Southeast Asia Travel Guide

There are so many temples, ruins, picturesque towns and natural attractions that it can be hard to know where to start. The crowds have gotten to everything before you, but rest assured that none of these iconic 5 tourist attractions will leave you disappointed.

1. Temples at Bagan, Myanmar

There are few sunsets in the world that compare to the light that shines on the thousands of temples on the Bagan plains. The appeal of the Buddhist temples at Bagan lies not in their individual majesty, but rather in the high-density and endless array of similar structures lunging out of the plains. 13,000 temples used to stand in the city of Bagan, the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Pagan. Some 2,000 still remain, and it’s this spiritual plenitude that makes a trip to Bagan unmissable.

2. Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

Famous attractions can suffer from inflated or unrealistic expectations. That isn’t the case with the Temples of Angkor. The sheer size of the temple complex is bound to impress. Most tourists tend to congregate around the main events like Angkor Wat, Bayon and the vine-covered Ta Phrom. The rest of the 400 square kilometres? All yours to discover. Generations of Khmer rulers built hundreds of architecturally jaw-dropping temples around the site. One day isn’t nearly enough to see it all.

3. Halong Bay, Vietnam

In the Bay of Descending Dragons, a unique karst topography juts out of the sea in and forms some 2,000 limestone islets. These often vertical formations are covered in dense forest. A cruise among the the formations is a magnificent way to spend a few days or more, landing on the islets for further exploration, rock climbing and other activities. Beware the season, though. Monsoons from June through September and again from January to March can limit visibility. In any case, it’s best to take a cruise to the outlying islands, where fewer tourists venture and the natural wonders are less explored.

4. Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Indonesia

By the time you head down the Indonesian archipelago, you might be suffering from temple fatigue. Fortunately, Indonesia has plenty else to impress, including stunning unearthly landscapes in its volcanic belt. It is on the Ring of Fire, after all. Mount Bromo, in particular, is one of the most stunning places on the entire planet to watch a sunrise. It’s full of tourists, yes, but Bromo’s desolately beautiful caldera will leave a lasting impression regardless of who you share it with.

5. Luang Prabang, Laos

This UNESCO World Heritage site actually comprises an entire city. It’s rare to turn a corner here and not be confronted with remarkable colonial and Lao architecture. Beyond its quiet temples, Luang Prabang might be most famous for its haute cuisine and alms procession, a daily morning ritual in which monks clad in saffron robes take donations of food. Outside of town in the surrounding jungle, you can find surprisingly powerful waterfalls, bathing pools and echoing caves.