When it comes to South East Asia, I have been pretty lucky in my experiences. Not only was I raised in Indonesia, an amazing location in South East Asia, but I’ve also had the privilege and the pleasure to travel to seven out of the 11 countries that make up South East Asia (not counting its dependent territories and subdivisions). There are still places I have yet to go, but I’ve definitely covered all the major locations people consider when they visit South East Asia, so I thought I would rank them accordingly.
7. The Philippines
The Philippines is a fantastic country in many respects, but it happened to be my least favourite country in South East Asia. I’m not sure if that’s an unpopular opinion or not, but I realised that when it came down to it, the Philippines just didn’t deliver like some of its neighbours. Dean and I were originally planning to spend about a month there, but ended up cutting our trip short and having more time in Malaysia, because it just didn’t suit us. Of course the Philippines is a big place with hundreds of different islands and experiences, and I’m willing to give it another go in the future.
Look, I’m as surprised as you are that the stomping ground of my youth in South East Asia is ranking second from the bottom here. I think that it’s mostly my own bias is coming back to bite me. I know my parts of Indonesia, but I’ve seen all there is to see there and I want adventure. That and also I haven’t really had the opportunity to truly explore Indonesia the way I have explored some of these other countries. There’s so much I love about this country, and being a bi-lingual Indonesian speaker I get even more out of it than the average guest, but I know I’ve only just scratched the surface.
For some people, Cambodia really ranks amongst the countries of South East Asia, but for me it wasn’t all smooth sailing. That being said, I recognise that I did not visit Cambodia during the best time of the year (the monsoon season) and so I perhaps didn’t have the same experience as other visitors. There were some things that really stood out, like exploring Angkor’s jaw-dropping temples, and Dean and I both found our own little things to enjoy, like a rainy island getaway to Ko Rong and the the world’s most delicious pepper at Kampot. Perhaps next time, visiting during another season, it will be a different experience.
Singapore does stand out in South East Asia, with few of the problems that it’s neighbours face around things like pollution, corruption and cleanliness. Of course, visitors to Singapore pay for that with considerably higher prices for just about everything. Still, I found Singapore a fantastic place to visit, and after transiting through the amazing airport on more than one occasion, Dean and I spent a very enjoyable (albeit short, we were on a budget) time there looking around. I’d love to go back with more money, and see even more that the island nation has to offer!
Believe it or not, I actually came to Malaysia way back in 2007 on a school trip to Malaysian Borneo, but never really had a chance to explore the country. When Dean and I came back on our way through to Australia, we found there was so much on offer here. We bypassed the beaches (although I’ve heard they’re fantastic), and focused instead on the delightful cultural mix of this vibrant country, the stunning food, and the many different kinds of modern and traditional sights and sounds.
Of all the countries in South East Asia, Thailand was probably the one I was most excited to visit when Dean and I first set off on our cross-country trip together so many years ago. We ended up spending a cumulative quarter year taking in what the country has on offer, and we still haven’t seen it all. Drool-worthy Thai foods, lots of beautiful locations, super friendly people, and an incredibly robust and beginner-friendly tourism network (although sadly quite overcrowded), makes Thailand a firm favourite. While Thailand is known for the nicest beaches in South East Asia, I actually had some of the best fun exploring Chiang Mai in the mountains!
Of all the countries that South East Asia has to offer, there is one that truly excites my spirit, and calls me to return: Vietnam. While the visa is expensive, once you’re in the country getting around to see all that is on offer is really easy. There are tourist options, as well as the freedom to go your own way, and there’s so much vibrancy and variety it really cannot be missed by travellers to South East Asia. Best of all, Vietnam has some of the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted, and will likely ever taste again.