Southeast Asia is a fascinating destination, where lush rainforests and coastal regions dotted with idyllic islands serve as a tropical paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, while rich history, extraordinary cuisine, and authentic culture appeal to all types of travelers.
From street food in Singapore and beach-hopping in Thailand to historical attractions throughout Vietnam, Southeast Asia boasts a treasure trove of travel delights. Here are some of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Gardens by the Bay is an iconic natural haven in the midst of the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Singapore. Stretch your legs on the promenade skirting the bay’s shore, then learn about the history of the city through a creative display of flora, fauna, and fruits in the Heritage Gardens.
Stroll through the largest glass greenhouse in the world at the Flower Dome, one of the Gardens by the Bay’s star attractions. Marvel at the rich contents of the conservatories, which boast an incredible collection of exotic flowers, olive groves, succulents, and baobab trees.
The Cloud Forest, Supertree Grove, and Floral Fantasy will lure you with their colorful kaleidoscopes of flora. Wander in awe at this city-in-a-garden concept brought to life at one of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Read: Three Days in Singapore
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand
Travel about an hour outside the buzzing city of Bangkok to discover one of the top traditional market experiences in Thailand. Located on the longest canal in the country, a trip to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a feast for the senses as well as a photographer’s delight.
Here, you’ll find vendors selling a wide spectrum of local goods, from authentic crafts to exotic foods, as they float along the canal.
Purchase and taste some of the colorful fruits and vegetables sold from the wooden boats in the floating market. Interact with locals and take in the atmosphere of this common shopping tradition. Choose from vibrant souvenirs to bring home as a memento from your time in Thailand.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Uncover a natural wonder in northern Vietnam at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. Located under three hours from the city of Hanoi, this is one of the most popular places to visit in Southeast Asia. Marvel at the stunning limestone rock and island formations as you float through the scenic bay.
Channel your inner explorer with a visit to one of the many caves hidden within Halong Bay. The most popular cave is Sung Sot (Surprise Cave), where you can walk amongst stalactites and stalagmites within two large chambers. Or, uncover the mythical Thien Cung Cave that was thought to be an imaginary destination until it was rediscovered in the 1990s.
If you’re looking to get out on the water, you can kayak through the emerald lagoons as the island formations tower over you. Lounge on the beach to the sound of monkeys on Cat Dua (Monkey Island), and peer at the underwater world on a snorkeling adventure.
Fort Santiago, Philippines
History enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to Fort Santiago in the capital city of Manila in the Philippines. Explore this historical citadel, situated by the Pasig River, which was built by the Spanish government in the late 15th century. Stand in awe at the fort’s entrance, the intricately designed main gate of Fort Santiago.
Learn about the historical significance as you tour this landmark site used in the Philippine Revolution. A detailed exhibition pays homage to Dr. José Rizal, who was hailed as a hero for his leadership role during this period. Other highlights include Plaza Moriones, a garden filled with statues of important historical figures, the Plaza de Armas, and the dungeon.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Vietnam
Uncover Hanoi’s old-world charm within the city’s Old Quarter in northern Vietnam. This section of the city offers amazing opportunities to shop, where you’ll find authentic goods for sale. Browse souvenirs like handbags, hand-woven baskets, and tailor-made clothing and shoes.
All that shopping works up an appetite, and luckily, you’ll have delicious Vietnamese cuisine at your fingertips in the Old Quarter. At night, enjoy the atmosphere and array of local goods to choose from at the night market stalls, like crab spring rolls, bún thang (rice vermicelli with chicken or pork), and Bánh Cuốn (rolled cakes). You’ll get a true taste of Vietnamese culture with a visit to Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Angthong National Marine Park, Thailand
Enjoy a tropical paradise in the Gulf of Thailand, just off the island of Koh Samui. The Angthong National Marine Park is an idyllic collection of islands perfect for seaside relaxation, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking.
The marine park spans most of this protected island area, making for exciting wildlife encounters both on land and in the sea. You might see curious monkeys, otters, iguanas, sea turtles, and schools of colorful fish.
Marvel at the dramatic scenery dotted with limestone cliffs, white sand, clear azure water, and lush forest. Sea kayak through lagoons and mazes of soaring rock cliffs, and uncover hidden caves like Bua Bok Cave.
Hike to a breathtaking vista up to the Wua Talap overlook, where the challenging trek will reward you with a panorama over the marine park and islands. As a bonus, explore a saltwater lake on the Mother Island, Ko Mae Ko.
