Best Countries To Visit In Asia: My Southeast Asia Bucket List Part One

Best Countries To Visit In Asia

I can’t even begin to describe how many hours I’ve spent reading other travel blogs, perusing through pinterest looking at photos, marking pages in my Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring book, and jotting down all the places I want to go and things I want to see. I’ve done nothing but dream about Southeast Asia since deciding to go there.

In honor of my upcoming trip and first solo long term trip, I wanted to share my Southeast Asia bucket list. Not only because I’m excited, but because I want your input on my list and what are some of the other best countries to visit in Asia.

Thai Cooking Class, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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best places to visit in Asia
Cooking Class, Chiang Mai

I’ve never actually taken a cooking class-of any kind.  I’m really excited about this.  Everything I’ve read from other travel bloggers makes it seem as if this is well worth it.  Who knows, maybe these skills will come in handy impressing someone some day.

Volunteer with Elephants

best places to visit in Asia


Most others volunteer at Elephant Nature Park, but I came across other options, The Surin Project and Journey to Freedom being some of them.  These two are actually operated by ENP, but are in different locations.  I’d love input from anyone on other options or feedback on The Surin Project or Journey to Freedom if you’ve been.

Scuba Diving Certification

best places to visit in Asia


Koh Tao is the place to get scuba certified in Thailand with great prices and a plethora of schools to choose from.  Nomadic Matt does a great job of breaking down the difference between PADI and SSI, the different schools, and prices.  The one that I’ve read about that intrigues me the most is Roctopus–one I just love the damn name and two, they are smaller and more adaptable to someone who might have a bit apprehension (I’m claustrophobic).  Any suggestions?

Fight Muay Thai

I have absolutely no martial arts background whatsoever so it seems perfectly logical to attempt this, right? ….Right?  The only thing I know is I want to so now I need suggestions of where to go and how to do it….and maybe some suggestions how not to get myself hurt.

Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The trick to this one is figuring out the date as the local festival date is kept a secret while they have a separate festival for tourists.  I definitely want to participate in the local one.

Songkran, Thailand

This festival is celebrated as the traditional New Year’s Day from April 13-15 at the hottest time of the year the end of the dry season.  It’s basically one HUGE ASS water balloon and gunfight.  Why??  Why I repeat, do we not have this in the US?

Halong Bay Cruise

Floating fishing village, Halong Bay


While I’m very excited to see Halong Bay in Vietnam, everyone has insisted that I need to do an overnight cruise while I’m there.  I have a feeling I won’t regret taking advice on this one.

See Orangutans in Borneo

Who wouldn’t want to see orangutans in the wild?  Keyword: in the wild.  There are sanctuaries you can also visit, but with a little more effort you can see them in the wild.  This aids the conservation efforts-if more people show interest, the more their habitat is kept safe.

Kelimutu Lakes, Indonesia

Kelimutu Eastern Crater


The volcano, Kelimutu, contains three crater lakes that vary in color and change without notice.  The three vary between blue to green to red to black.  This is one of the things I’m most excited about.  I really hope the lakes are three different colors while I’m there–it would be fascinating to see a red and black lake, but I’ll take anything.  Picture above are the two lakes that sit side by side, the Lake of Young Men and Maidens and Bewitched or Enchanted Lake.  The Lake of Old People sits to the west of these two.

See Komodo Dragons on Komodo Island, Indonesia

best places to visit in Asia
The Komodo Dragon


Komodo Island is obviously home to the Komodo Dragon.  It also offers a pink sand beach, one of few in the world, and apparently great diving.

Can you give advice on any of these best countries to visit in Asia?  What are items  and places should I add to my SEA bucket list?

Ashley Hubbard

This Post Has 69 Comments

  1. Adelina @ PackMeTo

    It sounds like you’re going to be busy! Looking forward to following along on your adventures (and probably being super jealous!)

