Discover the ultimate Southeast Asia bucket list with 101+ epic adventures for your 2023 vacation. Get inspired and start planning now!
Same-same, but different… That’s the preconception many people have of Southeast Asia. But don’t be fooled. We have been travelling to Southeast Asia for the past 20+ years, and we can guarantee each country has its own qualities which make it unique!
It’s easy to get lost in the mix of temples, beaches cities and jungles in a region where even language and ethnicity defy national borders. But delve a little deeper and you’ll find a proud and thriving identity in each of the countries that make up this enchanting neighbourhood of nations.
From the Himalayan origins of the Mekong artery, to the volcanic scattered outcrops that lie at the furthest reaches of the Pacific, Southeast Asia is a mind-boggling fusion of landscapes, cultures, and breathtaking vistas. It’s no wonder the Dutch, Spanish, British, French and Japanese fought over these spoils for centuries. With many temples dotting the region, including the iconic Angkor Wat, and natural wonders like Halong Bay and Palawan, Southeast Asia offers an unparalleled experience for travellers.
This colonial history has made Southeast Asia the melting pot that it is today. Filipinos with Spanish names, French inspired Vietnamese cuisine, horse-drawn carriages in the Burmese highlands and Jewish enclaves in Singapore. Adding to the rich cultural mix are the hundreds of tribal minorities populating the region.
You could spend a lifetime exploring Southeast Asia and barely scratch the surface. That’s why we’ve dug around to bring you a collection of the best, and most unique Southeast Asia bucket list experiences on offer in:
- Thailand; and
Get off the banana pancake trail and add these destinations to your travel bucket list. From exploring ancient mummies and forgotten tribes, to visiting Bali for delicious eats and taking a day trip to the world’s largest cave, there’s something for everyone. And don’t miss out on visiting a temple built entirely out of rubbish.
N.B. The current title of this post is ‘101+ Unique Southeast Asia Bucket List Experiences’. However, as we continue our fulltime travels around Southeast Asia, we will be continually adding to this list and unique experiences we encounter.
Unique Southeast Asia Bucket List Experiences
Brunei Bucket List Experiences
Tucked neatly between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, Brunei is too often missed by travellers. Much of this compact nation is dominated by verdant rainforests that boast incredible biodiversity. Oil has made this little country wealthy, but it hasn’t spoiled it. Pay a visit and experience the charms of the green heart of Borneo and immerse yourself in its vibrant culture.
While it makes sense that a country surrounded by some of the best-known dive sites in the world would be blessed with a few choice spots of its own, many travellers are unaware of what’s on offer off the coast of Brunei. This is good news, because you’ll get to experience the untouched reefs, abundant marine life and shipwrecks all to yourself – at least until everyone else figures it out.
Live Off the Water in Kampong Ayer
The living heartbeat of Bandar Seri Begawan is the largest water village in the world and has been inhabited for more than 1,000 years. Hop in a water taxi and meet locals living in colourful stilt homes amid a maze of wooden boardwalks and bridges.
Let your taste buds guide you through the bustling night markets at Pasar Gadong, where a tempting array of lamb kebabs, seafood tempura and satay noodles sizzle before your eyes. Can’t choose between pulut (sticky rice with savoury filling wrapped in banana leaf) and mee goreng? Go for both – food here is amazingly affordable!
Get a real taste of Bruneian culture and hospitality with a homestay in a traditional fishing village. The people in the close-knit community of Kampong Sungai Matan will happily welcome you into the fold, demonstrating local customs, cooking and fishing techniques, arts and crafts.
Drag yourself out of bed for an energetic dawn hike through Ulu Temborong National Park, where you can glimpse local wildlife at its more active. A steep 60 metre climb up to the canopy affords spectacular sunrise views from high above the rainforest. With no roads in and logging banned, the park is truly unspoiled. Cool off in lush waterfalls and keep your eyes peeled for proboscis monkeys along the way.
Mosque With the Most
Bandar Seri Begawan boasts arguably the most beautiful mosque in the world. With a dome made of pure gold, the Italian-designed Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is visible from almost anywhere in the city. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the main minaret for heavenly views of the city. At night, the lit-up mosque is breath-taking.
A Royal Welcome
Hari Raya celebrates the end of Ramadan and, as the biggest holiday in the country, festivities last for days. During this time the Sultan and the royal family open their doors to personally greet the public. Besides getting the opportunity to rub elbows with royalty, Hari Raya is the only time people can get an inside look at Istana Nurul Iman, the largest residential palace in the world.
Get a taste of life in the lap of luxury at the Royal Regalia Museum. The sumptuous displays feature priceless treasures and ceremonial costumes from the Sultan’s personal collection, along with the ornate golden chariot used during his coronation.
Seven Star Stay
The Empire Hotel and Country Club is an ambitious effort in opulence. Boasting seven stars, the grounds include a golf course, private beach, cinema, shopping arcade, and bowling alley. It’s worth a visit just to gawk at all the ornate details that make the empire so unique. The palatial emperor’s suite, which has hosted Prince Charles and Bill Clinton, features gold-flecked carpets, a private pool, sauna, a grand piano, three private lifts and a Baccarat crystal camel rumoured to be valued at USD $500,000.
The national dish of Brunei may raise a few eyebrows, but ambuyat is a long standing indigenous delicacy. The starchy, glue-like substance come from the sago palm, but the actual flavour of the dish is in the cacah, or a variety of dips. It’s a meal that’s meant to be shared, and eating it is half the fun.
