45 Ultimate Things to Do in Southeast Asia

45 Ultimate Things to Do in Southeast Asia

By CindyUpdated Jul. 14, 2021

There are many wonderful things to do in Southeast Asia, such as relaxing on a beach in Thailand, visiting a temple in Myanmar, taking a boat ride in Vietnam, and trekking through a jungle in Cambodia.

We have rounded up 45 things you need to do, eat, see, shop for, and experience in Southeast Asia. Think something deserves to be on our bucket list? Tell us what we missed!

1. Marvel at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Thailand

If there is one must-see attraction when visiting Bangkok, it is the magnificent Grand Palace, which was once the home to the king of Thailand.

During your visit, don't miss the Emerald Buddha and Reclining Buddha in neighboring Wat Pho. If your time permits, take the river ferry at sunset to see Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).

One thing to be noted is the dress code when visiting the Grand Palace.

Grand Palace, Thailand

2. Get a Thai Massage, Thailand

When traveling in Thailand, you should enjoy a Thai massage, which is renown around the world. Massage parlors are easily found in each city and small town. You can experience an authentic massage given by a skillful masseur/masseuse at an affordable price.

Thai Massage

3. Float in a Floating Market, Thailand

If you are looking for a different shopping and dining experience, plan a trip to one of the country’s interesting floating markets, which will give you real insight into local life.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, within easy reach from Bangkok, is the most famous floating market in Thailand. You can take a boat ride to explore the narrow canals and buy a variety of food, including pad Thai, stir-fry, fresh fruits, and ice cream.

See more Local Markets in Bangkok

 Floating Market, Thailand

4. Enjoy an Ethical Elephant Experience, Thailand

The elephant is a symbol of Thailand. If you are an animal lover, you can enjoy close contact with elephants in Thailand. In lieu of riding elephants on a safari, we recommend you instead spend a half-day or an entire day in an elephant sanctuary, such as Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, to feed or wash them.

Elephants

5. Have a Water Fight During Songkran, Thailand

You are lucky if your visit happens to coincide with a local festival in Southeast Asia. There are many cultural festivals in Southeast Asia, including Songkran and Krathong Law, which are welcoming to travelers. Festivals offer you a unique insight into local customs and traditions.

  • Songkran: the Thai New Year is celebrated with giant water battles taking place in the cities. It is celebrated in April.
  • Krathong Law: the world-famous lantern festival, featuring thousands of lanterns illuminating the sky and rivers. It is celebrated in November.

See more festivals in Southeast Asia.

Songkran, Thailand

6. Relax on a Beach

Spending several days on a beach can be a perfect ending to your trip. Southeast Asia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, including Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui in Thailand, Bali in Indonesia, Langkawi Island in Malaysia, and Boracay in the Philippines.

You can find a beach to relax and experience water activities, such as surfing and diving.

See the Top 10 Beautiful Beaches in Southeast Asia.

a beach

7. Indulge in Local Street Food

If you are a foodie, it is a must-do to explore the cuisine from local food streets and stalls, where you can find the best and cheapest local dishes and snacks.

Southeast Asia is absolutely a paradise of food with an endless list of dishes to try, from flavorful pho in Vietnam to the diversity of curries in Thailand.

Click to see the top 30 dishes in Southeast Asia.

things to do in southeast asia: try local street food

8. Ride on a Tuk-Tuk, Thailand

The tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) is one of the unofficial national symbols of Thailand. It is a very popular form of local transportation in Bangkok. It is not as comfortable as a taxi, but it offers you a novel way to experience the real Thailand. Please remember to always agree on the price before you set out on your journey.

Click to see All You Need to Know about Tuk-Tuks in Thailand.

things to do in southeast asia:Ride on a Tuk-Tuk, Thailand

9. Attend a Full Moon Party, Thailand

If you are interested in beach parties, you should attend a Full Moon Party in Southeast Asia. The Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand is one of the largest beach parties in the world.

It is an all-night beach party held monthly since 1985. These parties are filled with color, music, and drinks. They attract up to 30,000 revelers every full moon.

10. Take a Cooking Class in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Southeast Asia is a food haven and a gastronomical paradise. Are you sad that you cannot take the colorful dishes and snacks back home?

Why not take a cooking class to learn how to recreate the amazing dishes? It is also a good way to enhance your travelling experience.

