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3 Month Southeast Asia Itinerary & Travel Planning Guide

Julie Last updated: January 12, 2024 Cambodia , Itinerary , Laos , Myanmar , Thailand , Vietnam 59 Comments

Southeast Asia Travel Guide and Itinerary

Southeast Asia is the land of ancient temples, tropical beaches, metropolitan cities, mountain villages, and an endless supply of cultural experiences. This 3 month Southeast Asia itinerary allows you not only to see the highlights of this part of the world, but to also to fully immerse yourself in the local culture.

On this Southeast Asia itinerary, explore the temples of Siem Reap, go island hopping in Krabi, drift down the Mekong River in Laos, visit the big cities of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, cruise Ha Long Bay, cycle among the temples of Bagan, tour the floating markets in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and spend several days in Luang Prabang, a wonderful French town in Laos. This trip will leave you with memories and stories to tell for the rest of your life.

Table of Contents

What is Southeast Asia?

Technically speaking, the term Southeast Asia refers to a subregion of Asia, bound by the Indian Ocean to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. And even though it’s a subregion, this area is still massive.

There are two distinct regions of Southeast Asia. The mainland, also called Indochina, includes Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The maritime region includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

This 3 month Southeast Asia itinerary only includes the mainland countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

What is Your Traveling Style?

When planning a big trip like this one, there are two schools of thought. Do you like to plan things out in advance or do you want to book your first flight and let the rest of the trip fall into place?

Do you prefer to go with the flow?

As you do your research, you will read the advice of fellow travelers to not plan out your full itinerary. By having a loose schedule, you have the freedom to change your itinerary, stay longer in places that you fall in love with, or leave a place right away if you don’t like it. This also gives you the flexibility to explore new places that you learn about while you are traveling.

There are downfalls of not planning ahead. It may be difficult to find hotels with availability at the last minute (if you are traveling during peak season). Also, trains and planes can get booked and you won’t get a seat on the day you want (this happened to us in Thailand). But for some people, this is worth it to have the freedom of traveling without a set itinerary.

Are you a planner?

Are you the type of traveler who likes to have things planned in advance? We fall into this category. Tim and I are Type A planners, it’s just who we are. We like the idea of having hotels and transportation booked ahead of time…it’s one less thing to worry about while traveling. We just show up and check into our hotel. Trains, planes, and automobiles are booked so we don’t have to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Without these “hassles,” we feel like we enjoy our time spent in each spot just a little bit more.

Of course, there have been times we wished we could have stayed longer in spot (Hoi An, Vietnam falls into this category) but our pre-booked flights or trains locked us into a set itinerary.

Best of Both Worlds

You can combine both of these travel styles by laying out a basic itinerary, booking your main flights or trains in advance, and having your first one or two hotels in each country reserved in advance.

Use this itinerary as the basic building block for planning your travels through Southeast Asia or follow it exactly as it is if you like to have things planned out.

Southeast Asia Itinerary

Before our trip to Asia, I spent a lot of time researching routes through Southeast Asia and I think this plan works very well. Using a variety of transportation methods, you will weave your way through Southeast Asia, hitting the highlights and a few off-the-beaten-path destinations along the way.

This is almost our exact itinerary through Southeast Asia. I did change a few things, just to make it easier to get visas or to add time in spots that we really enjoyed.

Southeast Asia Itinerary Map

Time Frame: 12 Days

Yangon: 5 Days

Arrive in Yangon, Myanmar. It may take a day or two to adjust to the time change, depending on where you are coming from.

Top Experiences

  • Shwedagon Pagoda
  • Chaukhtatgyi Buddha
  • The Sitting Buddha at Ngahtatgyi Paya
  • Bogyoke Aung San Market
  • Day Trip to Kyaikhtiyo (Golden Rock)

Shwedagon southeast Asia itinerary

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Bus to Bagan: 1 day

We booked our bus tickets while in Yangon. To get from Yangon to Bagan, you can take an overnight bus or you can take a daytime bus directly to Bagan. Either way, the journey takes 9 to 12 hours (in our experience, it took 10 hours). Make sure you book a VIP bus. On a VIP bus you get air-conditioning, reclining seats, and we even had our own TV screen with movies.

We used Elite Express and had a great experience (it was our best bus ride during our 9 months in Asia) but JJ Express also gets great reviews.

Bagan: 3 Days

For most travelers, Bagan is the highlight of a trip to Myanmar. This is the land of thousands of temples, and what better way to explore them than by bicycle or hot air balloon?

  • Watch the sunset from the top of a temple
  • Sunrise hot air balloon ride
  • Explore Bagan by bicycle

Bagan Myanmar southeast Asia itinerary

READ MORE:   A Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan

Bus to Mandalay: 1 Day

We booked our bus through our hotel. Again, make sure you book a VIP bus. It takes about 5 hours to travel from Bagan to Mandalay.

Mandalay: 1 Day

One day in Mandalay is enough time to see the main sites. Mandalay does not have the charm of Bagan or the same cool vibe of Yangon, but there are a few very worthwhile places to visit.

  • U-Bein Bridge
  • Mahamuni Buddha Temple
  • See the monks at Mahagandayon Monastery

U Min Thonze Pagoda

Mandalay Buddhas southeast Asia itinerary

Fly to Bangkok, Thailand: 1 Day

Time frame: 26 days

Bangkok: 4 days

Bangkok is Thailand’s largest city. This is where modern malls and skyscrapers collide with old floating markets and golden temples. In Bangkok, explore the temples, go shopping at Chatuchak Market, get your fill of street food, and explore the city by tuk-tuk.

  • The Grand Palace
  • Go shopping in Chatuchak Market
  • Khao San Road
  • Get a Thai Massage
  • Have dinner in Chinatown
  • Jim Thompson House
  • See Wat Arun at sunset

Wat Arun southeast Asia itinerary

Krabi: 10 Days

Looking for a slice of tropical paradise? In Thailand, there are lots of gorgeous beaches and islands to choose from.

Ao Nang, in Krabi, is a great place to stay, with easy access to Railay Beach and Phra Nang Cave Beach, and lots of options to day trip out to the Phi Phi Islands and a handful of tiny Thai islands. If you want to learn how to rock climb, this is one of the best places in the world to learn.

  • Learn how to rock climb
  • Go sea kayaking
  • Swim with bioluminescent plankton
  • Day trip to the Phi Phi Islands, Bamboo Island, and more
  • Go snorkeling

Krabi Beach southeast Asia itinerary

Overlooking Phra Nang Beach

Ten days is a lot of time to spend in Krabi, although we spent nine wonderful days here and were glad to have so much time. If the idea of sitting still in one spot for so long doesn’t appeal to you, you can spend several nights on Ko Lanta.

Getting to Krabi: The easiest way to get to Krabi from Bangkok is to take a direct flight. Flights last 1 hour 10 minutes and you can get round trip tickets as cheap as $40.

READ MORE:   Island Hopping Off of the Coast of Thailand

Bangkok: 1 Day

Fly back to Bangkok. From here, you will start a road trip up through Thailand towards Chiang Mai, stopping at several ancient cities along the way.

Ayutthaya: 1 Day

Here’s an interesting fact: Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world in 1700. Merchants sailed here from Europe, India, Japan, China, and the Middle East. In 1767 it was attacked by the Burmese and almost completely destroyed. Now, just a handful of buildings and temples remain.

To get here from Bangkok, you can drive, hire a driver, take the bus, take the train or visit Ayutthaya on a tour.

We spent the night in Ayutthaya and the next day we traveled to Sukhothai.

READ MORE:   Visiting Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, Ancient Cities of Siam

Travel to Sukhothai: 1 Day

To travel between Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, take the train, bus, or hire a driver.

Sukhothai: 1 Day

Sukhothai may not have been as large or as grand as Ayutthaya, but the temples and ruins are a lot more interesting to visit. Giant Buddha statues stare down at you with half-lidded eyes. The historical park is flat with wide, paved roads, perfect for exploring by bicycle.

Sukhothai southeast Asia itinerary

Wat Si Chum

Travel to Chiang Mai: 1 Day

Travel from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai by bus, train, or private driver.

Chiang Mai: 5 Days

Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand, is a vastly different experience than Bangkok or Krabi. Chiang Mai offers a mix of outdoor adventure with cultural experiences, food tours, and a chance to get up close with elephants.

  • Visit an elephant sanctuary
  • Go zip-lining
  • Go shopping in the Sunday night market
  • Take a Thai cooking class
  • Visit the temples

READ MORE:   Ten Fun Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Rai: 2 Days

Chiang Rai is a smaller, less exciting version of Chiang Mai. The main reason for coming here is to visit the White Temple. Take a bus from Chiang Mai (about 3 hours), get settled, and on your second day in Chiang Rai, visit the White Temple. Cycling through the countryside in this part of Thailand adds a little adventure to the experience and makes it even more memorable.

White Temple southeast Asia itinerary

The White Temple

Time frame: 7 days

Mekong River: 2 Days

For us, the two-day journey down the Mekong River in Laos was an experience that was unexpectedly awesome. The journey starts on the Thai-Laos border. For two days, you drift down the Mekong River on a “slow boat” while the gorgeous, mountainous landscapes of northern Laos pass by. The journey is punctuated with a one night stay in Pakbeng. On the afternoon of day 2 you arrive in lovely little Luang Prabang, a French town in the middle of the Laos jungle.

Laos Mekong River

Luang Prabang: 5 Days

The entire town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. French cafes, small shops, hotels and hostels, and a nightly market makes this one of the coolest small towns in Southeast Asia.

  • Go Shopping at the Night Market
  • Kuang Si Waterfall
  • Climb Mount Phousi
  • The Royal Palace Museum

Time Frame: 14 days

Siem Reap: 7 Days

Siem Reap, Cambodia is one of the most amazing spots to visit in Southeast Asia. Not only can you visit ancient Angkor Wat, but there many more temples and ancient palaces to visit. Seven days may sound like a long time, but this gives you plenty of time to explore the temples and get some much needed downtime.

To get here from Laos we took a flight from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. Our other option was a series of two to three buses over the course of two days to get between these two cities. Hmmm…a quick flight or a 36 hour bus journey…for us the decision was a no-brainer.

  • Watch an Apsara Dance
  • Eat scorpions, tarantulas, and other creepy crawlies
  • Take a day trip to Tonle Sap
  • Take a cooking class

Ta Prohm

Phnom Penh: 3 Days

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia. Go to Phnom Penh to visit its gilded temples, stroll the waterfront promenade, but to also get a glimpse of Cambodia’s dark history.

  • Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
  • The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center)
  • The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

Kampot: 4 Days

Kampot is a small town on the coast of Cambodia. It’s a great spot to unwind and relax. While you are here, consider renting motorbikes to explore nearby spots.

  • Ride motorbikes up Kotor Mountain
  • Stand Up Paddleboarding
  • Take a day trip to Kep

Paddleboarding Kampot

Time Frame: 29 days

Phu Quoc Island: 4 Days

From Kampot, you will cross overland into Vietnam and then take a ferry to Phu Quoc Island.

Phu Quoc Island is a tropical island that sits off of the coast of Cambodia, even though it is part of Vietnam. This is a place where it’s worth spending extra money to stay at a nice resort. We stayed at a budget hotel and had a budget experience. If you stay at a mid-range or nicer resort, you will have a prettier, cleaner beach and a better experience.

Mekong Delta: 3 Days

From Phu Quoc, take the ferry back to the mainland and then travel by bus to the Mekong Delta. There are several towns to stay in but Can Tho gets our vote. From here, you can arrange tours into the Mekong Delta and Can Tho is well connected by bus to Phu Quoc and Ho Chi Minh City.

  • Day 1: Phu Quoc to Can Tho
  • Day 2: Cai Rang floating market tour
  • Day 3: Explore more of the Delta and travel to HCMC in the afternoon

Mekong Delta

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC or Saigon): 3 Days

HCMC is Vietnam’s largest city. This is a city where modern skyscrapers touch the sky, luxurious shopping malls cater to the rich, and where the streets are a sea of motorbikes. It’s a hot, steamy city with several important places to visit, especially if you want to learn more about the Vietnam War.

  • Day Trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
  • War Remnants Museum
  • Take a motorbike tour of the city
  • Take a food tour

READ MORE:   Two Days in Ho Chi Minh City


Hoi An: 5 Days

It’s easy to fall in love with Hoi An. With its charming shopping streets, ancient architecture, great restaurants, and nearby beaches and rice fields, this may become one of your favorite spots in Vietnam.

  • Get around by bicycle or motorbike
  • Try as many restaurants as possible
  • Walk across the Japanese Bridge
  • Spend the day at An Bang Beach
  • Take a day trip to Da Nang
  • Cycle through the rice fields

Hoi An Vietnam

Travel to Hue: 1 Day

When traveling from Hoi An to Hue, you can visit My Son Holyland, Marble Mountain, Hai Van Pass, and Lang Co Beach, turning a day of travel into a really cool road trip.

Hue: 2 Days

Hue was the capital city of Vietnam until 1945. The Imperial City and palaces and tombs along the Perfume River attract thousands of visitors here every year.

  • Hue Imperial City
  • Khai Dinh Tomb
  • Thien Mu Pagoda

Hue Vietnam

Hanoi: 4 Days

In Hanoi, the list of sites to visit is low but this is a city that is just fun to wander, especially the Old Quarter.

  • Stroll through the Old Quarter
  • Visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh
  • Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Watch a water puppet performance

READ MORE:   A Photojourney through the Old Quarter of Hanoi

Hanoi Vietnam

Ha Long Bay: 3 Days

Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s most magical sites. Towering limestone mountains are scattered through the emerald waters of the bay. Picking the three day cruise over the two day cruise allows you to journey deeper into the bay for a more memorable, authentic experience.

Halong Bay Cruise

Sapa: 3 Days

Spend three days trekking through the misty mountains of Sapa. You can arrange your tour while in Hanoi or book your excursion in advance of your trip.

Fly Home (or continue your travels)

From Hanoi, fly home or continue your travels.

With Additional Time in Vietnam

There are three more places that make it onto a lot of Vietnamese travel itineraries. You can add these if they sound interesting and if you have extra time to spend. Just note that if you follow our itinerary, you will spend 29 days in Vietnam. If you add in more time, you will have to get a different visa.

Nha Trang: This is a popular seaside resort area. I did not include it since you get the beach experience on Phu Quoc and at Hoi An.

Son Doong Cave: Located in central Vietnam, this is the largest cave in the world.

Dalat: This is a French hill town that offers relief from the sweltering heat of summer. Explore the waterfalls and relax in town.

What Visas Will You Need?

Visa requirements are always changing. We do our best to keep these posts updated with the most recent changes, but it’s always a good idea to double check the requirements for each country before you travel. I have included the links for each country in this post.

Tourist visas are valid for 28 days. Citizens of 100 countries can apply online for an e-visa. You will be emailed an approval letter, which you will show to passport officials when you arrive at Yangon Airport. You must travel to Myanmar within 90 days of when the e-visa approval letter is issued.

For full details and to apply for your visa: https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/

Citizens of 57 countries (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, countries in the EU, Japan, Israel, etc) who plan to stay in Thailand for 30 days or less do not need a visa.

What we did: We stayed in Thailand for 32 days so we got our visas in advance (at the embassy in Yangon, Myanmar).

This is an easy one. When you cross the border between Thailand and Laos you will get a visa on arrival. The visa costs $30 – $42 depending on your country of citizenship and you can stay in Laos for 30 days.

Read more here.

A one month tourist visas costs $30 and is obtained on arrival at the airport in Siem Reap. You will need one passport-sized photo.

The Vietnam visa process is complicated. You will need a 30-day tourist visa, but the trick is how to obtain it. If you arrive in Vietnam by air, you can get a visa on arrival (VOA). However, if you follow this itinerary, you will arrive by land, so you cannot get a VOA. You will need to obtain your visa in advance. You can do this by applying directly at an embassy or by applying for an e-visa.

To apply for your e-visa (if you are a US citizen), click here.

What We Did: The e-visa was rolled out in 2017, after our visit to Vietnam. We obtained our visas in advance at the embassy in Bangkok.

