Don't miss these 5 stunning Southeast Asian travel destinations
Southeast Asia is a fascinating region. Some places are lost in time, while others have embraced a fast-paced development that makes them a commercial hub in the world without losing what makes them different.
Singapore is a shopping and financial center with plenty of dining options and man-made attractions such as Universal Studios. Bangkok’s charm and worn backpacking trail are well known. Kuala Lumpur is another commercialized, urban destination.
For those with adventure in mind or just want to wander off the usual traveler’s path, some destinations are worth the time and effort it takes to get there.
Yogyakarta or Jogjakarta is a city in Central Java and is home to UNESCO heritage sites such as Borobudur and Prambanan Temples. (READ: 4 Unesco World Heritage Sites Pinoys can visit visa-free)
Borobudur is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple that has more than 2,000 relief panels and over 500 Buddha statues. (READ: Yogyakarta's secret treasures)
The structure rises from the ground coalescing at the center, with distinct spires at the top. The site is still a pilgrimage destination for devotees paying their respects. There is an entrance fee of US$20 for non-Indonesians to enter the premises.
Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple. Built for the Trimurti, Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer), this ancient site has tall and pointed structures. A walk inside the complex takes you back to this time. There is an entrance fee of US$18 for non-Indonesians.
There are several other smaller yet significant temples all over Yogyakarta, but the city is not just about ancient structures. The bustling street of Malioboro has roadside warungs (restaurants) that served local delicacies and shops for batik (printed pieces of cloth, clothes or scarves).
The street is also an artist’s haven; with many musicians playing on the street for whomever is willing to listen, local plays, and tattoo artists.
How to get to Yogyakarta: There are direct flights from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, but you also have two land travel alternatives, by train or bus.
Train travel takes approximately 8 to 10 hours from Jakarta to Yogyakarta; ticket prices vary from approximately IDR150,000 to more than IDR300,000 or P480 to P950 either overnight or day trip. Visit this site for information about train prices and schedules: tiket.kereta-api.co.id/. The bus ride from Jakarta to Yogyakarta takes approximately 12 hours or more one way and costs around P630 to P820.
Most Filipinos travel to the northern and southern cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City when they visit Vietnam, but beyond these two rising cities is Hue, right in the middle. (READ: 9 types of trips you must take in your 20s)
The former capital of Vietnam, Hue is a historical city in the center of the country. The Nguyen dynasty ruled the region for more than a hundred years from the early 1800s until 1945.
Hue is unlike the two cities on the opposite ends of the country. The city is famous for its historical monuments listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites. Walk inside the imperial city and relive the days of Vietnam’s former rulers. The ruined city sustained heavy bombings and damaged during the Vietnam War. However, despite its current state, obvious repairs and renovations are taking place to restore the city. The entrance for the imperial city costs VND105,000 or approximately P220.
History buffs will also enjoy going to the tombs of former emperors Minh Mang and Khai Dinh.
The former’s tomb has a garden, ponds, temples and statues of mandarins. The latter’s tomb is a mix of eastern and western architecture with a vibrant mosaic inside. The fee to enter the tombs costs VND80,000 each or around P170.
How to get to Hue: Airlines such as VietJet Air and Jetstar offer direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue, which take approximately one hour and 20 minutes.
For travelers who have the luxury of time, ride a sleeper bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue for approximately VND570,000 or P1,200 one-way. The land trip could take up to approximately 20 hours; instead of a direct bus, purchase the open bus ticket for around the same price with stops in various cities in between. Haggle for a better price when buying tickets, almost everything is negotiable in Vietnam.
If you have seen the ancient temples of Angkor, Bagan’s thousands of centuries old temples will inspire the same awe in you. (READ: WiFi at a temple, other surprises in Myanmar, the Golden Land)
Bagan’s red-tinged temples scattered over a desert is a remarkable sight. The varying states of disrepair add to the allure of the structures. Some show their age with fading colors and dilapidated exteriors, while others withstood the test of time.
