Of all the world’s global destinations, none hold such timeless appeal as Southeast Asia. Containing a handful of some of the world’s most evocative countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia; Southeast Asia promises a unique holiday like no other.
If you’ve recently booked a cruise break to Southeast Asia, or are thinking of doing so, here’s a roundup of 50 of the most unmissable sights in this extraordinary region.
Mount Bromo may be an active volcano, but don’t let the danger put you off. Towering 2,329 metres above the Tengger Massif in East Java, this mighty peak is a stunning spectacle that’s sure to leave you reaching for the camera.
As the largest volcanic lake in the world, Lake Toba is blessed with ludicrously fertile banks that make it one of Indonesia’s best-loved beauty spots. Flanked by charming cabins, this humungous lake should certainly be on your Indonesian highlights hot list.
No trip to Indonesia would be complete without visiting Bali, arguably the country’s most beautiful island. With forests, beaches, reefs and rice paddies aplenty, Bali is a traveller’s paradise.
Sengigi’s stunning soft sand beaches may have made it one of Lombok’s most popular tourist destinations, but if you don’t mind mingling with like-minded travellers, the region is paradise found; think palm-flanked lagoons, turquoise pools and mile after mile of sun-drenched beaches.
Go off the beaten track during your stopover in Indonesia, and you’ll come across Tana Toraja — a historic region celebrated for its colourful heritage and unique tribal culture.
Located in the highlands of Western New Guinea, the Baliem Valley is occupied by the Dani people, a unique tribal group whose culture dates back to the Stone Age. It’s thought the Valley wasn’t discovered until 1945, making it one of the most unique and unspoilt destinations on earth.
Raja Ampat Islands
The Raja Ampat Islands is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small forested isles, celebrated for its crystal clear waters and white, sandy beaches. If you were asked to draw a paradise island, it would probably look similar to Rajar Ampat.
Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park is — you guessed it — famous for being one of the only places on earth where the ferocious Komodo dragon can be seen in its natural habitat. After being granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991, the park has now been selected as one of the new seven wonders of the natural world.
Dating back to the 9-century, Borobudur is an ancient Mahayana Buddhist Temple located in Central Java’s Magelang district. Characterised by its stacked platforms and imposing central dome, Borobudur is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha Statues — making it one of the biggest and best Buddhist temples on Earth.
Surrounded by the richest sub-tropical rainforest on Earth, Bukit Lawang is a popular visitor destination built around its incredible orangutan-viewing centre. The surrounding forest is part of the Gunung Leuser National Park, a nature reserve that’s home to a number of exotic animals, including rhinos, leopards and the Sumatran tiger.
Towering 451m above the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Towers are the tallest twin towers in the world, and were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. Quite literally, the Petronas Towers are unmissable on your visit to the Malaysian capital.
Once celebrated solely for their unique natural beauty, the Cameron Highlands are now famous for a quite different reason — their afternoon teas. Across this scenic plateau exists dozens of coffee shops where weary travellers can stop for refreshments amid truly beautiful surroundings.
The Batu Caves is a series of limestone caves located in the forested hills of Selangor, famous for its temples, statues and other spiritual sites. As one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India, thousands visit Batu each year to pay homage to Lord Murugan among other deities.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Keen diver? Make your way to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, frequently regarded as one of the best diving and snorkelling spots on the planet. As you’d expect, the marine park’s waters are crystal clear — all the better for seeing the reefs and marine life which exist below the surface.
A simple Google Image Search tells you all you need to know about Redang Island. With its utopian beaches and exotic flora, Redang is one of the jewels of the East Malaysian coast.
Taman Negara is thought to contain the oldest patch of tropical rainforest on Earth, dating back over 130 million years. Now, the forest is criss-crossed with a series of narrow metal bridges, so that visitors can witness the splendour of the forest without disturbing its inhabitants.
Mulu National Park
Caves, quarries and mysterious rock formations await in the Mulu National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site dubbed one of the “most majestic and thrilling nature destinations anywhere in Southeast Asia” by Lonely Planet.
