Secrets of Travelling Southeast Asia from World’s Best Tour Guide

Traveling around Asia has been one of the best experiences of my life and it can be one of yours, too! Bali, Cambodia and Thailand are essential must-visit countries while in Asia and I’ve listed some of my favourite off-the-beaten-track experiences. They are biased to my personal tastes, but trust me, I’m a people-pleaser.

Bali Must Do’s

I’ve been to Bali twice and decided that you can travel there in one of two ways: you can save a load of money and go for two weeks and live like a king, or you can save a load of money and go for two months and live like a backpacker.

I’ve done both and have to admit doing the backpacker thing gave me more memories and friends than I could have imagined (but living like a king was bliss).

Here’s everything you definitely need to do while in Bali:

#1 Learn to Surf

You can learn to surf in Bali with laid back local surf instructors at Kuta Beach. It is definitely the way to go if you are eager to learn how to surf, but don’t know where to start.

The guides take your surfing ability to the next level, so I basically went from amateur to pro within a single lesson! 

Where: Odyssey’s Surf School
Address: Jalan Pantai Kuta, 80361 Kuta-Bali, Indonesia

Contact: info@odysseysurfschool.com

Bali -Surf Lesson

#2 The Monkey Forest

Ubud is hands down my favourite place in Bali. While in Ubud, you must visit the ‘Little Locals’ at the Monkey Forest.

This sanctuary is inhabited by a band of grey-haired and greedy long-tailed Balinese macaques who may I add, are nothing like the innocent looking doe-eyed monkeys on the brochures. 

Address: Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
Hours: 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM

#3 Snorkeling The Gili Islands

Do it! The snorkeling around the Gili Islands is the best in Asia, you see turtles, all kinds of amazing coral and fish and there is even a shipwreck of an old Japanese World War II patrol boat, around 20 meters long, sat upright on the sandy bottom.

Quick tip: It’s a little deep for untrained lungs to get too close, but you can still see it in all its heroic beauty.
Snorkel with: Blue Marlin Dive
Address: Sunset Beach, Gili Air
Contact: info@bluemarlingilimeno.com

#4 Tanah Lot Temple

Now it’s time to explore the culture of Bali by visiting the magnificent Tanah Lot Temple, which is found in a rock formation in the sea. This is a holy place to worship the Balinese sea gods, and although you cannot actually enter the temple, the architecture is phenomenal and can definitely be admired from the outside.

Photo credit: robertofaccenda.it via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: robertofaccenda.it

#5 Visit A Coffee Plantation

Sampling the world’s most expensive coffee is a unique experience. Funny enough, it’s made by the poop of a cat-like creature called a kopi luwak, and can cost up to £51 a cup!

Quick tip: Enjoy a mug of the good stuff while overlooking the active volcano of Mt. Batur and spend the afternoon wandering around the famous Tegallalang Rice Terraces.

Again, something you have to see to believe. The beauty is unmatched.



#6 Rent a villa in Seminyak

This one is a little expensive, but well worth the money. Five friends and I rented out a private villa in Seminyak which featured an indoor/outdoor pool, on-call villa staff (to supply you with beers at any point of the day/night), food prepared fresh each day, and free transfers to all the local parties.

Quick tip: If you have the money or a special occasion worth celebrating, I must insist that you do this at least once.

Find rentals here: Villa Bali

#7 Potato Head

While we are pretending to be regular big spenders, make sure you visit two places in Seminyak: Potato Head, a chilled out pool bar right on the beach. The beers are expensive and there’s a minimum spend in order to have a private bed, but it’s worth it for a nice day.

Then head to La Favela, the best club in Bali, by far!

Address: Jl. Petitenget 51B Seminyak, Bali 83061, Indonesia
Hours: 10:00 AM – 2:00 AM

#8 Padang Padang Beach

This beach is beautiful and an absolute must see. However, it is very crowded and the current isn’t ideal for less confident swimmers.

Quick tip: There’s a great bar where you can sit and enjoy a Bintang, whilst watching the beginner surfers struggle to balance on their boards. 

