My Favorite 6 Places in Southeast Asia

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Now that I’m back in Southeast Asia it’s becoming increasingly clear to me why I just can’t stay away from this part of the world.  I spent a large chunk of the past year backpacking around the region.  I visited six amazing countries and relished my time in each and every one of them.  Now that I’ve started a new chapter of my life in Indonesia, I was inspired to share six reasons why I love Southeast Asia.

Why six?  In order to highlight the best that Southeast Asia has to offer, I chose my favorite cities from each country I traveled to – from the first country I visited to the last.

My 6 favorite places in Southeast Asia!

1. Railay, Thailand

Thailand is a country I find myself returning to time and again.  Before I set out on my big Southeast Asian odyssey last year, I’d already visited Thailand twice.  But somehow I’d failed to ever make it to the country’s world-famous Andaman coast.  So, as soon as I touched down in Thailand last August, I made a beeline straight for Railay.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Railay is home to some of the most stunning coastline I’ve ever laid eyes on.  This magical hamlet is famous for the towering limestone formations that dot the turquoise waters.  It’s an incredibly unique landscape, and it’s not difficult to see why Railay ended up being one of my favorite beach destinations in Southeast Asia.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Railay is a quaint beachside retreat.  The tiny town is made up of narrow dirt roads, rustic beach bars, a smattering of 5-star hotels and plenty of budget-friendly hostels.  What makes this place particularly special is the fact that the giant karsts act as a natural barrier separating Railay from the rest of Thailand.  Since there isn’t a road that connects Railay to the rest of the world, the only way to actually reach the beach is on one of Thailand’s signature long tail boats.  Its isolation adds to the feeling that Railay truly is a traveler’s private paradise.

2. Don Det, Laos

Located on the southern tip of Laos, near the Cambodian border, is the utopianesque island of Don Det.  Obviously Laos is a landlocked country, which means that this particular island is located in the middle of the Mekong River.  And it makes up one tiny part of the archipelago known as the 4,000 islands.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Don Det has become a backpacker magnet during the past decade.  And to be honest I was pretty skeptical about visiting.  But during the few days I spent on this four-kilometer-long island, it was pretty easy to see why travelers love this place so much.  There’s not much to it, really.  It’s the perfect place to just chill.  It’s a hippie haven where you can rent a bungalow right on the river and spend your days lounging in a hammock.  Or, for those who are feeling a bit adventurous, you can ride a bike to the neighboring island of Don Khon to check out its impressive waterfalls or kayak around the Mekong to spot some rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

As for me, I visited the 4,000 islands during the rainy season and – you guessed it – it poured during the majority of my time on Don Det.  This meant the river was a chocolate brown instead of a clear blue and I didn’t get to see as much of the islands as I would have liked.  But in no way did the weather ruin my time.  Rain or shine, Don Det has a way of bringing travelers together.  I had blast making fast friends at the Reggae Bar and drinking Beerlao late into the night.  Don Det is an easy place to be and if I hadn’t already arranged my visa to neighboring Vietnam I easily could have stayed for weeks.

3. Nha Trang, Vietnam

As I mentioned in a previous post Aaron and I had to take quite a few breaks from our travels so that he could apply for university jobs.  So after traveling for two months through Thailand and Laos, we decided to call the city of Nha Trang home for three weeks.  Nha Trang is located right on the coast of central Vietnam and it’s a huge tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike.  Now that I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, I totally understand why it’s so popular.  It has everything from colorful buildings to ancient Cham architecture to a jaw-dropping coastline.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

nha trang beach (1 of 1)

Aaron and I rented a little studio apartment at a place called Cozy Condos for $23 a night (everything in Vietnam is ridiculously affordable!) and time just floated by.  We made home-cooked meals in our own kitchen.  We became masters of the art of crossing the street – a dangerous feat in this motorbike-crazed country.  We gorged ourselves on banh mi chay (vegetarian Vietnamese sandwiches) from roadside stalls.  And we savored every drop of fresh bia hoi (Vietnamese beer).  We even flirted with the idea of staying in Vietnam forever.  After two months on the road it was nice to call a place home, for a little while.  And it was the first time I realized just how easily I could see myself living in Southeast Asia.

