From untouched beaches to hill tribes, spectacular limestone karsts and even vineyards, look no further than these underrated places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Pining to go somewhere that’s still special, exhausted your travel bucket list or just had enough of tourists ruining your vacay? No matter the reason, it’s high time you get out of your bubble and explore lesser-known spots in Bali, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. We’re packing our bags and checking off this list of underrated places to visit in Southeast Asia right now.
Lesser-known places to visit in Southeast Asia
1. Bandung, Indonesia
Many will flock to Yogyakarta when in Java but we reckon it’s worth giving Bandung a visit. The capital of Indonesia’s West Java province has dreamy landscapes peppered with volcanoes, tea plantations and colonial and Art Decor architecture. You’ll be wowed by Tangkuban Perahu, an active volcano located outside Bandung. Explore the crater and take plenty of pictures along the trails but remember to hold your breath when you come across a sulfur vent. There’s no need for filters at Kawah Putih, a volcanic crater lake filled with emerald-hued waters.
For more scenic views, we suggest taking an easy hike up Stone Garden Citatah’s rocky hilltop. If you’re keen on a different kind of ‘workout’, get your retail therapy fix at factory outlets filled with affordable designer items and factory rejects.
How to get there: There are over three airlines (including AirAsia) that offer flights to Bandung, with layovers.
2. Battambang, Cambodia
If you’re looking for a change of pace from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, turn to Battambang. The third largest city in Cambodia is rife with a vibrant arts scene, cultural heritage, traditional Khmer and French colonial architecture, and other scenic beauties. Begin your journey at the famous Bamboo Train. Once used to transport locals and items, the literal bamboo platform that travels on a single track is popular with tourists.
If you’re into dark tourism (and if you can stomach it), the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau will intrigue you. Yup, it’s as gruesome as it sounds. The haunting caves were used as the Khmer Rouge’s execution sites where thousands of victims were brutally killed and thrown into the deep caverns. Today, there’s a glass memorial in the cave next to the recovered skulls and bones. Too much for you? Get your creative juices flowing at art galleries or plan your travels around one of the arts festivals.
How to get there: Book a flight to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Next, travel by bus, private car or taxi to Battambang. The journey from Phnom Penh takes about 5 to 6 hours and 3 to 4 hours from Siem Reap.
3. Hpa-An, Myanmar
Touted as Myanmar’s most underrated town in the southeast, Hpa-An is layered with hidden gems for the adventurous traveller. Thanks to its strategic location surrounding majestic caves and limestone mountains, there are plenty of hiking trails waiting to be explored. Put your stamina to the test by hiking up Mount Zwekabin and be rewarded with dreamy views. Or take it indoors by exploring intricate rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites and even a hidden lake in the Sadan Cave. Other unmissable attractions include Kyauk Ka Latt Pagoda, which looks like it’s floating atop a unique livestock rock formation.
How to get there: Book a flight to Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar. From Yangon, take a domestic flight to Mawlamyine, the closest major city to Hpa-An. Select from a bus, taxi, private car or boat ride to Hpa-An.
4. Luang Prabang, Laos
Located in northern Laos, Luang Prabang is the perfect combination of old-world charm meets a culture-steeped experience. It’s one of our places to visit in Southeast Asia. Think along the lines of French colonial culture, magical river tours and waterfalls for the best of both worlds. Explore the various tiers of the azure Kuang Si Waterfalls, visit the Laos Buffalo Dairy for buffalo milk cheese and ice cream galore, give alms to monks, and take a therapeutic trek with rescued elephants at the MandaLao Elephant Conservation.
How to get there: There are over four airlines (including Scoot) that offer flights to Luang Prabang with layovers.
5. Coron, Palawan, Phillippines
Boracay seems to be the first place that comes to mind for the perfect island getaway in the Philippines. But now, it’s time you get schooled on some seriously good alternatives. It’s no tedious task, with literally thousands of islands in the Philippines waiting to be explored.
