Many travellers still think first of ‘The Beach’ when contemplating trips to South East Asia, but the region has a myriad of beautiful places to explore whether you are looking for spiritual enlightenment, a driving adventure, or sporting thrill.
Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or looking for a more unusual city break South East Asia offers an incredible mix of culture, history and beautiful landscapes. We have selected ten of the best places to visit in the region in 2018:
Seek enlightenment at the Temples at Bagan, Myanmar
Those seeking a spiritual trip in South East Asia should book to see the thousands of temples on the Bagan plains in Myanmar. With the sun setting over majestic spires, travellers will be transfixed by the beauty of the nation. There are over 2,200 Buddhist temples, stupas and pagodas around Bagan and the interiors of many can be freely explored. The most spectacular time to see the temples is at dusk or dawn when the light is truly incredible.
A top tip for visitors is to explore Thatbyinnyu the tallest of the Bagan monuments at 61 meters high. Built in 1144, it is often quieter than the nearby Ananda Temple that has been extensively restored. The best ways to see the temples is by hot air balloon, with 45-minute flights offering spectacular views of the monuments and landscape. Bikes and taxis are a wonderful way to travel round the site, especially if you wish to visit some of the quieter areas.
Getting there: Travellers arriving at the local Nyaung U airport, having connected from one of Myanmar’s international terminals can get a taxi to old Bagan. There are also rail and bus connections from Yangon.
Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam
Those looking to enjoy a trekking holiday in South East Asia should head to Sapa as their base in a region known as the the Tonkinese Alps. Situated perfectly to take advantage of plunging valleys and mountains the views are spectacular, with mist often to be seen floating majestically across the surrounding peaks.
Walkers can explore lush fields, cascading rice terraces and forest trails. Situated in the remote northwest of Vietnam, Sapa also offers visitors attractive French colonial sites and visitors can purchase handicrafts at the town market.
Getting there: Travellers can take an overnight bus or train, with the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai taking about nine hours. Travellers can then get a connected shuttle bus or taxi.
Crystal waters in Nusa Ceningan - Bali
Situated between Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan sits one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia, the tropical island paradise of Nusa Ceningan. The island has amazing beaches including Secret Beach and offers surfing at Mahana Point. Romantic travellers should check out the island’s Yellow Bridge, which is lit up with lights of an evening and looks fantastic.
Intrepid travellers visiting the island are rewarded by the spectacular water of the island’s Blue lagoon, with crystal clear waters that are truly amongst the world’s best. Travellers tempted by the Blue Lagoon cliff jump should beware, as you are unlikely to be covered by travel insurance if you are injured.
Getting there: Travellers can fly into Bali arriving at the DPS Ngurah Rai Airport. A 30 minute boat trip from Sanur, Bali takes travellers to Nusa Lembongan, where they can cross the iconic yellow bridge to Nusa Ceningan.
Amazing driving vistas, Hong Kong
Few holidaymakers would think of driving in Hong Kong, as they imagine crawling round a densely packed urban landscape, but there are missing a real treat. Driving round Hong Kong opens up a hidden world of amazing views, hidden waterfalls and breath-taking trails that the majority of visitors to the region never see.
Drivers can traverse China's second tallest coastal peak Tai Mo Shan, which is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, where they will be treated to expansive vistas over tropical hills. Getting behind the wheel and heading to Hong Kong’s North-eastern New Territories allows visitors top access Bride’s Pool a natural swimming pool and waterfall.
It is worth remembering that urban driving can still be a challenge still given the density of cars, ity streets are usually congested. Road signs are in Chinese and English, which is a major help for navigation. It is worth remembering also, visitors cannot simply drive across the border to China you will need permission from the authorities in advance.
Getting there: All the major car rental companies have facilities at Hong Kong International Airport and you can drive on a UK licence.
Waterfall heaven at Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi is a province in the east of Thailand, just 245 km away from Bangkok. The area is a waterfall heaven, populated with pools and rainforest slopes. Nearby there are beautiful attractions for visitors including mountains, forests, beaches and historical sites.
The Namtok Phlio National Park in Chanthaburi province is where visitors will find Namtol Phliu, a majestic and beautiful waterfall that flows all year round. Other waterfalls worth exploring are Pliew Waterfall, with three levels and a basin of cool and clear water and the Trok Nong Waterfall, a beautiful waterfall which also flows throughout the year. The Chanthaburi coastline also rewards travellers with quiet, shady beaches for relaxation.
Getting there: Chanthaburi is a four-hour bus ride from Bangkok and is also accessible by car.