Cooking schools are available in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and the rest of Southeast Asia. One of the most famous is the cooking course in Chiang Mai. You can take a half-day or a full-day course and many include a trip to the local markets.

things to do in southeast asia:cooking class

11. Walk Through Chiang Mai’s Night Market, Thailand

Nighttime in Southeast Asia is very lively and busy. Night markets are fairly common in the major towns and cities of Southeast Asia. You should spend at least one night exploring a night market while travelling in this region.

The Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai is probably the best night market in all of Thailand and even the whole of Southeast Asia. It is the perfect place to taste local food, buy souvenirs, and experience the night life of local people.

things to do in southeast asia: Chiang Mai’s night market

12. Explore Maeklong Railway Market in Bangkok, Thailand

The Maeklong Railway Market is one of the most unusual markets in the world. A must-see when visiting Thailand as you'll never see anything like it elsewhere!

The sellers place their stands on the railway. Every time a train passes, the sellers move their stuff off the railway. After the train passes, the sellers move back onto the railway.

The market itself is typical, but to witness the transformation when the train comes through is amazing.

Maeklong Railway Market,

13. Dive to Discover the Underwater World

One of the biggest draws of Southeast Asia is its huge number of beaches and islands. With its year-round warm weather and crystal-clear water, Southeast Asia is a perfect destination for those who love to dive.

From the Gulf Coast of Thailand to Bali in Indonesia, Southeast Asia offers some of the most spectacular diving destinations in the world, perfect for divers of all skill levels.

Get your mask, your fins, and your diving suit ready to discover the beautiful underwater world of Southeast Asia.  

things to do in southeast asia:diving

14. Island Hop Across Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a popular tourist destination with endless islands. From tranquil and serene escapes to vibrant retreats overflowing with activities and entertainment opportunities, there is an island-hopping holiday to suit everyone.

Click to see The Top 10 Beautiful Islands in Southeast Asia.

things to do in southeast asia: island hoppping

15. Go Kayaking

Blessed with stunning scenery, crystal-clear water, and warm weather, Southeast Asia is one of the best areas in the world to go kayaking. From relaxed rivers to peaceful bays and incredible coastlines, kayaking in Southeast Asia offers a bit of everything.

Here are some of the top places to go kayaking in Southeast Asia: Raja Ampat in Indonesia, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Phang Nga Bay in Thailand, and Langkawi in Malaysia.

Halong bay, Vietnam, cruise, kayaking

16. Experience an Incredible Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam

Halong Bay, a beautiful natural wonder in northern Vietnam, is famous for its stunning limestone mountains looming over emerald water. The best way to enjoy the unique beauty of Halong Bay is to travel by cruise.

You can spend one or two days in Halong Bay to soak in the natural beauty and do some activities, such as kayaking, biking around in an isolated village, and visiting a floating village.

Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam

17. Soak Up the Charm of Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, situated on the coast of central Vietnam, is an atmospheric and delightful town. A trip to visit Hoi An is like stepping back into the past. You can stroll along the river and walk on the cobbled streets, which are decorated with lanterns, or take a day trip to a nearby beach.

See more things to do in Hoi An.

Hoi An, Vietnam

18. Cruise the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

The Mekong River is the main artery of Southeast Asia and it is also one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. One of the most popular things to do in Southeast Asia is to take a cruise on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

During a typical boat tour, you can enjoy a sampan ride through narrow canals, stop to sample fruit and handmade treats, stroll through a tranquil village for a look at local life, and more. It is a great way to get a glimpse of the distinct agricultural life of this vibrant region.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

19. Go Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

If you love hiking and the outdoors, trekking in Sapa is one of the must-do activities in Southeast Asia. Sapa is famous for its spectacular rice terraces, towering peaks, and picturesque villages.

You can take a one-day trek or a three-day trek to enjoy the natural beauty and experience the traditional way of life of ethnic minorities.

Sapa, rice terrace, vietnam

20. Wander the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi Old Quarter is also known as "36 old streets." It is one of the oldest and most popular historical attractions in Vietnam. It is a busy place with crowded sidewalks and streets, exotic food, and beautiful architecture.

A short walk in the Old Quarter can provide you with glimpses of what local life was like hundreds of years ago.

Street

21. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

If you are interested in history and want to find a unique way to learn on vacation, you should not miss a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. It is a maze-like underground tunnel system that was used during the American-Vietnam war.

You can spend half a day there visiting the underground tunnels and sample cassava, a staple food during the war.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

22. Explore the Caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

Cave enthusiasts will do well to visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the world's largest cave system, reaching 200m at its highest point.