Longtail Boats

Best Time to Go to Southeast Asia

The best time to visit southeast Asia is November through March. Temperatures are relatively cool and for the most part, it’s the dry season during this period of time. Peak season is the end of December into early January, when people take their winter vacations.

At the end of March it really starts to heat up. April is typically the hottest month of the year. In May, the rain moves in. This cools things off a little bit, but expect rain showers from May through September.

We started in Myanmar at the very beginning of December. We were in Krabi, Thailand over Christmas. Even though it was crowded and more expensive, it was magical being in Krabi for the holidays, especially for Tyler and Kara. We spent New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai, another magical experience, lighting paper lanterns and watching them soar into the sky at midnight. During the entire month we spent in Vietnam, we got to experience the holiday season of Tet . From Hanoi, we traveled overland into China at the end of February.

Are you planning your Southeast Asia itinerary? If you need help deciding where to go, how to change this itinerary to fit your needs, or travel advice, comment below!

And if you have already toured Southeast Asia and want to add your tips and advice, we’d love to hear from you, too!

Are your travels through Southeast Asia part of a bigger trip? You may find these articles helpful:

How to Travel Around the World

How Much Does it Cost to Travel Around the World?

Our Around the World Itinerary

How to Design an Around the World Itinerary

Or, visit our Start Here page , for travel advice, to research travel destinations, and to find your next adventure.

3 Months Southeast Asia Itinerary

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What Asia Taught Us

Comments 59

Avatar for Karen

I Love your web site! Can you recommend a travel company similar to Backroads but less expensive to a moderate level active trip to Japan. We are family of 4 – 2 adults and kids ages 18 and 15. Thanks!

Avatar for Julie

Hello Karen. Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with tour companies since we travel independently. But if you have any questions about Japan, I’d be happy to try to answer them! Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Dan

This was so useful to read! Thank you! I’m planning my trip for the beginning of Jan. A solo trip. Sorry if it’s been asked already but as I’m trying to budget, can you give a rough estimate on what it cost?

For our family of four, we were able to do this on $250 a day, but that was almost 10 years. As a solo traveler, you could do it on as little as $100 a day (budget travel) or $200 per day for mid-range travel. Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Sophia

I’m 32 in Feb and looking to travel SE Asia next year, quit my teaching job and go…unfortunately I don’t have the support of close family. They tell me I need to grow up and settle down…which really bursts my bubble of living abroad permanently.

I’d like to teach abroad and maybe even head to Aus to do this.

Can you offer any advice please? I feel like I’m looking for support seeing as I can’t get it from family xx

Avatar for Jenna Brannock

Love the guide! I am 24 and a girl and planning a SE Asia solo trip. Would you say it’s too dangerous a place to go on my own, or no more so than travelling solo in Europe?

Hello Jenna. That’s a good question. I’ve thought about this a lot, because in a few years, our daughter Kara will be your age and wanting to do trips like this on her own. From our experience, Southeast Asia felt very safe, although we mainly stayed in the touristy areas. As a solo female, I think you have to watch your back a little bit more than a guy would have to. I don’t see Southeast Asia as dangerous, but I think you are going to have to be on your guard a little more than you would in Europe, for scammers, things like that. I have followed several female solo bloggers and they had an overall phenomenal experience without any issues. So, when Kara goes to Southeast Asia on her own, I’ll be a little more nervous than if she was going to France or Germany, but wouldn’t have a problem letting her travel there on her own. Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Sophie

Hello Julie Thank you for this amazing website and the many nice experiences you shared! It is a very helpful website when planning first time trip to Asia! I will be going to Japan bevore I head to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and then Malaisia. Thanks to your thorough website, I have already a good idea where I want to go. You mention on several blogs, that you had a guide. Could you advise me how to proceed to find local guides? How did you do it? Did you organise it ahead or once on site? If you maybe still have some names (private guide or agency) that would be very helpful! Thank you in advance for your help and wish you and your beautiful family, amazing upcoming adventure trips! Sophie

Most of our travels in Southeast Asia was without a guide. But when we hired a guide, we usually did it through our hotel or a visitor center in town. I don’t have that information to share any longer, since it has been some time since we traveled through Southeast Asia. But another company you can check is GetYourGuide. We have used them a lot recently, mostly in Europe and New Zealand, and have had very good experiences. Cheers, Julie

Thank you so much Julie for your reply. I will check once i am on site to find a guide. As for the travelling in country, did you manage to hire a car without driver? I would love to do this in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam but I cant find anything online. Since you have been there, would you know if this is possible, hire a care on site without driver? Thank you again for your reply!

We hired a driver for our transportation from Hoi An to Hue. We did it through our hotel. In other places around the world, we have hired drivers through our hotels and it has worked well. So, once you get a hotel booked, you could ask the staff for a recommended driver. This should be possible in most places in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Cheers, Julie

Thank you again Julie!!!!

Avatar for Leticia

Hi Julie, I’m beginning to plan a family trip (with my husband and two sons ages 17 and 19) to SE Asia for January 2024. Unfortunately we can only stay there about 18 days. I had originally thought of going to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, but am considering changing Laos for Thailand. Because of the boys, we”d like to plan a trip with as many “adventures” as possible… so we’d like to include things like kayaking, zip-lining, caving, canyoning, swimming in waterfalls, etc. Could you give me some ideas of things like these that are worth doing? Any thoughts on a itinerary that might be possible with the time we have? Thank you so much for your time! I really love following your tips! Have used them in other trips before… Cheers, Letícia

Hello Leticia. That’s exciting that you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia. In Thailand, I definitely recommend spending time at the beach. We really liked Krabi. It was easy to go rock climbing from here, go kayaking, and take boat tours of the islands. Chiang Mai is another great place to base yourself in Thailand for adventure activities. There are multiple places to go ziplining, hiking, and trekking. There might be places in this area that offer ziplining plus canyoning. In Laos, our experiences was limited to the slow boat and time in Luang Prabang, so you’ll have to do some more research there. Another idea is to spend 10 days in Thailand (splitting your time between Chiang Mai and Krabi) and one week in Siem Reap to see the temples. Siem Reap wouldn’t be packed with adventures but seeing the temples are amazing and one of my favorite memories from Southeast Asia. There is a lot to choose from in that part of the world! Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Megan

Hi- We are a family of 4 traveling the for a year. We reference your site and trips often. Currently, we are planning 3 months in SE Asia. What type of accommodation did you find? Any recommendations on where to look for longer stay options? Open to doing something different like a homestay or unique lodging if you have a recommendation. Just booked a week at the Elephant Nature Park- thanks for that tip. We are very excited!

Hello Megan. When we did this (2015) we researched our accommodations on Trip Advisor. Along the way, we stayed mostly in hotels but also a few homestays. The homestay that comes to mind is Chiang Rai Homestay. We were traveling on a budget and trying to keep our lodging price around $50 USD for the day, and in most places was easy to do and still stay in a nice place, but big cities we spent more money. Air BnB might be a website to check for longer stays or unique lodging. We either booked our accommodation directly with the hotel or through Booking.com. Staying at the Elephant Nature Park sounds wonderful! I hope you have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Kim

Would you say Ayutthaya and Sukhothai are must dos? We will most likely land in Bangkok and be quite jet lagged. Wondering whether to make the time to visit those 2 spots or just take the train straight to Chiang Mai?

I don’t think they are must-do’s. I’m glad we saw them, but we had a month, and they were probably our least favorite place we visited in Thailand. Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Wendy Lou Leslie

Wow!! I’m beginning to plan a trip solo to SEA, around Middle February 2023 to end of April 2023. My retirement trip, I’m now 63 active and healthy. Love your itinerary I also would like to add Bali and fly back to the States from Singapore. Also I would like to fly into Singapore. Can you assist the best way to begin.. I want to do Vietnam/ Laos/Thailand/ want to spend a least 5 days in Keanu, want to do the river cruises on the Mekong Delta, Ha Ling Bay and any hotels you can recommend. Singapore is expensive so 2 days there before I head back to the states. You’re such a seasoned traveler I value your input. Thanks so much for your time I’m thankful that I came across your itinerary by accident. But then again there are no accidents.😉

Hello Wendy. Congratulations on your retirement! If you want to fly into Singapore, you could spend 2 days here, then fly to Ho Chi Minh City and work your way from south to north through Vietnam. Then travel onto Laos and then do Thailand from north to south. From Bangkok, you could fly back to Singapore. You will have to figure out where you want to go and then how much time you want to spend in each spot. Then work out transportation and make your hotel reservations. I don’t have specific hotels to recommend other than what we already list in our articles, but currently we use Booking.com to find and reserve our hotels in advance. It’s a lot to figure out, but it’s also kind of fun, especially knowing that you will be there soon. If you have any other questions, let us know. Cheers, Julie

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woman diving off of a boat in Halong Bay Vietnam

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A boat among the karsts at Halong Bay in Vietnam, as seen from Ti Top island.

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Southeast Asia Travel Guide

Last Updated: November 27, 2023

A lone person standing on lush, green rice terraces in Southeast Asia on a bright sunny day

Backpackers have been traveling through Southeast Asia since the late 1960s and early 1970s, leaving a well-worn trail around the region.

Starting in beautiful Thailand, the trail makes its way to up-and-coming Laos, through Vietnam, and to the temples of Angkor Wat. It then winds back into Thailand, where people head south to party in the Thai islands before moving down to Malaysia and Singapore.

There are a few variations to the trail, but this is what it mostly covers.

I’ve been visiting this region since 2004 and spent years living in Thailand . I love backpacking Southeast Asia and have written extensively about it as I know it like the back of my hand.

It’s an especially great region for new travelers because it’s easy to travel around, it’s safe, and there are lots of other travelers you can meet. But it’s also perfect for veteran travelers too as there are tons of off-the-beaten-path destinations that the standard backpacker trail doesn’t cover.

In short, Southeast Asia has something for every traveler — and every budget.

This Southeast Asia travel guide will help you travel the region like a pro, ensuring you save money and make the most of your time in this fun, gorgeous, and lively corner of the world.

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around
  • How to Stay Safe
  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on Southeast Asia

Click Here for Country Guides

Top 5 things to see and do in southeast asia.

A lone person standing on lush, green rice terraces in Southeast Asia on a bright sunny day

1. Admire Angkor Wat

One of the greatest human creations in history, the Angkor Wat temple complex is best explored over the course of a few days. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site created by the Khmer Empire and absolutely enormous. Temples to visit include Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple which has 216 gigantic stone face carvings, and Ta Prohm. I spent three days here and that simply wasn’t enough. A one-day pass is $37 USD, while a 1-week pass is $72 USD. If you’re here for multiple days, be sure to hire a driver and see some of the more out of the way ruins away from the main temple complex (and the crowds).

2. Explore Bangkok

Bangkok is the hub of travel activity in Southeast Asia. You can get anywhere you want from here. Though I hated it at first, the more I’ve spent time here the more I love it. Bangkok is like an onion whose many layers need to be peeled back. Some things not to miss include the spectacular Bangkok Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Chatuchak Market and Asiatique, and a canal trip on the Chao Phraya River. This is a city for foodies and wild nightlife.

3. Relax on some tropical islands

No visit to Southeast Asia would be complete without a visit to at least one of the thousands of tropical islands in the region. My top five include the Perhentian Islands (Malaysia), Rabbit Island (Cambodia), Ko Lanta (Thailand), and Boracay (Philippines). Lombok Island (Indonesia) has a chill vibe with unspoiled, perfect “desert island” beaches. There’s so many islands to visit. Be sure to add at least one to your trip. The country guides will have more information for you.

4. See Ha Long Bay

Sailing trips to this island-filled bay with stunning emerald waters, limestone formations, and marine life give you an appreciation for the natural beauty in Vietnam. Tours from Hanoi start at around $110 USD for two-day trips and increase from there. I love the colorful grottoes, hanging stalactites, and stalagmites of Surprise Cave (Sung Sot), Fairy Cave (Tien Ong), and Heaven Palace (Thien Cung). Make sure you go with a reputable company though as some of the cheaper boats are less than ideal. If you’d rather just visit for one day, day trips from Hanoi cost $55 USD.

5. Wander Kuala Lumpur

Other things to see and do in southeast asia, 1. go jungle trekking.

This region of the world is covered in amazing jungles with diverse wildlife, plentiful camping opportunities, and cool waterfalls. The best jungle treks are found in northern Thailand, Western Laos, and Malaysian Borneo (the latter are also the hardest and most intense). Some of my favorites include Danum Valley (Borneo) for its incredible wildlife; Ratanakiri (Cambodia) for its pristine wilderness and thousand-year-old trees; and Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Vietnam). Costs vary but jungle trekking generally costs $30-50 USD per day.

2. Attend the Full Moon Party

The biggest one-night party in the world welcomes up to 30,000 people with a party that stretches until dawn. Cover yourself in glow paint, grab a bucket of booze, and dance the night away with new friends on the island of Ko Phangan in Thailand. As the name would suggest, the party is on the night of the full moon. If you miss it, there’s always the half-moon party, quarter-moon party, and black-moon party. Really, every night is a party on Ko Phangan . Just avoid the flaming jump rope that occurs — I’ve seen people get burned badly!

3. Learn to dive

There are many great dive sites around the region for those interested in underwater exploration. You can learn to dive here at a fraction of what it would cost back home too. Some of the best places are Ko Tao (Thailand), Sipadan (Malaysia), as well as Gili Islands (Indonesia) and Coron, Palawan (The Philippines). A typical diving course is completed in three days. A PADI course typically runs $275 USD in Thailand, including three nights’ accommodation, though at smaller schools you can often negotiate down to $250 USD. Day trips for certified divers start at $165 USD. For information on Ko Tao, check out this blog post .

4. Eat street food in Singapore

Singapore is a foodie’s heaven. Try the hawker stalls of Singapore as well as Little India and Chinatown for some of the best and cheapest food in Asia. If you’re looking for a nice place to sit down and eat, eat at Singapore’s famed restaurants during lunch when restaurants offer discounts, making them a great deal. You’ll also find the most affordable Michelin-starred restaurants here (Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice and Hawker Chan), offering world-class meals for just a couple of bucks!

5. Overload on temples

You can’t turn a corner without seeing a Buddhist temple in this part of the world. You’ll get temple overload at some point but visit as many as you can as each is unique to the country and region of the temple. There are so many places with high concentrations of ornate and beautiful temples. Check out Chiang Mai’s Wat Doi Suthep Temple and hike up the 300 steps to the golden Chedi that’s 600 years old!; Bagan’s Shwesandaw Pagoda from the 11th century with its stunning golden dome; Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm is covered in iconic vines and enveloped in ancient jungle roots; Hue’s colorful Thien Mu Pagoda is perched atop a lush green embankment; Hoi An’s Quan Cong Temple with incredible Chinese architecture with hand-carved beauty and skill, and Luang Prabang’s Vat Xieng Thong with its golden, canopied roof. Most are free to enter, however, dress codes are enforced (you need to have your shoulders and legs covered).

6. Dive Sipadan

Located off Malaysian Borneo, Sipadan is one of the best dive sites in the world. If you have your dive certificate, make sure you venture out here. I absolutely love this area because it’s teeming with live turtles, diverse cave systems, sharks, dolphins, colorful coral, bright fish, and everything in between. Not a lot of people make it to this part of Malaysia, but it’s worth it to go the extra mile and make your way off the tourist trail a bit. Don’t miss Barracuda Point and The Drop-Off. Keep in mind that only 176 permits to dive at the island are issued each day, costing 140 MYR per person. The resorts on the neighboring islands each get a specific number of permits per day and require divers to stay with them for a few days. So you’ll need to stay at those resorts and dive into the surrounding areas before they can get you a Sipadan permit.

7. Fall in love with Bali

Bali is the most popular destination in Indonesia, and its famous Kuta beach is known for its wild parties and surfing ( though I think it’s overrated ). However, there is much more to Bali than just wild nights and sun-soaked days. If you’re a thrill seeker, hike up to the top of Mount Batur, an active volcano, for a breathtaking sunrise. Paragliding and white water rafting are also super popular here, as is surfing (it’s an affordable place to learn if you’ve never done it). There are also lots of hot springs to enjoy, the Ubud Monkey Forest (a popular temple and nature reserve home to hundreds of monkeys), and numerous places to scuba dive, including the Liberty wreck and Manta Point.

