed by a relaxing evening chatting with fellow passengers on the deck under the moonlight.
Rising early to catch the sunrise over the bay we had just enough time for a swim in the refreshing waters before enjoying the freshly prepared breakfast. A great start to the day, which included visiting one of the many limestone caves and an onboard cooking demonstration of Vietnamese spring rolls during the return journey. Disembarking around early afternoon we both made the decision that when visiting again, we would definitely take the two-day cruise as there is so much to see and do on a Halong Bay cruise.
Visiting one of the World’s Largest Cave – Hang Son Doong
Phong Nha, Vietnam
Recommended by Mike from Live, Travel, Teach
Hang Son Doong is the world’s largest cave and and should be on every adventurer’s ultimate bucketlist in Southeast Asia. The cave was only recently discovered and opened for tours in 2013 making it one of the least visited places on Earth. Your trip through the jungle will take you deep into the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park and through numerous rivers. The trail gets trickier as you descend into the cave but thanks to Oxalis (the only company allowed to take tours into the cave) you’ll have plenty of safety gear and guides to help you along the way.
Inside the cave are two dolines, or collapsed sections, where the jungle has grown into the cave creating a magical landscape that are aptly named Watch out for Dinosaurs and The Garden of Edam. When I visited the tour was a week long and took you through Hang En too but Oxalis has shortened the tour to 4 days, 3 nights to let more adventurers see this natural wonder. If the $3000 price tag is too rich for your budget be sure to check out Paradise Cave, Dark Cave or any of the other amazing things to do in Phong Nha!
Visiting the Cai Rang Floating Market
Can Tho, Vietnam
Recommended by Lavina from Continent Hop
Located in the Mekong Delta, Can Tho’s Cai Rang floating market has been around for ages. From earlier times, trading by using boats, ensuring the backwaters helped commerce, has been a way of life for many people living in South-East Asia.
Usually, fruits and veggies are sold at wholesale prices, however it’s not uncommon to find spices and cosmetics too! If you’re feeling chilly or are hungry, sampans – smaller, nimble boats selling coffee, Pho and other snacks can be found making their way through the maze.
The market starts early at about 5 am till 12 pm. People shout about their wares and try to sell you goodies as you float by in your boat. It’s fascinating to watch colourful products like dragon fruit, grapefruits and other tropical fruits hung on poles so that customers can easily see it. If you’re looking to purchase something, all you need to do is stand up and wave, and vendors will make their way to you.
A little away from the buzz of the market you’ll find people who’ve made the Delta their home, by building houses on stilts. Many even make the boat their home and you tend to notice this as, while the parents are busy selling, the children are found either helping out or studying in one corner of the boat, while elders may be taking a nap.
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This is an excellent guide to what to see in southeast Asia! I’m quite intrigued by Laos, as it’s the only country on the list I’ve not yet been to. However, I’ve only seen Bali and Jakarta, but those temples in Yogakarta look incredible, even though I know so many people have now been!
Oh my! So many wonderful things to do! I can’t even pick where to start! I have always wanted to visit the floating market and swimming with turtles seems like an amazing experience. I also loved the Speakeasy bars suggestion. I visited one in Mexico city that was hidden behind a refrigerator door and it was a lot of fun. Thanks for all the suggestions!
Having backpacking SEA for about 10 month I have done quite a lot from your list but aswell quite a lot what I havent done! I would love to island hopping in the Philippines for an exemple! We were in the Philippines for about a month but never really island hopped one island after another. Visiting Hang son Doong sounds quite amazing aswell! Or the Speakeasy bars in Singapore seems like to be a different experience!
I’ve done a fair few on this list and 100% agree with you! This is such a comprehensive and well thought out list that I wish I’d seen before we went! Komodo National Park and that whole region is one of the highlights of my entire travels, and it’s also where I swam with Manta Rays, which was an unbelievable experience. This has given me such wanderlust to go back you have no idea!
This is such a lovely & comprehensive compilation of things to see and do when Southeast Asia. I would love to visit Indonesia hands down for witnessing the volcano and swimming an diving in pristine waters among tortoise. The Philippines will be next for beach hopping.
Oh wow, I don’t even know where to start, there’s so many wonderful and amazing options to choose from. Cooking classes, markets, shopping, rice paddies, the beach, the food, sailing on a junk! And so much more! Thanks for making such an amazing list of amazing things to do in Southeast Asia.
I have just started my South East Asia exploration this year with Singapore as my first destination and except Marina Bay Sands I did experience all things that you mentioned. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and now out of this list Indonesia and Laos are my top priority. You have explained them so well that I wanna travel there sooner
I lived in South East Asia all my life and tried many of this. Being from the Philippines, I’m not proud to say that I have least experience in my country since I’ve been based in Singapore and traveled mostly in other South East Asian countries. Though one thing from the list I really want to do, however, it’s expensive, that is HANG SON DOONG cave in Vietnam.
Ploughing the rice paddy fields with water buffalo in Laos sounds like such hard work, yet so much fun, I would definitely give that a try! Also the subterranean river in the Philipines looks stunning, just look at that water! I would love to kayak or go diving in it!
Wow you really covered so much giving insight on tons of things I never knew existed in Southeast Asia. Loved all your hiking and trekking spots. Great mix of things to do. I feel after reading this, I could plan an entire trip and be 100% satisfied with it.
This is absolutely amazing – many people living in this part of the world may think that Southeast Asia is boring and uninteresting, but actually there are so many experiences to indulge in and enjoy. After all, that’s why the region is able to attract massive hordes of tourists from other parts of the world, right?
This really helps me sum up everything in my travel bucket list. There is so much nature wanders in our neighboring countries that is such fascinated.