Backpacking in Southeast Asia: The Highlights
Southeast Asia has been good to me. It was the first place I travelled (after living in Taiwan for a year) and that 6 month stint of backpacking in Southeast Asia morphed into a lifelong passion for travel. I met the love of my life while working in Singapore and filled in some of the gaps that I missed on my first trip. Since leaving my job in April I’ve filled in even more of those gaps, and now I’m waiting for a flight to London to continue a trip that will eventually take me around the world.
Here are some of my highlights from my time spent backpacking in Southeast Asia…
Best big city: Singapore
I’m not a huge fan of cities but Southeast Asia is home to a few worthwhile ones. Bangkok is full of energy and Phnom Pehn is chaotic and fun, but for me, Singapore comes out on top . It’s definitely not as lively as some of the other big cities in the region but it really does have it all, from history, culture and amazing food to jungle walks and beaches.
Further reading: Take a look at my “Singapore section” for heaps of posts about this tiny city state.
Best town: Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is famous for 2 reasons: It’s full of tailors who will throw you together a cheap suit or dress, and it’s home to some of the most atmospheric historical streets, temples and bridges in Asia. Despite its popularity, walking the streets of Hoi An is one of the best things you can do in the region, and you can also take a tour to see the ancient My Son ruins, go on a boat ride and eat some great Vietnamese food. If you’re going backpacking in Southeast Asia definitely don’t miss Hoi An!
Best village: Muang Ngoi, Laos
Tourists can only reach Muang Ngoi by boat, and the journey itself is worth straying from Laos’ tourist hotspot Luang Prabang. Muang Ngoi is surrounded by imposing karst mountains and most of its accommodation options treat their guests to some amazing views. The Nam Ou River floats past the hammocks at a serene pace – If you’re looking for a place to relax in Southeast Asia Muang Ngoi is a great option.
Further reading: Read a full post on Muang Ngoi (an honourable mention goes to Kampong Ayer in Brunei, the largest water village in the world, but at over 35,000 people I’m not sure it really counts as a village!).
Best Journey While backpacking in Southeast Asia: Bangkok to Vientiane night train
I’ve done this journey twice (and once in the opposite direction) and it’s always fun. The dining car is a great place to meet locals (and other travellers) over a few cold beers and the beds are almost as comfortable as you’ll find in your typical Southeast Asian guesthouse. Backpacking in Southeast Asia often requires some uncomfortable journeys, so make the use of trains when you can!
Best temple: Bayon (Angkor Thom), Cambodia
You’ve probably heard of Angkor Wat, but what you may not know is that there so many other temples in the area. Angkor Thom is only a few minutes from its more famous friend (you can access all of the temples in the area by purchasing 1 ticket), but it’s a lot quieter and a bit more surreal. The coolest temple in the Angkor Thom complex is Bayon, which has hundreds of faces carved into it and is in more of a “crumbling state” than Angkor Wat. Even crumblier is Ta Phrom, where parts of the movie Tomb Raider were filmed.
Best Mosque: Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Bandar Sari Begawan, Brunei
Apart from exploring Kampong Ayer, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Brunei unless you have enough money for an extortionate jungle tour, but the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is definitely worth checking out.
Further reading: Interested in visiting Brunei? Check out my post!
Best Sunrise: Mt Batur, Bali
I’m not really a morning person which means I haven’t see too many sunrises while backpacking in Southeast Asia, but when I do see one it usually means I’m at the top of a volcano or mountain. I went to Bali for a weekend escape from Singapore and spent my time in Ubud (AKA that place Julia Roberts ruined) and teamed up with an American couple for the 3 am climb. This sunrise made getting out of bed at that unbearable hour worth it.
Further reading: “Avoiding Julia Roberts in Ubud, Bali“
Best Sunset: Don Det, Laos
I’ve seen plenty of amazing sunsets while backpacking in Southeast Asia, but the ones I saw on Don Det definitely come out on top.
Further reading: Click here to a read a full post on this unique island on the Mekong River in Southern Laos.
Best Food: Singapore
This was a hard one. I love Thai food and Indonesia is home to some dishes I could eat every day. The beauty of Singaporean food (and Malaysian as it’s very similar) is that it comes from so many different influences. Indian, Chinese and Malay styles combine at hawker centres throughout the island, giving you almost unlimited choice of what to eat. I lived in the suburbs of Singapore for 2 years and within a 10 minute walking radius there were about 80 different food stalls/restaurants to choose from.
Best Beer: San Miguel, Philippines
The best thing about beer in Southeast Asia is the price – you can often get a pretty decent beer for around a dollar – and on Pub Street in Siem Reap you can get a cold glass of Angkor Beer in a restaurant for 50c! San Miguel is definitely my favourite beer in Southeast Asia – not only is it cheap but it tastes great, and there’s nothing like a cold beer on a hot day in the Philippines.
Cleanest country: Myanmar
According to my (now world famous) Rat Factor, Myanmar is the cleanest country in Southeast Asia. Read my full post and see if you agree!
Further reading: Thinking of planning a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia? Check out travelfish.org; it’s got a lot of useful info including accommodation, transport and ideas of things to do. I remember reading a lot of articles while dreaming about/planning my first trip!
You can now read part 2 here.
Have you been backpacking in Southeast Asia? What were your highlights? Let me know!