Asia—there are so many places you can choose from if you want to take a vacation here. In fact, this place is so large, it is divided into different regions to make it easier for travelers to have an idea of where exactly they’re located in the biggest country in the world. Today, we’re setting our sights on Southeast Asia where we find exotic countries, interesting people, and a wide range of activities suitable for jetsetters and budget travelers, and increcibly delicious food. Don’t believe the exaggerated news reports on safety issues; Southeast Asian countries are generally safe for tourists coming from different parts of the globe. An added bonus is that these countries are home to probably the friendliest bunch of people you will ever meet.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re dropping by for three days or staying for a whole month, Southeast Asia offers countless activities that you can take part in. Another thing that makes this region so interesting is the fact that you can count on the countries here to have their own unique identity that is totally different from its neighbor’s.

So which countries can you choose to be your next getaway destination? There are a number of them actually starting with Thailand that features exquisite Buddhist Temples; then there’s the Philippines with its wonderful beaches rich with marine creatures; over a hundred ancient temples can be found in Cambodia’s temple complex; while in Vietnam, the limestone islands found in Halong Bay are a sight to behold.

First time travelers to Southeast Asia may be overwhelmed at first with so many places to choose from, so today we’re giving you a glimpse of what you can expect in this side of the world through these select places.

THAILAND


Bangkok City, the capital of Thailand, is a great way to get acquainted with the general setting of Southeast Asia which is streets filled with heavy traffic, intense heat, food stalls selling cheap but yummy treats, and lots of friendly faces.

Transportation

In Bangkok as in most major cities in Southeast Asia, heavy traffic is accepted as a part of life; however, there are other modes of transportation that can get you around the city without giving you a migraine. Boats are pretty common in Bangkok, shuttling residents and tourist along the city’s Chao Phraya river and smaller canals. The Bangkok Skytrain on the other hand is one of the most convenient ways of getting around the city. All the cars have AC and tickets cost around 100 Baht. Then again you can always ride the tuk-tuk, named after the sound that the engine makes. A tuk-tuk is sort of an open-air taxi fashioned out of a modified motorcycle.

Food

There are numerous food carts and stalls to be found in this city, most of them selling delicious food. In noodles alone, there are five different types to choose from such as the Sen Mii which is made of rice and flour; Bah Mii which makes use of egg and wheat; the flat Sen Yai noodle is made of flour from white rice; and last but not the least there is the Sen Lek noodle. Thai noodle dishes make use of a number of condiments like fish sauce, peanuts, chili and sugar that give it a unique taste. You can eat with soup or dry which is basically just noodles and condiments without soup.

Rice is also an important part of the Thai diet. The Khao Pad or fried rice, is a fairly popular dish in Thailand that can surely fill the stomach of any weary traveler. The rice is cooked with egg, herbs and onions and is usually served with a lime wedge. You can even add more vegetables and different types of meat like pork and chicken to make it more filling and tasty.

Places to see & things to do

Temples in Thailand number by the thousands. In Bangkok alone, there are no less than 400 Buddhist temples to be found.  Generally, they are open to visitors who are interested in knowing and learning about Buddhism. Those who have never set foot inside a Buddhist temple might be surprised by the different sizes of Buddha images that they will find not to mention the expensive materials that they are made of. For example, the Emerald Buddha can be found at the Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, while a bronze Buddha can be found in Wat Yai Chai Mongkon in Phitsanulok.

If your shoulders are aching from the weight of your backpack and too much walking makes your feet feel like lead weights, you can get a traditional Thai massage and feel your muscles relax and your mind wander elsewhere. For travelers who have been shuffling through crowded terminals and busy streets, a professional masseuse might as well be their best friend.

PHILIPPINES

Budget travelers looking for an affordable destination that offers lots of variety in terms of food and attractions can take a vacation in the Philippines. This group of islands located in the Pacific is home to about 90 million people in over a dozen regions each with its own unique identity. The beaches here are known for being rich in marine creatures, which means those who like swimming or water sports can spend as much time as they want in the sea.

Transportation

Perhaps the most common mode of transportation in the Philippines is the jeepney. After the World War II, plenty of military jeeps were either left in the streets or sold to the locals. These were modified in order to accommodate more passengers and eventually used as a form of public transportation. The colorful jeepneys can be found in practically every city in the country; interestingly enough, very seldom will you actually come across designated bus or jeepney stops, so you can just flag one down if you need a ride.

The tricycle or traysikel is basically a motorcycle with a passenger pod attached to the side. This is also another popular mode of transportation designed for shorter trips. Buses are also common especially in the capital of Manila. The minimum fare on a bus with AC is about 12 pesos which works out to around US 30 cents. Figuring out the different bus routes may be a bit confusing at first, but most Filipinos can converse in English so it shouldn’t be a problem asking the conductor which way you ought to go.

Food

The diversity of Filipino cuisine is mainly because of the different cultural influences that have made their way to these islands. Chinese influence is responsible for the pansit which is a typical Filipino noodle dish often mixed with bits of pork, chicken, and vegetables. There are different types of noodles to choose from depending what they’re made of; the sotanghon is made of mung beans; bihon is made of rice flour; egg and flour is used to make canton. Spanish food such as paella is also common here.

Typical Filipino dishes include white rice served with viand that can either be pork, chicken, beef, vegetables, fish, and even goat. One popular viand is Sinigang which is pork and vegetables served in sour broth. When it comes to fruits, a wide range of choices can be had either for dessert or snacks. Bananas alone come in a number of shapes and sizes that aren’t found in temperate countries. They also come in a number of forms: fried, boiled, caramelized and raw.

