Southeast Asia is the historical home of vast kingdoms and empires, of diverse cultures and island nations, and today is one of the fastest developing regions on the planet. The intertwining legacies of Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, of colonization and war, of independence and peace, all make this sprawling subcontinent somewhere truly inspiring and educational to travel.
But where to begin the journey? There are roughly a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, and within each endless coastlines, countryside, villages, and cities to explore. The dynamism of the cultures and peoples that breathe life into these environments are such that you will have both an uplifting and grounding adventure wherever you decide to go.
Narrowing down your options for travel in Southeast Asia will be the most difficult part. There are all sorts of adventure travel programs in Southeast Asia that will support your exploration of just one country, or of several countries across the region. And then, of course, there’s the option to go it alone and plan your own itinerary.
To cover the spread, here’s the TLDR on all things travel in Southeast Asia. Keep these Southeast Asia travel tips in mind as you plan your adventure!
Best Places to Travel in Southeast Asia
Whether you follow this list in order, hop around from country to country as fits your fancy, or only choose to visit one, you can be sure that your time traveling in Southeast Asia will be unforgettable. You’ll learn so much about each individual culture and yourself in the process.
Why not begin your adventure by flying into Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city in Malaysia? Kuala Lumpur is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is a symbol for the rising global prominence of the entire region of Southeast Asia (the Petronas Twin Towers especially symbolize the country’s bright future). From KL, you can move on to travel throughout the country, touring the national parks, beaches, ancient mosques, and temples, which constitute the backdrop of this majestic nation and living in a foodie’s paradise.
Check out adventure travel programs in Malaysia offered by Travellers Worldwide for more detailed ideas of the kind of experience you can have traveling in Southeast Asia.
Bordering Malaysia to the north is Thailand, the undisputed most popular places to travel in Southeast Asia. A country of 66 million people, Thailand is infamous among world travelers for its rich Buddhist heritage, beautiful beaches and islands, and vibrant nightlife. A day spent wandering through bustling downtown Bangkok followed by a full-moon beach party at night will make for memories you will not soon forget.
The Idex Thailand Volunteer and Travel Program is a great way to explore the country, while also lending your time toward helping the communities you’re a guest in.
Laos is a fairly small country of only 7 million people, but is gaining a giant reputation as one of the best places to travel in Southeast Asia. Laotians are widely praised for their culture and welcoming warmth to visitors from across the world. For a country that has suffered so much war and violence in recent decades, it is truly an inspiring and humbling place to visit. Some of the top destinations to visit in Laos include the humming capital of Vientiane, rustic town of Luang Prabang, and mystical landscapes of Vang Vieng.
If you are ready to experience Laos before the crowds, check out Go Eco's Laos Educational Outreach program to start your travel in Southeast Asia.
Few countries were victim to greater suffering during the 20th century than Vietnam, yet today this sprawling country on the Indochina peninsula has revitalized itself into an emerging power with one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. Vietnam is one of the more grounding places to travel in Southeast Asia due to the dark legacy of the Vietnam war, and also one of the most inspiring due to the strength and resilience of its people.
Vina Volunteer Service provides some of the best ways to experience Vietnam through various types of adventure travel in Southeast Asia.
Encompassing an archipelago of over 7,000 islands off the coast of the Asian continental mainland, the Philippines is a diverse country with a rich history, friendly people, and breathtaking scenery which provides for countless adventure travel opportunities. Most Filipinos speak English fluently as a second language because of its historically close relationship with the United States, making it extremely easy to get around and meet locals wherever you go.
Radical Tourists’ programs enable travelers to devote their time to a worthwhile cause while also having some fun traveling in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia is another archipelago which will nicely round off your adventure travel in Southeast Asia. Encompassing more than 17,000 islands which are home to some 260 million people, Indonesia is the fourth-largest country in the world. A biodiversity hotspot, adventure travelers in Southeast Asia will find sanctuary for outdoor activities like scuba diving, surfing, and trekking in Indonesia, while culture enthusiasts will find no shortage of ancient monuments and historical attractions which will further enrich the trip.
Gapforce offers some top notch adventure travel programs that will immerse you fully in your new surroundings.
Best Time to Travel to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia for the most part enjoys a tropical climate that is hot and humid year-round. The best time to travel to Southeast Asia is generally during the winter time, between November and February, when temperatures are cool and dry. Different countries fall into different climate zones across the region, so be sure to take this into account while planning your adventure abroad.
Southeast Asia is an immensely diverse region with varying religious, historical, ethnic, economic, and political influences coming together a melting pot of great intricacy. As a visitor to the region, the adventure traveler in Southeast Asia should be keen to learn from their hosts and surroundings at every turn, being both open to experience and sensitive to the cultural nuances of their environment. Entering Southeast Asia open to absorbing as much as possible is the best way to go!
Multi-Country Travel Programs We Love
Rustic Pathways is one of the most consistently best-reviewed adventure travel programs out there, and offers a wide array of different trips traversing Southeast Asia ranging from elephant conservation to island hopping.
As Southeast Asia's most flexible network for adventurous travelers, Stray Asia provides a unique hop-on, hop-off adventure travel program that enables you to pause in any one destination to volunteer, work, or relax, then continue on at your own leisure over a one-year period.
Pacific Discovery provides gap year program in Southeast Asia that will allow you to immerse yourself deeply in the region over a more significant amount of time. You’ll learn why gap year travelers love Southeast Asia so much they find it hard to return home.
With Travel for Teens you can experience the best of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia in a compact 17 day adventure. Limited time is no excuse not to travel in Southeast Asia; here’s your solution!
Experience Frontier’s Southeast Asia Ethical Adventure through the highlights of the region and take advantage of a pre-planned itinerary with a trip leader to help you make the most of your time.
For more information about adventure travel in Southeast Asia, don’t hesitate to read reviews, reach out to program providers and alumni, and compare programs side by side using MyGoAbroad.
A dynamic region of over 600 million people, your time adventure traveling in Southeast Asia will enlighten you to an entirely new side of the world that will be sure to change your outlook on life upon return.