Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring by Lonely Planet, Greg Bloom, and David Eimer - Read Online
Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring
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Summary

#1 best-selling guide to Southeast Asia*

Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to skip, what hidden discoveries await you, and how to optimise your budget for an extended continental trip. Wander among the temples of Angkor, dine like an emperor in Hoi An's Old Town, or lock eyes with prehistoric monsters at Komodo National Park, all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Southeast Asia and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Budget-oriented recommendations with honest reviews - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, politics, arts, environment, cuisine, health, lifestyle, religion Over 160 maps Covers Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience Seamlessly flip between pages Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash Embedded links to recommendations' websites Zoom-in maps and images Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for just a few of the destinations included in this guide? Check out Lonely Planet Vietnam, Thailand or Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei our most comprehensive guides that cover Southeast Asia's top sights and offbeat experiences.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Nick Ray, Isabel Albiston, Greg Bloom, Ria de Jong, David Eimer, Sarah Reid, Simon Richmond, Iain Stewart, Ryan Ver Berkmoes, Richard Waters, China Williams

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Southeast Asia. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Published: Lonely Planet on
ISBN: 9781786577351
List price: $29.99
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Southeast Asia

Contents

Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asias Top 20

Need to Know

First Time Southeast Asia

If You Like

Month by Month

Itineraries

Big Adventures, Small Budgets

Activities

Countries at a Glance

On The Road

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam Highlights

Bandar Seri Begawan

Temburong District

Bangar

Ulu Temburong National Park

Understand Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam Today

History

People & Culture

Environment

Survival Guide

Cambodia

Cambodia Highlights

Phnom Penh

Around Phnom Penh

Koh Dach

Tonle Bati

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor

Siem Reap

Temples of Angkor

Northwestern Cambodia

Battambang

Around Battambang

Kompong Thom

Around Kompong Thom

South Coast

Koh Kong City

Koh Kong Conservation Corridor

Sihanoukville

Southern Islands

Kampot

Around Kampot

Bokor Hill Station

Kep

Eastern Cambodia

Kompong Cham

Kratie

Stung Treng

Ratanakiri Province

Mondulkiri Province

Understand Cambodia

Cambodia Today

History

People & Culture

Food & Drink

Environment

Survival Guide

Indonesia

Indonesia Highlights

Java

Jakarta

Bogor

Bandung

Pangandaran

Batu Karas

Around Batu Karas

Wonosobo

Dieng Plateau

Yogyakarta

Prambanan

Borobudur

Solo (Surakarta)

Around Solo

Malang & Around

Gunung Bromo

Bondowoso

Ijen Plateau

Banyuwangi

Bali

Kuta & Seminyak

Canggu & Around

Bukit Peninsula

Denpasar

Sanur

Nusa Lembongan

Ubud

Around Ubud

East Coast Beaches

Semarapura (Klungkung)

Sidemen Road

Padangbai

Candidasa

Tirta Gangga

Gunung Batur Area

Danau Bratan Area

Munduk

Lovina & the North

Southwest Bali

West Bali

Pemuteran

Nusa Tenggara

Lombok

Gili Islands

Sumbawa

Komodo & Rinca

Flores

West Timor

Sumba

Sumatra

Padang

Bukittinggi

Danau Maninjau

Danau Toba

Berastagi

Medan

Bukit Lawang

Tangkahan

Banda Aceh

Pulau Weh

Kalimantan

West & Central Kalimantan

East Kalimantan

Pulau Derawan

Sulawesi

Makassar (Ujung Padang)

Tana Toraja

Tentena

Poso

Ampana

Togean Islands

Gorontalo

Manado

Pulau Bunaken

Tomohon

Maluku

Pulau Ambon

Banda Islands

Papua (Irian Jaya)

Jayapura

Sentani

Baliem Valley

Sorong

Raja Ampat Islands

Understand Indonesia

Indonesia Today

History

People & Culture

Environment

Food & Drink

Survival Guide

Laos

Laos Highlights

Vientiane

Northern Laos

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

Nong Khiaw

Muang Ngoi Neua

Phonsavan

Plain of Jars

Sam Neua

Vieng Xai

Udomxai

Luang Namtha

Huay Xai

Central & Southern Laos

Route 8 to Lak Sao

Tha Khaek

Around Tha Khaek

Savannakhet

Pakse

Champasak

Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands)

Understand Laos

Laos Today

History

People & Culture

Food & Drink

Environment

Survival Guide

Malaysia

Malaysia Highlights

Kuala Lumpur

Peninsular Malaysia West Coast

Melaka

Cameron Highlands

Ipoh

Penang

Alor Setar

Kangar

Pulau Langkawi

Peninsular Malaysia South & East Coast

Johor Bahru

Mersing

Pulau Tioman

Kuantan

Cherating

Kuala Terengganu

Kuala Besut

Pulau Perhentian

Kota Bharu

Peninsular Interior

Jerantut

Taman Negara

Malaysian Borneo Sabah

Kota Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu & Kinabalu National Park

Around Mt Kinabalu

Sandakan

Sepilok

Sungai Kinabatangan

Semporna

Semporna Archipelago

Pulau Labuan

Malaysian Borneo Sarawak

Kuching

Around Kuching

Sibu

Batang Rejang

Bintulu

Niah National Park

Lambir Hills National Park

Miri

Gunung Mulu National Park

Kelabit Highlands

Understand Malaysia

Malaysia Today

History

People & Culture

Food & Drink

Environment

Survival Guide

Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar (Burma) Highlights

Yangon

The Delta, West Coast Beaches & North Of Yangon

Pathein

Bago

Taungoo

Pyay

Southeastern Myanmar

Mt Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)

Mawlamyine

Bilu Kyun

Hpa-An

Dawei

Inle Lake & Shan State

Inle Lake & Nyaungshwe

Pindaya

Kalaw

Kyaingtong

Mandalay & Around

Mandalay

Around Mandalay

Pyin Oo Lwin

Hsipaw

Bagan & Around

Bagan

Monywa

Western Myanmar

Sittwe

Mrauk U

Understand Myanmar

Myanmar Today

History

People & Culture

Environment

Food & Drink

Survival Guide

Philippines

Philippines Highlights

Luzon

Manila

The Cordillera

Vigan

Legazpi

Around Legazpi

Mindoro

Puerto Galera

Roxas

The Visayas

Boracay

Negros

Siquijor

Cebu

Bohol

Mindanao

Siargao

Palawan

Puerto Princesa

Sabang

Port Barton

El Nido

Coron

Understand Philippines

Philippines Today

History

People & Culture

Food & Drink

Environment

Survival Guide

Singapore

Sights

Activities

Courses

Tours

Festivals & Events

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Singapore Today

History

People & Culture

Environment

Thailand

Thailand Highlights

Bangkok

Central Thailand

Ayuthaya

Lopburi

Phitsanulok

Sukhothai

Kamphaeng Phet

Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai

Around Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai

Golden Triangle

Pai

Mae Hong Son

Mae Sariang

Western Thailand

Kanchanaburi

Sangkhlaburi

Mae Sot

Northeastern Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat)