8. Take in Ho Chi Minh City

Frantic, chaotic, and crazy, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is the embodiment of the controlled chaos that rules Southeast Asia. You can’t quite figure out how this teeming mass of people and cars work together, but it does. Highlights here include touring the tunnels used by the Viet Cong in the 1960s, taking in the view from the Saigon Skydeck, eating your way through the street food scene, and seeing the city’s numerous temples.

9. Admire the sunrise over an Indonesian Volcano

One of the most popular tourist attractions on Java is Mount Bromo and its National Park. Don’t miss out on getting a photo of the smoldering Bromo volcano as it lies surrounded by the almost lunar landscape of the Sea of Sand. Get up early to catch one of the most memorable sunrises of your life. If you’re there in mid-August, you’ll be just in time to see Upacara Kasada, the traditional Hindu ritual of the Tenggerese, a Javanese tribe of the region.

10. Hike in Khao Sok National Park

Located in southern Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is constantly rated as one of the best parks in Thailand, with incredible trekking, camping, limestone karsts, cooling rivers, and a glistening lake. Visit for semi-challenging hikes, tons of wildlife, walking paths, and breathtaking sunsets. Park entrance costs around $6 USD while full-day guided tours are $95 USD. I highly recommend spending at least one night here to get the full experience.

11. Visit Kampot

Most people come to Kampot to enjoy the scenic riverside views, as well as the rolling hills that surround the city. Since you can explore easily enough on foot or by bicycle, Kampot is a great place to slow down and relax. There’s not much to do here but have lazy days by the river, chill, and eat (don’t miss the famous Rusty Keyhole for BBQ!). Don’t miss the pepper farms, as this region of Cambodia is filled with pepper farms where you can learn about the history of the spice, see how it is grown, and pick up what is considered some of the finest pepper in the world. Tours are usually free.

12. Take a cooking class

Food from this region is as varied as the countries themselves and learning how to cook a few dishes is a great souvenir of your time here. Even if you don’t plan to cook back home, you can still spend a day making and eating scrumptious food. Most big cities have cooking schools offering classes of 2-6 hours, often including a trip to the local market beforehand to select ingredients. I absolutely love cooking classes and urge you to take one at least once. They are a fun experience!

13. Take a food tour

If you’d rather eat instead of cook, taking a food tour is a fun way to gain insight into the region’s amazing noodle dishes, fresh seafood, sweets, and street food while learning about the history and culture behind the cuisine. Most major cities in Southeast Asia offer food tours. These include tours around local markets, street stalls, and tours to locally-owned restaurants and cafes where you can sample the local cuisine and connect with a local chef. If you’re nervous about street food, this is a great way to try some in a controlled setting. Tours usually last 2-4 hours and include multiple stops and several different dishes, with prices costing $40-75 USD per person.

14. Visit an elephant sanctuary

While riding an elephant is on many a Southeast Asia bucket list, once you know how much the animals suffer from abuse in order to provide these rides, you might think twice about taking one. An even better way to interact with elephants is to volunteer at or visit the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai in Thailand. It’s a phenomenal place, allowing you to give back to the community and these magnificent animals all at once. After coming here, you will understand why you should NEVER ride an elephant. A one-day visit costs $70 USD.

15. See The Killing Fields

A visit to Choeung Ek, also known as the Killing Fields, may not be the most cheerful way to spend an afternoon, but it makes for an educational and memorable experience. Over 3 million people were killed by Pol Pot’s regime, including countless women and children. I recommend getting a guide so you can really understand what you’re seeing as you explore the area. Also, this horrific tragedy took place less than 50 years ago and is still very present so please be respectful as a visitor.  The site is located 10 miles from Phnom Penh. Half-day guided tours start at $66 USD.

16. Swim with Whale Sharks in Donsol

If you’re in the Philippines, check out the Donsol Whale Shark Interactive Ecosystem Project because there are not many experiences quite as adrenaline-inducing as swimming with a whale shark for the first time in crystal waters. These incredible creatures are around 45 feet (14 meters) long and yet incredibly gentle and curious. I loved floating at the surface being able to look below and see them slowly swim below me. Get some people together and rent a boat for a half day, explore the area, and go ‘shark-seeing’ for a good cause.  

  For a ton more information, visit my country specific travel guides for more detailed information on each place:

  • Cambodia Travel Guide
  • Indonesia Travel Guide
  • Laos Travel Guide
  • Malaysia Travel Guide
  • Singapore Travel Guide
  • Thailand Travel Guide
  • Vietnam Travel Guide

Southeast Asia Travel Costs

A lone person standing on lush, green rice terraces in Southeast Asia on a bright sunny day

Accommodation – Accommodation in Southeast Asia is really cheap, making it the perfect place to travel if you are on a budget. Hostels are plentiful, as are budget guesthouses and hotels. It’s also very cheap to splash out here if you’re in need of some luxury.

Generally, you can find hostel dorm rooms for as little as $6-8 USD in Cambodia and $3-6 USD in Laos. In Thailand, 4-6-bed dorm rooms are $8-12 USD, while in Vietnam you can expect to pay $5-7 USD. In Indonesia, prices range between $5-10 USD for a 4-6-bed dorm room. Expect to pay at least $15-20 per night for a private room with air conditioning. Free Wi-Fi is standard in most hostels, free breakfast is common, and many hostels even have pools. In more remote areas, hot water isn’t common so make sure to check in advance if that’s an issue for you.

Simple guesthouses or bungalows throughout Southeast Asia generally cost $12-20 USD per night for a basic room with a fan (sometimes air conditioning) and hot water. If you want something nicer that includes a more comfortable bed and a TV, expect to pay $25-35 USD per night.

For backpackers, budgeting around $10 USD per night for accommodation is pretty safe no matter where you go in Southeast Asia. If you’re looking for a higher-end hotel room with more amenities, expect to pay $20-50 USD per night for a room. Anything over that is luxury territory.

Camping is available in certain areas, usually for just a few dollars per night for a basic tent plot without electricity. However, this is about the same price as hostels so it’s not really any cheaper.

Food – While each country’s cuisine varies, overall, Southeast Asian food is aromatic, spicy, and flavorful. Typical spices and herbs include garlic, basil, galangal, cilantro, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, and fish sauce. No matter what region you’re in, you can expect to find a variety of curries, salads, soups, noodle dishes, and stir-fries.

Rice and noodles are central to Southeast Asian food, while the meat is usually pork, chicken, fish, or seafood, which is everywhere on the islands and coastal areas.

While traveling Southeast Asia, street food is the most popular food and cheapest option. On average, these meals cost $1-5 USD. You find these stalls throughout this region lining most streets and every market. They are ubiquitous in the region. In Singapore, street food (from “hawker stands” as they’re known there) costs around $4-5 USD for a meal. Even if you go into small local restaurants, the price doesn’t increase that much.

Food that costs $2 USD at a street stall generally only costs $4-6 USD at a local restaurant. If you went into a restaurant in Thailand, you’d pay around $3-4 USD for a pad Thai that would have cost $1-2 USD on the street.

In Cambodia, street food is around $1-2 USD, while restaurants charge around $3-5 USD for a dish like amok (a coconut milk dish) or luc lac (pepper gravy beef).

Western meals, including burgers, pizza, and sandwiches usually cost around $7-10 USD. But these generally aren’t that great. If you want something that actually tastes as it does back home, expect to spend at least $10-12 USD for your meal.

While cheap, alcohol can take a bite out of your budget if you’re not careful. Those $1-2 USD beers add up! Wine and cocktails are more expensive, generally around $3-5 USD. A cappuccino is typically around $2 USD. Bottled water is plentiful and costs less than $1 USD.

There’s a growing cutting-edge foodie scene in the region and, if you want to splurge, you can do so on some really good meals. Big cities like Bangkok, KL, and Singapore, all have world-class Michelin star restaurants as well some incredible fusion restaurants.

Since dining out is so cheap in the region, there’s no point in grocery shopping unless you’re looking to get some pre-made salads or fruits. Additionally, a general lack of kitchens in most hostels and hotels makes it difficult to cook even if you wanted to. If you do purchase your own groceries, expect to spend around $25 USD per week for basic groceries like local produce, rice, and some meat (while avoiding expensive imported items like cheese and wine).

Backpacking Southeast Asia Suggested Budgets

On a backpacker budget of $45 USD per day, you can stay in hostel dorms, eat out at local markets and street stalls, limit your drinking, do mostly free activities, minimize paid activities, and use public transportation to get around. You’re not going to be able to splash out but you’ll be able to live the typical backpacker experience without really stressing over expenses.

On a mid-range budget of $85 USD per day, you can stay in budget hotels or private hostel rooms, eat more restaurant meals, do more paid activities like cooking classes, take some taxis, and enjoy a few more drinks. You won’t live large, but you won’t be missing out either.

On an upscale budget of $150 USD or more per day, you can stay in nicer hotels with more amenities, eat out as much as you want, do more paid tours including private tours, hire a driver, fly between destinations, and basically do whatever you want. The sky is the limit with this kind of budget!

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.

Southeast Asia Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips

Backpacking Southeast Asia is cheap. There’s little opportunity to spend a lot of money since everything is already so inexpensive unless you intentionally are trying to splash out on fancy meals and high end hotels. The two reasons why most travelers end up overspending is that they eat a lot of Western food and drink way too much. If you want to save money while traveling in this part of the world, cut down on your drinking and skip the Western food. While country guides have more specific ways to save money, here are some general ways to save money in Southeast Asia:

  • Stay with a local – Accommodation is cheap in Southeast Asia but nothing’s cheaper than free! Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. You’ll also meet great people who can show you around and share their insider tips and advice.
  • Book tours and day trips as a group – You have more negotiation power when you’re with a group of people buying multiple spots or tickets. Traveling alone? Meet a friend at a hostel and see if they want to join the same tour as you. I’ve met some great friends over the years doing this and highly recommend it.
  • Don’t book in advance – Don’t book any tours or activities before you get to your destination. They’ll be much cheaper when you arrive as you’ll be able to negotiate a lower price as you’ll find companies are often offering the same tour and competing. Anything you see online is more expensive than you need to pay!
  • Eat on the street – The street food is the best food. The food is the best and cheapest you’ll find. It’s a great way to try new foods and get to chat with locals as well. This is where locals eat so if you want insight into local culture, good food, and savings, eat the street food. Look for where locals are eating to ensure that it’s safe to eat.
  • Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value here. Bargain with sellers as most of the time, the price they’ve quoted is way higher. There’s a haggling culture in the region so play the game and save some money. It’s important not to convert it in your head to your own currency because it will usually sound cheap even though you might still be getting ripped off. You’ll never get the local price, but you might come close!
  • Minimize your drinking – Drinks really add up. Even with cheap drinks, if you’re not aware, you’ll end up spending more money on beer than on food and accommodation. If you want to drink, head to the supermarkets, drink at the hostel, or check out the local happy hours.
  • Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier comes particularly in handy in Southeast Asia since you can’t usually drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw as it has a built-in filter that ensures your water is always safe and clean.

Where to Stay in Southeast Asia

I’ve been traveling Southeast Asia since 2005 and have stayed in hundreds of places. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Southeast Asia:

  • The Siem Reap Pub Hostel (Siem Reap)
  • Onederz Siem Reap (Siem Reap)
  • Mad Monkey Siem Reap (Siem Reap)
  • Onederz Sihanoukville (Sihanoukville)
  • Monkey Republic (Sihanoukville)
  • Onederz Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh)
  • Sla Boutique Hostel (Phnom Penh)
  • The Magic Sponge (Kampot)
  • Indigo House Hotel (Luang Prabang)
  • Sa Sa Lao (Luang Prabang)
  • Sanga Hostel (Pakse)
  • Nana Backpackers Hostel (Vang Vieng)
  • Dream Home Hostel (Vientiane)
  • Traveller Bunker Hostel (Cameron Highlands)
  • De’Native Guest House (Cameron Highlands)
  • Kitez Hotel & Bunks (Kuala Lumpur)
  • Sunshine Bedz Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur)
  • Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel (Penang)
  • Mad Monkey Hostel (Bangkok)
  • D&D Inn (Bangkok)
  • Kodchasri B&B (Chiang Mai)
  • The Royal Guest House (Chiang Mai)
  • Green Leaf (Khao Yai)
  • Lonely Beach Resort (Ko Chang)
  • The Sanctuary (Koh Phangan)
  • Na-Tub Hostel (Koh Phangan)
  • Pineapple Guesthouse (Phuket)
  • Dream Lodge
  • The Pod Capsule Hostel
  • The Scarlet
  • Under the Coconut Tree Guesthouse (Hoi An)
  • Fuse Beachside (Hoi An)
  • Pretty Backpackers House (Da Lat)
  • Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel (Hanoi)
  • Luxury Backpackers Hostel (Hanoi)
  • The Hideout (HCMC)
  • City Backpackers Hostel (HCMC)

How to Get Around Southeast Asia

A lone person standing on lush, green rice terraces in Southeast Asia on a bright sunny day

Public transportation – Public transportation costs from a few pennies to a few dollars, with Singapore and Malaysia offering the most comprehensive public transportation systems. In Thailand, local buses cost around $0.25 USD per trip, while the Metro and Skytrain in Bangkok cost $0.50-1.50 USD per trip. In Cambodia, a bus ticket in Phnom Penh costs just $0.40 USD per ride.

Major cities generally have subway systems but mostly you’ll be using the bus or shared taxis to get around.

Tuk-tuks (small, shared taxis with no meter) are available around much of the region and require a bit of haggling. They usually have 3-6 seats and generally cost more than public transportation but are faster. To find a reputable driver, ask your accommodation as they usually know someone. Tuk-tuk drivers can often be hired for the day for a discounted rate (this is what a lot of people do to visit the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, for example).

Taxi – Taxis in the region are generally safe, though it’s not uncommon to have to haggle. Scams to rip you off aren’t uncommon either, so always ask your accommodation to call you a taxi whenever possible so you know you’ll get a reputable company.

In Singapore and Indonesia, taxi drivers do put on the meter. In Bangkok, you can get taxi drivers to use the meter, but if you’re hailing one in a tourist area, he might try to avoid using it. In Vietnam, the meter is sometimes rigged, but if you can get a reputable company like Mai Linh, you won’t have any problems.

Ridesharing – Grab, DiDi, and Gojek are Asia’s answer to Uber. They work the same way: you hire a driver to take you somewhere via the app, and you can pay via the app or in cash. It’s often more affordable than a regular taxi, though drivers are a bit unreliable as the practice is not as widespread here as in other parts of the world.

Just keep in mind that some drivers are driving motorcycles so be sure to double check what kind of vehicle is picking you up if you don’t want to ride on the back of one.

Bus – The easiest and cheapest way to travel around Southeast Asia is by bus. The backpacker trail is so worn that there is a very well-established tourist bus system to take you anywhere. Buses costs vary between $5-25 USD for a 5-6 hour journey. Overnight buses cost $20-35 USD depending on distance (they often have reclining seats so you can get a decent sleep).

You can check ticket prices and book tickets for all the different bus companies across Southeast Asia at 12go.asia.

Train – Train service is limited in the region and not something to really consider when you travel Southeast Asia. You can take a train up and down the coast of Vietnam and there’s some limited scenic rails in Malaysia. Thailand is the only country that has an extensive train system that lets you travel all its regions (and onward to Singapore) from Bangkok.

The train prices in Southeast Asia are determined by distance and class. Night trains with sleeper cars are more expensive than day trains. The night train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok takes twelve hours and costs $27 USD for a sleeper seat. However, that same train during the day is $8-9 USD. In Vietnam, trains run up and down the coast and cost $60 USD from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

Flying – The cost of flying around Southeast Asia has come down in recent years due to the rise of low-cost airlines. Scoot, Jetstar, and AirAsia are the biggest. Nok Air has a lot of flights within Thailand , and VietJet Air is popular in Vietnam . Lion Air serves Indonesia , but its safety record is really spotty and I personally would not fly them. If you book early, you can save on fares, as most of the airlines offer deeply discounted fare sales all the time, especially Air Asia.

