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Southeast Asia Backpacking Highlights (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of my Southeast Asia backpacking highlights series (it’ll probably be the last, so I’m not sure if that’s really a series…). Check out part 1 here.

Best Guesthouse/ Best place to relax: Lake Toba

Lake Toba – just thinking about it calms me down. It’s the most laidback place I’ve ever been, and it’s also home to some of the most dramatic and unique scenery in Southeast Asia. It’s the largest volcanic lake in the world, and you can stay on a guesthouse on an island in the middle of it for under $5. It’s a cheap place to go for a few weeks if you need a break from everything else – I stayed there recently for almost a month and paid around $7 a night at a place called Parnas Homestay. I was the only one there for most of that time, so it became like my home – the view was amazing as well. Read a full post here.

Lake toba, one of the highlights of Southeast AsiaThis is a different guesthouse, didn’t get a good photo of Parnas!

Best airport: Changi Airport, Singapore

If you’re looking to sleep at an airport (to save money, I’m pretty sure sleeping at an airport isn’t on anyone’s bucket list) then Changi looks like the best place to do it. There’s so much to keep you entertained and it’s extremely clean and well laid out (a bit like Singapore in general).

Best Beach: Long Beach, Koh Rong

It took me about an hour to walk to Long Beach, but the bright white sand and clear blue water made it worthwhile. Read a full post on Koh Rong here. The vast array of great beaches is definitely a Southeast Asia backpacking highlight – you could spent months travelling in the area and see a new beach almost every day!

Koh Rong, one of the best natural wonders in Southeast Asia

Best Local transport: Tricycles, Philippines

I picked tricycles ahead of all other forms of local transport for 2 reasons: 1 – they are really cheap and you don’t usually have to negotiate the price, and 2 – you can fit way more people in them than you would think. We had between 10 -12 on/in one on Siquijor – people were sitting on the roof and hanging off the sides, I’m sure it was safe though…


Weirdest tourist attraction: Haw Par Villa, Singapore

This is one of the most unique attractions you can visit in Southeast Asia, ironically found in the most “by the book” country in the region. It’s full of models and statues of pretty weird stuff, including old women being breastfed and the 12 Courts of Hell, a very detailed exhibit about all the punishments we can expect in the afterlife.

Further reading: Check out my post on this Southeast Asia backpacking highlight

A crab boy at Haw Par Villa, Singapore

Best nightlife: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

It’s hard to choose a “best nightlife” spot because whether a night out is good or not usually depends on who you’re with, but I had some great nights in Phnom Penh, both with locals and other tourists. Drinking in Phnom Penh (and Cambodia in general) is also cheap, and a tuk-tuk home afterwards was only about a dollar!

Best Wildlife Encounter: Tarsiers on Bohol, Philippines

I’ve seen some cool wildlife in Southeast Asia, including orangutans in Borneo and Komodo dragons in Indonesia, but the gremlin-like tarsiers were definitely my favourite. They are the weirdest looking animals, and you’ll never forget the moment one turns its head almost 360° to look you in the eye. If you get the chance to see a tarsier in the wild (well, at a semi-wild sanctuary) then definitely do it – it was one of the highlights of my time in the Philippines.


Best Movie: Apocalypse Now

This movie is awesome – if you haven’t seen it I’d download/rent/buy it straight away. It’s set during the Vietnam War (American War if you’re talking to someone from Vietnam!) and tells the story of a rogue US army Colonel and the soldiers who are sent to Cambodia to rein him in.

Best colonial building: Raffles Hotel

Apparently the last tiger in Singapore was killed in the famous Long Bar, and just walking around the surprisingly huge Raffles Hotel sends you back into the good old Colonial times (probably not so good for those who lived back then though). Drinking a Singapore Sling is something every guide book will tell you to do at Raffles hotel, but it’s expensive!

Courtyard at Raffles Hotel, an interesting attraction to visit if you have 2 days in Singapore

Best waterfall: Kuang Si Falls

You’d expect to see this kind of water on a tropical island somewhere, not in a jungle in landlocked Laos. It’s an amazing place.

Further reading: This is one of my top Southeast Asia backpacking highlights – check out the post I wrote about it!

blue pools at Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

Friendliest people: Myanmar

This may have changed, but I visited Myanmar 2 and a half years ago when it was just starting to become popular and the people were really friendly and genuine. They hadn’t been burnt out by tourism and I never felt like I was getting ripped off. This is probably how the rest of the region used to be, but to be honest most places in Southeast Asia are full of friendly people, and who can blame the occasional opportunist for  trying to make an extra dollar or 2 out of seemingly rich tourists.


Do you agree with my choices? Let me know what your Southeast Asia backpacking highlights have been, or if you haven’t travelled in Southeast Asia yet, what are you looking forward to?

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. November 6, 2014 at 6:24 am — Reply

    Amazing stuff Jon! I’m reading this as I’m planning to visit South East Asia next year, so I think I’ll follow some of your advice! I love the tarsier and the look of Lake Toba!

    • November 7, 2014 at 7:13 am — Reply

      Definitely go to Lake Toba, and plan more time there than you think you’ll need!

  2. November 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm — Reply

    I’m planning a trip to Indonesia as I read this and will be sure to include Lake Toba in my itinerary. Beautiful places that are not overrun by tourists are my ideal kind of holiday, and I thought that would hard to find in a popular destination like Indonesia. Turns out I’m wrong. And glad for that. 🙂

    • November 16, 2014 at 3:53 am — Reply

      Indonesia is huge, so many places that are barely affected by tourism – it’s a great place to travel!

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