Khao Yai National Park

Phanom Rung Historical Park

Surin

Ubon Ratchathani

Mukdahan

Nakhon Phanom

Nong Khai

Eastern Gulf Coast

Ko Samet

Chanthaburi & Trat

Ko Chang

Southern Gulf Coast

Hua Hin

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Chumphon

Ko Samui

Ko Pha-Ngan

Ko Tao

Surat Thani

Hat Yai

The Andaman Coast

Ranong

Ko Chang

Ko Phayam

Khao Sok National Park

Hat Khao Lak & Around

Surin Islands Marine National Park

Similan Islands Marine National Park

Phuket

Krabi Town

Railay

Ko Phi-Phi

Ko Lanta

Ko Tarutao Marine National Park

Understand Thailand

Thailand Today

History

People & Culture

Arts

Food & Drink

Environment

Survival Guide

Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste Highlights

Dili

Atauro Island

East of Dili

Baucau

South of Baucau

Southeast of Baucau

East of Baucau

West of Dili

South of Dili

Maubisse

Hatubuilico & Mt Ramelau

Same & Betano

Suai

Oecussi

Understand Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste Today

History

People & Culture

Environment

Survival Guide

Vietnam

Vietnam Highlights

Hanoi

Northern Vietnam

Halong Bay

Halong City

Cat Ba Island

Haiphong

Ba Be National Park

Mai Chau

Lao Cai

Bac Ha

Sapa

Dien Bien Phu

North-Central Vietnam

Ninh Binh

Around Ninh Binh

Cuc Phuong National Park

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Hue

Around Hue

Danang

Around Danang

Hoi An

Around Hoi An

Southeast Coast

Nha Trang

Mui Ne

Southwest Highlands

Dalat

Around Dalat

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Around Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi

Tay Ninh

Mekong Delta

Vinh Long

Can Tho

Chau Doc

Ha Tien

Phu Quoc Island

Understand Vietnam

Vietnam Today

History

People & Culture

Food & Drink

Environment

Survival Guide

Understand

Understand Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Today

History

People & Culture

Survive

Responsible Travel

Environmental Concerns

Wildlife Encounters

Cultural & Social Concerns

Poverty & Economic Disparity

Volunteering & Voluntourism

Directory AZ

Accommodation

Bathing

Customs Regulations

Discount Cards

Discrimination

Electricity

Embassies & Consulates

LGBT Travellers

Insurance

Internet Access

Legal Matters

Money

Passports

Photography

Post

Safe Travel

Toilets

Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities

Visas

Women Travellers

Work

Transport

Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Health

Before You Go

In Southeast Asia

Language

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Special Features

Food Spotters Guide

Welcome to Southeast Asia

Lush landscapes, urban jungles, blissful beaches, brooding volcanoes, ancient temples, modernist architecture, creative cuisine: Southeast Asia seamlessly delivers the accessible, affordable exotic.

Elemental Forces

Water has sculpted many Southeast Asian landscapes. The jungle-topped islands are fringed by coral reefs that calm the ocean into turquoise pools. The languorous Vietnamese coastline greets the South China Sea from tip to tail, while inland dramatic karst mountains soar skywards. The meandering Mekong River winds its way from the densely packed mountains of northern Laos to the pancake-flat rice bowl of the Mekong Delta. The traditional ‘highways’ of Borneo are coffee-coloured, jungle-clad rivers. And the volcanoes of Indonesia and the Philippines provide a glimpse into the earth’s volatile heart.

Spiritual Sojourns

Southeast Asia is a spiritual space. As dawn breaks, pots of rice bubble over and the smoke of incense wafts from earth to heaven. Barefoot monks embark on their call to alms among the faithful; the muezzin's call reverberates from mosques urging devotees to prayer; and family altars are flush with fruit and flowers for the guardian spirits. The region’s great monuments were wrought from divine inspiration, from Angkor’s heaven incarnate to Bagan’s shimmering spires. The spiritual side of life is omnipresent and travellers can boost their karmic balance at meditation retreats or by hiking to a golden temple atop a sacred mountain.

Urban Adventures

The cities of Southeast Asia are stepping into the future with one foot dragging in the past. Bangkok is the gateway to many Asian adventures, where Skytrains whisk shoppers from mall to mall and hawkers ply their wares on the steaming pavements below. Singapore is a gleaming testament to Asia at its most efficient. For old meets new, explore the backstreets of Phnom Penh, Hanoi's Old Quarter or downtown Yangon, which have a beguiling blend of traditional architecture, colonial-era gems and a contemporary twist. One thing all the cities have in common is a buzz.

Epicurean Encounters

With a burning sun and cooling rains, the earth here delivers a colourful palette of fruits, spices once as prized as gold, and the Southeast Asia staple, rice. From Indian curries to Chinese dim sum, the regional cuisine tells a tale of migration and mixing. And there is no better way to meet the region's melting pot of people, with their infectious spirit and irrepressible love of life, than with a meal in a market or a drink at a street stall. Despite the rapid development, the street remains the stage for the real-life drama that unfolds each day.

Boating in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam | TRAN ANH LINH/LONELY PLANET ©

Why I Love Southeast Asia

By Nick Ray, Author

Six months in Southeast Asia in 1995 sparked a lifelong love affair with the region which shows no sign of abating. Slow boats down the Mekong, motorbike adventures in the jungle and island-hopping in Indonesia were all early highlights, but new frontiers are opening up all the time with Myanmar embracing democracy and Timor-Leste not yet on the traveller radar. The people are irrepressible, the experiences unforgettable and the stories impossible to re-create, but sometime during your journey, Southeast Asia will enter your soul.

Southeast Asia’s Top 20

Temples of Angkor (Cambodia)

One of the world’s most magnificent sights, the temples of Angkor are so much better than the superlatives. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious building; Bayon, with its immense four-sided stone faces, is perhaps the world’s weirdest spiritual monument; and at Ta Prohm nature has run amok. Siem Reap, a buzzing destination with superb restaurants and bars, is the base from which to explore this collection of temples. Beyond the temples are cultural attractions galore, such as floating villages and cooking classes.

Bayon, Angkor Thom | LUIS CASTANEDA INC./GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Hoi An (Vietnam)

Vietnam’s most cosmopolitan and civilised town, this beautiful ancient port is bursting with gourmet restaurants, hip bars and cafes, quirky boutiques and expert tailors. Immerse yourself in history in the warren-like lanes of the Old Town, wander through the shops and tour the temples and pagodas. Dine like an emperor on a peasant’s budget – and even learn how to cook like the locals. Then hit glorious An Bang beach, wander along the riverside and bike the back roads. Yes, Hoi An has it all.

Hoi An Old Town | FELIX HUG/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Bagan (Myanmar)

More than 4000 Buddhist temples are scattered across the plains of Bagan, the site of the first Burmese kingdom and an architectural complement to the temples of Angkor. Dating from the 11th and 13th centuries, the vast majority have been renovated, as Bagan remains an active religious site and place of pilgrimage. Yes, there are tour buses and crowds at the most popular sunset-viewing spots, but they can be avoided. Pedal off on a bike and have your own adventure amid the not-so-ruined temples.

MATT MUNRO/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Bangkok (Thailand)

This superstar city has it all, and in super-sized proportions: food, shopping, fun and then some. Bangkok may be a pressure cooker for new arrivals, but it will be a needed dose of civilisation after weeks of dusty back roads. Build in plenty of time to load up on souvenirs, refresh your wardrobe, get a much-kneaded massage, and recount tall tales over a cold bottle of beer. Don’t forget a sunset river-ferry ride, an evening noodle tour of Chinatown and one final round of temple spotting.

