Readers Poll: 13 Places to Avoid in Southeast Asia

We carried out a poll in our Facebook community asking members which places in Southeast Asia should be avoided. When we originally carried out this poll, we chose a very inappropriate word. We asked our readers “Where is the WORST place in Southeast Asia you’ve ever travelled to?”

Disclaimer
Despite our intentions, this use of the word worst understandably caused a lot of offence. We would like to reiterate that this was never our intent and have since altered the wording.
This article is a round-up of different travellers’ opinions which you may or may not agree with. It is important to note that a travellers’ view of any place is always going to be very limited. We believe that anybody who truly explores any place will discover that it has a huge amount to offer.
The opinions expressed here are the opinions of some of our readers. They are not the opinions of South East Asia Backpacker.


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Why Even Ask This Question?

The responses to our poll tended to centre around a few key issues – Safety, Traffic/Pollution and ‘Westernisation’. So let’s deal with each of them…

Safety

Southeast Asia is popular with first-time travellers, often travelling alone. It is mostly an extremely safe place to travel. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. We think it’s important to let travellers know about these places.

Traffic/Pollution

It’s a sad truth that some cities in SE Asia suffer from extremely poor air quality due, in part, to excessive (and sometimes very stressful, if you need to cross the road) traffic. It’s OK to want to avoid these things.

‘Westernisation’

…and here things get tricky… We firmly believe that when you travel anywhere in the world, you should do so without any pre-formed ideas of what the place you visit ‘should’ be like. If you’re going to be disappointed to find shopping malls on your travels, you’re probably better off staying at home! In fact, shopping malls can really play a part in building the character of a city. Kuala Lumpur boasts a shopping mall with a rollercoaster in it!! Surely that’s pretty cool, no matter where you’ve come from!

All that said, of course, it is perfectly legit to want to see things that open your eyes to something new while you travel. There are destinations (hint, a couple of them are mentioned in this guide) where you can essentially spend a few weeks on a tropical island, whilst eating in the same chain restaurants and drinking the same sugary drinks as you always have and then go home to consume the same goods in the rain. Sorry, but yes, we do believe that if you do that, you’re missing out.

Those travellers lucky enough to spend long-extended periods travelling this wonderful region will know full well the guilty pleasure of tucking into a pizza or burger while visiting a major city. People who are on a tighter schedule are well within their rights to want to avoid such things.

Anyway… without further ado – here’s a list of your 13 least favourite places in Southeast Asia! 


13 Places to avoid in Southeast Asia: As Voted by Our Readers!

13. Koh Samui, Thailand

With five votes, the island of Koh Samui comes in at joint 13th place. Some of you simply said, “Samui is shit.” Whilst one of you went into more detail, “Samui isn’t really an island, more a shitty city stuck on an island.”

We’ve stayed in Samui a few times (on the way to the nearby islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao) and the resort town of Chaweng is by far our least favourite place, with the nearby Lamai being a much better place to spend a few nights.

Our favourite place is the small fishing resort of Bo Phut in the north of Koh Samui which has managed to retain some island charm.

Lamai Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand.

12. Pak Beng, Laos

We were intrigued at how this tiny little village made your ‘least favourite’ places list. Pak Beng is the village where you’ll spend one night if you decide to take the 2-day slow boat from Chiang Khong in Thailand, to Luang Prabang in Laos. (Read about the boat trip in this article.)

Pak Beng is a run-down place right on the banks of the Mekong with a few guesthouses and restaurants that cater to the boat-trippers. Some of you called it a “shit hole” and one of you said that you suffered food poisoning there.

By far the strangest comment though was this one: “All I can remember from that place is that the lady owner of the guesthouse where I was staying passed out because of opium whilst she was making our sandwiches. Opium is a big problem in that place, unfortunately.”

The village of Pak Beng, stopover on the two-day slowboat to Laos.

11. Hanoi, Vietnam

Having fallen in love with Hanoi when we first visited, we must admit that we felt differently about the city after our most recent visit.

Nevertheless, we’re sad to see Vietnam’s capital on this list. It seems that people found the locals unfriendly and some people said that they were targeted by thieves during their visit.

On the contrary, we found the people of Hanoi to be lovely, and many people did, in fact, post counter-arguments to those saying that they found the city unwelcoming. So it seems that Hanoi is another one of those ‘Marmite’ cities. What did you think?

Saleswoman in Hanoi, Vietnam.

10. Cebu City, Philippines

“Dirty.” “Noisy.” “Polluted.” These are just some of the words that you used to describe the city of Cebu in the Philippines, which came in at 10th place on our list. The city was also described as “all shopping malls and no culture” and the food as “bland and Americanised”.

We found ourselves in Cebu City for the annual festival of Sinulog, when the city was alive with a carnival atmosphere, full of colours and brimming with culture. We can’t imagine what it’s like on a normal day, though we did see some grey bits of concrete in-between the floats and dancing angels.

Sinulog Festival, Cebu City, Philippines.

9. Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Coming in at 9th place it’s the most famous backpacker road in the world, which we almost expected to come in at number one, to be honest!

Many people made comments to the type of ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ backpacker that you’re likely to find here (wearing a Same-Same T-shirt), but hey – we’ve all got to start somewhere right? And if that somewhere means that you’ll spend your first few days in Thailand with a Changover, eating street pad thai, buying a fake degree and croaking a wooden frog that you’ve just bought, then so be it!

We still reckon that the Khao San Road is of cultural interest to Bangkok (the actual city got three of your votes, I’ll add) if only for a short while, mainly because of the history of the place.

So many backpackers have passed through a street that was once just a normal street within the city. It’s an example of how tourism can blow up in one tiny area and completely transform it forever. Read our article here on why one traveller loves the Khao San Road!

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand.

8. Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Poor Medan in northern Sumatra just doesn’t seem to have much going for it at all, apart from the fact that it’s one of the cheapest places to fly to in the whole of Southeast Asia!

One person explained “there’s very little to do there, and it just didn’t feel very welcoming’, somebody else complained of the dirt and pollution.

We haven’t been to the city so can’t comment, but what we do know is that just a chicken bus ride away is the amazing Lake Toba, the jungles of Bukit Lawang filled with incredible Indonesian animals and the diver’s paradise island of Pulau Weh. So, if you’ve found a cheap flight to Medan, get in, get out, and start exploring what the rest of the wonderful island of Sumatra has to offer!

Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

7. Pattaya, Thailand

Not many backpackers venture to Pattaya, a city that is renowned for its sex tourism, just a few hours from Bangkok. If you do find yourself here, however, we’re not at all surprised that you hate it.

‘Absolutely disgusting’ one person said. With not a backpacker hostel nor traveller-friendly bar in sight, this rather unattractive city is geared to giving Western men on a short holiday a good time.

The city came into existence during the Vietnam War when the American Army decided to base themselves here. Many poorer women from countryside areas of Thailand (such as Isaan) came to earn money here amongst the soldiers in pursuit of ‘R&R’.

Take a stroll down the most famous road in Pattaya at night time ‘Walking Street’ and you’ll have your eyes opened to some of the seediest aspects of Thailand you’ll ever encounter.

As well as ‘sex tourists’ and ‘sex-pats’, Pattaya has also recently become popular with holidaying Russians, and there are a few more attractive islands, such as Koh Lan, Koh Krok, Koh Sak, Koh Phai and Koh Si Chang, off the coast of Pattaya, that tourists like to visit.

Girls outside a bar in Pattaya, Thailand.

6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In sixth place, it’s the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, which is one of three capital cities on our list. One person described the city as a ‘concrete jungle’ and another said that they thought the ‘food was bland’.

On the contrary, we’ve often heard great things about the variety of food on offer in KL and although there are less desirable aspects of the city (just like any city), we were actually surprised to have KL as one of the highest ‘least favourite’ places on your list.

Crowded and polluted, well yes, but with its mix of cultures and religions, we think KL is a very interesting place to visit. Perhaps you could try out some of these ‘alternative things to do in KL’ and then get back to us.

Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia.

5. Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

In fifth place is the party destination of Kuta in Bali that some of you took a very strong disliking to! Whereas Bali (the entire island) actually received four votes of its own, more of you focused on this little beach resort town that was originally made famous for its surf and secondly for its nightlife.

One girl said that the sea was dirty and that whilst she swam she was “surrounded by floating plastic and rubbish”, whilst one guy said that he even saw a dead dog on the beach!

Although it wasn’t mentioned here in the comments, we’ve heard time and time again that the island of Bali is not the tranquil paradise that people hope it to be, particularly if you spend any time around Kuta, which is a very commercialised area with fast-food joints, huge nightclubs and those dreaded ‘two-weekers’.

Popular amongst holidaying Australians, Kuta is the ‘Magaluf’ or ‘Cancun’ of Indonesia. So, if you’re looking for that, please, be our guest! If not, check out our guide to the whole of Bali here and find somewhere that’s more to your taste.

Kuta, Bali.

