Last Updated on 4 November 2021
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Wondering what to add to your Southeast Asia bucket list?
There are endless incredible things to do in Southeast Asia, which can be a little overwhelming when deciding where to begin! Southeast Asia is a magnet for first-time and well-seasoned travellers alike, which is no surprise given its abundance of tropical jungles, postcard-perfect long sandy beaches, natural beauty, diverse wildlife, rich culture, scrumptious food, extravagant temples, chaotic cities, and countless once-in-a-lifetime opportunities on offer! So to help you decide where to start (because it’s not easy), here are 19 of the very best experiences which MUST be on your Southeast Asia bucket list.
1. Cruise Halong Bay, Vietnam
An overnight cruise on Halong Bay should be the no. 1 thing to do on any bucket list for Southeast Asia! Halong Bay offers uniquely dramatic scenery of towering limestone karsts and rock formations, which are scattered with caves, covered in greenery and home to a diverse range of wildlife. An overnight cruise is the best way to enjoy the enchanting landscape and tranquil atmosphere of the bay. A 2-night cruise is a must-do for your Vietnam itinerary, because it will give you the opportunity to slow down and truly enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.
Tip: If you decide to cruise Halong Bay (which you should), then be sure to check out this post on how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise featuring 5 super useful tips to help you avoid Halong Bay cruise overwhelm.
2. Wander Tegalalang Rice Terraces, Bali
Tegalalang is one of the most beautiful rice terraces in Bali, of which the tranquil island is world-renowned for! Steeply tiered up the side of the valley and curving in and out, the green terraces are picture-perfect and make for one of the easiest and best day trips from Ubud. You could easily spend hours wandering up, down, round and through the terraces, enjoying the winding views from various vantage points as they unfold along your way.
Tip: Don’t wear flip flops (unless you aren’t accident prone, like me) and watch out for snakes (seriously) – these are two of my most unforgettable travel mishaps.
3. Watch the light and sound show at Supertree Grove, Singapore
Spending an evening laying underneath the trees on Supertree Grove whilst watching in awe as the lights twinkle and dance to the sound of the music is one of the best things to do in Singapore. It creates the most magical atmosphere and is an experience which will send shivers down your spine (in a good way, of course). Whilst you’re in Singapore, the spectacular Spectra light and water show in Marina Bay is another unmissable bucket list experience.
Tip: Singapore is the perfect city to stop in on a 3 week trip to Southeast Asia, along with Malaysia and Bali. You can usually pick up cheap flights around Southeast Asia, meaning you can experience more than one of the things to do on this Southeast Asia bucket list in just one trip!
4. Walk Lugard Road, Hong Kong
Victoria Peak is one of Hong Kong’s icons and offers some breathtaking city views across Hong Kong Island, the peninsula and beyond. Instead of paying to go up onto the deck of Sky Terrace 428 at Victoria Peak, why not walk around the whole of Lugard Road (for free) for the best views in Hong Kong?
A short walk from Victoria Peak, Lugard Road is a pedestrian path that offers panoramic views across Hong Kong and down through Victoria Harbour. These gradually open out as you meander along the pathway. There are various observation decks and benches where you can seat yourself for a few minutes to stare in awe at the picturesque views across Hong Kong’s dense skyline.
Tip: Take some mosquito repellent as there are a lot of trees and undergrowth around Lugard Road. This attracts mosquitoes, and Dengue Fever is prevalent in Hong Kong – it’s important to take preventative measures to make sure you don’t get sick.
5. Swim in a rooftop pool in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Southeast Asia is blessed with some of the most beautiful and affordable hotels, and Kuala Lumpur is no exception to this rule! The best way to see the Petronas Towers in all of their splendour and the skyline of Kuala Lumpur has to be from the cool waters of a chic rooftop pool with a cocktail in hand, especially at night as the city starts to shimmer and shine in the dusky and humid sky! This truly is a Southeast Asia bucket list experience which will stay in your heart forever.
6. Bathe an elephant in Thailand
There are numerous places that offer the experience to bathe, feed and wander with elephants across Southeast Asia, and it really is one of the most breathtaking encounters you may ever have. However, it is morally important to pick an ethical elephant experience to ensure these gentle giants are being treated with the love, care, and respect that they deserve.
