CALLING ALL TRAVELERS/BLOGGERS: Where in Southeast Asia Should I Travel?

SOUTHEAST ASIA PLANNING

SOUTHEAST ASIA PLANNING

Some people get that warm, tingly feeling while performing on stage or before a “big game” or at a concert of their favorite band – I get it while obsessing over prices of flights 7 months from now. I LOVE to plan. Especially trips abroad. And while there is a plethora of information available to me from Lonely Planet to Wikipedia to the thousands and thousands of other travel blogs (all of which I’ve been pouring over every chance I get), I thought I’d go ahead and just ask you readers, whose opinion I value far more than the stranger’s on TripAdvisor! I’d love to get as much input as possible on where to go, what to see, where to stay, what NOT to do, how to get there, etc etc, which is where YOU come in :)

A Little Bit About Us:

My boyfriend and I will be traveling around Southeast Asia for about 4 months. We love all forms of adventure, especially those involving nature, hiking or the ocean(namely surfing). We recently got SCUBA certified and are looking for amazing dive spots. We’re also traveling on a budget to extend our trip as much as possible. Crazy nightlife isn’t completely necessary, but we do enjoy drinking and bar hopping. We believe in eco/animal-friendly activities and generally being nice to Mother Nature. We’re interested in volunteer opportunities, possibly some short term teaching gigs, yoga retreats or just great studios/teachers, and other experiences to really immerse ourselves in the culture. Avoiding large tour groups and exploring on our own is preferable as well. And lastly, we LOVE to eat, so food suggestions are highly encouraged :).

Where We’ve Been:

We traveled to Bali in 2012 and saw most of the touristy things like Monkey Forest, Tegalalong Rice Terraces, white water rafting at the Telaga Waja River, Kuta Beach and Batubalan Temple. Bali was our only stop in Indonesia and then we were off to Thailand where we spent a few days in Phuket and toured Koh Phi Phi (including Maya Bay) and Phang Nga Bay (including James Bond Island). We stayed 2 nights in Bangkok and went to the Damnern Saduak floating market, Bridge over the River Kwai and Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi (I know. I’ve learned since then). After that, we spent 5 days in Boracay, Philippines and then went to Singapore for a couple days, which was way too expensive for us so we caught a bus to our last stop – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We barely scratched the surface of all of these countries, but I’m saying we don’t need to return to these specific tourist attractions or stay long at any of these cities when there are heaps more places we need to go :)

Where We Want To Go (in short):

Source: University of Texas Library
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines

See below a list of each country, followed with the cities/sites we’re thinking of visiting. Or, just skip all my babbling and leave a comment with your suggestions/expertise :)

Thailand

•  Chiang Mai: volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park (already booked), see temples, go hiking, learn some Muay Thai, see a cabarat ladyboy show. We’re already planning on staying here for the Songkran Festival, also!



 

•  Thai Islands: Since we spent almost a week in Phuket + neighboring islands, we want to explore different areas. We want to get some diving in so we were thinking of hitting up Ko Tao. Any other suggestions? Similan Islands? Ko Samui? Koh Chang? Ko Wai? Koh Lanta? Which islands are a must see and which ones are skippable?

Cambodia

 



Angkor: Ankor Wat and Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm Ruins aka Tomb Raider Temple, and downtown Siem Reap are all on our list.

Kampot: Visit a pepper farm, take a day trip to Kep, day trip to Bokor National Park

Phnom PenhVisit the Killing Fields and learn a bit of history

• SihanoukvilleBeach and drinks, what else can you ask for?

Vietnam

Source: EnjoyVietnamTrips.com
Source: EnjoyVietnamTrips.com

Sa PaTrekking

Ha Long Bay (obviously): Cruises, kayaking, cave exploring, etc

From Ha Long to Ho Chi Min: We want to kayak through the caves in Phong Nha Park. Heading down from Phong Nha, we were thinking of stopping in the Quang Nam Province to see My Son, then stop at Denang and then Dalat to visit the elephant falls and canoe in Lak Lake. Also along the way we want to stop in Hue to see the Hue Citadel, check out the view from Hai Van Pass and see the sand dunes in Mui Ne.

Ho Chi Minh City: We definitely want to visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum and explore Dong Khoi. Any must do’s in the city?

