Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination for both short and long-term travellers. For years, low-budget travellers have chosen countries like Cambodia, Vietnam or Thailand to discover the Asian culture. That’s because the region is incredibly affordable for those travelling on a low budget.
However, Southeast Asia is more than just an affordable destination people on a tight budget choose to visit. Southeast Asia is also incredibly diverse and culturally rich, with many incredible sights to explore. Not to mention the unique local cuisine that has a great variety of vegetarian and meat-based dishes.
Since Southeast Asia is so popular among travellers, let’s have a look at the top 10 reasons why Southeast Asia attracts so many visitors year after year.
Which countries are part of Southeast Asia?
Before we look into why Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination, let’s first understand which countries form the Southeast Asian region.
Southeast Asia is comprised of 11 countries:
- East Timor
Most of the 11 Southeast Asian countries have been a magnet for tourists for years now. That’s because they are safe to travel to, affordable and tourist-oriented.
Most of the 11 Southeast Asian countries have simple & easy tourist visa requirements. This makes them even more attractive, especially among western tourists, who most of the time benefit from visas on arrival (if they stay in the country up to a certain number of days, it can vary from 30 days up to 90 days).
With so many benefits, it’s so easy for tourists to choose Southeast Asian countries over any other destinations. Let’s explore further why Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination.
10 Reasons why Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination
- Southeast Asia is one of the most affordable places to travel.
It goes without saying that what makes a destination appealing to tourists is how affordable the place is. Southeast Asia is one of the most affordable regions to visit out there. In countries like Cambodia or Vietnam, you can eat out for 1$ (or even less). The accommodation costs are also affordable throughout the region.
The foreign currency widely accepted in the region is the US dollar (e.g. in Cambodia, you can use US dollars in day-to-day transactions like buying food, paying for booked trips etc.). Although the US dollar is widely accepted, each country has their official currency. For example, Thailand’s official currency is the Thai baht. In February 2022 1$ equalled 32.44 Thai baht. The Philippine peso is weaker since 1$ equals 51.32 Philippine pesos.
If you are in my situation and get paid in a different currency than the US dollar, I would advise you to exchange some US dollars before travelling to the region (ideally, you would keep some in cash and some on a multi-currency card).
You should be aware that while ATMs are available in the region, there will be situations when you can only pay by cash. Therefore, it is important to always have some cash on you.
If you plan to visit various countries in Southeast Asia, the best is to have US dollars in cash (and on a card) since the currency is widely accepted in the region.
Even if you plan to visit one country, I would still advise you to bring US dollars and not the official currency of the country you intend to visit. At least, if you are left with money afterwards, it will be easier to exchange US dollars than any Southeast Asian local currency.
*Tips on exchanging foreign currencies. Exchanging foreign currencies will always cost us some money. However, what we can do is to make sure it costs us as little as possible. I stopped using my regular VISA card when travelling abroad simply because bank exchange rates are always disadvantageous.
Instead, I use multi-currency cards, which I load with different currencies. My multi-currency cards are Master & Visa cards (it’s better to have different cards in case any of them gets rejected). I also have an American Express credit card (AMX).
While Visa and Master Cards are accepted worldwide, American Express cards are slightly limited. To avoid nasty surprises, ask first if AMX cards are accepted.
Going back to bank exchange rates, I find it more beneficial to use intermediary services like Wise or Revolut to exchange currencies. It is the best way (at least for me) to save money when travelling abroad.
A final tip I would like to give here is to pay by card as much as possible. In Southeast Asia, ATMs charge foreign cards a withdrawal fee (I remember the Philippines having quite a high withdrawal fee of around 5$ per transaction). However, if you use your card to pay in supermarkets, restaurants and shopping centres you won’t get charged a withdrawal fee.
You must also consider any additional fees your card might charge you. I make sure my cards don’t have any annual, management fees etc.
Using strategies like the ones suggested above can help you save money while travelling in Southeast Asia.
2. Southeast Asia is safe to travel to!
The main concern of solo travellers, especially solo female travellers is safety.
As a solo female traveller, I can say that Southeast Asia is one of the safest regions you can travel to. Being such a safe destination for travellers makes Southeast Asia one of the best tourist destinations.
However, like everywhere else, there is criminality, and one must use his/her gut feeling to assess situations. However, as a solo female traveller who visited The Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam by herself, I can say that I never felt in danger or targeted when travelling in Southeast Asia.
On the contrary, I felt that people were willing to help. However, this does not mean you should trust everyone you meet. Some people will try to help (although not all of them do that) because they assume you have money, and they might get away with something from you. It is a fact you need to be aware of.
