No longer seen merely as an exotic counterpart to the Occident, South-East Asia has developed an identity all its own over the past few years. You will find very little homogeneity in ASEAN, with every country priding itself on a distant identity concerning culture, religion, cuisine, and traditions.
This vast region is an overwhelming mix of landscapes, from verdant, rolling hills, and isolated islands with white-sand beaches to thick forests and intriguing caves. You can enjoy a range of diverse experiences, and no matter what type of traveler you are, you will find that one special place that will have you returning repeatedly. There are beaches to bum about on, temples, and architectural marvels to visit, hills aplenty to hike, tea estates to unwind at and a whole lot of truly incredible foods to experiment with.
Because we know that you could spend your entire life trying to uncover all of South-East Asia’s treats and not make much headway, we have brought together a collection of the best, unique experiences on offer in the ASEAN countries.
Get off the highway and wander down little, hidden by-lanes where you will discover everything from forgotten tribes, to a mosque built of pure gold, and a swimming pool on top of the world.
Best Travel Ideas for Southeast Asia
Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, and Yangon—these names all conjure up the wonder that is Myanmar, at least in a traveler’s mind. Now, you have the freedom to venture a little farther as well. With recent reforms easing restrictions in this proud country, it is finally time to see what Myanmar has been hiding away all these years.
Myanmar: At a Glance
Experience the Best Attractions of Myanmar
- Architecture 101: Former capitals are full of old glory and great architecture, and Yangon is not far behind. Spend the day marveling at the colossal reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, the gold-hued Botataung Pagoda and Sule Pagoda, the Burmese Yangon City and the colonial-styled Supreme Court.
- Hunt for Bargains: The Bogyoke Aung San Market (sometimes known by its British name, Scott’s Market) is a sprawling old handicrafts bazaar of around 2,000 shops. Spend the day alongside locals, haggling for colorful Shan shoulder bags, and interesting bits of local arts and crafts, jewelry, ancient antiques, and lacquer ware.
- It’s All Rice: Rice, in all its forms, is a staple in the distinctive cuisine of Myanmar. Rice noodles served with fish soup, known locally as mohinga, are a favorite breakfast dish, and are usually eaten on special occasions.
- Get a Bird’s Eye View: Climb up Mandalay Hill for an all-encompassing view of how flat Mandalay really is. You will see the Irrawaddy twisting across the land from up here, while you help a local monk brush up his English. This hallowed spot is where Buddha once prophesied the founding of a great city.
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Surrounded by greenery and marshes, cool morning mists, villages of houses on stilts and floating gardens, the Inle Lake is usually pretty. You can get around the lake on a motorized canoe, or ask around if you want to float about on a traditional flat-bottomed Intha skiff.
- Art Lessons: Bagan, in the Mandalay region, brims with graceful ruins of old temples, pagodas, and stupas. Between Old and New Bagan, the village of Myinkaba boasts an age-old lacquer ware tradition; you can spend hours rummaging through excellently crafted cups, plates, and boxes, wondering just how many you can fit into your luggage.
- Wander through Ruins: Thayekhittaya or the ‘Fabulous City’ a Pyu capital of long ago, was destroyed almost as long ago by Chinese invaders, and today, it has been nominated for a UNESCO World Heritage listing. Rumble through the ruins among the overgrown bush on an ox cart, and explore the Bawbawgyi Pagoda, one of the oldest in the city, and the Leimyethna Pagoda, with Buddhist relief carvings.
- Pagoda Sunsets: Make your way up to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon as the sun begins to set, the golden spires of the temple light up, monks glide past and local residents trickle in to pay their respects as the sky takes on various colors of pink, oranges and blues. Look for a quiet spot, settle down, and enjoy the peace of the evening.
- Find Your Spiritual Side: Go forth and find your holy spirit at Mount Popa, an extinct volcano and the abode of 37 nats or local spirits, once so important that the early kings were rumored to consult them on crucial matters. The solitary peak is covered in stupas; the statues at the base are of the spirits.
- I am with Stupa: Sagaing lies along the Irrawaddy River, across the only bridge that spans it. It is dotted with white and gold pagodas that shimmer away in the sun, and if you clamber up the tree-hung stairways past ancient monasteries that lead up to various viewpoints, the spectacle of stupas is something else.