There are many tourist destinations in Southeast Asia that were once known as ‘hidden gems’ or ‘secret escapes’ – Luang Prabang, Hoi An, Inle Lake and Lombok are a few that come to mind. However many of these have since become mainstream tourism hotspots as word got around about what they had to offer. For those who prefer not to travel with the crowds and want to get off the beaten track to discover places where there are still more locals than there are tourists, here are 10 unique travel destinations in Southeast Asia that haven’t yet been spoiled by mass tourism. These are some of the best places to go in South East Asia!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Things to consider before you go
- 2 10 Unique Travel Destinations in Southeast Asia
- 2.1 Best places to go in Southeast Asia!
Things to consider before you go
While most of these are not difficult to get to, some will involve flights on smaller prop jet aircraft, so you’ll need to check out baggage allowances in advance because many airlines providing flights to these destinations do not permit the same amount of luggage to be carried on board, or checked-in, as on jet aircraft. Often there are size restrictions on the carry-on bags which may necessitate buying smaller sized bags. It’s a good idea to check the size of travel bags in advance of buying new ones on websites like Luggagedirect.com.au where you’ll find the exact measurements of all the leading brands listed under the luggage specifications.
These specs will also enable you to check the empty weight of carry-on bags because the heavier the empty bag is, the less gear can be packed to carry on the flight. You’ll need to pack light for some of these destinations as you may be carrying your luggage for greater distances than you would be in city or resort locations.
10 Unique Travel Destinations in Southeast Asia
Best places to go in Southeast Asia!
If you’re looking for a safe destination with unmatched local hospitality and few other tourists, then this might be the place for you. Hsipaw is about 200 kms northeast of Mandalay. It feels remote, but really isn’t, and has some good budget hotels at very reasonable prices. Although Myanmar is not the unspoiled paradise that it once was, Hsipaw will provide you with an experience that is as close as possible to the ‘old’ Myanmar.
Hsipaw is a base for hill treks and is surrounded with farmlands, waterfalls, and hot springs, but it’s also a great little town just for chilling out. If you’re a first timer to the region, you can always get a tour guide to help you navigate through the villages — but it’s more enjoyable and rewarding to just wander around and discover them by yourself.
With its French colonial architecture and Buddhist monasteries, many people have said this picturesque town is somewhat like Luang Prabang before it succumbed to mass tourism. Another great destination just for chilling out, you will be rewarded with stunning natural surroundings and ancient temples sprinkled around the hillsides of this quiet town.
Champasak is located in the southern corner of the country on the Mekong River and has several excellent boutique hotels and a very good spa that will satisfy the most discerning international travelers. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Khmer temple complex, Wat Phu (also spelled as Vat Phou), is located just 10 kms from the town.
The Philippines has over 7,000 islands so it’s hard to choose one that stands out above all others. But if you’re into laidback beach days and surfing, this island is the one for you. Spend your days biking to town and to the beach barefoot, sup fresh coconut juice, and stay with friendly hostel owners to get a taste of what rural beachlife is like in the Philippines.
Siargao has powdery sand beaches and turquoise water, and is a favorite destination for those who don’t like the crowds of Boracay or the commercialisation of Bohol. Siargao is one of the many islands in the Philippines archipelago that still remains unblemished, but has sufficient infrastructure and facilities to make a stay of any length a comfortable one.
Koh Yao Yai, Thailand
Between crowded Phuket and busy Krabi nestles this tiny island which perfectly depicts the beauty of Thai beaches. Locals on the island make their living by cultivating rubber trees and from their fishing industry. You will be welcomed by its sandy shores and surrounding waters that are rich in marine life and ideal for diving.
There is a wide range of accommodation options on Koh Yao Yai from luxury resorts to backpacker hostels, and a couple of very good spas too. There are many good restaurants and cafes and lots of soft adventure options like ATV tours and kayaking through the mangroves.
Mount Kelimutu, Indonesia
At the top of Mount Kelimutu in Indonesia lie three crater lakes which are famous for their different colors which can change several times a month. This is due to the reaction of elements like iron and manganese with the volcanic gas.
The mountain is located in Ende Regency on Flores Island to the east of Bali. There are regular flights from Bali to Ende and then another three hours of land travel is required from Ende to Moni which is the town at the base of Kelimutu. Many tourists like to camp one night on the mountain to catch the beautiful sunrise.
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Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
Only discovered in 1991 by a local, the Son Doong Cave is dubbed as the world’s largest cave – having its own subterranean river, jungle, and even climate. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – which is considered the oldest karst mountain in Asia dating back 400 million years – the 3 million year old cave was opened to the public in 2013.
However, this is a destination only for the fittest and most adventurous travelers because getting there requires some arduous jungle trekking, and to tour the cave requires some underwater swimming skills. The number of daily visitors is strictly limited and it is necessary to prebook a guided tour which involves overnight camping inside the cave. Caving experts and guides accompany every tour.
Doi Mae Salong, Thailand
This quiet little village in the northern part of Chiang Mai Province is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and tea fields. It’s about six kilometers away from the Myanmar border. Places to visit around Doi Mae Salong can be spread out, so while you can hike to some sites, it’s advisable to rent a motorbike to explore the hills and valleys around the village.
The nearby Sinakarintra Stit Mahasantikhiri Pagoda perched on a mountainside above the village offers spectacular views over the northern Thai mountains. This is a destination for those who have already visited the more popular northern Thailand tourist spots and want to see a part of the country that is really off the beaten track.
This island province is probably the only place in Southeast Asia that has travelers saying it reminds them of Ireland – albeit a lot warmer. And while Batanes is small, it is overflowing with natural and scenic beauty. Prop jet flights from Manila make Batanes easy to get to, but once there it feels like a world away from the rest of the Philippines.
Located in the top most part of the country, about halfway between Luzon and southern Taiwan, the province is very green and provides panoramic views of picturesque hills, rugged shorelines and water-eroded canyons. It’s popular with Filipinos who want to go somewhere that feels different to the rest of their country, but hasn’t attracted a lot of international travelers yet.
Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia
This island off the coast of Sihanoukville is not to be confused with Koh Rong — a much busier island that is popular with backpackers. Koh Rong Sanloem is a very undeveloped island further to the south around which there is some very good diving. It’s also a great chill-out destination for those on a budget who want to go off the grid for a while.
There is limited electricity and running water on Koh Rong Sanloem, no wifi, and only very basic accommodation and eating options. But there’s never many people on the island and at times you will have a beach or lagoon to yourself. It’s a place for travelers that want to experience a ‘Survivor’ type environment in a tropical paradise, but not experience the hardships of being a real Survivor contestant.
Mui Ne, Vietnam
Our last destination is not as quiet and laidback as our other suggestions – in fact it’s very much a place for adventure seekers. But we’re listing it because it’s still relatively undiscovered by international travelers. Mui Ne is a fishing town on the southeastern coastline of Vietnam that has great conditions for windsurfing and kitesurfing most of the year round.
It also has extensive sand dunes that can be explored on quad bikes or in a jeep with a guide, or seen from a hot air balloon. There are more than 100 small resorts along this strip of coastline and many reasonably priced restaurants and cafes that are making this an increasingly popular destination with visitors from overseas.
We hope that this list of 10 unique travel destinations in Southeast Asia has inspired your visit. Have you ever been to any of them or which other places do you prefer to go in Southeast Asia? Share your experience with us.