10 Places to See in Southeast Asia Before You Die
by The Vagabondish Team | December, 2012
Editor's note: Contributor Ian Garstang enjoys sampling the many delights of Asia. When not working with luxury hotels in Asia such as GHM hotels he enjoys good food and great design.
Southeast Asia is a beautiful part of the world which perfectly balances mysterious temples, breathtaking landscapes and ancient history, with 5-star luxury resorts, architectural masterpieces and futuristic technology. Below is a list of the 10 must see places when visiting the area.
#1: Ubud, Bali
Ubud was voted ‘Best City in Asia’ by Condé Nast Traveller magazine, beating competition from Toyko, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Why the accolade? Well, this remarkable little town – the ‘city’ part is, admittedly, open to debate – is a major centre for art and culture. It also has ancient architectural sites, together with natural tranquillity and some of the best restaurants in Bali.
#2: Luang Prabang, Laos
This charming city offers a mixture of traditional Lao houses and French colonial buildings, all set against a backdrop of mountains and rainforest. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means that trucks and buses are banned – the best way to get around its temples and markets is by bike. Now is the perfect time to visit, before the rest of the world discovers it.
#3: The Petronas Twin Towers, Malaysia
These icons of Kuala Lumpur need little introduction. Opened in 1999, they’re the perfect fusion of contemporary architecture and traditional Islamic design. You’ll need to book in advance to go inside, but the view from the 88th floor makes it absolutely worthwhile. Be sure to leave time to explore the surrounding gardens, too.
#4: Hoi An, Vietnam
This perfectly preserved port town dates back to the 15th century. Here you’ll find colonial architecture, a picture-perfect beach and some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll ever taste. It’s also packed full of tailors’ shops, where you can have a made-to-measure suit whipped up in a few hours. Rent a bike and explore the old town.
#5: Lhasa, Tibet
The Tibetan capital’s name means ‘Land of the Gods’ and it’s an appropriate moniker. This is one of the world’s highest cities, and perhaps its most spiritual. The vast Potala Palace, former home to the Dalai Lama, dominates the skyline, while the Jokhang temple is the holiest site. But there’s modernity here, too, with hotels, department stores and restaurants at the western end of the city.
#6: The Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
This has the honour of being the world’s oldest pagoda, having stood for more than 2,600 years. For Myanmar Buddhists, it’s also the most sacred, and all of them plan to visit at least once in their lifetime. Situated just north of central Yangon, you can see its golden presence from almost anywhere in the city. It looks particularly spectacular when lit up at night.
#7: Lake Toba, Indonesia
At 100 kilometres long, this is the biggest volcanic lake in the world. It sits on the site of a supervolcanic eruption that happened some 70,000 years ago, killing most humans alive at that time. Today it’s an incredibly peaceful site – you can swim in the calm, clear waters or visit the hot springs. It’s the ideal place to relax after a week’s jungle trekking.
#8: Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, Thailand
There are a whopping 304 steps up to this 14th-century temple, which perches on a Chiang Mai mountain top. You can take a cab up, although climbing it is a surprisingly fulfilling experience. Either way, many consider this to be the best temple in Thailand, thanks to its peaceful atmosphere and knockout views. In the pagoda at its centre you’ll find a holy relic of Lord Buddha.
#9: Boracay, Philippines
This tropical island, an hour’s flight from Manila, might be just seven kilometres long, but it still lays on white-sand beaches to rival anything you’d find in the Caribbean. Each has its own USP – try White Beach for its idyllic sunsets, or Balinghai if you’re seeking seclusion. Most offer a wide range of watersports, and the nightlife here’s excellent, too.
#10: Angkor, Cambodia
This is easily one of the most important archaeological sites in southeast Asia, covering some 400 square kilometres. Here you’ll find remains from the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, along with the world-famous temple of Ankhor Wat. Dating back to the 12th century, it’s the biggest Hindu temple complex in the world.