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Southeast Asia Bucket List

Must-Have Experiences When Backpacking Southeast Asia

By Kezia Jospeh (Instagram: @kezia_joseph)

Southeast Asia Bucket List

Glow-In-the-Dark Plankton, Cambodia

Seeing the ocean light up like something out of Life of Pi should be on everyone’s bucket list. This is caused by phosphorescent plankton and in Cambodia the best place to witness this is Koh Rong Samloem.

The only word to describe this phenomenon is magical. The ocean around me started sparkling with plankton that reacted to my movement. The more you swirl your hands and swim around, the more the plankton light up the ocean around you. Be sure to bring a snorkel mask to get up close to the plankton!

Mad Monkey Hostel Koh Rong Samloem offers the perfect plankton-spotting getaway, complete with a private beach. It is also far away from the bright lights of bars and restaurants of Koh Rong, the larger island nearby. This is very important as the microscopic plankton will only come to the surface when there is no moon or artificial light.

NOTE: The plankton do sting when they touch you. Initially it’s painless but after a few hundred plankton swarm around you, the small electric zaps will get more intense. Don’t worry, they won’t cause any marks or long-term discomfort.

Southeast Asia Bucket List

Battambang Bats, Cambodia

Six million bats swarming out of a giant cave in perfect formation is a Bucket List no-brainer. This happens every sunset at the Battambang Bat Caves, otherwise known as Phnom Sampeou.

It’s very easy to take a tuk-tuk to the caves from the city centre. Most drivers will include the stop as part of a tour to other tourist attractions in the area, like the Bamboo Train.

When the sun starts to dip in the sky the bats leave the cave to feed. It starts with just one, and soon there’s a swarm meandering across the sky – not one breaking formation. It takes about 30 minutes for all six million bats to leave the cave. Most tuk tuk drivers will start carting people back to town after 15 minutes, following the unbroken chain of bats across the rice fields.

 Southeast Asia Bucket List

New Years Eve, Thailand

This is one for anyone keen to relive that scene from Tangled with all the lanterns. In Chiang Mai the coming of a new year is marked by thousands of Chinese lanterns being released into the sky. This happens several hours before and after the countdown with both tourists and locals getting involved.

Southeast Asia Bucket List

Elephant Camp, Thailand

This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get close to some amazing animals. To be clear, Mad Monkey does not condone any activity or tour that involves riding elephants. Chiang Mai has many elephant camps and sanctuaries that allows guests to play with and bathe these gentle giants without hurting them. Often the elephants in these centres have been rescued from tourist attractions or hard labour sites. In these spaces the elephants roam free across several acres of jungles, free from cruel masters or torture tools. To see the elephants in their natural environment like this is an unforgettable experience! They’re larger than life in person, and full of personality. Elephant Nature Park offers a variety of ways to get involved, from short visits to long volunteer stays.

REMEMBER: South East Asia has made huge inroads with elephant protection but unfortunately these gentle giants are still frequently exploited for the entertainment of tourists. Tours that offer elephant rides cause severe strain and suffering for the animals. To learn more about the issue, read this article about animal abuse in the tourism industry. Be sure to only visit an elephant camp where rides are not offered!

Southeast Asia Bucket List

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The towering limestone karsts of Halong Bay should not be missed by anyone backpacking in Southeast Asia. Halong Bay is only a short drive from Hanoi. Many tourists choose to spend a night in Halong Bay on one of the many junk-ship cruises that fill the bay. However, if you’re short on time a day-trip is also a great way to tick this one off your bucket list. Many tours including kayaking in the bay and cave exploring.

Southeast Asia Bucket List

River Tubing, Laos

While Vang Vieng is no longer the wild child of Laos, tubing still remains one of the best things to do there. Rent an inflatable tube, get a ride upriver, and then float back down into town. Along the way you’ll pass bars built into the riverbanks. These watering holes throw a rope out to passers-by and pull them in for a drink. Yes, the name of the game is to get drunk before midday, but it’s all in good fun. Many of the bars will include platforms to jump into the water, as well as zip lines and beer pong. Be safe, be respectful, and enjoy!

Southeast Asia Bucket List

Kung Si Waterfalls, Laos

It’s very easy to get waterfall fatigue when travelling across Laos. Every small town will have at least one waterfall as its main tourist attraction. This gem in Luang Prabang really should be at the top of everyone’s list, though! Kung Si is a huge waterfall that flows through a number of cascading pools.

The water is an astonishing blue-green colour (similar to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland). Many of the pools are open for public swimming. You can take a hike to the top of the waterfall where, after a laborious climb, there is another pool with swings to jump into the water from. The view is magnificent and you can see the entire length of the waterfall from the top.
NOTE: A trip to the waterfalls should cost no more than 35,000 kip (as of January 2017) and will  also include a visit to the Asiatic Black Bear Sanctuary found just before the waterfall pools. These bears are an endangered species, mostly due to their bile being sold for medicinal purposes. The sanctuary does not take any proceeds from the waterfall entrance fee.

Southeast Asia Bucket List

More Southeast Asia Bucket List Ideas

If you’re planning a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia and want to keep dreaming, here are more ideas to fuel your wanderlust! We only recommend blogs we trust and read often.

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