Cambodia Bucket List Experiences
An ancient nation with a storied past, Cambodia’s tragic modern history left it with more of an uphill struggle toward stability than some of its neighbours. However, the country’s steady growth in recent years shows how eager Cambodians are to make up for lost time and, more importantly, it reflects the resilience, charisma and strength of the people. The proud Khmers have risen from the horrors of its past, and once again this heart-shaped country is beating with life.
Bamboo Choo Choo
Though it’s a short journey from Battanbang to O Sra Lav, hitching a ride on the quirky bamboo train is classic journey. Each norry (train) is fashioned from a light bamboo frame and powered by a small engine, and its clever engineering allows you to quickly move the train off the tracks in case you meet another!
Make a Difference
Much of Cambodia is still in the process of recovery and there are many ways you can help by volunteering, whether it’s by rolling up your selves on a farm, administering vaccinations or teaching English at schools. Just make sure you do your research so you know your skills are suited and the program is ethical and worthwhile.
Snorkel in the Forest
Take a dip in the Boeng Yeak Laom, a near perfect circle of crystal clear blue water within an ancient volcanic crater. With a depth of nearly 50 metres, the lake boasts exceptional visibility, and the surrounding forest is superbly serene.
A Touch of Khmer Flair
For a souvenir that’s entirely unique, visit a local phot studio and pose for your very own Khmer glamour shot, complete with a traditional outfit. Many studios will even do your makeup. You can choose from a variety of different backgrounds, but Angkor Wat is the most popular locale of choice.
Take the Tube
Avoid the party scene cluttering the Mekong in Vang Vieng and catch a lazy tube down the Teuk Chhou river instead. Just upstream from Kampot, there’s a series of clear rapids where you chill out, swim or simply contemplate your surrounds.
You don’t have to be Sir Richard Branson to stay on your own private island. Live like a king at the luxurious Song Saa Resort, 35 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville near Koh Rong. In addition to a private beach and plunge pool, the island even has its own time zone – so you can enjoy an extra hour of paradise.
Kampot Pepper Plantation
If you are visiting Kampot, you must visit a pepper plantation. Pepper has been produced and exported internationally in Kampot since the beginning of the 20th Century, and it is world-renowned in the culinary world. We recommend doing a tour to La Plantation pepper farm where you will learn how pepper is produced, and also includes an amazing pepper tasting session. You will have the opportunity to try white, red and black pepper, as well as exclusive their fresh salted pepper, long peppers and other various spices, spice mixes and hot sauces.
From the chilled-out riverside town of Kampot, you’re perfectly positioned to make the trek up to Bokor National Park, where the crumbling remains of a French hill station lay abandoned, shrouded in mist. On a clear day, you can take in the sweeping vires of the Gulf of Thailand.
Bird’s Eye View of History
View the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap in their full glory – from the air. A scenic helicopter flight over Angkor Archaeological Park gives you the chance to truly appreciate the historic site in all its grand scale and complexity, and as a bonus, you get to spare your tired feet.
A Walk Through the Park
Escape to the cool, hilly forests of Kirirom National Park, where winding paths take you past a series of lakes and waterfalls. Kirirom, which means Mountain of Joy, is just a few hours from Phnom Penh and is a popular picnic spot for locals.
Sometimes known as Cambodia’s wild west, the laid-back town of Kompong Cham, set on the Mekong River, is full of colonial French architecture and home to the Cham, an ethnic Chinese Muslim minority. Take a stroll to the island of Koh Paen across a great bamboo bridge, which is rebuilt by hand every season.
Indonesia Bucket List Activities
With more than 17,000 islands scattered across the equator, the sprawling Indonesian archipelago is home to people and cultures so vastly different that it’s hard to imagine them saluting the one flag. But it’s because of this diversity that Indonesia has so much to offer, and since more of the country is well off the beaten track, you won’t have to wander far to enjoy its riches all to yourself.
Flores in Bloom
Venture inland to Komodo National Park to the stunning multi-coloured volcanic lakes of Kelimutu, or simply kick back on one of the many deserted beaches – but watch out for the Komodo dragons that patrol the island.
Sulawesi is home to some of the most unique cultures and traditions in the country. Travel through the awe-inspiring rice terraces of Tana Toraja and learn about the incredibly elaborate Torajan burial ceremonies.
Dive into the crystal clear waters of Raja Ampat and explore and underwater universe of astonishing richness. This relatively untouched archipelago in West Papua lies at the heart of the coral triangle and offers the greatest variety of marine life in the world.
Walk Back in Time
The cool forest highlands of Papua were pristine and undiscovered until the 20th Century. Step back in time as you trek through the Baliem Valley and encounter stone-age tribes, some of which have mummified their great chiefs.
Sail among the fabled Spice Islands from Pulau Ambon to Kota Ternate. Among the volcanoes and desert islands, discover Maluku’s colonial past, with Dutch fortresses, Portuguese colonies and WWII remnants.
Leave the mass tourism of the south of Bali behind (although you should check out Taman Festival, a creepy, abandoned theme park near Sanur), and set off on a road trip through the central mountains to the black-sand beaches of Lovina on Bali’s north coast. Don’t forget to also explore quirky, colonial Singaraja.
Slice of Borneo
Travel to the steamy inland jungles of Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, and catch a glimpse of the noble orangutans in their natural environment. Once back in civilisation get snap-happy at the famous floating markets of Banjarmasin.
Adventurers and die-hard surfers will feel right at home at the Mentawai Islands just off Sumatra’s west coast. Surf for days on world-class waves, then work up a hunger for the tasty but ever so spicy street food of Padang.
Remote West Timor is home to villages of grassy, beehive shaped huts and weavers who produce some of the best Ikat cloth in Indonesia. Explore the unique nature reserve surrounding its highest peak, Ganung Mutis – if you climb to the top on a clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of Darwin in Australia.
