Travel News Partnerships Think You Know All There is About Traveling in Southeast Asia? Think Again!

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Think You Know All There is About Traveling in Southeast Asia? Think Again!

No matter how many stamps fill your passport, new (and even already-visited) destinations always find a way of surprising you. It could be as minor as discovering a local specialty dish you hadn’t read about or as unexpected as stumbling upon ancient ruins just on the outskirts of town. After all, there is only so much you can learn about a place from afar. And that’s especially true when our perceptions about a destination are based on its most popular attractions and activities.

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Southeast Asia is no exception. The region is so well-known for its pristine golden beaches, yoga retreats and towering temples that it’s easy to zero-in on those experiences—and miss others—when planning a trip. They’re popular attractions for a reason, but when you zoom out, there’s much more variety you can add to your itinerary, including a visit to multiple countries within Southeast Asia.

What Are the Southeast Asian Countries?

Southeast Asia as a region comprises 11 countries of great diversity:

  • Singapore
  • Brunei
  • Burma (Myanmar)
  • Cambodia
  • Timor-Leste
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Skyscanner’s flight search data reveal that the top destinations for Americans are Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The easiest way to include multiple destinations in one vacation is to fly into a world-class air hub like Changi Airport, and then take a short flight or two around the region to explore further. The rest of the Southeast Asian countries are just a short flight from Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Getting to Southeast Asia has gotten much easier, quicker and less expensive. United Airlines now offers twice-daily nonstop flights between San Francisco and Singapore Changi Airport starting as low as $845 roundtrip. Even if you don’t live in San Francisco, you should connect there to reduce layovers and overall travel time. United Airlines’ new direct routes are a huge win for anyone flying from North America to Southeast Asia.

Beyond the Sun and Surf in Southeast Asia

Things to do in Southeast Asia range widely from soothing beachside massages to (shockingly!) sweater-required excursions. It’s definitely worth the long-haul flight to experience the region’s stunning beaches and swim with fish in biodiverse turquoise waters, but it’s also worth exploring beyond the Southeast Asia you thought you knew. We’ll reveal some of the hidden treasures of the popular destinations you’ve read about that will make the intercontinental journey even more worthwhile.

Indonesia

Bali is practically synonymous with the beach, but if you go inland, there are a variety of activities to discover on this Indonesian island. Wake up early and scale an active volcano, Mount Batur, for a stunning sunrise. Hike up Mount Agung, Bali’s holiest mountain and highest peak, to be rewarded with one of the island’s most breathtaking, panoramic views. Religious sites and temples dot the island, but a couple standouts that have ancient rock-cut shrines are archaeological site Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) and 11th-century temple and funerary complex Gunung Kawi.

Looking beyond Bali, you’ll find a wealth of Indonesian islands to explore. Komodo National Park offers the adventurous the opportunity to get up close to Komodo dragons, the largest living species of lizard on earth. On the island of Java, Yogyakarta is home to two masterfully built temple complexes that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Prambanan Temple Compounds and Borobudur Temple Compounds. Each site holds stone temples dating back to the 8th century.

Malaysia

Be mesmerized by the Islamic patterns that form the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. These twin steel-and-glass skyscrapers held the distinction of being the world’s tallest buildings for six years until 2004. Just outside of Kuala Lumpur are the Batu Caves. A 140-foot-tall gold statue of Hindu deity Lord Murugan stands high at the entrance, and visitors must climb 272 steps to reach the limestone caves that house a Hindu temple and shrine—if you can make it past the mischievous long-tailed macaques.

Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands is a welcome escape from the Southeast Asian heat and humidity. This region is known for tea production, and its tea estates date back to the British colonial period. There are also spa options for some R&R and good hiking to be had along mountainside jungle trails.

Additionally, foodies will adore Malaysian cuisine, from the spicy-sour asam laksa to the savory and hearty char kway teow. Take a cooking class during your visit to recreate your favorites at home.

Thailand

In Thailand, ancient temples steal the show. Ayutthaya Historical Park, an archaeological site just north of Bangkok, dates back to 1350 and was the second capital of Siam (the former name for Thailand). Now you can walk among the ancient ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further north is Sukhothai, which was the first capital of Siam. You can walk or bicycle through this historic town and UNESCO World Heritage Site to see its well-preserved artifacts.

In mountainous northern Thailand, Chiang Rai is home to the stunning white Buddhist temple Wat Rong Khun, a magical site that must be seen to be believed.

Vietnam

Beyond the busy streets of Hanoi and the towering limestone islands of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam has much more to offer visitors. Starting in the north, trekking is a popular activity in Sa Pa’s verdant rice fields, which offer a cooler climate and Instagram-worthy shots at every turn. Farther south, you can go underground and explore the longest river cave system in the world inside Phong Nha Cave.

Inland in southern Vietnam, Dalat is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” since its climate is temperate year round. Due to its location in the highlands, Dalat is known for its wine, strawberry fields and gorgeous scenery, including flower gardens, lakes and waterfalls.

Just outside Mui Ne (near Ho Chi Minh City) is the Fairy Springs, where a small stream runs adjacent to impressive red-rock cliffs that vary in color from cream to rust.

Flying to Southeast Asia via Singapore

Using Singapore as a gateway to the rest of Southeast Asia is the most practical option, and it’s also the most entertaining. That’s because Singapore Changi Airport is a destination in itself. It sounds weird to actually want to spend time in an airport, right? We admit, it’s not every day that an airport is said to be a worthwhile attraction, but Singapore Changi Airport is an exception.

Jewel Changi Airport, the newest addition to Changi, is a visually striking piece of architecture with many attractions that are fun for all ages, like a large hedge maze, garden trails, a canopy bridge, modern art installations and a variety of dining and retail shops. The most spectacular sight of all is the Rain Vortex, a 130-foot-tall indoor waterfall—the world’s tallest.

Finding cheap flights to Singapore is easy on Skyscanner. Use the tool below to start your search. Just type in your origin city or preferred airport and then SIN as the destination. On the search results page, be sure to deselect all airlines except United so your search results show the most efficient routes. Roundtrip flights can be found for as low as $845. Start your search well before your planned departure date and fly on weekdays to find the best deals.

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If you want to also book onward travel, check out these awesome flight deals we found from Singapore to top destinations around Southeast Asia. 👇

Flight Route Roundtrip Airfare*
San Francisco – SingaporeFlights from $845
San Francisco – Malaysia Flights from $823
San Francisco – Thailand Flights from $906
San Francisco – Indonesia Flights from $671
San Francisco – Vietnam Flights from $652
San Francisco – Philippines Flights from $693

Southeast Asia has much more to offer travelers than the sand and surf that it’s become so widely known for. Whether you’re seeking an escape to nature, an opportunity to admire architectural wonders up close or a chance to surround yourself with ancient history, your most exciting trip of the year is just a plane ticket away.

*As of 29 Jan 2020