Photo credit: Sam

Photo credit: Sam

#9 Uluwatu Temple

Experience the serenity of this Hindu temple that’s set on a cliff bank with a stunning view of the Indian Ocean, boasting spectacular sunsets.

Quick tip: The temple is inhabited by monkeys, notorious for snatching visitors’ belongings, so make sure you take off those fake Ray Bans before entering! They can usually be persuaded into trading items for fruit, so don’t worry too much.

#10 Hire Bikes On Gili T

Cycle around Gili T, seeing the sights and marveling at the amazing sunset, while also indulging in the opportunity of the Ombak sunset swing (a very famous picture perfect spot amongst travellers!).

Quick tip: In the evening you have to party… island style! Visit some of the island’s famous bars: Blue Marlin, Sama Sama Reggae Bar and more.
Bike Rentals: Bali Bike-Baik

Cambodia Must Do’s

So Cambodia was an amazing experience, to say the least, and it’s an absolute must-visit for travellers exploring Southeast Asia. I went on a tour around Cambodia with the world famous TruTravels, on our trial run for our new Cambodia tour.

Let’s just say we ticked all the boxes with this trip, from culture and partying to relaxing in some amazing surroundings.

#1 Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s #1 tourist attraction, but don’t let that stop you. The park is just outside Siem Reap and is home to dozens of ancient temple ruins. Grab a guide (you’ll learn more) and a tuk-tuk and get ready for a hot sweaty day of temple trekking.

Quick tip: You can also see the temples via elephant or helicopter, if you’re a baller.

 

 

Photo credit: jafsegal via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Photo credit: jafsegal

Kingdom of Wonders lives in the stone, in the dust and in the blood of its people.  Our journey to find things to see in Cambodia has stunned me.  The architecture of the temples, the warmth and friendly approach from the locals, and the sheer beauty of the coastline have left me only yearning for more!  Whilst it must be the dustiest country that we have ever visited it is also one of the most memorable!  Favorite places?  Definitely Angkor Wat Temples, Kampong Khleang and Koh Rong Samloem! – Jolene & Andrzej, Wanderlust Storytellers

#2 S21

 S21 was once a school that was transformed into a prison and torture chamber by the Khmer Rouge, the former Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. The site hasn’t changed all that much and is definitely a very eerie place (one of the so-called most haunted places in the world, in fact) but a must visit on the checklist. 

#3 Sihanoukville

The beaches are clean and lined with lounges and restaurants waiting to feed you, while you sun yourself and sip fruity drinks.

Quick tip: You can also hop on a boat and visit some islands and go snorkeling, or just sit on the beach and sip a few cocktails.

Photo credit: Damien @ Flickr via Visual hunt / CC BY

Photo credit: Damien @ Flickr

#4 Koh Rong Samloem

Just off the coast of Koh Rong is Koh Rong Samloem, an island powered exclusively by generators, the closest thing to what backpacking would have been like 20 years ago. I spent two days as a true beach bum but you can choose to chill on the luscious white sand, sip cocktails at the bar or soak up the rays for as long as you desire!

Quick tip: I recommend a boat cruise around the island to hit up some awesome snorkeling spots, or try some fishing and kick back in the crystal clear waters.

#5 Arcadia, Kampot

I visited Kampot and stayed at hostel called Arcadia that I highly recommend. It’s right on the river and you can spend your days knocking back cocktails, kayaking the river or just enjoying the onsite waterpark.

The staff are fun, the beds are clean and the beers are cheap…what more could you want?



#6 Casino in Sihanoukville

While in Sihanoukville, you have to hit up the casino and blow some hard-earned cash. We thought we were high rollers, but I left having spent only 20 dollars and winning nothing; it was a good laugh though and the alcohol is free.

Gamble at: Sokha Hotels
Address: Street 2 Thnou Sihanouk Ville, Kingdom of Cambodia

#7 Killing Fields

You must visit the Killing Fields whilst in Phnom Penh. There are a number of sites in Cambodia where, collectively, more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime.