For an experience that’s truly on a high level, rise early for sunrise at Borobudur Temple – the world’s largest Buddhist temple. The grand scale of the ancient structure, complemented with dramatic volcano views, is breath-taking.
Laos Bucket List Experiences
Landlocked and little-explored by travellers until word escaped about its hidden qualities in the 1990s, historic Laos has much to keep the inquisitive visitor awestruck. Buddhism and elephants are the first things that pop into people’s minds, but the old kingdom of Lan Xang (A Million Elephants) has more than pachyderms and monks to offer, including ancient remains and enigmas, outdoor pursuits, stunning landscapes and colonial ruins.
Wherever you go in the world, you are never going to experience another place quite like Xieng Khuan – Buddha Park – just outside Vientiane. Here more than 200 statues of Buddha and Hindu deities stand frozen as they were left by creator, Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a priest-shaman who fled the country after the revolution in 1975.
Water and Wildlife
Explore the archipelago of 4,000 islands in southern Laos. Most of the islands are uninhabited, save for the two main islands of Don Phet and Don Kong, where you can stay for the night. Until not so long ago, this was where you could join an expedition to track the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin. Sadly, the last surviving dolphin died in 2023.
Helping Out a Gentle Giant
Laos may formerly have been known as the ‘Land of a Million Elephants’, but sadly the size, health and happiness of the pachyderm population has diminished drastically in recent years. You can help put a smile back on some of their big friendly faces, however, by visiting an elephant refuge / sanctuary, or volunteering on a program at one of several elephant charity centres around the country.
Enter in Style
Travelling to Laos from Houay Xai (on the Thai border) by riverboat isn’t the fastest method of transport, but it’s the perfect introduction to what’s to come. No one in Laos is ever in a hurry, so kick back and take in the scenery as you cruise down the river in a slow boat to Luang Prabang. Stay overnight in Somnambulant Pakbeng, halfway, or charter a boat and fall asleep to the gentle rocking of the water.
Moonshine and Markets
Often visited en-route to Pak Ou, the so-called whisky villages offer travellers the chance to sample shots of Lao Lao (Laotian rice whisky) and learn how it’s made. You can also buy a range of local handicrafts. For ethical reasons, avoid buying alcohol containing animals or animal parts.
A Megalithic Mindbender
Scattered across the Xieng Khouang plateau, the eerie Plain of Jars is an ancient site that poses a delicious enigma for the intrigued traveller. There are thousands of jars – spread across 90 sites within the province of Xieng Khouang, each one with clusters of up to 400 stone relics – but only one has any markings. Are they evidence of a prehistoric burial custom, as the archaeologist argue, or vessels for brewing rice wine left over from an ancient race of giants, as some locals believe?
Stories From the Underground
Visit the historic Viengxay Caves of north-eastern Laos. At the height of the Vietnam War, when the Americans were reigning bombs on the area, some 23,000 people would seek refuge in this warren of hundreds of caves, which boasted all the infrastructure of a small metropolis, including a school, hospital, bakeries and entertainment venues.
Heart of Darkness
A boat ride to the eerie Kong Lor Cave takes you across more than 7 kilometres of the Nam Hin Boun River. Deep within the Phu Hin Bun national protected area lies the longest cave in Laos, with caverns reaching up to 80 metres at their highest peak. Return to the civilisation at the quaint village of Ban Natane, where homestays are available.
Explore Bokeo Nature Reserve through the eyes of a local by taking a guided tour that makes a difference. The Gibbon Project raises funds for the reserve by providing tours and overnight stays at tree houses set a vertigo-inducing 40 metres above the ground. Make like a gibbon and swing across zip lines from house to house.
Cave of Buddhas
Make a pilgrimage to the iconic Pak Ou Caves, a short trip down the river from Luang Prabang. Join a tour, hire a boat or simply paddle your way through the cave network that sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers, where hundreds of Buddha statues left by devotees over the centuries sit and contemplate those who come to visit.
Malaysia Ultimate Bucket List Experiences
A multicultural melting pot with a heritage that harks back to ancient kingdoms, Malaysia is a thriving Asian super force of culture, adventure and luscious landscapes. The country boasts a kaleidoscopic cultural mix with flavours as rich as the national cuisine. There’s something to tantalise every traveller’s fancy, from stunning beaches and breathtaking islands, to thriving modern metropolises. Dive in and be seduced by one of Asia’s most captivating countries.
Hang Out In Penang
The delights of Georgetown, in the UNESCO Heritage-listed city of Penang, are well known: the multi-coloured colonial and Peranakan mansions, the flavoursome hawker food, the vibrant temples, mosques and shrines. Get to the top of Penang Hill and look out over the whole island, explore the jetties, see the serpents at the snake temple, check out the extraordinary Cheang Fall Tze Mansion, visit the Penang Islamic museum and behold the ornate architecture of Khoo Kongsi complex.
Just as Malaysia has a heady mix of multicultural and multi-ethnic influences, its largest state, Sarawak, boasts a population made up of many local ethnic groups including the Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau and more. Discover all the cultural flavours of this complex region at the Sarawak Cultural Village. Nestled in the foothills of Mt Santubong, this living museum walks visitors through the history and lifestyle of Sarawak’s major groups, with visual and interactive displays set among 14 acres of tropical vegetation.
Visit a Bazaar Festival
Witness extreme acts of devotion at the Thaipusam Festival as Hindu pilgrims congregate at the Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur to pay tribute to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. Devotees appeal to Murugan to answer their prayers, with a vow to perform a kavadi as a physical debt for their requests. While a kavadi can be as simple as carrying a heavy bowl of water, it’s common to see devotees pierce their tongues, cheeks and skin with lances and hooks.
