The concept of ‘cool’ is a subjective one. One traveller’s cool may be another’s nightmare, which is why Southeast Asia is arguably one of the best places to travel: there’s something for everyone here. Famous for its chaotic cities, stunning beaches and legendary parties, Southeast Asia offers a plethora of experiences for eager travellers ready to explore the region's culinary, cultural and cosmopolitan draws. Here's our pick of the best places to visit.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Packed with history and steeped in antiquity, this scenic city retains imperial character from a bygone age. Enchanting narrow streets lead you past wooden shopfronts and houses where traditional lanterns dangle, illuminating the alleyways and casting magical reflections along the Thu Bon River. It's also the place in Vietnam for tailoring, don’t miss out on bringing home that unique three-piece suit made to order, or your dream perfectly-fitting dress.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

An hour’s boat ride from the east coast of Malaysia brings you to the gob-smackingly beautiful Perhentian Islands. Island living at its best, there is little to do here during the day other than to snorkel, dive and chill. Come nightfall, you won’t find the throbbing neon nightlife that has become so synonymous with Southeast Asia. Instead head to the beach where a mix of travellers and locals hang out drinking beer and enjoying the slower pace of life.

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

When it comes to variety, Komodo National Park does not disappoint. With a staggering mixture of biodiversity, the park is home to a plethora of land and marine species, most famously providing sanctuary for the extremely rare Komodo dragon, which is found nowhere else in the world. We don’t recommend cuddling up to these guys; rather, take a back seat to witness nature at its most rampant. If you’re a wildlife fanatic, it doesn’t get cooler than this.

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Bangkok, Thailand

Love it or hate it, Bangkok – known to locals as the City of Angels – offers a kaleidoscope of experiences to the flocks of visitors it welcomes each year. Whether a first-time traveller or seasoned globetrotter, this frenetic capital won’t fail to excite. From the Khao San Road, where you’re equally likely to find an Irish pub as you are a decent pad Thai, to the soaring skyscrapers, swanky rooftop bars and exotic architecture of royal palaces and temples: this city has something for travellers of all sensibilities.

Bangkok, Thailand

Luang Prabang, Laos

Whilst many of those touching down in Laos head straight to Vang Vieng to hit the tubing circuit, these hordes of revellers should not deter the less party-inclined. Anyone craving a little more charm would enjoy spending time in the pretty and chilled-out town of Luang Prabang. Here, cute cafés and bookshops dot streets lined with a mixture of traditional East Asian and colonial architecture. There’s plenty of greenery to enjoy, and nearby Kouang Si waterfalls is a cool oasis to explore and swim.

Luang Prabang, Laos

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.

Luzon, The Philippines

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!).

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ubud, Indonesia

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.

Ubud, Indonesia

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.

Sa Pa, Vietnam

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.

Lake Inle, Myanmar, Burma

Borneo

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…

Borneo

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.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

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.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

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.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Singapore

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.

Singapore

Book your trip with Rough Guides

Tailor-made travel planned by local experts

At Rough Guides, we understand that experienced travellers want to get truly off-the-beaten-track. That’s why we’ve partnered with local experts to help you plan and book tailor-made trips that are packed with personality and stimulating adventure - at all levels of comfort. If you love planning, but find arranging the logistics exhausting, you’re in the right place.

Learn Morechevron_right

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs