Dreaming of beautiful beaches but you don’t want to spend a fortune? Looking for luxury at a fraction of the cost? It’s time for you to discover Southeast Asia. And we are here to show the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
We have lived in the heart of Southeast Asia for 2+ years and we have traveled to quite a few places in this region. We have learned that once you are in Southeast Asia travel is very affordable and has so much to offer!
Southeast Asia has so many great destinations it can be overwhelming when you try to decide on just one. We will give you a few great destinations and our take on each. Here is our list of what we think are the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Is Southeast Asia safe?
There are many rumors about Southeast Asia not being safe.
As mothers, we have all heard stories of children being kidnapped and sold as slaves in Southeast Asia. While human trafficking is a global problem, kidnapping is not commonplace in any of the places on this list.
You are a lot more likely to be kidnapped in Central and South America than you are in Southeast Asia.
The biggest problem you will face in Southeast Asia is petty theft. It is common to have a purse, wallet, or cell phone stolen if not attended. Most of the time they are nonviolent crimes.
How do you protect yourself? Make sure to bring a bag/purse that you can keep on the front of you. Do not wear just a shoulder strap purse. Keep all belongings in a zipped pocket.
Consider bringing a fanny pack like this one. Make sure to tuck the back of the strap under your shirt so that it cannot be clipped from behind.
Consider a stopover at connecting airports to make the most of your time
If you are coming from Europe or America, you will most likely need to fly into one of the larger cities in Asia. Such as Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, or Singapore. Most airlines only charge a minimal fee for a stopover. Meaning you can spend a day or two stopping over before your final destination.
I would suggest taking at least one night in the city you fly into first. I suggest this for multiple reasons. First, you will already have flown a long way and it’s good to get out of a plane, stretch your legs, and even see a new place.
I also suggest doing this because you will have jet lag. It will take you a few days to get over jet lag and it’s good to get a jump start on it as soon as possible. Stopping in the first city will give you a chance to sleep in a real bed and get on the new time zone as quickly as possible.
When you are traveling with kids, a stopover is almost a necessity. It gives them a chance to be free of the airplane and stretch out in a real bed. It also gives your arms and minds a rest.
My last biggest reason for doing a stopover is that you get to see another city at the fraction of the cost. The airlines may charge a fee to do a stopover but it will be a lot cheaper than flying all the way back.
This country and city share the same name, so technically you are visiting Singapore, Singapore. The Changi, Singapore airport is one of the largest and busiest in the world. It is also one of the nicest and constantly wins awards for the best airports in the world.
If you are flying from outside of Asia, there is a good chance you will have to connect at the Singapore Changi airport. So is Singapore worth a stopover?
Is Singapore worth a stopover?
Singapore has gotten a lot of buzz over the last few decades. Did you know Singapore is the fifth most visited city in the world? Tourism is a major part of Singapore’s economy, so naturally, they cater to tourists.
Singapore has so many great attractions to keep you busy for many days. If you are planning a stopover, I would try to spend at least 2 nights in Singapore so you can take in more of the city.
I would say Singapore is worth a stopover while you are in Asia. This country is like no other I have ever seen before. The technology is amazing and the city is absolutely spotlessly clean.
What to do in Singapore
The Jewel Singapore
One of the top things to do in Singapore, even if you don’t leave the airport is the new Jewel terminal in Singapore airport, Changi. This is a mall that is attached to the airport. The entire mall is centered around the world’s largest vortex waterfall.
This is definitely something you should see even if you don’t spend a night in Singapore. The entire building is themed around nature.
In the middle of a giant indoor forest, you will be stunned by the site of the giant vortex waterfall. It is one of the most amazing things I have seen in my lifetime.
If you have more time, Jewel Singapore also has some really fun activities like a canopy walk where you can walk over the vortex waterfall. Make sure to put the Jewel on your list of things to visit in Singapore.