Hello Kitty Town and Legoland Malaysia are high-tech theme parks offering rides and themed interactive experiences for kids, families and anyone interested in rediscovering their inner child. Located in Johor, these parks are easily accessible from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Come and explore the first Legoland in Asia and the first Hello Kitty Park outside Japan.
Meet the Forest People
Orangutans have been pushed to the brink of extinction and Borneo is one of the last remaining areas where you can see these majestic primates in their natural environment. To learn more about efforts to save these gentle creatures visit the Matang Wildlife Centre, where you can interact with the orangutans and learn about their rescue and rehabilitation program. Volunteer placements are also available.
Land of Palaces
Rustic charm meets modern luxury at Terrapuri Resort, and a stay at this heritage village in Penarik is not to be missed. The layout of the resort is inspired by classic 17th Century Terengganu Palaces, with 20 antique wooden villas lovingly restored to offer a cosy, yet elegant experience. With the South China Sea at your doorstep and lush mangroves and palm trees just metres away, this idyllic hideaway enables you to experience traditional Malay village life in style.
Save the Giants
Just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu lie the five exquisite islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Responsible ecotourism is a priority here, with most activity centred on the main island of Pulau Gaya. Stop by the Marine Ecology Research Centre at the luxurious Gayana Eco Resort to learn how you can contribute to oceanic conservation efforts.
Sabah’s Lost World
Venture into the uppermost reaches of Borneo to the lush Maliau Basin, encircled by steep cliffs. As you trek through the dense forest, be on the lookout for the rare Sumatran rhinoceros and clouded leopard. Cool off in multi-tiered waterfalls and take a dip in Sabah’s only freshwater lake, Lake Limununsut.
Held at the end of June, the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival is a three-day party in the jungle of Borneo featuring a diverse line-up of international and local musicians. Drop in and participate in one of the interactive workshops for a lesson in indigenous instruments, then dance the night away beneath the canopy.
Stock up on electronic goods at Plaza Low Yat, Kuala Lumpur’s premier tech mall. This is the largest IT market in Malaysia, so your chances of finding whatever it is you’re after are good to excellent. This is by far the best place to grab a great bargain on a computer or camera.
Myanmar Bucket List Experiences
Sadly, Myanmar has been struggling with political problems recently so it hasn’t been at the top of a lot of travellers bucket lists. The names of Myanmar’s great wonders still evoke a sense of legend and mystery – Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, Yangon – but venture just a little further afield and you’ll discover Myanmar has even more to offer.
Lift Off to the Heavens
Experience the magnificent valley of Bagan from a soaring height, with a ride in a hot air balloon. From above, the endless views of the ancient stupas are breath-taking, and even more beautiful as the sun rises over the horizon. Book sunrise or sunset champagne flights from October to the end of March.
A Worthwhile Workout
Stretch your muscles for a strenuous hike up Mount Zwegabin, a steep limestone cliff near Hpa-an. Once you’ve reached the summit, rest your weary bones at the monastery. The monks there will even let you stay for the night, which allows you to take advantage of the spectacular sunset views. Be sure to leave a donation for your stay.
Stare in awe at the hundreds of massive, crumbling fortress temples and pagodas adorned with tens of thousands of Buddha’s over the hills around Mrauk U. The medieval town was once the seat of power in the Arakanese kingdom, controlling what is now Bangladesh and the Rakhine State. Unlike Bagan, the areas surrounding the ruins are still inhabited and tourists are scarce.
The train winding through the Shan highlands takes you on a voyage back in time. Start at Pyin U Lwin (Maymo), the one-time summer capital of the Raj. Favoured by the British for its cooler climate, the former hill station was once described as ‘more like a corner of Surrey than of Myanmar’. The town remains starkly different from the rest of the country, with horse-drawn carriages, colonial mansions and English gardens. Continue on to Hsipaw (Thibaw) and see the Shan palace of Hao Sao Pha, home of the least Sawbwa (royal chief).
Sand, Sunshine and Solitude
Ngapali may be Myanmar’s premier beach attraction, but head to Ngwe Saung for an experience that’s off the beaten track. A 5 hour drive from Yangon, it’s blessed with a 15 kilometre stretch of sand on the Bay of Bengal and maintains a low-key, local atmosphere. There’s also an elephant camp nearby.
Come Sail Away
Why go across land when you can go over the sea? Explore the sparkling waters off the Mergui archipelago on a sailing trip through Myanmar’s deep south, from the fine white sands of Macleod Island to the magical hidden lagoons of Ket Mauk. Multi-day charter trips depart from Kawthaung, though some tours begin across the Thai border in Ranong.
Call of the Mountains
Leave the lowlands far behind and journey to the snow-capped mountains of Hkakabo Razi National Park, in the northern most reaches of Kachin. As you trek through evergreen forests, try to spot red pandas and the rare black orchid. If you’re game, try climbing Southeast Asia’s highest peak. First conquered in 1996, no one has made it to the top of the 5,881 metre high Hkakabo Razi since.
Having the Last Laugh
Despite arrests, labour camp and years of censorship, the Moustache Brothers of Mandalay continue to perform their cheeky, anti-establishment brand of comedy, as they have done for the past 30 years. The trio is banned from doing public performances, but you can catch a show in their home every evening.
Crossroads of Culture
Positioned at the intersection of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and China, Kengtung is home to an eclectic mix of cultures. Witness the colours and variety of peoples, such as Ann, Wa, Akha and Palaung as they gather at the vibrant morning market, or trek through the surrounding hills to get an intimate look at how each group lives.