Please be a responsible traveller and don’t ride elephants. They are often mistreated in order to tame them by using bull hooks, can be subjected to horrendous conditions, and the riding of elephants by tourists exacerbates the illegal trade of these animals around Southeast Asia. Instead, why not seek out an alternative where you can experience and learn about these majestic creatures in surroundings where they are protected, and where you can contribute to sustainable and ethical tourism (like at Elephant Nature Park)?
Tip: Make sure you do your research prior to visiting Southeast Asia to ensure you visit a sanctuary where the elephants are treated correctly, and are free from abuse. Many tour agencies in Southeast Asia will offer trips to so called elephant sanctuaries. However, the credentials of these can be unknown so be cautious.
7. Watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat and wander Ta Prohm, Cambodia
When you think of Cambodia, Angkor Wat may be the place that first springs to mind, and for good reason! Located just outside of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is a vast moated temple complex, initially built as a Hindu temple but later becoming one dedicated to Buddhism. If you visit Angkor Wat, take the opportunity to rise early to witness the sun rise behind the temple to the sound of croaking frogs and toads.
After you’ve spent some time at Angkor Wat (and may have been blessed by a Buddhist monk), be sure to head across to Ta Prohm by tuk-tuk. Ta Prohm is a mysterious temple which has been reclaimed by ancient trees and is snaked in enormous roots, causing it to crumble. Wandering through Ta Prohm feels like you’ve stepped into a film set for Jumanji or Tomb Raider, and is an unmissable experience for your Southeast Asia bucket list.
Tip: You will need an Angkor Pass to visit Angkor Wat and surrounding temples. If you go via tuk–tuk they should take you to the ticket booths beforehand. You can buy this for various amounts of days according to your needs. Be sure to take a packed breakfast with you to watch the sunrise as well.
8. Visit train Street in Hanoi, Vietnam
Train Street in Hanoi is a uniquely special place where life is lived around the railway tracks, making it one of the best things to do in Hanoi and top places to visit in Vietnam. Wander down the railway tracks and choose from the abundance of rail-side cafes to perch your bum and enjoy a nice cold Bia Hà Noi whilst watching Vietnamese railway life pass you by.
Await the sound of the locals shouting trains coming and watch them frantically clear up any seating that sits on the tracks. The train will loudly hoot its horn which means its time for you to hold your body parallel to the buildings facade, whilst the train passes through at speed and you feel the humid waft of air breeze across your body.
Tip: Check local sources before you visit to ascertain whether train street is open. In 2019, train street was closed due to safety concerns, but I have read rumour that it is beginning to reopen to tourists again (just do your own research to be sure).
9. Langkawi SkyCab and SkyBridge, Malaysia
Not for the faint hearted or for those who have a fear of heights (like me, but I was feeling unusually brave that day), Langkawi SkyCab is the steepest cable car in the world and one of the best things to do in Langkawi. It leads up to the peak of Mount Machinchang where you will find the SkyBridge. The SkyBridge is a curvaceous suspension bridge (one of the longest in the world) which hangs high above the dense green jungle below, and offers the most spectacular panoramic views across the mountains, the ocean and to islands afar.
10. Take an overnight train
Overnight trains are a common and affordable method of transport in Southeast Asia, and taking one should definitely be on your Southeast Asia bucket list! No, you probably won’t get much sleep (if any) because the trains are rickety and loud, and yes, it will be a L O N G journey. But, it is an epic experience that you should not miss (plus, it will save you paying for a hotel room for that night). Why not take an overnight train in Thailand from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai, or down through Vietnam?
11. Do a day trip to Tam Coc in Vietnam
The scenery in Tam Coc is breathtakingly stunning, and makes for an easy day trip from Hanoi. The area is scattered with limestone karsts that erupt up through luscious green paddy fields, which are separated by a meandering river – it is like Ha Long Bay, but on dry land! Hike up the steps (so, so many steps) to Mua Cave Viewpoint for spectacular birds eye views across the area. Then, head off for a relaxing boat ride down the Ngo Dong River. Here you will weave through the lush paddy fields and can watch in awe as you pass by the dramatic rock formations that tower high above you.