4. Phuket, Thailand

Thailand’s ‘Pearl of the Andaman’, the oldest star of the Thai Tourism scene, Phuket, gets fourth place. We thought your words ‘fat old Westerners with young Thai women’ was a little harsh, (but true?).

The main gripes were overly persistent salespeople trying to get you into bars and massage parlours, although this was specifically mentioned only in the main party zone of Patong. One person simply said – “this is not the best part of Thailand” – and we’d have to agree.

However, every place has its silver lining and if you’re feeling sick of Phuket and want to see a different side to the island, we’d encourage you to pay a visit to Phuket’s little-visited Old Quarter, full of Sino-Portuguese shop-houses, cafés and jazz bars. Or, hire a motorbike and explore the quieter beaches on the island, such as the fisherman’s village and the beach of Hat Rawai.

For more places to avoid in Thailand, as well as some incredible places you  should visit, check out this post.

Nightlife in Patong, Phuket, Thailand.

3. THIRD PLACE: Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The notorious Sihanoukville (also known as ‘Sinville’ or ‘Snooky’ gets your votes for many reasons…

More than one person complained about the sex trafficking and drug problems there, as well as the overly-persistent tuk tuk drivers, who followed one bloke down an alley-way to try to get a ride out of him. One commentator told us that it’s best to avoid the ‘burnout expat bar area known as ‘Victory Hill’ which he described as the ‘dark side of Sihanoukville’.

As well as the sex, drugs and prostitution (some mention under-age prostitution, though we cannot comment on whether this is true or not), other, less serious, problems in Sihanoukville were mentioned.

One person said that the beach was “rubbish-strewn and dirty” and one guy said that his guesthouse was infested with rats (though he didn’t mention which guesthouse). The dirty beach comment, however, was counteracted by someone who is actually in Sihanoukville right now and told us that the beaches had been cleaned up.

Somebody also mentioned that visits can be much worse in low season when there aren’t many people around and sales-people can be more persistent. One guy, who spammed almost every post where Sihanoukville was mentioned, with a photo of himself in Koh Rong, the nearby island simply says – “Get out to Koh Rong!”(We bet he owns a guesthouse there.)

Sihanoukville has often been a place that people tend to love or hate, our destination guide has contributions by more than one backpacker who couldn’t get enough of the place, which leads me to mention its final nickname “Stuckville”. So what did you think?

Otres beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

2. SECOND PLACE: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Coming in at a close second place, this time it’s the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. (Although there were more than a few counter-arguments with people saying that they experienced wonderful moments in the city!)

Most people’s complaints, again, were that they felt unsafe here (whether this fear was actually founded or not, we did not receive further evidence).

One girl says that after spending most of the time in their tiny guesthouse room, they decided to leave and go and stay in an expat area where they felt much safer. One boy commenting on all of the other ‘I felt unsafe’ posts said that he spent one night there, wandered around during the evening, rode a scooter at night and felt totally safe the whole time. What was your experience of the city?

Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

1. WINNER: Manila, Philippines

In first place, it’s the capital of the Philippines, Manila, with people’s main gripes about the city being that it is polluted, has a deficient infrastructure, is overcrowded and that people felt unsafe during their visit. (It seemed that one of the major factors that make people dislike a place is, naturally, the lack of safety.)

One bloke said he was robbed by a taxi (we didn’t get more details other than that) and someone said that they were grabbed by people as they walked down the street in a district called Mandaluyong. On the bright side, however, more than one person mentioned that they encountered “friendly” and “lovely humans” whilst they were there. And, one girl from Italy said that she felt safer in Manila than she does in her home country.

As always, it depends on the experience that you have whilst you are there, the people you meet and the choices you make of which neighbourhoods you visit. Every city has its dodgy parts and if you are from Manila, or are a backpacker who had a positive experience in Manila, I invite you to send in your story to us!

Manila, Philippines

So, there you have it. 13 of your least favourite places in Southeast Asia. Do you agree or disagree?

Of course, you disagree! That’s what being a traveller is all about! Now don’t listen to me, or to the people who posted in our Facebook group, get out there and start making your own opinions!

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

42 thoughts on “Readers Poll: 13 Places to Avoid in Southeast Asia”

  1. If a person has been only in 3 places in the same country or in 2 places in different countries, how he can compare all other places in other countries? For example, if I have been in Manila and in Ubud, Bali – ofcourse I will say that you need to stay away from Manila. But if I visited Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta – probably other city could be worst than Manila. I think it’s just not right organized poll 🙂 For example, should be participants who at least visited 3 places in 3 different countries and other specifications. Then the view I think could be different which places are less favorite 🙂

    1. Yes Ria, you’re totally right. We don’t claim that it’s a serious poll, we only asked the question on our Facebook page and found the findings so interesting that we decided to publish! (It’s just like asking 300 of your friends their opinion, it’s totally subjective and depends on who you ask and where those people have been…) Really it’s a question with no answer as everyone’s opinion is different! We haven’t got the resources to organise a proper poll (there are only two of us), but perhaps we could conduct a similar poll in the future that would yield very different results!