A Rock That Doesn’t Roll
Burmese pilgrims flock to Kyaikiyo, believed by many to be magical place. Upon first glance you may agree – it’s hard to miss the gold-leafed boulder sitting precariously at the cliff edge, in curious defiance of gravity. It’s said the rock is balances atop a single strand of Buddha’s hair.
Philippines Bucket List Experiences
With a culture boasting a cocktail of flavours and influences – Malay, Chinese, Spanish and indigenous – and religious traditions based in Catholicism, Islam, animism and everything in between, the Philippines has never been shy of cramming as much on its plate as possible. There are 7,000 islands to explore here and there’s a lot to take in – so bring an empty stomach and an open mind.
Journey to the Edge
As the country’s final frontier, Palawan is a place where you can truly get lost. Hop aboard a ‘banka’ to go island hopping in El Nido and explore a plethora of pristine coral reefs, WWII shipwrecks and inviting blue lagoons, all hidden among the corrugated shards of dramatic karst island peaks.
Cast your gaze upward at the hanging coffins in the mountainous Sagada province. The tombs are carved by their eventual occupiers (in most cases) and are somehow hauled up the mountains, where they cling to limestone cliffs high above the ground.
Join a Social Sing-Along
Filipinos really love to have a sing song, and for that reason a coin-operated videoke – a delightfully shabby contraption that looks like an old television chucked on top of a broken arcade machine – is never far away. Gather up a handful of change and bond with locals over your favourite 80s power ballads.
Catch a Wave
If you’re after some classic sand, sun and surf, cast your sights in Siargao, in Mindanao’s north-east. It’s easy to lose track of time here, between hitching rides on the famous Cloud 9 break and watching skies melt into sunsets over an ice cold San Miguel. In October crowds descend upon the sleepy island for the Siargao Cup surf competition, one of the Philippines’ largest sporting events.
Trek Lunar Landscapes
More than 20 years since the catastrophic eruption of Mt Pinatubo, the mountain is well worth a visit. The turquoise caldera at the summit now holds the deepest lake in the country. Trek along the otherworldly site of the most powerful volcanic explosion in our lifetime.
On the Whale Trail
If it’s big fish you’re after, there’s an embarrassment of riches here. Snorkel alongside ‘butanding’ or whale sharks in Oslob and Donsol, visit grey nurse and thresher sharks near Malapascua Island and around Cebu, or keep your eyes open for sightings of elusive blue whales near Pamilacan Island. From February to June, humpback whales reside in the waters off Babuyan, north of Luzon.
The Philippines is positively crazy about pork, and no dish is more iconic to Pinoy cuisine than lechon, a suckling pig slow-roasted over a pit. Anthony Bourdain, a well credentialed pork aficionado, declared the local dish the best pig he’d ever tasted.
With its mountain fortresses, rolling green hills dotted with cattle and thatched cottages, the northernmost province of Batanes could be mistaken for New Zealand or Scotland. Of the 10 microscopic islands scattered across the Luzon Strait, only three are inhabited, meaning there’s plenty more to explore out there.
Ride a Jeepney
The Filipino answer to the Latin American chicken bus is a brassy, technicolour refurbished Jeep that makes duller modes of transport hang their heads in shame. By far the cheapest way to get around in the city, the Jeepney is worth hitching a ride on if only to admire the flamboyant décor up close.
In January, the islands come alive for some of the country’s most colourful festivals, but none exude the raw, frenetic energy like Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan Festival, on the island of Panay. The week-long fiesta, with its infectious mix of tribal, colonial and religious elements, is the Philippines in microcosm.
Singapore Bucket List Adventures
Proof that good things come in small packages, this former British colony punches well above its weight as one of the more prosperous and modern countries in the world. Singapore is, by reputation, the region’s trendsetter, but it also manages to retain a strong cultural heritage with its mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences. Hidden secrets await those ready to get lost amid the scramble of the city – cutting edge designers, quirky bars, and hideaway bookshops tucked just metres from the main road. If you’re after world-class eateries and watering holes, sophisticated shops, or just a simple good time, you need look no further.
Feasts for the Dead
According to Chinese tradition, the Hungry Ghost Festival pays tribute to the spirits of ancestors who have come back to roam the earth. As part of the fascinating ritual which occurs in the seventh months of the lunar calendar, the faithful gather to pay respects to their dead by burning paper money and preparing whole plates of food as offerings. In some areas, more elaborate events include stage performances with front row seats kept vacant for the spirits!
Museum of Toys
The MINT (Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys) Museum may be full of dolls and action figures, but it’s clear this place to more for the young at heart, than youngsters. The unique collection of retro playthings from around the world is valued at more than SG$5 million. Just remember, look – don’t touch!
Tipple on Top of the World
Few places can offer a vista more impressive than the one you’ll find at the top of 1-Altitude. At 280 metres high, this is the tallest alfresco rooftop bar in the world, boasting 360-degree views of the city and sea below. Get there just in time to toast the sunset.
Life’s a Beach
Spread out a towel, relax on the sand or lounge poolside at the Tanjong Beach Club. A hip combination of bar, restaurant and beach resort, this hot spot on Sentosa Island is the perfect place to spend a few lazy hours drinking cocktails under the sun, or partying at night.
Escape the urban jungle and take refuge in a real one. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a protected piece of rainforest right smack in the middle of the city. Keep your eyes open for curious wildlife and tropical plants as you stroll along the winding trail to Singapore’s highest point.
Get Your Hawker Fix
If you’re hungry and you know it…. The bustling Chomp Chomp Market at Serangoon Gardens is jam packed with rows of the best hawker stalls in the country. The seafood here is especially good, and the food is served until late. Bring an empty stomach, a sense of adventure and be prepared to also eat with your eyes.
