Not only is South East Asia blessed with some incredible natural wonders; it’s also home to some spectacular cities. From ancient monuments to urban skyscrapers, you’ll find it all in South Asia’s sprawling metropolises. Below are just a few of the greatest cities that the subcontinent has to offer and why you should add them to your bucket list.
Thailand’s buzzing capital is probably the most popular South East Asian city to visit. It’s so popular because it has something for practically every type of tourist. For history buffs, there are an array of historic sights to explore including the lavish Grand Palace and a number of impressive ‘wats’ (temples) including Wat Pho and Wat Arun. For foodies, there’s the opportunity to try authentic Thai foods such as Pad Thai and noodle soup (ranging from mouth-watering street food for those on a budget to luxurious fine dining for those that want to splash out). Meanwhile, those that just want to party are certain to enjoy the vibrant nightlife that Bangkok has to offer. The only tourists likely to be disappointed by Bangkok are those looking for a relaxing vacation (in which case, a city really isn’t the place you should be going anyway).
Unlike other South Eastern Asian cities, Singapore has a very orderly and Western feel to it. It’s ridiculously clean and public transport is a lot more comfortable and punctual than in other cities. It’s also the most expensive city on this list – you’ll want to set aside a larger spending budget than you would in other South East Asian cities. The city has a reputation as a global business capital and has lots of impressive skyscrapers to rival New York. There is a historic side to it that includes the Raffles Hotel and Fort Canning Park, but it’s the futuristic modern sights that set it apart such as Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay. Don’t visit this city without trying an authentic Singapore sling in one of the city’s trendy bars. There’s also no shortage of swanky restaurants to experience a spot of fine dining (some of the best restaurants in South East Asia can be found in Singapore).
Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur combines the hustle-bustle of Bangkok with the modern feel of Singapore. There are urban marvels such as The Petronas Towers (at one point the largest skyscraper in the world) and natural/spiritual sights such as the epic Batu Caves. The city is a melting pot of cultures – it’s equal parts muslim, buddhist, hindu and christian. This gives it a very cosmopolitan feel that is present in its architecture and food. The city is also very affordable – whether you rent out an apartment in Boulevard 28 or stay in a hostel around Petaling Street Market, you’re likely to spend very little compared to other cities. Highlights of Kuala Lumpur include the diverse food and the endless shopping experiences.
Travel to Myanmar’s capital used to be heavily restricted due to the totalitarian regime that was formerly in place. These restrictions were only lifted in 2011 – while travel to the city has increased massively since then, the city is still relatively untouched by tourism, making it a unique destination to visit in South East Asia. If you love history, the city has plenty of pagodas and museums worth visiting. If you love food, there many fantastic culinary experiences to be had (the Burmese people are largely vegetarian, making this an ideal city to visit if you’re a fellow veggie). Hotels are also very affordable, while also feeling very luxurious. It’s definitely a city to visit sooner rather than later – who knows how tourism will have transformed it in 10 years time.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City (known to the locals as Saigon) is ideal for those craving a fast-paced city adventure. This Vietnamese city literally never sleeps – you’ll find shops, restaurants and bars here that are open 24/7. Combined with it’s chaotic traffic and crowds of people, it can feel like an assault on the senses (arguably more so than Bangkok), however it can also be very exciting. A lot of people visit this city for the history – particularly to visit the museums and memorials dedicated to the Vietnam war. Others visit for the delicious spicy food and strong iced coffee. There are even some natural sights to see while in this city such as the Mekong River Delta (which can serve as a welcome escape when you’re exhausted from the hustle-bustle of the city centre).
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. A popular honeymoon destination, it is sometimes referred to as ‘the Venice of the East’ (it even has its own Venice-style Grand Canal). Its colonial architecture and inner walled city contributes to its European feel. However, like most South East Asian Cities, it still has a very fast-paced and hectic nature to it – albeit with more Western influence. Shopping is definitely big business in Manila – there are compact traditional markets and there are sprawling ultramodern malls. Hotel prices can vary depending on where you stay, however the cost of staying in this city is still relatively cheap compared to many Western cities.
There are plenty of Indonesian cities that could have made this list. Yogyakarta is technically more of a large town than a city, but it stands out from many of its bigger neighbours due to its array of historical and cultural sights. The city is home to a number of museums and art galleries that offer a great exploration of Indonesian culture. It’s also got plenty of historic buildings to explore and it’s a stone’s throw from Borobudur – the world’s largest Buddhist archaeologist site. Compared to other cities on this list, Yogyakarta is smaller and calmer. If you’re not a ‘big city’ person, it could be more up your street. Accomodation is not too expensive and the cuisine here is fantastic.
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