top 5 must-sees of south east asia

monk drum vietnamWhen travelling through South East Asia you’ll come across many amazing highlights and hidden gems. Jack Horder spent a few months doing just that and he’s whittled the list of wonders down to his top 5…

“With the strong Aussie dollar continuing to linger and the reeling international tourism industry offering unprecedented deals, there has never been a better time to travel through South East Asia. A budget traveller’s paradise, South East Asia offers a taste of the exotic as well as being a historical and culinary treasure. Here are just a few of my must-see destinations:

1. Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, the epicentre of Vietnamese communism and the nation’s capital, is a bustling city which will leave you exhausted after just walking through its streets trying to find your hotel. A labyrinth of market filled, weaving laneways, the city is a Mecca for bargaining and cheap dining. Make sure you don’t miss the taking down of the flag in the square in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which takes place at 9pm every night. This ceremony is awe-inspiring and will give you a stark perception of Communist power. However, make sure you don’t take any photos, as you could warrant some unwanted attention from the stern and well armed guards.

2. Luang Prabang, Laos
The spiritual home of Laos, Luang Prabang is a must-see destination for its relaxed tempo, unspoilt wildlife and Buddhist traditions. Situated right alongside the mighty Mekong, one can quietly sit in a cafe sipping a $1 mango smoothie and muse as to whether there could possibly be a more lazy major tourist destination. While the daily night markets are dazzling and enchanting, and the local elephants aren’t too bad either, the ultimate Luang Prabang experience is witnessing the morning alms giving. Each day at dawn hundreds of monks walk single file down the town’s main street in a humble procession to receive food and gifts from the town’s people. A truly solemn experience.

3. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Any trip to the region cannot possibly be complete without visiting the ancient and grand ruins of Angkor Wat. Dating from the 12th century, the ruins are testament to the wealth and ingenuity of the Khmer people. But a word of warning, make sure you don’t try out that spicy Khmer curry you’ve been eyeing off the night before you venture out to the park! You might just end up being escorted out into the jungle by the local kids who will milk you for all you’re worth to use their “very good toilet facilities” – a mere shed with a hole in the ground. Also, don’t miss the local land mine museum and the aptly named lively ‘Angkor What?’ bar.

4. Vang Vieng, Laos
If Paris is the epitome of high culture, Vang Vieng is the embodiment of backpacker fun in all its glory. Situated deep in the Laotian countryside, Vang Vieng is known widely for its cheap living, cheaper whiskey buckets and even cheaper thrills. For around $2.50 a day, the main attraction is tubing down the Nam Song River, which runs straight through the centre of town. Along the way one can stop off at one of the many makeshift bars for a drink, or even a flying fox if you’re cunning. Other attractions include hiking and cycling in the beautiful and mountainous countryside.

5. Hoi An, Vietnam
For luxury resort living Vietnamese style, Hoi An is the place to bake, bite and be pampered. Situated halfway up the Vietnamese coastline, Hoi An enjoys a tropical climate in a rural setting whilst having enough tailors, restaurants and massage peddlers to satisfy any hedonist’s appetite. A typical day could include getting measured up for a dinner suit, enjoying a breathtaking massage, having a chess game over Vietnamese coffee in Hoi An old town, and scoffing cheap chilli crab on the beach under candlelight for dinner.”

Tour South East Asia with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:
Great Indochina Loop – 29 days
Bangkok to Hong Kong – 29 days

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* photo by Ian Jones – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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