Prepare for an assault on the senses. Southeast Asia has a bellyful of thundering motorbikes, fiery volcanic peaks, seething jungle temples and pungent markets. Yet we also love it for its squeaky-clean sands, barely believable islands and pagodas overlooking lily-topped lotus ponds. From temples to tropical rainforests, here are the top ten places to visit in Southeast Asia – as voted for by you.
Best for boutique style on a budget: Hoi An Hai Au Boutique Hotel
Justifiably though, it’s Angkor Wat and its galleried temples dedicated to gods and demons that draw the crowds. Explore this landscape of pilgrimage and ritual, of saffron-robed monks and long-tailed macaques, then take a sunset shot while savouring the view from Phnom Bakheng hilltop. But remember: Angkor Wat is to Siem Reap what a first step is to a child: only just the start.
More bamboozling still, there was a time, pre-Aung San Suu Kyi in the late-2000s when visitors were such a rarity it was possible to explore its greatest stupas – the 50m-high corn-cob Ananda Pahto, the colossal Dhammayangyi Pahto – almost entirely alone. The result of Myanmar’s fresh appeal today is skies filled with bucket-list air balloons and boutique B&Bs with interiors echoing Victorian poster boys, Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell.
Best on a budget: New Wave Guesthouse
Yet the city is also renowned as the gateway to northern hill tribes, elephant habitats and primaeval villages. Here you can hike into the cloud belts of the lush Doi Suthep and Doi Pui mountains, bamboo raft down steamy jungle rivers in the Mae Sa Valley, or encounter the kind of multicoloured, smiling personalities most visitors only see on a postcard.
Best for a little luxury: Bodhi Serene Chiang Mai
Best for central location: Sapa Dragon Hotel
Best for visiting Ubud: Alaya Resort Ubud
North of here, the jungle gives way to Mouth Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and a two-day badge of honour for avid hikers. To see the dawn split the heavens, overnight at Laban Rata, before beginning the red-eye morning ascent to reach 4095m-high Low’s Peak.
Learn more about the beauties and must-see places in Malaysia with our guide to the best things to do in Malaysia.
Best for backpackers: Homey Seafront Hostel
Best for visiting the Chocolate Hills: Gonzala Suites
More than that: it’s a hipster river town overlooking the confluence of the Khan River as it curls into the mighty Mekong, overloaded with a juxtaposition of bamboo huts and cocktail lounges, teak-blanketed slopes and coffee roasters.
Best for travelling on a budget: Thongbay Guesthouse