TERADAT SANTIVIVUT/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Halong Bay (Vietnam)

More than 3000 limestone-peaked islands sheltered by shimmering seas make Halong Bay one of Vietnam’s top tourist draws as well as a Unesco World Heritage Site. An overnight cruise allows you to adore the scenery through the day’s dramatic changes of light: rise early for an ethereal misty morn, kayak into the tidal-carved grottoes and lagoons and track the pastel parade of the sinking sun. (If you’re still hankering for more karst action, move on to less touristy Lan Ha Bay.)

117 IMAGERY/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Luang Prabang (Laos)

Hemmed in by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, this ancient city boasts history, religious devotion and natural beauty. Once a royal capital, Luang Prabang is populated by temples and Buddhist monks, best seen on their morning call to alms. In between are forested river views and world-class French cuisine. Hire a bike and explore the backstreets, take a cooking workshop or encounter an elephant, or just ease back with a restful massage at one of many affordable spas. Prepare to stay a lot longer than planned.

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Royal Palace Museum | SIMON IRWIN/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Bali (Indonesia)

Though Indonesia’s 17,000 islands offer myriad cultural and exploration adventures, the one island not to miss is Bali. The original backpackers’ haven, here you can surf epic breaks and then party till dawn and beyond. Bali has one of Southeast Asia’s richest cultures; artistic expression linked to their unique form of Hinduism fills locals' days and nights. Stay at one of the many cool, beachy dives on the coast down to Ulu Watu and you may find it hard to even contemplate moving on.

Kuta Beach | CHRISTIAN A. BAUMLE/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Komodo & Flores (Indonesia)

Spot prehistoric dragons at Komodo National Park, dive some of Indonesia’s best spots and laze away days on deserted-island beaches, all while enjoying the charms and fun of Labuanbajo, the ever-more-popular waterfront town at the west end of the volcano-studded island of Flores. It's enjoying a surging popularity as the next Indo ‘it’ spot and offers stunning vistas and ancient cultures. Hop around nearby islands to laze on beaches of varying hues.

Komodo dragon | BARRY KUSUMA/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

George Town (Malaysia)

Once abandoned by locals and seemingly forgotten by tourists, George Town has managed to cling to its reign as one of the region’s hottest destinations. The 2008 Unesco World Heritage declaration sparked a frenzy of cultural preservation that continues to this day, and the city’s charismatic shophouses have been turned into house museums, charming boutique hotels and chic cafes. Aggressive drivers aside, it’s also one of the most rewarding cities in Southeast Asia to explore on foot – and also home to some of Malaysia’s best food.

Bicycle rickshaw, Blue Mansion | ELENA ERMAKOVA/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Bestowed with endless charm, Chiang Mai is a cultural and artistic magnet for Thais and tourists alike. The old city is framed by a time-preserving moat and chock-a-block with antique teak temples displaying northern Thailand’s distinctive art and architecture. It is one of Asia's most liveable places, where visitors come to study language, massage, meditation or just chat with a monk. Guarding the city is Doi Suthep, a sacred peak bejewelled with a sacred temple; beyond the city limits are high-altitude valleys, hill-tribe treks and mountain vistas.

Talat Pratu Chiang Mai | CATHERINE SUTHERLAND/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Si Phan Don (Laos)

The Mekong River sheds its characteristic muddy hue for a more tropical turquoise blue as it eddies around 4000 islands, known collectively as Si Phan Don. This is Laos at its most quintessential: a sleepy, riverside idyll. The villages host a whole lot of hammock-hanging as well as meandering cycling trips and late-night carousing. Kayakers and tubers take to the water, giving this hang-out haven a bit of a pulse – and the rare Irrawaddy dolphins make seasonal appearances.

SEBASTIAN VOIGT/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Timor-Leste

Often (unfairly) excluded on a typical Southeast Asian itinerary, the region’s newest nation offers some of its greatest untapped adventures. After learning about Timor-Leste's harrowing history in Dili’s museums, use the capital as a base for dive trips to the delicate, untouched reefs fringing the north coast, and 4WD excursions to the districts for magical mountain climbs, traditional village visits, and excellent snorkelling off sacred Jaco Island. Cap off your trip with a night on sleepy Atauro Island to get a feel for the Southeast Asia of the 1960s.

Independence Day celebration | JOHN W BANAGAN/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Inle Lake (Myanmar)

Surrounded by an enormous carpet of greenery, Inle Lake is so awe-inspiring and large that everybody comes away with a different experience. If you’re counting days, you’ll most likely be hitting the hot spots: water-bound temples, shore-bound markets and floating gardens. If you have more time, consider day hikes or exploring the more remote corners of the lake. The cool weather, friendly folks and that placid pool of ink-like water are bound to find a permanent place in your memory.

Traditional fishing on Inle Lake | WEERAPONG CHAIPUCK/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Singapore

The small city-state of Singapore excels in the art of multi-culti cuisine served in the ever-approachable hawker centres. Over the generations, descendants from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India joined together their cooking pots, importing, creating and tweaking dishes from their homelands. In between meals visit Gardens by the Bay, a plant conservatory without the Victorian-era stuffiness, or the Baba House, a restored (and surprisingly crowd-free) Straits-Chinese home that provides a free history and culture lesson. If a few hours have passed, it's time for another tasty meal.

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay | BIGBOOM/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Palawan (Philippines)

Rugged and remote, Palawan has sky-rocketed in popularity as travel magazines rush to add it to their lists of world's best islands. The crown jewel is the Bacuit Archipelago near El Nido, a surreal seascape of brooding limestone cliffs where you can kayak among sea turtles. Further south, the heavenly beaches of Port Barton and Sabang beckon. To the north, make the eerie descent to the sunken Japanese ships in Coron Bay. Overnight island-hopping trips around Coron or El Nido shouldn't be missed.

Cadlao Island, El Nido | PICHUGIN DMITRY/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Malaysian Borneo

Still part of Malaysia but with a character all of their own, the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak will fulfil your wildest jungle dreams. From visiting longhouse communities in Sarawak to scaling Sabah’s mighty Mt Kinabalu, diving Sipadan’s majestic reefs and spotting ginger orangutans swinging between treetops – your ultimate adventure awaits. An astonishing array of cultures, religions and languages thrive here, not to mention cuisines; fuel up on fresh-catch seafood in cosmopolitan Kuching (Sarawak) and grows-on-you Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) between jungle jaunts.

Iban longboater, Sarawak | MATT MUNRO/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Ifugao Rice Terraces (Philippines)

These incredible terraces were hand-hewn centuries ago by the Ifugao tribe in the remote Cordillera of the northern Philippines: the result was arable land where there had been only vertical impediments. Considered by Filipinos as one of the wonders of the world, the Ifugao rice terraces ring the towns of Banaue and Batad, but adventurous travellers will find terraces ribbing most of the spiny Cordillera. Trekking these emerald staircases – and sleeping among them in idyllic Batad – is an experience not to be missed.

