Pride of South East Asia


Southeast Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia.[citation needed] The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic and volcanic activity. Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions: Mainland Southeast Asia, also known as Indochina, comprises Cambodia, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia, and Maritime Southeast Asia, comprises Brunei, East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, Philippines, Christmas Island, and Singapore.

Austronesian peoples predominate in this region. The major religions are Islam and Buddhism, followed by Christianity. However, a wide variety of religions are found throughout the region, including many Hindu and animist-influenced practices.


Is essentially a fairly expensive day side-trip, if in East Malaysia.


In a nut shell, there are perhaps three reasons why Cambodia is the new top 
destination in Southeast Asia. One it sounds pretty adventurous and still is to a degree, second it's close to Thailand and [three] finally it contains one of the greatest wonders in the world - Angkor. The beaches such those around Kompong Som (aka. Sihanoukville) are below par against the high regional standard, better in Thailand and less crowded in South Vietnam (although some of the surrounding areas are very beautiful). Getting around can be a major a pain (in the arse - literary in most cases) and there is not too much to do of real interest that the rest of Asia (outside SE Asia) can't offer. However, few places in the world rival Angkor and it alone is motivation enough to head to Cambodia.


Indonesia represents an enormous area to explore, with most travellers 
focusing only on small parts. Its islands offer fabulously varied scenery, from volcanoes to idyllic beaches and desert. This is can be one of the most rewarding of all Asian destinations, but with some 17,000 islands (the world's largest archipelago) too little time or patience and too much travel can turn a trip into a miserable stressful race between islands with some very hot/huimd weather and shitty roads (and drivers). Equally Indonesia is no Thailand and those looking for universally easy transport and (Southern Bali aside) a party atmosphere, will be sadly disappointed.

A long standing (if not the longest) traveller favourite and firmly on the South East-Asian 'Banana Pancake Trail', Indonesia in general is probably the most varied country in the region. Comparing the tourist centres/resorts of Bali with the mountains of Irian Jaya is an impossible task. The distance between Aceh in the West and Papua in the East is more than 4,000 kms (2,500 miles), comparable to the distance between New York City and San Francisco. Few however get past Bali and near-by Islands. Although for good reasons, Bali is a name synonymous with paradise and with an international airport to boot, likewise nearby islands are cheaper and easier/quicker to access than from Jakarta. From Bali you can easily get the once fabled and inaccessible Gilli Islands, arrange boat trips to see dragons on Komodo/Rinca and hop on tours/flights to the temple and volcanic highlights of Java.

It is certainly true that when many think of Indonesia they think of Bali, the 'jewel-in-the crown' of the Indonesian tourist industry. Bali does have much to offer from a place to kick back, the fabulous Ubud to great sweeping beaches and excellent waves. However, on the whole it represents everything Indonesia is not and in its blackest spots (Kuta), hosts some of the worst tourists you will find anywhere. Bali is not to be missed, but is not a good reflection of Indonesia. 

Nevertheless away from the small island of Bali it has to be noted that there are huge chunks of Indonesia that are not only a pain to get too, but have limited facilities for visitors and are of not much interest (compared to other parts of South East Asia). At the end of the day many just prefer Thailand (although Indonesia is better value and less crowded). Others like Indonesia simply because it is not Thailand and has a greater sense of adventure attached to it. Nevertheless this is still South-East Asia and has the same flavours and same kind of travellers as elsewhere in the region. Some will love it, others will be slightly disappointed.


Currently Asia's hippest destination, from Beijing to Islamabad, the name Laos is being whispered among backpackers as some fantastic, esoteric, void of tourists destination. Sorry, it's not. As nice as it is, many parts are becoming an extended run from Thailand. If you want to see Laos you need to spend the time and effort getting to the hill tribe areas in the north (this is best done to or from China). The idea is that since tourists have only been allowed into Laos since 1989, you will be something of a novelty and have the opportunity to see the, if not the last bit of, 'real' Southeast Asia. Well the really interesting days have pasted five to ten years back, which is where many of the stories come from. Laos is a nice destination and the north is unique, but on the whole, especially the Luang Prabang - Vientiane run, you may see more tourists than in Thailand, after all it is just next door. If you do spend the time and effort travelling further a field you will be a novelty, but you would have earned it, as overland, (non-river) transport is hard work.


Malaysia (coupled with Singapore) is one of the most pleasant, hassle-free 
countries to visit in South-East Asia. It can be described as buoyant and wealthy with a cultural infusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous groups that you just don't get in Thailand. The peninsular has good transport, jungle, beaches, culture and is a good chance to escape some of the Thailand crowds. Most travellers zip through, which is why others say that it is SE Asia's hidden jewel (although others might label it as dull after a long stay in Thailand/Indochina). East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) is the 'Borneo' travellers speak of and is agruably more adventurous and fun. Malaysia is fairly developed and easy to travel in, but nowhere as exotic, unhinged or cheap as the likes of Indonesia or Thailand. Most visitors tend to stick to the big city lights of Kuala Lumpur (KL) or the colonial Penang and Cameron Highlands Hill Stations or the stunning (but slightly upmarket, however managed development (Thailand take note)) Langkawi.

Despite the very obvious attractions of the [Malaysian] peninsular, for many without the temples, bargain prices and nightlife of Thailand/Indochina, the favoured destination is the island of East Malaysia, which a offers the best of Malaysia: wildlife, caves, longhouses and Mt Kinabalu.

