Southeast Asia is a traveler’s playground. Pristine beaches, rich culture, endless nightlife – you name it. It’s also one of the most economical corners of the world to explore given the dozens of budget airlines, cheap hostels and local food. I’ve spent many years crisscrossing the region and am excited to compile and rank the highlights.
The criteria for this countdown is simple: It must be something I experienced in one of the 11 countries of Southeast Asia.
All of the entries are a purely personal opinion based on my experience. I did not receive financial compensation from any of the organizations or the individuals mentioned below. Enjoy!
10.) Halong Bay | Vietnam
A three-hour drive east of Hanoi, absorb the beauty of Halong Bay’s dramatic limestone stacks from the comfort of a two or three-day junk boat cruise. The surrounding landscape allows for kayaking, cave exploring and even beach volleyball.
9.) Marina Bay Sands Infinity Pool | Singapore
The Marina Bay Sands Infinity Pool must be one of the most-selfied locations in the world. From 57 floors up, it provides a stellar panoramic view of downtown Singapore. In 2013, I watched the National Day fireworks from the pool’s edge.
8.) Mount Bromo | Indonesia
Arriving in time for sunrise provides an unforgettable encounter with Indonesia’s best-known active volcano. The hike starts before dawn but is well worth the early wake up. Afterwards, take a drive across the bed of volcanic ash to the 253-step staircase leading to a viewpoint of Bromo’s steaming crater.
7.) El Nido Resorts | Philippines
The four El Nido Resorts are the pinnacle of luxury. My three-night stay at Lagen Island is arguably the most comfortable accommodation I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. It doesn’t hurt that Filipinos are hospitality specialists.
6.) Oslob Whale Sharks | Philippines
Whales sharks are the world’s largest fish, often weighing more than 15 tons. I swam alongside these gentle giants in January 2015 with some rockstar Filipina colleagues from our NGO.
5.) Mount Kinabalu | Malaysia
With a towering peak of 4,095 meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain. My sister and I conquered the two-day trek in January 2016, an adventure that required us to wear a winter hat on the equator. Watching the sunrise from above the clouds was the backdrop of our initial descent.
4.) Island Hop by Seaplane (or chopper) | Philippines
I can be a bit of an ‘AvGeek,’ so anytime a unique flight is part of the equation, I’m hooked. Given the virtually endless number of gorgeous islands in Southeast Asia, it’s tough to beat a bird’s eye view. Landing on water in front of your resort is a nice touch, as well.
3.) Angkor Wat Temples | Cambodia
Temples in Asia are like churches in Europe. Every attraction in the area revolves around them and, after a while, they all begin to look the same. That changes at Angkor Wat, a 12th century temple complex that is noticeably more compelling than any other in the region. It is the largest religious monument in the world and can be entered at a nominal cost of US$20.
2.) Komodo National Park | Indonesia
Komodo National Park is the highlight of Indonesia’s remote Lesser Sundra region. Trekking across Rinca Island in search of a Komodo Dragon, the world’s longest lizard, is nothing short of modern day Jurassic Park. I encountered dragons in both the local village and in the mountains.
1.) Hot Air Balloon over Bagan | Myanmar
The central Burmese city of Bagan is home to the remains of more than 2,200 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries. An early morning hot air balloon ride over the serene countryside was a magical experience and firmly rests as one of my all-time best travel memories.
Traveling by motorbike between Chiang Mai and Pai was a fantastic trip that I documented here. It would be a small crime to create a Top 10 Southeast Asia Experiences list and not include anything from Thailand 😀
What do you think about my choices? Have you done any of them?