Just make sure that the airport these budget airlines fly into isn’t too far out of your way (transportation from the secondary airport sometimes negates the savings from using the budget airline itself).

Also, keep in mind that you usually must pay to check your baggage on these cheap flights. If you wait to pay for your luggage at the gate, you end up paying almost double. Travel carry-on only to avoid this added cost.

All in all, I only recommend flying if you are pressed for time or find a super cheap deal. Otherwise, stick to the bus.

Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Southeast Asia is safe, though popularity of the practice varies by country (it’s more common in Malaysia, but not so much in Cambodia). Dress respectably, smile while making eye contact with drivers, and use a cardboard sign to tell people where you’re headed. Be prepared for long bouts of no pick-ups, especially if you’re traveling through more rural areas. Pack plenty of water and food. Also, make sure the people picking you up understand you’re hitchhiking and not flagging down a taxi.

Hitchwiki is a great resource for hitchhiking tips.

Car rental I don’t recommend renting a car in Southeast Asia. Rental cars are expensive ($40 USD per day or more) and the roads here are in poor shape. I would never drive around the region.

When to Go to Southeast Asia

The best time of year to visit Southeast Asia is from November to April when temperatures are milder (though temperatures vary drastically by region). It may be mild in Thailand in January and hot in Malaysia but in Northern Vietnam, it’s cold! Also, one of the biggest mistakes people make is not taking into account the rainy season. In some cases it won’t make a big difference but definitely does if it’s a beach trip.

In Indonesia, the best time to visit is April to October. Temperatures average 24-30ºC (75-86ºF), and the weather is mostly dry. July to September is the peak holiday season and when you can expect to pay the highest rates. December to February is the rainy season.

In Malaysia, January-March and June-September are the best time to visit, as these months have the lowest average rainfall. It is still hot and humid during this time though. The rainy season is from October to December. Singapore’s climate/weather is much like Malaysia’s.

In Vietnam, the weather varies by region. In Central Vietnam (including Hoi An and Nha Trang), January-May is the best time to visit because it is dry and the temperatures average 21-30°C (70-86°F). June to August is also a decent time to visit. If you want to stick around Hanoi, March to April is great, or October to December (for mildest temperatures). The rainy season is May-September.

Thailand has three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. It’s always warm, though the weather is nicest between November and February (which is also peak tourist season). Bangkok is “coolest” and driest during this time (but still averaging a hot 29°C/85°F each day). April and May are the hottest months, and the rainy season is June-October. The gulf islands get pretty rainy from August to December.

The dry season in Cambodia is from November-May and the cool season is from November-February (and when most people visit). Temperatures during this time are still high, but humidity is lower. Laos has the same cool season as Cambodia, with the dry season running from November-April.

In the Philippines, it’s mostly warm all year long with an average daily high of 26°C (80°F). There are rainy and dry seasons and temperatures are hot and dry from March-May and cooler December-February. The best time to visit is between January-April when it’s less humid. Monsoon Season is July-October.

For more information on when to go to places, visit the specific country guides.

How to Stay Safe in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo and even as a solo female traveler. Violent crime is super, duper rare. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime in Southeast Asia, especially around popular tourist landmarks. Always keep your valuables out of reach on public transportation and in crowds just to be safe. Never leave your valuables unattended while at the beach and always keep a hold of your purse/bag when out and about as bag snatching is common.

That said, outside touristy areas, theft is really rare. Heck, it’s pretty rare in touristy areas too! But a little vigilance goes a long way and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

There are some common scams around that you’ll want to be aware of, such as the motorbike scam. This involves a bike rental company trying to charge you for damage to the bike that you didn’t cause. To avoid this, always take photos of your rental before you leave so you can protect yourself from baseless claims.

Another common scam involves a tuk-tuk driver taking you somewhere you didn’t want to go in hopes you’ll buy something from the shop/restaurant he dropped you off at (he gets a commission if you do). Simply refuse to buy anything and demand to go back to where you were — or find another driver.

For other common travel scams, read this post about major travel scams to avoid in the region .

Solo female travelers should feel safe here, though it’s generally a good idea to avoid walking around alone at night just to be safe. It’s always a good idea to carry some extra cash to get home in a taxi if you need to. Additionally, always keep an eye on your drink at the bar and never accept drinks from strangers. Be sensible when it comes to dating while traveling and meeting people in public places. As I’m not a woman, please check out some solo female travel blogs to get the best insight.

Overall, the people who get in trouble here tend to be involved with drugs or sex tourism. Avoid those two things and you should be fine. Keep in mind that it’s not always obvious how old someone is or if they’re a sex worker so be mindful when getting involved in romantic interactions. Also, penalties for drug use in this region are stiff so even if you’re here to party, skip the drugs.

Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.

For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Southeast Asia, check out this post that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:

Southeast Asia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • Agoda – Other than Hostelworld, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia.
  • Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Thailand!

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Thailand!

My detailed 350+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel around Thailand. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, safety tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.

Southeast Asia Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Southeast Asia travel and continue planning your trip:

The 4 Best Hostels in Singapore

The 4 Best Hostels in Singapore

The 6 Best Hostels in Bali

The 6 Best Hostels in Bali

The 22 Best Things to Do in Bangkok

The 22 Best Things to Do in Bangkok

5 LGBTQ Travel Tips for Asia

5 LGBTQ Travel Tips for Asia

Is Southeast Asia Safe for Travelers?

Is Southeast Asia Safe for Travelers?

Backpacking Cambodia: 3 Suggested Itineraries for Your Trip

Backpacking Cambodia: 3 Suggested Itineraries for Your Trip

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southeast asia travel

50 Essential travel tips for first time backpackers visiting Southeast Asia

  • July 27, 2023
  • curious goose

Long tail boats float on the turquoise sea, surrounded by tree covered limestone mountains in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

This post may contain affiliate links. I will receive a small commission if you use these links.

Make sure you read these essential tips for Southeast Asia to help plan your trip.

Southeast Asia is one of the most popular destinations for backpackers. It’s easy to see why – gorgeous sandy beaches, cultural temples, delicious food and bustling cities makes for an attractive mix. It’s also a safe and cheap place to travel, meaning that Southeast Asia is a great place for first time travellers getting to grips with backpacking and those on a budget.

Southeast Asia has been on my bucket list for years and in 2022, I spent 7 months travelling in Thailand , Vietnam , Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Based on my experience, I’ve put together 50 essential travel tips to help you plan your trip to Southeast Asia. These tips cover everything from what food and drink to avoid, to how to keep track of your budget while travelling and travel hacks to make life on the road easier.

These travel tips for Southeast Aisa will prepare you for a great trip and hopefully help to prevent you from getting into any tricky situations!

50 Essential travel tips for first-time backpackers visiting Southeast Asia

Practical information for travel in southeast asia, managing your budget and finances when travelling in southeast asia, top tips for getting around in southeast asia, food and drink in southeast asia, local cultures and traditions in southeast asia, travel health, packing tips.

  • Lastly…things to remember when travelling

Travelling takes a lot of organisation and planning. Here’s a few hacks to help you have a smoother travel experience.

1. Get yourself a sim card as soon as you land

Often the best sim card deals can be found in the arrivals hall at the airport, with a ‘tourist sim’. I’d recommend getting a sim card as soon as you arrive in the country, especially if you are taking public transport from the airport / ferry / bus terminal to your accommodation. Most likely, you will be dropped off at a location in the centre of town (or at the side of the road as I experienced several times!) and having the internet to figure out where you are is very helpful.

2. Download an offline version of google maps before you arrive at a new place

Even if you have a sim card with data, you might not always have a signal to access the internet. Make sure that you download an offline version of google maps, covering the area you are travelling to. You might need to download several if the area you are travelling to is vast. Another handy tip is to ‘pin’ key locations onto your map, such as your accommodation, attractions, bus terminals and places to eat! That way, if you can’t access the internet you’ll still be able to find your way to key services and attractions.

Woman on bicycle surrounded by rice fields and limestone mountains in rural Ninh Binh, Vietnam

3. Screenshot or note down your accommodation booking confirmation and address

Don’t rely on being able to access the internet to retrieve the information of your accommodation. You’d be surprised how many travellers get off a bus in a new town and don’t know the address or even the name of the place they are staying at and can’t access their emails as they don’t have internet! Take a quick screenshot of your accommodation and travel bookings, or write the important information down in a notebook or in the notes folder on your phone.

4. Print any important documents you need to enter a country

For entering many of the countries in Southeast Asia, you’ll need a visa (and may need other supporting documents too). It always helps to have a printed copy of any important documents as well as the electronic version on your phone. This way, if your phone gets lost / stolen / runs out of battery, you’ll have a backup copy. If you are travelling between countries, your hostel or hotel might be able to print documents for you, or they can usually point you in the direction of a printing shop.

5. Be aware of scams

Travelling in Southeast Asia is an amazing experience and most of the local people you meet will be welcoming, friendly and helpful. However, you will also encounter locals who will try to take advantage of travellers. The most common scams usually involve taxi or tuk-tuk drivers, or money exchange kiosks. When travelling around in Southeast Asia, always negotiate the price and be clear on what the price covers. Only change money in authorised exchange kiosks – your accommodation should be able to help you with this.

How do you know if something is a scam? Usually you can tell if something doesn’t feel right. If you don’t feel comfortable and are unsure, just say no and move on. It also helps if you do your own research and plan beforehand. For example, if you research how much a specific A to B journey should cost in a tuk-tuk and the price you are being quoted is over double, you know they are trying it on.

6. Don’t put tissue paper down the toilet

As a general rule, putting tissue paper down the toilet is a no-no in Southeast Asia. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example in more modern, and usually more upscale resorts. However, in most places, the pipes cannot cope with the paper and they will block, which is not nice for anyone. Use the bin provided or embrace the water gun!

7. Read reviews

Whilst it’s not a good idea to get hung up on one negative review out of 10’s of positive ones, reading reviews is definitely worth doing. Whether this is for accommodation, attractions or transport. Filter the reviews to ‘Newest first’ and make sure you know what to expect before you part with your money.

8. Check the weather when planning your trip to Southeast Asia

Generally speaking, October – March is the best time to travel in Southeast Asia as this is the dry season and the weather is cooler and more manageable. However, research the individual countries you want to visit to plan which month would be best for you to travel.

9. Plan your route but allow for flexibility

Whether you are visiting one country or several countries in Southeast Asia, plan your itinerary beforehand. Having a rough plan of your route is a good idea so that you have an idea of what you would like to see within your time frame. However, don’t be rigid with your plans. Be flexible and embrace opportunities to visit places you hadn’t included in your original itinerary. Having unexpected experiences is one of the best things about travelling!

Woman standing on a wooden boardwalk in a vast chamber of the incredible Paradise Cave in Phong Nha, Vietnam

Budgeting for your trip is one of the most important things you can do, both before and during your travels. Make sure that you read these top tips to help you manage your budget and keep track of your spending when travelling.

Need help saving for your dream trip? Check out my 12 super simple tips for how to save for full time travel

10. Have a couple of good debit cards

One of the most important things you will need when travelling is a safe way to access your money. Instead of using your normal bank debit card, which may have expensive fees for use overseas, get yourself a new debit card, purely for travelling. I use a Starling Bank debit card, but I’ve also heard good things from travellers about Revolut and Monzo too. Instead of having all your money on your travelling debit card, simply ‘top it up’ when you need and keep just a small amount on the card. That way, if you lose the card, or it gets stolen, you don’t risk losing a lot of money. For this same reason, having two debit cards you can use in this way is also a great idea (just make sure you keep them in different places!).

11. Pay for large items on a credit card

When booking things like accommodation, travel (especially flights) and activities, always use a credit card. Credit cards offer a much higher protection on spending and if something goes wrong with the supplier (for example, if the service provider goes out of business), your credit card company can help you to claim your money back. I have a Halifax Clarity credit card which is great for travelling and using abroad. Shop around and find a credit card with low or zero exchange fees or charges for using it overseas.

12. Always carry some cash

When travelling in Southeast Asia, it’s a good idea to always have a bit of cash on you. If you are travelling to more remote areas, or buying something from a local shop or stall, you will need to pay for it in cash. Just be aware that many of the ATM’s in Southeast Asia charge for withdrawing money and they have a limit for how much you can withdraw, which is annoying!

Girl looking out to the sun setting over the ocean at Windmill Viewpoint in Phuket, Thailand

(Image: Windmill Viewpoint, Phuket, Thailand)

13. Make sure you can access your bank account if you lose your phone

Most of us manage our bank accounts via an app on our phones. However, what happens if your phone is lost or stolen? Make sure that you know how to access your bank account online or over the phone.

14. Set yourself a travel budget and track your daily spend

Possibly THE most important element of travelling is budget management! It doesn’t sound exciting (and it’s not!), but it’s vital if you don’t want your trip to end abruptly because you’ve run out of money.

When planning your trip, do your research and set a daily budget. This should be based on the prices of accommodation, food, transport and activities in your destination and also what kind of experience you want to have (on the scale of budget backpacker – luxury holiday). Read my step by step guide on How to budget for full time travel and create your own Travel Budget (you can also download my FREE Travel Budget Spreadsheet Template).

Make sure you record your daily spend to keep you on track. I use the free version of @travelspendapp . Managing your budget means that if you’re careful in some places, you can splurge on more expensive trips in others, such as an overnight luxury cruise to Halong Bay in Vietnam

15. Take advantage of travel rewards programs

There are plenty of rewards programs available to savvy travellers. One of my favourite reward programs is the Booking.com genius program. The more qualified bookings you make through your Booking.com account, the more genius points you can earn, which can get you discounts and upgrades on certain hotels, transport and experiences.

Another great rewards program, if you are from the UK, is Topcashback . Simply login to your Topcashback account and make your booking with one of the travel providers via the Topcashback site to earn cash back on your purchase.

Cruise boats float on the blue water of Halong Bay in Vietnam, surrounded by limestone mountains

Southeast Asia is a large, diverse continent and even the individual countries within Southeast Asia are massive, so you’re going to want to travel around and explore as much of it as possible. Getting around in Southeast Asia is not always the most straightforward, so here’s some tips to help you navigate public transport.

16. Shop around for the best deal on public transport

During the 7 months I spent in Southeast Asia, I booked a lot of my bus and ferry journeys online. One of the best booking platforms for transport in Southeast Asia is 12go. Camboticket in Cambodia is also another good option. (For booking tours, Viator , Get your Guide and Klook are all great platforms). But don’t just rely on websites. Speak to your hotel or hostel and get their advice. Sometimes they can tell you about transport routes or tour companies that don’t appear on the larger comparison websites. Whatever you are booking, shop around and get a couple of prices for the best deal.

If you are travelling a longer distance, or between countries, don’t assume that travelling by plane will always be more expensive. Sometimes a flight can be cheaper, or a similar price to a long distance train, especially if you have carry-on only bags. It’s also worth taking into consideration the journey time. If a flight is only £30 more but takes 14 hours less than the bus, it may be a better option for you.

17. Travelling from A to B is not as easy as it sounds!

Travelling from A to B sounds easy (and it should be!), however travelling from A to B in Southeast Asia usually ends up being a lot more complicated than it needs to be! Don’t be surprised if you are asked to change buses several times throughout your journey as different drivers and companies take over each section of the trip. I took a journey in Thailand from Railay in Krabi to Koh Samui which took 12 hours and consisted of 1 boat, 5 buses, 1 ferry and a taxi (which was 4 more buses than expected!) Try to stay patient and go with it, it won’t make you feel any better getting stressed about it.

18. Give yourself plenty of time for transfers

As I’ve mentioned, travel in Southeast Asia is usually not a simple process. Often journeys depart later than scheduled and will take a lot longer as the drivers make random stops along the way. If you are planning a journey that has transfers with different companies (for example, a bus journey followed by a ferry), make sure that you leave plenty of time between each leg of the journey, as you are most likely going to be late!