If you are ever in this situation, you need to make sure you’ve agreed on the service costs beforehand. And you are happy with it. Don’t be afraid to ask or even negotiate if you feel the price is too high. Remember you can say no (in a polite manner) and move on.
Negotiating (although it is something I don’t like) is sometimes necessary. I have to say that I did not have to negotiate too much in Southeast Asia. However, negotiating is very common in some other places like India, Turkey or Morocco.
Some other tips I would give to solo female travellers would be:
*Don’t walk by yourself at night (I know it’s common sense, but don’t do it, unless you are with someone you trust). And even then, I would be cautious.
*When walking around (more so if you are by yourself), don’t use narrow/quiet streets. It’s better to stick to the large avenues & boulevards in case anything happens.
*When using your phone for directions or taking pictures, try to show off as little as possible. Although I found Southeast Asia very safe, you don’t want to risk getting exposed too much.
*Don’t wear revealing clothing. I know this shouldn’t even be on my tips list. Unfortunately, it is something you need to consider if you don’t want to attract the wrong attention. On top of that, depending on when you visit Southeast Asia, it can be very hot. So wearing long sleeves could save you from some serious sunburns.
Although Southeast Asia is generally safe with low criminality levels, it’s always advisable to look after yourself and take some basic measures so that you are safe while travelling in the region.
3. Southeast Asia is culturally rich with lots of sights worth exploring
Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination for a reason. Whichever Southeast Asian country you decide on, I’m sure you won’t have time to get bored.
Whether you visit any of the breathtaking Thai beaches or the ancient temples in Cambodia, there is so much to see that you will wish you had more time to stay in the region.
Since the region is so vast, it would be impossible to cover every place worth visiting in Southeast Asia in this section.
However, I would like to recommend some of the highlights, including some hidden gems of my trips to the region, so you can get an idea of what to expect if you plan to visit Southeast Asia:
The country is mainly famous for its lush beaches and turquoise waters. But how about exploring the terraced rice fields instead? The terraced rice fields in the Northern region of Banaue are a UNESCO heritage site. However, they are often disregarded by tourists.
The view is simply beautiful and is totally worth the 12h journey from Manila. This is what you can expect to see on the day:
This country’s amazing beaches are also known worldwide. At the same time, Bangkok (Thailand’s capital) is heaven for Buddist temples and Thai cuisine fanatics.
Tip: while in Bangkok, you must try a Thai massage session. It is one of the things you shouldn’t miss while in Thailand.
Cambodia is known for its Siem Reap ancient temples and Pol Pot’s ferocious regime. Travel from the north to the south to make sure you get immersed into this country’s complex history.
If you like history, make sure you don’t miss visiting the killing fields. This is not a tour for the faint-hearted people. However, understanding the tragedy of the Cambodian people during Pol Pot’s regime puts things into perspective.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Vietnam’s past is as controversial as Cambodia’s past. The country is an interesting mix of western architecture (Saigon, Da Nang) and Asian culture (Hoian). Hanoi (Vietnam’s capital) is extremely diverse, crowded and chaotic. The traffic in Vietnam is similar to the traffic in India. They follow the same principle: there are no rules.
Southeast Asia is much more vast with even more countries with incredible history and culture to discover. I hope this introduction will ignite your curiosity to read more about other countries in the region and start planning your trip.
Temple in Vietnam
4. Southeast Asia’s good weather attracts tourists like a magnet
As the region stays warm throughout the year, Southeast Asia is visited by tourists all year round. There are fewer tourists during the rainy season for obvious reasons.
The region has essentially TWO seasons: the dry and the rainy season.
The dry season runs between November-February and the rainy season between June-October.
I visited Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in December and the Philippines in November.
The highs were around 30 degrees Celsius, and the weather stayed dry the entire time I was there. Although it might be tempting to visit Southeast Asia in the rainy season (thinking everything will be cheaper), you must be aware that you might be limited as to what you can do. That’s because (some) tourist attractions might be closed outside the regular tourism season.
5. Travelling in the Southeast Asian region is relatively easy
Travelling to/within Southeast Asian countries is quite easy. The region is served by low-cost flight companies, bus companies and sometimes trains (although trains are far more limited than in Europe, for example).
As expected, buses take longer. However, they are quite reliable and affordable too. An alternative to buses is regional flights. You can easily fly between the main cities in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, or even between countries in the region. You can purchase tickets through regular services like Skyscanner etc.
Hoian (Vietnam) at night
I found the boarding process (when I took regional/domestic flights) to be far more relaxed than in some other places. I was surprised to see they were not that strict with my luggage dimensions at all. (Don’t take this for granted. Things do change, and perhaps I was just lucky). Always make sure you comply with the flight requirements before boarding the plane.