Stretching almost 30 feet tall, this half-lion, half-fish statue located at Merlion Park is a mythical symbol said to be the mascot of Singapore. Originally positioned by the mouth of the Singapore River, the statue was originally meant to welcome visitors to the city.
Get your photo taken next to the water-spouting creature with a fish body and lion’s head. The monument represents the city’s origins as a fishing village, as well as Singapore’s first name, Singapura, meaning “lion city” in the native language. For a different perspective of this popular place, visit at night and admire the unique light display that decorates the creature.
Wat Arun, Thailand
Also known as the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun is one of the most beautiful temples that Thailand is known for. Perched on the edge of the Chao Phraya River, this picturesque landmark is a popular destination for visitors to Bangkok. Appreciate the beautiful architecture and fine attention to detail within the temple complex as you tour the grounds.
One of the most iconic pieces is the impressively large spire, which soars over 220 feet into the air. Admire the Chinese porcelain, vibrant glass pieces, and seashells that have been crafted into gorgeous patterned decor adorning the exterior. Climb to the top for sprawling views of the river, neighboring temple, Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace.
Travel back in time and experience the Spanish Colonial period in the historic city of Vigan on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a well-preserved metropolitan area that mixes Philippine and Spanish Colonial architecture that dates back to the 16th century.
Admire the interesting designs as you stroll the charming cobblestone streets of Calle Crisologo, the main street lined with antique shops, cafes, and ancestral houses. Watch as the horse-drawn carriages go by while browsing souvenirs, or sample local cuisine like Vigan okoy, a shrimp fritter; bibingka, a rice cake; and longganisa, a local sausage.
Highlights of Vigan include the Quema House, which was constructed using the traditional Bahay na Bato architecture style, and the Arce Mansion, one of the oldest buildings in the area. Make sure to stop at the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, an 18th-century structure designed with the unique Earthquake Baroque style.
Ba Ho Waterfall, Vietnam
Located approximately 40 minutes north of the coastal city of Nha Trang in Vietnam, visiting the Ba Ho Waterfalls is an adventure that shouldn’t be missed. Meaning “three pools,” Ba Ho has a total of three watering holes to discover, where you can take a refreshing dip to cool off from the heat.
Explore a natural paradise as you hike into the rainforest along a challenging trek across the river rocks. Your efforts will lead you to an idyllic pool of water and a waterfall. The first tier of falls is the most popular and picturesque, as well as the most accessible. Swim in the cool river to the sound of the waterfalls, and enjoy a picnic in the natural setting.
Reunification Palace, Vietnam
Located in Ho Chi Minh City’s center, the Reunification Palace is a lesson in history and a very popular architectural landmark. Constructed in 1962, the former Norodom Palace existed on the same site before protestors succeeded in demolishing the structure in the 1950s.
Also known as Independence Palace, you’ll explore a site that housed the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and saw major changes within Vietnam’s largest city. View abundant historical artifacts, including paintings and photographs, as you learn about the historical significance of this landmark building within the palace’s evolution exhibit.
Tour the palace basement, where you’ll be intrigued by the myriad of tunnels and the telecommunications center with old radio transmitters and other interesting items from this tumultuous period of time. Head outside and stroll the expansive manicured grounds, complete with ponds and gardens.
Wat Phra Yai, Thailand
Admire one of Thailand’s most well-known temples while visiting the beautiful island of Koh Samui. Be dazzled by the abundant hues of gold and intricate designs throughout the complex.
The star attraction is Wat Phra Yai’s Big Buddha, which stands almost 40 feet tall. Walk the steps between large green dragons on either side to absorb the gorgeous views of the island and sea landscapes.
Don’t forget to ring the resident temple bells for good luck to bring this tranquil experience full circle.
Hoi An, Vietnam
The city of Hoi An, near Da Nang, offers charm, culture, and cuisine with its picturesque streets and canals providing an alluring backdrop. Head straight to the Old Town and walk the enchanting streets. Admire the heritage architecture accented by the vibrant lanterns known to decorate the city throughout the ancient section.
This historic trading port has long been a destination with incredible shopping and access to traditional goods. Browse the shophouses, enjoy a tasty Vietnamese coffee on a cafe patio, float in a riverboat for a different perspective, and make sure to take a photo of the iconic 18th-century Japanese bridge.
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