Certain places of worship date as far back as 1100 or 1200 AD; notable temples are Shwezigon Pagoda, Ananda, Dhamma Yangyi and Htilominlo Temple. Shwesandaw Pagoda provides an overlooking view of the surrounding area, red and ancient structures as far as the eye could see.
View the temples during sunrise and sunset; watch them transform from dark red to orange under the first or last rays of the sun.
Explore Bagan on horse cart for around US$25 from sunrise to sunset or rent a bike for much less. There is a zone fee of US$20 to visit the temples and pagodas.
How to get to Bagan: There are no direct flights from Manila to Myanmar; you have to transit to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Bangkok.
Once in Myanmar, book an overnight bus ticket from Yangon to Bagan. The trip takes approximately 9 hours and starts at $15 one way. Alternatively, there are direct flights from Yangon to Bagan.
A trip to Malaysia often includes stops in Kuala Lumpur and the two UNESCO listed towns in Malacca and Penang. For those looking for something different, Ipoh in the state of Perak has pleasant surprises.
A walk around the city will remind you that Malaysia was a former British colony. Buildings inspired by a mixture of British, Malay and Chinese architecture that are decades old line some of the streets.
Ipoh has wall art similar to those found in Penang scattered throughout the city, breathing new life into decaying walls and structures.
Go on a short trip out of the city to explore some of the area’s cave temples. Perak Tong Cave Temple is one of the most famous in Ipoh. A walk inside will reveal many depictions of Buddhism, and Chinese art and design. (READ: 10 places to see in Kuala Lumpur)
The Sam Poh Tong Cave Temple is another noteworthy old structure to visit during your stay in Ipoh. The Chinese Buddhist Temple makes for a peaceful day out because of the gardens and its natural setting in a limestone cave.
Kellie’s Castle is a part of the city’s colonial past and has an eerie feel to it. Funded by William Kellie Smith as a symbol of his love for wife and family, construction of the castle began in 1915 and remained unfinished until the time of his death.
Imagine what the castle could have been by walking into the empty rooms, reading about the plans for each section of the building and exploring it in its unfinished state.
How to get to Ipoh: From Kuala Lumpur you have to options to get to Ipoh, by bus or train. The bus costs MYR25 one way from Pudu Station to the bus station just outside the city proper of Ipoh. If you take the train (I recommend taking it), it will cost you MYR25 one way from KL Sentral to the Old Railway Station in Ipoh.
Chiang Mai retained its rich culture and history despite its rapid modernization. With the bevy of budget, mid-priced and luxury accommodations and restaurants in the city, it is a haven for all types of travelers. (READ: 5 tips for your budget trips)
Walk in the old city to discover the centuries old temples conflating with the towering modern resorts, hotels and other commercial buildings.
Wat Chedi Luang is the most prominent temple with its damaged yet charming exterior. Locals offering to the gods and tourists looking to experience Thai culture often visit this place of worship. (READ: Exploring Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Go on a day trip further north to Chiang Rai to visit the famous White Temple, a combination of traditional Thai and modern design fused into one beautiful structure. The artist portrayed the struggle to enlightenment as you move outside and into the temple proper.
Visit the hill tribes to learn more about the mix of cultures in the region.
The city is also near natural reserves, perfect for outdoorsy travelers. Go on a tour or drive on your own to Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in the country. Go hiking to meet some of the hill tribes or go on an elephant camp to play and take care of the gentle giants.
How to get to Chiang Mai: There are direct flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai via Air Aisa or Thai Airways and other local airlines. For those who want to travel by land, you can take the train from Hua Lamphong station for approximately 12 hours one-way, and costs THB 771 for a 2nd class bunk ticket.
These cities give you a glimpse of their country’s culture and history outside the usual places that most Filipinos visit during their trip to other countries in the region.
Southeast Asia has many other cities that are worth a visit. Explore and discover all of them to live through that interesting story you’ll tell time and again, or make a memory to hold close for life. – Rappler.com
Joshua Berida is a full time writer, part-time wanderer with insatiable wanderlust. He plans his next trip during a current one. He plans on exploring the Philippines and beyond. Read about his adventures on thewanderingjuan.net