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Living in Australia we are a long distance from almost everywhere in the world when it comes to popular travel destinations. Unlike the British, who can just pop over to the continent for a weekend escape, skiing the Alps in the winter or heading to the south of Spain for summer. However we are reasonably close to some of the South East Asian hotspots, and can be in Bali in 6.5 hours.
Geographically South East Asia is located south of China, east of India and Bangladesh, north of Australia, and west of New Guinea. It is composed of eleven countries diverse in religion, culture and history: Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
So here are 10 South East Asia hotspots, that I consider to be the pick of the bunch.
Australia’s closest South East Asian holiday destination, offers something for everyone. This small Indonesian island packs a punch with forested volcanic mountains, iconic rice paddies, beaches, surfing breaks and coral reefs. On the south side of the island is the popular beachside city of Kuta with lively bars, while Seminyak, Sanur and Nusa Dua are popular resort towns. Or retreat to the inland region of Ubud renowned for its arts and crafts, meditation and yoga havens.
I’ve travelled here three times, with each visit being to different parts of Bali and all equally as enjoyable. I enjoyed an indulgent week shopping, eating and having spa treatments in trendy Seminyak; a relaxing week on a Luxury Escape at a large golf resort at Tanah Lot; a girls only yoga retreat in Ubud; and a week staying at the upmarket Melia Resort at Nusa Dua. Next year I’ll be experiencing East Bali for the first time.
Phuket in Thailand was my first experience in South East Asia and I must say it left a big impact, as I returned here another three times for holidays. What can I say? Phuket is an acquired taste. Thailand’s largest island on the Andaman Sea is renowned for its beautiful beaches, unique culture, delicious food, water sports galore and also relaxing activities.
During three visits to Phuket, I’ve discovered some of the best spots on the island to stay. These include Kata Beach, Karon, Kamala and Surin. Although Patong is probably the most popular spot for first-timers and youngsters to stay, due to its pulsing nightlife, the beach here is not as pristine as other parts of the island.
During your stay in Phuket a must do is a boat trip out to some of the islands off the coast, including Phi Phi, James Bond, Khai Nok islands and Phang Nga Bay. Or hire a driver for the day and circumnavigate the island seeing all the sites.
A great alternative to the busy and sometimes overcrowded Phuket beaches is a holiday to Aonang Beach in Krabi. This province is located on southern Thailand’s west coast and features incredible sheer limestone cliffs and pristine beaches. Aonang Beach is less touristy, with fewer shops and practically no nightlife, but does offer a good array of restaurants and beachside bars/cafes.
Although Aonang Beach is not the most attractive beach, you can easily jump on a longtail boat and cruise around to the nearby beaches of Railay and Phra Nang Beaches or out to some of the islands such as Chicken, Poda, Hong and Tup Islands.
Having holidayed in Krabi twice, on both occasions we stayed beachfront on Aonang Beach at the Golden Beach Resort and Aonang Villa Resort. Book your Krabi accommodation HERE
Thailand’s second largest island after Phuket, is Koh Samui, boasting luxurious resorts and secluded villas and white sand, palm-fringed beaches. The easiest way to get here is by flying into Samui International Airport. There are a selection of places to stay on the island including Chaweng, Lamai, Bophut or Maenam.
We chose to stay at Renaissance Koh Samui Resort at Lamai, idyllically located on Lamai Beach and not far from the village of Lamai, with great bars and restaurants. We hired a motorbike for a day so that we could make our way around the island visiting the main tourist attractions such as the rock formations of Hin Ta and Hin Yai, Big Buddha Temple, Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo, Na Muang Waterfall, Chaweng town and the fisherman’s village at Bophut.
Langkawi is not actually one island but is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The main island is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields, a dense jungle interior and beautiful beaches.
We actually spent a day here when we were on a South East Asian cruise and have promised ourselves that we will return one day to explore more of these islands. The highlight of our day on Langkawi’s main island was a ride up the towering mountains on the Langkawi Cable Car where we enjoyed a walk out onto the skybridge and relished in spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of the islands from several lookouts.