  2. Hanoi is my favourite place in Asia so far. I met only lovely people in the week I spent there and really wanted to stay longer. I am also suprised by the comments on the food in KL. I have been 7 times and the food is a HUGE highlight – it’s the reason we keep going back. Heading to Phnom Phen and Sihanoukville in November so I hope your readers are wrong about those places too!

    1. I´ve only heard amazing stuff about the food in KL. I still haven´t been there but that would be one of my main reasons for going there.

    2. Yes, I loved Hanoi too and I was really surprised to find it on this list, also KL is certainly not the most beautiful, but not the worst place that I’ve ever been in SE Asia – I also loved the food! Let us know your thoughts on Sihanoukville (I didn’t like it much) and Phnom Penh (interesting place in my opinion). The fascinating thing is that everybody has such different opinions and experiences!

    3. I loved Sihanoukville and nearby Otres and Otres Villiage. Been there twice. Prices have incressed. Proper party vibe and stunning beaches with islands. The tourist numbers attest to this from November onwards. The place is “up in smoke” and the police don’t care. Yes there is prostitution but not as bad as the capital, Phuket or Pattaya. Nobody hassled me there and the seafood is great. If you are a nerd stay at home or go somewhere boring

  3. Manila, very well described. Look at Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok. Public transportation works well. Nice roads and enough of them. Bus lines. Manila: Almost all roads and in private roads in subdivisions. Dead end. Jeepneys and Tricycles without lights or blinkers in the middle of the night. In 30 years not much done in terms of infrastructure and public transportation. Kuala Lumpur KLIA Airport to downtown Kuala Lumpur: a 30 minutes drive. Dasmarinas, Cavite to NAIA 3: 30 km 2.5 hours. Any questions?

  4. Just sounds like this poll was taken by a much of privileged white people, staying in Asia on a ‘budget’ and expecting luxury. Who are probably all vegetarians or vegans, and expect to variety of couscous, hummus and salads for meals in Asia…
    Your view is skewed when you share a 10 bed dorm with smelly backpackers.

    I’ve been to 7 of those places, and no way are they the ‘worse’. I had a great time in Manila.

    I’m from England, there are enough places that are worse here.

    1. I think you might be right Ekin. I have been to most of those places and 2 of them are among my all time favourite places.

  5. Arthur Paulo Sato

    I’ve been only to Bangkok, Vietnam and Cambodia, so I can’t say much, but the place I most disliked was also Khao San Road. I spent four days there, and my accomodation was in Ratchathewi district, close to the subway. Everybody was friendly, I felt very safe, street food was amazing and half the price of what you find in Khao San Road. Also, the only time I saw people eating bugs was on my last day, when I decided to check Khao San Road. Now I always imagine smartasses locals picking scorpions from the sewer and laughing while some stupid tourist eat it. Bangkok is awesome, I really don’t know why someone would choose to stay in Khao San. Ah, and I also loved Hanoi (and Vietnam in general), and felt safe in Phnom Penh.

  6. LookNoMaNohands

    I’m Filipino and for those who are butt hurt about Manila being the worst city in SEA, you are partof the problem. Manila has no culture, every Manilenos first suggestions seems to see are the Malls. Really? The mall. Most of the heritage sites are runned down or bulldozed to make space for more malls and Americanized fastfood. Skip Manila and head to Ilocos, or Negros Island.

    1. Correcto. Perfecto correcto. Just go to the mall and listen to the loud music there. Ten different sources trying to win the “We are louder” contest. So, who wants to go to the mall … other than for the aircon? Certainly not for the prices.

  7. As a Manilan, I respect your opinions and my advice to backpakers is to avoid Manila if you hate dirt, pollution, crowd and criminals. Sorry but with your travel budget, you had been put in a situation where you may have stayed in our version of New York city’s ghetto area.

  8. I dont belive this ive been there twice and i love it. The 2 times ive been there i have felt safe and i dont agree with this. If i could i would live there. I live in the USA and i can tell you this ita not safe anywhere, where i live, are capital of the state has one of the highest murder rates in America.

  9. One has to understand that there is a City of Manila and There is Metro Manila which consists of several cities including Manila. It is also called NCR (National Capital Region).

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