So, you’ve already surfed on the beaches of Bali, wandered through Hanoi, trekked through Chiang Mai, and endured the crazy streets of Bangkok. What now? It might be time to take a trip along that off-the-beaten-path journey, which Southeast Asia seems perfectly curated for.
This effervescing corner of the world’s largest continent is fecund with astounding places where only a few tourists venture. There are the verdant fields of Luang Prabang in Northern Laos, the ancient, pagoda-peppered city of Bagan, the Philippines’ version of the Shetland Isles and so much more.
Travel to: Southeast Asia
A month might not be enough to see all of them, but this alternative itinerary can get you started on ticking some of the best ones off your list.
Start in Manila
Kick off your month-long jaunt in Southeast Asia in the humming Philippines capital. Manila is very much like Bangkok in that it is crowded and filled with skyscrapers, yet it’s also worth exploring at least for a day. There are excellent restaurants that serve jaw-dropping Filipino food especially in Bonifacio Global City (better known as BGC to locals), and old colonial Spanish buildings to see. But don’t plan on seeing more than three things in a day as you might spend a lot of time in traffic.
Length of Visit: Stay for at least a day.
I didn’t go to that many places during my last trip to Manila since I spent most of my time working, from one coffee shop to another. But I could easily say that the old town of Manila, Intramuros, made it to the highlight of my previous trip to Manila. It was the place where the city of Manila was worn. For hundreds of years, the walled city was Manila. The areas outside the wall were called Extramuros. Intramuros was the home of the Spanish colonists & families. The best way to explore the old town is to walk around or to take the horse carriage tour. Make sure you do not miss the Church of San Agustin and Casa Manila during your tour. – Sharon, Sharon Loh
See the Majesty of Batanes
The Philippines might be known for its tropical beaches and thick forests. But, did you know that it’s also home to some of the most epic panoramas? Batanes, a small archipelago in the northern tip of the country, is essentially the Philippines’ answer to the Shetland Islands. The rolling green slopes are alive with spectacular views, idyllic valleys, lighthouses, and Ivatan stone houses that date back to the late 1800s. Carve out some time to take a couple of local tours here as there’s so much to see and photograph.
Length of Visit: Two days should be enough to complete a couple of guided tours
Discover the Gems of Coron
From Manila, take a quick flight down to the hidden paradise of Coron, Palawan.There’s a reason why it has been continually named as one of the best beach destinations in the world. An island-hopping excursion in Coron is far from run of the mill; it is both elevating and unforgettable. Swim into a secret lagoon, take a dip in a hot spring, go diving in a lake and take in the stunning views after an energizing hike.
Length of Visit: Take at least three days, two for excursions, one to relax
For me the highlight of Palawan was definitely Coron. Most people rave about El Nido but to be honest it seemed heaps busy and pricey – I’ve also heard from a few friends that this is still the case, with tourism in El Nido booming in recent year.
Coron, on the other hand, seemed much more relaxed and was certainly a lot more friendly on my budget! Although the town itself isn’t as pretty as El Nido the island hopping here was nothing short of incredible – with so many beautiful reefs, postcard perfect lookout points and it was all pretty stunning! For scuba divers and free divers Coron is one of the best wreck diving hot spots on the planet – with a huge array of Japanese shipwrecks from WW2. Visibility can be a bit hit or miss depending on the currents and the season, but if you get it good the underwater world is just as amazing to explore as the islands themselves! – Chris, Backpacker Banter Travel Blog
Explore the Caves of Phong Nha National Park
Though there are a few other places to visit in the Philippines, it’s time to move on to Vietnam. Skip Hanoi if you’ve already been and head straight to Phong Nha Ke Bang where the outdoor adventure continues. The majestic, Jurassic-esque national park is home to some of the world’s largest and deepest caves. Slumber in a homestay and stay for at least three days as there are a number of things to do. Explore the muddy Hang Toi, take a jungle trek and camp inside Son Doong and zip line over a river.
Length of Visit: Three days to explore several caves, or four days to go on a Son Doong Cave expedition
The highlight of our trip to Phong Nha National Park was getting lost. It might sound a bit strange, but jumping on a motorbike and enjoying the mountain views while taking time to stop off at the incredible caves that you stumble across is, in our view, by far the best way to spend time in this beautiful park. You can see some of the oldest karst mountains and cave networks in the whole of Asia as you journey around the park, and it’s an unforgettable (and budget friendly!) way to explore this stunning world heritage site. – Sarah & Rob, Not Another Travel Blog
Eat Your Way Through the Historic Streets of Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City is a haven for history buffs, with the War Remnants Museum, History Museum, and of course, the Cu Chi Tunnels. It’s also a great city for architecture enthusiasts to marvel at beautiful French colonial buildings. Yet what really stirs your appetite in this city, quite literally, is the food, the glorious food. Savor your two-day visit here by indulging in traditional pho, banh mi, op la and bun bo hue. And that’s just the begining.
