16 Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Spending 3 months in Southeast Asia during a mid-life crisis was perhaps the best decision of my life. My 2nd best decision may have been to attend a Bon Jovi concert but’s that not exactly on topic here. I had been to Southeast Asia a few times prior so now I feel that I have a good grasp of the region and I can honestly say that I had to be dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming to return home. Southeast Asia is my boo and I want you to fall in love also. In such a vast region with so much to do, I’ve summarized my favorite experiences to have in Southeast Asia.

1.  Hike Padar Island, Indonesia

15 Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

This is one of my all-time favorite views, not to mention favorite days in general. This island, located in Komodo National Park in Indonesia,  is famous for its three beaches, one black sand, one white and one pink. The hike to get to this view is steep but not too bad and doesn’t take more than 30 minutes. Best done in the morning before crowds and HEAT!

As if coming for this view isn’t enough, the next two on my list are also nearby and part of the Komodo National Park.

2.  Dive (or snorkel) with Manta Rays in Indonesia

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia, Manta Rays Indonesia

Sometimes I think this experience was a dream it was so epic and magical and a zillion other cliche words that don’t even cover how awesome it was. My heart felt like the Grinch’s…growing three sizes and ready to burst when I first saw these graceful flying creatures under the sea.  This is also in Komodo Nationa Park, Indonesia.

In the link below you can view a video of what it was like.

3.  Visit With Komodo Dragons

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Yes, I am sitting (relatively calmly but ready to run) behind a terrifyingly dangerous creature trying to pretend I’m Khaleesi. I promise you this was creative angling from the photographer because I am not that close and definitely not touching this thing which has saliva that would make me die slowly over the next few days. Why did I put myself in this position? Because these creatures only live here and I had to see these living dinosaurs, the world’s largest living lizards. They have been on the planet for over 300,000 years. No big deal!

To learn the basics about how to get to these places you can click the link below.

Read More:  5 Awesome Things to do in Komodo National Park


4.  Hike Mount Rinjani, Lombok

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

For nature and hiking nuts out there, this is for you. Indonesia is more than just Bali, Komodo Dragons and Nasi Goreng.  It is home to several large volcanos. This one is on the island of Lombok, next to Bali. You can hike Mt. Rinjani, the 2nd highest volcano in Indonesia, in 2 days or 3 depending on your goal. I didn’t do the summit but instead stopped at this crater. Notice ANOTHER volcano forming in it. Pretty badass.

Read More:  Hiking Mount Rinjani

5.   Tegallalang Rice Terraces, Bali

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Bali is heavily overtouristed but it is famous for a reason and one of those reasons are gorgeous places like this. I was blown away by the simple beauty of these rice terraces. I can’t imagine the work it took to create these. Tegallalang is just north of Ubud in the center of the island of Bali. It is definitely worth a trip. Go early to avoid the crazy heat and crowds (I sound like a broken record but this is the best travel advice for virtually anywhere).

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia
Rice Rice Baby

Read More:  Best Things to Do in Bali With Tips to Avoid Tourists

6.  Watch the Sunrise at Borobudur Temple, Java

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia, Borobudur Temple

This place left be completely awe-stricken.  The island of Java in Indonesia is a Hindu island in a Muslim country and hold the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Did I just blow your mind?  Also, the design is the form of a mandala…perfect symmetric circles. It is best visited at sunrise for all the enchanting lighting feels.

Things to See Southeast Asia, Borobudur Temple

Notice how many of my favorite spots have been in Indonesia? I could easily spend the rest of my life visiting and writing about Indonesia. I did spend 5 weeks there so I definitely am biased. It is full of wonders and definitely so much more than the beaches of Bali. However, I will move on because Southeast Asia is a large chunk of the world with lots to see.

7.  Swim at Kuang Si Falls, Laos

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

These are my favorite waterfalls in the world. I’ve seen a lot of good ones since, as my grandfather likes to say, I “get around”.  Something about these…maybe the color of the water, the multiple levels of cascading glory, the fact that you start at the top and hike down, each view better than the one before…has been burned into my memory.  You can easily visit these on a day trip from the charming city of Luang Prabang, Laos, another must see in my opinion.

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

8.  Volunteer at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

Southeast Asia is full of unethical animal interactions, especially involving precious elephants. DO NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS!  Also, don’t be fooled by the term “sanctuary”.  Most of them ARE NOT. Sanctuaries are trendy and many places pretend to be sanctuaries. If you are playing with baby elephants or tigers, riding elephants or if a place breeds elephants or takes elephants from other countries, it probably is NOT a sanctuary.

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia


With that being said, Elephant Nature Park is the real deal. Just outside of the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai (also one of my favorite cities in the world), you can spend a day or a few nights at a true elephant sanctuary that is also home to rescued dogs, cats and other animals. Can you imagine anything better than caring for ellies during the day and then chilling with a beer cuddling needy cats and dogs in the evening?

Read More:  Ethical Elephant Interaction in Thailand

9.  Visit Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, Brunei

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

I have traveled to many Islamic countries and seen many stunning mosques, but so far, this one stands out to me. Brunei intrigued me because how many people do YOU know who have gone there?  Home to the infamous Sultan of Brunei, now the 2nd richest man in the world, I figured I’d stop by for a few days while in Southeast Asia and I’m glad I did. It was clean, quiet but still had a strong southeast Asia character to it. People were friendly and the food was great. There’s no alcohol but even I survived for 3 days.