Like Redang Island; Tioman is blessed with paradise-like credentials. Once voted the world’s most beautiful island by TIME Magazine, Tioman may well be the best place to lay your beach towel in all of Asia.
If nature spotting is at the top of your cruise holiday wish list, there’s no place better than the Kinabatangan River. With all sorts of flora and fauna gracing its banks — including elephants, macaques, gibbons and eagles — the Kinabatangan River is the perfect place for wildlife watching.
Mount Kinabalu isn’t just the tallest mountain on the island of Borneo, it’s Malaysia’s highest peak and one of the most prominent ranges on the planet according to topography. If you’re after a dramatic photograph to send home to your friends and family, this is the place to snap one.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is a 101 hectare green space in the centre of Singapore, complete with a series of futuristic domes which house many exotic plants from around the globe. The park attracts over 10 million visitors a year, and is also home to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall at 35m.
National Orchid Garden
Located within Singapore’s majestic Botanic Gardens, the National Orchid Garden is home to a display of 60,000 orchid plants from over 1000 different species, separated into four different sections according to the seasons of the year.
If you’re interested in witnessing Singapore’s dizzying skyline from a single viewpoint, the Waterfront Promenade is the best place to see the city in all its modern, glittering glory.
Like most cities in Southeast Asia, Singapore is home to a large and colourful Chinatown quarter. Singapore’s is particularly impressive, however; it covers a huge section of the city, and is home to no-end of places to eat and things to see.
The Southern Ridges
Characterised by its curved walkways and lush, green vegetation, The Southern Ridges National Park is one of the best places in Singapore to enjoy a relaxing afternoon stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
With hiking trails and grasslands aplenty, The MacRitchie Reservoir Park is often frequented by Singaporeans in need of a little respite from the chaos of the metropolis. Kayaking is one of the most popular pastimes for visitors, but it’s also an excellent place for a relaxing walk or picnic.
Awash with history and heritage, The Intan is one of the best surviving examples of a traditional Peranakan homestead — complete with the original furnishings and items which came to characterise this unique culture.
If you’ve a thing for dams, you’ll love the Marina Barrage — a ludicrously modern dam built at the confluence of five rivers. Constructed in 2008, the dam provides water storage, flood control and recreation for the people of Singapore.
Bukit Brown Cemetery
If you’re in touch with the morbid side of life, the Bukit Brown Cemetery offers a truly unique day out during your visit. Home to an array of fascinating statues and tombs, the Bukit Brown Cemetery offers a slice of history amid beautiful, peaceful surroundings.
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Temple
Don’t let its long name fool you — the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Temple is one of Singapore’s most prestigious Buddhist temples. Built in the 20th century to provide a lodging for the city-state’s monks, KMSPKS is the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore.
The Golden Triangle
Located at the point where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar, The Golden Triangle is a majestic setting where traders and merchants historically met to sell their wares. Now a popular tourism site, The Golden Triangle is a must-see on your next trip to Thailand.
Chiang Dao Elephant Camp
Thailand is one of the only countries on Earth where it’s possible to ride an elephant, and ride an elephant you must. One of the best places to do this is at the Chiang Dao Elephant Camp, where the animals are treated better than the visiting tourists.
Phang Nga Bay
Arguably the most beautiful beach on Phuket — an island made famous for its beaches — Phang Nga Bay is a serene beach that some readers might recognise from the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun.
Ko Phi Phi Don
Often regarded as Thailand’s “Shangri-La”, the island of Ko Phi Phi Don is a hedonistic paradise, where young travellers flock in their droves to party all night on soft, golden sands. Away from the raucous tourists, Ko Phi Phi Don is a peaceful, dreamy destination — and the perfect place to relax and unwind.
Amphawa Floating Market
Thailand is scattered with floating marketplaces where waterborne vendors congregate in narrow wooden boats to sell their wares. One of the best is Amphawa, where you’ll find hundreds of trading vessels moored, ready to barter for your custom.
