Luzon, The Philippines
Witness magical mist rising off the ancient rice terraces of Banaue as you set off on a day’s hike or dare to plunge into the pool of a cascading waterfall after a challenging jungle trek. The largest island in The Philippines archipelago has all the credentials to excite adventurous travellers. With some of the world’s most active (and symmetrical!) volcanoes to climb, and gigantic whale sharks for snorkelling companions, this island sets itself apart from your average Southeast Asian pristine-sands/aquamarine-ocean package.
© Puripat Lertpunyaroj/Shutterstock
Chiang Mai, Thailand
For the best food in Thailand, head north to the city of Chiang Mai. Renowned as a foodie destination, here you will find variety and freshness to take you away from standard tourist food. From round-the-clock roadside stalls hawking tasty snacks, to market cafés and slicker restaurants run by savvy locals, you won’t be short of options. You might even achieve that Instagram-worthy snap of your mate devouring deep fried insects (a delicacy no less!).
In the uplands of Bali you will find the town of Ubud, where a commitment to tradition and celebration of local arts and crafts has cemented its reputation as the cultural capital of Indonesia. An ideal destination for the creative and spiritually minded, you’ll want more than a couple of days to enjoy this arty haven. During your stay, visit the Ubud Hanging Gardens – this retreat with its terraced infinity pools surrounded by plush rainforest, offers a unique and out-of-this-world experience.
Sa Pa, Vietnam
Nestled alongside Fan Si Pan, the dazzling mountain range that boasts Vietnam’s highest peak, many people use this small market town as a base for trekking further afield. Yet the landscape of sweeping terraced rice paddies surrounding Sa Pa is a sight to behold itself. Once you’ve tired of summiting peaks, take the time to explore. The markets here are particularly good for souvenirs, just remember that conical hat might seem nonchalant on your mountainside self but it’ll look far from cool back home in the pub.
Lake Inle, Myanmar, Burma
Since the tourist ban was lifted, Myanmar has fast become a destination for those looking for a slice of untouched Asia. While it’s one of the most touristed places in the country, this is still exemplified no better than at Inle Lake, where a unique way of life makes visiting this freshwater oasis a truly remarkable experience. Keep your eyes peeled for the fishermen who paddle one-legged in acts of artful balance; observe enchanting floating pagodas and hovering gardens growing fruit and vegetables alongside stilted houses, with walkways made from weeds and bamboo providing a stable landing for the Intha families of the lake.
Divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, rugged Borneo rises from the ocean in wild, undulating beauty. A paradise of mythological proportions, the island is home to rare, tropical plants and fantastic creatures such as giant butterflies and pygmy elephants. Imagine waking up to the catcalls of the forest’s primate population, before hiking through dense jungle and along canopy walkways that take you above the trees themselves. Sounds like fantasy right? Cool doesn’t even begin to describe…
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
You don’t have to be a geology buff to appreciate the incredible limestone rock formations of Ha Long Bay, the name meaning ‘descending dragon’ in Vietnamese. Scattered with thousands of karst islands that emerge nobly from the green crystalline waters of the bay, nobody can dispute the awesomeness of this UNESCO world heritage site, which is imbued with legend and a distinct aura of other-worldliness. A boat trip here is an unmissable expedition.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Known as Vietnam’s rice bowl, the Mekong Delta is a fertile stretch of flatland that churns out a large proportion of the country’s food crop. Meandering through the quiet waterways of rice paddies and small villages by paddle boat, or on bicycles or mopeds, may well be the most relaxing way to discover this stunning, laid back world. For those needing R&R from Southeast Asia’s sometimes exhausting pace of life, we cannot recommend some downtime in the Delta highly enough.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Do you possess a penchant for hidden worlds and lost cities? Are you an adventurer with a voracious aptitude for archaeology? Look no further than Angkor Wat. Famously a location of Lara Croft’s tomb-raiding escapades and the largest religious monument in the world, the mystique of this sprawling, crumbling site has not been totally eclipsed by tourists. You do get the odd day-tripper wielding finger guns for Facebook photos, but immerse yourself in the history here and your experience will be a far sight cooler.
Thanks to a world-renowned tech industry and its consumerist culture, Singapore is often criticised for its lack of spirituality and character. But peel away the layers and you’ll not only discover a shrine to ultramodern architecture but some stunning scenery and excellent cuisine. As the birthplace of the Singapore Sling cocktail and home to the spectacular Singapore Botanic Gardens, we challenge you to not enjoy the effortlessly cool cityscape.