Photo: Street food Phetchaburi Soi 10, Bangkok.

Southeast Asia forum

'Musts' in every country?

Posted by luchy1309 on 9/5/2009 at 00:58

Hello! my husband and I will be traveling to Southeast Asia next month.

I have read all the the itineraries here and they are really really nice; however, I don't know if i'm going to have time or money to visit all the places.

Can someone help me giving us the 'must' visit in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia please?

What I would like to know is the places that if I miss it's like I haven't been in the country.

Thank you so much!


#1 luchy1309 has been a member since 30/1/2009. Posts: 24

Posted by Thaiman on 10/5/2009 at 02:45

Assuming you'll be in Bangkok, the 'must see' sights for the first time visitor are, The King's Palace,Wat Arun, and a trip on the Chao Praya river.All in the same area and easy to do.Also in the same area is Wat Saket and Wat Pho and these are worth visiting too.Hope this helps.

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Posted by brucemoon on 10/5/2009 at 06:28


If you try and see everything, you'll most likely see nothing.

I think the idea of a 'must see' is silly.

The idea comes from travel marketers who try and motivate people to come to the 'object' of their attention.

If a person goes to Bangkok, the travel marketers will highlight the Royal Palace complex. However, for those not interested in temples then why should they go.

Similarly, many people say that the beaches / resorts of the southern peninsular are a 'must see'. As I live on one of the best beaches in the world, and I've seen beaches in SE Asia (which reinforces my view about SE Asian beaches) I have no interest in travelling to Phuket / Ko Samui.

To my way of thinking, experiencing people and culture is the 'must' for any country. So, if you go to Thailand, and all you do is use transport to go from one place to another, take a taxi to a hotel, go to a farang restaurant, you are NOT experiencing Thailand. To my way of thinking, you are having a personal holiday in a foreign place.

You don't say how long you are going to spend in SE Asia. But, unless you have three months (or so) to spend, you'll not actually experience very much at all.


#3 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by exacto on 10/5/2009 at 07:17

Hi Lucia!

I haven't been to Vietnam, so I'm afraid I can't help you there.

However, for Cambodia, I think most folks would consider the Angkor Wat complex and Siem Reap the "must see" destination. If you have time, then I'd also include Phnom Penh too.

For Laos, I think Luang Prabang is the "must see." Don't discount Vientiane, however. It has much more culture and history than most folks realize. Plus, Beer Lao is made there! With extra time to spare, I'd include the Plain of Jars (Xieng Khouang/Phonsavan) too.

In Thailand, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the classic highlights. Folks who like outdoor adventure often head to Kanchanaburi. For ancient cities and ruins, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai are great. For beaches, Samui is the standard as are the Krabi, Phuket, islands triangle on the Andaman Sea coast.

These are sort of the standard destinations I've mentioned. If you want to get off the beaten path, search the message board for posts by Tilapia. Tilapia is the King of off-the-beaten-path stuff in Thailand (and likely elsewhere too).

As noted above, don't try to do too much. Less is more when you travel, particularly given how much time it takes to get from place to place in southeast Asia. Work out a list of things you'd like to see and then work it down to your own "must see" list. You'll likely have more fun and see more visiting just a few key places rather than rushing from here to there.

How much time do you have to spend anyway? Cheers.

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Posted by brucemoon on 10/5/2009 at 08:29


Exacto is offering his view of what he thinks are a 'must see'. For that, his contribution is helpful.

But, the observation by 'exacto' serves to explain my point.

If you were to go to Siem Reap to 'do' the Angkorian ruins, then going to Ayutthaya would probably be seen by you as a waste of time. You might go to Ayutthaya as a 'must see', cause its on someone's list. But, after you go to the temples at Angkor, you'll say to yourself "what a waste of time going to Ayutthaya was".

It is important to understand that Ayutthaya is VERY important to the Thai nation. It is 'honoured' as the centre of their Khmer based royal lineage, it is 'honoured' as a once very important city of SE Asia, it demonstrates the 'horribleness' of Burmese 'invaders', and it focuses Thai people away from the everyday aspects of military style governmental politics. But, if you visit, it's not very impressive as it was ransacked by invaders, and is largely just a pile of ruins and without the major buildings representative of a Khmer 'city' hasn't much of a story to tell tourists.

