If you’ve got friends from these cities to show you around, consider yourself lucky. But if you’re going on a free-and-easy tour around Southeast Asia completely solo, continue reading.

We know that most famed attractions are tourist traps, but don’t turn your nose up at some of them just yet. Just because some places of interest are teeming with tourists doesn’t mean they don’t add value to your trip. Look through this AskReddit thread and you’ll find that there are several attractions that live up to the hype.

Whether it’s partaking in the most touristy of activities, or having an authentic local experience, who better to give you insights than born-and-bred/long-term inhabitants of the city? We’ve asked insiders from four cities in Southeast Asia for their take on the essential experiences a traveller to their cities must have, or you can’t say you’ve been there.


Photo via The Jam Factory
Photo via The Jam Factory

“The first thing that comes to mind is Chatuchak because a lot of goods, or what travellers can get as souvenirs for people back home, are offered there. And it’s fun to just walk arround or bargain. For art, exhibitions, and music, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and The Jam Factory are are two places I love to go. Exhibitions are held regularly so you get to see and enjoy different things at different times.” –– Thitiporn Boonmie

“KLCC / Petronas Twin Towers: The epitome of Malaysia’s obsessions with bigger and taller monuments as well as shrine to commercial shopping.

E. Twin Towers2

Central Market has seen better days ever since it cleaned up/got commercialised, but it used to be the hub for arts, crafts, and disaffected youth subculture (underground scene bands).

MAP KL/Publika is probably Malaysia’s first hybrid commercial/arts hub. Arty hipster central in a shopping mall package. A ton of cafes, galleries, theatre and events stuff happen there. There’s nothing else quite like it out there in KL at the moment.

Watch Fireflies in Kuala Selangor – one of the biggest firefly colonies in the world (I hear).

Ramadhan Bazaars/Pasar Malams (night markets)/Eat Ramly Burger. If you’re talking about KL “KL” this has to be on it as its in Cheras.

It’s now the second biggest pasar malam but still the best. I personally had never seen anything quite like this; it really is a thing to behold.” –– Warren Chan

“For tourists who wish to see the historical part of the city without the monotonous tour guide, go on Carlos Celdran’s walking tour in Manila. His walking tours are small and really entertaining because he doesn’t just repeat what the textbooks say.

For food, there are a few places: Mercato (Fort Global City and Makati). It’s basically a night market happening every weekend, and it’s the best place to sample street food like grilled intestines.

Legaspi weekend market (Legaspi Park, Makati) is another open-air market but this is where you’ll find gourmet farmer’s stuff. Food kiosks make an international fare. Maginhawa Food StrEAT in Quezon City: Instagram-famous restaurants align a street within a residential neighborhood. They have food trucks there too.

As for nightlife, Valkyrie & The Palace Pool Club are the most famous clubs at the moment located in one complex in Fort Bonifacio.

Greenhills in San Juan City: Centre of gadget accessories, pearls, knock offs, antique furnitures.

Pinto art museum in Antipolo is a bit further out the metro but worth a look see.” –– Jem Suarez

“The one attraction definitely worth the hype is the War Remnants Museum. It provides the Vietnamese – or let’s say, the winning Vietnamese – perspective on the war. It’s touristy, but it’s an interesting take on what happened in Vietnam.

The other attraction worth going to, if you’ve got the money, is the trip to Cu Chi. But don’t go by bus, taxi or car. It’s two hours there, two hours back. Take the speedboat from Central Saigon. This way you get to see the city in a different light and from a different perspective – the river. Les Rives offer a really good tour up there. They also do some cool tours of places like Can Gio, the mangrove swamp on the southeast end of Ho Chi Minh City, and the Mekong Delta.

The other two tours I would highly recommend are Tim Doling’s history tour of Saigon and/or Cholon (Chinatown). And Sophie’s Art Tour. Both take you on a trip back in time, but through different angles.

In terms of F&B, Saigon (HCMC) is booming right now. There are new, mid to top-end restaurants and bars opening almost every week. If you want to sample street food, then I always take my guests to a small restaurant called Nam Giao on Le Thanh Ton. It’s next to Ben Thanh Market and is down an alleyway jam-packed full of nail shops. The food is excellent – mostly from Hue – and it’s cheap and no issues with hygiene. Basically, street food taken off the street. Best dishes are bun bo Hue, bun thit nuong and the rolls – stuff like cuon diep and banh uot cuon.

A street food market opened recently just up the street from Ben Thanh Market. It’s very focused on tourists and there’s no aircon, but it really works. The only thing is that a large amount of the food served up there is not Vietnamese.

People who want to try pho should check out the places in this list. Prices may have gone up, but it’s still pretty solid. And for banh mi, try here.

For nightlife, you’ve got to check out the skybars. They’re a little bit pricey, but worth it for the views. Personally I like OMG, Glow and Air 360.

For something alternative, check out Saigon Outcast in District 2. They’ve got something going on every weekend, but you’ll need to check their Facebook page to see what’s up. The place is awesome. Made out of containers and with lots of graffiti, it holds theatre shows, craft beer festivals, farmers markets and all sorts of weird and wacky events.

And for gigs, Cargo Bar always has something going on as does Saigon Ranger.

Finally, for a sense or feel of the underground, check out the old French-built apartment blocks that have been transformed into restaurants, cafes and bars. 26 Ly Tu Trong is amazing, as is the space around L’Usine on Dong Khoi. A personal favourite is all the cafes and bars at 14 Ton That Dam.” –– Nick Ross, Chief Editor of Word Vietnam

Cindy Tan

about Cindy

Cindy heads Departure’s Curator section. She is an avid traveller and night owl, known for her contrarian stance on a number of issues. She has criticised such public and generally popular figures as Mother Teresa, Taylor Swift and Pope Benedict XVI.

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