Rice terraces, Banaue | SPACE IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

The Cambodian capital is a chaotic yet charming city that has thrown off past shadows to embrace a brighter future. Boasting one of the most beautiful riverfronts in the region, Phnom Penh is in the midst of a boom, with hip hostels, cool cafes and buzzing bars ready to welcome urban explorers. Experience emotional extremes at the inspiring National Museum and the sobering Tuol Sleng Museum, showcasing the best and worst of Cambodian history. Once called the 'Pearl of Asia', Phnom Penh is fast regaining its shine.

Royal Palace | MARK READ/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Gili Islands (Indonesia)

One of Indonesia’s greatest joys is hopping on a fast boat from busy Bali and arriving on one of the irresistible Gili Islands. Think sugar-white sand; warm, turquoise waters; and wonderful beach resorts and bungalows just begging you to extend your stay. Not to mention the coral reefs, teeming with sharks, rays and turtles. Savour the dining and nightlife on Gili Trawangan, the perfect balance of Gili Air and the pint-sized charms of Gili Meno. Or simply lie back and do nothing at all.

Sea turtle | CHRIS HANNANT/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (Vietnam)

With jagged hills shrouded in verdant rainforest and mountain rivers coursing through impressive ravines, above-ground Phong Nha-Ke Bang region is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular national parks. Head underground for more proof that this should be a vital part of any Vietnamese itinerary – a fortunate selection of travellers can experience the cathedral-like chambers of Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave. More accessible are the ziplining and kayaking thrills of Hang Toi (Dark Cave), and the ethereal beauty of aptly-named Paradise Cave.

M. GEBICKI/GETTY IMAGES ©

Need to Know

Planes

Affordable flights for Indonesian island-hopping or cutting out long-haul buses.

Buses

The region's primary intra-country mode of travel; reliability and road conditions vary.

Trains

Slow but scenic alternative to buses for some destinations.

Ferries

Services connect islands and archipelago nations; quality and safety varies.

Bikes

Either motor or pushbike; easy and convenient for in-town travel.

Cars

Rentals are available in most tourist towns, though road rules are confusing – better to hire a driver.

Local Transport

Taxis and chartered vehicles are plentiful; bargain before getting in.

When to Go

High Season (Jun–Aug & Dec–Feb)

A Dry, cool in winter months

A Chilly in mountains

A Travel is difficult during Tet in Vietnam

A Summer rains across most of the region

Shoulder Season (Mar & Nov)

A Hot, dry season begins in March

Low Season (Apr–Jun & Sep–Oct)

A Travel difficult for April’s new year festivals in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand

A Easter festivities in the Philippines

A Wet season (Sep–Oct); flooding, typhoons, transport cancellations

A Indonesia's dry season (Apr–May)

Useful Websites

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Read country profiles, share questions with the traveller community on the Thorn Tree forum and make travel reservations.

Travelfish (www.travelfish.org) Popular travel site specialising in Southeast Asia.

Agoda (www.agoda.com) Regional hotel booking website.

Bangkok Post (www.bangkokpost.com) In-depth analysis of current events in Southeast Asia.

Time Zones

GMT+6½hr Myanmar

GMT+7hr Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, parts of Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, and West and Central Kalimantan)

GMT+8hr Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, parts of Indonesia (Bali, Nusa Tenggara, South and East Kalimantan and Sulawesi)

GMT+9hr Timor-Leste, parts of Indonesia (Papua, Maluku)

Money

Each country has its own currency. ATMs are widely available in most of mainland Southeast Asia and the Philippines. ATMs are limited to major cities in Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Timor-Leste; stock up on local currency or have a supply of US dollars or travellers cheques before travelling to small towns or remote areas. Check with your bank to determine international withdrawal fees and to notify them of your travel plans.

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than US$50

A Cheap guesthouse: US$10–20

A Local meal or street eats: US$1–5

A Local transport: US$1–5

A Beer: US$1–5

Midrange: US$50–100

A Hotel room: US$21–75

A Restaurant meal: US$6–10

A Motorcycle hire: US$6–10

Top End: More than US$100

A Boutique hotel or beach resort: US$100+

A Dive trip: US$50–100

A Car hire: US$50

Visas

No visa required for most nationalities in Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam has 15-day visa-free entry for some nationalities.

Visas on arrival in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Timor-Leste. Most arrival visas are valid for about a month, though there are exceptions. Travel with a ready supply of passport photos for visa applications.

Advance visa required for Myanmar.

Verify that the border offers arrival visas; some land and sea borders do not.

Be aware that overland border crossings are often fraught with minor rip-offs.

Staying in Touch

Most of Southeast Asia is globally wired with modern communication technologies, including internet cafes, wi-fi networks and 3G. Tourist centres have more options, better rates and faster connectivity than remote villages.

Mobile Phones Local, pre-paid SIM cards and mobile phones are available throughout the region. International roaming (ie on your home number) is prohibitively expensive.

Wi-fi & Internet Access Wi-fi is usually free in guesthouses, cafes and restaurants. Internet cafes are common in tourist centres. 3G networks are common in large cities.

Calling Home International calling rates are fairly affordable; to call from a mobile phone, dial + followed by the country code, area code and phone number. Internet cafes are often equipped with headsets and Skype as an alternative. With wi-fi you can also make Skype or Viber calls from a mobile phone.

Arriving In…

Suvarnabhumi International Airport (Bangkok, Thailand) Taxis (one hour) and rail (30 minutes) to the centre.

Changi International Airport (Singapore) Rail (45 minutes) and taxis (one hour) to the centre.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) KLIA Ekspres rail (30 minutes) to the centre.

Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (Jakarta, Indonesia) Taxis and buses (one hour) to the centre.

First Time Southeast Asia

For more information, see Survival Guide

Checklist

A Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months past your arrival date.

A Apply for an extended visa if visiting a country for longer than the standard visa allows.

A Organise travel insurance , diver's insurance and international driving permit .

A Visit a doctor for check-up and suggested vaccines.

A Inform your bank and credit-card provider of your travel plans.

What to Pack

A A week's worth of lightweight clothes

A Rain gear (jacket, breathable poncho, dry pack for electronics)

A Comfortable sandals

A Earplugs

A Medicine/first-aid kit

A USB drive

A GSM mobile phone

A Refillable water bottle

A Sunscreen and heavy-duty deodorant

Top Tips for Your Trip

A Know the scams : border crossings, dodgy transport, touts.

A Be prepared for crazy driving; pedestrians have no rights.

A Most supplies (mosquito repellent, umbrella) can be bought locally.

A Take your cue from the locals when it comes to appropriate dress.

A Take digital pictures of important documents and cards in case of theft or loss.

A Know your passwords! Extra security measures will be triggered by your new location.

A Carry your valuables in a waist pack to prevent theft; keep them secure on overnight journeys, in dorms and in rooms with insufficient locks.

A Pay for accommodation first thing in the morning, or the night before if you have an early morning departure.

What to Wear

In general, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes will be the most comfortable options. Bring a jacket for cool temperatures in the mountains and on heavily air-conditioned buses. Wear clothes that cover down to your elbows and knees for visits to temples and rural villages.

Sleeping

Book ahead during high season or around festivals or holidays, when rooms fill up in popular destinations.

A Hotels From staid to snazzy, hotels have modern amenities (refrigerators, TVs, air-con) and private bathrooms.

A Guesthouses These backpacker faves have a range of rooms from basic to plush – and loads of local information.

A Homestays Live like a villager in a family home; set-ups are simple but it's a cultural immersion.