19. Prepare for delays or things to go wrong

You can see a theme emerging here! Most journeys in Southeast Asia are late, or delayed, or there’s been a miscommunication with your booking. Try to be patient and polite with the locals. Most local people I encountered in Southeast Asia were incredibly warm and friendly and willing to help. So, be respectful and don’t be rude if things don’t go to plan, it’s all part of the travelling experience!

A long tail boat floats on the lake in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand, surrounded by thick jungle and limestone mountains

20. Don’t expect formal booking confirmations for public transport

If you’re the kind of person who likes to have written confirmation of everything, then prepare to get out of your comfort zone! As someone who is super organised and over-prepared, I had to learn to accept that formal booking confirmations don’t always exist in Southeast Asia when booking transport. Instead, you’ll be given a flimsy paper slip as confirmation, which at some point will be taken off you and replaced with a coloured sticker (which may later be replaced with another sticker!) They do love a sticker, especially in Thailand! Just take photos of your paper slip or sticker in case you lose it and you’ll be fine.

21. ALWAYS negotiate when ordering a tuk-tuk or taxi!

Rule no.1 when travelling in Southeast Asia – always negotiate! In some of the larger cities you can use Grab, Uber or Gojek which is great as it gives you an idea of what the cost should be. Even if you are getting a ride with a local driver, use the price on Grab/Uber/Gojek to help you negotiate. If that is not available, ask your hostel or hotel how much the prices should be so you have an idea of what is a good price and what is a bad price.

22. Get an international driving licence

If you are considering hiring a car or scooter in Southeast Asia, get yourself an International driving licence. If you are from the UK, you can pick these up in the Post Office for £5. Make sure you keep your licence and your international licence with you at all times when driving. Occasionally local police may stop you and ask to see your licence and if you don’t have it (or the correct one), they may fine you.

23. Don’t feel pressured into riding a scooter

Travelling in Southeast Asia and riding a scooter seem to go hand in hand (if you believe everything you see on Instagram, or read in some blogs). However, don’t feel pressured to ride a scooter if you don’t feel comfortable. The roads in Southeast Asia are uneven and windy and the traffic can be crazy, with people cutting you up and zig-zagging down the road. It is absolutely possible to travel in Southeast Asia without riding a scooter if you don’t want to. If you do want to ride a scooter, make sure your travel insurance covers you and always wear a helmet.

24. Have motion sickness tablets with you on travel days

Even if you don’t normally feel travel sick, you may find yourself feeling queasy. Many of the roads in Southeast Asia are quite hilly and windy and the drivers can be fast and erratic. Also, if you are on a small minibus, it is usually hot and cramped, making you feel even worse. (If you are in the north of Thailand, the Chiang Mai – Pai bus is notorious for making people feel ill). Buses aside, you will likely be taking several boats and ferries during your time travelling in Southeast Asia and some of the boat crossings can be bumpy. Make sure that you have some motion sickness tablets with you for your journey. These can be picked up cheaply from 7/11 in Thailand and also most pharmacies or shops.

25. Pack warm clothing in your day bag on travel days

If you are travelling long distances on a coach or sleeper bus, make sure you keep a warm top or hoodie with you. The buses in Southeast Asia are renowned for having the coldest air conditioning!

A couple stands by a red tuk-tuk next to a lake in rural Cambodia

Sampling the food and drink in a new country is all part of the travelling experience and one of the best parts of visiting Southeast Asia is to eat the local food. Here’s a few tips to keep you safe and avoid the dreaded traveller’s belly!

26. Don’t drink the tap water

Unless you want to spend a couple of days being ill, don’t drink the tap water! Bottled water is very cheap to buy, Unfortunately, this does often mean that you will be using a lot of single-use plastic, which is a big problem in Southeast Asia. Some larger cities such as Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand have filtered water machines where you can top up your refillable water bottle for a fraction of the cost.

27. Be careful of the fruit!

It can be hard to stay healthy when travelling and the fruit in Southeast Asia is delicious, however, just be careful where you buy it from. There’s plenty of street stalls selling pre-cut fruit. Most of it will be fine, however you don’t know how long it has been sitting there getting warm and also whether it has been washed in clean drinking water. Eating dodgy fruit can make you really sick and wipe you out for several days – believe me! Try to pick places where they cut the fruit fresh in front of you, or buy whole fruit which you can peel/cut yourself.

28. Eat the street food!

The street food scene in Southeast Asia is brilliant (plus its great for your budget too!) The street markets are a lively buzz of noise and smells, creating a great atmosphere. Make sure you go to as many street food markets as you can, it’s all part of the Southeast Asia experience! If you buy meat from a street vendor, make sure that they fry it / cook it in front of you. Eating meat that has been left out for a while is another thing that could leave you chained to the bathroom for a day or two.

People crowd round the street food stalls at Phnom Penh night market in Cambodia

29. Try local dishes

When you visit somewhere new, make sure you know what the local dishes are and try them. Ask the locals you meet what food you should eat whilst you are there. There’s often regional variations of national dishes too.

30. Don’t be put off by the interior (or lack of!) a place

Some of the best food I’ve eaten in Southeast Asia has been whilst sitting outside on a tiny plastic stool at a metal table! In my experience, the small, family-run local restaurants have the best food and even better, they are the most budget-friendly too!

31. Bring a reusable water bottle and bag

As I’ve mentioned, some of the larger cities and towns in Southeast Asia do have places where you can top up your reusable water bottle. There are also some cafes which will allow you to top up for a small charge. Reusable water bottles are also vital for taking on some of the amazing hikes Thailand has to offer. Tip – buy an insulated bottle to keep your water cool!

Take a reusable cotton tote bag too for your shopping, rather than asking for a plastic bag each time you go to the shop. This foldable tote bag is perfect as it has a zip to keep your valuables secure too.

32. Check the spice level!

Spicy food in Southeast Asia is on a different level! A ‘mild’ dish is comparable to a medium in the UK. Don’t be afraid to ask for no chilli or for a dish to not be spicy.

Crowds of people walk through the neon lights of Jonker night market in Melaka, Malaysia

Experiencing a different culture and learning about the history and traditions of a place is one of the best bits about travelling. Read these four things you must do to make sure that you are respectful and get off to a great start with the locals when travelling in Southeast Asia.

33. Learn basic phrases

If you are travelling in another country, even just for a couple of weeks, it’s a great courtesy to know a couple of key phrases, such as Hello and Thank You. Even though English is widely spoken across Southeast Asia, locals love it when you try to speak a little of their own language and will be happy to teach you some new phrases.

34. Be respectful

Southeast Asian culture is very different to western culture and each country in Southeast Asia has their own traditions and cultural differences. Make sure that you know how to behave in certain situations and be respectful. For example, women should not approach, converse with or touch Monks. Women also cannot enter certain shrines or temples whilst menstruating.

Travelling to Bangkok? Make sure you visit these three temples

The golden structure of Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) with detailed gold and silver columns and an elaborate pitched roof, in Bangkok,Thailand

35. Dress appropriately

Whilst both men and women should make sure that they are respectfully dressed when entering a temple or government building, this mostly applies to women. Women must always cover their knees and shoulders in a temple. When bathing in certain spots, it is respectful to cover up. Wearing a bikini is acceptable at most public beaches and in your hotel or hostel pool, however, if you are visiting a local bathing spot, you will notice that Southeast Asian women wear shorts and a t-shirt to bathe in. It is polite to do the same.

36. Take off your shoes

This is common practice in many places throughout Southeast Asia, but it is mostly associated with Thailand. Shoes should always be removed before entering a temple, but you will also need to remove shoes before entering other places too. If you are staying in a small guesthouse, or homestay, it is polite to leave your shoes outside. This is the same if you enter a small, local shop and even when you travel on certain boats and buses (especially the sleeper buses in Vietnam).

A couple sitting on the steps of Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Prepare for your trip to Southeast Asia by making sure that your health requirements and needs are taken care of before you travel…

37. Check what vaccinations you need before you go

When planning a trip to any new country, it is important to make sure you have received all the relevant vaccinations beforehand. If you are in the UK, you can check the NHS website to see which vaccinations are recommended for the country you are visiting and which vaccinations you can get for free on the NHS.

38. Stock up on sunscreen

Suncream is not widely available in Southeast Asia, especially if you are travelling away from the main tourist holiday destinations. It is also very expensive. You will find lots of ‘sun serums’ or ‘daily lotions with spf’ – be careful with these, whilst they do offer some level of protection, they are not full sun creams and are not recommended for using while sunbathing. If you are only travelling for a short amount of time, take several bottles with you from home, if you have room.

39. Take any medication / feminine products with you

If you are travelling to some of the smaller islands, or more remote places in Southeast Asia, there is not always a large pharmacy available. So, if you need medication, make sure that you bring it with you and restock it before you run out. Feminine products can be expensive too, so if you can, bring these with you.

40. Always carry medication for ‘travellers belly’

It’s not nice to talk about but almost every traveller will experience an upset stomach at some point during their travels in Southeast Asia (no matter how careful you are). Although the best advice is to rest and let the bug ‘pass through’, that is not always possible, especially if you have a bus journey to get through. With that in mind, carrying some tablets for diarrhoea will be a lifesaver!

41. Always have a toilet roll with you on travel days!

This goes hand in hand with the above – most toilets in Southeast Asia don’t have toilet paper and there’s usually a small fee for using them, so carry some small change too.

Soft golden sand of Nai Harn beach in Phuket, Thailand, surrounded by a thick forest of hillside trees

Depending on how long you are travelling in Southeast Asia for, your packing list will vary. This is also true if you are planning a long trip and are visiting other places outside of Southeast Asia too. So, rather than include a full packing list in this post, here’s a couple of top tips to help you pack better.

42. Take a Scarf or sarong

A scarf or sarong is one of the most versatile items you can pack in your bag. It is great for covering your shoulders in a temple, laying on at the beach, throwing on over a bikini, using it as a pillow on travel days or keeping you warm on the buses! Plus it takes up virtually no space in your bag!

43. Pack layers

You definitely don’t need as many clothes as you think you do, and you will end up wearing the same things over and over! Pack light things that you can layer and roll up small in your bag. In terms of shoes, one pair of trainers, one pair of flip flops and one pair of Birkenstock or chunky walking sandals will be suitable for pretty much everything in Southeast Asia. I lived in my Birkenstocks for pretty much the whole year!

44. Leave room for new clothes!

Don’t go shopping for everything before you leave home. The clothes in Southeast Asia are so cheap and let’s face it, most of the clothes you will buy at home will most likely come from Southeast Asia anyway! If there’s anything you’ve forgotten or wished you had packed, you will more than likely be able to buy it in Southeast Asia.

45. Be savvy with your chargers

There’s nothing worse than having a bag full of cables and charging wires! A lot of devices will accept the same charger cable and this is a great way to reduce the number of wires you take. For example, my laptop wire will fit my phone and my Go pro, meaning I only need one wire for three devices. (I do also have a single USB cable that will plug into an adaptor so I can charge two things at one, but this takes up hardly any room). I’d also recommend putting your wires into a small organiser case , so they are easy to locate in your bag.

46. Embrace the packing cube!

Packing cubes are a lifesaver when it comes to packing for travelling. Even if you are sceptical about it at first, you will soon realise how handy they are. It’s a great way to separate (and easily locate!) your clothes in your bag. They also help to condense things down in your bag!

The three floors of Hanoi's central market, Vietnam are packed full with clothes stalls

Making the decision to go travelling can be scary but it is also super exciting! Have the best time and remember that comparison is the devil!

47. Chat to others

One of the best parts of travelling is meeting other like-minded travellers. There’s a reason that Southeast Asia is one of the best places to travel solo. There’s so many great hostels and Facebook groups, where you can meet up with other people.

48. Everyone has bad days when travelling

You will have THE BEST time travelling, but there will also be some days that don’t quite go to plan and other days where you are tired or may feel homesick. The best advice I can give you is not to dwell on those days, it is completely normal and usually after a good night’s sleep and a comfy bed, you will feel much better.

49. Don’t compare your journey to others

Everyone’s travel experience is different and your trip will be unique to you. Don’t get caught up in comparing your journey to everyone else’s, just enjoy and embrace your own travel experience.

50. Have fun!

Travel is one of the best things you can do (in my totally biased opinion!). Whether you’re travelling in Southeast Asia for a few weeks or a few months, relax, go with the flow and HAVE FUN!

Girl standing with arms in the air looking out across Doi Inthanon National Park, near Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Ultimate SOUTHEAST ASIA Travel Guide

Southeast Asia  is a fascinating part of the world that offers beautiful islands, beaches, lush jungles, unique wildlife, tasty food and intriguing culture. This Southeast Asia travel guide is designed to uncover some of our favorite places and things about this region and help you plan your own trip to this unique part of the world.

Defining Southeast Asia can be referred to as the region that resides between  Asia  and  Oceania . It is made up of eleven countries including Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

These countries are bordered by China to the North,  Australia  to the South, the Andaman Sea to the West and the Pacific Ocean to the East.

We’ve spent more time in Southeast Asia than we care to admit, thinking hard on it we’ve spent no less than 9 months traveling the region over multiple trips at the time of publishing this guide.

We’ve visited across all seasons and while we haven’t been everywhere or to every country (yet!), we’ve done enough leg work to offer you some useful insight on travel to Southeast Asia.


Southeast asia travel: quick tips, don’t visit southeast asia without:.


southeast asia travel


southeast asia travel


southeast asia travel


Philippines island hopping.

Hopping  islands in Coron  is one of the best  things to do in the Philippines  or even Southeast Asia for that matter. You’ll experience white-sand beaches and turquoise waters set against green island interiors. It’s idyllic and one of our favorite places in the world.


One of the most impressive ruin sites we have ever seen is the  Angkor Temple Complex  in Cambodia. We’ve even been twice! Angkor Wat is the most impressive but we enjoy checking out the temples that have been reclaimed by the jungle too.


Southeast Asia is the only place in the world where Orangutans still exist in the wild. It is possible to track  orangutans in Sumatra , Indonesia and  Sepilok Borneo . Both are off the beaten track but worth the effort. We’ve seen orangutans in both places!


There is no shortage of great  things to do in Southeast Asia  during your visit and the biggest problem you’ll face is fitting them all into your itinerary.

Each country has its own offering and unique things to check out during a visit, so be sure to look at our country guides once you decide where you’re itinerary will take you.

SPEND SOME TIME IN BANGKOK: (Thailand)    Bangkok  is the first city in Southeast Asia that we ever set foot in and that was back in 2010 when we went on our honeymoon! We’ve been back to the city 7 times since then and always recommend it to people who want to visit the region. It’s a huge, sprawling megacity with as much modern convenience as you’d find in any major western city. Combine that with the amazing food, Thai culture and abundance of temples and you pretty much have the perfect city.

TOUR TEMPLES IN CHIANG MAI: (Thailand) Heading north is a popular part of most people’s Thailand itinerary and Chiang Mai is worth the effort. The heart of the city lies within a wall with a surrounding moat and touts a series of beautiful temples to explore.

GET A BAMBOO TATTOO: (Thailand)  This isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve thought about getting a  bamboo tattoo in Thailand , just do it! Both of us did and have nothing but positive things to say about the whole experience.

VISIT THE PHI PHI ISLANDS: (Thailand)  One of the most beautiful chain of islands in the Andaman Sea, the  Phi Phi Islands  are worth a visit despite the harsh backpacker vibe they portray. Yes, backpackers flock here, but there are also plenty of nice resorts to stay at and other islands to tour during the day that are nearby.

TEMPLE HOP IN BAGAN: (Myanmar)  (England) Alongside the Angkor Temples in Cambodia, Bagan is the most impressive temple complex in Southeast Asia. Covering 40 square miles, this complex offers up impressive temple structures from three distinct time periods. Our biggest piece of advice? Give yourself at least 3 days to see the best it has to offer.

