Explore Asia: An Adventure Travel Guide to Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam
You only live once, and travel through Asia can enrich any life. In particular, Southeast Asia probably has everything your dream vacation would involve. The food is out of this world. The beaches are hot. The nightlife is even hotter. And you can luxuriate in tropical weather throughout the year. Just keep that sunscreen handy!
There’s more. The opportunities for water sports and other physical activities are everywhere. The mountains, rivers, fields, hills, jungles, forests, lakes, and other natural features are so often untamed, undeveloped, and unbelievable.
Beyond that, Southeast Asian culture — which is on full display in the region’s shops, restaurants, museums, galleries, religious sites, and historical attractions — is fascinating.
Below are descriptions of some major destinations in this part of the world. They’re located in the remarkable nations of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Each of these countries has an engrossing history and a character that’s distinct and alluring. Once you take some time to see these places, they’ll be in your heart forever.
1. Angkor Wat
For some people, Cambodia travel would be incomplete without a stop at Angkor Wat. The very name conjures up ancient mysteries and unparalleled grandeur.
Near the city of Siem Reap, this series of temples has stayed in really good shape over the centuries. King Suryavarman II planned the construction of Angkor Wat in the 1100s, and its towers, statues, and columns still give visitors a sense of awe.
Angkor Wat is part of a natural preserve called Angkor Archaeological Park, which is great for hiking. When you’re there, don’t forget to keep looking up. When the sun’s rays peek through the magnificent clouds, you get a spectacular show of light and color.
2. Koh Rong Samloem Island
When you’re at work, do you ever daydream about a pristine tropical island? Well, if you head to the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia’s Koh Rong Samloem Island can bring those fantasies to life.
In the resort town of Sihanoukville, you can hop on a fishing boat or a ferry and cruise through gorgeous aquamarine waters. When you reach Koh Rong Samloem, you can stay in a bungalow and explore the charming village of M’Pay Bay.
Take in the majestic waterfalls and the unspoiled beaches all around you. Swim and snorkel all you want. And, in the afternoon, get some shut-eye under a casuarina tree.
If you love animals, keep an eye out for delightful native creatures like the long-tailed macaque, a monkey with a very wise and dignified face, and the boisterous variable squirrel.
3. Tonle Sap
Cambodia travel often involves a trip to Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is such an exquisite destination because it is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and many people live right on the lake. The lake is attached to Tonle Sap River which connects to the Mekong River.
You can tour the vast Tonle Sap Lake by boat to experience the lake wildlife and the culture of the lake communities surrounding Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
When visiting Tonle Sap be sure to stop at Chong Khneas, the famous floating village located on the edge of the lake. Here you will experience the culture of the Khmer, Muslim and Vietnamese floating households as well as have the opportunity to explore floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools and more.
Even in ruins, the towering Buddhist monasteries of Ayutthaya are breathtaking. This city, an ancient center of trade on the Gulf of Thailand, is full of these structures. You can also mosey around and see buildings built by settlers from Japan, Portugal, and other far-flung locales.
What’s more, in Ayutthaya, you can take in the river at night aboard a rice barge or soak in the vibrant terrain on a guided bicycle tour. If you want to feel a little like Indiana Jones, trekking trips are probably more your style. However you prefer to explore foreign lands, Thailand will provide you with many options for exploration.
Oh, and for meals you’ll never forget, grab handfuls of river prawns and oodles of boat noodles before you leave.
Krabi is a Thai province where you’ll probably want to stay as long as you can. It has caves for spelunking, beaches with white sand for relaxing, dozens of islands for roving, and water for snorkeling that’s clear as could be.
In fact, there are so many thrilling destinations in this region that it’s hard to single out a few. However, if you like the idea of chilling next to a coral reef, Koh Poda is an island that you don’t want to miss out on. It’s only a 25-minute boat ride from the mainland.
Plus, the thick vegetation and crystalline pools of Thung Teao Forest Natural Park might call your name. And the Tiger Cave, a limestone cave situated high above the earth, is positioned amid Buddhist temples. Its views are glorious, but you should be warned: To reach this spot, you’ll have to climb more than 1,200 steps.
As you explore Thailand, you might go to another marvelous province called Phuket. It’s made up of 33 islands. Phuket Island is the largest island in the whole country, but the other islands in this province are comparatively small.
You may want to spend your time in Phuket seeing islands more or less at random. You could stop by a remote isle and hunt for a gorgeous little beach, one that you could have all to yourself. For a moment, you might feel like Robinson Crusoe — or maybe Gilligan!
When you’re finished swimming and scuba diving to your heart’s content, you could make your way to Phuket Island for some cosmopolitan pleasures and enthralling Asian culture. The marketplaces in the town of Patong really come alive after sundown with unique street performers and bustling crowds; you could snag a tasty snack and maybe a nice little gift for Grandma.
If you’d like to party all night long, head over to Bangla Road for bars, clubs, and explosions of light and color.