  2. Excellent list!! You need to add Penang, Malaysia in there, too. It’s street food scene has made it one of the top Foodie destinations in the world according to Lonely Planet. There’s a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see the mix of Chinese, Indian, Muslim Malay, and British colonial cultures in its places of worship, buildings, festivals and cuisines. Also look into visiting Penang or Kuala Lumpur during Chinese New Year or the Thaipusam festival (end of January). There’s also a smaller scale Songkran celebration here and a lowkey Loy Krathong festival which is Penang’s version of Yi Peng. It’s at the same time but we launch lotus bloom floats into the water instead of releasing lanterns. Penang is cheap and many people speak English, so it’s a good way to ease into a long SE Asia trip. As for what’s on your list… Basil Healthy Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai was excellent. I’ve only been to Elephant Nature Park and can attest that I will remember that experience for the rest of my life. I really want to do Halong Bay, too, as so many of my friends have loved the experience. My friend who visited Komodo has an interesting story. A dragon rushed across the path between the main group and her husband and young daughter who were having a hard time keeping up. In that instant, she didn’t care that the dragons were endangered. She wished that the guides were armed with guns instead of large sticks. When it came down to her family versus an endangered animal, she would choose family.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      See, this is why I did this—to get great advice like this. Penang is on my list already as I’ve heard great things. I also have Thaipusam festival on my list too. The lotus blooms sound so pretty–that’s a tough decision on which tochoose. Thanks for the cooking class suggestion–going to look into them. The Komodo dragon thing is a bit scary in a way since there’s really no protection, but I think worth it. Thanks for all the tips Michele!

  3. Great list! You are going to love Halong Bay! It is a beautiful place and if you can, kayak at sunset and get up early to watch the sunrise over the limestone formations. These were some of the highlights of my trip because my husband and I got to sneak away from the crowd and enjoy it together.

  4. Stacey Veikalas

    Awesome, we are going to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore this summer and I too have spent hours reading other blogs! I really like this thank you so much this is great and some things that we will look into doing ourselves! Have a Happy Sunday Keep Traveling and Writing!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Stacey! I’d love to read what all y’all get into!

  5. Emma

    You are going to have such a great adventure, all of those places sound fantastic! I love Vietnam and Thailand, I would recommend visiting the Mekong in Vietnam, see the floating markets, take a river trip… Stunning! πŸ™‚

  6. frankaboutcroatia

    Great list, Ashley! Everything sounds exciting. I would certainly have Thai Cooking Class, Halong Bay Cruise & Kelimutu Lakes on my bucket list too. And I would love to experience floating markets in Mekong like Emma suggested. You’re going to have an extremely interesting travels. Happy for you, and looking forward to follow your adventures around SE Asia.

  7. anna parker

    looking forward to following all of this…. will you do remote island beach too?

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Oh I definitely will Anna…this is only the beginning of the list!

  8. Molly S

    Wow – it all looks amazing! Never been to South East Asia, so can’t give any advice…except to say that whatever you do, you’ll have an amazing time! Very, very jealous πŸ™‚

  9. Ace CB @ Life in Dutch

    I can’t add any suggestions, but your list looks like it’s really shaping up nicely! I especially like the idea of seeing all sorts of creatures in the wild =)

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thank you! Animals drive a lot of my travel choices πŸ™‚

  10. Calli

    Wow, what a great list! I have serious trip envy just looking at everything you have planned – can’t wait to follow along once you hit the road!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Haha I have trip envy reading y’alls stories…guess it’s a traveler thing, huh? Thanks Calli!

  11. Nancie Lee

    All of your choices sound great! To see and experience so many new things will be amazing! I think the changing color lake would be high on my list. Every day will be an adventure!! Love it!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      If it wasn’t for my Pinterest addiction, I don’t know that I would have found out about those lakes. I tried searching for blog posts on it and found next to nothing. Very excited for that one!

  12. Kiara Gallop

    I definitely agree with the Thai cooking class (Gap’s were brilliant on the two occasions I used them), Songkran, Yi Peng festival, and Halong Bay – all were AMAZING!! The two that are still on my list are volunteering with elephants and seeing Orangutans in Borneo πŸ™‚

  13. Sarah Shaw

    I have done completed my scuba diving certificate, volunteered with elephants and completed the Thai cooking course in Chiang Mai. Have the say, some of the best things I have done!

