When I think back to my very first solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia in 2013, I remember having moments of feeling lost and homesick, and moments of laughing like crazy during beers with new friends. I remember wandering temples and unsuccessfully haggling for several weeks.
There are a few good reasons why backpackers and gap year travellers love Southeast Asia. It’s incredibly cheap to travel around with most backpackers spending $40 per day to travel. There are some amazing cultures to be found in this region, that can be fantastically different from our own. The food is to die for. The beaches are heaven. Can a young backpacker really ask for more?
So if you’re looking for gap year travel inspiration, these were my absolute favourite 17 activities from around Southeast Asia.
17 Wander Hoi An’s old town and buy tailor made shoes and clothes, Vietnam
Ah, Hoi An: the colours, the food, the lanterns. A gorgeous town, but for a really unique experience have some clothes tailor made: what these tailors can do in 24hrs is nothing short of astounding.
16 Swim in the warm and clear oceans of Koh Tao, Thailand
I almost never visited any beaches in Thailand after reading travel bloggers talk about how ruined and overrun with tourists they are. Because Koh Tao is where most travellers go to dive, the beaches are empty during the day. Bliss!
15 Dye and weave silk in Luang Prabang in Laos
Not gonna lie, I struggled. Weaving is bloody hard. At the end of the day I had weaved a square foot of blue silk that I still have. Plus, I drank silk worm poo tea. What?
14 Pay a visit to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum in Vietnam
Just… Bizarre. A queue from the mausoleum snaked around the block and we were slowly herded in and out of a room with the embalmed corpse of communist leader Ho Chi Minh. A glimpse was all I was allowed and then I was out the door again.
13 Celebrate Chinese New Year in Malaysia or Singapore
Travel in February to experience a few weeks of lanterns, fireworks, dancing dragons and the gift of oranges from anyone and everyone.
12 learn of the horrors from S21 prison and the killing field in Cambodia
A little insight into Cambodia’s dark history and a lesson about the extent of human cruelty. A difficult adventure, but necessary to understand modern Cambodia.
11 Ride in a tube down Vang Vieng River in Laos
Vang Vieng is back to it’s chilled out roots after the parties died down. Float past the lime stone karst mountains while lounging in an inner tire tube, stop for beers at riverside restaurants. Do it all again the next day.
10 Interact with monkeys in Ubud's Monkey Forest - Indonesia
This nature reserve and Hindu temple complex in Bali is a very cool little activity. The monkeys are rather cheeky and will often try and jump onto your shoulder or check out what's in your backpack.
9 Take a traditional Southeast Asian cooking class
Mine were in Thailand and Vietnam – they’re great for any skill level and even chefs can learn something new here.
8 Meander around Southeast Asia’s Night Markets
Another pair of slouchy elephant pants, yes please. Luang Prabang’s night market and Chiang mai’s night bazaar are among the best for original crafts, but almost any city in Southeast Asia has a similar market.
7 Quad biking up and down sand dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam
Our dune bikes regularly got stuck in the sand but they were fun while they lasted. Pro tip: splurge on the bigger bike. I don't actually have a photo of the quad biking (battery died) so here's what the beach looks like.
6 Motorbike around Da Lat, Vietnam
I took a motorbike tour with Da Lat easy riders. It’s an easy way to see the countryside if you aren’t confident on a motorbike, or even if you are, the company will take you to really off the beaten path spots.
5 Halong bay, Vietnam
A three-day boat tour for $90 packed with kayaking, swimming, drinking, BBQ, hiking and cave exploring. Best bargain in the entire region. Book when you get to Hanoi to grab the best deals.
4 Eat the best food of your life
3 Chilling at Laos' 4000 Island
This is one of Southeast Asia's most chillest locations. There are no families or short term vacationers, just an island full of backpackers. Very cool place.
2 Ankor Wat, Cambodia
I have very few photos from Ankor Wat because I completely forgot to charge my camera battery (ugh!) so don’t do what I did because these temples are gorgeous.
1 Yoga in Ubud, Indonesia
I’ve dabbled in yoga a bit over the last couple of years, but I didn’t want to leave Ubud without saying Namaste! Try the Yoga Barn, the studios are unbelievably tranquil for its location in the core of Ubud.
I love how these big list posts can put an adventure into perspective. Animals, beaches, culture, adrenaline thrills and food: this is why I love this region.
Have you been to Southeast Asia? What was your favourite experience?
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