12 Off The Beaten Places To Visit In Southeast Asia: Escape the crowds!
Is travelling through Southeast Asia on your to-do list? Or it simply conjures up brash backpackers in dreadlocks hanging out in hippie bars?
That can’t be further from the truth, as Southeast Asia is full of beautiful sights and diverse groups of people.
Today, there are over 660 million people living in Southeast Asia.
So where exactly should you be looking then?
We have rounded up 12 places you must visit in Southeast Asia that are not on the usual tourist path, which means you get to explore to your heart’s content without the crazy hordes of tourists juggling for space with you.
Thanks to our friends who contributed, let’s check out what these 12 spots are!
Related: 19 Unique Travel Bucket List Ideas
What's covered in this post
- 1. Bohol, Philippines
- 2. Batanes, Philippines
- 3. Nha Trang, Vietnam
- 4. Komodo Island, Indonesia
- 5. Mount Popa, Myanmar
- 6. Bagan, Myanmar
- 7. Mae Hong Son, Thailand
- 8. Si Phan Don, Laos
- 9. Koh Ker, Cambodia
- 10. Nusa Penida, Indonesia
- 11. Koh Panyee, Thailand
- 12. Borobudur, Indonesia
- Logistics before travelling
1. Bohol, Philippines
The island of Bohol is still very much backward but charming in its nature assets.
Kind of off-the-beaten, located in Visayas, you may get a plane ride from the Philippine capital Manila which is less than an hour. Or take a 2-hour boat ride from Cebu.
If you like white beaches and a diverse wildlife, this is the right place! Known for hiking and peaks, it’s the perfect destination to get away from it all.
Check out Chocolate Hill, a group of 1,268 cone-shaped hills that turn brown in the summer, thus giving it its cute name. Or venture out to Can-Umantad Falls, to lay eyes on unbelievably vibrant blue waters.
Be sure to visit Cadapdapan Rice Terraces too, where you can get views that rivals the best in the world, where it is so peaceful and tranquil.
To round up your trip, consider taking part in Love the Earth, where you can join the plastic free Bohol beach cleanup with like minded volunteers.
2. Batanes, Philippines
There are so many underrated and undiscovered places in Philippines, but if you had to narrow it down, take a look at Batanes.
It is the northern most province of the country, and looks nothing like a place in Southeast Asia. Come here to see the rolling hills, wide open sea and the peaceful laidback lifestyle.
The province has remained out of the main tourist trail and that is its charm, giving a sense of mystery and serenity.
Due to its unique location, you will find some amazing nature and cool buildings to explore. Take your pick from hiking, swimming and snorkelling, and when you’re done, check out the stone houses and churches!
3. Nha Trang, Vietnam
However, Vietnam is blessed with loads of off the beaten path locations waiting to be explored, and while Nha Trang is not exactly in that vein (many expats are now calling it home, but still relatively untouched by main tourist groups), it is still worth checking it out.
Seafood lovers will definitely love this town, enjoying a feast alongside the clear emerald waters of the Nha Trang Bay.
There are activities to keep the most active travellers engaged, from chilling out by the sea to searching for cultural sites.
Best of all, prices have remained affordable, and the food scene is awesome!
4. Komodo Island, Indonesia
The home of the Komodo Dragon, which is the world’s largest lizard, seems almost like it’s straight out of a movie set.
The island is blessed with some of the most beautiful views and beaches, and not to mention you get to walk on the same land as those mythical beasts.
Guides can bring you around where you can observe the dragons in their natural habitat, and you will have the best chance between the months of July to November.
Be sure to explore the Pink Beach, one of only 7 in the world, and hit the water to dive or snorkel in crystal clear waters!
5. Mount Popa, Myanmar
Rich in legend, as well as being home to a wide variety of flora and fauna thanks to its rich volcanic soil, Mount Popa offers a number of bird watching and hiking opportunities.
Is is found in Central Burma and takes just under 2 hours to get there from the gateway city of Mandalay.
On top of this 1,518 metres tall extinct volcano sits Taung Kalat Monastery.
You will need to sweat to get to the top, taking 777 steps before you can the best panoramic views of its surroundings. By the way, you need to fend off the audacious monkeys, but for sure, it’s worth the effort!
You should time the 1 hour climb to coincide with sunset. The monastery seems to glow, adding to its splendor.
Tip: Popa means “flower” in Sanskrit and you will find bottled flowers that you can purchase as offerings at the temple.
6. Bagan, Myanmar
If Turkey has Cappadocia, Myanmar has Bagan.
Most widely known as THE place to go to for hot air balloon rides, Bagan has remained somewhat under the radar and you can still get an authentic local experience despite growing tourist numbers.
