This is a guest post by Will Peach.
Southeast Asia casts an allure like no other. From pristine beaches to bustling cities and everything in between, this magical part of the world is hugely popular with backpackers the world over.
Picking a top 10 of must see destinations from Southeast Asia is no easy feat. In a region so varied it’s no real surprise that everyone has their own favourite part.
Surely some of these would be on your list however?
1. Halong Bay, Vietnam
Ask any backpacker what the most unmissable sight is in Vietnam and Halong Bay, the countries breathtaking series of limestone islands and rocks that jut out the ocean to the north, will be firmly on their list.
Home to over 3,000 islands of varying shapes and sizes, Halong Bay features some of the worlds rarest species of flowers that grow amid its lush topography.
Catch a junker, tour the various islands and descend into the cracks and caves of its hidden lagoons for a chance to get up close and personal.
Hopping off at Bai Tu Long Bay, one of the larger parts that makes up this UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must. There you can climb stone mountains, wander through its mangrove forests or laze for a while on its long stretch of beach.
Thanks to the increasing popularity of Vietnam as a tourist destination, its probably best to visit Halong Bay soon. In the future it might not be possible for everyone to squeeze into the enchanting caverns of places like Song Sôt cave.
2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Southeast Asia’s not short of temples but there aren’t many as memorable as those of Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
This temple complex, dating back to the 12th century, features the world’s largest religious building that is still very much active today with Buddhists and people of all faiths.
Crawl over the fallen and tree-covered ruins of Tah Prohm (made famous by the film Tomb Raider) for Indiana Jones like adventures, take a tuk-tuk across the length and breadth of the complex and don’t miss the earth-shattering experience at sunset from the top of Bakheng Hill.
The nearby backpacker town of Siem Reap is heaps of fun too!
3. Boat Quay, Singapore
Singapore might not be the most budget friendly of destinations but hanging out at Boat Quay, one of the countries most oldest and historical parts, is cheap and well worth whiling away a few hours.
Head at night for dizzying views of Singapore’s financial might as its skyscrapers light up the rest of the city and cast their dimmers over the south bank of the river.
4. Lake Toba, Indonesia
Part lake, part volcano, Sumatra’s Lake Toba (Danau Toba) is a geological wonder.
The site of a supervolcanic eruption that changed the worlds climate and apparently wiped out most of humanity over 69,000 years ago, things are a little more backpacker-friendly now!
Spend some time at Samosir Island and chill with the Batak people and the hot springs in the shadow of the looming giant lake.
5. Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand’s got it all, amazing beaches, beautiful people and flavourful food. But nowhere does its magic all come together more than in its capital Bangkok.
While the true hippie mecca of Khao San road, in the middle of Bangkok, is a must for any self-respecting backpacker, it’s also worth paying attention to the cities other glorious ages with a trip on the modern BTS Skytrain and a wander around the 19th century temple of Wat Arun.
There’s also Patpong if you fancy a spot of ping pong too. Just don’t be expect to be playing!
6. Vientiane, Laos
Little known Laos may be slightly off the backpacking radar but its capital Vientiane is bags of fun.
Smaller than most other Southeast Asian capitals its laid-back feel makes it great for hanging out and checking out sites like the funky (and weird) statues in Buddha Park.
The morning market at Talat Sao is a great place to pick up a nice bottle of snake wine too.
7. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia’s capital, alongside Singapore, is one of the most cosmopolitan sites in Southeast Asia and a thriving hub of fantastic art, unbelievable architecture and enough malls and shops to blow your entire backpacker budget.
Petaling Street, KL’s bustling Chinatown, is a prime budget eating spot away from the glitzy restaurants and cafes of the Golden Triangle.
Head in early February and you can catch the city in full swing during Thaipusam, the Tamil’s ode to their hero Murugan killing the evil demon Soorapadam.
8. Dili, East Timor
The coastal capital of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, Dili is somewhat of a forgotten paradise among tourists largely due to recent conflicts resulting from the end of its Indonesian occupation.
Today however Dili is a more peaceful place and features unmissable spots like at the top of the hill next to the statue of Cristo Rei where you can see out across the whole of Timor and its beautiful beaches.
9. Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong’s inclusion in a list of top Southeast Asian destinations, as a key tourism hub of China, might be a little debatable but that’s largely beside the point. With attractions like Victoria Peak, Tsim Sha Tsui and Ocean Park, Hong Kong offers an unbeatable range of things to do.
Backpackers needn’t be put off by Hong Kong’s densely packed population, its expansive skyline makes for one of the most dazzling views on the whole of the continent.
10. Yangon (Rangoon), Burma
Having been shrouded in mystery for years due to the secrecy of its military government, Burma, and more specifically Rangoon, is suddenly exploding into life as a newly opened backpacking destination.
It’s newness doesn’t mean that there isn’t much to see however. The 2500 year old Buddhist shrine of Shwedagon Pagoda, Aung San Suu Kyi’s house and the national museum all make for interesting viewing. The beach at nearby Ngwe Saung is also one of the best, and most unspoilt, in the whole of Southeast Asia.
The above are just some of the great sights and attractions that you can see travelling around Southeast Asia. You can also check out some of Go Backpacking’s other top recommendations in its list of top destinations for 2011.
So what about you? Where are you thinking of heading to next in Southeast Asia?
About the Author: Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. You can also catch him writing about his latest adventures on his other blog My Spanish Adventure and on Twitter.
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