Travelling by yourself (I travelled as a solo female traveller) in Southeast Asia using a combination of buses and local flights proved to be a pleasant experience. You can definitely rely on public transport when planning your itinerary as there are plenty of options out there.
Do not fear any language barrier. Most people in Southeast Asia speak good English as they are used to deal with a large number of foreign tourists. Obviously, it is always nice to try and learn a few words in the local languages. Simple words like thank you, hi or bye can definitely make someone’s day. It is also a way to show appreciation of the local language and an excellent ice breaker exercise when interacting with locals.
6. The (tourist) visa application system is relatively easy
Applying for a tourist visa pretty much anywhere in Southeast Asia is a straightforward process. Most passport holders (I can only speak of Western passport holders) are granted a (tourist) visa on arrival immediately.
Some Southeast Asian countries might require an approved tourist visa before entering the country. However, processing such visas is usually dealt with online, meaning you do not even have to make an in-person appointment with the embassy. The visa fees for online tourist visas are generally speaking affordable.
One last aspect that’s worth mentioning here is the medical requirements. While some countries require you to get some vaccines/boosters etc., before travelling and/or even applying for a tourist visa, generally speaking, Southeast Asia is quite hassle-free when it comes to this.
Some countries might advise taking Malaria tablets (applicable if you visit The Philippines). However, most countries in this region do not require any hard-to-find/expensive vaccines.
The hassle-free process of obtaining a tourist visa for most Southeast Asian countries makes this region even more appealing to tourists. It is understandable why Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination.
P.S. This is a general opinion based on my experience (as a Western passport holder) travelling to the region. Your situation might be different based on your nationality etc. Therefore, I advise you to always seek appropriate advice from official sources: the embassy, consulate etc., before travelling to the region.
8. Southeast Asia has some of the best low-budget accommodation
Southeast Asia is the best place to visit if you travel on a tight budget.
One of the biggest expenses we have when travelling is the accommodation costs. If you visit Southeast Asia, you can save up significantly because the accommodation is very affordable. This includes hostels as well as other types of accommodation too.
When you hear the word hostel, you might think of a cheap place to sleep, which isn’t necessarily good quality. This is not the case in Southeast Asia.
I stayed in hostels and similar low-budget accommodations all over the world. However, the Southeast Asian hostels were some of the cleanest and most welcoming places I ever booked.
The staff was very friendly, there was a nice vibe, and the noise was kept to a minimum. I was surprised to discover how well they’ve managed everything.
Banaue (the Philippines)
Another thing I appreciated is how well Asian low-budget accommodations promoted personal privacy. Each bunk bed would usually have some type of cover so you can enjoy as much privacy as possible.
I can only say good things about Southeast Asian hostels. I rarely give a 10 out of 10 mark on Booking.com. However, the places I booked during my tour in Southeast Asia well deserved it.
So now you know it! Not only Southeast Asia has the cheapest hostels. But they are also some of the cleanest and customer-oriented low-budget accommodation out there! Not to mention that staying in hostels is perfect for meeting new people along the way.
9. Southeast Asians are friendly people and willing to help
If you are afraid of cultural differences or have concerns about travelling to Southeast Asia, you don’t have to. I found Southeast Asians to be the most friendly and polite people I’ve ever met, especially the Filipinos. Everyone is very customer-oriented, especially in restaurants. The Southeast Asian tour guides go the extra mile and make you feel it was worth booking the guided tour with them.
I was surprised to meet so many friendly people in this part of the world. It exceeded my expectation, and I would definitely recommend Southeast Asia to anyone, more so to introverts and shy travellers because everyone is so easy-going here.
Phi Phi (Thailand)
10. There are so many people travelling to Southeast Asia that you won’t feel alone if you travel by yourself
Do not worry if you travel by yourself to Southeast Asia. The region is so popular, especially among backpackers, that you will never feel alone.
Many times I ended up sharing taxis, taking a local bus or booking trips with other travellers. Southeast Asia is perfect for solo travellers.
In my opinion, Southeast Asia is one of the best regions out there for solo travellers because there are so many (solo) travellers visiting the region.
So don’t waste your time and start planning your own trip to the region. I’m sure it will be memorable.
These are the 10 compelling reasons why Southeast Asia is the best tourist destination. If my experience of travelling to the region convinced you, don’t waste your time anymore. Start planning your trip to Southeast Asia because you don’t want to miss out on visiting some of the friendliest and tourist-oriented countries there are out there!