4. Camiguin, Philippines

It’s difficult for me to choose a favorite place in the Philippines, because I seriously loved it there!  It was one of the more challenging countries I’ve traveled in but somehow it’s one of my favorites.  From the world-famous beaches of Boracay to the bizarre Chocolate Hills, this country has so much to offer and I know I’ll be back many times in my lifetime.  Hey, I might even call it home someday!

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

But, if I have to choose one place, I’ll pick the island of Camiguin.  Also known as “the island born of fire” this tiny island is made up of seven volcanoes, one of which is still active.  Our decision to travel there was a bit random.  In an effort to avoid the steep prices that plague the Philippines during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, we decided to get off the beaten path and get a taste of local island life.

We didn’t know too much about the island beforehand, but it ended up being a very pleasant surprise.  We spent our days motorbiking around the island – we cooled off underneath an eden-like waterfall, stopped to ponder the constantly steaming Mount Hibok Hibok (which last erupted in 1951) and watched local families play in the warm hot springs.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

We spent New Year’s drinking in the streets with friendly islanders, watching homemade fireworks light up the night sky and toasting the new year with a welcoming Filipino family.  Our time there is just chock full of amazing memories we will never forget!

5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Now that I’ve gushed about the Philippines, I have to say that it is not a friendly country for vegetarians.  And traveling there for two months as a non-meat eater was downright brutal.  Enter the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

I’m not really a foodie, but I do love to eat and staying in the capital’s Chinatown was a dream come true for me.  The main tourist drag of Jalan Petaling was full some of the best street food I’ve ever tasted.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

There were cheap buffets where I bought heaping plates of vegetarian delights – including creative fake meat concoctions like drumsticks and orange chicken – all for less than $5.  There was real coffee (unlike the Nescafé that fueled me during my time in the Philippines) prepared with sweetened condensed milk.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Plus, I learned that Kuala Lumpur has a huge Indian population and is home to some of the best Indian food in the world.  Ok, I haven’t actually been to India, but the Indian food in KL was to die for.  I found samosas and other fried Indian treats at food stalls for as little as $0.30 and sampled some of the best curries I’ve ever had.

6. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Gili T – as it is known – was another pleasant surprise.  It’s one of those places that’s marred by its reputation as a hedonistic party place.  And with all of my preconceived notions, I came so close to skipping it entirely.  But I can’t convey how happy I am that I landed on this picture-perfect little island.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Gili Trawangan belongs to a cluster of three perfectly-rounded islands that radiate off the coast of Lombok.  Since it only takes a couple of hours to circumnavigate, Aaron and I took a quick stroll around the island on our first day.  It was immediately apparent that Gili T is a tiny sliver of paradise.  The water is a perfect kaleidoscope of blue.  Sea turtles can be spotted munching on sea grass.  And the neon-pink sunsets are out of this world.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Life is simple on Gili Trawangan.  My days consisted of lounging on flawless white sand beaches, floating in the refreshing ocean and playing with the adorable kitties that inhabit the island.

My 6 Favorite Places in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

I was so enamored by this place that I ended up staying for two entire weeks.  And I honestly could have stayed longer.  My only regret is that I didn’t branch out and stay on one of the neighboring islands of Gili Air and Gili Meno – oh well, all the more reason to go back while I’m living in Indonesia!

 What are your favorite destinations in Southeast Asia?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

53 thoughts on “My Favorite 6 Places in Southeast Asia

  1. Interesting choice of places…though mine would be a bit different:
    1. Koh Tao
    2. Hoi An
    3. Luang Prabang
    4. Tam Coc
    5. Penang
    6. Singapore

    I regret that I didn’t make it to Dalat, Don Det or the Gilis yet. But def next time 🙂

    1. I love hearing other people’s choices! I love all of those places…except I haven’t been to Tam Coc or Singapore. I hope to travel to both someday! I went to Dalat and I really loved it. Next time you’re in Vietnam definitely take a detour there. It’s a pretty amazing city! And the weather is nice and cool 🙂

    1. Interesting that Komodo made it onto your list. I’ve been dying to go, but now I REALLY want to go! And I swear I will get to Singapore one day. It seems to be on the top of everyone’s list. I feel like I’m missing out!