I would definitely suggest going to the Singapore Zoo. This zoo has some very unique attractions such as breakfast with orangutans, a river cruise, and a night safari.
Each attraction is a separate ticket so you make sure to check out the Singapore Zoo’s website for more information. You can easily purchase a park hopper pass and visit all the attractions.
I would recommend breakfast with the orangutans and the river safari. Both of these attractions give you a very unique and up-close view of endangered animals that you cannot see all over the world.
Sentosa island is a child’s paradise. It features Singapore’s Universal Studios, a huge water park, beautiful beaches and so much more. If you are visiting Singapore with kids, don’t miss this great island.
Ah, Thailand, my favorite country in Southeast Asia! If you are looking for the best places to visit in Southeast Asia, I’m sure you have read about Thailand.
This culture-rich country has so much to see and offer. Bangkok holds one of the largest airports in Southeast Asia, and boast many direct flights to Europe, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Making it very easy to get to Thailand from the US, Australia, or Europe.
Check out our in-depth guide on planning your trip to Thailand for lots of great info on getting ready for your trip.
Best Cities in Thailand to visit
Bangkok is quickly becoming a very modern city but it still holds true to ancient traditions carried on by the Thai people. The capital city of Thailand the it’s largest is definitely worth a stopover if you are flying through BKK or headed to other parts of Thailand.
There are so many things to see and do in Bangkok. You are going to love this city! There are also many unique things to do while you are in Bangkok. Such as a floating market, visiting a pink temple, and the flower market.
Krabi offers some of the best beaches in all of Southeast Asia and in the world. It is home to infamous beaches and islands. Including the Phi Phi Islands and the famous James Bond Island.
Krabi is definitely one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia. There is so much to do in Krabi. It is a great spot for a beach vacation and to enjoy the Thai culture.
It is so easy to do multiple activities while you are in Krabi. You can kayak out on the ocean, take a speed boat to all the Phi Phi islands, visit hot springs, and so much more!
Phuket is located on the southern tip of Thailand (close to Krabi). Like Krabi, you can visit the Phi Phi Island from Phuket. This is actually the biggest island in Thailand.
Some of the best things to do in Phuket besides checking out all the beaches is going to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, watch the monkey’s on monkey hill, and of course an island-hopping boat tour. If you are not traveling with kids and want to head out for the night. Phuket has a very vibrant nightlife with plenty of bars and clubs.
Phuket has more resorts than Krabi, but the downside to this is that it feels very touristy. Many people say that its not true Thailand. We still loved it, but we do prefer Krabi or next on the list Chaing Mai.
Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai
Now let’s head to northern Thailand to Chiang Mai, one of my favorite cities in Thailand. This mountainous city has so much to do and see. It is in northern Thailand which is surprisingly quite different than southern Thailand (where Krabi and Phuket are located).
Chaing Mai is rich in Thai culture and the food in northern Thailand is amazing! Some of the best things to do in Chaing Mai include elephant sanctuary, night safari (where you can hand-feed dozens of animals), the night market, silkworm factory, and so many other things.
Chaing Rai is home to one of the most beautiful Thai temples in the world. It is easy to visit while you are staying in Chiang Mai because it is just a couple of hours driving. This stunning temple is a must-see while you are in northern Thailand.
The Family Voyage has a great post on everything about Chaing Rai. Chiang Rai is only about a 2.5-hour drive from Chaing Mai. You can also fly into Chiang Rai from Bankok or other places in Thailand.
Your flight might connect through Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport. Don’t miss some of these great things to see in Malaysia during your time in Southeast Asia. Here are a few of Malaysia’s best things to see in Southeast Asia.
In Malaysia, there are many different languages spoken. Their national language is Bahasa but English is widely spoken as well as Chinese. I have lived in Malaysia for 2 years and I have not met anyone that doesn’t speak a little bit of English.
Malaysia is known for its natural beauty and Langkawi is no exception. The critically acclaimed “Crazy Rich Asians” chose multiple places in Langkawi to highlight in the movie.
