South East Asia is a hotspot for backpackers and Australian holiday makers – but what makes it so special? Here are just ten reasons to explore this part of the world for those looking for their next adventure.
Wherever you go in South East Asia, you’re guaranteed warm weather. Being so close to the equator (Indonesia runs through it), this part of the world enjoys a tropical climate all year round. There are occasional showers and storms, but the temperature is never cold.
On top of having idyllic weather, South East Asia contains some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, often sporting white sands and perfect blue sea. Almost everyone heads to Thailand’s Phuket or Indonesia’s Bali, but there are countless other beaches to explore if you want to ditch the crowds including most of the Vietnamese coast and much of the Cambodian shoreline too. Meanwhile, those wanting opportunities such as surfing can try the likes of Vietnam’s Bai Dai Beach and Thailand’s Kata Beach.
The food of South East Asia is also a major highlight for many tourists. The people of South East Asia love their spice and every country has its own style of curry from Thai green curry to Indonesian gulai. Whilst a lot of the food can be hot, there are plenty of tamer rice and noodle dishes to choose from (many places will go easy on the spice if you ask them to). There are also lots of exotic fruits to try whilst you’re there include mangosteens, rambutan and the notorious durian (the smell puts many people off, but it makes up for it in its taste). Those on a budget can happily live off street food, whilst those wanting more luxury can choose from plenty of lavish restaurants across the region.
South East Asia’s cities are buzzing places, often containing a mix of futuristic skyscrapers and historic temples. Singapore is the business capital of South East Asia – many people buy Singapore property so that they can make frequent visits to this hub of commerce. It’s also got its fair share of tourist attractions including several amusement parks, the Singapore Flyer giant wheel and a number of colonial and religious buildings. There’s then the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in which you can experience a melting pot of cultures. Famous sights here include the 88 storey Petronas Towers, the Batu caves and the National Mosque of Malaysia. You also can’t explore South East Asia without seeing Bangkok, which contains a mix of Buddhist temples, buzzing markets and vibrant bars. You can explore the streets by tuk-tuk, or see the city from the water on a junk.
In contrast to it’s urban sights, South East Asia also has plenty of natural wonders to explore. There are an array of volcanoes to be found across the islands which you can hike up or marvel from the ground. Mount Bromo and Mount Semuru in Java are two volcanoes situated beside one another – the latter of which is continually active, throwing huge plumes of smoke up into the air. Lake Toba, also in Indonesia, meanwhile is a lake contained within a volcanic crater of which you can stare down into its depths due to the crystal clear nature of the water. On top of these wonders, there are winding rivers through valleys to explore, gigantic underground cave systems and dense rainforests. It’s a great part of the world for trekking and connecting with nature.
There are also a number of unique animals that are indigenous to South East Asia. The Indonesian island of Komodo is one of the few places where you can see a Komodo Dragon – these fearsome monitor lizards are the largest reptiles on the planet and have a reputation for being vicious carnivores. Tours of Komodo island may allow you to spot one of these legendary creatures. Borneo meanwhile is the perfect place to see orang-utans swinging through the trees. There are likewise many tours, as well as a sanctuary for sick and rescued orang-utans. Those willing to give scuba diving a go may also be lucky enough to see some of the region’s exotic aquatic life – the reefs here are home to turtles, rays, sharks and squids. Even if you don’t have a diving license, there are various snorkelling tours and glass-bottom boat trips for spotting these tropical marine creatures.
South East Asia has a rich history to explore too. There are remnants of ancient civilisations such as the sprawling 12th Century temple complex of Angkor Wat – this popular Cambodian tourist attraction is among one of the largest religious structures in the world and is surrounded by various other ancient buildings. Fast-forward in time and you’ll find plenty of colonial historic buildings left by early European settlers too. Manila in the Philippines contains various Spanish monuments including Fort Santiago and Manila Cathedral, whilst Singapore is home to British colonial structures such as The Raffles Hotel and the National Gallery. Meanwhile, there’s an even more modern history to explore with many of the countries experience wars or dictatorships during the 20th Century. You can take a humbling tour of the Cambodian Killing Fields or take a journey through the various key events of the Vietnam war. All in all, those that want an educational trip won’t be left disappointed.
Those looking for bars and the opportunity to party won’t be left disappointed either – South East Asia has a reputation for it’s buzzing nightlife. Phuket is a hedonist’s dream and one of the more infamous party zones – some find the likes of Patong beach slightly too sleazy, whilst others find it to be a paradise. Koh Phangan meanwhile is home to the Full Moon Party and has become a hotspot for backpackers. The atmosphere here is festival-like and the drinks are incredibly cheap. Venture outside of Thailand and there are still many other nightlife experiences to soak up including the fit-for-all-ages cool vibe of Indonesia’s Kuta and the peaceful-by-day-wild-by-night dynamics of Malaysia’s Langkawi.
The customs and traditions of South East Asia aren’t something that be easily summarised – there are so many unique cultural elements worth visiting South East Asia for, many of which vary from country to country. There are festivals such as the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, unique sports such as sand dune surfing in Vietnam, martial art displays such as Muay Thai in Thailand and striking street art as found in Penang. Take your time exploring and you’re likely to come across all kinds of fascinating cultural experiences.
Whilst flights to South East Asia can sometimes be expensive for Westerners due to the distance, you won’t need much spending money when you’re there. Accommodation, food, drinks and transport are all very cheap making it the perfect place for taking a budget vacation. There are more expensive luxury options available for those that can afford it, but for those on a shoestring you needn’t worry about having to stick to dirty hostels and fast food – you’ll still get a decent hotel room for what might otherwise get you a night in a tent back home.