This is mainly due to the government keeping a restriction on the number of days a tourist can spend in its ancient cultural city, which is great news we must say. We applaud the efforts to preserve the heritage of the country and ensuring they will continue to live on for future generations to learn about them.
Having said that, Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with thousands of temples. Hence, the best way to see them is in the air. And seriously, who says no to hot air balloon rides?
This country really flies under the radar of most visitors, but maybe that should change if people knew more about the places to visit in Myanmar!
7. Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Situated in a remote part of northern Thailand, Mae Hong Son is among the mountains and has a chill out vibe.
The entire area is covered in thick, lush jungle and while you are not likely to see them, it’s home to a wide variety of wildlife.
If you get a chance to visit, you will be awed by the spectacular scenery, and you can easily spend your time exploring the hiking trails, canyons and caves that dot the landscape.
When it’s time to relax, get first hand knowledge of the people living here, especially the Hmong and Shan tribes. This is your best chance for a cultural exchange and have a close look at how life here is like for them.
Related: 10 Best Things to do in Thailand!
8. Si Phan Don, Laos
The word Si Phan Don means ‘400 islands’ in Lao, but don’t ask us if there really are that many islands there.
What we do know is that this sleepy town is a wonderful escape from the bustling cities, and offers an authentic experience to any traveller, thanks to its location and the fact that they were mostly unaffected by the French or American wars.
Although some backpackers have discovered it (are you surprised?), it remains relatively unexplored and untouched.
The beauty here is raw and unfiltered, perfect for a slow and relaxing vacation. Be sure to bring a book here, as the internet is scratchy at best. But hey, you’re here to escape, so leave the gadgets behind.
9. Koh Ker, Cambodia
We are not suggesting that you skip Angkor Wat, one of the most amazing architecture in the world, but consider Koh Ker as an alternative. Angkor Wat sees huge amount of tourists each year, and your best bet to avoid crowds is during rainy season.
In contrast, Koh Ker, the former capital of the Angkor Empire, gets nary a handful of visitors. That means you get to discover the monuments and temples uninhibited.
There’s a sense of adventure and danger if you decide to do so, as the area is not completely demined, but do not worry, you can only visit a few places that are cleared and safe for visitors.
10. Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Most people would have heard of Bali, but did you know there is a paradise island right off Bali mainland? The journey there takes only 45 minutes by ferry, and you will be in for a nice surprise as there are hardly any tourists here!
Nusa Penida is a nice contrast to the mainland, where it is crowded and busy, whereas over here you get unspoilt and crowd free beaches all to yourself. Scuba divers know this island as a gem, and if you are into it, this is where you will find some of the most diverse marine life in the region.
Kelingking beach is the main one to visit, but if you are adventurous, you can rent a bike and set up for your own exploration.
The food here is excellent, and spend a night or two here to mingle with the friendly locals!
11. Koh Panyee, Thailand
In the words of our friend, “I want to go there play football”.
Koh Panyee isn’t famous, but it certainly is unique. It defies all regular impressions of a tourist spot, as it is a floating village of 2000, held up by stilts anchored to the sea bed.
The people living here are descendants of a group of 3 families who left their homes and settled here eventually.
Floating among the magnificent limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay, the children of the village frequently plays football on a purpose built platform, and visitors are welcome to join in.
Watch the video yourself to see what we mean.
12. Borobudur, Indonesia
Alright, we cheated a little.
Borobudur is firmly on the tourist trail, but we couldn’t resist including it as it really is one of the wonders of the world.
As the world’s largest Buddhist temple complex, Borobudur is a mystical and magical place, and draws in tourists and pilgrims alike year round. Its location itself is special, perched on top of a hill and surrounded by nature’s best. Think soaring volcanoes and flat unending green fields.
It remains a place of great importance to worshippers, but non believers should definitely make the trip to experience the massive temple, and its intricate design and construction.
Go as early in the morning as possible, and you will mostly have the whole place to yourself.
Logistics before travelling
Find cheap flights.
Air tickets are usually the bulk of your expenses. Set up an alert and snag cheap fares with Skyscanner.
Find the best accommodation.
Book a place ahead of time to get good rates. Booking.com has transparent fees and excellent rates.
Handy travel guide.
For the old school kid in you, get a travel guide book and get lost exploring the city.
You don’t need us to teach you to be a responsible adult, do you? Get a quote here.
Planned for you activities.
Need a guide to show you and your group around? Lots of operators here to choose from here. You know who they are and how they are reviewed.
More resources to help you.
All other useful travel resources we use when we book our trips.
Honestly, selecting only 12 places does not do justice to the amazing places you can visit in Southeast Asia, so maybe we will keep searching and do a part 2! Let us know if that’s something you would like to see in the comments down below!
Most of these places can be done as a day trip or over 2 days, so you can consider adding them on to your travel itineraries the next time you’re in the area.
What are your favourites? Or do you have any to share?
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