So, is Ayutthaya a 'must see'. It depends. It is if you are a Thai travel marketer wanting you to spend money. Not, if...

So, what you 'must see' depends on what YOU want to do, what YOU want to achieve out of YOUR trip, etc.

So, determine YOUR journey, not of places just to see, but of things YOU want to do / achieve. Then, I suggest, the itinerary will largely fall into place.


#5 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by exacto on 10/5/2009 at 09:36

Yes, I agree. Ayutthaya is definitely a "must see". Visit it as a warm up to Angkor Wat. You'll be glad you did!

Please let me know if you'd like specifics about any of the suggestions above. I'd be glad to help. Regards.

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Posted by luchy1309 on 10/5/2009 at 15:33

Thank you sooo much for your feedback! I now have a clearer idea on what would really fit my trip expectations.

I will be traveling for 3 months, and my main interests are:
- "Experience" the culture and general "feeling" in the places that I visit, including people, food, music, etc...
- Nature and adventure (trekking, elephant riding, river, diving, beautiful scenery)
- Culture (temples, ruins, historic sites)
- And last, but definitely not least, beaches!

Since we´ll be there for three months our idea is travel around, not rushing it, but with the idea in mind to see as much as we can in a relaxing manner.

Thanks again everyone for your advice!

#7 luchy1309 has been a member since 30/1/2009. Posts: 24

Posted by brucemoon on 10/5/2009 at 16:01


If you are in the 'area' for 3 months, then rather than 'do' the must see place's, get yourself a sort of journey (including places) and take the trip at the speed you want.

Exacto really misunderstood my point: that 'must see' is a silly concept. I suspect exacto is Thai (or strongly affiliated), and so sees Ayutthaya as a Thai.

I've generally recommended to people that they NOT go to Ayutthaya. Rather, to head for Sukhotai on their way to Chiang Mai. Even then, the best Khmer temples in Thailand are by far at Buriram . But, Buriram may not be on your travel path.

As for beaches, I'd suggest you leave to the end part of your journey as you are commencing at the beginning of the wet season, and the beaches will be unattractive at that time.

As for elephant riding - the best is at Pai, where you join the elephant in the river.

The best trekking in the region is from Vieng Phouka in nthn Laos, where you trek with villagers in the Nam Tha NPA. But, that said, the trekking at SaPa in nthn Vietnam is a fascinating cultural experience (as is the Sunday Bac Ha market).

Similarly, the Angkorian temples at Siem Reap ought be seen in context with nearby Tonle Sap.

There are so many places, so many experiences, so many opportunities.

The single most important thing I would say to you is try to avoid spending your time in transport. Putting this another way, choose your transport as part of your journey - not just a means to get from place A to place B.


#8 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by exacto on 10/5/2009 at 19:02

Hi Lucia,

Three months is a wonderful amount of time to have. You are lucky. You'll definitely be able to put together a wonderful trip that includes all the types of experiences you are seeking.


I was just kidding around on my last post. I typically recommend Ayutthaya because it is logistically easier to get to than the ruins at Phimai or Phnom Rung or Khao Prawihan or even Sukhothai.

Besides, Lucia was simply looking for a few ideas on where to visit during her trip. It gets the discussion going. You know? Take care.

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Posted by MADMAC on 10/6/2009 at 03:20

OK, you want to experience the "real Thailand":

1. Go to a Karaoke bar at least twice a week. Anyone with any money who leaves the house after dark does this.

2. Drink Sansom and Water or 100 pipers (or more expensive whisky, depending on what you can afford) and water whenever you go to a bar or club.

3. Make sure your husband gets a Mia Noi on the side (minor wife).

4. Eat in Thai restaraunts and don't ask for the food to be altered to your tastes (assuming you can read the menu or talk to the waitress).

5. If you go out when the sun is shining make sure you wear a long sleave shirt and hat - under no conditions allow your skin to get dark!!!

6. Your husband should wear slacks and white shirt and tie (open collar is OK sometimes). Make sure he isn't wearing goofy clothes that will mark him of lower social status (like shorts, Birkenstocks, khaki anything...).

Anyone who can afford to come out to Thailand for three months is, by definition around here, rich. And this is how rich Thais behave.

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