A Hostels Dormitories provide cheap and social lodging for solo travellers. Amenities sometimes include pool, restaurant or hang-out space.

Money

Most businesses deal only in cash. You can withdraw notes in the local currency directly from your home account through local ATMs. Have a mix of cash and travellers cheques as backup. Currency exchanges accept US dollars, Australian dollars, British pounds and euros.

A Keep your cash in a money belt worn on your person.

A Don't use your ATM card for point-of-sale purchases (ie in shops, restaurants etc).

A Ask your bank about overseas banking fees. Get a 24-hour international customer-service phone number in case of card loss or theft.

A Monitor credit-card activity to avoid missing payments and to protect against fraudulent charges.

A Bring cash in crisp, untorn bills. Some money changers will reject old or ripped bills.

A Get travellers cheques in large denominations (US$100 or US$50) to avoid per-cheque commissions; record which cheques you’ve cashed to protect against theft or loss.

For more information, see here

Bargaining

It is acceptable to bargain for goods and services when there isn't a posted price. You can't bargain for food, at shopping malls or wherever a price is posted.

Tipping

Tipping is not standard, but it is appreciated as wages are very low. If you hire guides buy them lunch, and tip a little extra at the end.

Selling rice crackers at a village market, Inle Lake, Myanmar | ANDREW MONTGOMERY/LONELY PLANET ©

Etiquette

A Modesty Though fashions are changing in the cities, modesty is still important in traditional areas, especially Muslim-dominated places. Avoid baring too much skin in general – and no topless sunbathing. Cover up when visiting religious buildings.

A Taboos Politics and religion are often sensitive topics. Always treat both with deference and avoid being critical. Many Southeast Asian cultures are superstitious; it is wise to learn about these beliefs and act accordingly. Muslims don't drink alcohol or eat pork. Women shouldn't touch Buddhist monks or their belongings.

A Save Face Southeast Asians, especially Buddhist cultures, place a high value on harmonious social interactions. Don't get visibly angry, raise your voice or get into an argument – it will cause you and the other person embarrassment. When in doubt, smile.

A Shoes Take them off when entering a private home, religious building and certain businesses. If there's a pile of shoes at the door, be sure to follow suit.

Language

Tourist towns are well-stocked with English speakers, though bus drivers, market vendors and taxi drivers tend to be less fluent. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar all have their own written script.

Learn how to say 'hello', 'thank you' and 'how much' in each language. Counting is also helpful. If you like taking pictures of people, learn how to ask their permission.

See Language for more information.

If You Like…

Fabulous Food

Bangkok (Thailand) Food, glorious food! Fresh, tasty meals are everywhere in this non-stop grazing city.

Hanoi (Vietnam) Be an urban forager among Hanoi’s street-food stalls.

Luang Prabang (Laos) Cafes and bakeries with a French flair preserve a delicious colonial connection.

Chiang Mai (Thailand) Learn how to slice and dice like the Thai wok masters at a cooking school.

Singapore Savour Asia old and new, from 50-year-old chicken-rice stalls to swish international outposts.

Penang (Malaysia) Malaysia’s multi-culti melting pot is an edible journey through Indian curries, Chinese dim sum and Malay desserts.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) Dine to make a difference at one of Phnom Penh’s many training restaurants to help the disadvantaged.

Bali (Indonesia) Enjoy some of Asia's most affordable and inventive cuisine at dozens of great restaurants in Kerobokan or Seminyak.

Noodle dish at Pad Thai Shop, Phuket, Thailand | CATHERINE SUTHERLAND/LONELY PLANET ©

Temples & Mosques

Temples of Angkor (Cambodia) An architectural wonder of the world built by the Khmer god-kings of old.

Bagan (Myanmar) Hundreds of ancient temples stretch out towards the horizon on a stupa-studded plain.

Borobudur (Indonesia) A stunning Buddhist monument ringed by mist and mountains.

Shwedagon Paya (Myanmar) A golden hilltop temple that gleams with heavenly splendour in the heart of Yangon.

Wat Phra Kaew (Thailand) A dazzling royal temple and home to the revered Emerald Buddha.

Wat Xieng Thong (Laos) The jewel in the crown of Luang Prabang’s temples, with its roofs sweeping majestically low to the ground.

Hue (Vietnam) Vietnamese emperors constructed impressive monuments around Hue; don't miss the tombs of Tu Duc and Minh Mang.

Sukhothai (Thailand) The ancient capital of one of Thailand’s first home-grown kingdoms.

Masjid Jamek (Malaysia) Graceful Mughal-style mosque in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Spectacular Treks

Gunung Bromo (Indonesia) An active volcano hiked up at night for a sunrise view of its moonscape summit.

Mt Kinabalu (Malaysia) Borneo’s highest mountain is a two-day march to the sky.

Sapa (Vietnam) Dirt paths wind through verdant rice terraces tended by ethnic minorities in this toothy mountainous region.

Taman Negara National Park (Malaysia) Old-growth rainforest conveniently close to civilisation.

Gibbon Experience (Laos) Trek up to the canopy at this zipline course outfitted with treetop lodging.

Cordillera Mountains (Philippines) Ancient hand-hewn rice terraces are carved into jagged mountains.

Khao Yai National Park (Thailand) Wild patch of jungle close to Bangkok and filled with elephants, birds and monkeys.

Kalaw (Myanmar) Follow the undulating landscape through forested hills and minority villages to lovely Inle Lake.

Nam Ha National Protected Area (Laos) Eco-oriented treks through an old-growth forest and high-altitude hill-tribe villages.

Mondulkiri (Cambodia) Experience ‘walking with the herd’ at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia's wild east.

Beautiful Beaches

Lombok (Indonesia) A Kuta more beautiful than Bali, with the iconic Gili Islands just offshore.

Krabi/Railay (Thailand) Rock-climbers scale the karst cliffs, while kayakers slice the jewel-hued waters.

Sihanoukville (Cambodia) Good times rule at Cambodia’s premier seaside hang-out and the nearby islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem.

Phu Quoc Island (Vietnam) Picture-perfect white crescents and sandy bays sheltered by rocky headlands seduce sun worshippers.

Bohol (Philippines) Well-rounded island and a haven for sand and scuba addicts.

Pulau Tioman (Malaysia) Hollywood stand-in for Bali Ha'i is practically castaway perfection.

Ko Pha-Ngan (Thailand) This backpacker legend rages during its Full Moon parties, but snoozes alongside gorgeous coves in between.

Mui Ne (Vietnam) Squeaky sands, towering dunes and kitesurfing galore.

Kitesurfing, Mui Ne, Vietnam | CHRISTER FREDRIKSSON/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Nightlife

Bangkok (Thailand) Bangkok is home to the original 24-hour party people and sleep is still optional.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) Cambodia rocks: hit the happy hours, crawl some bar strips and rave on at a nightclub.

Ko Pha-Ngan (Thailand) Home of the very first Southeast Asia Full Moon parties and the ultimate beach-bum island.

Nha Trang (Vietnam) Plenty of R&R is available at this lively coastal city.

Boracay (Philippines) Beach-party paradise in a small package.

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) Petronas Towers look spectacular illuminated at night; there are plenty of drinking options below.

Bali (Indonesia) Quaff a sundowner on the sand from Kuta north to Canggu, then head out to heaving all-night clubs.