Phu Quoc: We’d like to do some diving in Vietnam and were thinking of going to either Phu Quoc Island or Nha Trang.

 



 

Laos

•  Vang Vieng: Even though the tubing-party-scene is dunzo, I hear there’s still tons to do like going to the Blue Lagoon, staying at the Vieng Tara Villa because it looks absolutely STUNNING, touring caves, hot air ballooning (although I’ve read about the sketchiness), kayaking, rock climbing, etc

•  Luang Prabang: visit the Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls, markets, temples/wats, caves •  Motorbike through the Bolaven Plateau (thank you Ava @ Be My Travel Muse, you’ve officially convinced me!)

 



•  Vientiene: COPE Center for a history lesson, Buddha Park.. Do you think it’s worth it? Would you recommend coming here? I’ve read many blogs/reviews saying it was somewhat underwhelming.

Malaysia

 

Peninsular Malaysia + Islands:

 Penang: We’d like to explore the streets of Penang and see the colonial architecture.

•  LangkawiI’d like to check out some of the beaches here. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

•  Taman Negara: Despite the warning of insects and leeches, this place seems like an amazing place to hike for a day or two.

 

Malaysian Borneo

•  Climb Mount Kinabalu (ideally without staying in the lodge)

•  Sipaden Island: SCUBA Diving

•  Gunung Mulu National Park: trekking, exploring caves

Philippines

•  Palawan: I’m absolutely DYING to go to El Nido and stay at least a week (hopefully longer). The trek out here alone is going to take a couple days but I’m sure it will be SO worth it. We also want to go on a wreck dive (maybe in Coron) and were debating seeing the underground river.

 



Bohol: Chocoate Hills, visit White Island

Luzon: Hike Mt. Pinatubo, Manila, go surfing at La Union

Indonesia

•  Java: hiking Mount Bromo (without a tour) in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, hiking Kawah Ijen (blue flames). Surfing in West Java at Turtles and Cimaja

•  Lombok: exploring the Gili Islands, hiking Mt. Rinjani

 



 •  Derawan Island (Borneo): diving/snorkeling with jellyfish and sea turtles!

 Bali: Surf Kuta reef; spend at least a week doing yoga in Ubud

•  Sulawesi: Dive in Bunaken

UPDATE 01/11/2016:

Check out what we did and where we went for our 4 month Southeast Asia trip!

Southeast Asia Planning Part 2


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27 Comment

  1. Michelle says: Reply

    My best friend and I are currently planning a SE Asia tour as well. I got so excited to see Bohol on your list because that’s where I’m from and where all my family lives, so I visit often (also the end destination of our trip). Chocolate hills are beautiful even when you don’t visit during the dry season. You said you liked diving so I definitely recommend visiting Panglao, some of the best diving in the world. Tagbilaran City is always has some events/festivals going on at any given time. So many different activities for cheap here, hope you have fun!

    1. Kirsten Joelle says: Reply

      Hi Michelle! I got home from the Philippines a few weeks ago but unfortunately wasn’t able to go to Bohol as there were 3 typhoons in Palawan where I was. I spent the majority of my time in my hotel waiting for the storms to pass! Still a wonderful experience regardless! And I’ll definitely be coming back to the Philippines:)

  2. Elli says: Reply

    El Nido was by far my favourite part of the Philippines but I can hugely recommend Palawan in general. The underground river is amazing and in El Nido Id highly recommend Island hopping. If you’re looking to stay in a hostel Hakuna Matata was great and they’ll organise Island hopping for you with a guy called Brian and his crew who were lovely (he was hot too!). We combined our two days on the island tours with an overnight camp on a desert island which was incredible and the boat crew were awesome at feeding us (and drinking rum with us!)

    In HCMC Id really recommend the War Remnants museum (harrowing but eye-opening) and the CuChi Tunnels (not for the claustrophobic!)

    We’re moving to Bangkok this summer and I can’t wait to start exploring SEA further – your list looks incredible!

    1. Kirsten Joelle says: Reply

      Thanks for the tips Elli! I was able to go to the Underground River and it was spectacular! I also went to the War Remnants Museum as well and was so glad I was able to see things in that perspective. Definitely eye-opening!

