Written by guest contributor Bruce Chen
If you want to power up your Instagram game, head to Southeast Asia. This backpacking trip is god’s gift to those who love stunning natural sceneries, amazing sky towers and pristine beaches.
This past summer, I travelled to seven countries over 11 weeks and it couldn’t have been a more sensational, transformative experience. Southeast Asia is the total package for travellers; it’s cheap, gorgeous and everyone speaks English. Here are five heart-stopping, breathtaking sights you need to experience in Southeast Asia.
360 Bar, Koh Phangan, Thailand – Koh Phangan is more than an island to me. When I think of why I love travelling, I think of my multiple visits to Koh Phangan. Viewpoints like this, and Secret Mountain capture the true magic of the Thai islands. Everyone goes to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon party. It’s a shame most people’s impression of Koh Phangan are vague memories where they’re bumping into people, unable to move or get a drink at the Full Moon. With apologizes to Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan is the best all-around Thai island. It has phenomenal viewpoints, underrated diving, crazy adventure trails and outdoor parties like you’ve never dreamt of.
Mt. Batur, Bali, Indonesia – When most people tour Southeast Asia, they think of wild beach parties. Ubud (the part of Bali featured in Eat, Pray, Love) is wildly different; people come here for surfing, relaxation and volcano hikes. Although it’s a difficult journey, you don’t need to be a fitness junkie for these views. Most tourists experience Batur by taking the tour offered by hostels. Unfortunately it involves a 2 a.m. wakeup because after all, it is a “sunrise tour”. My time in Ubud involved no parties, beaches, or sleep and was perhaps the most unique two days of my trip.
Old Town Hoi An, Vietnam – I’d like to introduce you to my favourite UNESCO world heritage site in Vietnam. If you’re obsessed with food and fashion, Hoi An is waiting for you. There are hundreds of tailors ready to make you look like a movie star for background actor prices. You can get anything replicated and perfectly fitted while you eat amazing pho, Cau Lau and much, much more. My Khe beach, one of the best in the country, is just a 10-minute bike ride away from the old town. Throw in beautiful pagodas, the Japanese-covered bridge and the lantern festival and Hoi An makes for my favourite destination in Vietnam.
Maya Bay Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand – The filming location for The Beach (a terrible movie of Leonardo DiCaprio travelling Thailand). The publicity from this movie has made this tiny island Thailand’s premier travel hotspot. The movie has been criticized for portraying Thai party life inaccurately and the landscaping of Koh Phi Phi to make it more “paradise-like”. This made sense, except for the part where Koh Phi Phi is already paradise-like. Maya Bay is accessible by cheap boat taxis and rowdy booze cruises from Ao Loh Dalum beach. In my opinion, the water clarity and snorkelling trips here are even better than in Koh Tao. Yes, it’s overrun with tourists. Yes, it’s a little overplayed. But Koh Phi Phi is one of those places where you look at and you realize there’s a reason why people are obsessed with this place.
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – The tallest twin buildings in the world dominate Kuala Lumpur’s skyline and everyone’s hearts. Everyone I’ve met who’s gone to Kuala Lumpur has loved it. It’s much more relaxed than Bangkok, Singapore or Saigon. Kuala Lumpur offers an array of amazing food stalls, shopping and sky towers. It’s expensive to go up the actual twin towers themselves, but the best way to see Petronas is actually to go up a surrounding sky bar (my favourite is the Traders’ Hotel in KLCC). Since, the twin towers are the main attraction in Kuala Lumpur, people don’t usually stay here long or skip it altogether. It’s a true shame because Kuala Lumpur is one of my favourite cities in the world and should be a part of every Southeast Asia trip.
Choosing five amazing sights in Southeast Asia was no easy task. In my 11 weeks there, there were an endless array of memories made I wouldn’t trade for anything. If you were to travel to the same places I did, your list could look completely different than mine. Therein lies the beauty of travelling; it’s truly an art and each interpretation of a city can unlock a different feeling or meaning to it.
Southeast Asia is so diverse and there are so many things left undiscovered. There are places I didn’t enjoy, like Phuket, Saigon and Kuta. For some, those places may represent their source of wanderlust, discovery and enlightenment like the Thai islands and central Vietnam for me.
The only thing left for you to do is to book a flight, go see the world and come up with your own list of phenomenal memories you’ll cherish forever.