Siem Reap (Cambodia) Pub St says it all – this temple town is officially a party town as well.

Singapore Sky-high drinks served at sky-high prices, but oh, what a view.

Markets & Shopping

Bangkok (Thailand) From the 8000 stalls at Chatuchak Weekend Market to street stalls and glitzy malls, Bangkok is a shoppers paradise.

Singapore From the bustling markets to luxury malls, shopping is a national pastime.

Chiang Mai (Thailand) The weekend ‘Walking Streets’ offer the chance to shop 'til you drop.

Bac Ha (Vietnam) See the unique costume of the Flower Hmong at one of the most colourful markets in Southeast Asia.

Luang Prabang (Laos) The candlelit Handicraft Night Market is an endless ribbon of colourful textiles, paper lanterns and ethnic motifs.

Can Tho (Vietnam) Get up early and experience the Mekong Delta’s famous floating markets.

Jonker Walk Night Market (Malaysia) Melaka’s weekly shopping extravaganza offers up trinket sellers, food hawkers and fortune tellers.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) The Russian Market is the city's top shopping spot: if it’s available in Cambodia, it will be somewhere in here.

Cultural Encounters

Balinese Dance (Indonesia) The haunting sounds, elaborate costumes and careful choreography add up to a must in Ubud.

Hsipaw (Myanmar) Surrounding this delightful highland town are traditional Lisu, Palaung and Shan villages.

George Town (Malaysia) Old-town buildings have become canvases for young creatives and their vibrant street art.

Maubisse (Timor-Leste) Visit an uma lulik (traditional sacred house) in the highlands.

Luang Prabang (Laos) Visit the Living Land farm to learn how to plant and grow sticky rice, the ubiquitous national dish.

Singapore Modern Southeast Asian art displayed in an architectural landmark at the National Gallery Singapore.

Chiang Mai (Thailand) The original detox: join a meditation retreat at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai.

Siem Reap (Cambodia) Roll up, roll up – catch a performance of Phare the Cambodia Circus, an original experience.

Colonial Classics

Hanoi (Vietnam) The grand old dame of French Indochine has imposing civic buildings and impressive leafy villas.

Yangon (Myanmar) The former Rangoon has endless streets of British-era shophouses and some epic, abandoned former government buildings.

Luang Prabang (Laos) It may have been a Mekong outpost, but the French loved it and left some landmark legacies.

George Town (Malaysia) This ethnic entrepôt has experienced a renaissance in recent years, as dilapidated mansions are reborn as hotels and galleries.

Hoi An (Vietnam) The Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and French all left their mark on this stunning old port town.

Vigan (Philippines) Perfectly preserved Spanish colonial jewel under the shadow of an eponymous volcano.

Battambang (Cambodia) A rich legacy of French-era architecture is evident in the sleepy streets along the banks of the Sangker River.

Month by Month

Top Events

Buddhist New Year/Water Festival, April

Deepavali, November

Rainforest World Music, August

Ork Phansaa, October

Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods, October

January

Peak tourist season, cool and dry weather in mainland Southeast Asia and the Philippines. The east coast of the Malay peninsula (Samui archipelago, Pulau Perhentian) and Indonesia are wet thanks to the northeast monsoon; low season in Bali.

z Ati-Atihan

The mother of all Filipino fiestas, Ati-Atihan celebrates Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) with colourful, Mardi Gras–like indigenous costumes and displays in Kalibo, on the island of Panay.

z Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday

The birthday of Islam’s holy prophet is celebrated in the third month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar (1 December 2017, 21 November 2018) with religious prayers and processions.

z Myanmar Independence Day

The end of colonial rule in Burma is celebrated as a national holiday on 4 January.

z Sultan of Brunei’s Birthday

Colourful official ceremonies are held on 15 January to mark the birthday of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

z Bun Pha Wet

This Lao-Buddhist festival commemorates the story of the Buddha-to-be. It's considered an auspicious time to enter the monastery. Festivities are held in villages throughout Laos.

February

Peak season continues in mainland Southeast Asia and the beaches are buzzing. The east coast of the Malay peninsula starts to dry off as the rains move further east; still raining in Bali.

z Tet

Vietnam’s lunar New Year (sometimes occurring in late January) is the country’s biggest holiday, recognising the first day of spring. It involves family reunions, ancestor worship, gift exchanges and lots of all-night luck-inducing noise. Travel is difficult; businesses close.

z Chinese New Year

This lunar festival (sometimes occurring in January) is celebrated in Chinese-dominated towns. In Penang, it's a family affair and businesses close for one to two weeks. In Bangkok, Singapore, Phnom Penh and Kuching, there are dragon-dancing parades, food festivities, fireworks and noise.

z Makha Bucha

One of three Buddhist holy days, Makha Bucha falls on the full moon of the third lunar month and commemorates Buddha preaching to 1250 enlightened monks. Celebrated at temples across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Lunar Calendar

Buddhist and Hindu religious festivals follow the lunar calendar, so dates vary each year, typically within a two-week period. Muslim holidays go by the Islamic calendar; dates move forward about 11 days each year.

March

Mainland Southeast Asia is hot and dry; the beaches start to empty out. The winds kick up, ushering in kitesurfing season. In Bali, the northwest monsoon rains are subsiding to afternoon showers.

z Nyepi

Bali's 'Day of Silence' is marked by fasting and meditation; businesses and beach access close. The next day is the Balinese New Year's Day, welcomed with night-time racket.

z Easter Week

This Christian holiday (sometimes in April) is observed in the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Melaka and Timor-Leste. Holy Week (Semana Santa) in the Philippines starts on the Wednesday before Easter Sunday; Spanish-influenced observances, such as fasting, penance rituals and churchgoing, ensue.

Nyepi, Bali, Indonesia | 404303/GETTY IMAGES ©

April

The hottest time of year in mainland Southeast Asia makes inland sightseeing a chore. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand celebrate their traditional new year – make transport reservations in advance. Good shoulder season in Bali.

z Buddhist New Year/Water Festival

In mid-April, Buddhist countries celebrate their lunar New Year with symbolic water-throwing and religious observances.

z Vietnamese Liberation Day

The day US troops withdrew from Saigon (30 April) as North Vietnamese forces entered the city. Also called Reunification Day (and less complimentary names by overseas Vietnamese).

z Hue Festival (Biennial)

Vietnam’s biggest cultural event is held every two years (2016, 2018 etc). Art, theatre, music, circus and dance performances, including domestic and international acts, are held inside Hue’s Citadel.

May

Still hot in mainland Southeast Asia but with an end in sight. May hosts preparations for the upcoming rains and the start of rice-planting season. Northern Vietnam has spring-like weather and Bali is not yet crowded.

z Royal Ploughing Ceremonies

In Thailand and Cambodia, this royal ceremony employs astrology and ancient Brahman rituals to kick off rice-planting season.

z Rocket Festival

Villagers fire off bamboo rockets (bang fai) to provoke rainfall for a bountiful rice harvest. Mainly celebrated in northeast Thailand and Laos; dates vary from village to village.

z Visaka Bucha

This Buddhist holy day, the 15th day of the waxing moon in the sixth lunar month, commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana (death). Activities are held at temples throughout Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

z Timor-Leste Independence Day

One of the planet's youngest nations, Timor-Leste celebrates Independence Day (20 May) with cultural events and sporting competitions.