  3. Try to get to Borneo! I really loved it there and getting to see the orangutans was an amazing experience!

  4. I died a little bit after reading that you will be able to travel for 4 months. I wish I could join in on the exciting adventure. I did spend 3 weeks in Malaysia and fell in love with Penang. They have such a great cultural thing going on in George Town and some awesome food! I recommend searching the streets for the famous street art, and take a cooking class if you have time. I also visited the spice and fruit farm and it was amazing.

  5. Nathan says: Reply

    I definitely get a tingle when I book flights. I think I might be clinically addicted to booking travel!

    For Chiang Mai, I highly recommend the Elephant Nature Park. We absolutely loved it! Loved Pai as well, if you have the time, it’s well worth the journey. The ride there is beautiful, and you can even rent scooters/ motorcycles in Chiang Mai and drop them off in Pai.

    For islands in Thailand, I wasn’t impressed w/ Koh Samui. Very skippable.

    Angkor Wat, check out some of the Grand Tour if you have time! A fraction of the people and some amazing sights. The best was Preah Kahn 😀 It beat the Tomb Raider temple hands down.

    Malaysian Borneo. YES, YES, YES! Still one of my favorite places. Great diving off of Kota Kinabalu, though I’d give a limb to dive Sipadan. Can’t wait to see some pictures from that when you go :)

    This will be such a cool trip for you, can’t wait to hear about it! Good luck with the planning process.

    1. Thanks Nathan! I’ve heard similar things about Koh Samui so I’ve been debating going there! Motorbiking from Chiang Mai to Pai sounds amazing! How long does that take? And I’ll definitely add Preah Kahn to the list! Thanks so much!

      1. Nathan says: Reply

        I can’t remember for sure… I think it was about a 4 or 5 hour drive? Don’t hold me to that. But very doable in a day (1 way). Pai was my fav. place in Thailand as well… so relaxing! :)

  6. Taylor says: Reply

    Definitely El Nido! Diving was great there. In Malaysia I spent a month on an island called Tioman on the east coast and I absolutely loved it. It’s where I got my SCUBA and I just never wanted to leave. About Sihanoukville, I thought it sucked. It was dirty, full of backpackers just cycling through drunken one night stands, and was my least favorite place in Cambodia. Go up to Ratanakiri and see how serene and wonderful the country really is. I love Cambodia and everyone seems to just rush through it. Let me know if you have any questions about any of these places!

    1. Thanks so much Taylor! People have said similar things about Sihanoukville – I think it’s definitely for the younger crowd. I’ll have to research Ratanakiri more! I’ve heard from so many travelers (not tourists) that Cambodia was their favorite but it does seem like a lot of tourists go through it quickly. I’ll get in touch before I go there to pick your brain a bit more :)

  7. This looks great, very comprehensive. I don’t know that I have any suggestions as I have yet to see most of these places, but I will follow the planning process. I am planning a similar trip for this coming fall, so it will be nice to see what you liked and didn’t like.

  8. Ceri says: Reply

    Having never been to SE Asia, I can’t give you any tips I’m afraid but I just wanted to say that I’m so excited to see where you’ll end up going and what you’ll end up doing.

  9. jennmalka says: Reply

    Oh and ps, gp to koh rong in Cambodia, da lat in Vietnam to go canyoning, halong bay, and the gilis and lombok in indo!!!

  10. jennmalka says: Reply

    Omg my boyfriend and I just did this trip in the summer for 3.5 and we had an amazing time! We have a blog about it if you need any help but feel free to message me about any questions! It’s the best ever – my favorite was Vietnam

  11. The Philippines! We’re about to go back, but to Bohol and Camiguin this time instead of El Nido. I just love the style and the beautiful water to be found all over this beautiful group of islands. I hope you can make a decision because the choices make it so tough! Cheers!

  12. Megan Huber says: Reply

    Hey,
    So I highly recommend the Elephants Nature Park in Thailand (do the one day because you get more personal interaction with the elephants than with the two day I heard). My best Thailand experience. My second favorite was taking a private long-boat around Ko Phi Phi. I visited other islands so let me know if you have any other questions.

    I would also visit Sumatra – Indonesia. There’s GREAT jungle trekking and you come close to wild orangutans – Kelleen and I did the two day jungle trek but if you go 4 or 5 days you may see elephants. The place is called Bukit Lawang, Sumatra!!!

