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
This is a cocktail of a country, potent and heady. The Philippines does not believe in leaving anything out, so its 7,000-plus islands boast Malay, Chinese, Spanish and indigenous influences, not to mention religious traditions rooted in Islam. Catholicism, animism and everything in between. This country crams as much on its plate as it possibly can, so you will need a clear head to take it all in.
Philippines: At a Glance
Experience the Best Attractions of Philippines
- A Shot of Culture: Intramuros, the Spanish walled city within Manila, has a history and culture all its own, and is worth spending a day or two exploring. Start at the Intramuros Visitors Centre, located right by the entrance to Fort Santiago, and wander about the lanes lined with lovely casas until you reach San Augustin, Manila’s oldest stone church. You can also tour Intramuros on a kalesa—a horse-drawn carriage, though walking has its own charm.
- Surf’s Up: If your beach bum-turn-surfer self is calling out to you, head to Siargao, in the northeast of Mindanao. Time seems to stand still here, as you hitch rides on the famous Cloud 9 break and gaze, over chilled beer, upon skies softening into sunsets. In October, crowds descend on the sleepy island for the Siargao Cup surf competition, one of the Philippines’s largest sporting events.
- A Whole New World: The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is a marvel of limestone stalactites and stalagmites, and can be accessed on a kayak tour. As you drift into the cave, take in the weird formations sculpted out of the rock over the centuries. You will spot a melting candle by one side, or a rampaging dinosaur on the other!
- Fall Off the Grid: Apo Reef is off the tourist map, which means that you will have the secluded Apo Reef Island and its surrounding reef pretty much all to yourself. You will have a great time being one with the fish as you swim, snorkel, and dive to your heart’s content, emerging only for meals of fresh seafood.
- An Active Getaway: Climb to the top of the overwhelming Taal Volcano in Talisay, where the bubbling green waters of the Taal Lake await. Within the lake sits yet another volcano, steaming away gently. The trip to the top can be tiring but there are horses available for the less active, and the views from up there are well worth the journey.
- Retail Therapy: Indulge yourself in Metro Manila’s financial heart, Makati City, and its Greenbelt mall. You will find a range of treats here—the mall has both open-air and enclosed areas, sit-down as well as fast food eateries, and big international brands (think Calvin Klein, Hermes, and the like) along with high-end and Filipino designer boutiques.
- Hop About: Head to the pristine islands off the coast at gorgeous El Nido. There are multiple islands to choose from, each of which is prettier than the other. You can spend your days lazing about on white sands, exploring the area on kayaks and snorkeling among the many colorful fish that call these waters home. If you are lucky you may spot a hawksbill turtle or two, and you may come across dolphins, whale sharks, dugongs, and mantra rays.
- Be Bucolic: Get a taste of the Filipino countryside and spend some time amid Banaue’s rice terraces. These rice terraces are a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, gracefully sculpted into the hillside by the Ifugao people of this quiet little farming community.
- Get High: You could be forgiven for thinking you are in Scotland when you visit Batanes, the country’s northernmost province. Expect rolling green hills, towering fortresses and the like among the ten islands here.
- Life’s a Feast: You will have a great time going on an eating binge in the Philippines, especially if you love meat. Pork, in particular, plays a big role in the cuisine here, and a slow-roasted suckling pig is the best treat to be had. Even if you are not a big pork-eater, Manila is where you should aim to experiment with your eats and get an introduction to the many flavors that make up Filipino food.