Bruneian cuisine may not be well known, but we can guarantee you’ve never eaten anything like ambuyat (made from sago starch), or delicious kueh – rainbow-coloured Malay-style sweets made from rice, tapioca or mung-bean flour.
Ulu Temburong National Park preserves 40% of Brunei’s virgin rainforest, so there's a good chance of spotting wildlife on a jungle hike, or from elevated walkways through the canopy.
River cruises penetrate the forested interior, but you'll see a different side to life in Brunei in Kampong Ayer, the world’s largest stilt village, perched above the Brunei River.
While the scars of recent history are still visible – particularly at Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh – ancient history is the big drawcard, particularly at Angkor. These ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples are wonders of the world.
Meeting the Khmers
Community-based tourism projects are turning former poachers into trekking guides and rural village homes into captivating homestays. Few things are as fascinating as seeing a country through the eyes of its inhabitants.
A laid-back alternative to the crowded sands of southern Thailand, the squeaky-clean beaches and islands along Cambodia's short coastline are every bit as beautiful, but with lower costs and half the crowds.
Empires too numerous to count have risen on the Indonesian archipelago, leaving behind majestic ruins such Borobudur. Then there are Indonesia's tribal cultures, as rich and varied as the islands themselves.
East Java's Gunung Bromo is just one of dozens of active volcanoes calling like a beacon to hikers. The experience of bursting through the cloud layer to the smouldering summit of an Indonesian volcano will linger for a lifetime.
Charming Bali blends rich culture with stupendous sands, and just across the channel are the Gili Islands for diving, Sumbawa for surfing, Flores for discovering and Sumba for simply getting lost.
The former royal capital of Luang Prabang is studded with historic temples and relics from French Indochina. Homestays in nearby mountain villages promise encounters with Laos' hill-tribe peoples.
Laos has an abundance of undisturbed wilderness and 20 designated reserves promising magical natural encounters. Eco-oriented programs such as the Gibbon Experience add ziplines and sleep-outs in the canopy.
Rivers are the lifeblood of Laos, and life moves to their ebb and flow. Laze beside the muddy waters, kayak deep into the hinterland or use the river as a highway from Luang Prabang to the Golden Triangle.
Malaysia is one of the world's great melting pots, and its kitchens fuse the spices of India, the cooking know-how of China and the rich culinary traditions of the Malay peninsula.
Sands & Sealife
Malaysia’s beaches are postcard perfect, and the vibe is less frenetic than in neighbouring Thailand. Hobo hang-outs such as Tioman and Pulau Perhentian combine sparkling sand with stunning scuba dives offshore.
The fabled jungles of Borneo are accessed by evocative boat rides along tea-coloured rivers, and encounters with orangutans are top of the bucket list. On the peninsula, rainforests even spill into the middle of downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Across Myanmar, stupas gleam like gold above the rooftops, a reminder of the nation's Buddhist soul. A tide of pilgrims swirls around Yangon's Shwedagon Paya, whisking visitors along on the spiritual journey.
From the surging Ayeyarwady to the mill-pond calm backwaters of Inle Lake, Myanmar's waterways call out to be explored. The overnight trip from Mandalay to Bagan offers a mesmerising window into the life of river communities.
Myanmar's big festivals – the Thingyan water festival and Tazaungdaing, festival of lights – are show-stoppers, but just as fascinating are the nat pwe held in rural villages to propitiate animist spirits.
The Philippines is a stir-fry of ingredients from the powers who have coveted these shores: Catholicism and mysticism from Spain, bravado and bling from America, and beneath it, a complex native tribal culture.
Volcanoes soar above the skyline across the Philippines, and trekking to their summits, or relaxing in the natural hot springs that surround their bases, are favourite pastimes.
With 7000-plus islands to choose from, it's no trouble finding your own perfect strip of sand in the Philippines – typically with stunning scuba diving and boat rides to isolated islets offshore.
East and West come together in sophisticated Singapore, where grand colonial mansions and traditional Chinese shophouses double as swish boutiques, gourmet restaurants and upbeat nightspots.
Banquet halls abound, but Singapore is the home of the Michelin-starred hawker. The city's food centres serve up treats to rival the showiest restaurants, and locals graze from dawn until long after dark.
When the shiny skyscrapers close in, break for the jungle. The Botanic Gardens and futuristic Gardens by the Bay serve up tame versions, or try Bukit Timah Nature Reserve or the Southern Ridges for real jungle experiences.
The death of King Bhumibol marks a new chapter in the spiritual life of Thailand, where religion and royalty meld and mingle, but the pulse of the nation beats on in its spectacular shrines and temples.
With crystal waters, fringing palms and shimmering sand, Thailand’s southern beaches are the real deal, with added party appeal. Expect late nights and lazy days of sun-soaking, scuba diving and spa indulgence.
Feted as one of the world's top cuisines, Thai food draws on a fabulous palette of herbs, spices and seasonings. Don't just eat it, learn to cook it too – courses are offered in traveller towns across the kingdom.
A National Journey
Timor-Leste's journey from European colony to Indonesian province to independent nation is etched into the national psyche, and marked in the country's churches and shrines, and in Dili's moving museums and burial grounds.
Catholic Timor-Leste has mystical leanings, with mountains as spiritual sites. Sacred Mt Ramelau boasts a summit Virgin Mary statue and spectacular sunrise views over two coasts.
Often overlooked in favour of its famous neighbours, Timor-Leste is gaining a growing following for scuba diving on the pristine reefs off the north shore and around Ataúro Island.
Everyone from China to France and the USA tried to claim Vietnam, but it still emerged as a proud independent nation. Martial history is painted large in its ancient monuments, imperial palaces and 20th-century battlegrounds.
Take your pick from built-up Nha Trang, dune-backed Mui Ne, or peaceful escapes at Con Dao and Phu Quoc.
Vietnam’s cuisine almost dares to rival Thai cooking, mixing concepts from China, Southeast Asia and colonial France. Where else can you enjoy noodle soup with a baguette and a drip-filter coffee?