    Borneo was exotic. Loved it. I climbed Kota Kinabalu – it’s a two day package to climb the summit. There’s a few islands in Kinabalu, but besides that the city is small/charming.

    In Vietnam, I went to Mai Chau – it’s like Sapa Valley which I also recommend for a beautiful and peaceful country get away. Most people send a substantial amount of time in Vietnam. But within a month I visited Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

    My favorite experiences overall would be the elephant park in Thailand, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang, walking through the temples in Bagan, Myanmar, and Kota Kinabalu in Borneo.

    E-mail me for any questions. I also have things posted on tripadvisor.

    Good luck, Megan

  13. Oh this makes me so desperate to get back to South East Asia! I would love to be planning a trip like this right now!

    My favourite country out of the ones you’re visiting is Laos (with Cambodia a close second – we loved Kep, we stayed at the gorgeous but budget friendly Bacoma guesthouse, check it out!). Luang Prabang is gorgeous, expect to spend more time there than you planned. Its the sort of place that draws you in to its sleepy vibe and makes you want to stay. I took a cooking course with Tamarind cooking school there that was just so good. A lovely outdoor cooking school, in a gorgeous setting.

    If you’re keen on motorbiking in Laos, I would defiantly suggest doing The Loop from Thakhek. It was one of the best experiences of our trip – we loved it. The countryside around Vang Vieng is beautiful, but its a strange place caught between the fading party scene, and the upcoming luxury scene. Its nice, but a couple of days were plenty there.

    Happy planning! :)

    Jennie

    1. Thanks for the awesome tips, Jennie! I keep hearing that about Luang Prabang! How long did you end up staying there? I would love to try a cooking class, I actually don’t know anything about Laos cuisine! And motorbiking is definitely on our list as well so we’ll have to make sure to check out The Loop! I’m going to be compiling a list of “Travel Bloggers Favorites in Southeast Asia” if you’d like to contribute! I’d love to hear more details from you! :) Let me know if you’d be interested!

      1. We ended up staying in Luang Prabang about 5 days, but we could have stayed longer if visa restrictions hadn’t meant we needed to move on. I didn’t know much about Laos food either, but it ended up as one of our favourite South East Asian cuisines. Lovely fresh flavours. The chicken and fish barbecued on the street is particularly delicious! I still dream of it now! I’d love to contribute – let me know the details :) Jennie x

  14. You guys should definitely be visiting Laos… You will find it to be the most laid back country you ever been to.. People are friendly, I highly suggested that you guys skip Vung Vieng.. You guys will not be missing much, unless you like spring break with bunch of european back packers.. I highly suggest Luangprabang(North) and Don Khone(South)

    1. Luang Prabang looks amazing! What were your favorite things to do there? Any tips for Don Khone as well? I didn’t really know much about Laos previously and was so excited researching about it because it seems like such a wonderful country!

  15. Jordyn says: Reply

    How funny your planning this sort of trip too! I can’t wait to see where you go, what you do and what you think, give me some good ideas! ^_-

  16. We’ve been to Taman Negara and on Sipadan island and recommend both. In Taman Negara we recommend doing a night walk. That’s when all the creepy crawlies come out, but despite that (we don’t like them either) it’s an amazing experience.
    Sipadan island is one of the best places to dive and snorekl in the world. It was our favourite so far (and we’ve been to Great barrier reef, Thailand, Indonesia Maldives and some other places with great underwater world). It’s quite expencive to get there though.
    Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta is good also. We’ve enjoyed it, but Thailand is quite touristy (don’t know if that bothers you)
    We can’t comment on other places, since we haven’t visited them, but Bohol and Palawan is probably the place we’d pick up for ourselves, if we were planning a vacation in SE Asia :)

    Have fun!

    1. Thanks so much for the tips! How much did you spend diving in Sipadan (and getting there), if you don’t mind me asking? :) I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures so I’m willing to spend more than usual!

      1. We’ve been there just 4 days (not much I know). We flew there, than took a boat to Mabul. We based ourselves on Mabul (you can’t spend the night on Sipadan). You can take day trips from Mabul to Sipadan. Here is some information about how to get there: http://www.sipadan.com/Getting-here.php

  17. Miguel says: Reply

    El Nido! :)

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