Traveling in Southeast Asia isn’t just about beaches and hitting the big tourist destinations. It’s also an opportunity to explore the region’s unique cultures, whether you’re appreciating architecture, sampling tasty new dishes, admiring handicrafts, or connecting with locals. The following are just a few places where you can take in the atmosphere and discover why people from around the world fall in love with this diverse region.
- Luang Prabang, Laos
The beautiful, quiet town of Luang Prabang is nestled in the confluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers. Once the ancient capital of Laos, it’s now a UNESCO-designated site known for its lovely architecture, temples, and palace. The slow pace of life makes this an ideal place to take in the scenery, try some Lao dishes, and–of course!–enjoy a cold riverside drink.
- Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Bali has one of the most unique cultures in the world, and Ubud is its heart and soul. Surrounded by rice terraces and artisan villages, the city streets are lined with the attractive architecture of family compounds and temples, and everywhere you look there are small Balinese Hindu offerings made from leaves and flowers. Peruse the shops and market for woodwork and silver before settling in at one of the many restaurants for dinner–some even entice customers with traditional dance shows. In recent years, Ubud has, unfortunately, become rather overrun with tourists. I blame Eat, Pray, Love. If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky.
- George Town, Malaysia
A UNESCO World Heritage site, George Town is host to an exciting mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Arabic cultures. The multicultural population means there’s not just amazing food, but incredible architecture. Malaysia was once a colony of the British Empire, and George Town shows that history with its colonial architecture. There’s also an eclectic mix of Hindu and Buddhist temples, mosques, and Chinese mansions. As if that weren’t enough of a reason to visit, George Town is an artistic haven, with fantastic street art around every corner.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
Known for its many beautiful temples and moat-surrounded Old City, Chiang Mai is northern Thailand’s culture capital. Overlooking the city is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a glorious golden temple complex perched on top of the mountain Doi Suthep. As you explore the narrow lanes inside the Old City, you’ll come across a seemingly impossible number of elaborate temples. The many local markets sell a variety of handicrafts and delicious Thai street food, like the ever-popular Sunday Night Market.
- Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi is probably my favorite city in all of Southeast Asia. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, the traffic is chaotic. But tucked away in the (borderline crumbling) beautiful French colonial architecture is an endless number of unique restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops, selling delicious northern Vietnamese food, “egg coffee’, tea, infused rice whiskey, and clothes and artwork by local designers. It’s a huge, crazy city, but that just means you’ll never be done exploring.
Ready to plan your trip to Southeast Asia? Check out these guidebooks for more information!