Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Hanoi and Bangkok. If you have already checked these cities off your travel list, chances are that you want to experience Southeast Asia in a different manner. You are looking for something out of the box and an experience that none of your friends has had before. Well, if you want to have a unique travel experience on your next holiday trip, then you need to start discovering some of the off-the-radar destinations. Here are five beautiful Southeast Asia destinations that are amongst the hidden gems of Southeast Asia that have been underexplored.
1. Bagan, Myanmar
You know a destination is worth visiting when even the locals will want to visit. Bagan fits perfectly into that category. For Bagan, every Myanmar local believes that it is a must to have been to Bagan if you want to be considered a true Myanmar. Even Marco Polo once exclaimed that Bagan is one of the finest sights in the world when first saw it.
If you are an archaeological enthusiast, Bagan is your must-go destination. Even if you aren’t an archaeological enthusiast, Bagan should intrigue you as the most significant archaeological site with temples and pagodas. Bagan is home to 2,200 temples and pagodas with Lowka Oushang, North Guny, Hwezigon Pagoda, Bupayathein and Ananda as some of the top temples and pagodas to visit.
The most beautiful sights to catch in Bagan are the sunrise and sunset moments. Each sunrise and sunset moment come with its own charm that will bound to make it seem like you are entering into another realm. One of the best ways to catch the sunrise and sunset moments in Bagan is either at a temple or through a hot air balloon flight. But truth be told, there is no better way to see the towering monuments, ancient architecture and ruins than from inside a hot air balloon. It gives you a completely new angle of appreciating the beauty of Bagan’s ancient architecture.
2. Luang Prabang, Laos
The ancient city of Luang Prabang might not ring a bell to many Singaporeans, especially when it is located in the country of Laos. However, don’t ever discount this ancient city because it will surprise even your wildest imagination.
Geographically, the city lies far away from the capital of Vientiane and sits in between the two main rivers in the country, Mekong River and Nam Khan River. In the past, Luang Prabang was the royal capital of the country.
Today, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its charm and amazing state of preservation. It offers visitors both a rich architectural and artistic heritage experience that reflects the fusion of Lao traditional urban architecture with that of the colonial era. Till today, the town maintains a deep French colonial influence blended with the well-preserved religious and cultural heritage of the indigenous population.
If you are visiting Luang Prabang, make sure you catch two things: The daily alms ceremony and the Kuang Si waterfalls.
Daily alms ceremony, aka Tak Bat
In Luang Prabang, locals will wake up before dawn to prepare for the daily alms ceremony, also known as Tak Bat. Monks from temples in Luang Prabang will walk in silence to collect alms from the people. It is a practice that Buddhists have where monks will grant devotees good karma and merit for their donation.
Kuang Si waterfall
Visiting the Kuang Si waterfall will be one of the best travel itinerary decisions that anyone can make. You might be wondering, what can be so special about a waterfall? But until the moment you witness the Kuang Si waterfall, you will not be able to comprehend how mind-blowingly beautiful it is. Pictures do not do justice to these amazing waterfalls. When you are there, do also try some delicious BBQ with some cold Laos beer while enjoying the beauty of nature.
3. Mui Ne, Vietnam
Ho Chih Minh city is a common destination for those who have been to Vietnam. But just five hours away from Ho Chih Minh city lies a hidden destination that surprisingly fell out of the radar for most travellers: Mui Ne. With only 300,000 residents, Mui Ne is a small percentage of the size of Ho Chih Minh city. However, that doesn’t mean that Mui Ne is any much less attractive than Ho Chih Minh city as a travel destination.
In the city of Mui Ne, you can find unique geographical landscapes that defies everything you thought you knew about Vietnam. White Sand Dunes, Red Sand Dunes, and Fairy Streams makes Mui Ne the place to go for a taste of the desert and for landscape photography.
On the White Sand Dunes, you can race along the pristine ivory sand on ATVs on dunes that stretch up to 30m in height. If you are a thrill seeker, don’t let this slip out of your itinerary.
In contrast to the White Sand Dunes, the Red Sand Dunes is more of a romantic spot for you to spend time with your loved one. There is still some form of thrill-seeking that you can find here by renting a sled and cruising down the tame hills.
4. Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Situated within Sumatra is a lesser-known travel destination known as Lake Toba. Since Indonesian President Jokowi started to hasten the development of Lake Toba into one of the ‘Next Bali’ destination, interest in Lake Toba has been increasing exponentially.
If you love to relax and enjoy your holiday amongst the tranquillity, then Lake Toba is the place. Not only is it peaceful and quiet, but its picturesque mountains set against the cool clear lake will also help you let your worldly worries melt away.
Lake Toba is home to the largest volcanic lake in the world. It was formed around 75,000 years ago in a volcanic explosion that led to the extinction of 60% of the human race. The aftermath led to a lovely expanse of water surrounded by beautiful hills with an abundance of flora and fauna. You will also find yourself situated amongst towering mountains and drifting clouds!
5. Panay, Philippines
It is no secret that the Philippines is a country with beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, most people end up exploring only Boracay and letting their minds stay with the beautiful island of Boracay. The truth is that there is another part of the Philippines that is located very near Boracay which is also worth exploring. It is the beautiful province of Antique, Panay in the Philippines.
One of the most famous highlights of Panay is the Antique Rice Terraces which spans across 600 hectares. To witness the beauty of it, you need to make a gruelling and physically demanding 5-hour trek to reach the top. But it comes with a lovely reward at the end – a stunning view of the two majestic Iglanit and Igtamoni Falls. The experience doesn’t just stop there. If you can, try spending a night at the local village to experience how the people live their lives on the Antique Rice Terraces. You can even help them to plant rice the next morning.
If you are one who goes for experience, then make sure you try the Kawa Hot Bath. It is a unique spa experience where you relax in a hot bath in a giant wok. Sounds like a boiling frog, but it is much cooler and less dangerous when you get to experience it in person. The Kawa Hot Bath is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable activities worth checking out in Antique.