Best Countries in Southeast Asia for First-Time Visitors    

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Best Countries in Southeast Asia for First-Time Visitors    

As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Southeast Asia offers a lot to visitors—a tropical climate, postcard-perfect white sand beaches, rich history and culture, and of course, unbelievably delicious food. Prices, while varying from country to country, are generally much lower compared to traveling in Western countries.

The only problem first-time visitors to Southeast Asia would have is choosing where to go first. Unless you have 6 months or more in the region, you definitely have to prioritize some countries first.

Thailand, the Land of Smiles

Thailand is the most popular destination for travelers in Southeast Asia, both first-timers and not. In 2013, for example, the country welcomed over 26 million visitors, making Bangkok the world’s most visited city.

In fact, almost everybody goes to Thailand first, and for a very good reason. Bangkok is a major airline hub and from the capital, it is very easy to go where you want to, from the gorgeous beaches in the south and the mountains and national parks in the north, to cultural destinations you can find all over the country.

Thailand also earns a lot from tourism, so the people and the infrastructure are heavily geared to satisfy tourists. It is a great place not only for first-timers but for solo travelers as well, since you can always find someone to go around with you in hostels and other places where tourists converge.

Best of all, no matter what your choice of attractions are, or what kind of traveler you are, Thailand has something for you. Bangkok, for example, will show you what a topnotch capital city should be. Ayutthaya and Sukhothai can provide you a glimpse into the country’s history, while Chiang Mai’s slow pace is best for those who want to stay longer in Thailand. A lot of digital nomads have chosen it for their base.

Meanwhile, the southern islands—Kho Samui, Kho Phangan, Kho Tao, and Kho Phi Phi—will show you why, for a lot of people, this country is a paradise. Gorgeous beaches, great parties, and lots of things to do in the islands will make you wish you can stay forever in Thailand.

Laos, the Land of a Million Elephants

For some people, the charm of Thailand can quickly wane. They want a destination where they won’t bump into another foreigner every few meters. They want the “real Asia,” and for that, they cross the border to go to Laos.

Landlocked Laos is definitely not as popular as Thailand, but tourists are slowly finding it a great place to visit. It has an old-fashioned charm, a slow pace of living, and its people, its greatest draw, are incredibly friendly.

There is an established tourist trail in Laos. Most people go to Vang Vieng, a very popular backpacking destination, to go tubing and get drunk in the many bars along the river. The spate of tourist deaths have put an end to it, but there are still lots more you can do in this town even without the tubing and the alcohol.

Vientiane, the French-influenced capital, is another top destination. With its laid-back lifestyle, it’s a good place as any to get a few days’ worth of relaxation.

It can be difficult to travel around Laos, though, and the infrastructure are a long way from fully satisfying tourists. Visitors who want to be in an acceptably developed country with less the crowd in Thailand and more the vibe in Laos end up going to Vietnam.

Vietnam, the Land of the Blue Dragon

Vietnam has come a long way since the Vietnam War. Everywhere you go, you will see a lot of developments in the cities, and although tourist opinions about this country are sometimes extreme—a lot of people have a love-hate relationship with Vietnam—the fact is that this is still a good place to be for first-time visitors.

Vietnamese cuisine is the best, coffee (for coffee lovers) is to die for, and there are a lot of things you can do in Vietnam, all for a very low price. It’s easy not to see another tourist if you go to small towns, but if you hanker for backpackers’ company, it’s just a matter of going to the cities to find them.

One thing that a first-time visitor should look out for, however, are the scams. People will try to rip you off here, from taxi cab and motorcycle drivers to people selling souvenirs. It’s best to do some research about the relative prices of things before going there, and if you suspect you’re being cheated, just walk away.

Despite Vietnam’s negative reputation in this area, it’s still worth it to visit. Go out of Ho Chi Minh City and you’ll find friendlier people. Go to the sand dunes of Mui Ne, the beaches of Nha Trang, and the beautiful hillside beauty of Da Lat. The gardens of Hoi An come recommended as well.

Also consider going to the Philippines if you’re already in Southeast Asia. As an archipelago, it’s not part of the usual backpacker trail and has thus less tourist traffic compared to its neighboring countries.

 However, the beaches in the Philippines are as beautiful—if not more beautiful—than the ones in Thailand, and the people will go out of their way to help you out. Majority speak or understand English as well, so you won’t face as much communication problems as you would in other Asian countries.

There is so much more to see in Southeast Asia. The countries mentioned here, however, are the most highly recommended for first-time visitors, giving you a glimpse of the beauty of this region.

Once you’ve been in Southeast Asia for some time, you may realize that the few weeks you’ve allotted to visit are not enough. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone. A lot of people started out as tourists and ended up as permanent nomads calling Southeast Asia their home.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

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