1. Vang Vieng
Wherever you are in Vang Vieng, you can bask in the glory of natural wonders. This town in Vientiane Province is positioned among limestone mountains that are full of caves, and the river Nam Song weaves a spell as it meanders through.
Do you adore birds? If so, grab your binoculars, and go to the picturesque Nong Nok reservoir. Your feathered friends will meet you there.
Vang Vieng is a perfect spot for kayaking and tubing. You can also climb rocks or take a mountain bike out for a spin. For a more sedate activity, just lace up your sneakers; long walks are very pleasant in this location. As you go, you can stop at any restaurant, village, sculpture, or monastery that catches your fancy.
2. Wat Phu
Visits to Wat Phu make trips to Laos even more special. Also known as Vat Phou, Wat Phu is a network of temples, and imposing sandstone mountains loom over this site like great protectors. You’ll also find reservoirs, palaces, and thick, inviting foliage all around.
As you wander the area, you might feel a sudden and strong bond with the distant past. One of Wat Phu’s temples even dates back to the 400s.
You might want to take a boat tour of the Mekong River while you’re there. And, perhaps most exciting of all, Wat Phu hosts a gigantic festival every February. It presents Lao dances, elephant races, and other shows and competitions.
3. Luang Prabang
If your trips to Laos ever take you to the central part of the country, you could check out the mystical town of Luang Prabang. It’s a place of ancient rituals, a community where large groups of monks stroll the streets each morning. It’s a city of Lao and European architectural masterpieces, and it’s home to shrines, temples, and irresistible Luang Prabang sausages.
While you’re in Luang Prabang, you might be up for some boating, biking, or waterfall hiking. When it gets dark, the night market is definitely the place to hang out.
1. Ha Giang
As you tour Vietnam, you might enter the province of Ha Giang in the northern section of the country. It’s like entering another world. Your jaw might literally drop when you first see this land of fields, forests, springs, and mountains.
You could spend some time marching through the Dong Van rock plateau, a place of eerie beauty. The rocks there have unusual shapes and colors. Taken together, they have a splendor all their own.
You can also make memories by climbing the Lung Cu Flag Tower’s 400 or so steps and surveying the landscape beneath your feet. Just as enticing is the sight of the mountainous, curvaceous Ma Pi Leng Pass and the breathtaking views of the terraced yellow fields of Hoang Su Phi. The gorgeous landscapes in Vietnam just might make your heart skip a beat.
While you’re in the neighborhood, why not feast on some pig armpits? You’ll be happy to know that they taste better than they sound.
2. Hoi An
It’s a serene and historic port. It’s a place where you can jump in a motorboat or a kayak and view astonishing vistas and architectural details in every direction. It’s Hoi An.
Many people who tour Vietnam go to Hoi An to take cooking classes. If you don’t fancy yourself a cook, you might be more interested in biking across the region’s many farms, finding a mouthwatering barbecue vendor, seeing a history museum, taking a jeep tour, or hitting a beach. Whatever you decide to do, a riveting cultural journey awaits.
Paradise Cave, meanwhile, really lives up to its name. It’s part of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, and its stalactites and stalagmites are incredible. In fact, the whole cave looks like something created by a Hollywood special effects team.
3. Hang Son Doong
If you are a die-hard adventure traveler, you absolutely cannot tour Vietnam without seeing Hang Son Doong. Why you ask? Because it is the world’s largest cave! And one of the most captivating experiences in all of Southeast Asia.
Hang Son Doong translates as Mountain River Cave and it stretches more than 3 miles long and in some areas up to 650 feet high. The eco-system inside the cave is just as jaw dropping as its large surface area. Some sections of the cave have collapsed ceilings that have provided openings for vegetation to grow and microscopic organisms to live. These openings also allow the cave to have its very own weather system which is an outrageous experience to witness.
You may also discover some of the cave’s most magnificent gems including hidden limestone pearls and the largest stalagmite in existence standing 262 feet above the earth!
ney to Hang Son Doong involves two full days of intense trekking through jungles and rivers before you can reach the entrance of the cave. Once you reach the cave you are free to experience all that Hang Son Doong has to offer (under the supervision of caving experts of course).
A Few More Thoughts on Travel Through Asia
As you experience adventure travel and a cultural journey in this region, you’ll find that meeting people who live in these nations is a treat. The individuals who host, guide, feed, serve, and care for Southeast Asia’s tourists are famously warm and knowledgeable. On top of that, these folks are deservedly proud of their heritage.
In short, in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, you’ll feel at home no matter how far from home you are. There will always be somebody close by who can offer assistance or give you a friendly greeting.
With all of this in mind, why not book your trekking trips across Southeast Asia as soon as you can? Bring your friends and family members with you! After all, climbing a hill to find a remote village is an outstanding way to bond with loved ones and kayaking deep in a jungle could strengthen any friendship.