10 Relaxing Destinations to Visit in Southeast Asia
Apr 09, 2020
Southeast Asia gives travellers a dizzying array of options when it comes to holidays, many of which will put you in the midst of endless tours and crowded cities. Yet, you’ll find another facet to this fascinating continent in destinations that will soothe the soul. While some destinations technically aren’t in Southeast Asia, you can easily combine them with other destinations. Consider these places to visit, even if you only have time for a short getaway.
While those who want to party go to Bali, those who prefer a relaxed vacation in Asia travel to Java. Although Indonesia’s frenetic capital of Jakarta is on this island, once you travel outside it, you’ll find a fascinating landscape of volcanoes, rice paddies and ethereal temples where you can spend a relaxing vacation. Explore the quieter, pristine parts of the island such as the Menoreh Hills or the summit of Mount Merapi or travel by horseback to the top of Mount Bromo to witness the sunrise. Visit Kawah Ijen volcano and take in the views across its sulphur crater lake. For a different feel, you can hike or cycle through rice fields or lush rainforests or visit coffee and tea plantations.
One of the most peaceful places in all of Asia is Borobudur, the ninth-century Buddhist monument. Visit in the early morning when the sky is orange and purple, providing a magical backdrop to this structure. You’ll see a main stupa at the top, surrounded by 72 openwork stupas, each with a different statue of Buddha. Nearby is the 10th-century Prambanan temple complex, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, This equally impressive site contains 500 beautiful temples. Visit between May and October to avoid the monsoons.
For a different kind of experience, head to the Indonesian island of Sumba, with its virtually untouched landscape and villagers who cling to the ancient rituals and traditions of their ancestors. You’ll find thatched hut bamboo houses amidst the pristine rainforest, along with rice paddies, white sand beaches and lofty palm trees.
Visit the villages to learn about their beliefs and witness crafts such as ikat weavings and traditional knife carving. Try this island if you want to explore peaceful coastlines, private coves and secluded Asia beaches, go trekking through the jungle, swim in pools fed by waterfalls or go paddle boating on the Wanukaka River. Make sure to visit the market at Waikabubak for a slice of local life. April through November is the perfect time to visit.
Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
This island, only an hour’s ride from Phuket by boat, offers a tranquil alternative to the high-end party atmosphere of Thailand’s most popular island destination. Located in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, you’ll find some of the best beaches in Asia here as the island is encircled by numerous secluded coves and stretches of sand. The island’s lush interior has rubber plantations and mangroves that you can explore via motorbikes and tuk-tuks. Unlike Phuket, you won’t find extensive shipping or wild nightlife. Instead, you’ll soak up the serene atmosphere by snorkelling around coral reefs or watch buffalos taking mud baths. Visit this gorgeous island from December to May to avoid monsoon season.
Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui has been one of the most popular beach holidays in Asia for generations. This stunning island gem is perfect for a relaxing retreat, attracting all kinds of travellers, including those on a budget staying in beachside bungalows to the wealthiest visitors looking for luxury resorts.
On Thailand’s second-largest island, you’ll find a wealth of things to do, including visiting the large Buddha temple at Koh Faan, the gorgeous Namuang Waterfall or the timeless Bophut’s Fishermans Village. From the bustle of Chawent Beach to the lively yet relaxed atmosphere of Lamai Beach to the paradise of Maenam, Koh Samui is unique among Thailand’s islands in maintaining a broad appeal for everyone. The best time to visit this southern Thai island is February through April when there is less chance of rain.
Does anyone wake up at 5 a.m. when on vacation unless they must? You may end up gladly doing so in Sangkhlaburi. This remote city in western Thailand only 24 kilometres from the border with Myanmar and 225 kilometres northwest of Kanchanaburi, Sangkhlaburi is set at the end of a spectacularly scenic road. This town has everything you want for a relaxing visit to Thailand including jungles, sparkling temples and exotic charm. Begin your day by strolling over Thailand’s largest handmade wooden bridge as the sun rises. Visit the Burmese market on the other side where you’ll find betel nut chewing vendors and all kind of delicious snacks. The lifestyle here is decidedly laid back, so you’ll never have anyone hurrying you through your day.
Sangkhlaburi is nested on the low hills edging Vajiralongkorn Lake. Be sure to take a boat trip on the lake after seeing the sunrise over the misty mirror-like water. The outlying area has some of the most picturesque scenery in Thailand with charming villages, caves, waterfalls, the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Reserve and Khao Laem National Park.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
The capital city of Siem Reap Province in the northwestern part of the country is Cambodia’s tourist hub, but don’t let that put you off as the world-famous temples of Angkor Wat are nearby. Constructed in the 12th century, this sprawling devotional complex provides visitors with a sense of enveloping peace, especially in the early morning. The Buddha images, lotus-blossom towers and intricate Hindu bas reliefs will entrance you. Further afield in Siem Reap Province you’ll find peaceful scenes such as floating villages and rare bird sanctuaries. Cycle through rice paddies that are ages away from urban life. Back in Siem Reap, you can take in a traditional Apsara dance performance and visit the Old Market for local treasures. At night, partake of the world-class dining scene with many restaurants where you can spend a relaxing evening.