Length of Visit: Two days for a quick cultural and gastronomy jaunt
Experience the Enchanting Angkor Wat in Siem Reap
A number of amazing experiences await in Siem Reap, Cambodia from eating deep-fried tarantula, bar crawling on Pub Street, getting a cheap massage, or watching a mesmerizing Aspara performance. Still, when people speak of Siem Reap, they speak of Angkor Wat, and they do so in enraptured tones. Explore your way around the captivating temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see castles, monasteries, statues and admire the intricate Khmer architectural style. Three days should be enough to cover the essential stops.
Length of Visit: Three days should be enough to cover the essential stops
The highlight of my trip to Siem Reap was the hidden and unrestored temples located outside of the tourist circuit. These temples are devoid of crowds which add a mystifying “Lost World” aura surrounding the ruins. I enjoyed exploring Banteay Srei, a red sandstone temple which features one of the finest carvings in the world with unbelievable detail and texture. Other temples such as Beng Melea and Preah Khan are mostly unrestored, tangled with tree roots and brush – temple compounds and galleries are reduced to piles of rubbles, stones, broken doors due to abandonment and neglect over the centuries. – Kathleen, Kat Pegi Mana: Where is Kat Going?
Take Refreshing Dips in Luang Prabang
From Cambodia, head north to the gilded wat-speckled city of Luang Prabang in Laos. Hire a motorcycle, to get around and to drive through the impressive countryside. Head to Kuang Si Waterfalls to wade in its cascading, emerald waters. Back in town, let the Buddhist temples astound you, and hike Mount Phou Si to visit That Chomsi. Alternately, brave that long seven-hour drive to see the Plain of Jars on the Xieng Khouang Plateau.
Length of Visit: Two to three days will give you enough time to experience the main attractions
Relax in Vientiane
Spend a couple of days slipping into the slow and lazy rhythm of Vientiane, where cafes and spas are just as covetable as its historic Old Quarter and golden temples. The Laos capital, shimmering with Western and Eastern influences, is as much a venue for sightseeing as it is for unwinding and cosseting. Take the languid pace to indulge in Laotian cuisine, get pampered at a spa, and sit in cafes to watch the world go by. You certainly deserve it.
Length of Visit: Unwind for two days to fully recharge!
I spent Christmas night in one of the open-air restaurants that line the banks of the Mekong River in Vientiane. Three of us who had become friends while travelling wore Christmas hats and tucked in to a giant fish that had been baked in salt over charcoal. A glorious blood-red sun set on the horizon and then, with the lights from Thailand twinkling across the dark expanse of water and a warm breeze bringing us scents of sandalwood and incense we toasted our family and friends far away. – Jane Clements from Scarlet Jones Travels
Sample Isan Cuisine in Khon Kaen
Jump on a bus and head about five hours south into Thailand. You may have been to Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok, but we can almost bet that you have never been to Khon Kaen. This college town is the place in Thailand for the more discerning travellers, with its friendly cafes, incredible restaurants, and traditional silk weaving co-ops. If you’re a true locavore, you will delight in feasting on the regional dishes like Isan-style barbecue chicken, sticky rice, som tam, and Isan-style fermented sausages.
Length of Visit: Khon Kaen isn’t that big so two days should do it
Delve Into Yangon
From Khon Kaen, head west to Myanmar and carve a two-day pit stop in your schedule for a visit to the capital, Yangon. First, you can play the tourist in this underrated destination, and visit the shimmering Shwedagon Pagoda, the impressive Chaukhtatgyi Paya, and the Kandawgyi Park. Next, you can take the off-beat route, and explore the markets, visit the Yangon Drugs Elimination Museum, and ride the Yangon Circular Railroad to see the countryside. Or, last but not least, you could simply do both. Whatever you decide, a foodie jaunt in Chinatown is an absolute must-do.
Length of Visit: Spend a couple of days here
Walk the Ancient Grounds of Bagan
A Myanmar visit wouldn’t be complete without seeing first hand the ethereal beauty of Bagan, the country’s version of Angkor Wat. There’s a lot to see in Bagan’s 50 square kilometre expanse. Take your time. Visit its highlights like the Shwezigon Pagoda, the Nanpaya Pagoda, the Buddha statues of Ananda Temple, and the great murals. If there’s enough time, hire a guide to take you to the more offbeat sights. Then really experience its grandeur and magnitude by going on a hot air balloon ride over the complex at sunrise. After all, this is the last hurrah in your month-long trip around Southeast Asia. So you’ve got to make it an extraordinary one.
Length of Visit: Go on a guided tour on the first day and a hot air balloon ride on the second