    The Yi Peng festival looks pretty amazing and I have been wanting to participate in the Songkran but I never seem to visit in the correct time of year.
    I’ll have to change that! πŸ™‚

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Sarah! That’s awesome you’ve done several of these things πŸ™‚

  14. Jess

    I absolutely love everything on this list! And now I’m picturing you going off to taking cooking classes and learning muay thai and coming out of SE Asia like a cooking, fighting superhero.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Cooking, fighting superhero sounds awesome! I’m glad you have such high expectations for me πŸ™‚

  15. Sammi

    Hey, this sounds so similar to what I want to do. I really want to volunteer in a Orang Utan sanctuary and with elephants to (I have this weird obsession that I want to help bath an elephant, uh huh; and if I get to Australia I want to help look after Tasmanian devils with that face cancer thing, also I should’ve taken training to be a vet). Komodo dragons look AWESOME, too!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Haha you sound like an animal lover like me. I’ll sign up for just about anything if animals are involved.

  16. Kate

    That is a great bucket list. I loved Halong Bay and cooking classes I’ve taken throughout Asia. There are a few things I’m still yet to do like visit Borneo and see orangutans. You’ll have so much fun. I’d add temples in Bangkok and as painful as it was the Killing Fields in Cambodia are so important. Those cultural sites and difficult histories are all part of the countries and heritage of the people you visit. This list brings back wonderful memories πŸ™‚

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Kate! Yes, all the temples and the killing fields are also on my list for sure. I enjoy that type of stuff even though it can be depressing—I think it’s still important.

  17. Michelle

    What an amazing list! I would love to get a scuba diving license! One of my friends recently came back from Thailand and said that the cooking lessons there were amazing!!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Michelle! I’ve heard the cooking classes are amazing as well πŸ™‚

  18. Alouise

    Love these ideas, but I don’t think I’d be doing any muay Thai fighting. I’ve never heard of Kelimutu Lakes in Indonesia. It looks pretty incredible.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Alouise! I’m definitely glad I came across the Kelimutu Lakes πŸ™‚

  19. Nina

    What a fabulous list! Please take me with you!!!!!!
    I especially love the volunteering with elephants, I’m sure it will be an experience never to forget! I wish I could give you some input, but unfortunately I’ve never been to Thailand.

  20. Ricky

    Philippines? – Palawan Island (El Nido or Coron) and Boracay are top of the list.But you can choose among 7101 islands πŸ™‚
    Just dont go on the Philippines on Holy week, coz all the beaches are fully booked and expensive as all the local tourist travel during those days. But if you want to experience the tradition of holy week, you can go to Pampanga where you can witness some locals are crucified to the cross with real nails as part tradition of expressing the catholic faith.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      The Philippines are most definitely in my plans. Thanks for the tips about Holy Week – I’ll definitely keep that in mind!

  21. Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    Great list but I’d certainly add Laos (Luang Prabang) and Cambodia (Siam Reap, Angkor and PP) and plenty more things in Vietnam such as Hanoi, Hue and the northern highlands

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Phoebe! There’s definitely a ‘Part Two’ (and more, I’m sure) coming!

  22. NZ Muse

    I am in love with that lantern photo.

    Halong Bay – be careful picking your cruise operator, it may pay to pay a little more. Definitely go for an overnight trip.

    One of my surprise favourite destinations was Hoi An. So charming!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      I can only hope my photos are that good when I go.

      Thanks for the tip about Halong Bay and Hoi An is definitely on my list! πŸ™‚

  23. Stephanie

    I think I’m going to LOVE following your travels. While I don’t have any advice or stories to share of traveling the world, I love traveling and look forward to enjoying your post and photos. And if I’m going to be honest, I’ll be green with envy doing so.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks so much Stephanie! I hope you will follow along πŸ™‚

  24. Christy

    I love traveling AND living vicariously through other people’s travels. Lol! Looks like you have a fun and exciting trip ahead!

  25. FabEllis

    Nice! I’m still hoping to visit a place outside of the United States. I hope you enjoy your time!

