Southeast Asia is one of the most rewarding regions to travel in the world. It has some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes, cultures and cuisine. The mega-cities are wonderfully chaotic hives of humanity and the rural areas are postcard perfect.
However, many travellers, often limited by time, still want to see as much as they can. This article will outline how you could develop an itinerary to travel Southeast Asia. Additionally, it will highlight the use of short tours to get the most out of a trip.
- Two Weeks
- One Month
- Two Months
- Three Months (or More)
- Costs and Budgeting
Two Weeks (Lao or Cambodia)
It’s hard to recommend any kind of travel itinerary for Southeast Asia over such a short period. However, if you’re limited in time, narrow your focus to a single country (and make it a small one). I would say two weeks in Cambodia or Laos is sufficient to see enough and get a good understanding of the country.
It’s often said that time slows down in Laos. This is a bonus if you’re running short on it! Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a surprisingly laid-back city. It’s uniquely picturesque and home to a mix of colonial and Buddhist architecture.
From here head north to the UNESCO world heritage town of Luang Prabang. Immerse yourself in the city and take the time to visit the nearby waterfalls and mountains.
From here head to Phonsavan where you are one step closer to one of Asia’s greatest mysteries. To save valuable time, find a day tour that will take you to visit the amazing Plain of Jars.
Vang Vieng has shaken off its party image and is now known for adventure sports. Kayaking, rock climbing and hiking are popular. Dotted around this region are countless waterfalls and opportunities to hike and explore the stunning countryside.
Two weeks travelling Cambodia will give you enough time to see most of the highlights. Please note that no trip is complete without a trip to Siem Reap and visiting the Angkor Temples. It is here where you should begin. Don’t rush this part and spend at least three days here. The ancient complex is huge and much bigger than the famous Angkor Wat temple.
From there the white sandy beaches at Sihanoukville are waiting. Cheap tours to nearby islands are a good way to see quieter beaches and to access good snorkeling spots. After a few days here head further east to Kampot and soak up the chilled vibes of this quaint river town.
Before you leave, make sure you head to the ghost resort town of Kep. Enjoy the pristine beach and try the famous crabs before heading north to the Cambodian capital. Phnom Penh is a good spot to unwind before your short and sweet Southeast Asian journey comes to an end.
One Month (+Thailand)
One month is better but you’re still going to need to limit your holiday plans. Unless however, you like to spend all of your time in transit. The extra time will allow you to travel to Thailand before moving on to Laos and Cambodia.
Spend a few days in Bangkok wisely. Eat delicious food and explore the crazy streets on a local food tour before heading south. Thailand is famous for its islands and they all have unique aspects. It’s hard to choose which one!
Koh Tao is just one of the many touristy islands in Thailand and is highly regarded for diving. Book a scuba or snorkel tour with one of the local providers. They’ll make sure you end up with good gear and arrive at a pristine spot.
From here head north and check out the glorious city of Chiang Mai. Keeping time in mind, it’s highly recommended to book a day trip to a nearby elephant camp. You can feed and wash rescued elephants here for a once in a lifetime experience.
Exploring the pagodas and other mountain towns in northern Thailand, like Chiang Rai and Pai, will see out your time in Thailand.
Two Months (+Vietnam)
More time in Asia will mean your holiday itinerary can be expanded. It also means that you need to be more aware of finding more economical ways to travel. After travelling the previous destinations you can now include Vietnam in your itinerary.
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City to begin your route through Vietnam. It’s a busy city and there is so much to see here. Seeing as though time is a priority, it’s recommended to sample a Saigon food tour dishes or half-day sights tour. It will provide a chance to experience the traffic and incredible food before continuing your route through Southeast Asia.
After HCMC fly to Danang. Spend a few days here exploring before heading to the historic town of Hoi An. Enjoy wandering the traffic-free streets and gazing at the Japanese architecture.
Hue is another ancient city with a rich history and has a lot to offer. Find a local guide to make the most of your time. They can take you to and share details about the imperial city and kings tombs scattered on the city’s outskirts.
Your journey will end in the northern megapolis of Hanoi. It’s here that the narrow streets and historical architecture help to capture the timeless beauty of Vietnamese culture.
Three Months (or More)
Compared to the previous travel itineraries 3 months is going to give you a lot more wiggle room. You’re going to experience different things but tours are always a good option to enhance your trip.
Arriving in Singapore you could head through Malaysia and visit Kuala Lumpur and Penang before heading to Thailand. From there you have to decide to head to Myanmar or not. If not continue on the loop previously stated through Indochina and finish in Hanoi, the north of Vietnam.
With any extra time the islands are a-calling. The Philippines and Indonesia should be next on the drawing board. Idyllic beaches, volcanic landscapes and vibrant culture await you here. Be aware though island hopping takes more time (and money) than landlocked travel.
Costs and Budgeting
Cost and standards will vary when travelling in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are all within the same ballpark as far as prices go. While there is a lot of options, you can easily survive in these countries for somewhere between $20-25USD. Most of the time you’ll have change to spare.
Thailand and Malaysia are more expensive at around $30-35USD. It depends on how you travel to, where you sleep and what you decide to eat.
To travel in the Philippines and Indonesia your looking at slightly higher at approximately $40USD a day. Archipelagos have higher transportation costs than landlocked nations.
Time to Travel
Travelling or backpacking Southeast Asia will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. Keep in mind that while more is often better, you don’t always need a lot of time to enjoy travelling. When pushed for time a well-planned itinerary and utilisation of short tours help to enhance the journey. Now, after this last piece of advice, where to next?