Backpacking through Southeast Asia is a must-do trip in your 20’s (Really for any age, though the backpacking culture in Asia is heavily 20-somethings). It’s beautiful, full of culture and most of all: it’s cheap. In between drinking on the beach and losing your belongings, you’ll find numerous activities to do, temples to climb and views to see. Here are 32 things to add to your Southeast Asia Bucket list to have the most epic trip of your 20’s.
The Ultimate SE Asia Bucket List:
1. TRAVEL LIKE THE LOCALS
Whether it’s a tuk-tuk, song taew or jeepney…you should probably take it. They may or may not be more expensive than alternative transportation but they sure are a fun way to see the city and have a unique experience!
2. SPEND TIME AT AN ELEPHANT SANCTUARY in Chiang Mai, Thailand
If you want to see elephants, Chiang Mai is the place to go. However, some places can mistreat the elephants so it’s important to do your research before going to find elephant sanctuaries with ethical practices.
3. HIKE A VOLCANO in Indonesia
There are many different volcanic hikes you can do in Indonesia and a lot of them involve waking up at 3am, eating a banana pancake in the dark and hiking through the night until you reach the summit just before sunrise. Totally worth it! (This one is Mt Batur in Bali!)
4. EAT SOMETHING STRANGE/TRY EXOTIC FOODS
You can try many different critters in Asia like scorpions, grasshoppers and tarantulas. The locals won’t eat it but it gives you bragging rights (…or typhoid fever). You don’t have to go and eat a scorpion like I did, but DO make sure you try the different fruits and dishes that each country offers. In SE Asia, some of the best food can be found at a food stall. I always like to try the different candies a country has too!
5. GO SAND BOARDING in Ilocos Norte, The Philippines
If you want to try a unique experience, head to Ilocos Norte to try your luck at sand boarding. Though I can’t vouch for the dunes myself, I’d be curious to hear someone’s personal experience there!
6. GO SCUBA DIVING
SE Asia is one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified, not to mention a beautiful place to do it! If scuba diving is on your bucket list, SE Asia is the perfect place to do it!
7. TAKE A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE OVER TEMPLES in Bagan, Myanmar
I have yet to check this off my own bucket list but it is definitely near the top. In Bagan, you can catch the sunrise in a hot air balloon while ascending over ancient temples. The views look amazing!
8. PARTY IN THE SKY AT A VIEW BAR
In the bigger cities, there are many opportunities to eat, drink or dance in the sky…at a view bar that is. Bangkok and Singapore especially have some amazing views from their rooftops, but make sure you dress to impress (and you may want to extend your budget for the night).
9. SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS in Cebu, The Philippines
Whale sharks may look daunting (adults can be between 20-35ft long!), the good news is that they don’t eat people! That’s right, you can be totally safe swimming with whale sharks and get an up close view.
10. ATTEND A FULL MOON/HALF MOON PARTY in Koh Phangan, Thailand
Thailand, Koh Phangan to be more specific, is famous (maybe infamous…) for it’s Full Moon party. It’s become so famous with tourists in fact, that there is now a Half Moon party, a Black Moon party, a Jungle party, a Waterfall party…basically a party every night for 3 days before and after the actual Full Moon party. Fun facts: I actually thought the Half Moon party was more fun than the Full Moon and this picture is actually on another island all together: Koh Phi Phi!
11. HIKE UP TO A VIEWPOINT
There are so many opportunities to hike up to a viewpoint and you should take as many as you can physically do. The views are always worth it!
12. GO CANYONING in Dalat, Vietnam
If you love nature, a good adventure and are in ‘average condition’, according to my husband, you’ll love canyoning down the waterfalls in Dalat.
13. CLIMB THE RUINS AT ANGKOR WAT in Siem Reap, Cambodia
I admit, I went to Cambodia for the sole reason of visiting Angkor Wat and it did not disappoint. There are so many temple complexes of different sizes that you can spend days exploring them all. The best part is that many are available to climb and you can channel your inner Lara Croft or Indiana Jones to your heart’s content.
Find out everything you need to know about Angkor Wat HERE.
14. VISIT THE HAWKER CENTERS in Singapore
The hawker centers in Singapore are comprised of food stalls and have some of the best local eats around. There are two stalls that have even been awarded a Michelin Star!