Our pick: Coron, which is in the northern part of Palawan Islands. It’s one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas of the world. Known for its postcard-pretty white sand beaches (there are over 10!), limestone cliffs, swimming holes and majestic diving spots with remnants of WWII shipwrecks, there’s plenty to see and do. Add Malcapuya Island, Kayangan Lake, Mount Tapyas and Maquinit Hot Spring to your itinerary too.
How to get there: There are over six airlines (including Singapore Airlines and Scoot) that offer flights to Manila. Take a domestic flight from Manila to Francisco B. Reyes Airport (formerly known as Busuanga Airport) in Coron.
6. Hua Hin, Thailand
Move aside, Phuket and Krabi. There’s a new beach spot in town and it’s quickly attracting travellers looking for an off-the-radar spot in Thailand. Just under three hours from Bangkok, Hua Hin is a seaside resort town that’s fit for royalty (summer residences were built for Thai royals in the 1920s) and a respite from the shopping capital. We’re not kidding when we tell you there’s lots to do in this fishing port. Golf clubs, caves, waterfalls, night markets, water parks, themed restaurants and nearby national parks – this place has it all, but it isn’t overrun by tourists.
After soaking up the sun on the pristine white sand beaches, drive downtown to Hua Hin Hills Vineyard for Monsoon Valley wines, transport to mini Santorini at the Santorini Amusement Park, or spot a couple of Bryde’s whales at the Bang-Tabun fisherman village in Phetchaburi. It’s best to visit from November to February when the weather is just right.
How to get there: There are over 28 daily flights to Bangkok. Hua Hin can be reached by train, bus, private car or taxi.
7. Chiang Rai, Thailand
If a cultural sojourn is what you’re seeking, Chiang Rai it is. Ensconced in northern Thailand, Chiang Rai (not to be confused with its sister province, Chiang Mai) is the laidback rural counterpart brimming with countless majestic temples, golden pagodas, elephant treks and towering waterfalls. It’s also home to the Golden Triangle – where the Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar borders meet at the junction of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers.
Don’t leave without visiting the grandiose Wat Rong Khun white temple, Pha Soet hot springs (you can boil quail eggs to gauge how hot it gets), and our personal favourite, the hill tribes of Chiang Rai. We spent some time with the beautiful women from the Padaung Long Neck tribe, and trust us, it was an unforgettable experience.
How to get there: Over four airlines (including Scoot and Thai Airways) offers direct flights to Chiang Rai.
8. Nusa Lembongan, Bali
Exhausted your list of things to do in Bali? Think again. Seminyak sits pale in comparison to Nusa Lembongan, the most popular of the three islands in the Nusa Penida district. A 30-minute boat ride from Sanur will get you to this soul-soothing paradise.
Book a tour ahead or hop on a motorbike or truck and explore away. Pro tip: skip the bigger tourist groups and book a private tour. A day trip covers a three-spot snorkelling session, a short boat ride through a mangrove forest, and stopovers at Devil’s Tears and Dream Beach. For daredevils, the cliff jumps at Dream Beach are highly encouraged. Oh, and don’t forget to sip on some fresh fruit juice at the restaurant overlooking the azure waters. Trust us, we had to surgically remove ourselves from this dreamy spot.
How to get there: Most airlines offer direct flights to Bali. Arrive at Sanur Beach and take a fast boat to Nusa Lembongan.
9. Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam
Between Bai Tu Long and Halong, Bai Tu Long may be the lesser-known bay out of the two but will always be bae in our hearts. Well, it’s tough to go wrong when there are so many places to see in this Northeast part of Vietnam. Over a thousand small islands, untouched beaches and limestone karsts are waiting to be explored in this geographical wonderland. The coral reefs and underwater caves at Cong Do, tranquil Tra Gioi, Vung Vieng fishing village and the unique rock formation at Da Xep Park are just some cultural highlights not to miss.
How to get there: Four airlines (including Singapore Airlines and Vietnam Airlines) offer direct flights to Ha Long. Take a cruise from the port city to Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay.
Strap on your explorer shoes and visit these underrated travel destinations and places to visit in Southeast Asia.