At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can spend several days exploring Southeast Asia’s oldest karst mountains and epic caves with underground rivers and enchanting stone formations.

23. Witness the Magnificent Angkor Wat, Cambodia

No trip to Cambodia, or even Southeast Asia, is complete without a visit to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is home to the world's largest religious monument with hundreds of ancient temples and religious structures.

A visit to the site is a fascinating journey into Cambodia’s intriguing past. Make sure to enjoy the sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat, jump on a bicycle to explore some less-visited temples, enjoy breathtaking views from the sky in a hot air balloon, or take a helicopter ride through the archaeological park.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

24. Explore Phnom Penh at Dusk, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is quite amazing at dusk. You can take a stroll along the riverside promenade to see real Cambodian city life and take a sunset cruise to explore the waterways that surround Phnom Penh. Don’t miss the colors, smells, and sounds of the night markets.

Phnom Penh

25. Explore Cambodia on a Bike

If you are a cycling lover, cycling around Cambodia should be on your list of things-to-do in Southeast Asia. Cambodia is now emerging as a top cycling destination.

A biking tour allows you to see the sights from a different vantage point, explore the lost temples and unknown sites of Cambodia, and experience the ‘real’ side of this vibrant place and its people.

26. Trek Through the Jungle in Cambodia

Looking for interesting trekking routes to explore while traveling in Southeast Asia? Cambodia is the right place. Apart from ancient temples, Cambodia is a land of convoluted jungles which are waiting to be explored on foot.

There are a variety of terrains around the country, from rugged jungles and gently sloped mountains to endless paddies. There are treks suitable for all skill levels and of varying lengths.

27. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. It is home to over 3,500 ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples, and other religious structures.

One of the best ways to admire the beauty of this city is to take a hot-air balloon ride, which allows you to enjoy a bird’s eye view of this beautiful place.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan, Myanmar

28. Enjoy a Boat Ride on Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake is Myanmar’s water world, which is unique for its floating gardens, stilt villages, and Buddhist monasteries that tower above the water. Something interesting about the lake are the Intha fishermen who row their boats with one leg while using both hands to fish.

The best way to explore the vast and tranquil lake is by a boat. It is a special experience to stay in one of Inle Lake’s over-the-water hotels.

 Inle Lake, Myanmar

29. Take a walk on the U Bein Bridge, Myanmar

U Bein Bridge is the world’s longest and oldest bridge. The construction of the bridge started in 1847 and was completed in 1849. It is 1.2 km (0.7 mi) long and 200 years old. It is used as a crossing by hundreds of locals and monks every day, making their way home or to monasteries on both sides. It is the best place to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

You can enjoy a boat ride on Taungthaman Lake that stops near the U Bein Bridge, which offers excellent sunset views.

ubein bridge

30. Visit the Sacred Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in the world. It is the Eiffel Tower of Yangon. The pagoda is covered with gold and shines brightly when the sun falls on it.

We highly recommend a visit in the evening of around 2 hours so that you can enjoy the views during the day and when Shwedagon Pagoda is lit up by artificial lights. The pagoda can be seen from nearby places and when the morning sun falls on it, the scene is worth watching.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

31. Visit "The World’s Largest Book", Myanmar

The Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay is described as the world’s largest book. Each ‘page’ is a marble slab about 150 x 100 cm, inscribed with instructions on how a Buddhist should lead a moral life. Each slab is housed in its own temple or shrine. There are 729 marble slabs of Buddhist scriptures.

It’s a large complex of many small structures, most of them white. It is a beautiful place to take epic photographs.

mandalay

32. Witness an Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos

Watching the barefoot monks receive alms from local residents each morning just after dawn is quite a humbling experience. It’s very peaceful and a must if in Luang Prabang. You have to be up early to join other groups walking serenely along the road.

Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos

33. Float Down the Mekong River, Laos  

One of the most popular things to do in Laos is to take a slow boat down a portion of the Mekong River. You can take a leisurely boat trip starting at the Thai-Laos border in Huay Xai, Laos and ending in Luang Prabang.

On a two or three-day cruise journey, you will travel along the course of inaccessible jungle and mountains of the mighty Northern Mekong, the lifeblood of Laos, and spend the night in the Luang Say Lodge.

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34. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary, Laos

If you have no chance to see elephants in Thailand, you can visit an elephant camp in Laos, such as MandaLao Elephant Conservation, which is a different experience than a typical elephant camp.

