10 Unconventional Southeast Asia Travel Goals That Are Not Temple Tours or Night Markets

How about some fun and unconventional things to include in your ultimate Southeast Asia travel goals?

Forget the usual temple tours, night markets, or beach parties that are so synonymous with travelling Southeast Asia. The stuff on this list are meant to push you out of your comfort zone and explore untapped territories of your potential. You will be rewarded with a memorable experience that will not only last a lifetime, but perhaps inspire more great trips in the future.

To commemorate Asean Day on 8th August, let’s explore these unique activities around Southeast Asia:

LAOS – Wake up to the sound of gibbons singing

These exotic primates native to Southeast Asian tropical rainforests are known for belting out loud yet melodious sounds that are in perfect harmony with the jungle orchestra. The best way to hear and see the gibbons in the wild is by participating in The Gibbon Experience Laos, a project that aims to help protect the Bokeo National Forest from loggers and poachers, as well as promoting sustainable ecotourism in Laos.

Your adventure here includes trekking and ziplining through the forest to get to your incredibly cool and tall tree house, where you can sleep, eat, and relax whilst trying to spot gibbons in their natural habitat. Does this sound like a childhood dream come true?

SINGAPORE – Create art whilst enjoying tea and scones

What if you’re the next Picasso and you never even knew it? Head on to Arteastiq, a boutique cafe self-styled as a portmanteau of art and tea. They have branches in Plaza Singapura and Mandarin Gallery, where you get to transform a 50 x 50 cm canvas into a work of art to call your own, or alternatively you can also check out their Jewel Changi Airport outlet for a bite before flying out.

The rate for Art Jam (as the session is called) is SGD 48 per session (or SGD180 for 5 sessions), which includes a new set of brushes, a canvas, and a takeaway wet paint canvas box. You also get one complimentary beverage on the side as well as unlimited acrylic paint to let your inner Bob Ross go crazy with the colours.

SEE ALSO: First-Timer’s Guide on How to Spend a Day in Jewel Changi Airport Singapore

Image: Abby Yao

MALAYSIA – Volunteer for a turtle conservation program on a beautiful island

Leave your Snapchat and Facebook at the jetty – there is no electricity, much less internet at this rugged volunteers’ camp right by a beach that almost no one sets foot on. What you’ll get here with is a much more rewarding connectivity with the cobalt sea, magical night sky, and new friends at the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch program.

Fun activities during the day range from snorkeling to cliff diving, doing some island clean-up, or simply explore around the beautiful Lang Tengah Island. Meanwhile at night, you take turns patrolling the beaches for nesting turtles. Talk about a rugged island vacation for a good cause!

SEE ALSO: Turtle Tales in Lang Tengah

Image: Irvin Hanni

VIETNAM – Make a wish upon a paper lantern in Hoi An

Every month on the day of the full moon, the heritage town of Hoi An turns into a charming fairytale land when all buildings turn off their lights, with most of the light coming from paper lanterns floating along the serene Hoi An river.

You can buy paper lanterns in various colours from as cheap as USD0.50 each, light them up, make a wish, and gently sail your lanterns away into the river, where hopefully the wishes will be heard by the universe. Plenty of local games and performances, awesome street food, and all-around good vibe on this night, so it’s good idea to plan your visit to Da Nang to coincide with the Hoi An Lantern Festival.

SEE ALSO: 7 Things We Love About the Hoi An Lantern Festival

Image: Irvin Hanni

THAILAND – Explore Chiang Mai’s cool art scene

Make no mistake about Chiang Mai’s artistic vibes – they can be seen in the exquisite silverware, handcrafted goods at the vibrant weekend markets, and best of all, on the streets of this northern Thailand city. You can start your street art-spotting adventure around the corners of the Old City and see if you can find the huge two-storey cat face by the British artist Himbad Sultan or the cute and furry grey creature with a third eye by one of Thailand’s most famous street artists, AlexFace.

Don’t forget to hail a songthaew (Thailand’s equivalent of minibus) to Nimmanhaemin Road, dubbed the coolest street in Chiang Mai decked with artsy murals, hipster cafes, and trendy little boutiques.

SEE ALSO: The Cool Chiang Mai You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Image: Irvin Hanni

BRUNEI – Have fancy afternoon tea at the Empire Hotel

This oil-rich gem in Borneo may not have plenty of tourist attractions like its Southeast Asian neighbours, but that simply means that you get to experience the real local life! Have a taste of the posh lifestyle of the Bruneian elites at one of the fanciest places in the country, the Empire Hotel. Billed as one of the few 7-star hotels in the world, it is considered as the pride of the nation, having hosted Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, and even Pamela Anderson!

The Empire Hotel is decked with a cinema, a golf course, and a bowling alley on top of the usual hotel amenities. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on one of the suites to feel like a royalty. Just make your way there (we recommend either Lobby Lounge or Zest Cafe) for some pretty cakes and delicious tea for the afternoon.

INDONESIA – Say hello to the orangutans of Borneo

From the East Kalimantan city of Balikpapan, the trip takes about 7 hours overland to reach the huge 400,000-hectare Tanjung Puting National Park, where there are four primates research centres. The most accessible one for travellers is Camp Leakey, where you’ll get a chance to see the semi-wild orangutans living around the area.

One of the best parts about the journey is travelling on a klotok (riverboat), whilst trying to spot wildlife in the jungle. This is not only a great opportunity to see our distant cousins, but also where you get to learn about the palm oil industry’s impact on the orangutans’ habitat, and perhaps help to raise more awareness about orangutans’ plight.

MYANMAR – Travel back in time around Downtown Yangon

Whilst the country is becoming more popular with visitors trying to sight the huge and gorgeous hot air balloons over the ancient temples of Bagan, the capital city of Yangon remains relatively untouched by rapid modernisation, opting to progress at its own pace.

This makes it one of the best places in Southeast Asia if you want to see a more authentic Southeast Asian way of life. Visit a local barber, chill out at a coffee shop by the road, hop on a local bus, and visit its many heritage-listed attractions such as Sule Pagoda, Yangon City Hall, and Rowe Company Building, a department store built in 1910 that was known as the ‘Harrods of the East’.

SEE ALSO: How to Do Yangon and Bagan Like a Backpacker: A One-Week Itinerary

PHILIPPINES – Cycle through the air

Ever thought about cycling through the thin air? You can do it in the central Philippines province of Bohol where they have the world’s first bikezip – ziplining and bicycling rolled into one exhilarating activity! You will be pedaling high up in the air for a 500-metre round-trip, with views of the famous Chocolate Hills to boot!

Not only that, the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park hosts a plethora of other activities as well, including surf zipline, treetop rope challenges, tarzan swing, and zorb ball, a hilarious adventure involving participants  safely strapped inside a bubbly zorb ball and rolled down a 100-metre slope. So much fun!

CAMBODIA – Eat crickets and other exotic bugs

This is the ultimate test for the mind. Would you be willing to forego whatever preconception you have about bugs and try out these deep-fried delicacies that the Khmer locals consider as mere snack?

Grab your travel buddies and try to find the street vendors selling these almost everywhere in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, or other parts of the country. Makes for hilarious Instagram Stories, don’t you think?

SEE ALSO: 5 Bizarre Asian Foods You Absolutely Have To Try

CC BY 2.0 by Shankar S

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Written by Irvin Hanni

Irvin enjoys conversations with the trees and the stars. Sometimes they share recipes, sometimes they share jokes.

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