Southeast Asia is a fascinating place to visit. The proximity of so many amazing cities makes it possible to do a multi city trip quite easily. For a relatively small area Southeast Asia has some of the most exciting cities in the world. Cheap airlines flit between these cities with great regularity, making them very easy to visit. Bangkok is the main hub for the central parts with Singapore and Hong Kong benefitting from being huge airline hubs, for international travellers. Although strictly outside Southeast Asia, we have, for the purposes of this list included Hong Kong. This was due to its sheer size, importance and proximity to the others.

Bangkok

Thailand
Official Language: Thai
Currency: Thai Baht

Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand

The world’s premium tourist destination city almost every year (it generally vies with London). Fabulous shops in the wildest weirdest most wonderful place imaginable. The late night scene here is legendary with hundreds of girlie bars and go-go bars in three main areas; Patpong, Nana and Soi Cowboy. The cities Sky Train and Underground systems make it one of the easier to get round. Thai food is accepted by many as the finest in the world and it is available on every street corner. The atmosphere on Sukhumvit Road in the early hours, has to be seen to be believed.

Hong Kong

China
Official Languages: Chinese, English
Currency: Hong Kong Dollar

Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong, China

Well almost China, Hong Kong is almost a country in itself. Unlike anything on earth, this city has a vibrancy and atmosphere unmatched anywhere in the world. More skyscrapers than any other city on the planet, this is one of the most modern cities every built, yet ancient China remains at its heart. the view from The Star Ferry at night when the laser show is on, beats anything. A vibrant nightlife has made this party central city the envy of the world and one of the busiest destinations anywhere. It seems to be growing almost daily as new incredible buildings are continually added.

Jakarta

Indonesia
Official Language: Indonesian
Currency: Rupiah

Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta, Indonesia

This is one of the most populous urban conurbations in the world, it sits on the northwest coast of Java. It is the most populated city in both Indonesia and Southeast Asia. It has a bustling housing market and despite the huge urban spread manages to remain a very green and pleasant place to visit. Some 1700 years old it does now have severe traffic congestion. Colonised by the Dutch and the Portuguese and with old trading connections with England, it has a mixed architectural style and an amazing cuisine. It is a superb holiday destination and base from which to explore a fascinating country.

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia
Official Language: Malaysian
Currency: Ringgit

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Known by most simply as KL, this Malaysian capital has a unique vibe about it. It is quite different than the other large cities in the region, and it is certainly large. It spreads over almost 95 square miles, though has one of the best transport systems imaginable. The huge modern metropolis has grown up around a central core of the old town where the former colonial leaders had their administrative headquarters. A brightly painted monorail, looking like something out of Disneyland runs all over the city. The massive iconic Petronas Towers dominate the whole landscape, particularly at night. Malaysian food is yet another highlight of world cuisine.

Manila

Philippines
Official Languages: English, Filipino (Tagalog)
Currency: Peso

Manilla, Philippines
Manilla, Philippines

The capital of the Philippines, Manila is a thriving yet surprisingly small, compared to some, city full of energy and verve. The centre Metro Manila is the thriving business, political and entertainment area. The city sits on the eastern shore of Luzon and is a very beautiful place to visit. The tropical savanna climate is perfect for sightseeing in a main city. Liberal views have seen lively girlie bar areas springing up in Makati and EDSA. The city is a major centre for banking and finance.

Phnom Penh

Cambodia
Official Language: Cambodian
Currency: Riel – though the US Dollar is widely accepted

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

One of the most interesting cities you’ll ever visit. The magnificent French colonial architecture of a hundred years ago is a faded reminded of its former grandeur. It is though, all the more special because of that. Visiting Phnom Penh is like going back in time, to an age of French colonists, strolling along the riverfront taking morning coffee in one of the wonderful cafés along Sisowath Quay. It has a vibrant healthy nightlife and in recent years over a hundred girlie bars have sprung up over two or three streets. Most of the city is without street lights, presenting the look of an old cowboy town after dark.