In Laos, there are roughly 15 elephant sanctuaries, which offer tourists opportunities to interact with elephants in a responsible way. You will not see elephant rides, circus tricks, and evening elephant dances. Instead, you will see elephants splashing in the river, wrestling in the grass, and snacking on the forest canopy.

Elephant Sanctuary

35. Cool Off Beneath Kuang Si Falls, Laos

Kuang Si Falls is a three-tier turquoise waterfall set in a lush, well-manicured public park. It’s an ideal place to enjoy the beauty of nature and cool off.

You can spend one day there jumping off waterfalls and swimming in the stunning Laos countryside.

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36. Drink Different Types of Coffee

If you are a coffee lover, you can enjoy an exciting coffee tour in Southeast Asia. It is home to several major coffee-producing countries, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand. Each country in the region has developed a different way of drinking their favorite bean.

Coffee from Indonesia tends to have a dark and bold flavor profile. Coffee from Thailand usually contains a complex and full flavor. Coffee in Laos is sweet, chocolatey, acidic, and soft. The coffee in Vietnam is smooth, fragrant, liquor-like, and strong.

You can try a variety of coffees, such as Vietnamese egg coffee, Laotian coffee smoothies, and kopi tobruk in Indonesia.

Coffee

37. Sample Local Beer

Southeast Asia is the world's largest beer consumer, and it has a bustling beer-drinking culture. If you walk through the alleys in any old town or explore night markets, you will find that beer is a staple in everyday life.

Each Southeast Asian country offers at least one locally produced beer. You should try Cambodia's Angkor Beer, Lao's Beerlao, which was named Asia's best local beer by TIME Magazine, Thailand's Singha or Chang, and Vietnam's Bia Saigon or Bia Hà Nội.

Beer

38. Climb the Volcano of Mount Rinjani, Indonesia

If you love trekking, don't miss Mount Rinjani in Indonesia, which is considered one of the best treks in Southeast Asia.

Towering above the northern half of Lombok, Mount Rinjani (3,726 m, 12,220 ft) is Indonesia’s second-tallest volcano and is the ‘seat of the gods’ to the Balinese.

A climb to the top will reward you with a breathtaking view of the crescent-shaped lake below, which is one of the best views in Asia.

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39. Explore Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Gardens by the Bay, an integral part of Singapore's "City in a Garden" vision, spans a total of 101 hectares of prime land at the heart of Singapore's new downtown — Marina Bay.

Comprised of three waterfront gardens — Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central — Gardens by the Bay is a showcase of horticulture and garden artistry that brings the world of plants to Singapore and presents Singapore to the world.

40. Have a Drink at a Rooftop Bar in Singapore

There are many rooftop bars in Singapore. You can visit a rooftop bar around sunset for a beautiful view of Singapore’s amazing skyline.

41. Swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines

The Philippines is home to more than a thousand whale sharks, which makes it the third most densely populated area of whale sharks in the world. If you are brave enough, you can enjoy a swim with these wondrous creatures.

The best places to experience this activity in the Philippines are Leyte, Tubbataha, Donsol, and Oslob.

42. See the Beauty of the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Philippines

The Banaue Rice Terraces are considered to be the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by many people. Can you believe that the rice terraces were made 2,000 years ago with the use of very few tools? You can take a two or three-day trek there to enjoy the amazing views.

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43. Go Trekking in Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

Taman Negara Rainforest is known as one of the most fascinating rainforests on the planet. It is a must-see place for those seeking to couple a rainforest adventure with outdoor activities.

The 130-million-year-old virgin rainforest fully caters to active holidaymakers, including trekking, fishing, camping, and wildlife spotting. It also has the world’s longest canopy walkway.

44. Encounter Orangutans in Borneo, Malaysia

For animal lovers, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Malaysia cannot be missed. It is a place where you can meet giant apes in their own habitat. You can walk along the manmade path through the jungle to view and photograph these magnificent animals.

45. Visit the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Petronas Towers, also known as the Petronas Twin Towers, are one of the most iconic sights in the world and were once the tallest buildings in the world.

You can walk over the sky bridge that joins the two towers together and admire the views that stretch across Kuala Lumpur.

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Tour Southeast Asia with Local Experts

Want to discover more hidden gems and enjoy more authentic experiences in Southeast Asia? Travelling with a local expert opens up many more possibilities than trying to figure it out on your own. Tell us your interests, and one of our specialists will help you to maximize your travel experience by suggesting the optimal trip for the time you have, your budget, and the things you love to do.

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