Langkawi Island is actually made up of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea. It is just south of the border of Thailand. Langkawi Island is Southeast Asia’s first location to be included in the UNESCO Global Geopark.
Its beautiful Landscapes, karsts, caves, sea arches, stacks, and other geological formations. It also boasts a rain forest, and many rare and endangered animals live on the island. One of the top things to do on Langkawi is to take the Langkawi sky bridge.
Langkawi is loaded with resorts and hotels. No matter your budget you can find what you are looking for here. From the luxurious Langkawi Four Seasons Resort, as highlighted in the film Crazy Rich Asians to smaller local resorts and hotels. Many with private beaches or easy beach access. Making it a perfect place to take the kids.
We stayed at Marriott’s Andaman Resort and it was wonderful. Our time in Langkawi was some of the best and most relaxing time we have ever had on a trip. The kids loved the beach and the waterslide in the pool.
This is by far one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia for kids and families.
Redang & Perhentian Islands
If you’ve never heard of the Perhentian Islands or Redang you are not alone. Before moving to Malaysia I’d never heard of these islands. The Perhentian Islands are a small group of coral-fringed islands off the northeastern coast of western Malaysia.
Although these are less popular or less well-known, than many other spots on this list, they are actually one of our favorite places in the world. When I ask my kids some of their favorite places, they all say REDANG ISLAND.
The water is crystal clear blue, and the beaches are fine white sand. Making it easy to see coral and sea life just by walking in. They actually host some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world.
Redang is the best island in the world for so many reasons, but my biggest reason to visit Redang is snorkeling and diving! The coral is like nothing you have ever seen before. The bottom of the ocean is a rainbow of colors.
Since living in Kuala Lumpur I can make an extensive list of must-see places to go and not to go. The colorful staircase of Batu Caves is a must-see if coming to Malaysia. A few of my favorite things I love about Kuala Lumpur are:
- The infrastructure is good. In comparison to other major cities in Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is ahead of most, excluding Singapore. They have a good public transportation system.
- The Food: A lot of people may argue with me, but I don’t like Malaysian food. But I do love the food options that Malaysia has to offer. You can find a wide range of food options in Kuala Lumpur Really almost any type of food you want you can find, and the BEST part is the PRICE of food! It is so cheap. I can take my family of 5 to a sit-down restaurant and the total cost will be about $25-35USD for all of us.
- The Cost: You can stay at a 4-5 Star hotel here for under $200 a night. Some are even closer to $100 a night for a high-end hotel or resort. Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia can be a very cost-effective vacation for a family and you don’t have to skimp on luxury. Making Kuala Lumpur one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
There is so much to do in Kuala Lumpur, check out this post by Hoponworld for the perfect 2 days Kuala Lumpur Itinerary.
Borneo Island, State of Sabah~ East Malaysia
Malaysia is often referred to as “West Malaysia” and “East Malaysia”. East Malaysia (knowns as Sabah) and is part of Borneo Island. This is an island that is separate from peninsular Malaysia and shares the island with Indonesia and Brunei. East Malaysia is famous for its wildlife and dense rainforests.
East Malaysia is much less populated than most parts of Southeast Asia. If you are looking for a great backpacking destination, this is it! Sabah is home to some amazing wildlife that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.
The Borneo rainforest is one of the most amazing forests in the world to see some of the rarest and most exotic. Such as the Bornean orangutans, Borneo pygmy elephants, Malay tigers, and the most poached animal in the world, the pangolin.
Borneo is one of the most unique places in this entire region. Find out more about what Sabah has to offer here.
Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands with over 1.9 million square miles of land, making it the 4th largest country in the world and one of the most populous. Did you know about 56.7% of Indonesia’s population lives on Java? Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and rainforests.