  2. Posts like this get me in BIG trouble as I just want to spend all of my money visiting all of those places – thanks for your great recomendations. I haven’t travelled in Asia in a long time but your great writing is making sure it’s top of my list for my next travels.

    My Asian choices (very hard to narrow it down!) in no particular order would be:

    1) Gunung Bromo, Java, 2) Vientiane, Loas, 3) Perhentian islands, Malaysia, 4) Mt Kinabalu, Borneo, 5) Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 6) Hoi An, Vietnam and one for luck 7) Ko Tarutao Marine NP, Thailand

    Happy travels!

    1. Ha, I’m beginning to think writing this post is going to get me into trouble because now I’m adding a bunch of new places to my “places to visit” list. You should definitely try to make it back to Asia. There are just so many amazing places to visit here! I’ve heard the Perhentian Islands are some of the most beautiful in the world. Oh, and Angkor Wat is one of my favorite places in the world. You have to go!

  3. Nice post. 🙂
    From this list, we managed to visit Gili T, KL and Philippines. We liked them all. We were in Thailand 10 years ago, but we missed Railay (obviously we have to go back).
    We would love to visit Laos and Vietnam someday. If it is something like other Southeast Asian countries, it must be great.
    Our list: 1. Nusa Lembongan (Indonesia), 2. Ubud (Indonesia), 3. Mabul&Sipadan (Malaysia) 4. Boracay (Philippines), 5. Gillis’s (Indonesia), 6. Chiang Mai (Thailand)

    1. I highly recommend Railay. It’s my second favorite beach destination in Southeast Asia. Boracay was my favorite beach! A lot of people say it’s too touristy, but it’s probably the most flawless beach I’ve ever seen. I liked Laos, but it didn’t click with me the way other places have. Vietnam is like nowhere else in SE Asia. I love it there and something tells me you guys would too!

  4. This is such a hard question that will never end..hehe…my favourite places are where there is a beach and I get to lie on it for hours without having to think of anything except for my meals and sleep….so it could be in SIngapore, Indonesia, Thailand…ANYWHERE that fits this description..hehe.;)

    1. I know. There are just too many fabulous places in SE Asia. I’m with you on the beach thing. Maybe it’s because I’m from California and I’ve always lived close to the ocean, but I just love the beach. Have you been to the Gili Islands in Indonesia? It sounds like they’re the perfect fit for you!

      1. Oh yes, I keep hearing so much about this place, it’s definitely on my next to go list…when I can…haha…my trouble is, I always seem to find some other place to visit around here so I don’t seem to ever go beyond Asia or Australia…I would love to visit California too but visiting the states is perhaps some time in the future…far future….haha…:)

  5. Railay looks absolutely stunning! Those are some gorgeous photos you took as well. I love going to places that are so cut-off from the rest of the world. You really get a sense of what it must have been like before people inhabited the area. Honestly, this post makes me want to turn in my notice, pack my stuff up, and head to Southeast Asia for a while!

    1. Thanks Greg. It’s a stunning place so it’s pretty easy to take pretty pictures 🙂 Ha, well given that I’m now unemployed I’m not going to encourage you to give your notice. However, I am the one who quit my job and took off last year so…I’m a bit conflicted on the issue. But, I must admit I had the time of my life traveling around Southeast Asia for seven months!!

  6. I’m reminded of how much I still have to see in Southeast Asia after reading your list, having been to all of these countries except for the Philippines, and finding that I’ve only been to ONE of these places! I loved Kuala Lumpur, but man, I would have loved to see Gili T and Don Det especially, I’ve heard nothing but good things!

