Guide to exploring four Southeast Asian countries

It can be overwhelming to visit the multicultural land of Southeast Asia — here is a brief outline of attractions that could help.

Following the craze and success of blockbuster movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” more people have been open to the idea of visiting Singapore, a multicultural and financial hub. I’m from Malaysia and I especially loved the movie for reasons as simple as because of the Hokkien dialect they used that my grandmother speaks to me. However, I also loved it for bigger reasons like how this movie exposed many people in the U.S. about the wondrous beauties Singapore — and Southeast Asia — hold.

I believe everyone should travel the Southeast subregion of Asia. It sounds intimidating to travel all the way to the other side of the globe, so here is a brief guide to help encourage you to visit Southeast Asia.

Singapore

Singapore is small island south of Malaysia. Singapore is all about skyscrapers, fast-paced commutes and first-world costs. Singapore is a clean, beautiful, global financial center and is jam-packed with both luxurious stores and humble hawker centers — an open-air complex selling extremely inexpensive multicultural cuisine. It’s a one-stop shop for different foods at low prices and high flavors.

For a change of pace of the crowded food scene, you can then hop on one of Singapore’s advanced system of buses or Mass Rapid Transit to head over to Orchard Road. Orchard Road is the home of many luxury shopping malls. However, if you can’t afford those sky high prices but still want to shop until you drop, visit Bugis. Bugis is a street market that is always crowded with people and it is one of the cheapest shopping locations in Singapore. It’s got everything you could want, from tourist souvenirs to trending clothes. Some other must-sees in Singapore include the Gardens by the Bay — a phenomenal and jaw-dropping nature park — and the iconic Merlion Park. The Merlion is a mythical creature, half-fish and half-lion, known as the mascot of Singapore.

Malaysia

Malaysia is a place of great beauties. Malaysia is the home of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. It’s one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world and the tropical climate provides for the country’s biodiversity.

The capital city Kuala Lumpur is a popular tourist destination, but I suggest the humbler state of Malacca, located on the Malay Peninsula’s southwest coast. There are plenty of museums in Malacca, as well as preserved historical landmarks, buildings and food. You haven’t visited Malacca if you haven’t visited Jonker Street. Jonker Street is a famous night market opened during the weekend with plenty of street vendors, selling everything you could think of at affordable prices. Malacca River is in the same district, which you can cruise through and enjoy the lovely views of the street art decorating the buildings by the water. You can also stay at one of the hotels established next to the glistening river.

You also have to try the mamak stalls — open-air restaurants that serve a unique type of Indian food. Although it can be grittier than some fancier food establishments, you need to give them a try. The Peranakan cuisine, which comes from Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay Archipelago, is incredible. Many of these early migrants settled in Malacca. The various spices and flavors are guaranteed to burst in your mouth, making Malacca and Malaysia a place that will be remembered forever.

Indonesia

Indonesia is also multicultural and diverse. The Indonesian nation consists of thousands of islands and hundreds of ethnic groups. Bali is one of Indonesia’s most famous islands and is a popular spot for many Westerners. Despite the crowdedness due to the popularity, the Balinese ambiance is still certain to make your heart swoon in serenity and your soul be refreshed completely. If you visit Bali, you need to go experience Balinese dancing. It’s an ancient dance tradition that stems from the religious and artistic roots of the island people. It’s completely mesmerizing and the clothes they wear are colorful and gorgeous.

If you’re into the partying scene, Kuta beach is the tourist hotspot of Bali. With its busy bars and overpriced food, the beach is definitely packed with tourists and party-goers, but it’s not fitting if you’re looking for some spiritual refreshment. If you want to visit a beach that is calmer but still accessible in terms of language, affordability and comfort, the Gili Islands are yours for the taking. The beaches are way more tranquil than in Bali and the crystal waters are inviting. You can surf the waters or scuba-dive into it — both would be just as fun.

Thailand

The only Southeast Asian country to have never faced direct Western rule, Thailand is a beautiful nation to visit. Many attractions make Thailand a unique country to visit, such as its beaches, the archeological sites and palaces and temples.

Despite being a well-known tourist spot already, I can’t suggest the capital city, Bangkok, enough. Bangkok will offer you everything you could dream of having, all in Thai style. Bangkok’s historical, cultural and natural sights attract people from all over the world. The vividness and vibrancy of the street life in Thailand is endlessly fascinating and the Grand Palace’s Wat Phra Kaew Temple is known to be the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.

After experiencing the opulence of the Grand Palace, prepare to shop until you drop. Chatuchak Weekend Market is arguably the largest market in the world, with 15,000 stalls that sell a variety of products. The Siam Paragon is also a location that you could literally shop endlessly at, starting your day with luxury bags and ending it at Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium. One should experience the floating markets as well — a marketplace that is set in the water and goods are sold on boats. It’s a truly fascinating and fun experience.

After shopping, tourists are bound to have blistered feet and sore backs. Do not fear — the Thai masseuses are here. Traditional Thai massages will rejuvenate your body and soul. Speaking of rejuvenation, Songkran, the Thai water festival, is something that draws many tourists to the nation. Celebrated annually in April during the traditional Thai New Year, the large-scale water fight originates from the Buddhist belief that water will wash away your sins and bad luck.

Before departing, you must try authentic Thai food. The famous mango sticky rice dessert is to die for and almost every vendor will be trying to sell you fresh, whole coconuts. You can drink the coconut water and eat its flesh right out of the actual fruit to keep you refreshed in the high heat of Thailand — it’s perfection in a fruit.

While I’ve outlined some attractions in only four Southeast Asian countries, you can see there are endless things to do already. Southeast Asia is truly a place that everyone must experience once in their life. Though half a world away from the U.S., I believe that visiting this culturally rich and diverse area will fill your heart with new experiences and worldviews. Even if you may not have the privilege to visit the countries right now, hopefully reading about the boundless allures of this subregion will encourage you to do so in the future.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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