June

The southwest monsoon brings rain, usually an afternoon downpour, to most of mainland Southeast Asia and most of the Philippines. Summer in Europe and China brings another high season, especially in Bali.

z Gawai Dayak

The end of the rice-harvest season is celebrated the first two days of June in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). City-dwelling Dayaks return to their longhouses to socialise, eat and down shots of tuak (rice wine).

z Ramadan

The Muslim fasting month is observed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and parts of southern Thailand in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (May to June 2017 and 2018). Muslims abstain from food, drink, cigarettes and sex between sunrise and sunset. Idul Fitri marks the end of Ramadan.

July

Mainland Southeast Asia prepares for Buddhist Lent, a period of meditation coinciding with the rainy season (southwest monsoon). Despite the drizzle, this is an ideal time for rural sightseeing as rice planting begins. Thailand's Samui archipelago often stays dry during the southwest monsoon.

z Asanha Bucha

The full moon of the eighth lunar month commemorates Buddha’s first sermon. Buddhists flock to temples to light candles, offer flowers and pray for good fortune. Celebrated at temples across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

z Khao Phansaa

Marking the rainy season, Buddhist monks retreat into monasteries. This is the traditional time for young men to be ordained. Worshippers offer candles and donations at temples. Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) celebrates with a parade.

August

Mini high-season still in effect during Europe and China's summer holiday. Afternoon showers in most of mainland Southeast Asia, with a few all-day soakers. Weather in Indonesia (especially Bali) is just right.

3 Rainforest World Music

Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) celebrates tribal music from around the world during this three-day music festival.

z Queen’s Birthday

Thailand celebrates its queen's birthday (and Mother's Day) on 12 August.

z Independence Day (Indonesia)

The country celebrates liberation from the Dutch on 17 August with large parades in Jakarta.

September

One of the wettest parts of the wet season for mainland Southeast Asia – flooding and boat cancellations are common. Occasional typhoons sweep in across Vietnam and the Philippines, wreaking havoc. Shoulder season in Bali.

z Pchum Ben

In Cambodia, respects are paid to the dead through temple offerings. Many Khmers return to their home villages and try to visit seven temples in seven days. Sometimes celebrated in October.

October

Mainland Southeast Asia prepares for the end of the rainy season and the end of Buddhist Lent. The northeast monsoon (affecting the east coast of the Malay peninsula and Indonesia) begins. Bali has occasional showers.

z Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods

In Thailand, this Taoist event is called the Vegetarian Festival, marked by abstinence from meat and other purification rituals. The most extreme is Phuket’s parade of entranced and pierced worshippers. Variations occur in Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar.

z Ork Phansaa

The end of the Buddhist Lent occurs three lunar months after Khao Phansaa. Merit-makers present new robes to the monks. The Mekong River's mysterious ‘naga fireballs’ coincide with Ork Phansaa. Localities in Thailand (such as Nong Khai) and Laos celebrate with traditional boat races.

z Islamic New Year

This lunar New Year (known as Awal Muharram) in Indonesia and Malaysia is marked by fasting, self-reflection and commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali.

November

Early in the month is a shoulder season in mainland Southeast Asia, with cool, dry days and a lush landscape. Northern altitudes see chilly nighttime temperatures. The east coast of the Malay peninsula and Indonesia are in the midst of the rainy season.

z Bon Om Tuk

This Cambodian festival (sometimes held in October) celebrates Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Chams in 1177 and the reversal of the Tonlé Sap river. Boat races stir local patriotism; huge crowds descend on Phnom Penh. A smaller event takes place in Siem Reap.

z Deepavali

The most important festival in the Hindu calendar is this festival of lights celebrating the triumph of good over evil. Tiny oil lamps are ceremoniously lit in Malaysia. Singapore’s Little India hosts public festivities. Sometimes occurs in October.

z Loi Krathong

During November’s full moon, Thais launch banana-leaf boats decorated with candles in honour of the river goddess. In Chiang Mai, floating paper lanterns are also made as offerings. A similar tradition is practised in the Shan State of Myanmar during the fire-balloon competitions in Taunggyi.

z Bun Pha That Luang

Laos pays tribute to its iconic stupa in Vientiane with a week-long festival coinciding with the full moon.

Loi Krathong, Thailand | MAEGHAN OLSON/LONELY PLANET ©

December

This is mainland Southeast Asia’s busiest tourism season. The weather is fine; rain is tapering off on the Samui archipelago but still falling in Bali.

z Lao National Day

On 2 December Laos celebrates the 1975 victory over the monarchy and the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

z King’s Birthday

This Thai holiday (5 December) hosts parades and merit-making events in honour of the king; it's also recognised as Father’s Day.

z Christmas

Most of the region has adopted Christmas in some form, but for Catholic communities in the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Vietnam, it's a serious celebration, with important religious services and ceremonies.

Itineraries

The Best of Southeast Asia

8 Weeks

This Southeast Asia sampler hits the highlights: cool cities, ancient kingdoms, beautiful beaches and smouldering volcanoes. Start in fun-filled Bangkok, then bus it to Siem Reap for Angkor’s magnificent temples. Continue to party HQ Phnom Penh, then to Vietnam’s bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Head north to adorable Hoi An, then hit the antique streets of Hanoi and dramatic karsts of Halong Bay.

Fly out of Vietnam to laid-back Luang Prabang, Laos’ world-heritage city; fly to chic Chiang Mai for hill-tribe adventures and Thai cooking courses.

Head south through Bangkok to Ko Tao and learn to dive before hitting the rock-climbing retreat of Krabi. Cross the border from Ko Lipe to Malaysia's Pulau Langkawi, then on to the food paradise of George Town (Penang) and overland to Malaysia’s multi-ethnic capital Kuala Lumpur, with a stop in the lush Cameron Highlands.

Fly from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital; soak up Java's renowned culture in Yogyakarta. Bus it to active volcano Gunung Bromo, then leapfrog to Bali for sun, fun and the island's unique culture. Double back to bustling, multiculti Singapore for an onward flight anywhere.

Itineraries

Almost Everything

6 Months

If you're really going to do Southeast Asia, go big and cover the whole region with an extended expedition from top to toe. Starting in Bangkok, follow the coast to forested Ko Chang, cross the Hat Lek–Cham Yeam border bound for Sihanoukville’s sublime beaches and up-and-coming islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Stop in Franco-influenced Kampot and the nearby Bokor Hill Station. Turn inland to Phnom Penh to pay your respects at its genocide museums then bus it to Siem Reap and the monumental splendour of Angkor.

Board a flight to Pakse, gateway to the river life of Si Phan Don. Bus to Vientiane and on to Vang Vieng then Luang Prabang; trundle to Nong Khiaw for tribal trekking. Follow the rugged revolutionaries’ trail through the Vieng Xai Caves and Na Meo border, a remote, adventurous crossing to Hanoi.

Work your way through Vietnam, sampling history, culture and beaches. Fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok and travel down the Malay peninsula, swimming and diving around Ko Pha-Ngan and Krabi.

Slip into Malaysia for the street eats of Penang. Hit the peaceful beach retreat of Pulau Perhentian, then head for Taman Negara, a wilderness preserve. Detour to the mist-shrouded hills of the Cameron Highlands and alight in Kuala Lumpur.