  26. Samantha @mytanfeet

    You’re going to have quite a trip! Have seen many of these on other travel bloggers, I can see why they’re so popular to visit and see over there! Fun list!

  27. Jo Carroll

    You need to visit Angkor Wat – take your time, as it’s a huge site. And then go to Battambang and ride the Bamboo Train.

    If you’re in Malaysia, Malacca is wonderful, and I loved my few days in the rainforest (but stay in the scruffy village, not the upmarket resort! And, then – if you need to chill out – Pulau Tioman is quieter than Lankawi.


    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Jo! I’ve now added the Bamboo Train and Malacca to my list πŸ™‚

  28. Sharon

    Great list!! I have done many of them and all recommended, although I did my diving cert on the Great Barrier Reef on a liveaboard – just aswesome! I really recommend doing a cert on a boat like that, so much more fun that way and it was still very economical.

    I haven’t go to the Komodo dragons yet, but I plan to as soon as the kids are old enough to cope with the boat tours that have from bali and Lombok along the islands there. They sound great and are cheap, you should look into them!!

  29. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    Your trip is certainly shaping up into an epic one. I love everything you have in here already. I would have cooking class, Komodo dragon and the Borneo moneys on my list too. We’re going to be in Bangkok in June so I’ll let you know what we find. My husband wants to see Muay Thai fight so I’ll try to find out for you πŸ™‚ Are you heading to Cambodia? Maybe see Angkor Wat? I haven’t been but have always read/heard wonderful things about it. From what I’ve heard of the cheap massage prices in SE Asia, I’d also recommend you get one for some pampering and relaxation.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Exciting to read about your trip when you go. I am going to Cambodia and Angkor Wat is definitely on my list along with so many other things I haven’t listed yet πŸ™‚

  30. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey

    I just cant WAIT for you to get on the road. I am going to love watching these places come alive.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      It’s going to be great to see the before and after I think πŸ™‚

  31. Erika

    Very cool bucket list πŸ™‚ I love the idea of supporting the animals in ways that do not involve zoos, circuses and other exploitative organizations. A place I went last year that was just awesome was Siem Reap in Cambodia. The ruins are really worth seeing, and there are some ruins off the beaten track.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Erika! Yes, I’m excited about Siem Reap as well πŸ™‚

  32. Conversant Traveller

    You’re going to have an amazing time if you manage to do all of that!! Brilliant list. Something to add to make it even better would be a stay at the floating raft houses on Cheow Laan Lake in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand – our favourite part of our entire Thailand trip, and surprisingly the best food too! You can just jump off the bamboo pontoon for a swim before breakfast in the mornings, explore caves, go kayaking…or just chill out. It was blissful after all the travelling, and you can hear the gibbons calling to each other in the rainforest.

  33. ServicefromHeart

    Great good Luck Ashley!
    I would also love to experience the Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
    Look forward to your future posts about them.

    Best wishes
    #AtoZChallenge 2014 participant

  34. Natalie Steinberg

    I actually did the Journey to Freedom trip in 2011 and wrote a blog post about it. 100% do a two week stay at the Elephant Nature Park, spending one week at the park and one week doing the Journey to Freedom trip. It supports hands-off, culturally sustainable tourism that combines a hill-tribe visit with a cultural learning experience and a unique view of the elephants as they work with humans. It also encourages women’s empowerment and supports women gaining an income of their own, so its all-around an awesome deal! Definitely do it!

  35. Anna

    If you want to do Muay Thai you definitely need to check out Charn Chai Muay Thai in Pai! I had zero martial arts experience before going to Thailand and no intention of trying Muay Thai when planning out my trip. I was walking down the street in pai, passing by the gym, when the head trainer Bee called out to me and basically demanded that I join the afternoon training session. No idea what I was walking into, I agreed, and loved it so much that I ended up staying in Pai for 2 weeks (had only planned to stay for 2 days) and training 4 hours a day! Such a great training atmosphere – tons of 1 on 1 attention from the trainers, fantastic workout, and they instantly make you feel like part of the family. Can’t say enough about it, definitely would recommend!!

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