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A Guide to Travelling Southeast Asia – Part 2

If you're searching for a long-haul destination which offers something completely different, seemingly transports you millions of miles away from the daily grind and has the magical ability to re-energise, then look no further than Southeast Asia.

Whether it's a luxurious two-week break, a six-month backpacking adventure or the realisation of a life-long dream, Southeast Asia remains a favourite spot.

In the second of this two-part guide, we look at some of the countries which together comprise what's known as Maritime Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.


Split into the West peninsula (which borders Thailand), and the East (which borders Borneo and Indonesia), Malaysia offers a pleasant mix of local tradition and high-tech industry. It's one of the wealthier Southeast Asian countries and an enduring tourist destination.

The capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is a bustling metropolis with a skyline of high rise towers, a tube network, monorail and shopping malls, interspersed with old colonial buildings, mosques and Chinatown - all presided over by the indomitable Petronas Towers. This 'must-see' attraction - twin towers linked by a skybridge on the 41st/42nd floors - contains shops, restaurants, a cinema and office space. There's also a tremendous view of the city, although for a view which includes the towers and is cheaper (top tip), visit the neighbouring KL Tower.

After all this modernity, a trip to the National Museum could be just what you need, before heading off to an authentic curry house. For a little more culture, head north to the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine which is situated alongside the Batu River. The caves are reportedly 400 million years old and comprise three main caverns - one of which requires a climb of 272 steps.

From Kuala Lumpur you can catch the train to Penang, an island with nice beaches, luxury hotels, little fishing villages and pretty architecture. The capital, George Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Batu Ferringhi is the place for sun worshippers and those who want to find a few fake Gucci watches at the night markets to head.

The East is divided into two regions: Sabah and Sarawak, the latter of which has many jungles and national parks. Sabah boasts Mount Kinabalu, incredible scuba diving and the city of Kota Kinabalu - described as a 'growing resort destination'.


An archipelago of more than 18,000 individual islands, Indonesia spans the gap between mainland Southeast Asia and Australia, bordering Malaysia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. Divided into 34 provinces, the main holiday spots are Bali and the capital, Jakarta.

Situated on Java Island, the Special Capital Region of Jakarta (to give its full name) is the former capital of the Dutch East Indies and has enjoyed economic growth that has outpaced nearby Kuala Lumpur. It hosts many prestigious festivals, has many interesting museums (from history to puppets), is a mecca for shopaholics and boasts incredible Betawi cuisine. The National Monument in Merdeka Square is the most familiar landmark in Jakarta, along with the Arjuna Wijaya statue, Batavia Stadhuis and Istiqlal Mosque. There's no shortage of accommodation and good eateries here.

Another famous attraction is the Borobudar Temple Compound, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's an 8th/9th Century three-tiered Buddhist temple which features many statues and spherical stupas, plus a wonderful view of the valley. For the brave, there's Krakatoa, the island which is home to the notorious volcano which erupted in 1883, causing unimaginable damage.

Bali, located off East Java, is a lush green island where mountains and rice terraces are fringed by sandy beaches and glorious coastline. It's the place to come for water sports, relaxation, exploration and parties. Popular with backpackers and those with a somewhat bigger budget, Bali offers surfing in Kuta, coral reefs off Lovina, trendy bars in Seminyak and monkey forests in Ubud.  To head off the beaten track, West Papua is worth the trek - aim for the Bird's Head Peninsula.


Many people visit Singapore en route to another part of Southeast Asia or beyond - it's a gateway to Malaysia and Thailand, and commonly the last stop before Australia on the round-the-world backpacker trail. However, Singapore is an amazing destination in its own right and well worth more than a quick stopover.

Tiny, but with big personality, this bustling nation packs a lot in. Whether you want shopping along the Orchard Road, the flora and fauna of the Gardens by the Bay (part of the new Marina Bay resort), night safaris, drinks along the Riverside or fun at Sentosa Island, Singapore is full of surprises.

One of the most famous attractions is the Raffles Hotel, the luxury, colonial-style accommodation favoured by the wealthy. You can't visit without stopping by the Long Bar for an iconic Singapore Sling cocktail, but be warned, these don't come cheap.

For views of the city, the Singapore Flyer is a brilliant option. Much like the London Eye, this giant ferris wheel opened in 2008 and is amongst the world's tallest. The complex offers several attractions, including the 'Journey of Dreams' multimedia exhibition, shopping, and dining. Of course, there's far more to Singapore than shopping and modern developments. Its zoos are highly recommended and there's some wonderful food to be sampled - if you're looking for Southeast Asia 'lite', then this might be your option.


According to Wikitravel, it would take some 20 years to spend a day on each of the Philippines' 7,000+ islands, but with such glorious beaches, it's something you might at least want to have a temporary go at. Not as heavily frequented by tourists, you could well have those beaches to yourself.

The Philippines has something for everyone, not just those who like to swim with/without whale sharks. Its dramatic volcanic and jungle landscape makes it perfect for hikers, there's great nightlife to be experienced or you could do as the locals do and hit the malls (a legacy from US rule). The nation is divided into three main island groups: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The capital, Manilla is on Luzon, but as one of the most populous global cities, isn't usually a major stop on visitors' itineraries.

Also on Luzon is Mayon Volcano, with its famously symmetrical 'cone'. It is situated within an official Natural Park and is simply breath-taking.

One of the nation's biggest attractions is Chocolate Hills, situated in Bohol Province in the Visayas. This postcard-perfect vista of over 1,000 green/brown grassy hills is a geological phenomenon quite unlike anything you've ever seen. It's possible to stay in one of the two tourists resorts there, or instead simply visit one of the viewing platforms.

Also in this region is Cebu, a travel-guide-winning island which has been hailed among the best in the Asian Pacific area. Tourists tend to visit the Taoist Temple, Lapu Shrine, Colon Street and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Accommodation ranges from the height of luxury to ultra-budget, so no matter what sort of trip you are on, you'll be able to find a bed somewhere. That said, it's a good idea to book ahead as the Philippines is becoming ever more popular with holidaymakers, and rightly so.

As you can hopefully discern, Maritime Southeast Asia is an area of beauty, serenity and culture; ultimately, it's a region which is absolutely worth visiting - whether as part of an extended multi-destination trip or separately.

If this has inspired you to explore this incredible part of the world, why not check out our Guide to travelling Southeast Asia part 1, which features Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam?

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