One of my favourite spots in South East Asia is the country of Vietnam and the gorgeous ancient town of Hoi An and nearby An Bang Beach. Having stayed here on two occasions, each visit has unravelled more amazing things to see and do in this Vietnamese town.
The charming Hoi An ancient town located on the Thu Bon River is heritage listed featuring wooden Chinese shophouses, temples, colourful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda. Of a night time the town is illuminated by thousands of paper lanterns that are simply stunning with the lights reflecting off the river.
A short 5 km drive away are the beachside resorts area where you can stay in 5 star luxury in a beachfront or riverfront hotel. An Bang Beach is a gorgeous white sanded beach with lovely turquoise waters suitable for all manner of water sports and swimming. During our two visits here we have stayed at Hoi An Beach Resort and a Luxury Escape at the Sunrise Premium Resort & Spa.
One of the most popular boat cruises in South East Asia is a junk boat cruise in the emerald waters weaving your way through the thousands of towering limestone islands topped with rainforest at Halong Bay. This beautiful natural wonder in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border, is a world heritage listed site and is accessible by car or bus from the city of Hanoi.
There are many different junk boats to suit every budget that all offer beautiful cabins, delicious Vietnamese meals and excursions to some of the unaccessible areas in Halong Bay. These include a floating fisherman’s village, Pearl Farm, Sung Sot Cave, stairs to a lookout at Tip Top Island, sandy beaches and inland lakes that you can kayak on.
Although in my opinion not as attractive as Hoi An, Nha Trang is another coastal resort city in Vietnam that is popular with holidaymakers. It has a long, curving stretch of beautiful beach along the main esplanade backed by hotels and seafood restaurants. The city offers great shopping with a large market, remnants of the Champa Kingdom, Buddhist temples, and gothic-style Catholic churches.
Offshore there are some great diving opportunities in the nature reserves of Hòn Mun and Hòn Tằm islands, a cable car to Hòn Tre Island and Vinpearl Amusement Park. Inland there are mountains with waterfalls, wildlife and rice paddies. We only stopped here for one day on a South East Asian cruise.
The landlocked country of Laos sits between Thailand and Vietnam and is flanked by the Mekong River. It has a strong French colonial influence as evidenced in many place names, architecture and cuisine. Luang Prabang is the second largest city in Laos and is located at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
The old town centre is one big UNESCO heritage site with a large amount of buddhist temples, including the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating back to the 16th century. This charming city is fairly compact and it’s easy to get around with most of the temples, shops, restaurants and cafes being located on the main street and along the riverfronts.
The must dos here are hiking up Mount Phousi, visit the Royal Palace, attend an Alms Giving Ceremony at dawn, check out the temples, shop at the night markets in town, take a cruise down the Mekong River, take a day tour out to Kuang Si Waterfalls and Pak Ou Caves.
We stayed here at the Sofitel Luang Prabang Hotel on a Luxury Escape that was formerly the French Governor’s mansion.
I generally don’t like big crowded cities in South East Asia. However, Singapore is an exception. It’s one of the cleanest, tidiest and most orderly cities I’ve ever been to. On both occasions that I’ve travelled here I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. This island city-state off southern Malaysia, is a global financial centre and a popular stopover place en route to Europe.
It’s not just about downing a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel or catching the cable car over to the theme parks on Sentosa Island, but it’s about the city being a foodies paradise, a shopoholic’s dream, with beautiful greenery boasting parks and gardens within the city centre, eye catching towering sky-scrapers, great walking paths, the Singapore Flyer, the amazing Singapore Zoo and a fabulous China Town. Even the Airport is attractive!
Travelling in South East Asia offers so much diversity and is generally very budget friendly with the price of accommodation, transport, food and beverages being exceptionally cheap. Make sure you put one or two of these fabulous South East Asian hotspots on your bucket list.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.