The main language spoken in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia but English is widely spoken in the tourist areas, but English isn’t as widely used as you will find in Malaysia & the Philippines. You do not need to learn Bahasa to visit Indonesia but a few words are helpful.
When you think of Bali you think of tropical beaches and lush mountain rainforests. Bali is famous for its wonderful beaches and luxurious resorts. This is also where you will find Ubud and its beautiful tea plantations and rice patty fields.
Bali has some unique things, like ancient temples and gates. Bali gets a lot of publicity and talk. So you have probably heard of Bali.
If you are going to Bali, I would suggest staying in Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is not far from the Denspar airport (where you will most likely fly into) and it is a quiet part of the island.
You will find most luxury resorts in Nusa Dua and you will be able to find lots of family-friendly hotels that your kids will love.
Make sure to visit the monkey forest in Ubud while you are in Bali. It’s a great chance to see monkeys and even play with them a little bit.
Kuta Lombok is a quiet little surf town that has the charm and beaches. The beaches are unbelievable and something you have to see with your own eyes!
Kuta Lombok is not to be confused by its neighboring island Kuta Bali, but it is without the heavy commercialization and tourism industry. This is a well-known destination for surfers.
I would suggest Lombok over Bali if you are looking for a quiet vacation. Lombok has just as much beauty as its popular sister island without as many tourists. Lombok is not talked about as much as Bali, but in my opinion, it is better.
To get to Lombok, you can either take a flight or a ferry from Bali. Either one will be under $30 each way. You can also get flights direct from Jakarta, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur.
The world’s biggest Buddhist monument is located on the island of Java. The magnificent Borobudur sits on a hilltop overlooking lush green fields. This temple was built in the 9th century and was hidden under volcanic ash for thousands of years.
It was rediscovered in 1815. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the Indonesia Government along with UNESCO worked together to restore Borobudur.
The restoration took 8 years to complete. Come experience one of the oldest and rarest Buddhist monument in the world. The temple is decorated with stone carvings representing the life of Buddha. Some say that this is the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist relics in the world.
This truly is one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in all of Southeast Asia. The mountains and beaches are stunning and not to be missed. The cities like Hanoi have become large modern cities but managed to maintain their rich culture.
Vietnam is rich in culture and beautiful but another reason to add Vietnam to your list is that it is cheap! Even cheaper than other parts of Southeast Asia. Take your kids with you to Vietnam and your money will go a lot farther than most other places.
Let’s talk about why Vietnam is one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
The capital city of Vietnam and it’s the second-most populous city is Hanoi. Hanoi makes it easy to fly into the International Airport and then to take a car or bus into the city.
While visiting Vietnam’s Capital city, don’t miss the wonderful temples that are all over the city. These temples hold the keys to a rich Vietnamese history. Even your kids will enjoy the temples since they have some open spaces where your kids can feel a bit freer.
Indulge in the markets during your time in Hanoi. You can buy some unique souvenirs at a fraction of the price. You can barter with the locals on prices at the markets.
Take a food tour in Hanoi with a cooking class. Become a chef while you are here and learn to make some delicious Vietnamese food. It’s so much fun to taste local cuisine and then try your hand at making some local food.
If you’d like to book a tour while you are in Hanoi, Klook offers some great options at competitive prices. These are great tours for a full or half-day, or just for a couple of hours. Visit the temples carefree or take a food tour, you will love seeing the sights without any of the stress.
This beautiful bay was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1994. The islands are dotted along the bay and hold many secret grottos and caves. This stunning bay is one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.
The limestone islands look like something out of a movie. It is very easy to get around in Halong Bay, typically by car is the easiest. You can easily take in all the sites around the bay in a day or two.
A day trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay is possible. So you don’t need to switch hotels. It is about a 2.5-hour drive between the two cities.
I would suggest booking a cruise along the bay so you can really take in the sites of all the islands.
Cambodia is a lesser-known tourist attraction in Southeast Asia but still has some great things to offer! Less popular also means less busy and less expensive. Two of my favorite things! English and French are widely spoken in Cambodia.