UNWIND IN PENANG: (Malaysia)  The island of Penang, which sits off the western coast of Malaysia, may just be our favorite island in Southeast Asia. It’s a place that blends tropical jungles with white sand beaches and old-world history with Asian culture. It has a little bit of everything and we that is why we love it. From the street art and amazing good in Georgetown to the  Monkey beach trek in Penang National Park , we’d visit a hundred times over and never be bored.

TOUR KUALA LUMPUR: (Malaysia)  We won’t lie, we have a love, hate relationship with  Kuala Lumpur  but that doesn’t stop us from going back. The city has a lot of offer travelers, including a delicious food scene, great architecture and the famed  Batu Caves  just outside the city.

LEVEL WITH HISTORY IN PHNOM PENH: (Cambodia)  Travel is so much more than lying on beaches and touring sites, it’s a valuable window into the past too. If you find yourself in Phnom Penh it is worth your time to learn more about the Khmer Rouge genocide that happened in parallel with the Vietnam War. The  museums and killing field sites  are sobering but a necessary part of learning world history when you travel.

DO THE BUFFALO RUN IN VIETNAM:  Starting in Hanoi, the  Buffalo Run tour  takes you off the beaten track and deeply explores the very best of Vietnam, north of the demarcation line. This is not a well-traveled path, so you’ll feel like you’re the only one there. You’ll stop off in places like Cuc Phong National Park, Trang An, Phong Nha, the DMZ, Vinh Moc Tunnels, Hue and Hoi An.

CRUISE AROUND HALONG BAY: (Vietnam)  One of the best  things to do in Vietnam  is to  cruise Halong Bay  and for good reason, it’s gorgeous! Massive limestone karsts grow out of bright green seas paired with island accommodation and white sand beaches. It’s a great way to unwind, especially if you have jetlag from the flight to Southeast Asia.

WATCH WILDLIFE IN THE AMAZON OF THE EAST: (Borneo)  We are total suckers for a thick rainforest and Borneo delivers. The island is literally known as the Amazon of the East and features some of the most incredible primary rainforests you can find on the planet. With that comes some incredible wildlife viewing, it’s a  birders paradise  with more than 688 resident and migratory species. You can also see the endemic Proboscis Monkey, orangutans and if you’re really lucky some pygmy elephants.

GO SCUBA DIVING AT SIPADAN ISLAND: (Borneo)  If you’re a scuba diver then you likely already know about  Sipadan Island . It is arguably the best place in the world for diving and we do not disagree. Pair it with the incredible muck diving and manta cleaning stations around nearby islands like Siamil and Mabul to make the ultimate dive trip in Southeast Asia.

TRACK KOMODO DRAGONS: (Indonesia)  There is only one place in the entire world where the world’s largest reptile,  the Komodo Dragon , still lives in the wild. This is the Komodo Islands in eastern Indonesia. Not only are these islands absolutely stunning, seeing the dragons is a once in a lifetime experience too. It’s not possible to stay on the islands, so be sure to book yourself a  Sailing Komodo Island tour  when you arrive in-country.

GET OFF THE GRID IN RAJA AMPAT: (Indonesia)  Located off the coast of the remote island of Papua,  Raja Ampat  is part of Indonesia’s West Papua province. This place is a straight-up paradise. It offers insane jungle hiking through untouched forests, island views, rich culture and some of the most pristine coral reefs we have ever seen. It’s hard to get to and expensive but oh so worth the effort.

EXPLORE BALI: (Indonesia)  If you’ve never been to Indonesia before, we’d happily recommend Bali be added to your itinerary. It is one of those Southeast Asia classics that shouldn’t be overlooked. From the beaches in Kuta, the islands of Nusa and the rice terraces that surround  Ubud , there are plenty of  things to do in Bali  during a visit.

CATCH A SUNRISE AT BOROBUDUR TEMPLE: (Indonesia)  Another temple, I know, but this one is spectacular and worth the visit. Catching a  Borobudur sunrise  is almost otherworldly and worth the 3am wakeup call to see buddha silhouettes against volcanos erupting against the sunrise. The temple is located on Java island, not far from Yogyakarta.


Southeast Asia is a foodie’s paradise, and the region is an incredible palace to eat your way around. In fact, a big part of Southeast Asia travel is the food, so don’t be afraid to try the local stuff!

Thai cuisine  needs no introduction, and  Malaysian food  is possibly the most underrated in the world. There are lots of curries and noodle dishes, with a great mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisine to try.

Burmese food  involves more curry and noodles, while  Vietnam  is famous for  Bahn Mi and Pho . Indonesia has its fried rice and rendang. Singapore is home to some of the world’s only  Michelin-starred street food stalls !


Southeast Asia is packed with events and festivals throughout the year, and every country has unique celebrations to offer visitors.

In Vietnam, the biggest celebration is  Tet , the New Year in February. Chinatowns everywhere celebrate Chinese New Year around the same time.

In Thailand, you can visit the famed  Songkran , a water festival that brings in the Thai New Year in April.

In Bali, you can find processions and parades throughout the year, while in March, the  Day of Silence  is a unique local occasion to be part of.

The Philippines has more local festivals than anywhere else, a throwback to their Spanish ancestry. The major ones are  Sinulog  in January and  Holy Week  before Easter.

Pack like a pro on your trip to SOUTHEAST ASIA!

Popular regions in southeast asia, mainland west.

Thailand  is a Southeast Asia travel destination that needs little introduction. The Land of Smiles is home to beautiful islands in the south, rugged mountains in the north, and of course, the thrilling capital, Bangkok. There’s sun, there’s sand, there’s culture, and there’s great food.  Myanmar  is little visited compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, but the county recently began to open up to tourism and saw a boom when it did. Myanmar is unlike anywhere else in the region. Explore ancient Buddhist pagodas, visit the cultural climes of Mandalay and see the fading colonial ruins in  Yangon .

Malaysia  and  Singapore  are home to the best food you could eat when you travel to Southeast Asia. Visit the foodie stalls and white sand beaches of  Penang , and the modern sights of  Kuala Lumpur  before heading south to  Singapore  – one of the most modern and exciting cities in the world.


The eastern mainland is made up of  Laos ,  Cambodia , and  Vietnam . Aside from their shared French-colonial history, these countries couldn’t be more different.  Vietnam  is the rising star of the region, offering an epic adventure if you travel between  Hanoi  and Ho Chi Minh City. See the scars of the  Vietnam War  and explore the magnificent nature, scenery, history, and delectable food that this modern nation offers. In  Cambodia , a trip is inseparable from the  harrowing past ; you’ll learn about the Khmer Rouge as soon as you land in the capital. You can visit the ruins of  Angkor Wat  or head to the beaches of Sihanoukville.  Laos  is untouched, but who knows how long it will stay that way. One of the poorest and most rural countries you could visit when you travel to Southeast Asia, Laos is also the most unexpected.

Borneo is one of the world’s largest islands and this unique destination is home to some of the best rainforests on the planet. Borneo offers hiking, mountain climbing, beaches, and  diving . The island is divided between three countries: there’s Malaysian Borneo in the north and tiny Brunei. The south is Kalimantan, an Indonesian province.


If you’re looking for island hopping opportunities, snorkeling, diving, and diverse culture, then  Indonesia  or the  Philippines  are the best countries to include in your Southeast Asia travel itinerary.  Indonesia  has  Bali , one of the region’s most popular islands, but there’s also the culture and history of Java, relaxation, and slowness on  Lombok , the wild nature of Sumatra or  Komodo , or the beautiful marine life of  Raja Ampat . The  Philippines  is beautifully diverse, home to the highlands and rice terraces of the Cordilleras, but also the rugged islands of  Palawan , including the stunning and popular  Coron  and  El Nido . We will not lie, Indonesia and the Philippines are our two most beloved countries in Southeast Asia. We’ve been back to visit them both, multiple times, and it’s the first place we head each time we return to the area. 


Setting a budget for travel to Southeast Asia is highly dependent on your travel style. It is possible to visit just about anywhere across the continent on any budget and still have a great trip. That said, you can make your trip as basic or as luxurious as you desire.

To help you set your budget, we’ve included some base range price estimations for Southeast Asia travel. Of course, keep in mind that prices can fluctuate based on seasons, availability and festivals.

If you’re looking to travel on a budget, be sure to check out the  12 Tips on How to Travel Cheap  before you start planning.

ACCOMMODATION:  Accommodation is good value when you travel to Southeast Asia.  Guesthouses, hostels, and homestays  will cost between USD 10 and USD 20 per night (less if you don’t care about the cleanliness).  Private rooms  can be between USD 20 and USD 50. Above this price range, you can find more  luxurious accommodation . Popular resort destinations in Thailand or Bali will charge USD 100 or more per night for fancier hotels.

FOOD:  Food is incredibly inexpensive in Southeast Asia; you can find  local eats  for as little as USD 1 per plate in most countries. Prices go up in touristy destinations (we’re looking at Thailand and Bali again) and western-style restaurants. You still  won’t often pay more than USD 10 per meal , however.

TRANSPORT:  Local transport is affordable across Southeast Asia, and international transport is equally cost-effective.  Buses and trains  vary in standards and prices.  Local transport  will be just a few dollars for day-long journeys, but you pay more for comfort.  Mopeds  can be hired for between USD 5 and USD 10 per day. Budget international  flights  can be as low as USD 30 if booked in advance for a two-hour flight.

ACTIVITIES:  Activities vary in cost from country to country but expect to pay between USD 30 and USD 70 for a day of  diving . You can enjoy a  boat tour  for around USD 30 a day, or hire  trekking  guides for a similar price. For the most part, activities are very cost-effective in comparison to western prices.


Living in hostels, lounging on beaches, and eating local food. If you’re looking to include many destinations in your Southeast Asia travel plans, or want to enjoy lots of day trips and activities, raise that budget to USD 50.

50-100 USD PER DAY

Midrange travelers will be able to enjoy the comforts of private rooms and guesthouses, taxi rides, and tourist buses. You can enjoy street food, restaurants, and plenty of activities. Your money will go far on this budget and you won’t miss much.


Luxury travelers can get a lot for their money when they travel to Southeast Asia. Stay in premium resorts in Bali, Borneo, or the Thai Islands. Enjoy restaurant-quality food, private day tours and drivers, and plenty of spa treatments!


Below you will find some of the places we have stayed during our travels in Southeast Asia. These are individual properties that we enjoyed and would recommend to other travelers.

For more in-depth information, be sure to check out the following articles:

  • Where to Stay in Bangkok: Best Districts & Hotels
  • INAYA Putri Bali Nusa Dua: Resort Review


Southeast Asia is an extremely popular destination for backpacking because you can do a lot throughout the region on a very small budget. We’ve experienced this region on both the high end and budget side, including spending 6 months backpacking during our  2 year RTW trip .

If you’re looking for some breakdowns on how we did this, check out the overviews below.


If you’re traveling around mainland Southeast Asia, you can cross most borders overland. You could travel all the way from Hanoi to Singapore overland using buses and trains. The transport varies from cheap, slow local buses to faster, luxury sleeper buses and trains.

The same applies to the Philippines and Indonesia, although you’ll need to combine buses with boats. In the Philippines and Indonesia, you’re often better off flying, as destinations are spread over large areas. If you have time, you can take inter-island ferries.

If you’re visiting Borneo, you’ll need to fly in. You can travel by bus between major cities and destinations in Malaysian Borneo and Brunei, but Kalimanatan is much less developed and more challenging to travel around.

Most land borders into Myanmar are off-limits, so you need to fly into Yangon. From there, you have bus and train connections across the country.

BUS:  If time is on your side, there are many instances where taking the bus will be the best option for getting between places. There are usually two classes operating the popular routes, this includes tourist buses and local buses. Tourist buses are usually comfortable coaches with AC and WIFI. Local buses will be rough and not have AC. Both will get you where you need to go.

FLIGHTS:  Thanks to budget airlines like Air Asia, Southeast Asia is incredibly well served by low-cost carriers offering regular flights and cheap fares. Major cities, and increasingly, many more regional airports, have connections between one another. In most cases – particularly over longer distances – flying is cheaper than taking the train or bus.


Iconic thailand.

15 Days from Bangkok, Thailand Visits: Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, Khao Sok, Ko Samui, Krabi & Bangkok


13 Days Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City Visits: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Hue, Hoi An & Ho Chi Minh City


18 Days Bangkok to Siem Reap Visits: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh & Siem Reap


Southeast Asia is a vast area that sprawls over both sides of the equator. For the most part, you can expect countries to be  hot, humid, and tropical  when you travel to Southeast Asia – but this isn’t always the case.

The north of Vietnam is much more temperate and has cold winters, while the same can be said of Myanmar’s northern mountains. However, most areas you will visit during your Southeast Asia travel itinerary will have distinct  wet and dry seasons .

North of the equator, the dry season is usually November to April. Most of Indonesia, however, has its dry season from May through to October. The dry season is the best time to explore Southeast Asia; there’s little chance of rain and thunderstorms, and the visibility if you’re snorkeling or diving is perfect.

Even in Indonesia, peak season is from November through to January, and tourist numbers and prices increase dramatically over the Christmas holidays. Try to travel in the shoulder seasons instead;, you might get a little rain, but you’ll escape the worst of the crowds.

For more in-depth information, check out:

Best Time to Visit Bali: Month by Month Breakdown

Best time to visit the philippines: month by month breakdown, inspiration for your next southeast asia trip, safety in southeast asia.

Southeast Asia travel is generally safe, even for first-time travelers (which is why it’s a popular backpacking destination). In touristy destinations, however, you do need to be super-careful of scams and low-level thievery.

This is especially so in places like Bali and Bangkok. On buses, try to keep your belongings close and safe, and on the party islands in Thailand, be careful! Take our advice and be sure you’re prepared. Check out  25 Essential Safety Tips for Travel

Each county has its own laws and customs, so read up before you cross the border. What goes in Thailand might not be so welcome in Malaysia. Some countries are Muslim, others Buddhist, and some Christian – it’s a diverse region!

For personal experiences, check out:

  • 5 Reasons Why Bali Is Not the Paradise You Think It Is
  • Culture Shock: Our First 24 Hours in Bali


Southeast asia travel guide: related articles.

Looking for more info? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel to Southeast Asia and start planning your dream trip.

What To Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand (18 Amazing Attractions, Festivals & Food)

24 amazing malaysia attractions you cannot miss, essential el nido palawan guide: what you need to know, ultimate philippines itinerary for 10 days, 2 weeks or 3 weeks, 21 incredible things to do in the philippines, 15 essential things to do in boracay, 15 stunning things to do in palawan, philippines, ultimate puerto galera, philippines guide: diving & beaches, busuanga island palawan: ultimate guide to the last frontier, culion island palawan: is this the next philippines hot spot, kayangan lake in coron: the philippines most famous photo spot, 15 incredible islands in coron you must visit in the philippines, 20 beautiful places in the philippines for your bucket list, what to wear in bali: the ultimate packing list, 15 awesome things to do in manila (itinerary for first time visitors), 15 best things to do in yangon, myanmar, 35 amazing things to do in southeast asia (across 7 countries), 25 epic & best places to visit in southeast asia, 21 epic things to do in bali.

Divergent Travelers- Adventure Travel Blog

Independent always


Founded in 2004, we’ve been researching independent travel guides to Southeast Asia ever since. We pay our own way. Always.

Longread: Welcome to Singapore, but…

It’s easy to roll my eyes at the gross misrepresentation of my country in films like Crazy Rich Asians , but things get more awkward when I’m face–to–face with gushing foreigners, talking about how much they’d love to move to Singapore, how it’s just so much better than wherever they’re living, how it seems so beautiful and wonderful and everything “just works”. In that moment, I don’t want to be that party pooper who goes off on a rant, because that feels impolite and also unfair to both my country and the speaker who just wants to pay a compliment. But I’m also reluctant to let go of an opportunity to raise awareness of the struggles Singapore’s activist and pro–democracy advocates face. More often than not, I’m just left with a sense of ambivalence. .

Published April 1, 2021.