Saigon

Vietnam
Official Languages: English, Vietnamese
Currency: Vietnam Dong

Sai Gon, Viet Nam
Sai Gon, Viet Nam

The largest city in the country, it sits in the south and nearby attractions include the one and only Mekond Delta, the fascinating Cu Chi Tunnels and some amazing local countryside. The heart of the city is a mixture of ancient Asian design, modern glass towers and some of the best French colonial architecture on the planet. The shopping here matches anything that Milan could throw at you, when it comes to big labels, and Vietnamese cuisine is renown through the world. The Vietnamese are a warm and friendly people, making this one of the best cities in the world.

Singapore

Singapore
Official Languages: English, Tamil, Standard Chinese
Currency: Singapore dollar

Singapore, Singapore
Singapore, Singapore

This is a city-state, formerly a British colony. It is one of the most prosperous cities in the world and has the world’s busiest sea port. The downtown area is ultra modern, boasting some of the greatest building achievements on the planet, including the wonderful triple towers of the Marina Bay. The old parts of the city show a Malay, Chinese and india influence that presents a delightful mix of styles, all working in perfect harmony. Sitting on an island as id does, has given it a feel all of its own. It is the second most densely populated city on earth, after Monaco, yet has more than 50% of its area covered by greenery, fifty major parks and four nature reserves.

Vientiane

Laos
Official Language: None – though the Vientiane dialect of Lao has become standard
Currency: Kip

Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos

A sleepy little place that is just starting to find its feet as a tourist destination. Originally no more than a visa run destination for expats living in Thailand, it has developed nicely in the last decade and is now a tourist hot spot in its own right. It has quite a unique feel about it and the central square with half a dozen restaurants dotted around it, is more reminiscent of a Mediterranean town than anything in Southeast Asia. As with most places in the region, the people are delightful and the cuisine is terrific. This is like Thailand 20 years ago.

Yangon

Myanmar
Official Language: Burmese
Currency: Kyat

Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon, Myanmar

Until very recently, this was the best kept secret in all of Asia. Formerly Rangoon, an oppressive political regime banned all but a few visitors and its residents were forbidden to talk to strangers. Since the political upheaval and subsequent changes, it has thrown open its doors and people are seeing for the first time, the magnificence that they had been missing. A city of mystery and magnificent temples, there golden stupas cut through the greenery of the trees that are everywhere in this ancient Burmese capital. Hotels are being built faster here than anywhere in Asia at the moment.
This is an incredible list of some of the most amazing cities on earth. That they are all situated within a reasonably short flight of each other is amazing. The are all different, all full of the most wonderful people and all truly worthy of a visit. How many have you done? Let us have your experiences.

  • Emiwdrodze

    Have you ever been to Jakarta? Hard to believe someone can recommend it as a superb holiday destination…

  • Pakkard Pretty

    Apparently, He’s been to only 3 SEA countries

  • Giles Wade

    This is really just a list of capitals in the region (HK effectively a capital, as it is its own semi-autonomous city-state).

    It would be more fun to do a follow-up post on the places in these countries that are the most interesting tourist draws: most people seem to prefer Siem Reap and Kampot to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, for example; Hoi An (and even Hanoi!) to Saigon in Vietnam; Luang Prabang to Vientiane in Lao; and Penang and Melaka to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

    • Ian

      Notice the title – top cities. not top tourist destinations…

      • Giles Wade

        Read the article: entirely focused on the tourist perspective – ends with the line that the cities mentioned are “all truly worthy of a visit”.

        And ‘Top’ lists of this kind usually assume primarily an interest for a one-off visit, unless they specifically highlight ‘Best to live’, or ‘Best for doing business’, or ‘Hottest for the arts’, etc.

        Anyway, my point was that this wasn’t really a very imaginative or convincing ‘Best’ list – on any criterion! It’s simply a rundown of the region’s capitals.