8 places to travel on your first trip to Southeast Asia

Planning your first trip to Southeast Asia? We've handpicked our absolute favorite vacations to make your first time unforgettable.
Lao Monk and Baby Elephant. Photo: Shutterstock
Lao Monk and Baby Elephant. Photo: Shutterstock

Lao Monk and Baby Elephant. Photo: Shutterstock

Here at Insight Guides, we create tailor-made, luxury trips to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet. Delivering unique experiences is the name of the game. In the spirit of new adventures, we're calling out eight places to travel on your first trip to Southeast Asia.

1. For a perfect blend of city and nature

Where? Malaysia

Which trip? Traditional Malaysia and Wild Borneo

Fall somewhere between city-dweller and nature-lover? The good news is that you don't have to sacrifice one for the other on your first trip to Southeast Asia. Malaysia is a mash-up of bustling city streets and raw beauty; glitzy architecture and divine natural wonders. It all comes together in this epic Malaysian adventure, which kicks-off in lively Kuala Lumpur. Stroll down bustling Petaling Street before uncovering a shopaholic's dream in Bukit Bintang. But this trip isn't all skyscrapers and chaotic street restaurants. After taking in sacred Buddhist temples, you can see the other side of Malaysia. Explore the haunting Batu Caves and the rolling green hills of the Cameron Highlands. Then it's off to the land of Kuching with all its astounding wildlife. Top it off with a jaunt over to the heavenly shores of Damai Beach.


2. For off-the-grid goodness

Where? Myanmar

Which trip? Myanmar Dreams

Wander off the beaten track in Myanmar, a wonderfully underdeveloped paradise. Let's just say there's a reason Myanmar is revered as a gem of Southeast Asia. In Bagan, take in the glittering golden pagodas for which the area is best known. Ancient temples and sacred monasteries dot the verdant plains all around, offering up a sight like no other. But no trip to Myanmar is really complete without some time spent in iconic Yangon and Mandalay, where old-world charms reign supreme. Float above the shimmering landmarks on a once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride, then get lost in one of Myanmar's ancient cities. This trip is ideal for travelers looking for a bit of awe and wonder in Southeast Asia.

3. For discovering sacred temples and local culture

Where? Thailand

Which trip? Unique Thailand

Thailand is the ultimate introduction to Southeast Asia for a number of reasons, especially if you're looking to really immerse yourself in the culture. This getaway takes you to the mesmerizing temples and charming floating markets of Bangkok before whisking you off to rural treasures in Nonthaburi (think picturesque rice paddies and enchanting local villages). In Hua Hin, get lost in a world-renowned train track market - a kitschy experience indeed! Here, an actual train passes through the centre of the market; a tourist favorite that features everything from fresh seafood to home-grown produce. Round out your adventure by discovering Chiang Mai by bike. What better way to absorb its exquisite lanna-style temples and famous night market?

Golden Pagoda Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Chiang Mai. Photo: ShutterstockGolden Pagoda Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Chiang Mai. Photo: Shutterstock

4. For mountain treks, wildlife & gorgeous beaches

Where? Sri Lanka

Which trip? Perfectly Sri Lanka

Abundant natural beauty, astonishing wildlife, and awe-inspiring beaches for as far as the eye can see... Sri Lanka ticks all the boxes. This holiday is ideal for thrill-seeking travelers out for a bit of action. Take to the land on foot, trekking through lush tea plantations. And while Africa is typically synonymous with safari, Sri Lanka is certainly no slouch in this department. Head out into the wild lands all around to steal a glimpse of the country's stunning wildlife (FYI, Uda Walawe National Park is the perfect place to observe elephants in the wild). Wrap up your days in Sri Lanka with a dip in the dazzling Indian Ocean before unwinding at a luxury eco resort.

5. For some quiet introspection

Where? Bhutan

Which trip? Splendour in Bhutan

When it comes to planning your first trip to Southeast Asia, fewer places are quite as special as Bhutan. Fantastically remote, this off-the-grid Himalayan country is particularly attractive to travelers seeking a quiet, self-reflective journey. Bhutan is brimming with holy monasteries and sacred temples, drawing in Buddhist pilgrims from all across the globe. Soak up the unique museums and local crafts in capital Thimphu, then hike across majestic rice terraces and explore the holy sites for yourself. Meanwhile, rafting and mountain-biking experiences are on offer for those who crave a dose of adrenaline.

6. For serious luxury

Where? The Maldives

Which trip? Luxury Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Let's face it, nothing says relaxation like a lavish beach vacation. If disconnecting from the world and lazing around white-sand beaches is your thing, the Maldives won't disappoint. This far-flung destination is a stunner, especially the North Malé Atoll, which boasts some of the world's finest luxury resorts. There's a little something for everyone here, including a diverse offering of water sports. Dial up your Maldives experience with this twin vacation that throws heaven-on-earth Sri Lanka into the mix. A quick flight and short speedboat ride bridges them together for an unforgettable holiday in Southeast Asia.

Pool on tropical Maldives island. Photo: ShutterstockPool on tropical Maldives island. Photo: Shutterstock

7. For a wildlife adventure

Where? India

Which trip? Indian Wildlife Safari

Animal lovers who've got Southeast Asia on their bucket lists would be wise to add India to the itinerary (the country is an absolute jewel where wildlife is concerned). This trip packs a big punch, with non-stop opportunities to spot Bengal tigers, leopards, monkeys, rare birds and more. India's incredible national parks set the stage. Take game-drives through Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and stay in alluring treehouse resorts along the way. Once you get your fill of wildlife spotting, finish up your holiday with a stop at the Taj Mahal, then a bit of shopping in Dehli.

8. For family fun

Where? Laos

Which trip? Laos Elephants & Jungle

Traveling with the family? Let Southeast Asia be the backdrop for your next family adventure. Laos, particularly the World Heritage City of Luang Prabang, is a true stand-out here. Lovely river valleys and forested hilltops meld together to create an unreal setting for culture-rich museums and temples. But it's really the jungle-trekking excursions that attract so many families to this part of beautiful Laos. Ride atop an elephant into the jungle all around, then discover natural waterfalls or wander off on a cave exploration. The outdoor adventures are endless.