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Non-Mainstream South East Asia Travel Destinations to Go With Friends

Updated: May 18, 2019

By Rachel Yeoh. |

Let’s start with the conclusion in the form of a checklist:

√ A stressful day/week/month/year

√ Craving for a holiday

√ Have not seen your friends in a long while, you wonder if they still can recognise you

√ Got some money to spend

√ Want to get extra chop on passport

√ You have not posted an Instagram photo since 1965

If any of the above applies to you, please do yourself a favour and read on because we’ve got the PERFECT prescription for you!

This is a list of five destinations that will give you the escape you need with your long lost pals (do you remember when you last saw them?) and still get you that immigration chop. I mean, Cuti-Cuti Malaysia is great but sometimes you just want to get that CHOP in your passport!

1. Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

While there are a lot of bukit’s in Malaysia, this bukit is a little bit more special.

Image: @tito.dipokusumo on Instagram

Bukit Lawang is located at The Gunung Leuser National Park in Northern Sumatra. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses one of the last places in the world where you can see the critically endangered Sumatran Orang Utan in the wild.

What to do?

One of the more popular activities to do here is jungle trekking. You and your friends can opt to do a beginners 3-hour hike or the full fledge 14-day hike.

If you don’t want to go all out and be George and Georgina of the jungle, you can opt to go rafting, tubing, visit an elephant camp or explore the bat caves around the area.

How can we get there?

There are a few ways to get there but flying into Medan airport and taking a chartered vehicle directly there is the best way. No use haggling with people in the dusty street and feel bummed if you get conned right? Ain’t no one got time for that!

Where to stay?

There are many eco-lodges in Bukit Lawang and we would advise you to take a package. Most packages are inclusive of your room/lodge, food and hiking (or you can add any other activity you fancy). So basically, you don’t have to worry about anything once you are there!

What to be aware of?

When it rains, it brings down the cats and dogs – so come prepared. Also, if you are joining the overnight hikes, do ensure that you are physically fit and have experienced hiking in the jungle before (ahem, blood sucking leeches are included in the package if your blood is sweet). Electricity is a luxury here so please bring spare batteries for your camera if you want to upload your pictures on social media later.

What to bring?

Other than your clothes, remember to pack waterproof hiking boots, head lamp, insect repellent, 1-2 litre water bottle, snack bars, wet & dry tissue, hand sanitiser and towel.

Need some help to get all of these stuff? Just head to the trusty Lazada and you might get discounts on your total bill (tell your friends you help them get the stuff they need so you can apply discount codes lahhh).

Will it be worth it?

Yes, if you love the great outdoors (if your friends are outdoor junkies and not complainers). The WiFi is barely there, so just take the time to chill and get some good bonding going on.

2. Batam, Indonesia

Indonesia again? Yeap, let us share with you a few affordable options beforehand!

If you’ve ever watched the famous Singapore comedy series Phua Chu Kang, you would be familiar with the phrase, ‘Best in Singapore, JB and some say Batam.’

Batam is situated in between the golden triangle in between Java, Singapore and Malaysia. It is booming industrially and also been gaining traction when it comes to tourists.

Image: @aestetika_ on Instagram

What to do?

It is like home away from home, actually. There is shopping, a good night life, cheap massages (Yes, please!), and the beach! Island hopping (Pulau Bintan is a must) and quite a number of religious attractions. If you are looking for a casual beach holiday visit that will not give you or your friends a culture shock, this place is perfect.

How can we get there?

You can get there via JB or Singapore. It is a 2-hour ferry ride from JB and a 40 minute speedboat ride from Singapore. Once you are there, it is best you engage with a tour agency to get you to your hotel and your places of interest as it is not advised to drive or flag down a taxi there.

If you’re coming from Singapore, just head to KKDay to get a pretty good price for a round trip ticket!

Where to stay?

With many choices to choose from depending on your budget, you and your friends can splurge it out in Bali-like villas or skimp by opting for homestays. Rooms range from RM100-RM600 per night.

What to be aware of?

Locals smoke almost everywhere, even in air conditioned restaurants. If you find that repulsive, hmm, maybe it’s possible to tapau your food back to your hotel room? Also, do not submit any travel documents to anyone that is not the official staff that is supposed to handle your documents – you would not want to get conned now, would you?

What to bring?

Other than your clothes, remember to pack your water bottle, swim wear (and if you know you want to go snorkel or dive, do bring your necessary gear), wet & dry tissue, hand sanitiser and towel.

Will it be worth it?

Yes, if you like a new scene with similar luxuries from home. It’s a great place to chill and relax without rushing with the crowd to get to a famous tourist spot.

3. Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Everybody loves Bangkok – the shopping, the food and the bustling life. It’s just that sometimes, after you head home after a holiday in a bustling city, you’d feel like you need ANOTHER holiday.

Image: x_amilee_x on Instagram

Behold, Kanchanaburi is the place to go if you need a little Bangkok fix but you also need to get that ‘holiday-after-a-holiday’ fix.