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Highlights of South East Asia

southeast asia travel

Stay with a local Khmer family

Visit Chambok, a rural spot in Cambodia renowned for its ecotourism, where you’ll join a member of the local community on a village walk and hear stories of their history, lifestyle and ecotourism projects. Meet the family you’ll be staying with before heading to a nearby community centre for a traditional Khmer dinner and dance performance.

southeast asia travel

Take a Thai cooking class

Ready yourself for a hands-on masterclass in Central Thai cuisine. Start the day with a trip to the morning markets in Kanchanaburi, where you’ll find stalls piled high with fresh fruit and veg, meat, fish and spices. Then make your way into the kitchen where you’ll whip up classics like jungle curry, wing beans and banana flower cake, then feast on your creations for lunch.


Visit the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre

Visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which was set up to help re-introduce these wonderful creatures back into the wild after a life of domestication or having been orphaned. From the viewing platform, you can watch and photograph these charming creatures as they swing into view and eat the supplementary diet of bananas and milk that is laid out for them twice a day. 

southeast asia travel

Kayak around Halong Bay

Grab your paddle and explore the far reaching corners of World Heritage-listed Halong Bay. Kayak between the gigantic limestone karsts that lie off the coast of Cat Ba Island and pepper the lesser-visited Lan Ha Bay. If you’re feeling adventurous, make your way through water-carved tunnels and caves. When kayaking at dusk be sure to take a break to admire the sunset over the South China Sea.   

Browse by country

Traveller jumping in front of a longtail boat.


Marina Bay, Singapore.

What to see in 7-10 days in South East Asia

If you’ve only got a week or so to play with, you’re probably better off sticking to a single country. That way you’ll be sure to tick off the highlights whilst leaving time for a bit of rest and relaxation. Vietnam would be perfect! Fly into the vibrant capital of Hanoi, spend the night on a boat at Halong Bay and ride the overnight train to heritage-listed Hue. You could then take the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An, squeeze in a visit to the Mekong Delta, before winding up in Ho Chi Minh City.

Another option would be to head to Myanmar . Home to the floating village communities on Inle Lake, mouth-watering Burmese delicacies, a plethora of golden-domed temples and more. Alternatively, with 10 days in Borneo you could experience Kinabalu National Park, meet the locals in Dusun, meet mischievous orangutans in Sepilok and soak up the sun on Manukan Island.

Taking photos of the sunrise on Mt Batur, Bali.

What to see in 3 weeks in South East Asia

You’ll see a fair bit in three weeks and combining the likes of Cambodia and Thailand will help you get a proper feel for South East Asia. You’d be able to amble around the temples of Angkor, experience the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and snorkel off the beaches fringing the idyllic Thai islands. And even after all that, you’d still have time to uncover Cambodia’s tragic past in Phnom Penh and take a bike ride around the tiny rural villages near Battambang.

Swap Thailand for Laos and you could add a two-day slow-boat trip down the Mekong, a refreshing swim at Kuang Si Falls and a pit-stop to explore the Buddha-filled Pak Ou Caves. Island hopping around Indonesia would be another great idea, where you could do everything from witnessing the mythical dragons living on Komodo to watching the sunrise from the summit of Bali’s Mount Batur.

Kung Si Falls in Luang Prabang, Laos.

What to see in 6 weeks in South East Asia

With six weeks to spare, South East Asia is your oyster! The traditional loop of Thailand , Laos , Vietnam and Cambodia never disappoints. Travelling in a circle from Bangkok, you’ll visit the elephant hospitals in Chiang Mai, admire the colonial architecture of Luang Prabang, cruise around picture-perfect Halong Bay and experience the majesty of Angkor Wat. Add a couple of days in Myanmar and you’ll enjoy Yangon, Bago and the famous Golden Rock pagoda too.

Or, if you’ve already tackled the classic route an extended trip through Malaysia would be amazing. You could conquer Mount Kinabalu, soak up the city skyline with a cocktail at the Petronas Towers and see turtles laying their eggs in the sands of Turtle Island. You won’t regret a fleeting visit to Singapore either, stopping off at Little India, Gardens by the Bay, Raffles Hotel and Sentosa Park.

South East Asia FAQs

Do i need a covid-19 vaccine to join an intrepid trip in south east asia.

Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards

From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travelers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).

However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travelers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.

Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.

Learn more about Intrepid’s COVID-19 policy

What countries are a part of South East Asia?

The region of South East Asia encompasses the following countries: 

  • Philippines 
  • Timor-Leste

Do I need a visa to travel to South East Asia?

Whether you need a visa to travel to South East Asia depends on what country you're a national of and which country you're traveling to. Generally, passport holders from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom don't need visas to travel around South East Asia, but visa requirements will vary from country to country. For example, citizens from the previously mentioned countries will need a visa to travel to Vietnam, however, they won't require a visa if traveling to Thailand. 

If you're unsure of the visa requirements of the country you're traveling to, it's best to check on government-run websites or at your nearest embassy or consulate. 

What is the internet access like in South East Asia?

The internet access in South East Asia can vary from country to country and between different regions in that country. Most hotel chains or other accommodation options in major cities will have WIFI, so connecting to the internet will be easy. However, buying an international SIM card with a local provider is recommended if you'd rather have no restrictions (and no exorbitant data roaming fees). This still doesn't mean you're guaranteed to have access to the internet though as the signal is often limited or unreliable in rural areas in countries such as Laos, Timor-Leste and Myanmar. 

What are the toilets like in South East Asia?

The toilet facilities in South East Asia differ depending on which country you're in and what region of that country you're in. Most major cities have westernized toilet facilities in places such as restaurants and hotels, but the further from urban areas you are, the more likely you'll find squat toilets, so set your expectations accordingly. Toilet paper is also a rare find unless you're in major cities or popular tourist areas, so it's best to always pack your own in preparation. 

Can I drink the water in South East Asia?

There aren't many countries in South East Asia where the tap water is recommended for drinking, especially in Laos and Cambodia. To avoid getting sick, buy bottled water or use filtered water to brush your teeth. You should also be mindful when showering, ask for drinks with no ice in them and peel all fruit before you eat them. While Malaysia is considered to have the safest drinking water, it still has a different mineral content than your stomach might be used to so it's best to stick to filtered or bottled water where possible. 

When is the best time to visit South East Asia?

The best time to travel to South East Asia is between November and February when the weather is relatively dry, humidity levels are low and temperatures are warm but not uncomfortable. However, this is considered to be 'peak season' so expect large crowds at popular tourist destinations and increased accommodation prices in major cities. If you want to avoid all of that, try traveling during the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November. If you can, avoid travelling from June to August as this is South East Asia's rainy, cyclone season. 

Is tipping common in South East Asia?

While it might not be as prevalent as it is in the US, tipping is still part of the culture in most South East Asian countries. However, how much you tip and in what scenarios tipping is expected will differ depending on the country you're traveling in. For example, tipping isn't expected or required in Malaysia and Singapore (and can even be considered rude), but countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are starting to accept tipping culture. 

What currency will I need on a tour in South East Asia?

The currency you need when traveling in South East Asia depends on which countries you'll be visiting, with each country having its own currency. Below is a list of countries with their currencies:

  • Vietnam - Vietnamese Dong (VND)
  • Indonesia - Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
  • Singapore - Singapore Dollar (SGD) 
  • Cambodia - Cambodian Riel (KHR)
  • Malaysia - Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) 
  • Thailand - Thai Baht (THB)
  • Philippines - Philippine Peso (PHP)
  • Myanmar - Myanmar Kyat (MMK)
  • Timor-Leste - United States Dollars (USD)
  • Laos - Lao Kip (LAK)  
  • Brunei - Brunei Dollar (BND)

Do I need to bring cash with me on a tour in South East Asia?

It's worth bringing cash with you if you're traveling around South East Asia, as paying with cash is still very prevalent in most countries. Countries like Vietnam and Thailand are big on markets and hawker hall type cafeterias, so having cash is usually the easiest way to buy things and makes bargaining for items more accessible.  

Is South East Asia safe for LGBTQIA+ travelers?

Most of the countries in South East Asia have a thriving LGBTQIA+ scene, especially Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. However, discretion is still advised for travelers of the LGBTQIA+ community when it comes to public displays of affection, particularly if you're traveling away from the larger cities to more rural areas where acceptance of same-sex relationships may not be as common. 

We recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel for more detailed and up-to-date advice.

Do I need to purchase travel insurance for a trip to South East Asia?

Absolutely. All passengers traveling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to:  Travel Insurance

Is South East Asia accessible for travelers with disabilities?

Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. However, we’re always happy to talk to travelers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.

Learn more about Accessible Travel with Intrepid

Read more about South East Asia

southeast asia travel

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Tours & Top Tens

29 Best Places to Visit in Southeast Asia

Last updated on October 6, 2023 by Touropia Editors - 4 Comments

Southeast Asia is a group of diverse countries between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, featuring indigenous cultures influenced by Indian, Chinese and Western culture. The region includes the most populous Muslim country in the world, very prominent Buddhist countries, and quite significant Christian, Hindu and Animist communities.

It has long been a favorite corner of the world for globe-tramping backpackers, known for its perfect beaches, tasty cuisine, low prices, and good air connections.

The countries of Southeast Asia represent a totally different culture for Western travelers. Instead of cathedrals, they’ll find temples. Instead of cold temperatures and snow in the winter, for the most part they’ll be bathed in a tropical climate. They may find simple accommodations in remote fishing villages but also luxurious five-star hotels in the bigger cities and on the more popular islands.

Southeast Asia will appeal to active, adventuresome travelers, who want to trek through steamy jungles, dive in some of the world’s best coral reefs, camp or go whitewater rafting on new rivers. But the region also offers the less active travelers something, who, after a day of visiting temples and other cultural sites, just want to relax in comfort in a luxury hotel. An overview of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia:

29. Vientiane [SEE MAP]


Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is located on the Mekong River near the border with Thailand. A former French holding, it is a graceful city that is now the country’s economic center. Visitors to Vientiane won’t want to miss the Pha That Luang, a a Buddhist stupa that dates back to 1586. Buddhist temples and sites abound, but travelers also will want to walk through the Mekong Riverside Park.

28. Sihanoukville [SEE MAP]


Cambodia’s most popular beach destination, Sihanoukville is where the U.S. fought its last battle in the Vietnam War. Though none of Sihanoukville’s beaches would qualify as Southeast Asia’s finest it is a great place to relax after visiting all the Khmer ruins in the rest of the country.

The beaches are popular with a variety of travelers from backpackers who stay in huts on the beach to those who prefer the luxury of five-star hotels. Snorkeling is popular on some of the offshore islands.

27. Sapa [SEE MAP]


Situated in the remote northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a quiet town used as a base for trekking in the surrounding mountains, touring rice paddies and visiting traditional villages and hill tribes.

In the town of Sapa itself, there are attractive French colonial sites worth visiting while the various ethnic tribes in the area often gather at the town market to sell their handicrafts, which make excellent souvenirs.

26. Perhentian Islands [SEE MAP]

Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands are a small group of beautiful, coral-fringed islands off the coast of northeastern Malaysia, not far from the Thai border. The two main islands are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil (Big and Small Perhentian). Kecil attracts more travellers as it has cheaper accommodation, while Besar caters more to families and those who want to avoid the backpacker party scene.

25. Hanoi [SEE MAP]


Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, blends the charm of the old world with a pace of life that is quickening as this old city modernizes. Visitors may see locals taking tai-chi lessons in the park in the mornings, while skateboarders zoom by. At the heart of Hanoi is its Old Quarter, an open-air museum of historic Asian and French colonial architecture that has largely remained intact. Ancient temples and art museums share the attractions list with museums devoted to the Vietnamese revolution and military history.

See also: Where to Stay in Hanoi

24. Vang Vieng [SEE MAP]

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a picturesque town north of Vientiane that is known for its limestone karst formations. Located on the Nam Song River, the town is surrounded by karst hills, making it very scenic.

This town of 25,000 people is popular with backpackers who come to tube and kayak on the river. Visitors also like to hike, explore caves and rock climb in the hills. Textiles are a popular purchase.

23. Phuket [SEE MAP]


Known for its gorgeous beaches and excellent diving, Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and most popular destination outside of Bangkok. With resorts, hotels, shops, restaurants and vibrant nightlife, Patong Beach is the most popular beach.

Phuket is also a place for ultimate relaxation and pampering with its numerous options that range from massage tents on the beach to world-class spa resorts in breathtaking settings.

22. Kuala Lumpur [SEE MAP]

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city that serves as the capital of Malaysia. The country’s most populous city, it has a landscape filled with innovatively designed skyscrapers, including the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s tallest twin towers. Kuala Lumpur also boasts an outstanding Islamic Arts Museum; the Bukit Bintang pedestrian bridge and tunnel that connects the downtown area, and a bird park that is the world’s largest walk-in aviary.

See also: Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur

21. Gili Islands [SEE MAP]

Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are three small islands located in northwestern Indonesia off the coast of Lombok. The islands are perfect for travelers who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Cars aren’t allowed on the islands, with people using horse carriages or bicycles to move about. Relaxing may be the primary activity here, but the islands also are popular with divers and snorkelers.

20. Phnom Penh [SEE MAP]

Phnom Penh

Once known as “the pearl of Asia,” Phnom Penh is considered one of the prettiest of the cities the French built in Indochina though the city is still recovering from war and revolution. French influence can still be found today in Cambodia’s capital.

Located on the Mekong River, the city actually dates back to the 15th century. Top attractions include the Royal Palace and the National Museum, which contains a large collection of Khmer artifacts.

19. Chiang Mai [SEE MAP]

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, was founded in the 13th century, and is one of the most culturally significant cities in the country. It’s located on the Ping River among Thailand’s highest mountains.

The region is home to more than 300 Buddhist temples and also hosts a night market that is famous for handicrafts. It’s a good place to take in one of the area’s Thai festivals.

See also: Where to Stay in Chiang Mai

18. Inle Lake [SEE MAP]

Inle Lake

Inle Lake, located in southeast Myanmar, is the country’s second largest lake. The Intha people live in small villages round the lake and in floating houses on the lake itself, making for a picturesque scene. Besides fishing, locals also grow fruits and veggies on floating gardens.

Commuter and tourist motorboats and flat-bottomed skiffs navigate the vast lake, the latter propelled by the unique Intha technique of leg rowing in which one leg is wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through the water in a snake-like motion.

17. Palawan [SEE MAP]


Palawan is an island province in the Philippines that stretches from Mindoro to Borneo between the South China and Sulu seas. Puerto Princesa, which is close to large karst formations with an underground river, is the provincial capital.

Coron Reefs on Busuanga Island is one of the best diving spots in the world, drawing divers who want to explore Japanese shipwrecks from World War II. Another popular destination is El Nido, a town sandwiched between towering limestone karst cliffs and the beautiful Bacuit Bay.

16. Taman Negara [SEE MAP]

Taman Negara

Taman Negara is a national park located in Malaysia’s Titiwangsa Mountains. It’s one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia for ecotourists and travelers who want to get up close and personal with a tropical jungle. Popular activities include walking through the jungle, sometimes on rope bridges through the forests; hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, fishing and camping. Travelers will need a high level of energy to tackle all the activities the park offers.

15. Hoi An [SEE MAP]

Hoi An

Hoi An is a charming town known for its great atmosphere at the mouth of the Thu Bon River on Vietnam’s central coast. Also known as Fai-Fo, the town boasts a well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port , which it once was until the river silted up.

The narrow, winding lanes of the old port are lined with beautiful old architecture, traditional wooden houses and hundreds of tailor shops selling everything from clothing to souvenirs.

14. Yangon [SEE MAP]


With more than 5 million residents, Yangon, also known as Rangoon, is a former capital of Burma and Myanmar’s largest city. Once a small fishing village, Yangon was ruled by the British at one time and has the most colonial buildings of any city in Southeast Asia.

Top tourist attractions include the Shwedagon Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist shrine surrounded by parks, a war cemetery, and the city’s only synagogue, Musmeah Yeshua.

13. Boracay [SEE MAP]


Boracay is a small island located less than 320 km (200 miles) south of Manila, the country’s capital. It is most famous for its beautiful beaches, which various travel publications have termed some of the best in Southeast Asia.

