The Best Places to Visit in Southeast Asia
You’re sitting at your desk, sifting through the emails while biding the time until lunch break. You switch tabs between your department’s group chat and your favorite blogger’s itinerary from when she went to her Indochina tour. You try not to jump from your seat from too much excitement. You need this vacation. You deserve it. You’ve filed your leaves as soon as the long-weekend list for next year was released. All that’s left now is to figure out where you’re spending the next vacation.
Time spent in the office doing fulfilling work is great, but taking the time to indulge outside of that space every once in a while? Even better. Your body will thank you for it!
Tired of going through the sea of reviews and options for the best animal and family-friendly places to visit in Southeast Asia? We rounded up the best spots so you don’t have to. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the listicle!
Cambodia: For breathtaking temples and awesome beachfronts
- Pros: Glorious temples, untouched beaches, generous people, and incredible food – need we say more?
- Cons: November to May are Cambodia’s hottest season, so in the event you aren’t one to get baked under the sun, the best time for you to visit when the weather’s cool is November through February.
- Visit: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Tonle Sap, Banteay Srei, Krong Siem Reap, Phnom Phen, Sokha Beach
Singapore: For city slickers
- Pros: Safest and easiest to navigate, politically stable, many speak English and public transport is reliable. Tourist spots are clustered together. Many cuisines cater to all tastes, diets and budgets.
- Cons: The priciest of SEA destinations, hotel-wise. No real beachfront. Skip the zoo, night safari and aquariums: artificial enclosures can’t compare to their natural habitats.
- Visit: Sentosa, Singapore Flyer, Merlion statue, Universal Studios, MacRitchie Reservoir, Botanic Gardens, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Gardens by the Bay and waterparks aplenty
Hong Kong: For cosmopolitan foodies
- Pros: Interconnected and easy to explore. English is widely spoken with lots of places to eat and shop 24/7.
- Cons: Political unrest can make visitors feel unsafe. Omit Ocean Park from your itinerary; animals go crazy in such enclosures and die much earlier
- Visit: Disneyland, Peak Tram, Hong Kong Park, Geoparks, Po Lin Monastery, Trick Eye Museum or the 3D Repulse Bay Visual Art Museum, Kowloon Park
Thailand: For hardcore shoppers
- Pros: Cheap flights, affordable street food and exciting resto scene, shopping mecca (prepare to haggle), thrilling tuk-tuks
- Cons: Tourist-friendly, but traps abound. Overcrowded beaches and southern islands. Avoid the Phuket Aquarium and Bird Park. Touching and posing with animals make them nervous and scared; they are not props.
- Visit: Like it busy? Enjoy Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Need some peace and quiet? Escape to Koh Kood. Outdoorsy? Head for Mae Hong Son, Splash Jungle Water Park, Khao Sok National Park, Khao Yai park and Kui Buri park.
Malaysia: For adventurous families with older kids
- Pros: Lots to explore for those who want something off-the-beaten-path. Experience many cultures in one country
- Cons: Pass over the aquarium, bird park, Lok Kawi Wildlife Park and the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Visitors should not interact directly with wildlife.
- Visit: Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park for snorkeling, Petronas Towers, Legoland, Batu Caves, Kota Kinabalu, Monsopiad Heritage Village, Rainforest Discovery Centre, Kinabatangan River, and Kinabalu National Park
Indonesia: For nature trippers
- Pros: Great weather, vegan/vegetarian options and cuisines, beaches and surf spots, beautiful hiking trails on volcanic hills, rice terraces, waterfalls and forests
- Cons: Resorts at Kuta and Sanur can get congested; prepare for heavy traffic everywhere. No ethical ‘sanctuaries;’ steer clear of the Bali Bird and Elephant Safari parks. Don’t buy civet or luwak coffee; the civets are force-fed coffee cherries and cramped in small cages. At Monkey Forest, animals are exploited as tourist attractions.
- Visit: Uluwatu Temple, Bird Village of Petulu, Waterbom Bali Park, Bali Treetop Adventure Park, Rumah Pohon Temple, Splash Water Park, Nusa Dua, Ubud
A few notes on ethical tourism
Visit only sanctuaries that never breed or use animals for commercial reasons. Watch films of animals in the wild instead.
Snorkeling/scuba diving lets you experience aquatic animals in their home on their terms. Avoid tours that allow you to swim with sea creatures; this disturbs their normal behavior.
Pack a plant-based picnic and forest-bathe in a botanical garden
Bring a reusable bag. Join beach clean-ups to show appreciation to the places you visit.
Zoos teach that it’s okay to tear animals away from their families and homes for our pleasure. As tourists, let’s be part of the solution and choose to consider the people around us and the places we visit. Sacred or not, let’s be mindful of every space we enter.
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