From the inimitable Angkor Wat in Siem Reap to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the unforgettable sight of hundreds of saffron-robed monks collecting alms at sunrise in Luang Prabang, you are bound to leave each of these cities with memories galore.
Make your trip even more special with these off the beaten track adventures for an experience that you won’t find in the guidebooks. Here are some travel tips for exploring Southeast Asia’s remaining exotic destinations.
Exotic Cities in Asia Off the Beaten Track
Off the Beaten Track in Siem Reap, Cambodia
You can’t visit Siem Reap without making a pilgrimage to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, but why not experience it differently to the heaving masses by taking a run around the temples?
The annual Angkor Wat International Half Marathon (a 10km option is also available) in December is a one-of-a-kind way to enjoy the centuries old Khmer complex.
There are also plenty of outer temples to catch a glimpse of what Cambodian life is like outside of the tourist centres. These include Banteay Srei, which features delicate pink sandstone carvings; Preah Khan, a sprawling complex that remains in its mostly unrestored glory; and the ancient baths of SrahSrang, which is now a popular spot for the local kids wishing to take a dip.
Entertainment in Cambodia
For night-time entertainment, try the Cambodian circus, Phare. Featuring young Cambodian performers, get ready to be entertained with a fun combination of theatre, acrobatics, music, dance, juggling and aerial acts.
If you are in town on a Saturday night, make the time to attend one of Dr Beat Richner’s excellent weekly cello concerts. The doctor runs five children’s hospitals across Cambodia and he raises funds for the hospitals through these donation-based concerts.
Off the Beaten Track in Yangon, Myanmar
Burmese art is slowly but surely catching the eye of international collectors, so while prices are still reasonable, check out a few art galleries to see if anything takes your fancy.
Pagodas in Yangon
The Inya Gallery of Art (50B Inya Road, Kamayut Township) was set up by Aung Myint, one of the country’s most prolific artists, whose bright, colourful works have already been snapped up by eagle-eyed art lovers. You may even be able to take a selfie with him since he is often seen creating new works in his workshop and gallery.
Alternatively, the Pansodan Art Gallery (1st Floor, 286 Pansodan Street, Kyauktada Township) features an impressive collection of works from up and coming artists, as well as fascinating vintage photographs, maps and posters from the Burma of yore.
Belmond Governor’s Residence
After you have worn out your feet from a day of pagoda visiting and shopping, refresh yourself with a delightful cold drink at the Belmond Governor’s Residence, a small and exclusive boutique hotel that oozes colonial charm. The atmosphere in this hotel is always genteel and discreet, making it a welcome change from the more boisterous watering holes in downtown Yangon.
A Sip of Toddy
Adventurous travellers should consider a day trip to the outskirts of the city to sample the local tipple, toddy, which is a fermented alcoholic drink made from the juice of a toddy palm. The townships of Thanlyin and Kyauktanare both about a 30- to 45-minute drive from town. On a hot day, the slightly fizzy, chilled drink is a welcome respite and it’s great fun to sip this drink with the locals as you while an hour or two away.
Off the Beaten Track in Luang Prabang, Laos
CC 2.0 / Allie_Caulfield
Consider supporting a social enterprise such as Ock Pop Tok while you’re there. This textile shop works with local artisans to create high-quality fabrics that are woven according to traditional techniques. You can even sign up for half- or full-day weaving workshops to learn more about the art of fabric making.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed old town of Luang Prabang, with its picturesque Buddhist temples and stupas, is laid-back and charming. The old town is fairly small – most visitors get around by cycling – so take a two-minute boat ride across the Mekong river to get to the Chomphet district, where you can spend half a day exploring the temples and villages that are less frequented by foreigners.
Wat Chomphet is the best place to get a panoramic view of Luang Prabang, as well as being a good spot to enjoy the sunset without camera-toting tourists.
CC 2.0 / Ross Huggett
Live out your dreams of being a mahout (elephant handler) with a visit to the nearby Elephant Village, a sanctuary for abused elephants. What makes this sanctuary so unique is that visitors get to ride the gentle giants and can even take them down to the river for a bath. Don’t worry, these peaceful pachyderms are always accompanied by a trained handler, making it a perfectly safe experience!
Explore the World
Go off the Beaten Track with Expedia’s travel sale for all curious adventurers. Strap on your backpack and wander away from the crowds to explore Busan, Chiang Mai, Guangzhou, Agra, Hanoi and more.
Save on your flights and hotels when you book before 3 May 2015 for a great trip of discovery, before 18 June 2015.