Looking to satisfy your wanderlust? The abundant natural wonders of Southeast Asia await.
If you’re getting itchy feet, you’re in luck — travel in Asia is booming this season. For those craving nature, there are incredible new hotels you can stay at. But if you’re looking for something closer to the earth, Southeast Asia offers year-long temperate climates and awe-inspiring natural wonders. There are endless experiences the region has to offer. Here are some of the best natural sights in SEA you can’t miss!
Beautiful natural wonders in Southeast Asia
1. Chocolate Hills, Philippines
If you’re looking for new sights, there’s nothing more novel than this. Legend has it that the landmark of more than 1,000 symmetrical mounds was formed from the tears of a heartbroken giant. It dots the earth beyond what the eye can see, and you truly get a sense of its magical charms. It’s one of the best things to do in Bohol!
The area surrounding it is one of the most ecologically and culturally rich regions in the Philippines. You can visit spots like the Bilar Man-Made forest, Hinagdanan Cave, and the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary. Bohol is also home to remarkable cultural heritage sites like Baclayon Church — the oldest church in all of Asia. There’s also the Blood Compact Shrine, which represents a pivotal time in the country’s history. But if you just want to lay back and relax, don’t miss the chance to float down a river with live music and local cuisine at the Loboc River Floating Restaurant.
2. Inle Lake, Myanmar
Lush and pristine, Inle Lake in Myanmar’s western Shan State is situated 800 metres above sea level. It features a diverse and complex ecosystem. This natural wonder is nestled in the heart of calming blue mountains and offers a cooler reprieve from the temperate heat of Southeast Asia.
Inle Lake is home to the Intha people, whose customs and practices were formed in coexistence with the nature around them. They’ve mastered ecologically sustainable farming and fishing methods, as well as mastery in handicrafts like silk weaving and silversmithing. Visiting this place allows you the singular experience of seeing floating gardens, floating markets and houses on stilts.
The destination is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in Burmese nature-driven culture — there’s no better way to do this than through boat tours. Most start at Nyaung Shwe and offer day trips with varying activities. You can also support local craftsmen like lotus weavers and the long-necked women, or visit pagodas like Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.
Alternatively, visit the dynamic rotating Five Day Market — as its name suggests, it uproots to a different lakeside village every five days. If you’re looking for a new skill to take home, there are many classes offered around the area that teach Shan cooking. That way, you’ll never really leave your Inle Lake memories behind!
3. Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia
Accessible from both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, the wild and mysterious Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia suit adventurous tastes. Largely unspoiled by human development, the area offers breathtaking insight into just how wild and powerful nature can be.
The sprawling mountain range of 4.5 million hectares houses one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. It’s home to almost all of Cambodia’s known animal species — as well as some of the most endangered animals already extinct in other parts of the world. It’s largely underexplored and under-researched but speculated to contain thousands of undocumented species.
Soak in the wonders by trekking up popular hiking trails like the Ta Kyiv mountain. Or, take a sunset cruise at the Tatai River. You can also check out ecotourism activities offered in Chi Phat, where the community partners with the Wildlife Alliance to preserve the environment. Villagers promote the conservation of their environmental heritage to guide you through trekking, mountain biking, riverboat touring or camping. To rest your head, book a stay at accommodations like Shinta Mani Wild and Four Rivers Floating Lodge, which offer world-class experiences.
4. Mekong River, Laos
The Mekong River is a significant natural resource and serves as Southeast Asia’s most important river. It’s played a role in the rise and fall of empires throughout history. Starting from the Tibetan Plateau and ending up in the South China Sea, it weaves across Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Also called the “mother of waters,” the river runs almost 5,000 kilometres and sustains the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. It’s the world’s largest inland fishery and is credited for 25% of the world’s freshwater catch.
Drink in the picturesque sights of the Mekong River with a serene cruise. There are numerous ones in the Laos area, such as Shompoo or Bounmi Cruise. Or visit Si Phan Don, a river archipelago dubbed as “4000 islands”. If you wish to experience local culture, you can witness rituals like the Tak Bat almsgiving, or the traditional Baci ceremony used to commemorate events.
5. Phong Nha-Ke Bang, Vietnam
Dubbed the “cave kingdom”, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam is home to over 350 caves — including the third largest cave in the world, Hang En. It’s situated within the Annamite Mountain Range in Vietnam’s Quang Binh province and protects 104 kilometres of ancient caves and underground rivers.
The area also bears historical weight, having protected the Vietnamese resistance against French colonisers in the late 19th century, after King Ham Nghi built a base there. During the Vietnam War, it remained steadfast as an impregnable base for the North Vietnamese Army. With its magnificent formations and protective history, this sprawling geological wonder draws you in with its awe-inspiring sights.
Up for a little adventure? Besides ecological tours like the Botanical Garden, the Phong Nha Cave and Dark Cave, you can also go for more unique experiences like camping underground in Hang En or relaxing by the river at the Nuoc Mooc Eco-trail. Tip: when the hunger pangs hit, fuel up in the town of Son Trach at establishments like Bamboo Cafe and Nguyen Shack Art Cafe & Restaurant.
Southeast Asia has an abundance of natural wonders that are perfect for anyone seeking out the best sights the world has to offer. With endless possibilities for adventure, all that’s left is for you to take the first step!