Siem Reap is an amazing city with lots to offer while you are visiting Cambodia and Southeast Asia. This is THE Gate Way to The beautiful and ancient temple, Angkor Wat.
Siem Reap Hotels & things to do
Siem Reap also has a few great night markets you should visit while in Cambodia. The street lights up with neon lights everywhere and you can try some great street food!
Beaches of Cambodia
Did you know that Cambodia has some amazing beaches? Cambodia has beautiful beaches that are some of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia. These beaches are much less busy than other beaches of Southeast Asia so you may end up with an entire beach to yourself, but what beach is the best? Take a look before you plan your trip.
The Philippines is becoming more well known for its stunning beaches and great islands. The Filipino people are known for their kindness and hospitality.
The Philippines is made up of tons of islands that offer unbelievable aquamarine water and snorkeling that is to die for.
Beware: Stay clear of the southern islands in the Philippines, this area is a hot spot for tourist kidnapping. You are safe in the northern islands but do not go to the southern islands such as Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and the Zamboanga Peninsula.
El Nido & Coron the top two places to visit
Palawan has been named The Worlds Best Island by Travel and Leisure magazine multiple times. There must be something to this great island. This thin stretching island is a tropical paradise. Similar to what you will find in Krabi, Thailand, with the Krasts jetting out of the water and crystal clear blue water, and white sand beaches.
The slight difference is the Filipino hospitality. Thai food is good but the Filipinos know how to make sure your trip is perfect. You’ll instantly strike up a conversation with a Filipino and immediately have a new best friend. You’ve got to try it for yourself.
Palawan has many beaches and hidden caves and bays to explore. If you are traveling with kids you might not be able to be quite as adventurous. Don’t worry Palawan has some unique experience that the kids will love.
You will most likely end up staying at the two most popular places, either Coron or El Nido. The other question you might have is how to get here. Well, check out the Essential Travel Guide for 2020 to Palawan, Coron, & El Nido.
Sitting in the northern part of the Philippines is the island of Cebu. Cebu is a divers paradise and the surrounding islands. Malapascua Island is one of the best places in the world to spot thresher sharks for divers and snorkelers.
If the ocean is not your thing, there are plenty of beautiful hikes and scenery around Cebu. Cebu city is considered a 1st class city and is highly urbanized. You can find plenty of shopping and markets in the city.
If you are looking for a more unique experience. You can take a ferry from Cebu to a beautiful island close by called Siquijor Island. This is the perfect island for backpackers looking for a quiet beach.
Spend the day on a scooter hopping from beach to beach or check out some of the natural waterfalls.
So did you pick out the best places to visit in Southeast Asia?
I am sure that there are a thousand more places that we can add to this list. Every time I think that I have seen one of the most spectacular places in the world, I continue to be surprised by what this region of the world has to offer.
Before living in Southeast Asia, I didn’t have too much of a desire to travel to this part of the world. I have to say that I regret not making it here sooner.
Although this is a different experience from Europe. You trade cathedrals for temples, and museums for the beach, it’s an experience that I am grateful for and hope that you get to have similar experiences.
If you are still a little unsure about what to do or worried about booking tours or trips in Southeast Asia. You can go with a trusted tour provider such as Klook.
They offer full-day tour packages and also individual tours to one place or maybe a half-day trip.
If you want to take the stress out of all your travel, we recommend using TourRadar to book a week or two in Southeast Asia. They take care of hotels, transfers, tours, and even flights.
How to not get sick when traveling
At the time of this post the Coronavirus, also know as the Covid-19 has been spreading throughout the world. Living and even having my husband travel while this is happening has been a top concern.
If you are traveling to this region and want to know more about how to protect yourself from the coronavirus while traveling. We have a thorough post on what you and your kids can do to be safe while traveling.
You might want to consider adding additional travel insurance for any unexpected issue.