    1. It’s crazy how much there is to see and do in every country. I’ve been to Thailand three times and there are so many places I haven’t been. Same goes for every other country I’ve been to in SE Asia, especially the Philippines. It’s a big world and there’s so much more to explore. Lucky us 🙂 Gili T and Don Det are both wonderful places. There’s a place in Indonesia called Lake Toba that sounds like it has a similar vibe. And I’m dying to go!

  7. This is such an interesting list! I can’t say I agree with you about Nha Trang (though maybe I just didn’t spend enough time there), but otherwise I’m so with you! Haven’t been to the Philippines yet, but your description of Camiguin makes me want to change that!

    1. I totally understand why most people wouldn’t agree with me on the Nha Trang thing. I guess I just had a really great experience there and I really enjoyed the city. Silvia, you HAVE to go to the Philippines! Camiguin was amazing but seriously every place I visited in that country was my favorite. So many travelers bypass the Philippines but I say that’s a big mistake. Just Google Boracay. It’s paradise! I’m going to be writing some long overdue posts on the Philippines so stay tuned 🙂

  8. Despite the fact I’ve visited Thailand (officially) four times, I don’t think I can come up with a definitive list of favourite places. However, from what I’ve visited, I’d say Bangkok, Ko Samet and the portion of Ko Phangan that I stayed on in 2004 (which I hope hasn’t been developed).

    1. The 4000 islands were awesome. I’d love to go back during the dry season and next time I’ll make sure to give myself more time to really explore. I feel like I only got a tiny taste of this amazing archipelago. Even though Don Det and Gili Trawangan are very different places, they do share a similar vibe. I had a blast on these two islands and I’m sure I’ll be returning to both at some point!

    1. Thanks Shelley! I looked at a ton of photos before I went to the Gilis and I thought there was no way they would be as beautiful as all of those photoshopped pictures I’d seen. But they are honestly even more beautiful in person! The Gilis are little slices of paradise and you have to go!!

        1. I only spent one day in Ubud. And for some reason it didn’t click with me! But everyone raves about it so I’m starting to think I need to go back and spend some serious time there!

    1. I loved Railay! I went during the low season and I couldn’t believe how few people were there. I felt like we had our whole hotel to ourselves (including the amazing pool)!

    1. Vietnam is such an amazing country! I am beyond excited for you and I hope you love it as much as I did. I’m not sure where you’re headed but Hanoi and Da Lat are also wonderful cities. Sadly, I’ve never spent much time in HCMC but I’ve heard wonderful things!

  9. My Top list
    1. Gunung Tujuh Lake/Danau Gunung Tujuh, Kerinci
    2. Kerinci-seblat National Part with Danau Kaco, the magical lake which can emit light at night
    3. Berhala Island
    5. Kerinci Mount with the kayo aro Gardens tea
    6. Bukit Kayangan
    7. Kerinci Lake

    1. I haven’t even heard of most of these places! It just goes to show how many incredible things there are to see in Indonesia. I will be back, for sure!

    1. Hi Tanveer. I highly recommend the Philippines. I just got back from there last week and it is still my favorite country in Southeast Asia. I hope you get there soon 🙂

  10. Hi Justine. I have just discovered your blog – very inspiring! I was wondering if you ever made any experiences with guided tours or guided travels in Southeast Asia (or in any parts of the world)? I am woman in my twenties living in Switzerland and I have never been to Southeast Asia. I have traveled throughout the United States extensively and I have lived in Vancouver for a year. However, I am unsure if I have enough experience to travel solo in Southeast Asia. Any recommendations on where to start off? Thank you!

    1. I’ve never personally researched guided travel before but there are tons of options if you want to travel with a group. Off the top of my head I can think of Contiki tours, but I’m positive there are loads of other companies. I’d just do a quick google search and start researching. Alternately there are many countries in Southeast Asia that are great for first-time solo female travelers. My number one pick would be Bali. It’s a very easy and safe place for women to travel solo. Definitely do a google search for solo female travel in Southeast Asia and you’ll find tons of blogs on the subject. Good luck!

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