What better way to learn about the world (and more importantly, yourself) than being in a strange place and among unfamiliar faces? From embarrassing squat toilet situations to learning how to deal with scammers, travelling in your 20s is guaranteed to challenge your world view. We’ve compiled a list of decidedly off-the-beaten-path destinations around Southeast Asia that every 20-something should consider going to.
You might feel the urge to pack your bags and set off on your next adventure after reading this. You’re in luck, as AirAsia is offering 20% off all seats! Book your flights from 18 to 24 February 2019 and travel anytime between 25 February and 31 July 2019.
So give in and give that travel itch a good ol’ scratch right over here!
1. Chiang Rai, Thailand
Yes, Southern Thailand is great for the sunny islands, but we implore you to turn your gaze towards Northern Thailand, where the weather is cooler and the tourist horde is less apparent. Brimming with nature’s delights, the northern Thai city (and province) of Chiang Rai might just be the kind of sobering experience you need after full moon parties in Koh Phangan or boozy weekend getaways at Koh Samui. Overlooking the Lao border, the 1,442-metre-high Mount Phu Chi Fa is popular among hikers for its sea of clouds and amazing views, while waterfalls like the multi-tiered Mae Sa and limestone-deposit-covered Bua Tong also draw their fair share of visitors. Tea plantations like Mae Salong and Wawee provide panoramic views of lush green that stretch as far as the eye can see. After a day of adventure, it’s good to know that there are enough chic and trendy cafés in the city to relax in (and to make your Instagram followers green with envy with some awesome #latteart). From Doi Chaang Coffee with their ethical, organic coffee to CAT ‘n’ A CUP Cat Cafe where you can all have the cat lovin’ without the litter box scoopin’.
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2. Phu Quoc, Vietnam
We have a soft spot for destinations we can’t pronounce, and Phu Quoc (closest approximation would be ‘foo-kwok’ with rising tone) tops that list. If you need to up your Instagram game, the beaches here will definitely get you that boost you’ve been desperate for. Vietnam’s largest island boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, from the 19-kilometre-long Bai Truong (Long Beach) to the quieter Bai Bien Sao (Starfish Beach) with its turquoise, shallow waters. Away from the beaches, there are some treks to be discovered from the Ganh Dau Village. For a dose of culture, Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art and Coi Nguon Museum prove that Phu Quoc is a veritable art destination. Our favourite activity after the sun comes down is socialising at one of the hip watering holes like The Rabbit Hole Irish Bar, Bittersweet Cocktail Bar or Goca Art Bar. Hip and carefree vibe sets the beach club scene here, it’s easy to find people to hangout with even when travelling solo.
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3. Luang Prabang, Laos
It’s no secret that Luang Prabang is popular among older tourists that you’d half expect some pushy uncle to shove you at the breakfast buffet line. But we promise you that there’s something for everyone in the UNESCO World Heritage town. For one, it’s surprisingly affordable. Stick to scenic riverside backpacker hostels and cheap eats in one of the narrow alleys, and you’re good. It is also one of the few places in Southeast Asia where you can find authentic and affordable pizza parlours (wood-fired!) and wine bars. The town itself is also so compact that you can visit famous attractions like the Royal Palace, Mount Phousi, and ancient temples like Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Xieng Mouane in one day. Early in the morning you can participate in tak bat (almsgiving ceremony) and in the evening you can shop to your heart’s content at the Night Market along Sisavangvong Road. Vang Vieng is no longer known for its raucous river parties, but it’s still an adventure hub that attracts young travellers from all around the world. If you’re the active type, head out for some caving at Tham Phou Kham with its limestone cliff and Tham Pha Thao with its enormous stalactites and stalagmites.
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4. Ipoh, Malaysia
As we’re perpetually on student budget, it’s imperative to find cheap eats while travelling. This is why we love to go all out gluttons at Penang, long considered to be Malaysia’s food capital. However, for a similar offering albeit with a small town vibe, Ipoh comes close in second. We can’t get enough of the elegant colonial structures like Ipoh Railway Station and Birch Memorial Clock Tower, as well as Concubine Lane, a small lane flanked by rows of souvenir shops. Feeling peckish after all that shopping? Drop by at one of the traditional kopitiam (coffee shops) like Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong for the famous Ipoh white coffee. If you prefer your cuppa with a side of hipster, there’s the area surrounding the trendy Sekeping Kong Heng Hotel, with cafes like Burps & Giggles and Everyday Lifeshop where you can meet other young people.
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5. Yangon, Myanmar
For some of us, our love of bragging about the places we’ve been to beats the love we have for travelling itself. If you want to be the first in your circle to visit a country, good news! Myanmar is opening up to the world. You might enter the country via Yangon as a jumping stone to Bagan, but don’t give the country’s largest commercial and cultural city a miss. It’s a city of many temples, including the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Myanmar, and Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, famous for its reclining Buddha. Just outside the city, Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock Pagoda), which precariously hangs over a cliff edge 1,100 metres above sea level, is a must-visit.
Pro tip: If you are not used to the sweltering days of the tropics, you might want to try ‘going native’ by wearing sarong (known locally as longyi), as it offers better ventilation better suited to the warmer and more humid climate.
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6. Lombok, Indonesia
Many travellers would say that Lombok is what Bali was like 30 years ago. We don’t quite agree as the two islands have distinct cultures and identities, but Lombok does make a great alternative if the scene next door gets too overwhelming. So when you’re done taking pictures of your chia bowls and caffè latte in Nusa Dua or Seminyak, hop on a 20-minute boat ride to Lombok where the beaches are much less crowded, whether it’s at the secluded Kuta Beach (yes, there’s a Kuta beach here as well), with its white sands and crystal clear waters or even the more developed Senggigi Beach, famous for its sunset. There’s a plethora of islands off Lombok, including the famous three Gilis: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. For adventurers, nothing beats traipsing along the crater of Mount Rinjani, an active volcano at 3,726 metres above sea level. One thing you will notice is how the price drops significantly from Bali to Lombok, which means more bang for your buck!
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7. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
If you don’t see Brunei Darussalam or its capital Bandar Seri Begawan in anyone’s wish list, it’s just one more reason for you to consider the tiny oil-rich sultanate for your next getaway. Should you want a change from the glittering mosques like Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque with their gilded domes, head out Tasek Merimbun, the largest lake in the country, and Seri Kenangan Beach, where you can rent an ATV or stroll along the casuarina-lined golden beach. We encourage wildlife enthusiasts to take boat trips into the Ulu Temburong to see the rare proboscis monkey. A lesser known fact, Brunei is home to some of the best wreck diving and macro diving sites in the region.
Get promo seats to Bandar Seri Begawan here.
So what are you waiting for?
Make good use of AirAsia’s 20% off all seats! Book your flights from 18 to 24 February 2019 and travel anytime between 25 February and 31 July 2019.
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to the countries listed above. Book your tickets now at airasia.com.