This is a truly surreal experience, but one you have to do.

Cambodia---Killing-fields-compressor

#8 Dolphin Shack Booze Cruise

This is easily the best booze cruise I have ever been on, from the sunny islands of Spain to Australia this bad boy is number one. They give you unlimited booze to go along with entertaining hosts and amazing scenery.

If you like to party, you absolutely need to jump on this booze cruise.

#9 Pub Street, Siem Reap

A long road teeming with bars and restaurants, with bright lights, shockingly bad music, insanely cheap beer, and lots of young backpackers out for a laugh, Pub Street makes any boring night exciting.

Photo by Alan Wat

Photo by Alan Wat

#10 Dine In The Dark

Dine in the Dark in Phnom Penh is an exciting and unusual experience where you eat in complete darkness. The food and service are excellent and I cannot stress my recommendation enough.

You get to feel good because all the money goes to helping Cambodia’s blind population, and the restaurant employs exclusively blind staff who would, otherwise, struggle to make ends meet. 

Address: Street 19, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Hours: 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM

Thailand Must Do’s

I’m going to find it extremely hard to list just ten things you should do in Thailand. I’ve lived here for two years now and this is my home, and believe me the list of things to do in Thailand is pretty much endless.

The people are amazing, the beaches are amazing, the food is amazing and the prices are amazing. I’ve never been so far away from home, but felt so at home. 

Being blown away by daily cultural and historical discoveries through Pad Thais, and Tuk Tuk rides are the mainstream inspirations, when you visit the Kingdom of Thailand. Being at the center of the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia, this welcoming nation is filled with beautiful golden temples that are not only world class, but also perfectly out of this world. Expect to be especially wowed by the Wat Ratchanatdaram, which is an iron castle with five towers, embroidered with large black iron spires. – Bowdy, Bowdy Wanders

#1 Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan

So you have to head down to my favorite island and home, Koh Phangan, and spend a night at Bottle Beach.

If you can get down to visit on one of the nights the Tru Family are rolling through, then you’ll be in for a magical night. A secluded beach surrounded by jungle with beach huts, Bottle Beach, is only accessible by boat or a 4×4 truck, but it’s one of the best beaches in Thailand.

Quick tip: While there, you just have to meet Babu for a special price happy hour!

Southeast Asia will pull you into it’s charm quicker than you can learn to say “Sawasdee-ka”. Southeast Asia is such a fun place to travel and partly because you can travel so quickly. Plane tickets are very cheap and hopping around countries is a lot faster than other places. Our best experience was swimming with elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand and rock climbing in Krabi, Thailand! Vietnam was our favorite cultural experience and Halong Bay is not to miss! Just stunning! – Landon & Alyssa, Uneven Sidewalks

bottlebeach

#2 Khao Sok National Park

Most backpackers will never visit Khao Sok National Park because it comes with an expensive price tag and is a time consuming trip to coordinate. However, I promise that it’s worth the hassle.

The park is like Halong Bay without all the boats and crowds of backpackers. Pictures don’t do it justice and the fact that you sleep in floating bungalows on a fresh water lake seals the deal with a completely unforgettable experience.

Thailand - Khao Sok

#3 Khao San Road

The famous Khao San Road has it all.

Satisfy your hunger with a visit to a restaurant called Bombay Blues, the best Indian food in Thailand by far.

Then hit up Kim’s Cocktails pop up bar for a delicious bucket of cocktails before slowly making your way up Khao San, hitting every street bar for the cheap beer. Find the one playing the music you enjoy and then dance the night away surrounded by hundreds of other backpackers.

#4 Full Moon Party

Well this one goes without saying… it’s a Full Moon Party, so do it! This is one of the best parties I’ve been to and I’ve been to a lot of parties.

Party among 20,000 people sharing one stretch of beach, smashing buckets and waiting for that ever elusive sunrise before heading up the hill to for an after party.

When: Check the next party here
Where:
Haadrin, Koh Phangan, Thailand



#5 Diving on Koh Tao

After you party till you can’t party anymore, I recommend heading over to Koh Tao to relax on some nice, calming beaches.

Before you head off to the next destination, hit the Koh Tao bar crawl to reinvigorate your liver.

Quick tip: After your hangover settles down, definitely go diving and when you do, visit my mate Mohammed at Mojo Divers. He’s a top bloke who takes good care of any diver he has.
Address: 14/20 Moo 1, Koh Tao, Surat Thani, 84360
Contact: info@mojodiverskohtao.com

#6 Maya Bay, Phi Phi

Whilst visiting the southwest islands of Thailand you have to include the party island of Phi Phi. It is home to the famous Maya Bay, the paradise island Leonardo DiCaprio discovers in The Beach.

You can take day trips around the bay, but if you like to party then do the Blancos booze cruise, it’s pretty pricey but worth the money and you can take massive speed boats full of alcohol and huge sound systems alongside you, while you snorkel the tranquil waters.

Thailand - Maya bay

Having been to Thailand on a number of separate occasions, this country now holds a very special place in our hearts. The spot that we love the most is Koh Phi Phi island. We first visited this small archipelago of islands back in 2013 and have since come back a few more times. The main island, Koh Phi Phi Don is a popular spot among backpackers. It’s home to beautiful beaches and great nightlife, but if partying isn’t your thing, there are lots of great quiet spots where you can get away from it all and bask in the natural beauty of the island. – Oksana & Max, Drink Tea and Travel

#7 Rayong

While in Bangkok you have to head two hours out of the capital to a place called Rayong. It’s not a usual backpacker destination, but it’s got amazing beaches and so many activities.

Rayong is where I tried fly boarding for the first time and also visited an island that doubles as a turtle sanctuary. The place also plays host to one of my favourite bars, Drift.

#8 Railay Beach, Krabi

Railay is another favourite place of mine, a beautiful secluded beach on the west coast that is only accessible by boat. It’s host to the best cocktail bar in the land, Bang Bang Bar and features the freshest cocktails with the best alcohol. 

Thailand - Railay

After living in Thailand for years, I have grown to love the country immensely. The country literally changed my life considering it was my first stop on my one year trip (now six years later and a full passport…).  However, being a professional beach bum, I’d say Krabi, namely Railay and Tonsai, are my happy hippy places with jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery, beaches, and impressive world-class rock climbing. Traveling to Krabi  would be my best recommendation for anyone looking to beach bum on their visit to Thailand. – Nina, Where In The World Is Nina?

#9 Fishing in Railay

While in Railay you have to go sea fishing with my man Ting. The experience is both unforgettable and very affordable and it’s something I try and do each time I visit.

During my last fishing experience I actually caught a shark. It wasn’t exactly Jaws, but still…I caught a shark! This place is so small that by the time you’ve left, you’ll know everyone there.

Railay feels like I’m coming home every time I visit.

I think Thailand is the perfect entrance door to Asia. It’s cheap, it has lovely friendly people and enough infrastructure for all kinds of travelers, but is still different enough for travelers to have a healthy culture shock and a great time exploring the amazing landscapes. My favorite place in Thailand is Chiang Mai. Away from the mega beach resorts down south or the urban craziness that is Bangkok, it’s a place to relax and unwind while immersing into the Thai lifestyle. The food is delicious, the vibe is of a laid-back town with an edge to it and the monks walking on the street give it a special touch. Can’t wait to return! – Bruno, Geeky Explorer


TourRadar’s Guide of the Year Awards highlight exceptionalism and noteworthy achievements within the tour guide community. These awards acknowledge and celebrate guides as the unsung heroes that they are. The 2015 Guide of the Year recipient, Harry Bradbury, has been kind enough to share his expertise on three can’t-miss Southeast Asian destinations for your next getaway.

Want to learn more about TourRadar’s Guide of the Year Awards? If you’re a traveller wanting to support your favourite guide, or if you’re a guide wanting to earn the designation (and prizes) then find out all the details here.