Southeast Asia is the world’s hottest travel destination, and it shows in the crowds that flood many of the region’s cities and top tourism spots. While you should absolutely still explore Southeast Asia’s must-sees, from the bustling markets of Bangkok, to the rice fields of Bali, to the paradise islands of the Philippines, here are some major advantages to getting off the beaten path.
If you’ve never been to Southeast Asia, even ‘typical’ experiences like ascending Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers and boating amid the towering karsts of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay are going to be memorable. But even slight deviations from the typical Southeast Asia itinerary will make your trip truly remarkable, even against the standards of extremely well-traveled individuals.
You could skip Thailand’s Chiang Mai and instead visit nearby Chiang Rai, a smaller (and more laid-back) city where you can trade crowds and selfie sticks for forlorn temples and easy access to the Golden Triangle, where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar. Indonesia’s Lombok is a bit harder to reach than popular Bali, but the postcards you send will be infinitely more interesting to read.
On paper, it sounds wonderful to be one of the only foreigners in a Southeast Asian city or town, but this can be more an uncomfortable exercise in practice – and that’s not a bad thing. One of the most authentic and important rites of passage as a traveler is feeling alienated somewhere, be it among the mountain villages of northern Laos or the wild streets of underrated (and under-visited) Jakarta, then using genuine interactions with local people to thread together a sense of belonging.
This idea goes both ways. For example, while locals in Myanmar might be less adept at dealing with tourists than those in Thailand, they also tend to be happier – reflected in the kindness with which they treat you.
Prices are lower where fewer tourists go, whether you choose an eco-resort in obscure Mai Chau, Vietnam over more popular ones in Dalat and Sapa, or decide to island-hop off the coast of Malaysian Borneo (we hear Bohey Dulang is beautiful this time of year!) instead of trying your luck in Thailand’s Phuket or Boracay in the Philippines.
You wouldn’t be traveling to crowded Southeast Asia if large groups of people bothered you, but even if you’re not bothered by a lot of people, you still probably don’t want all those people to look and sound like you. There’s something very different, for example, about shopping amid locals at Phnom Penh’s Central Market than struggling for a selfie at Angkor Wat, up the road in Siem Reap. Take a trip that’s all your own, not the same one everyone is on.
Of course, this is just one of many benefits you’ll enjoy by getting off Southeast Asia’s beaten path. From spending smarter, to having more authentic experiences, to making memories of a one-of-a-kind trip that’s as unique as you are, the most fulfilling travel in Southeast Asia is less about deleting items off a bucket list and more about adding priceless chapters to your life story.
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