Close your eyes and imagine a land covered in lush rainforests, crowned by rugged volcanoes, studded with the quiet ruins of ancient civilizations and white sand beaches. Southeast Asia is a vast and majestic region that has a raw beauty, perfect for travelers looking for a destination that’s off the beaten track. Its vastness is precisely why one trip is not enough! Explore Southeast Asia one country (or a part of it) at a time and enjoy a more in-depth experience of the art, culture, food, nature and local scenery that it has to offer. To bring you a more personalized look into these beautiful countries, we’ve paired up with one of our favorite travel companies, Jacada Travel! Here’s a quick guide of some of our favorite Southeast Asian destinations one by one.
Undiscovered Northern Thailand: Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai
Verdant and mountainous, Chiang Rai is located in the picturesque Golden Triangle Region. With Laos to the east and Myanmar to the west, this cross-country area is one of Indochina’s most culturally significant destinations.
What to do: Bring your passport and an adventurous spirit for a day of what we like to call, “The Golden Triangle Discovery.” Here, you will get the chance to observe the contrasting characters of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos, all in one day. With an experienced guide providing insider’s knowledge throughout, you will start your journey at the border town of Tha Ki Lek in Myanmar, seeing its vibrant local markets and traditional pagodas. Next, move on to explore Chiang Saen, once the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, where you will tour the mesmerizing scattered ruins of defensive walls and sacred temples. To end your day, board a longtail boat to cruise the Mekong to the point where all three countries converge to mark the Golden Triangle. Thanks to a loophole in immigration laws, you can visit all three places without a visa!
The capital of the cultural north, Chiang Mai is a blissfully calm and laidback place to relax and recharge your batteries. Home to over 300 Buddhist temples, participate in a vast array of activities on offer, or just stroll around the backstreets and discover a city that is still firmly steeped in Thai history and atmosphere.
What to do: Capture the energy that sweeps through Chiang Mai as the city comes alive at night. A Jacada favorite, brace yourself for an unforgettable evening photography tour with one of the region’s most acclaimed photographers. From sublime temples to surreal night markets, you will have the opportunity to experience the city from a totally different perspective (quite literally day and night). Your cinematic journey begins at Documentary Arts Asia–a non-profit establishment that hosts some stunning exhibitions. From here, you will visit one of the most exquisite temples, Wat Chedi Luang, where you will get the chance to photograph this landmark almost uninterrupted in contrast to the usual swarms of people. Moving on to the bright and bustling Waroros market, the hub of local life, capture colorful rows of flower markets and unusual goods while also getting the chance to make friends with local vendors and capture some contagious ear-to-ear smiles on film. To end your night on the town, get up close and personal with some professional Muay Thai boxers as they lay it all out in the ring, gladiator-style.
Where to stay: 137 Pillars Chiang Mai
Untouched, Wild Cambodia: Wild Cambodia & The South Coast
Right off the bat, let’s just say there’s so much more to this country than Angkor Wat. We’re not suggesting that you skip it altogether; just make sure that you fit more in. Give yourself a few days to experience the giants of Siem Reap, but believe us when we say, you’ll want to carve out some time for the stunning Southern region of the Cardamom mountains, encompassing three of Southeast Asia’s most threatened ecosystems: lowland evergreen forests, riparian forests, and wetlands.
What to do: With all that we do, positive impact travel is an integral component in all of our activities. At Shinta Mani Wild, one of our local hotel partners, our travelers get the opportunity to participate in an anti-poaching patrol in partnership with Wildlife Alliance; the guardians and heroes of the Cardamom Forest. This non-profit organization catches and most importantly prosecutes poachers and illegal loggers. They travel in groups of two to eight people and are armed as they run loggers out of their makeshift camps, confiscating homemade guns, chainsaws, and many other forms of illegal contraband. These guys are the real deal. Definitely, for the more adventurous traveler, join the rangers on a motorbike for half a day and brace yourself for an eye-opening experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.
Where to stay: Shinta Mani Wild
Cambodia’s South Coast provides the antidote to your typical temple-hopping checklist. And after a week of sightseeing on foot, it’s time to refresh, rejuvenate and revive on one of the many private island resorts perched on the stunning, idyllic coastline.
What to do: Aside from complete relaxation on a paradise island, if you wish to get active, there are a multitude of conservation and community-based activities waiting to be explored. You can explore the “sweetheart” islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong with an expert guide in the conservation field where you will learn about the country’s indigenous species, habitats, ecosystems and the conservation efforts that are put in place to protect them. After years of rehabilitating the coral reef in the Cambodian archipelago, water activities such as snorkeling and kayaking are great ways to view the endemic marine wildlife in the area. In a day, you will swim alongside tropical fish species such as the parrotfish, damselfish, seahorses, spotted rays and even sea turtles.
Where to stay: Song Saa Private Island
Essential Laos: Don Daeng & Muang La
Landlocked Laos is the least visited out of its Southeast Asian neighbors, but its smaller enchanting cities, gentle culture, and lush, unspoiled scenery should definitely be on your destination radar. Don Daeng is a sleepy town in Laos with a handful of colonial buildings and pretty wooden houses. The small and mostly shaded road that runs along the heart of the eight kilometer-long island is mercifully free of cars–only bicycles, dok dok (mini tractors) and a few motorcycles are all the transport that’s required.
