I honestly believe that every country has something unique and special about it, which is why I hate the question, “What was your favorite country?”. The experience for each country is very different, and therefore, it is hard to compare them.
But, if I absolutely had to rank the Southeast Asia countries, here they are.
Not Ranked: Singapore- Since I lived in Singapore for 2 years, I didn’t feel like a tourist here. With that said, it is easy to throw in Singapore to any of your Southeast Asia itinerary since it’s literally the gateway to all the other countries. Here’s a great article of Singapore in a nutshell- http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/06/travel/singapore-50-reasons/
#1 Myanmar– It is the most untouched place I have ever been to. If you’re looking for the comfort of McDonalds and Starbucks, Myanmar won’t be the place for you. But if you are brave enough to venture into the local markets and try food you’ve never seen before, you will have an amazing experience in Myanmar. Language is definitely a barrier here since there’s not a lot of western tourists, but the people are all super friendly and helpful and I was able to get around with no problem. The sheer numbers of temples in Bagan is absolutely spectacular. And I think this is one trip where I caught most of the sunrises. Myanmar is truly a place where you can experience untouched nature.
#2 Cambodia– Visiting Angkor Wat was on top of my list before I even moved to Singapore and Angkor Wat did not fail me. I felt like Lara Craft, exploring the ruins of the temples. Granted the main temples have all been explored, but if you venture out to the smaller temples, they are overgrown with tree trunks and is just breathtaking. Siem Reap is great for tourist, because when you’re all templed out, there’s still a plethora of activities for you, from affordable massages to drinking at a bar.
#3 Laos- I only visited Luang Prabang in Laos for the gorgeous waterfall pictured above (I think the elves live here!). The unique thing about Luang Prabang is that it is French influenced, and if every town has to be made touristy, Luang Prabang is the way to do it. They preserved the local temples and buildings, but also made lovely riverside cafes for you to watch the sunset over the Makong River. As you’re exploring the market for souvenirs, you can see the care each vendor puts into displaying their product. And of course, the people are super nice! I locked the key to the motorcycle in the seat trunk at the waterfall! >.< and the nice local drivers all came over to help me pull the seat up, so there was enough room for me to slip the bag out! Yay for nice locals!
# 4 Thailand– I think the picture is the perfect example of what everyone thinks of when they think of Thailand. And it is true, but Thailand is also overrun with tourists. The cities I visited are: Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, and Similan Islands. Similan Island is the only place where they take a conscious effort to preserve the beauty. In Krabi and Phuket, the beauty is still there, but just barely. Tourism has polluted the water, the beach, and the culture. Sex tourism is a hugeeee thing in Thailand, which is why Thailand is lower on my list, because I’d like to discourage this type of tourism. One should always respect the country they’re visiting, from not removing/stepping on corals to abusing/trafficking the people, specially women. For me, it is disturbing to see local Thai women sitting on street corners, just waiting for the next pervert to come be serviced. Despite all that, Thailand is a beautiful country with many temples, beaches, and is always a good time. I just hope tourism doesn’t ruin the beauty of Thailand.
#5 Vietnam– I came for the food and Halong Bay! Everything is delicious and affordable! Halong Bay is truly gorgeous and I only wish I could swim in the water. My trip to Vietnam is kind of different from all my other trips, because I traveled with my dad and not the backpacker way. There are other parts of Vietnam that I’d love to explore, but didn’t get to, so it’s a bit lower on my list.
#6 Indonesia- If I can help it, I’d never return to Jakarat. The wealth disparity is too wide and I was literally shuttled from place to place. Bali was a bit overrated, packed with too many party seekers and druggies, but outside of Bali is a bit nicer. What I did enjoy about Indonesia is venturing into nature. I think that’s my thing, nature. Not the city, not the partying, unless it’s partying with Mother Nature! :p I went on an amazing 2 day trek in Medan, where I saw wild orangutans! They swung from vines, just like tarzan, and at night, we camped out by the river! That’s my favorite thing about Indonesia, leaving the touristy activities behind.
#7 Malaysia- I’ve been to Johor Bahru and Tioman island from Singapore, both on buses. Johor Bahru is where Singaporeans go to buy cheaper things or day trip massage. So not so exciting. Tioman Island had clear water and nice getaway resorts, but it took us 10 hours to get there from Singapore, which made the short weekend trip very very short. Probably not the best impression of Malaysia, but that’s why it’s last on my list.