Myanmar, former Burma, is mostly unknown for many travellers as the country had been closed to outsiders for many years until 2012. A trip to the beach may not be the first thought on your mind when considering a relaxing vacation. Still, when you arrive here, you’ll understand immediately. Ngapali has one of the world’s best beaches, making it ideal for a beach holiday in Asia. It’s a gorgeous stretch of palm trees hovering over fine white sand lining the azure waters of the Bay of Bengal. The serene beach, where you can truly unwind is the main draw, but you’ll also have beautiful hills to explore too. Ngapali is devoid of resorts and noisy nightlife, making it a hidden gem of Southeast Asia.
This area is perfectly suited to decompressing. In this quiet seaside village, you’ll experience ox-drawn carts trundling along with sand while you soak up the sun and read a book. Hire a fishing boat to take you to a nearby island, or take a bike trip to a nearby village. Ngapali is about as far away from busy urban life as can be. The best time to visit is from November to March.
Macleod Island, Myanmar
Located in the Mergui archipelago off the southern end of Myanmar, Macleod Island is a beautiful locale with a single resort, the Myanmar Andaman Resort. The island is ideal for those seeking Asia vacations promoting tranquillity in a natural setting as it has beautiful beaches with few people on them and other natural wonders. You’ll also enjoy incredible diving spots here, which are catered by an excellent local PADI standard dive school. To take a break for the sun and surf, trek in the rainforest or go hiking up into the mountains to view the panoramas. For a perfect holiday, visit this beautiful retreat during January and February.
Yangshuo is just north of the China-Vietnam border and is a place you shouldn’t miss if you want to relax. It’s so beautiful here that China has put a scene from the Li River on some of its currency. Many consider the scenery to be the most beautiful in the world as it’s full of karst landscapes, along with hills, rivers and caves. The landscape is filled with the sounds of birds and other creatures, making for a soothing audioscape.
Take a bicycle ride down rice farm trails or head down dirt tracks to see the rugged limestone landscapes, toiling farmers and water buffalo along with otherworldly vistas. When it’s time to relax, take a dip in the river or sip on a cold lotus nut beverage while reclining on a Chinese chair in the middle of a lotus patch. You’ll be sure to find your zen.
4,000 Islands, Laos
Relaxing Vacations at All-Inclusive Resorts
For some travellers, planning a vacation at all-inclusive beach resorts in Asia is the way to go. These destinations allow you to travel to one spot and partake of all it has to offer in a single package that includes meals, drinks, and in many cases, local tours. If you don’t want to think about what to see or do when you arrive at your destination, an all-inclusive vacation is for you. Take a look at these all-inclusive resort destinations in Asia.
Moofushi Island, the Maldives
Seasoned travellers know that the Maldives is one of the most spectacular spots for a beach vacation in Asia. All-inclusive resorts here are a dime a dozen, but one of the most spectacular is the Constance Moofushi, an island haven surrounded by large blue lagoons and inviting white beaches. The all-inclusive Constance Moofushi Island Resort combines barefoot chic with the highest standards of comfort and service. The resort, which is on its own private island, is located on the South Ari Atoll, just a 25-minute seaplane ride from Male International Airport. You’ll find plenty to do on this island paradise, including scuba diving canoeing, water skiing, windsurfing and an array of spa treatments. There’s also a gym and a yoga pavilion. For cuisine, you’ll find an international buffet at Manta. At the same time, al a carte grilled dishes are served at the beachside Alizee. The Totem and Manta bars serve an array of cocktails. Visit from January to April for the best weather.
Song Saa, Cambodia
These two private and untouched islands are in the Koh Rong archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand. You can reach this slice of paradise via a 45-minute speedboat ride from Sihanoukville. Visitors will find a haven of sustainable luxury on these two islands, which are connected by a simple footbridge. You’ll enjoy crystal clear waters and a feeling of total seclusion, all while enjoying the perks of a luxury resort. What is unique about this resort is that the organization that created it, the Song Saa Foundation, wanted to protect the Koh Rong Archipelago as well as show it off. In this world-class resort, you’ll find unique cuisine, an array of spa and wellness treatment, gorgeous views of the Gulf of Thailand and environmental programs to enjoy. It’s the ultimate indulgence for mind, body and soul.
Katamama Suites, Bali
If you’re want relaxing luxury by day and exciting places to dine and play at night, Katamama Suites in Bali’s Seminyak beach area can provide the balance you want. The resort’s design draws inspiration from Indonesia’s cultural traditions while including lavish amenities. Align your chakras through sound at the soulful beach club, take a dip in the seaside pool or pamper yourself in your room with mixed drinks while enjoying eco-friendly amenities such as natural soaps, cotton robes and other textiles. When you get restless, there are plenty of nearby fine restaurants, bars and high-end shopping to fill your time.