What to do: From Pakse, drive south towards the Cambodian border to visit the majestic Khone Phapheng waterfall. The falls are the main reason as to why the Mekong River is not navigatable into China and covers an impressive 10km stretch of the Mekong itself. Next, continue on to the pier at Ban Nakasang where you will board a local boat to visit “Si Phan Don,” translated to “The Four Thousand Islands.” This charming little gem of a place is nestled at the foot of Laos on the Cambodian border, and as the name suggests, consists of numerous tiny islands, scattered along the vast Mekong Delta. Here, you’ll make a stop at Don Khone and be transported to a French colonial era, featuring remnants of an old pier, a railway station, a former French hospital building, and a maritime office. To end your day, enjoy a Laotian twist on the term farm-to-table with a catch of the day straight from the depths of the Liphi waterfalls. How is this achieved? The daring locals put fish traps at the bottom of the falls each morning to catch fresh fish!
Where to stay: The River Resort, Champasak, Laos
A special corner of Laos that is filled with lovely locals, scenic rivers, and emerald rice fields, Muang La is understatedly enchanting. In this particular area, the people are the highlight. With only a handful (and by that I mean a few hundred) of locals who actually live there, the natural beauty of the region is primarily made up by the amazing hill tribes that live there–the Ikhos, Khmu, and the Hmong.
What to do: When it comes to scenic walks, we’ve curated something that will fascinate you every step of the way. As mentioned, the people of Muang La are wildly interesting, so with us, you will head to Pak La village, home to the Khamu people. As you set off on your walking tour with a local guide, you will see how the Khamu people have assimilated to their local surroundings and have adapted to their land, much of which comprises of vast rice terraces and salt mines. Next, head to the nearby “Chiao Pha Kham Sing” temple, which houses a sacred Buddha that is worshipped by the locals. According to legend, the Buddha mysteriously appeared in the temple several hundred years ago. If you’re in a spiritual mood, say a little prayer before heading back to your hotel.
Where to stay: Muang La Lodge
Classic Myanmar: Bagan & Yangon
Just as magnificent as the world’s most famous archaeological sites, but with distinctly fewer visitors, Bagan is an astonishing ancient city and one of Myanmar’s most precious gems.
What to do: Start your morning with a hot-air balloon flight over the plains of Bagan. Built by kings during the 11th and 12th centuries, these age-old wonders which sit by the Irrawaddy River, are unforgettable when experienced from high above. As the sun rises over temple spires and the rural villages come into view below, only three words come to mind: transformative, memorable, and magical.
Where to stay: Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort
Named ‘The Garden City of the East,” Yangon blends a wealth of activity and tradition with verdant pockets of tropical trees and evergreen scenery. As night falls, the scents and flavors of Chinatown intensify, making this a fantastic place to wander and explore, while daytime visits to the shaded parks and museums offer a welcome respite from the heat.
What to do: The ancient, golden Shwedagon Pagoda forms the centerpiece of the former capital from its hilltop perch. Follow the trail of monks and nuns along to this must-see pagoda, which dominates the horizon, and is particularly captivating at both sunrise and twilight. In the evening, this place glitters in the light of oil lamps while the air is sweetened by aromatic incense for this special lighting ceremony. Don’t forget to seal your special memory of this destination in Southeast Asia with pictures of the ceremony!
Indonesia: Raja Ampat & Java
Off the northwest tip of New Guinea in West Papua, the archipelago of Raja Ampat is made up of over 1,500 tiny islands and cays. With its sublime scenery of steep, jungle-covered islands, hidden lagoons, fine white-sand beaches, and pellucid turquoise waters, Raja Ampat is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtaking island chains in the world.
What to do: There is no better way to explore the archipelago of Raja Ampat than by boat. You’ll explore this beautiful part of the world on a private luxury yacht, weaving through the cerulean blue waters that are dotted with lush forested limestone cliffs. Discover pristine white sand beaches, hidden coves, and wild mangrove forests while admiring the tropical birds and butterflies that flit through the skies. Under the glistening waters, another world exists–one teeming with schools of fish, ornate coral reefs, and elegant marine mammals. You’ll have the opportunity to swim, snorkel, kayak and dive through this incredible environment which is widely untouched and undisturbed by humans.
Which vessel to take: Tiger Blue
When someone says “Southeast Asia” and “destination” in a sentence, most would make a beeline for Bali, but there are thousands more islands in the vast Indonesian archipelago worth visiting. Commonly known as the heart of the nation, Java is a complex island of great antiquity and is home to over half of Indonesia’s population. Head away from the cities and you’ll unearth a landscape of smoldering volcanoes, lush rice paddies, and ethereal temples.
What to do: Together with Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobudur ranks as one of the greatest cultural icons of Southeast Asia. The steaming jungle and the shadowy peaks of central Java’s enormous volcanoes only add to the allure and make for an incredible combination of culture, history, and nature. To catch the UNESCO World Heritage Site at its most spectacular moment, wake up early to reach Borobudur for sunrise. Bathed in the light of dawn, the two million hand-carved volcanic and river stone blocks reflecting off of golden hour, make the experience that much more memorable.
Where to stay: Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa
Jacada Travel is an award-winning luxury travel company, specializing in creating bespoke, inspirational journeys to Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Australasia and the Polar Regions. Acknowledging the limited time clients have available, Jacada Travel will carefully craft a personal itinerary that will best accommodate the client’s interests while achieving as much as possible in that period of time. Currently, Jacada Travel has offices operating in London, Hong Kong, Cape Town and Santiago. To browse through itineraries and learn more, visit www.jacadatravel.com and for further inquiries, email their Asia Travel Designer, Jess Tang at [email protected]
Jacada Travel www.jacadatravel.com