Get a taste of Singapore’s indie café scene at The Pigeonhole, a book café and art space in Tanjong Pagar. Along with comfort food. And eclectic library and a cost atmosphere, it also offers open mic nights, film screenings and pub trivia.
Shop Till You Drop
There’s no denying Singaporeans love to shop. Venture further afield from the malls for unique, vintage goods. For edgy, indie fashions and vinyl, try hip Haji Lane in Kampong Glam, or check out the charming boutique shops and bookstores in Yong Siak Street.
Make Like a Monkey
For a bit of outdoor fun, get along to Forest Adventures at Bedok Reservoir Park. Navigate your way across and elevated obstacle course as you hop from tree to tree, and score an adrenaline rush as you whoosh through the branches hanging from nothing but a zip line.
A Colourful Devotion
Sri Mariamman, the oldest Hindu temple in the country, brings a slice of Tamil Nadu to the heart of Chinatown. A riot of technicolour, the intricate designs of the temple celebrate the mother goddess, Sri Mariamman. If you’re around in October or November, there is a firewalking ceremony held in her honour.
Thailand Bucket List Experiences
It’s easy to see why tens of millions of tourists flock to Thailand’s shores every year. There’s something for everyone in the land of smiles, whether you’re after an adventure, history, culture, parties, relaxation, nature or a shopping fix. Beyond the usual drawcards, the many festivals such as Songkran and unique experiences in Thailand on offer will give you plenty more reasons to smile.
Visit the Amazing Phi Phi Islands
Phi Phi Islands are a famous archipelago located in the southeast Andaman Sea. The natural beauty, abundance of marine life, and the crystal clear emerald waters are all highlights, but the Phi Phi islands are also well known for Maya Bay from the movie “The Beach”. The best way to really appreciate all the islands have to offer is by booking a full-day snorkelling tour.
A Room With a View
After spending the day paddling through the jaw-dropping scenery at Khao Sok National Park, settle in for the night in a floating bungalow on Chiew Lan Lake. Rise to a chorus of macaques and hornbills and explore the surrounding jungle and islands.
Lopburi Monkey Festival
The mischievous monkeys who roam the streets of Lopburi are honoured with their very own feast at the end of November – the Lopburi Monkey Festival. Locals flock to their unofficial headquarters at San Pra Kan shrine, bearing edible offerings to the residential macaques in the belief that the monkeys will bring good luck.
Light the Night
This picturesque Festival of Light celebrates the 12th lunar moon in the lunar calendar, when rivers are at their highest and the moon at its brightest. Candles are cast down the river in handmade krathongs (colourful, lotus shaped lanterns), while in the north, thousands of knom loy (sky lanterns) float toward the heavens in a similar celebration called Yi Peng.
The Game You’ll Never Forget
Fancy a game of polo? Go get your elephant then. The popular King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, a sport introduced to the country by Nepal more than 10 years ago, features players from around the world. Check out the action at Hua Hin this September. The profits from the charity event go toward elephant welfare.
One Million Bottles of Beer on the Wall…
Tired of seeing discarded beer bottles littering the streets, eco-friendly monks in Sisaket province decided to take matters into their own hands. The result is the impressive, intricately designed Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, made from more than a million beer bottles. Every structure in the complex, including the toilet, is made with discarded glass. Bottle cap mosaics also decorate the inner walls of the temple. Talk about reincarnation!
Witness the most unique tattoo convention in the world at Wat Bang Phra, where monks apply intricate sak yant using traditional methods before blessing their handiwork. These sacred tattoos are believed to hold magical and protective powers, and during Sak Yant Festival fervent crowds invoke the spirits of their tattoos, often falling into a deep trance. Though the monks tattoo throughout the year, the spectacle of the festival, which takes place each March just west of Bangkok, is worth seeing.
Vibrant Nightlife Scene
Thailand’s nightlife scene is known worldwide for its party atmosphere that caters to all types of travellers. From rooftop bars with stunning city views to beach clubs with live music performances, or entertainment options such as cabaret shows, nightclubs, and go-go bars. Some of the most popular destinations for nightlife activities are Bangkok’s Khao San Road, and Bangla Road in Phuket.
If you’re suffering from a few too many whisky buckets, give your body and soul a break at the Sanctuary Island Resort on Koh Phangan. With yoga, meditation, detox programs and an extensive list of wellness treatments on offer, you’ll feel like a whole new person.
Get Your Kicks
Known for its brutality and efficiency, Muay Thai is a huge part of the country’s proud cultural heritage. Professional Thai fighters train from an early age at camps around the country, many of which also take foreigners. There’s no better place in the world to learn the ‘art of eight limbs’, which, aside from bestowing you with some major martial arts skills, will also get you seriously fit.
Wet and Wild
Adventure seekers should head to Mae Taeng River, near Chiang Mai in the country’s north. From August to October, with the river swollen from the rainy season, there are excellent Class III and IV white-water rapids to runs. Join a raft or tackle the churning river in your own kayak.
Ghosts and Rockets
Phi Takhon, or the Ghost Festival, is a vibrant three-day festival celebrated in Loei, in the Isan province of northern Thailand. Men dress as spirits, wearing elaborate masks made of rice and coconut while swinging giant wooden phalluses in the air like swords, and the townspeople call on the spirits of the Mun River for protection. The first day also features dancing, games and other festivities, while the second day is marked by a riotous launch of rockets as locals pray for rain. On the last day, the people gather to hear monks deliver sermons at Wat Pronchai.
