Cos there are only so many times you can visit Bangkok.
1. Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang, Laos
The Xieng Khouang province in Laos is home to the mysterious Plain of Jars – fields of megalithic jars that number in the thousands and date back to the Iron Age (500BC – 500AD). The jury’s still out on what these jars were used for; but most archaeologists believe the jars were part of prehistoric burial practices. Local Laotian folklore is a lot more colourful; stories abound of how the area used to be inhabited by a race of giants whose leader used the jars to store alcohol to celebrate a victorious battle against his enemy. In more recent times, this part of Laos was subject to intense bombing raids against the Northern Vietnamese and Pathet Lao communist forces by the U.S Air Force in the 1960s and 1970s. Because of the large quantity of unexploded ordnance in the area, you’re advised to stick to clearly demarcated trails when you visit the Plain of Jars. Wander off at your own risk.
Book a tour to the Plain of Jars through travel agencies in Luang Prabang or Vientiane.
2. Sangkhlaburi, Thailand
The northwestern province of Sangkhlaburi is close to the border of Myanmar, and is as far removed from the chaotic hustle and bustle of Bangkok as you can get. The main town consists of just a couple of streets, and is pretty much dead after 6pm – but that’s really not the reason for your visit. Villages of ethnic minorities populate the province, and they’re well worth exploring. Walk across a 400m-long wooden bridge – an adventure in itself – to get to the Mon villages on the other side. Many of businesses operating in the area – such as Baan Unrak Bakery – help support Burmese refugees, so be sure to do your part by dining at the these establishments, or buying a handcrafted souvenir from them. At twilight, buy a beer from the restaurant at P Guesthouse and enjoy a beautiful, serene sunset by the river. We promise it’ll be an experience that’ll be etched in your memory long after you leave.
Sangkhaburi is a seven-hour bus ride from the Mochit Bus Terminal in Bangkok.
3. Mount Merapi, Indonesia
The stratovolcano located on the borders of Central Java and Yogyakarta is the most active volcano in Indonesia, and has erupted frequently from 1548. Treks begin at night, and you start the climb at around 1am after meeting with the tour guide at Selo, a village that doubles up as the starting point of the trek. You’ll reach the summit at around 5am, where you’ll be rewarded with the sight of a gorgeous sunrise and panoramic views of Java Island.
Trekking tours to Mount Merapi can be arranged through travel agencies in Yogyakarta.
4. Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
If you’re planning a beach getaway but hate the idea of sharing it with hordes of drunk tourists in Bali or Phuket, Phu Quoc is the place to consider. With its rugged jungle and sandy white beaches and relatively few tourists compared to the other islands in the Southeast Asian region, Phu Quoc is as close to paradise as they come. There is accommodation to suit all sort of budgets, and lots of things to do. Take a tour of the An Thoi islands, where you can swim, snorkel and fish to your heart’s content, and visit the Dinh Cau Night Market, where you can sample some delicious seafood and grills.
Vietnam Airlines flies twice a week to Phu Quoc from Singapore.
5. Layang Layang, Malaysia
Located 300km north of the coast of Sabah, this tiny island is located practically in the middle of nowhere, meaning that the ocean waters that surround it are as clear and unpolluted as they come. It is known to be one of the best places to dive in the world, with about 12 sites located close to Dive Centre. Visibility is at 20m or more, and there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to catch sightings of large creatures such as turtles, manta rays, and even hammerhead sharks! Rental of diving equipment is available at the Dive Centre, although you are usually advised to bring your own as the equipment available may be worn out.
Chartered flights to Layang Layang are available from Kota Kinabalu.