Today, Kanchanaburi is one of the more peaceful towns in western Thailand, but its WWII museums and memorials hark to a darker past. During the war, Japanese soldiers forced POWs to build a rail route to Myanmar — a story told in Pierre Boulle’s famous book, The Bridge Over the River Kwai.
Phimai Historical Park
Home to some of the most important Khmer temples in Thailand, the Phimai Historical Park is a must-see for history fans. The temple is located at the end of the Ancient Khmer Highway, and most of its buildings date back to the 11th century.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is one of Bangkok’s most famous Buddhist temples. As one of six of the city’s highest grade Royal Temples, Wat Pho is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike, and is said to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massage.
Wat Chedi Luang
Of all Thailand’s historic temples, none are quite as evocative or charming as Wat Chedi Luang. From its decorative architecture to its peaceful grounds; Wat Chedi Luang is a spiritual marvel that oozes history and heritage.
Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden
The Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden showcases a master class in horticultural design — combining traditional garden planning techniques with Thailand’s exotic flora and fruit trees. For a peaceful afternoon walk, there’s no better place.
Hoi An Ancient Town
Move away from the maddening bustle of Hoi An’s contemporary centre, and you’ll find its Ancient Town — which is thought to be one of the best-preserved settlements of any city on Earth. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its rich, irreplaceable heritage, the Ancient Town is typified by its blend of Chinese shop houses and colourful, French Colonial buildings.
Ha Long Bay
Often included on shortlists of the world’s most beautiful destinations, Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay is an incredible place to visit, and a must-see on any trip to Vietnam. Known for its emerald waters and limestone islands, Ha Long is best explored by Junk boat.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels may be a popular visitor attraction today, but they were the scene of many military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were once used as hiding spot by the Viet Cong. Nevertheless, the subterranean labyrinth of Cu Chi is an absolute must-see.
Muong Hoa Valley
Think of Vietnam, and you probably picture fragrant rice paddies being worked daily by sun-kissed locals. Well that’s exactly what you’ll find in the Muong Hoa Valley, which is often voted one of the most beautiful sites in all of Vietnam.
Trang An Grottoes
With a multitude of tour packages available to transport you to the Trang An Grottoes, the site is certainly well worth a visit on your trip to Vietnam. For those that can’t squeeze in a visit to Ha Long Bay, the Trang An Grottoes are the next best destination on your Vietnam to-do list.
Old Quarter, Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital city and cultural beating heart of Vietnam, celebrated for its centuries old architecture and rich, distinct heritage. Head to the city’s Old Quarter, and you’ll find a plethora of charming streets, each boasting traditional Vietnamese shops and eateries.
An Bang Beach
If you want to relax and take it easy during your trip to Vietnam, An Bang Beach is the perfect place to don your swimwear and catch some rays. With mile after mile of secluded beach at your disposal, it won’t be difficult to find your very own slice of paradise.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
If you were impressed by the historic sites and temples mentioned above, none come close to the beauty and fascination of the Linh Phuoc Pagoda. This dramatic structure is covered in detailed carvings and colourful mosaics, and it’s possible to get a great view of the surroundings from the top of the main, six-storey structure.
Phong Nha Caves
Tucked away in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the Phong Nha Caves is one of the world’s longest and deepest cave systems — extending for miles beneath the Earth’s surface. Tours happen regularly throughout the day, giving you plenty of opportunity to explore this subterranean wonderland.
Lake of the Restored Sword
Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or the Lake of the Restored Sword, is a water body located in the centre of Hanoi’s historic quarter, characterised by its numerous beaches and central plinth, the Turtle Tower. The lake is major focal point in the city, and the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by during your visit to the Vietnamese capital.
If this short (ish) list has whetted your appetite for Southeast Asia, click here to visit our dedicated Asian cruises page, where you can browse a great selection of deals on upcoming cruises in Southeast Asia. Alternatively, give our customer service team a call on 1300 857 345.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: David Jones, Marc-Andre Jung, Yann Piczon du Sel, Khanh Hmoong, Elmar Bajora, Daniel Hohard