Swim With Pigs
Koh Samui is a popular tourist destination and one tour we always do when we visit the island is a tour to Pig Island. Pig Island near Koh Samui is a beautiful island located off the southern coast of Koh Samui, Thailand. The island is a popular tourist destination, known for its crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and most importantly, its adorable inhabitants – the swimming pigs!
Vietnam Bucket List Experiences
Abuzz with development and enterprise, Vietnam is a country that’s ‘go, go, go’. While it’s easy to find yourself caught up in the hectic pace (and near suicidal street crossings) of the bustling cities, it’s a lot more satisfying to slow down and savour each moment as it comes.
Boasting a cool, pleasant climate and a uniquely European flavour, Dalat is like a charming little Vietnamese pocket of the French Alps. Admire the eclectic architecture and the stunning scenery, and take a cable car up to Thien Vien Tru Lam Monastery for fantastic views.
Land of Sand
Looking out across the desert-like horizon, the sand dunes of Mui Ne seem as though they would be more at home in the Sahara than in south-east Vietnam. Grab a board and surf the sandy waves, then stop and admire the pretty lotus lakes hidden among the dunes.
Vietnam by Bike
Make like a local and hop abroad a motorbike. It’s by far the best way to see the country through coastal hamlets, rice fields, remote villages and mountains. If you are not comfortable riding a bike yourself, book an Easy Rider tour!
Hang Out in Halong
A cruise through Halong Bay is at the top of many travellers’ lists, but adventures are drawn to the karst cliffs for a different reason: the climbing. The many rock faces that plunge directly into the bay are perfect for deep-water soloing (climbing without ropes).
If you can manage to tear yourself away from Nha Trang beach, rest your bones in the hot mineral springs of nearby Thap Ba. Alternatively, soak yourself in a therapeutic mud bath.
Visit the tailors of Hoi An and get fitted for a custom-made outfit. The talented tailors can turn around entire suits in a matter of days, and some can even copy patterns from pictures. For a fraction of the price you would pay back home, you can stock up on an entire new wardrobe.
The Rooftop of the Indochina
Get your highs by hiking Fansipan, Vietnam’s tallest peak. From your base at the charming hill station of Sapa, you can trek through primitive forests and meet diverse hill-tribe villagers as you make your way to the summit.
New Year Madness
The entire country explodes, quite literally, with celebrations for Tet Nguyen Dan, or Vietnamese New Year, Cities come a live with festival processions and colourful fireworks as locals prepare for their most important holiday. The excitement in the air is infectious.
Into the Depths
Lose yourself inside the largest cave system in the world at the remote Phong Nha-K Bang National Park in central Vietnam. Hang Son Doon cave is a world in itself, featuring an underground river and a lush subterranean jungle. The largest cavern measures a staggering 5 kilometres long, 200 metres high, and 150 metres wide – enough to fit and entire city block of skyscrapers.
Pints for Pennies
If you’re drinking on a budget, you won’t find a better deal than a glass of Bia Hoi, the local microbrew. Fresh batches are brewed and delivered daily and, at less than twenty cents a glass, are a great lubricant for getting friendly with the locals. Bottoms up!
Unique Southeast Asia Travel Bucket List Experiences: FAQs / Things to Know Before You Go
What is the Most Visited Place in Southeast Asia?
Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, is one of the best destinations in south east Asia. This vibrant and bustling metropolis has something for everyone, from ancient temples to modern shopping malls, street food to fine dining restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene that never sleeps.
However, Bali is another popular destination in Southeast Asia that attracts millions of visitors every year. This Indonesian island paradise is known for its stunning beaches, lush rice terraces, ancient temples, and unique culture.
Siem Reap, located in Cambodia, is also another popular destination in Southeast Asia that attracts visitors from all over the world. This small town serves as a gateway to the ancient city of Angkor, which was once the capital of the Khmer Empire.
Things to Do in Asia for Foodie’s
Southeast Asia is a melting pot of cultures, religions, languages, and cuisines. It is a region that offers an endless array of culinary delights for foodies to explore. From street food to fine dining, Southeast Asia has something for every palate. Here are some must-try experiences for foodies looking to add more flavour to their travel bucket list.
Bangkok’s Night Markets: A Street Food Haven
One of the most famous night markets in Bangkok is the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This market has over 15,000 stalls selling everything from clothes to souvenirs but it’s the food section that draws the biggest crowds. Another popular spot among locals is the Talat Rot Fai Ratchada Night Market where you can find traditional Thai street food as well as international cuisine.
Singapore Hawker Centres: A Multicultural Gastronomic Experience
Singapore is a tiny island nation that packs a punch. The city-state has a rich cultural heritage with influences from Malay, Chinese, Indian and Peranakan cuisines. One of the best ways to experience this multicultural gastronomic journey is by visiting one of Singapore’s many hawker centres.
Hawker centres are open-air complexes housing dozens of small stalls serving up local delicacies. Some of the must-try dishes include Hainanese Chicken Rice, Laksa (spicy noodle soup), Char Kway Teow (stir-fried noodles), and Satay (grilled meat skewers). The Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, and Old Airport Road Food Centre are some of the most popular hawker centres among locals and tourists alike.
Cambodia: A Fusion of Flavours
Cambodian cuisine is often overshadowed by its neighbours’ more famous dishes but it’s definitely worth exploring. Cambodian cuisine has been influenced by French colonialism as well as neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. The result is a fusion of flavours that’s unique to Cambodia.
One dish that’s synonymous with Cambodian cuisine is Fish Amok. It’s a fragrant coconut curry made with freshwater fish steamed in banana leaves served with rice on the side. Another must-try dish is Beef Lok Lak which is stir-fried beef served on top of lettuce leaves accompanied by lime pepper sauce.