Secret gardens, Singapore
Situated in one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia, Singapore’s futuristic ‘Gardens by the Bay’ offer breath-taking waterfront views and an incredibly immersive visitor experience. This multi-award winning horticultural destination spans 101 hectares of reclaimed land. The attraction is a showpiece of horticulture and garden artistry with species ranging from those typically found in cool temperate climates to those that thrive in tropical forests.
Unique to Gardens by the Bay is its Cloud Forest, featuring a 35-metre tall mountain veiled in mist and covered in lush vegetation amidst the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Plant lovers will find flora and fauna from tropical highlands up to 2,000 metres above sea level. Gardens by the Bay’s defining feature is its collection of 18 Supertrees, which range from 80 to 160 feet with amazing night time light displays.
Getting there: It’s easy to get to Gardens by the Bay from the city by train or bus. Alternatively, visitors can drive or get a taxi to the gardens.
A sky mirror for photographers, Malaysia
Kuala Selangor Beach is a unique tourist attraction that is only accessible to tourists twice a month, during the new moon and full moon periods. Most of the time, it is submerged beneath the sea, which makes it uncharted on many world maps. The beach is known as the “Sky Mirror” or “Mirror of the Sky “as the shallow waters of the island perfectly reflects the sky, creating unique photography opportunities.
The beach closely resembles the illustrious Salar de Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia and provides photographers with a breath-taking seascape that mirrors the skies above. Clams on the beach glow and emit a blue light after the sun goes down and glitter like diamonds during the day.
Getting there: Visitors wishing to head to Sasaran Beach (Sky Mirror) will need to book in advance. The Sky Mirror emerges only three days before and five days after the new moon and full moon. Since it located off the coast, the secret island is accessible by a 30-minute boat ride from the fishing village of Jeram, Selangor.
History of the ancients, Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia
While less well known than Angkor Wat, Sambor Prei Kuk comprises of more than 100 mainly brick temples huddled in the forest and they are amongst the oldest structures in the country. The attraction is a Unesco World Heritage Site and was constructed during the seventh century. Hidden in the jungle for centuries, many of the temples are entirely covered in tree roots, making for the area an Instagrammers delight. The temples feature incredibly intricate carvings and decorative columns.
The area has soothing atmosphere with looping sandy trails between temples through a shaded forest canopy. This comes despite the fact the United States bombed Sambor Prei Kuk in the fight against the Khmer Rouge and some of the craters can still be seen in the area. The site is made up of three main complexes: Preah Yeay Poun/South Group Preah Sambor/North Group and Preah Tor (‘Lion Temple’)/Central Group.
Getting there: Sambor Prei Kuk can be visited in a day trip from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh via Tuk Tuk, taxi or car. It’s also an easy 40-minute drive from Kompong Thom.
Venice of the East, Kampong Ayer, Brunei
Kampong Ayer is a cluster of over forty villages (kampongs), interlinked by stilted boardwalks stretching over 36 kilometres. All the houses in Kampong Ayer are built on stilts on the water making for a fantastic photo opportunity.
There is evidence that people have lived in Kampong Ayer for over 1,300 years, but it was in the 16th century that the stilted villages were dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’. Today, around 13,000 people live in the water villages, a self-contained community with its own schools, shops and gas stations all above the water. The two parts of Kampong Ayer are separated by the Brunei River, one part forming an island and the other on the mainland.
Getting there: If you want to visit both parts of Kampong Ayer, you can get a water taxi to take you directly between the two from the waterfront of Bandar Seri Begawan.
Paradise beaches, Cocos Keeling Islands
Cossies Beach in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is one of the best beaches in the world, situated in one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia. It’s a tropical paradise offering picturesque white sandy beaches, shady shelters and walking trails to explore. Around the island snorkelers are surrounded by vivid fish, corals, reef sharks and parrot fish.
The Cocos Islands host an incredible array of marine life with over 500 species of fish and 100 types of coral found in its waters. Visitors can also swim with beautiful dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles. The islands are also a renowned spot for kitesurfing, with visitors able to learn or finesse their skills in the islands’ incredible waters.
Getting there: The remote, isolated atoll, is a four-hour flight from Perth in Australia so really is a traveller’s destination. Once on the islands travellers can explore by ferry and boat.
Insurance for travellers to South East Asia
Travelling to South East Asia is a magical experience, but it is always important to be protected in case something untoward happens. Travel insurance can cover you if you need medical treatment, lose or damage your baggage, suffer a delay or need to cancel your trip in certain circumstances.
Columbus Direct policies also offer free access to an airport lounge if your flight is delayed by more than an hour2.
Travellers wishing to explore the beauty of South East Asia should take time to check the entry requirements of the country of travel to avoid any nasty surprises on arrival. It is also important to be respectful of local customs when travelling abroad; for instance in many countries it is often rude to wear shoes into buildings and have exposed shoulders and knees when visiting a temple.