It’s a hard call to pick any one country from Southeast Asia and rate it tops above the others. Yet, unless you have months to spare, you’ll have to focus on a small area and leave others aside.
Some countries do stand out for certain things. So choose what you’re most interested in from the list below. If you’re looking for…
- Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a must-see. There’s also the temple at Champasak in Laos and various Khmer ruins along the Thai-Cambodian border. You could combine all 3 countries in a tour starting from Vientiane, south along the Mekong to Phnom Penh, then west to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat and out to Thailand.
- Ruins also abound just in Thailand alone. Start in Bangkok and go north to Chiang Mai via Ayutthya, Kampheng Phet and Sukhothai.
- Thailand is definitely ahead of the pack when it comes to great food. It’s always freshly cooked and delicious. Even in small villages, there will be at least one stall selling a basic but hearty soup.
- Malaysia gets an honourable mention for food. Like in Thailand, there’s plenty being cooked fresh on the street at bargain basement prices and you can choose between Chinese, Indian or Malay cuisine.
- Contrary to many people’s hopes, Cambodia and Laos are not noted for fantastic food. In tourist cities the offerings aren’t bad but between towns, things can be very basic and sometimes unhygienic.
Off the Beaten Track
- Hard as it may seem, it’s still possible to get off the beaten track in Thailand. Ride the Burmese border from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot. You’ll go through untouched hilltribe villages and beautiful scenery. A word of warning though, it’s very mountainous and tough on the legs!
- Nearly everywhere is off the beaten track in Cambodia and Laos but we particularly loved the journey from Phnom Penh up the Mekong to the Laos border. Many rural villages sit on the river’s banks and they’re so fascinating. The main road diverges completely away from the river here so you’re really on your own with the locals – no bad thing!
- The ride from the Laotian capital Vientiane to Luang Prabang is very well known but mostly it’s travelled by bus so cyclists can still have some special cultural experiences here that the backpackers miss as they fly past in air conditioned comfort.
- Malaysia wins this category by a mile. Who could beat the lively atmosphere in Georgetown on Penang Island or the historic city of Malacca? They’re both UNESCO World Heritage sites and it’s easy to stay a week in either of them.
- Thailand is known worldwide for its gorgeous coastline. What you have to watch out for are the over developed resorts like Ao Nang. They’re both ugly and expensive. Instead, try riding through Lang Suan on the East coast and in fact much of the coastline from Pratchuap Kiri Khan south.
- Malaysia’s east coast is famed as being beautiful seaside riding and with very quiet roads. Malaysia also has some of Southeast Asia’s best national parks and the beautiful tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands.