10 Underrated Cities To Visit In Southeast Asia

10 Underrated Cities To Visit In Southeast Asia

It’s time to go beyond the usual vacation destinations like Bangkok, Bali and Malacca and visit underrated cities like Hue, Kampot and Denpasar instead!

Southeast Asia is a travel destination with arguably some of the world’s best-hidden gems. Those who’ve explored a fair bit of the region can agree they’ve made unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re planning your next trip there or setting foot in here for the first time, don’t miss our list of the region’s underrated, must-visit cities! It’s a list you can trust – we’ve left the usual spots like Singapore, Bangkok, and Hanoi out.

1. Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is a small city in northern Laos which serves as the country’s cultural heart, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a perfect destination for those wanting a natural and spiritual getaway away from the loud concrete jungles. Its proximity to the sacred confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, coupled with the abundance of golden-roofed temples, monasteries and colonial French architecture throughout the city offers travellers a bona fide experience of Laotian culture. Don’t miss the daily alms giving ceremony, where monks collect alms of rice from locals and tourists at dawn. Luang Prabang is also home to wonderful sights of untouched nature, such as the Kuang Si Falls and of course the Mekong River, where you can even take a cruise to Chiang Rai!

2. Denpasar, Indonesia

Image credit: Jnzl, el__ave Kojach

The southern part of Bali is known for its gorgeous beach destinations and popular areas such as Kuta, Canggu, and Nusa Dua, but Denpasar, the island’s capital and most populated region, is often overlooked. Denpasar may not boast palm-fringed beaches or chalk white shores, but it’s home to many temples, palaces, and museums that speak to travellers who are looking to delve into Balinese culture and way of life. One would also find a variety of Indonesian cuisine, many shopping malls, and interesting festivals throughout the year. So if you’re thinking of visiting Bali to do more than just chilling by the beach, Denpasar is where you want to be.

3. Chiang Rai, Thailand

Thailand’s royal history and religious culture have always been a part of what makes a travel experience there so magically unforgettable. Besides the cities of Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai, there’s also Chiang Rai to visit: a small town sitting near the borders of Myanmar and Laos, home to authentic spicy Northern Thai cuisine, hill tribes, tea plantations, and of course, temples from the ancient Lanna kingdom. That’s not all – there are several cultural museums and natural attractions such as the Kok River (which you can cruise along on a long-tail boat!)

4. Kampot, Cambodia

If you’re backpacking and looking for a quiet town to spend less than a few days in, you may want to add Kampot to your itinerary. Located in the Southeastern region of Cambodia, Kampot is known for its stunning natural scenery made up of mostly mountains and rivers. It’s also the gateway to Bokor National Park – what used to be an old French hill station, which now showcases several colonial monuments and ruins. But even in Kampot itself, there are lots to do: explore the old Kampot rail station, visit farms and salt fields, and observe fishermen life at Fishing Island.

5. Hat Yai, Thailand

Image credit: Peter in Thailand

Hat Yai is a city located close to the Malaysia-Thailand border, offering affordable food, drinks, shopping, and fun, for those wanting to enjoy a quick weekend getaway. Think of it as a cheaper, less-crowded alternative to Bangkok: there’s stuff to see (Ton Nga Chang Waterfall), shop (Klong Hae Floating Market, Big C, Robinson, Tesco), and do (Hat Yai Cable Car). That’s not all: there are hip cafes to chill out in, bazaars to explore, and even Koh Lipe, a nearby island, to spend a day trip in!

6. Mandalay, Myanmar

While the buzzing capital of Yangon captures much of the attention from tourists, Myanmar’s fourth largest city, Mandalay, is just as worth a visit. Predominantly the nation’s most culturally diverse and religious hub (half of Myanmar’s monks live here), Mandalay is also home to important sites such as the Royal Palace, a walled city built in the 19th century, and Maha Myat Muni Paya, the country’s second holiest pilgrimage site. Sightseeing aside, there’s a lot of eating to do too – the city is known for its food specialities from its neighbouring countries including Bangladesh, China, and India. Be sure to try Htou Moun a traditional Burmese dessert that is sold only in Mandalay.

7. Hue, Vietnam

underrated cities in asia

Look away from touristy Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Nha Trang, and you’ll find Hue: Vietnam’s former imperial capital. The city is a peaceful alternative for those looking to escape from the concrete jungle and hectic lifestyle. Hue’s home to several royal monuments (The Imperial Citadel and Tombs of the Emperors), places for relaxing (natural hot springs pools, massage centres), and an interesting local dining scene (imperial banquets and mostly vegetarian foods). If you’re in the mood for an adventure, Hue’s countryside makes a great place for motorbiking and zip lining too.

8. Baguio, Philippines

underrated cities in asia

Boasting an abundance of pine trees and a vibrant mountain town is Baguio, a small (mostly university) city located in the heart of Luzon, Philippines. Baguio is also dubbed as the “City of Pines”, and is widely considered a summer destination by locals. It’s easy to understand why – from its laid-back atmosphere to its delectable dining scene to its convenient location to popular scenic destinations such as Sagada and Banaue. Apart from all that, there’s a wide variety of fun activities to check out, like exploring Camp John Hay (once a wartime internment camp, now a leisure resort), strawberry picking in the countryside, and cycling around Burnham Park.

9. Ipoh, Malaysia

Image credit: Marufish, zzclef, chee.hong

Ipoh, Malaysia’s fourth most populous city, is more than just a gateway to the famed Cameron Highlands – it’s where one would find many still-standing colonial buildings, cool street art hidden throughout its old town, religious sites from different faiths, and cheap and good local specialties (such as Ipoh Sar Hor Fun!). Once you’re done with all the sightseeing and feasting, there’s a long list of fun activities in and outside the city to experience, like caving, jungle trekking, and water rafting. Shopping is also inevitable when you’re in Ipoh – many leave with bags of fragrant biscuits and Ipoh’s signature White Coffee.

10. Mawlamyine, Myanmar

underrated cities in asia

If you’re done exploring Mandalay, why not make Mawlamyine the next stop on your backpacking itinerary? While the city is the fourth largest in the country, you’ll most likely enjoy a calm and tranquil vibe pretty much the whole time you’re there. And like Mandalay, it’s home to many sightseeing spots which offer an insight into local culture and religion, like Pa Auk Taw Ya Monastery (where you can study meditation and even have a meal with monks), and Win Sein Taw Ya, the largest reclining Buddha in the world!

And that’s it! We hope this list has helped you in discovering new destinations to visit. These places may be overlooked by many, but now you know better!

About Author

Teri Anne Tan

If she's not binging on Korean BBQ on a night out with her friends, Teri Anne is most probably at home rewatching Studio Ghibli films or planning her next trip abroad. She loves reading, indulging in clothing hauls, and listening to hits from both K-pop and '80s British Rock. Her ultimate dream? To enjoy a mug of hot chocolate under the Northern Lights in Iceland.


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