It’s been a year since our amazing trip through SouthEast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. That also means we’ve survived a year of people asking us “what was your favourite place?”. If you’ve backpacked for any length of time, you know that question is impossible to answer. There are just so many amazing, different experiences that you can’t rank one over another, let alone define the one best place that you visited. We started just listing the awesome places we stayed and found ourselves consistently listing the same places over and over. Now after a year of answering this cliche question, we’ve finally narrowed it down to our top ten favourite places. These are the ones that keep popping into our heads, the ones that make us long to go back, the ones that we could easily spend weeks exploring again.
So on our year anniversary of our departure, here are our top ten favourite places in SouthEast Asia. We couldn’t fit Australia (Sydney and Byron Bay would definitely be up there) or New Zealand (just basically all of it) into this list. We also can’t for the life of us decide on a ranking for our top ten, so these are in no particular order! However we hope you enjoy and make sure when you visit SouthEast Asia that you plan to see these places!
After having the party of our lives in Koh Phan Ngan, the relaxation and beauty of Koh Tao was exactly what we needed. This tiny island provided us with the most amazing sunsets we’ve ever seen. We stayed for free at Big Blue Diving Centre while getting our Open Water Certification, and our accommodation was right on the water on the west side of the island, the perfect spot for sunsets. The small strip of restaurants up the road was enough to keep us entertained but was still laid back and not overwhelming. We also managed to visit Koh Nang Yuen, which had views so spectacular they made it on our home page (see above picture!). Not to mention we experienced all of this while learning a brand new lifelong skill of diving, in one of the cheapest places in the world to get it. Koh Tao was just perfect in every way; the definition of a tropical paradise.
This was the quaintest town we visited, and it was incredibly fun to explore. It was riddled with temples, cafes and restaurants. As most of the city was on a peninsula along the Mekong River, it was easy to just wander the streets without fear of getting lost. The main street was lined with fruit smoothie vendors during the day, and it turned into a massive street market each night. It was also an easy drive to one of our coolest day trips, a day of exploring Kuang Si Waterfall. The quietness and calm of Luang Prabang while still providing a ton of cool things to do landed it on this list.
While not a city like the rest on this list, the Gibbon Experience is still a must on any trip through SEA. This 2 or 3 day trek includes trekking up though the Laos jungle, zip-lining through the jungle canopy and sleeping in a dream treehouse 100 feet in the air. It has to be the best and most exciting way to explore the Laos jungle, and for us it was an awesome way to make some lifelong travel friends.
Busy cities are not our thing, but Hanoi for some reason was different. It was probably the most hectic city we visited, but it had a certain charm and history to it. The small alleys were lined with friendly locals and tourists sitting at small tables outside of restaurants, where we felt free to sit down, join in and try some Vietnamese cuisine. While exploring these streets and walking around Hoen Kiem Lake, it felt like we were in a small town and not in one of the biggest cities in SEA. We planned on only staying here as a go between for Sapa and Ha Long Bay, but we ended up staying longer and really enjoying our time in the bustling city of Hanoi.
Gili Air is the smallest and least developed of the Gili Islands, giving off the chill island vibe that we craved. The diving was absolutely amazing, and every beach was lined with personal beach huts and bean bag chairs to chill on if you bought a beer. The warm nights are spent making friends while listening to some unreal reggae bands! We made sure to head to the west side of the island to catch the sunset each night, and just had an amazing time soaking in the sun.
Sapa lived up to all of our expectations and more. We stayed in a village nestled in the mountains and the beauty and serenity of the surrounding valleys and hills was breathtaking. We were able to explore the area ourselves with the help of a map drawn by the homestay owner, and we spent all day on the trails climbing up and down the mountains to find the perfect views. We were also right in the middle of a local village, and watching them go about their days was a cool experience. Hiking around the rice fields in Sapa is a must see when visiting SEA.
This was our first taste of Thailand outside of the tourist driven, crazy Bangkok and it blew us away. Chiang Mai was a beautiful city, with tons of things to do and places to explore. We spent hours just wandering around the Old City without worries of getting lost within the city walls, trying out cool cafes and restaurants. We travelled up Mount Suthep to find amazing views and one of the coolest temples we visited. We visited an Elephant Rescue Park and hung out with gentle giants all day. Outside the east gates of the Old City we found cool bars, an awesome night market complete with a Lady Cabaret, and a restaurant on the river with amazing food. These activities were fun, but what really drew us to Chiang Mai was the beauty and genuineness of the city. There aren’t many places you can simply explore for hours on end, but Chiang Mai is definitely one of them!
You’d have to be insane to miss the Temples of Angkor while in SEA. The largest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat, and all of the surrounding temples are absolutely amazing; it actually takes 2-3 days to explore it all. Siem Reap itself is also a cool city, the main draw being Pub Street; a strip teeming with bars and restaurants allowing you to celebrate your successful day of temple hunting.
A unique spot; Railay Beach is a peninsula on the west coast of Thailand, but it’s only accessible by boat due to the massive and beautiful limestone cliffs surrounding it. It’s home to multiple awesome beaches, fantastic rock climbing, and great cheap restaurants and bars. The small area is easy to navigate and fun to explore. Our deep water soloing trip was really fun; climbing the cliffs and then plunging into beautiful turquoise waters was quite a thrill. Out of the places we visited in South Thailand Railay was by far the most unique and interesting spot, with the bonus of some great beaches to chill out on as well.
This beach town in Cambodia brings a lot to the table. It’s fun and cheap hostels allow for a great social atmosphere, and Serendipity Beach provides the perfect location for chilling out and day drinking on the beach. Otres Beach on the other hand has a more laid back hippy vibe and we spent the day slack lining, making friends, and enjoying the picturesque views. The fact that you can get from one beach to the other easily is what made Sihanoukville so cool as it made for the perfect balance of party and serenity! Not to mention the amazing soft white sand on both, and beautiful blue waters. Sihanoukville was a pleasant surprise for us, and it found it’s way onto our top ten list.
Hidden in the south of Laos, Si Phan Don (or 4,000 Islands) is a backpacker paradise. The main backpacker hub on Don Det is home to cheap accommodation, and the most chill and laid back bars we saw on our trip. The islands were also very fun to explore. Surrounded by the Mekong River we biked around to find waterfalls, scenic views and even rare pink irrawady dolphins. We always made sure to end our day in our hammocks on our balcony overlooking the magnificent sunset on the Mekong River.
So that may or may not have actually been 11 places…but forgive us, we just could not cut one of those amazing places from the list. Make sure to include all of these places on your itinerary when travelling through SEA, and allot at least 3 or 4 days to fully explore them. We hope this helps you in your travel planning, and thank you all for following along with us!