Most people who travel want to find the hidden gems of a city, and if you’re like me and always looking for the unconventional and not-so-popular places to visit, here are five cities in South East Asia that I think is not as featured on the tourist trail, yet are equally as mesmerizing and deserving of mention.
1. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital and largest city. The chaotic yet charming city is home to the magnificent Royal Palace, the king’s official residence which also has an impressive Silver Pagoda – so named for the 5,000 silver tiles lining its floor. An example of classic Khmer architecture, the palace is host to the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which celebrates the start of the rainy season. Phnom Penh is located along the gorgeous and romantic Sisowath Quay riverside, and its lively wining and dining scene is fast booming with hip hotels, designer restaurants, and funky bars to accommodate its evolving urbanscape.
2. Ipoh, Malaysia
Dreamy and nostalgic, Ipoh is one of Malaysia’s historic colonial towns. Follow its heritage trail to see the impressive railway station, clock tower and town hall designed in British colonial style. A pleasant mid-sized city, Ipoh attracts pilgrims who come to visit famous Chinese cave temples like Perak Tong, Sam Poh Tong, and Kek Lok Tong. Ipoh is also one of Malaysia’s famous food havens, mostly centered on Yau Tet Shin Road where the popular bean sprout chicken rice, pomelo fruit, and other snacks are sold on the streets.
3. Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Home to the famous Bridge over River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in Thailand. Known as the base of which to explore Thailand’s wild west, the town’s top attractions include the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, the Death Railway Bridge itself and the Allied War Cemetery, an immaculate resting place of over 6,000 prisoners of war. However, Kanchanaburi is not only rich in war history, but also in natural attractions like Sai Yok Noi waterfall and the Erawan National Park.
4. Surabaya, Indonesia
The gateway to the majestic Mount Bromo, Surabaya is Indonesia’s second largest city with over 3 million people. It is East Java’s provincial capital and is one of the country’s largest and most important seaports. The city itself has much to offer than being simply the base for hikers to Mount Bromo, as it is culturally rich with beautiful temples, mosques and a synagogue. Immortalized in many of Joseph Conrad’s novels, Surabaya was home to wealthy Chinese and Arab traders in the 17th century who sailed to the east for sugar and spices. Today, these ethnic quarters still exist and are a real attraction for all who visit.
5. Cebu City, Philippines
Known as the Queen City of the South, the Philippines’s second largest city area bustling metropolis and a cultural melting pot full of good food and historic sites. An attractive alternative to landing in Manila, Cebu city’s airport is the second largest in the country and is also the gateway to the white sandy beaches of the Visayas islands. Its many Spanish colonial buildings are not to be missed, such as the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, Fort San Pedro and Magellan’s Cross, a highly revered religious relic situated just across Cebu City Hall.