Myanmar (Burma)

Asking questions about Burma on newsgroups several years back would have had you shouted down on ethical grounds. Now more and more people are discovering one of Asia's hidden jewels - it's only hoped they are doing it responsibly. Burma or Myanmar (Me-an-mar) - which we should probably now refer to it by - is a land of wonders, gentle culture and welcoming smiles, but before you go make sure that you are well aware of the situation there and how your visit may prolong it. The Lonely Planet (unlike the Rough Guide, who believe the disadvantages of travel outweigh the advantages and thus ignore the country) has an excellent introduction in their guide to Myanmar regarding the merit and demerits of visiting - which you can read here. Often quoted is that isolating a country and starving its population of income in the hope they will have less to lose and revolt, is a dangerous and almost sickening policy. 

The argument regarding tourism and the support it lends to a brutal (albeit mellowing) dictatorship as opposed to its many possible positive effects is highly complex. You are left to your own decision (this article and others are worth reading).

For what it is worth Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader was quoted in 2009 as saying she now believes tourism can be encouraged, provided it is run through private operations and not through the government, and that visitors might help draw attention to the oppression of the people by the military junta. She has made her views known through a close acquaintance and former member of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). When last quoted on the subject, in a BBC interview in 2002, she said: "We have not yet come to the point where we encourage people to come to Burma as tourists."


Many say the Philippines just isn't South East Asia. Sure it's the only Catholic 
country in the region, an island nation (over seven thousand of them) which can't be 'just popped over the border to', English is widely spoken and of course it sits well away from a mainland and off any practical route. In fact the Philippines is every bit South East Asia - all the good bits. Great beaches, dramatic volcanoes, a colourful transport system, diverse culture, hill tribe & jungle treks and stunning rice terraces. The only thing that really sets the Philippines apart from the likes of Thailand et al. is in comparison you'll have much of it to yourself. Forget Vietnam this, or Malaysia that, you can keep them all because when you've seen the rest, head to the Philippines. The Philippines is ultra diverse, there's something for pretty much everyone (from swimming with Whale Sharks, cheap diving and forgotten beaches to good surfing, even better nightlife, hill tribes; the list goes on). Very civilised in parts, fair value for money (when the Peso is weak) and the fact English is widely spoken is a massive bonus for many. Sometimes it seems the only ones who have discovered these beautiful islands are the Koreans/Japanese and the sizable number of westerners who have settled and walk around with a Filipino on their arm. Alex Garland's a huge fan and so will just about anyone who's been. Mabuhay!


Singapore is really just a transit zone for backpackers, on their way to the 
beaches of Thailand, Malaysia, the myriad of Indonesian islands or Australia. It is also quite a bizarre place (coming from the rest of Asia); cars use their indicators and stop at crossings! There's none of that mayhem that makes travel so interesting (and at times stressful) in the rest of Asia. It is an expensive place by neighbouring country standards, but cheaper than Japan, Australia or Korea. For its size there's loads to do but, being such a small place, after a few days (unless hitting the shops big time) you'll probably want to move on. What strikes you most is the Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions that seem to blend into the city. In the morning you could be on a market stall eating noodles as in Vietnam and in another part of town find Indian temples as in Madras. Then its high tea in the best British fashion with air-con, starched linen table cloths and gliding waiters. If you want 'it's a small world' Asia without breaking too much of a sweat, here's your place.


Thailand is where many travellers first venture as a backpacker and although 
in time they may view it with contempt, they'll probably never forget how easy it was to have a good time, how friendly and fun-loving the Thais were and just how picture perfect the beaches were. Many arrive alone and/or frightened, and before they know it are having a fantastic time. Thailand is a country with huge appeal, but increasingly crowded, cheesy and full of idiots. Certainly on the tourist trail English is never a problem, travel is straightforward and relaxing is easy on some of the world's best beaches or in any one of the thousands of great bars Thailand has to offer.

There is, however much more to discover in Thailand apart from beaches and bars. Since it's easy to get around you've no excuse not to take the time to explore before being tempted by the likes of 'full moon parties' and neighbouring countries. 

You might like to think about avoiding the crowds by not staying on the Khaosan Road in Bangkok and not going to Chang Mai or any well known islands or beaches. Don't miss some ruins and a national park; hill tribe treks and full moon parties are - many feel in retrospect and when compared to other Asian activities - overrated. 

Thailand may well be the easiest backpacker destination on earth and, the 'pinch of salt' (right) comment aside comes highly recommended especially for those nervous about setting off into the big wide world.


"Me love you long time" - who wouldn't want to go to Vietnam having heard so 
much about it and seeing it so many times in movies and/or growing up with the country as typifying a world beyond our access or understand? Nonetheless what the average traveller will find is quite removed from the expectation. Vietnam is full of backpacker crowds and package tours, running up and down a tourist trail which is difficult to get off (since the country is so thin). Distances are great and apart from the far North, attractions aren't that great, but you can easily relax and have a good time - if you don't mind being part of a production line - because travel is damn easy, with cheap pre-arrange tours for everything. Expect attempts to rip you off, a tough time getting off the tourist trail and loads of tourists rather than tracer fire, opera blasting from helicopters and the smell of napalm in the morning.

Source: Travel Independent (South East Asia)

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