15. EXPERIENCE THE DIAGON ALLEY OF ASIA: KHAO SAN ROAD in Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road is hard to put in words but I’m gonna try. It’s a muddle of eccentric foods, inappropriate souvenirs, drunk backpackers and music so loud that you can hardly hear yourself order. It’s crazy, weird, fun and has the most sights, smells and sounds your body could ever possibly absorb at once.
Don’t let this daytime picture fool you. The night time Khao San Road is much different than the daytime Khao San Road.
16. GET A HISTORY LESSON anywhere
Whether it’s the Killing Fields in Cambodia or the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, go and learn about the history of these countries and the pasts that have made them what they are today.
17. SPEND THE NIGHT ON A JUNK BOAT IN HALONG BAY in Vietnam
Halong Bay is arguably one of the best sites in Vietnam and a fun way to see it is taking an overnight junk boat excursion. This gives you time to relax and take it all in while catching the sunrise over the water or kayaking around the formations.
18. RENT A SCOOTER AND EXPLORE
The best way to get out and explore at your leisure is to rent a scooter. It’s easier to do than you might think and by far the cheapest option…at times being around $5-6 per day.
19. WAKE UP FOR THE SUNRISE
There are too many gorgeous places to watch the sunrise in SE Asia that it would be a shame for you to sleep in every day. One of the most famous sunrise locations is at Angkor Wat and it. is. breathtaking. Oh, and while you’re at it, you may as well wake up even earlier to get the best spot.
20. ATTEND THE FLOATING LANTERN FESTIVAL in Thailand
This is one that is hard to check off your bucket list unless you go to Thailand on a specific day to a specific region. But if you can get the timing just right, it looks magical.
21. FIND YOUR PERFECT ISLAND AND STAY THERE A FEW DAYS
My favorite thing about SE Asia is the tropical weather and there are so many hidden beaches waiting for you to find them. Each island has its own vibe and its own beauty. The best thing to do is island hop until you’ve found one that you love and hang out there for a few days.
22. RAFT DOWN THE RIVER in Luang Prabang, Laos
This place was a party cove once upon a time where backpackers would drink the day away while floating down the river on a tube. Times and rules have changed and while it may not be the party hot spot anymore, you may still be able to take in the scenery on a float.
23. SEE A RARE ANIMAL
Different regions mean different animals. You can take a Gibbon tour in Laos, see Komodo Dragons in Indonesia or the Tarsier in The Philippines.
24. GET SOMETHING CUSTOM MADE in Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is known for its custom made clothing. There are tailor shops lining the streets and they can make just about anything. Not all tailors are the same though and make sure you have plenty of time to get them altered so you don’t have to ride down the street on the back of a moped wearing a ballgown. (It was hot pink too…)
25. VISIT A TEMPLE AT SUNSET
Pick your country and pick your temple. There are some amazing views and photo ops depending on where you go. (This one is at Angkor Wat.)
26. CHAT WITH A MONK in Bangkok, Thailand
You can learn about Thai culture and Buddhism by talking directly to a monk in Bangkok. It’s a good way to immerse yourself and get a better understanding of their culture.
27. GET A PICTURE WITH A MONKEY AT THE MONKEY FOREST in Ubud (Bali), Indonesia
Technically you can do this about anywhere because monkeys seem to be a common animal in Asia but there are definitely some rogue monkeys out there. So if you want a picture where they aren’t attacking you, go to the Monkey Forest in Bali and have a trainer help you give them a treat. And pay attention to the rules because they could still attack you. Haha. But seriously, you’re more likely to lose your sunglasses or water bottle than get bit.
28. SEE THE CHOCOLATE HILLS in The Philippines
The Chocolate Hills in The Philippines is a strange attraction of hundreds of hills that peak above the trees and turn brown during the dry months. Strange, but very cool.
29. TAKE A COOKING CLASS
Put a fun twist on your meal by learning how to make it. There are a lot of cooking classes to choose from and each country means different cuisine!
30. SEE THE SUPER TREES AT GARDENS BY THE BAY in Singapore
This was one of my favorite places to visit. Day or night, the super trees at the Gardens By the Bay are awesome to see!
31. GET A MASSAGE ON THE BEACH
A great thing about Asia is how affordable massages are. A 1-hour massage would end up costing about $9 in some places. Some people will even offer them on the beach.
32. WALK THROUGH THE RICE TERRACES
Rice terraces are all over Asia, with some of the most popular being in Ubud (Bali, Indonesia), Sapa (Vietnam) or The Banaue Terraces in The Philippines.
Have you been to Asia? How many have you checked off so far? Or is there something you think should be on the list?
Let me know in the comments!