Singapore is known by travellers from around the world as the gateway to Southeast Asia. For those who grew up in the Lion City, though, sometimes we tend to take easy access to other parts of the Asia subregion for granted. But that shouldn’t be the case. From an outsider’s perspective, Southeast Asia is a treasure trove home to breathtaking landscapes unparalleled to other parts of the world.
Sure, we’ve all romanticised the Grand Europe road trip or driving the whole length of the United States or Australia, but Southeast Asia is a whole other ballpark altogether, boasting beautiful tropical jungles, panoramic coastal drives and winding roads through padi fields.
While most of the trips can be done in a car, some roads (especially the unpaved ones) are better suited for motorcycles — just remember your international driver’s license and helmet. Here, the most beautiful road trips to take in Southeast Asia, whether it’s Cambodia’s answer to Route 66 or the world-famous Laos loop.
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With a name that means “ocean cloud pass”, the Hai Van Pass is a mellow and picturesque road trip 21km on the border of Da Nang in the middle of the country. The short but scenic route winds around a mountainside above the East Sea on the central coast, featuring views of empty beaches, fishing villages, farmland and city areas.
The Hai Van Pass is famous for a number of reasons: as a geographic and political boundary between ancient kingdoms, as a climatic divide between the tropical south and the subtropical north, and as a strategic military post during times of war; both ancient and modern. Its fame is bolstered by the popularity of the Top Gear Vietnam Special in 2008, which waxed lyrical about the route.
The Loop is a well-known three-day (450km) motorbike odyssey through central Laos, starting and finishing in Ta Khek. The journey starts from the languid capital of Vientiane, where you can hire Garmin GPS devices to help you safely navigate in the most remote of Laos’ backwaters.
The unpaved route allows you to marvel at some of Laos’ most spectacular scenery, twisting through the jungle, padi fields, karst country, and mountains towering in the distance. Pit stops include numerous caves, lakes, and fishing villages.
Myanmar is home to 15,000 miles of roads, with half of them paved. This makes it an ideal destination for road trippers, with most attempting to drive from Yangon up to Inley Lake, experiencing the amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences along the way.
You can start your journey at Yangon, where attractions include the Shwedagon Pagoda, considered the country’s holiest temple. The drive up to Bagan, home to the densest collection of 11th- and 12th- century temples, pagodas and ruins in the world, is also a scenic one. To further elevate the experience, hop on a hot air balloon ride over the breathtaking archaeological site. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, head further north up to Inle Lake, which has popular boat tours stopping off at floating markets, stilt restaurants and craft workshops.
Contrary to popular belief, Bali is not all beach bars and five-star oceanfront resorts. If you’re looking to get off the beach and do something more adventurous, try a road trip around the coast. The Lombok and Bandung Strait, for instance, provide the perfect setting for day trips stopping by hidden beaches and waterfalls. If you go further inland and take the road less travelled, you’ll be able to find authentic villages, local coffee houses, and pagodas located off the beaten track.
Another route to explore in Vietnam is this 134-mile stretch of highway in the southern part of the country. The spectacular route takes you from Nha Trang to Quy Nhon, driving through mountain scenery on the inland side of the road and stunning sea views with golden beaches on the other.
The road trip is a slightly easier one, where you can stop in the many towns and villages along the way, as well as plenty of beaches to relax at. Every two years, there is a week-long festival where visitors drive the road together.
No, we’re not talking about the quintessential road trip route in America. The “other” Route 66 is located in Cambodia, halfway across the world. This dusty route has a rich history, following a canal over a thousand years ago that transported the stones needed to build Angkor Wat and other temples in the area.
Some of the stops on the route include the iconic Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, before heading to the temples of Beng Mealea and the vast Preah Khan Kampong Svay.
(Image credit: Borders of Adventure)