Relaxing Asia City Getaways
While it’s true that many cities in Asia are frantic, you can travel to others that are perfect for a stroll at your leisure and are perfect relaxing destinations. Taking a city getaway is an increasingly popular proposition, especially for those who only have a handful of days to spend away from home. Consider these destinations, which have charming city centres that are easy to explore.
Yamashiro and Yamanaka, Japan
Legend says that the Buddhist priest Gyoki discovered the hot spring resorts of Yamashiro and Yamanaka over 1,000 years ago. You’ll find yourself transported back in time amid traditional red latticework houses. These two towns on the Kaga Onsen circuit are the ideal places for those in search of a calmer body and mind. The warm, therapeutic waters here are the prime attraction of these two towns that sit between the mountains and the sea. Just as enticing are the old ryokans and traditional houses along with the area’s rich craftsmanship, which includes Kutaniyaki porcelain, woodwork and lacquerware. Make sure to taste the local saki.
The charming capital of Vietnam offers a great deal for intrepid travellers, including quaint historical buildings and cultural attractions in the Old Quarter as well as modern developments and attractive open spaces. You can find luxurious accommodations here for less than in other parts of Southeast Asia too, which makes Hanoi an ideal budget destination. Travellers love spending time in the Old Quarter, with its narrow streets arranged by trades. Explore the many unique temples here too. It’s also a perfect place to take a rickshaw tour.
If you are a foodie, Hanoi will be your gastronomical heaven. The city is fast becoming a centre for the country’s best cuisine as it has some of the best restaurants in Southeast Asia, serving a combination of traditional Vietnamese and French cuisine. Unique cafes and restaurants are on almost every corner, and if you don’t feel like having a full meal, be sure to try the thriving street food scene from one of the myriad vendors. Wander into one of the many markets to sample local wares or discover the city’s evolving arts scene. The best time to visit Hanoi is between November and February when the crowds are lighter.
While Vientiane is the capital city of Laos, it’s more like a sleepy village in many ways as it has retained a laidback charm even with Asia’s encroaching modernization. Vientiane is filled with wide boulevards, well-preserved French colonial architecture, crumbling mansions and Buddhist temples. Because the city is compact, it’s easy to explore on foot and makes a great getaway destination. With a lack of traffic, you can easily become part of the strollers in joggers in Chao Anouvong Park along the Mekong River. Browse stalls selling handicrafts, clothes and souvenirs. Visit Ho Phra Keo, a scenic temple complex set amongst lush gardens. Along with Vientiane’s quaint aspects, you’ll also find trendy cocktail bars and restaurants when you want a dash of modern life.
Spiritual Trips in Asia
Asia is full of temples, which for many are simply cultural sites, yet for others, those temples provide a means to recharge the spirit. India is a land where you can find wonderful meditative places among the mountains, which also provide stunning scenery to soothe your soul.
Often called Little Tibet, Ladakh is a land of snowcapped mountains, vast barren plateaus and deep turquoise lakes. Located in the northern India state of Jammu and Kashmir, the area is surrounded by the Himalayas to the south and the Karakoram to the north, with the Indus River snaking through it. The area is a high altitude desert that sits at an elevation of 3,500 metres, with the summer months offering clear weather with startling blue skies.
Travel to Ladakh to recharge your spirituality. The region is one of the last enclaves of Mahayana Buddhism. It is full of monasteries and whitewashed stupas on craggy cliffs with colourful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. The capital, Leh, is the gateway to the region that is best visited from late May to August when the weather is warmer.
Amanbagh Rajasthan, India
For a luxurious meditative experience try this luxury resort in Rajasthan, India. Amanbagh, which means “peaceful garden,” is a relaxing retreat located in the outskirts of Jaipur, 90 minutes from the city. It’s filled with palm and eucalyptus trees along with perfectly manicured lawns. Formerly the hunting lodge of the Maharajah of Alwar, this perfect oasis is hidden away in the Aravalli mountain range’s rugged landscape.
This exclusive retreat, with its rose-coloured walls and quiet, shaded courtyard that has touches of Mughal style architecture is like a modern-day palace for the mind. Thanks to its location in the Rajasthan region in the northwestern part of the subcontinent, travellers staying at the resort can easily explore the countryside’s ancient mosques and temples by horseback, jeep and other adventurous modes of transportation. You can even ride an elephant! Amanbagh Rajasthan has only 37 suites and pavilions, all of which have a private courtyard or terrace for the ultimate in luxury, privacy and relaxation. Among the amenities that you can enjoy on the property are a restaurant with a bar and lounge as well as private outdoor dining, according to your preferences. To soothe your soul and your body, spend time in the holistic spa and partake in meditation sessions and yoga classes.