What to do?

Two things stand out in Kanchanaburi – history and wildlife. Remember what we learnt about the Railway of Death that thousands upon thousands of POV’s had to build during the Japanese Occupation? Well, see it here! You can also visit the Death Railway Museum, JEATH War Museum and Hellfire Pass Museum for more in-depth information.

At Elephant World you can meet gentle giants who were previously abused – and no, you will not be riding them. Alternatively, you will be bathing and feeding them, which honestly, is sooooo much fun-ner!

For those who want to get your Instagrammable shots, you can head over to Erawan National Park where the pools are to dive for!

How can we get there?

Perfect as a detour from Bangkok, you can opt to take the scenic but slow route via train or bus directly to Kanchanaburi. They are all very affordable options.

However, for a seamless journey, we would suggest booking your transit and tours with Travelog.

Where to stay?

Opt to stay at the riverfront where it is more accessible to conveniences. There are super luxurious ones that will make you gasp and say, ‘Am I in paradise?’

It is also a good idea to take one or two nights off to stay in Erawan National Park to just be a tad closer to nature.

What to be aware of?

The Thais are generally very friendly and accommodating. Just be vigilant when it comes to safeguarding your belongings.

What to bring?

An insatiable appetite! The food is yummy – some say its better than in Bangkok. Also, it will be hot, so please dress appropriately and bring your swimwear if you are going to experience the waterfalls at Erawan National Park.

Will it be worth it?

Yes. There are a lot of things to see and experience here. It will hit your right at the feels (I mean, the cute elephants and also the heart breaking true stories of POWs will cause some emotion to stir) and also give you loads of pictures to upload on Instagram.

4. Hoi An, Vietnam

This is a quaint and pretty little town that survived the devastation of the Vietnam war. Step back in time at this UNESCO Heritage Site where the streets are lined with lanterns and around 800 historic buildings.

Image: @hoiantown on Instagram

What to do?

There are many places to explore. Opt to scour through the town in the morning and the riverside at the evening when the lanterns light up.

Head to the ancient ruins (it’s something like Angkor Wat), around 50 kilometres away called My Son Sanctuary.

How can we get there?

Fly to Da Nang, Vietnam and take a Grab to Hoi An. It takes about an hour to reach. If you are on a budget and aren’t fussy, you can choose to take the public bus.

Where to stay?

For first-timers, do stay in the heart of the ancient town of Hoi An. It feels like you are being transported back in time. You hear the tinkling of bicycles, people hurrying about their business in a fashion that is similar to a scene in Disney’s Mulan when she went to meet her matchmaker.

Book and check into Hoi An Ancient Town via AirBnB.

What to be aware of?

There are reports of pick pockets and theft happening. Hence, please be very aware of your money and important documents.

Use your eyes and summon your gut when you face the traffic anywhere in Vietnam – it is something to get used to.

What to bring?

Pack similar to what you’d wear in our climate. Just pack your swimwear and charcoal pills – just in case!

Will it be worth it?

Of course! It’s an adventure that does not cost too much. I mean, what more could you ask for when you’ve got amazing food, friends and good photos to commemorate the trip?

5. Mandalay, Myanmar

This underdog city used to be the royal capital of Myanmar. Rich in culture and fine art, it is easy to spot beauty despite the dusty streets. Trust me, there are quite a lot of pictures you can take in the many temples you can visit here!

Image: @heathersport13 on Instagram

What to do?

Do a walkabout and absorb the sights around you. Visit the Mandalay Palace, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mahamuni Buddha Temple and Mingun Pagoda.

After you are done visiting all these places of worship, it’s time to unwind by heading up the Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset and view the photos you have taken.

How can we get there?

There is a direct coach sharing flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Mandalay via Malaysia Airlines. When you are there, you can move about via bus or the handy Grab!

Where to stay?

The resorts and hotels here are not costly (nothing more than RM500 per night with most around RM100-RM200). When you are there, ask the hotel staff about a day tour to Inle Lake or the three ancient cities: Ava, Amarapura and Sagaing.

What to be aware of?

Only drink bottled water - and brush your teeth with bottled water as well. Don’t take risks because you would not want to fall sick during your holiday.

Unlike most of South East Asia, tipping is a culture here and at least USD5 is expected.

What to bring?

Don’t be shocked if you don’t see your favourite convenience stores here – if you like snacking, lug your snacks here. Because it is dusty and hot, remember to pack your sandals and a face mask in addition to the usual’s you’d pack for a holiday.

These are a compilation of affordable, possible weekend-away destinations that you could plan almost immediately with your friends. It’s not too far but maybe a little less heard of as a holiday destination. With so much to see and explore, these locations can easily be expanded to fill out your week!

Come on now, it is time to whip out your calendar and look out for long weekends you can take advantage of!

You may also find out more about Rachel on her Instagram!

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