If you are a culture or nature buff on a shoestring budget, Southeast Asia offers an astonishing selection of UNESCO World Heritage sites
Many of us favour travelling to far-flung, exotic locations but, in actual fact, right in the heart of Southeast Asia lie an impressive 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Here are some of the best sites for nature, architecture and places of worship.
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Komodo dragons are so named because of their appearance and aggression, and are found nowhere else in the world except on the volcanic islands of Komodo National Park.
Best known for the world’s largest living lizard – the Komodo monitor lizard, the park is inhabited by around 5,700 of these hulking beasts.
The hillsides of dry savannah and pockets of thorny green vegetation sharply contrast with the sandy beaches and blue waters, and an upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the deeper areas of the archipelago accounts for the rich reef ecosystem.
Visit the park at least once in your life. It might well feel like visiting an alien planet.
Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam
Hoi An is a remarkably-preserved Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th Century. There are both indigenous and foreign influences, reflecting a fusion of cultures over time in an international commercial port.
For example, its architecture is entirely made of wood, combining traditional Vietnamese designs and techniques with those from countries such as China and Japan.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Fusing Lao urban structures, traditional architecture and those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Luang Prabang shows how two distinct cultural traditions can be blended.
Visit their grand temples, see the stunning Kuang Si waterfalls, and climb Mount Phousi for a panoramic view. The adventurous can go trekking, rafting and cycling around the Tiger Trails, which also has an elephant camp offering elephant treks and mahout (elephant trainer) courses.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines
If you have seen the Great Barrier Reef, why not go diving closer to home at Tubbataha Reef Marine Park? With its position in the middle of the Sulu Sea, it has great diversity of marine life.
In fact, it is a unique example of an atoll (a ring-shaped coral reef with a rim circling a lagoon) with a high density of marine species. The pristine coral reef includes the North and South Reefs, and has extensive lagoons, and two coral islands.