Read More:  What’s It’s Like to Visit Brunei

10.  Stroll Through the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Singapore is fabulous. Somebody once told me it was boring. I could slap that person. Singapore is intriguing because it’s in Southeast Asia, but without the sort of dirty chaoticness of the rest of southeast Asia. I say that with love by the way, southeast Asia! Singapore is remarkably clean, safe, environmentally progressive and overflowing with culture. Just come for the food alone. Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesia, Middle Eastern and all kinds of intermediates of them all can be found here. You can eat inexpensively from food hawker stalls and never have to worry about getting sick. Also, it was just beautifully featured in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” which I highly recommend you read!

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia, Singapore

Other than the food, you must see the Supertree Grove in the Gardens by the Bay. Each Supertree consists of a trunk core made of reinforced concrete wrapped with a steel frame. Over 162,900 plants comprising more than 200 species and varieties of bromeliads, orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers have been planted on the 18 Supertrees. These were chosen based on ease of maintenance without soil, suitability for the climate and for vertical growing. Think of these trees are huge vertical gardens that will become less and less “steel” and more and more “plant” as time goes on. The perfect combo of technology and nature.  11 of the trees have canopies embedded with environmentally sustainable functions such as photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy for lighting up the Supertrees. The nerd in me was totally into this.

For a fun read about another iconic spot in Singapore,

Read More:  That Time I Refused to Leave the Marina Bay Sands Pool

11.  Visit the Beaches of Coron, Philippines

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia, Coron
Malcapuya Island

Anyone out there like a perfect beach? Well, the Philippines is full of them. You really can’t go wrong anywhere in this country of over 12,000 islands but the island of Palawan is known for rugged unspoiled beaches. My favorite was the island of Coron, off the northern tip of Palawan. I know it’s confusing…an island that’s part of an island of an island nation. It’s like inception or something. The main village in Coron is called Coron Town and you can book day trips to the many idyllic tiny islands in the Coron Bay.

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Read More:  Discover Palawan, an Island Paradise

12.  Take in the Culture in Penang, Malaysia

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Penang, Malaysia was one of the biggest surprises of my southeast Asia extravaganza. I was enthralled by this city which is just a 30-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur and may have cost $20 on Air Asia. I had heard that Georgetown was charming and historic and I just sort of went with no expectations. Well, I had no idea that there was so much culture, amazing food and cool ass street art!  I enjoyed going on a street art scavenger hunt and I still want to go back and see more.

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia


Read More:  One Week Itinerary in Malaysia

13.  Hike in Sapa, Vietnam

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

The Sapa region is in the north of Vietnam and is like another world. You can hike through tribal villages with endless vistas of rice terraces and mountains. Hiking with a local tribal woman and staying with local families along the way is truly one of my greatest memories of all time.

Read More:  Trekking in Sapa

14.  Cruise in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

What better way to unwind after hiking in the north or eating your way through the busy streets of Hanoi than by relaxing on a boat in this UNESCO heritage site. Ha Long Bay is tranquil and hauntingly beautiful with calm waters, striking limestone cliffs and multiple caves and water villages to check out.

Read More: Cruising Ha Long Bay


#15 Angkor Wat and the Jungle Temples of Cambodia

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Angkor Wat is such an iconic sight that it’s easy to think that this is all there is to see here but it turns out that this is just one temple within a large complex that was once an ancient city. Many of these places were lost in the jungle until a few decades ago. This is some serious Indiana Jones shit. Angkor Thom nearby, as well as two different jungle temples, are all mind-numbingly awesome.  You know the jungle means business when a tree is growing right through a building like in the photo below.  The region around Siem Reap has enough to keep you busy for several days.

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Read More: Angkor Wat and Jungle Temples

#16 Hike to the Top of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong

Experiences to Have in Southeast Asia

Hong Kong is one cool city. It’s so much more than endless skyscrapers, although that aspect is impressive. It has perhaps the most beautiful skyline in the world but also has plenty of green space. You can hike or take the tram to the top of Victoria Peak for this iconic view. Hop on the sophisticated metro system and visit Lantau Island, home of the Tian Tan Buddha, the largest steel Buddha in the world. It’s 112 feet high (34 meters) and next to the quaint Po Lin Monastery. In these peaceful surrounding, you can’t even believe you are in the same city as the asphalt jungle you just came from.

Experiences to Have in SOutheast Asia HOng Kong


What Southeast Asian experience has been your favorite? What do I need to add to this list?

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Photos of Southeast Asia

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About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


  1. Pat @ Travel ETA Australia | 27th Sep 18

    This is such an awesome list, I will be happy to visit them all. Thank for sharing, Csaradar!

  2. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs | 22nd Sep 18

    Brunei is high on my list! Beautiful pictures Girl!

    • csaradar | 25th Sep 18

      It’s surprisingly cooler than I thought!

  3. Holly | 22nd Sep 18

    These all look amazing! And you look super close to tha Komodo!

    • csaradar | 25th Sep 18

      It was a creative angle from the photographer:)

  4. Linnea | 22nd Sep 18

    Love this post! I’m really envious of your time in Bali too! You need to checkout central Vietnam too! Hoi An and taking a Motorcycle ride down the Hai Van pass are incredible!

    • csaradar | 25th Sep 18

      I was in Hoi An a few days and loved it. Definitely want to spend more time there.

  5. AmyEA | 22nd Sep 18

    Great ideas! I’ll be able to hit a lot of these in the next 6 months!

    • csaradar | 25th Sep 18

      Have so much fun!!

  6. madhu-on-the-go | 22nd Sep 18

    This looks like a great list.being in Asia..I hvnt been to any of these places.but it post has given me serious travel golas☺

    • csaradar | 25th Sep 18

      So happy to hear it!

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