Eight relaxing Asian getaways that aren't Bali

Sinking down into that sunbed by the pool, it can feel like it's doing more than just cradling your body mass. Sometimes it's almost as though it's also taking the weight of your worries from you.

Enjoy a sunset at Seminyak (Kuta) Bali - with all the other Australians. Picture: Shutterstock

Enjoy a sunset at Seminyak (Kuta) Bali - with all the other Australians. Picture: Shutterstock

There are lots of reasons that we travel and often it's just to relax, to get away from the busy routine of life. It's no surprise, then, that Asia is such a popular destination for Australian travellers looking to escape for a bit. Our nearest continental neighbour is full of places to relax, where we can let go of the stresses of busy days with a beer on the beach, a cheap massage, and some satay chicken.

Of course, Bali is one of the most popular spots - and there's no great secret why. There are direct flights from many Australian cities, plenty of good accommodation, and everything is pretty cheap.

But I suspect Bali is also popular simply because we're a little lazy and don't want to give much thought to the alternatives. It's easy, when you need a break, just to default to Bali for a getaway. The reality, though, is that there are lots of other Asian destinations that have direct flights (or convenient transits), and there is really nothing special about Bali (have you tried to swim at the beaches there?). It's not even that cheap anymore.

So rather than just going to the obvious destination next time you need a break, let me offer a few other suggestions for the best Asian escapes that aren't Bali.

Yogyakarta

The enormous Buddhist temple of Borobudur near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The enormous Buddhist temple of Borobudur near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Indonesia has such a variety to offer that you don't need to go far from Bali to find incredible alternatives. One of my favourites is Yogyakarta, known as a relaxed cultural city. Yogyakarta is full of heritage buildings, interesting local markets, boutique hotels, and hip cafes. It's easy to spend a few relaxing days in town but it's also an excellent base to explore some of Indonesia's greatest sites - such as the enormous Buddhist temple of Borobudur, the Hindu temples at Prambanan, and the volcano of Mount Merapi.

Koh Samui

Take a boat ride from Koh Samui to explore the small islands and beaches nearby.

Take a boat ride from Koh Samui to explore the small islands and beaches nearby.

If you're looking for more of a beach holiday, Thailand is an obvious choice. But rather than head to the hotspot of Phuket, try the island of Koh Samui off the east coast. It's hardly undiscovered but it's easy to get away from the busy Chaweng Beach and find quiet tropical stretches where you can enjoy your Pad Thai and Chang with the turquoise water almost to yourself. To really get away from it all, take the boat across to Koh Phangan and stay at a beach hut on the edge of the jungle.

Palawan

The island of Palawan in the Philippines is full of natural and cultural adventures.

The island of Palawan in the Philippines is full of natural and cultural adventures.

For an island adventure without the large beach resorts, head to Palawan in the Philippines. It's a large island - about 425 kilometres long - and much of it is undeveloped. As well as stunning beaches, you can take a boat into the Puerto Princesa Underground River, explore caves with evidence of human habitation 40,000 years ago, and visit indigenous tribes in the jungle. Palawan is perfect for a laidback trip with the option for some unique experiences.

Penang

Some street art in George Town on the Malaysian island of Penang.

Some street art in George Town on the Malaysian island of Penang.

Over in Malaysia, my favourite spot is Penang. Although it's an island, it's just a few kilometres from the coast and is connected to the mainland by two bridges. Penang has a range of relaxing accommodation options from large beach resorts to quieter budget hotels along the coast, with thick green jungle surrounding many of them. But it's the city of George Town that I love so much, with its busy streets full of multicultural heritage, street art, and delicious food stalls.

Hoi An

The town of Hoi An in Vietnam was a busy trading port until the 19th century.

The town of Hoi An in Vietnam was a busy trading port until the 19th century.

The Vietnamese town of Hoi An was once an important trading centre until its decline in the 19th century and what you find today, from an architectural perspective, is the well-protected heritage from that time. It's a popular tourist destination because of the quaint streets set around a river, with markets and quality restaurants. But there's also a nearby stretch of beaches where you can eat seafood on the sand and ride your bike through the rice paddies of the countryside.

Laos

The Wat Xieng thong temple at Luang Pra bang, Laos. Picture: Shutterstock

The Wat Xieng thong temple at Luang Pra bang, Laos. Picture: Shutterstock

The flight connections from Australia to Laos have got a lot better recently and I think we're going to see the country emerge as a new hotspot for travellers. It's still relatively underdeveloped compared to its neighbours, and you'll feel time slow down at the charming religious town of Luang Prabang and the small settlements along the rivers or in the jungle. Head south to the 4000 Islands - a stunning archipelago within the Mekong River - or go north to stay overnight in treehouses among the gibbons.

Myanmar

Sunset at the U Bein Bridge, built from teak in 1850, near Mandalay in Myanmar.

Sunset at the U Bein Bridge, built from teak in 1850, near Mandalay in Myanmar.

Myanmar has come a long way since it opened up to mass tourism in recent years, but it's still a bit of an adventure to visit independently. It's probably the least relaxing of my suggestions but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy cruising down the Irrawaddy River, exploring the magnificent ancient temple city of Bagan, and taking a boat ride around Inle Lake. If you want beaches, there are some stunning coastal stretches and, if you are looking for a more active option, I would suggest trekking in Shan State.

Siem Reap

The city of Siem Reap in Cambodia is the perfect base to explore the nearby temples of Angkor.

The city of Siem Reap in Cambodia is the perfect base to explore the nearby temples of Angkor.

When it comes to heritage sites in Southeast Asia, there is nothing more spectacular than the Khmer temple complex of Angkor in Cambodia. Although the main structure at Angkor Wat is now overrun with tour groups, there are hundreds of other sites to discover in the jungle. Because of the site's popularity, the nearby town of Siem Reap has exploded in size and offers a lot of refined culinary and cultural experiences, as well as excellent boutique and luxury accommodation, letting you combine relaxation with exploration.

This story Eight relaxing Asian getaways that aren't Bali first appeared on The Canberra Times.