12. Swim beneath a waterfall
Southeast Asia has an abundance of stunning waterfalls to take a dip in. Tibumana Waterfall, a secluded waterfall located in a jungle paradise in Bali, should definitely make your Southeast Asia bucket list if swimming under a waterfall tickles your fancy, and makes for a perfect day trip from Ubud.
Located in Thailand, Erawan Falls is a multi-tiered emerald-green waterfall which cascades down the side of the mountainous jungle. Here, there are various pools to swim in (with fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet roaming the waters). It is a great option for a day trip from Bangkok for some respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Tip: It is quite a hike up through the various levels of Erawan Falls in Thailand, so wear decent footwear. Also, watch out for the monkeys that live there as they like to borrow bags (and not give them back)!
13. Go Ziplining
Southeast Asia is a paradise for adrenaline junkies, and what better way to get that buzz than zooming across the top of a jungle canopy whilst strapped to a Zipline? Fun, even if you don’t like heights (like me) – just look straight ahead, not down! Chiang Mai in Thailand is one of the best places to go Ziplining, but just make sure you go to an establishment that puts safety first as there are various operators in the area!
14. Sail on a Junk Boat in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Traditionally used by Chinese traders throughout Southeast Asia, Junk Boats now sail around Victoria Harbour offering recreational cruises. It is a unique way to see the skyline of Hong Kong Island and the peninsula, and is even more magical as day turns to eve and Hong Kong starts to shimmer and sparkle in the night sky.
15. Backpack Thailand
Whether you’ve got a backpack or a suitcase, you should definitely embrace the concept of backpacking and travel around Thailand for at least 3 weeks at some point in your travelling career. After all, it’s one of the easiest countries to visit for first time travellers in Southeast Asia! Thailand has diverse landscapes, from mountainous jungles to dreamy beaches to chaotic cities, and offers an abundance of things to see and do, from extravagant temples to island hopping to adventurous activities! It’s also home to some truly tasty cuisine – be sure to try Massaman Curry and Mango Sticky Rice.
16. Visit Tian Tan Buddha, Hong Kong
Tian Tan Buddha is one of the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddhas in the world (Southeast Asia bucket list material, right?). Perched high upon the hill in all its glory with the Po Lin Monastery sitting at its base, Tian Tan Buddha faces north towards mainland China and offers panoramic views across the lush jungles and distant islands that surround. If you’re lucky you will see some of the most beautiful butterflies which are as big as small birds, gliding through the forests from the Buddha’s base.
Tip: Rise and shine early and get the bus (cheaper than the Cable Car) up to the Big Buddha, to be there before the gates open! It is lovely and quiet in the morning, because the rush of guided tours and Cable Car travellers have not yet got there! Check out this Big Buddha visitors guide and how to get there for more info!
17. Go to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand
Although now primarily a tourist destination, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is an easy day trip from Bangkok and is the ideal place to get an insight into times gone by. As you bob through the market, you will pass by boats stacked precariously high with an array of tropical and brightly coloured fruit, local produce, and even traditional conical hats! It is certainly a destination that is worthy of being on any bucket list for Thailand and is a novel experience unique to Southeast Asia!
18.Visit the floating villages of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
Kompong Phluk is a community of quirky floating villages consisting of settlements of wonky and colourful stilted huts that emerge high above the waterways. One of the best things to do in Siem Reap and an easy day trip from the city, Kompong Phluk is a uniquely special place to experience an alternative way of Cambodian life.
Abundant with fishing families and mangroves trees, the area is very close to Tonlé Sap Lake which is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Tonlé Sap Lake is the perfect place to watch the sunset before heading back to dry land, whilst enjoying a cold can of Angkor purchased from one of the vendors who row the lake in pursuit of selling their trinkets and refreshments.
19. Do a day trip to Ao Phang Nga National Park, Thailand
If you visit Krabi or Phuket on your trip to Thailand, you will be perfectly placed to do a day trip to Ao Phang Nga National Park. Ao Phang Nga National Park boasts dramatic limestone karst scenery. If you are a James Bond fan (unlike me), you will know that it featured as the setting for The Man with the Golden Gun. Hence, one of the destinations you may visit on your day cruising the park is James Bond Island (a strong contender for many travellers Southeast Asia bucket lists).
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