Southeast Asia has been a firm favourite for travellers for decades, thanks to its low cost, the ease of travel, and its fascinating cultures. From the majestic Angkor ruins to the waterways of the Mekong Delta, from the chewy cao lầu noodles of Hội An to the lively marketplaces of Thailand, this corner of Asia has a lot to discover for the imaginative traveller. Here are our top seven reasons to travel to Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia has more to offer than just great beaches, cheap food, and a generous culture – it’s also got dense jungles, massive volcanoes, jagged peaks, and sprawling waters, all beckoning to the active adventurer. Ascend to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia; set sail on the beautifully calm waters of the Andaman Sea; or get off the beaten trail with a backstreets bike tour of bustling Phnom Penh.
Number one on our list is the people. Meeting the people who make up another culture is one of the most rewarding parts of travelling to another country, and the people who await you in Southeast Asia could hardly be more welcoming. With beaming smiles and unrivalled hospitality, these are some of the friendliest people in the world – especially if you come prepared with a few words of their language!
Southeast Asia is renowned for its delicious street food, often made to order in mere minutes. Perhaps the most famous dish is pad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle dish flavoured with tamarind pulp, fish sauce and palm sugar, creating a rich sweet-and-sour taste. In Hội An in Vietnam, look out for cao lầu, another noodle dish only available in this region since it’s made with ashy water drawn from local, ancient Cham wells, which give them their unique chewy texture. And if you’re feeling brave, you might try the divisive durian, renowned as the world’s smelliest fruit - food journalist Richard Sterling described its odour as like “turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock” – but considered by many a delicacy.
The ancient temples and ruins of Southeast Asia are some of its best-known attractions. Among them is the famous Angkor Wat, the world’s largest temple and one of the most iconic sights in Southeast Asia. Equally impressive is the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar, once the site of 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries. Some of Southeast Asia’s temples lie in ruins, while others are remarkably well-preserved, and some are still in use; but they all have at least one thing in common, and that’s the power to inspire feelings of awe and serenity.
As well as some of the world’s most unique cultures and communities, Southeast Asia is home to a fascinating range of wildlife. In Sabah, Maylasia, the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre welcomes injured and orphaned orang-utans, nursing them until they’re ready to return to forest life. At the Taman Negara National Park, look out for the great hornbill, Asian elephant, and clouded leopard. And a visit to Komodo Island is your only chance to see the legendary Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard.
One of the reasons Southeast Asia is so popular among travellers is the excellent infrastructure; it’s very easy to get to where you want to go. And the people of this region have come up with some unusual ways for getting about, whether that’s the Jeepneys of the Philippines, originally converted from surplus US military jeeps left after World War II, the songthaews of Thailand, converted pick-up trucks with two rows of passenger seating in the back, or the beloved tuk tuk.
Southeast Asia has some of the finest beaches in the world. Azure waters and white-sand beaches are set against a backdrop of palm trees and verdant green hills – the perfect counterpoint to the bustle of the city. Whether you want to go snorkelling, surfing, or just kick back on the coast, these beaches have got you covered.
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