Cambodia Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Thailand Travel Vietnam

Ranking 7 Awesome Countries In Vibrant South East Asia

Lantern Town, Hoi An, Vietnam

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.


Snorkelling, natural environments (particularly El Nido), ocean quality, Magpupungko Rock Pools on Siargao Island.


Pretty much all the food, getting around, the super inefficient airports, tour quality, variety of accommodation.

Monkey in Indonesia

6. Indonesia

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.


Amazing Indonesian food, variety of islands, affordability (in some locations), still areas off the beaten track.


Crazy amount of tourists in popular locations, immense amount of trash and pollution (particularly air pollution).

Cambodia Temples
Cambodia Temples

5. Cambodia

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.


Amazing temples, pepper at Kampot (the best!), ribs from the Rusty Keyhole (amazing), super cheap everything really.


Lots of rain (but we did visit in the wrong season), persistent scams, visible child sex trafficking 😡

4. Singapore

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!


Amazingly clean, great food, interesting architecture, easy to navigate (walking or public transport), lots of modern conveniences, fantastic botanical gardens.


Expensive (like, really expensive), some prohibitive rules (i.e. no gum), lack of budget activities.

George Town, Malaysia

3. Malaysia

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.


Indian food, Malaysian food, dumplings, colonial buildings, amazing blend of cultures, good mix of modern and traditional.


Traffic (a fact of life really in South East Asia), little quality budget accomodation, pollution (again, pretty standard)

2. Thailand

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!


Amazing food at good prices (often), good variety of tours at different price points (you get what you pay for), lots to see and do (islands, coastline, mountains, cities etc).


Many locations ruined by unsustainable tourism, constant scams, prices going up, few off-the-beaten track locations, too many party backpackers (not our thing).

Hanoi, Vietnam

1. Vietnam

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. 


The food (sensing a theme), COFFEE, more cultural travellers (less drunken backpackers), beautiful locations, great people, cheap quality budget accommodation, lots of freedom to explore outside of tours and activities.


Not being able to fully explore Ha Long Bay, traffic and air pollution (in cities), some exploitative animal tourism (again pretty standard in South East Asia), expensive visa (compared to other countries).

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