Places to see and things to do

There are more resorts than you can care to count in this country, which would make it fairly easy to get working on a tan. Boracay Island features a white sand beach and plenty of bars and restaurants nearby if you want to do some socializing. Then again there are lots of quiet beaches to choose from if you’re not exactly in the mood to party. The secluded Balangingi Island in Masbate for example, has very clear waters ideal for snorkeling.

CAMBODIA


If you want your next holiday destination to be exotic and totally different from your white-walled apartment, look no further than the Kingdom of Cambodia with its rich history and ancient temples. Other popular tourist sites with their flashing lights and buzzing atmosphere are a stark contrast to the rural villages in Cambodia, but the simplicity of life in these parts is exactly where its beauty lies.

Transportation

In Cambodia, you can choose from different modes of transportation to help you get around and see the sights. Buses are quite common in Phom Penh, which is the country’s capital. Various buses have routes around the city. If you planned your journey to take you a bit farther, you can take the ones that have trips to the Thai or Vietnam border.

People here often share their taxis with other passengers who are going to the same destinations they are going. If you want to save money on your fare, try sharing your taxi with another traveler. For those who want the freedom to explore by themselves anytime they want, the best way to do it would be behind a rented motorcycle. Just make sure to put your helmet on every time you go out for a ride and to watch out for any children (and the occasional animal) that can suddenly dart onto the street.

There may only be two of them, but at least the country also has train lines. And don’t let the absence of passenger cars fool you, those who wish to take the train in Cambodia have to settle for a spot on the roof for the entire journey! Ah, but in the end, you’ll find that the spectacular view was all worth it. Boats ferrying locals and tourists alike are a common sight along the Mekong River.

Food

Rice is a staple in Cambodia and is served during meals throughout the day. Porridge is a common breakfast fare here, while lunch is usually rice served with fresh fish or perhaps vegetables. Even the noodles here are made out of rice. Curry dishes are also popular here. Curry paste usually added to chicken or perhaps fish. The Cambodians have also taken some dishes from their neighbors and made it their own such as the Cambodian Laksa which has its roots in Vietnam.

Travelers with an iron stomach and an adventurous palate will surely enjoy the snacks served here. Try the crunchy spiders which have been marinated and deep fried to give you not just a unique taste but an interesting texture as well. For those who aren’t too adventurous when it comes to food, you can snack on baguettes which can be found practically everywhere thanks to the strong French influence in this country.

Places to see & things to do

A lot of the tourists who come to Cambodia have one destination in mind: Angkor Wat. Get up close to these temples and see first hand the beautiful architecture that dates back to hundreds of years ago. You can also visit the Royal Palace and see the living quarters of Cambodia’s royalty.

In Choeung Ek located at Phnom Penh, you can learn about the grim side of this country’s history by visiting the killing fields. While it may not be such a cheerful place to visit, it nonetheless imparts the story of an important phase in this country’s history.

VIETNAM


Travelers looking to escape busy city streets can rediscover nature’s wonders by getting on a plane and flying to Vietnam. True, the local metropolis also features vehicles whizzing around the place, but take a small detour and suddenly you’re surrounded by rice paddies and humongous limestone islands. Vegetarians can also have the ultimate food trip in this country just north of Cambodia.

Transportation

One look at the streets of Hanoi is enough to give you an idea of how popular motorcycles are in these areas. You can rent one if you like or if you’re got enough loot in the bag, you can get a pre-owned motorcycle for a fairly decent price. Navigating the city streets of Vietnam may be a bit tricky at first as you start to take notice of how motorists generally don’t pay that much attention to traffic rules and regulations. But once you get the hang it, it can actually be a lot of fun especially if you take your motorcycle to smaller villages or high up in the mountains where you can get a fantastic view.

If you want to rent a car here, you’ll have to rent a driver as well because foreigners aren’t allowed to drive by themselves. There is of course the option of obtaining a driver’s license which as demonstrated by the blokes on Top Gear includes various tests.

Bicycles are also popular here as well as rickshaws. Then again, travelers can also take the bus and ride alongside locals and other tourists making their way to distant locations that other forms of public transportation don’t usually reach.

Food

Pho is probably the most common food that you will find in Vietnam. A steaming bowl of pho or noodles usually has bean sprouts and other vegetables with a few drops of lime and chili. Those who wish to add meat can get some pork, beef or chicken with their pho.

Similar to other Southeast Asian countries, rice is a common fare in Vietnam. Here, you can get a rice cake which is basically some sticky rice with meat and bean paste wrapped in bamboo leaves. Rice is also used to make another popular dish called Banh Cuon. A type of wrap is made out of rice flour is the main ingredient in Banh Cuon; it is usually filled with mushrooms, peppers and onions. The Nem Cha otherwise referred to as a spring roll is also a typical local dish featuring delectable stuffing such as crab, shrimp, mushrooms, lean pork and onions.

This is also the best time to try some authentic Vietnamese coffee.

Places to see and things to do

Peace and quiet are the two things that are easy to get in Halong Bay. Here, you are surrounded with nature everywhere you look and the entire place oozes an aura of relaxation despite the daunting edifice of the limestone islands scattered in the area. You can rent a boat here and go cruising along the bay or get close to these amazing natural wonders.

You can also go hiking and explore the country through its small villages. If you trek through the mountains, you may even come across rice fields. The town of Bac Ha is all abuzz every Sunday as it hosts a weekly market fair where everything from textiles to handmade bags to food and even brooms are sold.

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