Fly to Jakarta (Java) and immerse yourself in cultural Yogyakarta and the Unesco treasure of Borobudur. Bask on the beach in Bali or the Gili Islands, escape the crowds in Flores, and spot dragons on Komodo. Catch a flight from Bali to Dili in Timor-Leste, a fledgling tourist nation.

Or fly from Jakarta to Banjarmasin (Kalimantan) for a jungle excursion into Borneo. Fly to Pangkalan Bun for the orangutan research camps of Tanjung Puting National Park, then fly from Banjarmasin to Pontianak and bus to the border to reach Malaysia’s Kuching, a gateway to more Borneo nature reserves and former headhunting cultures.

Fly back to Kuala Lumpur and connect to Yangon (Myanmar) and the beautiful Buddhist temples of Bagan. Relax on the placid waters of Inle Lake or take a trek to Kalaw. Or turn things on their head by starting off in Myanmar.

Itineraries

Mainland to Borneo & the Philippines

10 Weeks

Cruise around mainland Southeast Asia, hitting the beaches and the highlands, and then bound over to Borneo and the Philippines to climb into the heavens and dive under the sea. From Bangkok, head to Ko Chang, then cross the border to Sihanoukville for lots of sand and suds. Scoot to shabby-chic Phnom Penh. Admire the architectural wonder of the Angkor temples from Siem Reap. Fly to full-throttle Ho Chi Minh City. Migrate to the beaches of Mui Ne or Nha Trang, the antique city of Hoi An, the imperial capital of Hue and the extensive caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Rest in mature capital Hanoi. Cruise karst-filled Halong Bay and detour to Sapa and its ethnic highland communities. Return to Hanoi.

Fly to Vientiane (Laos), bus to Vang Vieng and on to Luang Prabang, a sublime world-heritage town. Ride the Mekong River to the Laos–Thailand border at Huay Xai and the fabled Golden Triangle.

On to Chiang Mai; escape to the mountains of Pai or Mae Hong Son for stunning mountain vistas and intriguing border cultures. Descend to the lowlands for the ancient capitals at Sukhothai and Ayuthaya before returning to Bangkok.

Budget flight or bus it to Kuala Lumpur. Explore Taman Negara, an ancient wilderness. Cruise through colonial Melaka. Return to KL for a tour of Malaysian Borneo. Fly to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and ascend Mt Kinabalu, Borneo’s highest peak. Head east to Sepilok's orangutan sanctuary, then to Semporna, gateway to dive sites. Detour to oil-rich Brunei's unassuming capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), surrounded by pristine rainforests and water villages.

Cheap flights link Kota Kinabalu with Manila (Philippines). Bus to the incredible Ifuagao rice terraces in the mountains of North Luzon, then return to Manila and hit up party isle Boracay via dive hotbed Puerto Galera (Mindoro). Spend a few days unwinding in Boracay, then fly to Cebu City – in easy range of several laid-back beach destinations, including Malapascua and Bohol. Fly from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, Palawan; work your way north to El Nido via the lonely beaches and pristine jungles of Palawan's west coast. Take the all-day boat trip to wreck-diving hotbed Coron before flying back to Manila.

Itineraries

Mainland Beaches to Indonesia

8 Weeks

Become a beach connoisseur by tracing the coastline of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In between grab some culture to keep things balanced. From Bangkok, make a beeline for the islands in the Gulf of Thailand: dive-crazy Ko Tao and hippy trippy Ko Pha-Ngan. Get certified on Tao, then follow the herd to the Andaman coast. Hat Khao Lak is the base for dive trips to the world-class Surin and Similan islands. Skip down to adrenaline-charged Krabi for rock climbing and cave exploring, then island-hop to rasta-vibed Ko Lipe. Cross the border at Pulau Langkawi for Penang's famous hawker centres.

From Penang, take a bus to Kota Bharu, jumping-off point for the fabulous jungle islands of Pulau Perhentian. Head south to Mersing, the mainland port for sleepy Pulau Tioman, before returning to Kuala Lumpur to pick up a flight to Indonesia.

From Indonesia’s tip in Medan, Sumatra, visit the orangutan reserve of Bukit Lawang and hike a volcano in Berastagi. From Medan fly to lovely Banda Aceh for dive-tastic Pulau Weh.

Say goodbye to rugged Sumatra and buzz over to Java, touching down in Jakarta, Indonesia's intense capital. Explore Yogyakarta and its culture trail; day-trip to the giant Buddhist stupa of Borobudur or the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan. Continue eastwards to Gunung Bromo volcano for a sunrise spectacle over a lunar landscape.

Leapfrog to Denpasar, Bali, to nuzzle the sandy beaches of the Bukit Peninsula or get cultured in Ubud. Party in Gili Trawangan, spot dragons on Komodo and go rustic on the beaches of Flores.

Check your visa and apply for an extension back in Denpasar, then fly to Makassar, Sulawesi. Pay your respects in Tana Toraja, known for ancient funeral rites and effigies standing guard over cliffside burial sites. Travel to the remote and pristine Togean Islands and the northern diving destination of Pulau Bunaken; it might feel far away, but it's well worth it. Fly from Manado to Kuala Lumpur.

Alternatively, from Denpasar hop over to Timor-Leste’s capital of Dili to tour old colonial towns and uncrowded reefs.

Whale shark, Similan Islands Marine National Park, Thailand | ARMIBLUE/GETTY IMAGES ©

Itineraries

Mekong River Meander

4 Weeks

This trip follows the famous river downstream from northern Laos all the way to its terminus in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. En route you'll encounter a wide range of landscapes and cultures as you slice through all four countries of the Mekong region. Leave behind bustling Bangkok and make a bee-line for Chiang Rai, near the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand converge. Crossing into Laos at Huay Xai is like stepping back in time. Take a slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, stopping overnight in Pak Beng. Soak up the magic before leaving the river for some relaxation in Vang Vieng.

Continue to Vientiane and reunite with the mighty waterway. The sleepy Lao capital has some great cafes, restaurants and bars (which you won’t be encountering for a while after leaving). Board a bus and follow the river southeast, stopping off in Tha Khaek and Savannakhet before arriving in Pakse. Visit the imposing Khmer sanctuary of Wat Phu Champasak; explore the waterfalls and villages of the Bolaven Plateau; or enjoy the laid-back islands of Si Phan Don.

Cross into Cambodia. If you missed the Irrawaddy dolphins near Si Phan Don, you can see them further south in the laid-back riverside town of Kratie. From Kratie, consider a visit to the mountains of Mondulkiri Province, home to elephants, hill tribes and pristine nature.

Weeks in rural provinces will have you happy to see Phnom Penh, where the Mekong merges with another vital regional waterway, the Tonlé Sap. Take a sunset boat cruise and hit the bars for a well-deserved night on the town. Recharged, board a fast boat downstream to Chau Doc, Vietnam, gateway to the Mekong Delta; check out Can Tho, its commercial heart. Hotfoot it to Ho Chi Minh City for some fun; delve deeper into the delta with a homestay around Vinh Long, or make for the tropical retreat of Phu Quoc Island, a well-earned reward. If you still have time and stamina, the rest of Vietnam beckons.

Itineraries

Where the Wild Things Are

6 Weeks

Southeast Asia is home to diverse wildlife, including tigers, elephants, primates, whale sharks and the