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10 Must-See Destinations for Backpackers in Southeast Asia

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 favorite 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.

Want to visit? Then book your hostel in Hanoi here

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, it's 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.

Blue skies over Angkor Wat


Halong Bay (photo: Herr-Bert)

2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Southeast Asia's not short of temples, but there aren't many as memorable as those of Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Heading there? Book a top-rated hostel here

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 country's oldest and most historical parts, is cheap enough and well worth whiling away a few hours.

Heat out 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 world's 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, fantastic beaches, beautiful people and flavourful food.

But nowhere does its magic all come together more than in its capital, Bangkok.

Planning to visit? Then book your hostel in Bangkok here

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!

Vientiane

Vientiane (photo: David Lee)

6. Vientiane, Laos

Little known Laos may be slightly off the backpacking radar but its capital Vientiane is bags of fun.

Book your Vientiane hostel here

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 international sites in Southeast Asia and a thriving hub of fantastic art, unbelievable architecture and enough malls and shops to blow your entire backpacker budget.

Accommodation can still be cheap! Book your KL hostel here

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.

Hong Kong at night


Dili (photo: yeowatzup)

8. Dili, East Timor

The coastal capital of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, Dili is somewhat of a forgotten paradise among tourists mainly 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 mostly beside the point.

With attractions like Victoria Peak, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Ocean Park, Hong Kong offers an unbeatable range of things to do.

Visiting Hong Kong? Book a cheap hostel here

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 exploding into life as a newly opened backpacking destination.

Flying in or out of Yangon? Book your hostel here

Its 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 compelling viewing.

The beach at nearby Ngwe Saung is also one of the best, and most unspoiled, in the whole of Southeast Asia.

The above are just some of the great sights and attractions that you can see traveling around Southeast Asia.

You can also check out some of Go Backpacking's other top recommendations in its list of top destinations for 2011

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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 travelers. You can also catch him writing about his latest adventures on his other blog, My Spanish Adventure and on Twitter.

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Steph

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

Hi - the list jumps from Place #2 to #5, leaving out 3 and 4... :)

Laura

Thursday 12th of March 2015

Great list! I would also like to suggest Sapa in the Northern highlands of Vietnam as a great spot for incredible trekking and homestay experiences!

David

Tuesday 22nd of July 2014

I definely agree that Halong is a top travel destination for backpacker in SE Asia. But I do recommend Bai Tu Long bay which is off the beaten path, it would be unique and memorable travel experience for a cruise trip.

McDonough

Thursday 22nd of May 2014

I think in this post has the bet information for me and all people to know this list, in this list i know only one of them that's Angkor Wat, because it in my Country.

After you see it what do you think about it ? by the way if you want visit in southeast-asia you should see this site or this link.

Jennifer Kolbuc

Sunday 12th of January 2014

Great list! Have checked off about half and will be back to to the rest! Burma is one place that tourism is really starting to open up in!

Can't wait to be back to visit the rest!

Jennifer Kolbuc @GoGallivanting

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