Laos: A Rustic Culinary Experience
Laos may not be as well-known for its cuisine compared to other Southeast Asian countries but it’s definitely worth exploring. Lao cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and rustic flavors. Sticky rice is a staple in Lao cuisine and is often served with grilled meat or fish.
FAQ’s: Southeast Asia Bucket list
Is Southeast Asia Worth Visiting?
Southeast Asia is a must-visit destination for anyone looking for a unique and unforgettable travel experience. This region offers a diverse range of experiences, from exploring ancient temples in Cambodia to partying on the beaches at Thailand’s Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. The region is known for its stunning natural beauty, rich history, delicious food, and friendly locals.
Is Southeast Asia Cheaper Than South America?
There are so many beautiful places in east Asia and Southeast Asia is an excellent destination for budget-conscious travellers. The region offers a wide range of affordable options for food, accommodation, and transportation. Backpackers can easily travel around the region without breaking the bank.
While Southeast Asia is generally cheaper than South America, Singapore stands out as the most expensive country in the region. The city-state has a high cost of living due to its developed economy and limited land space.
Cambodia and Vietnam are two of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia.
The cost of traveling in Southeast Asia can vary depending on the season. Peak tourist season, which runs from November to February, tends to be more expensive due to higher demand.
What are the Most Interesting Things About Southeast Asia?
Southeast Asia is a region that comprises 10 countries, each with its unique culture, religion, and tradition. The region’s diverse ethnicities include the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, and many indigenous groups. The religions practiced in Southeast Asia include Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism. This diversity provides travellers with an opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions in one place.
In addition, Southeast Asia has some of the world’s most beautiful destinations that are worth exploring. Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts of ancient temples from the Khmer civilization. Thailand’s Bangkok is known for its vibrant nightlife and street food scene. Laos’ Mekong River offers scenic views of lush greenery along the riverbanks while Vietnam’s Halong Bay is famous for its towering limestone cliffs that rise out of the emerald waters.
Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands is an iconic landmark featuring three towers connected by a rooftop infinity pool overlooking Singapore skyline view. Myanmar’s Bagan temples offer visitors breath-taking views at sunrise or sunset over thousands of Buddhist temples dotting across the landscape. The Philippines’ Boracay Island is a paradise featuring crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, and palm trees swaying in the breeze.
What is the Cheapest Place in Southeast Asia?
Cambodia and Vietnam are two of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia.
What is the Wealthiest State in Southeast Asia?
Singapore is undoubtedly the leader among the Southeast Asian countries. As of 2021, Singapore’s GDP per capita stands at $65,233, which is more than four times higher than the next wealthiest country in the region. The city-state has a highly developed economy that thrives on trade and finance.
Apart from Singapore, several other countries in Southeast Asia have relatively high GDP per capita. Brunei is the second-wealthiest state with a GDP per capita of around $28,000. Malaysia and Thailand follow closely behind with GDP per capita of $11,000 and $7,500 respectively.
Which Country is the Least Developed in Southeast Asia?
While some countries like Singapore and Malaysia are known for their modernity and economic prosperity, others are still struggling to catch up with their more developed neighbours.
It’s important to note that development can be measured in various ways such as economic growth, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and social welfare. Based on these factors, one could argue that Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is currently the least developed country in Southeast Asia.
Despite being rich in natural resources and having a diverse population of over 50 million people, Myanmar has faced numerous challenges over the past decades including political instability, ethnic conflicts, human rights abuses, and economic sanctions. As a result of these issues, Myanmar’s economy has been struggling to grow at a sustainable pace and its people have not been able to enjoy basic necessities such as clean water and adequate healthcare.
However, it’s worth noting that Myanmar has made significant progress towards democratization since the military regime was dissolved in 2011. The country has opened up to foreign investment and tourism which have helped boost its economy. There have been improvements in areas such as education and healthcare although much work still needs to be done.
What are Some Must-Visit Places for my Southeast Asia Bucket List?
Some popular destinations include Bali (Indonesia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hanoi (Vietnam), Siem Reap (Cambodia), and Luang Prabang (Laos). However, there are many other hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path destinations that are worth exploring.
How Much Does a Trip to Southeast Asia Cost?
The cost of a trip to Southeast Asia can vary widely depending on where you go, how long you stay, what type of accommodation you choose, and what activities you do. As a general rule of thumb, budget travellers can expect to spend around $30-50 USD per day while mid-range travellers may spend around $50-100 USD per day.
What Should I Pack for My Trip to Southeast Asia?
It’s important to pack light and bring appropriate clothing for the hot and humid weather. Some essential items include comfortable walking shoes, insect repellent, sunscreen, lightweight clothing that covers your shoulders and knees (especially when visiting temples), a hat or umbrella for sun protection, and a small backpack or daypack.
Accommodation in Southeast Asia
There are many accommodation options in Southeast Asia to suit all budgets. For those looking for a luxury experience, there are 5-star resorts with all the amenities and activities you could want. For those on a tight budget, there are hostels and guesthouses which offer basic but clean and comfortable rooms. There is something to suit everyone in Southeast Asia when it comes to accommodation.
When choosing accommodation in Southeast Asia, it is important to consider what kind of holiday you are looking for. If you want a relaxed and lazy holiday by the pool, then a resort would be ideal. However, if you are looking to explore everything that Southeast Asia has to offer, then a guesthouse or hostel in a city centre would be a better option so you can easily walk to all the attractions.
Trip Planners For Thailand: Related Blog Posts
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Essential Travel Planning Resources for Asia
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