Top beaches include Yapak, known for its white shells, and White Beach, known for stunning sunsets. Another top attraction is Wiley’s Rock, which features a statue of the Virgin Mary sitting atop a volcanic formation.

12. Mount Kinabalu [SEE MAP]

Mount Kinabalu

Towering 4095 meter (13,435 ft) above northern Borneo, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and the island of New Guinea. The main peak of the mountain can be climbed easily by a person with a good physical condition, and requires no mountaineering equipment although climbers must be accompanied by guides at all times.

For those with limited time or energy, there are gardens and many short walks through the jungle to enjoy in the vicinity of the entrance.

11. Komodo National Park [SEE MAP]

Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park is located on an archipelago near the island of Flores. The islands are populated by thousands of giant lizards known as “Komodo dragons” because of their appearance and aggressiveness.

This is the only place in the world where these lizards, the largest in the world, can be found. Although attacks are very rare, Komodo dragons have been known to attack humans.

10. Singapore [SEE MAP]


Singapore, a city-state, lies at the south end of the Malay Peninsula just 137 km (85 miles) above the equator. Chinese are the predominant ethnic group, at 75 percent of the population. Travelers will hear residents speaking a variety of languages: Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil. Singapore is a former British colony, with its top sights including the graceful Raffles Hotel, gardens and nature trails, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, and the city zoo.

See also: Where to Stay in Singapore

9. Ko Phi Phi [SEE MAP]

Ko Phi Phi

Phi Phi is a beautiful archipelago located in the Krabi Province not too far from Phuket. Ko Phi Phi Don is the only island in the group with permanent inhabitants while the smaller Ko Phi Phi Leh is famous as the filming location for the 2000 movie “The Beach”. Travelers go here enjoy the beaches and to participate in a variety of water recreation activities, such as snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking. The island was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, but is bouncing back with new construction.

8. Luang Prabang [SEE MAP]

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang lies at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in northcentral Laos. The former royal capital is famous for its Buddhist temples and monasteries, with monks walking through the city collecting alms in the morning.

The old town is popular with tourists who want to shop, visit temples or soak in the atmosphere. There are several waterfalls nearby, as well as the famous Pak Ou Caves.

7. Borobudur [SEE MAP]


Located on the island of Java, 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Yogyakarta , the Borobudur is the largest and most famous Buddhist temple in the world. The Borobudur was built over a period of some 75 years in the 8th and 9th centuries by the kingdom of Sailendra, out of an estimated 2 million blocks of stone.

It was abandoned in the 14th century for reasons that still remain a mystery and for centuries lay hidden in the jungle under layers of volcanic ash.

6. Ifugao Rice Terraces [SEE MAP]

Ifugao Rice Terraces

Photographers will want to have lots of memory cards with them when they visit the picturesque Ifugao Rice Terraces on the island of Luzon. For 2,000 years, people have been growing rice on terraces that follow the contours of the Cordilleras Mountains.

The most famous ones can be found around the town of Banaue. They were created by the Ifugao ethnic people without modern tools and are still used today.

5. Bagan [SEE MAP]


Myanmar’s answer to Angkor Wat, Bagan, on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River, is home to the largest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas in the world. Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire from the 9th to the 13th centuries.

The site that Marco Polo once described as the “gilded city” was home to around 13,000 Buddhist temples in its 11th-century heyday. Thousands remain, including the famous Ananda temple with its sparkling gold spires.

4. Bangkok [SEE MAP]


What started out as a small trading post in the 15th century has now grown into a city of eight million people: Bangkok , the capital of Thailand. Visitors will find plenty of photo ops at the city’s famous floating markets where they can also buy veggies, tropical fruits and Thai snacks made in a floating kitchen. When travelers grow weary of visiting temples, they can visit a snake farm or just go shopping.

3. Ha Long Bay [SEE MAP]

Ha Long Bay

Located in northeastern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay resembles a scene from a fantasy story with its thousands of limestone karst islands of different shapes and sizes. Some of the islands contain lakes while some are hollow, with a colorful fairyland of grottoes inside.

Four fishing villages composed of floating houses where the occupants fish for 200 different fish and 450 kinds of mollusks, can be found on Ha Long Bay.

2. Bali [SEE MAP]


The undisputed favorite of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands, Bali lives up to its reputation as the quintessential tropical paradise. The waters around Bali are known for its high marine diversity and coral reefs while the lush rice terraces provide a picturesque backdrop to its colorful and deeply spiritual Hindu culture.

The island also has several great beach towns, like Kula, as well as other areas, such as Ubud, which are known for performing and artistic arts.

1. Angkor [SEE MAP]

#1 of Best Places To Visit In Southeast Asia

When it comes to archeological sites, travelers won’t want to miss Angkor in northern Cambodia. It contains some of the world’s most important cultural remains. These include the enormous Angkor Wat temple, the Bayon temple with its multitude of massive stone faces and Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple ruin entwined with towering trees.

Historically, Angkor served as the Khmer capital from the ninth to 14th centuries, which influenced art throughout Southeast Asia.

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Reader interactions.

' src=

February 15, 2021 at 4:06 am

Stay away from Sihanoukville, it is now a huge building site ruined by the Chinese building Cambodia’s version of Las Vegas.

Cambodia’s main attraction for you tourists are the Angkor Park temples in Siem Reap, amazing temples built in the 12th century.

' src=

February 13, 2018 at 7:49 am

There is also a new Elephant eco-park in Phuket.

' src=

February 3, 2018 at 8:37 pm

I just visited an elephant sanctuary park near Chang mai in Thailand where we fed, washed and walked with rescued elephants . Never felt so emotionally rewarded … kindest gentlest giants . Say no to cruel elephant trecking where animals are abused both physically and mentally …

' src=

March 8, 2017 at 12:18 pm

I agree with Marie. It would be worth searching to see if there is an eco-tourist elephant park where there is no riding. I went to one in Chiang mai and it was fantastic.

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12 tips for your first trip to Southeast Asia

Lori Zaino

Editor's note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing travel deals and destination content because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn't advise booking trips for travel until summer or fall — and even then be mindful of cancellation policies. This story has been updated with new information.

Southeast Asia is one of the most magical regions on earth. Filled with stunning beaches , historic temples, verdant jungles and bustling cities, there's something for every traveler there. But staying healthy and safe is something to consider when visiting a region so different from your own, especially for the first time. Things like visa requirements , best times to visit, currency exchange and what to bring may be at the top of your mind, as well as the most obvious question -- which country should you visit?

After a number of long-term visits over the years to varying countries in Southeast Asia, I've learned a thing or two. Beginner travelers should check out these travel tips and follow this Southeast Asia travel advice when considering a visit to the region for the first time.

1. Pick your countries wisely

While it's tempting to visit many countries and cities on a single trip to Southeast Asia, it's worth taking it slow and digging into the culture of a single country and/or just a handful of places, rather than exhausting yourself with a travel itinerary that has you hopping all over what amounts to an enormous territory.

For example, Bali , Indonesia and Hanoi, Vietnam , are both set within Southeast Asia, but beware -- they're a seven-hour flight away from each other. Before you commit to flights and accommodation , pull out the map and choose countries/cities that are relatively close together or are easily accessible by nonstop flights or direct trains.

Hanoi city in Vietnam. (Photo by Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Images)

When deciding on the best country to visit in Southeast Asia, you should also take into account whether you want to explore cities, relax on beaches, see the outdoors or embrace culture, cuisine and history.

The best country to visit for beginner travelers could be Thailand. First-time visitors to the region may also enjoy Bali, Indonesia. Both of these spots are used to an influx of tourists and have plenty of amenities. They're both relatively easy to navigate and have friendly locals that speak English.

More experienced travelers or those wanting an adventure may prefer spots like Myanmar, Malaysia or Laos. While almost all Southeast Asia destinations welcome backpackers with open arms, Cambodia is very backpacker-friendly -- and is extremely affordable, especially outside of tourist destination Angkor Wat. Those wanting to lap a country from top to bottom should head to Vietnam. For unexplored beaches, visit more off-the-beaten-path islands in Indonesia (that aren't Bali) or the Philippines .

Related: 9 of the best sustainable backpacks for travelers

2. Check visa requirements

Several Southeast Asian countries require your passport to have at least six months' worth of validity left or a specific number of empty pages -- and visa requirements seem to be constantly changing. For example, a few years ago, e-visas weren't available online for several entrance points in Myanmar, but now they are. Meanwhile, Vietnam has changed its visa requirements in past years and now citizens from several European countries no longer need a visa to enter.

Check visa requirements ahead of time and apply online if possible. For example, U.K. nationals will find that applying for a visa to enter Laos online is relatively straightforward and can ease hassle upon arrival, especially when you're jet-lagged in a new and unfamiliar country.

(Photo by Yadpiroon Mimala/EyeEm/Getty Images)

If you do end up needing a visa upon arrival at your chosen destination(s), be prepared with the proper currency and passport-size photos of yourself. Many airport visa offices have ATMs/exchange services (albeit with terrible rates) and photo booths, but if you arrive with these items in hand, as well as any forms you might need printed and filled out ahead of time, the visa experience will be quicker and easier.

Also, be sure to grab a couple of extra entrance and exit forms each time you enter a country -- if you end up leaving and reentering that country by bus, boat or train, having the correct forms handy will enable you to save time you'd otherwise spend in a line.

3. Pack light and right

Deciding what to bring to Southeast Asia is a common conundrum. Try to pack as light as possible and do laundry wherever you go rather than trekking around with an overweight backpack or heavy trolley bag. In most Southeast Asian countries, you can get your clothes washed, dried and ironed in under 24 hours for the equivalent of a couple of dollars, and at street markets, you can shop inexpensively for any extra clothes and toiletries you may need.

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

These are the things you should make sure to pack:

  • raincoat/umbrella (especially during rainy season)
  • modest clothing covering knees/shoulders for temple visits
  • first aid kit (including all kinds of stomach medicines)
  • small flashlight
  • earplugs/ sleepmask
  • hand sanitizer
  • travel packs of tissues (note that squat toilets usually aren't equipped with toilet paper)
  • adaptor/multi-port plug that allows you to charge a few of your electronics at once

Related reading: 14 packing hacks for traveling with just a carry-on

4. Best times to visit Southeast Asia: rainy or dry season?

You can organize your trip in one of two ways: picking a destination(s) first and then selecting the best time to go, or picking your destination(s) based on what will have the best weather during the time you're able to visit. Most countries in Southeast Asia have two main seasons: wet and dry.

Even certain regions within countries can have separate rainy seasons . For example, if you want to have a beach holiday in Thailand over Christmas, it's better to choose islands in the Andaman Sea, which are sunny, like Koh Lanta or Koh Yao Yai and skip the Gulf of Thailand islands, such as Koh Samui or Koh Tao, where it's rainy season.

(Photo by Henn Photography/Getty Images)

If you're visiting larger cities, rainy season may not be so bad. You'll experience a downpour or two for sure, but you may get cheaper hotel deals or better value on airfare. But, it may be best to avoid smaller towns or villages during the wet season where lack of infrastructure during floods may complicate your stay.

It's also important to consider additional seasonal situations -- like burning season, where many Southeast Asian regions burn brush and old crops to prepare for planting. Air quality is bad during this time and may affect tourists, especially those with respiratory problems.

5. Safeguard your health

Before you travel to individual countries, check their vaccine requirements and recommendations -- and then actually get those vaccinations. If you're worried about the expense, be aware that you can opt to get your vaccinations upon arrival in Bangkok , where they're often affordable at local health centers. When traveling to any Southeast Asian country, getting tetanus shots and typhoid vaccines are generally a good idea. In addition to any necessary vaccines, seek out strong mosquito repellent, as this can help protect you from dengue fever and malaria.

(Photo by Guido Mieth/Getty Images)

6. Get travel insurance

Plan to get travel insurance when visiting the region, because health risks in Southeast Asia don't entirely diminish even if you've had your vaccines. As Southeast Asia trips often include adventures like indulging in street food, zip-lining, scuba diving , jungle treks and motorcycle rentals, it's wise to have a policy in place.

(Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

During a previous trip to Thailand, I developed an ear infection from snorkeling . Thanks to my travel insurance, I was in and out of a doctor's office within an hour, complete with medicine and a special souvenir bag (see above) -- all covered by my policy. Years ago in Malaysia, my husband cut his foot on coral while diving and required antibiotics. Having travel insurance made the situation an easy (and free) fix. Insurance policies can also cover non-health-related problems such as lost luggage or issues with flights and hotels, so look into getting the best travel insurance policy for you.

7. Consider alternate travel methods

While we love a good points and miles deal, using trains, low-cost airlines and ferries is a great way to save money while moving from place to place. Buses are generally the cheapest method of transport in Southeast Asian countries, but be aware of travel scams and know that you might be in for dirt, dust, unpleasant (or simply strange) smells, crowds, bumpy roads and more.

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Ferries can sometimes be crowded, but are a quick, cheap and a direct form of travel between islands, and though often slow, trains are a fun way to explore and see the lay of the land(s). Low-cost carriers such as AirAsia, Bangkok Airways , Nok Air, Tiger Air and more offer cheap flights to a variety of destinations -- and some even have frequent flyer programs . Though often a splurge in comparison to bare-bones taxi-boat journeys, river cruises are luxurious, scenic adventures and a great mode of transportation.

8. Rent a scooter at your own risk

If I had a dollar for every 20-something I saw with a bandaged knee, chin or foot in Thailand, I would easily be rich. Renting scooters can be a great way to get around, but in some Southeast Asian countries you'll need to drive on a different side of the road you're accustomed to and you may have to battle intense traffic, hills, curves, stray dogs, dirt or sand roads, crazy taxi drivers -- and worst of all, other foreigners driving scooters who are unfamiliar with these conditions. Even though many locals and tourists don't wear helmets, you still should.

(Photo by John W Banagan/Getty Images)

Before you head off with a rental scooter, be sure that your rental agent sees you taking detailed photos and/or videos of the bike, and actively point out any scratches or concerns to them. Though scooter rentals are often just a few dollars per day upfront, scooter scams are common, where a rental agent will insist that you've scratched or otherwise damaged their motorbike, charging you hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars in damages before they'll return your passport to you.

9. Be smart about currency exchange

Airports and banks often charge excessive fees to exchange money, but you'll usually get a decent exchange rate if you wait to change money once you're in Southeast Asia. However, know that Southeast Asian hotels generally offer terrible exchange rates, so stick to banks or other spots that advertise "Money Exchange." Make sure to change plenty of cash, as street market vendors, taxi drivers and smaller restaurants may not take credit/debit cards.

(Photo by Yellow Dog Productions/Getty Images)

Many hotels and larger restaurants will take credit/debit cards though, so make sure to use ones that hold no foreign transaction fees.

10. Avoid "temple burnout"

"Temple burnout" happens when you see so many ornate and beautiful temples that they all begin to look the same -- and you lose interest in seeing any more, ever. To avoid this malady, arrange some non-temple-oriented activities on your Southeast Asia travel itinerary, or simply take a day (or two) off to relax and rest your eyes. After a bit of visual reboot, you'll have a whole new appreciation for a region of the globe that has more amazing temples than you could possibly imagine.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram Ayutthaya Thailand. (Photo by SOMPOP SRINOPHAN/Getty Images)

11. Don't be afraid to bargain

You should absolutely bargain with local street vendors or at markets -- it's a cultural norm to do so. I've had some great times bargaining and laughing with street vendors and even made friends with a few locals along the way, coming home with memorable souvenirs for my efforts. Just make sure to barter reasonably and always with a smile on your face. The point of bargaining is to engage with locals and agree on a fair price, not to cheat them or get scammed yourself.

(Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

12. Be a responsible tourist

It's best to avoid orphanage tourism, hill tribe visits or any activity that exploits children, ethnic groups or animals. When participating in elephant tourism, make sure to carefully vet your organization and make sure they're protecting the animals in lieu of harming them.

While begging children may tug at your heartstrings, the more money they earn from tourists, the more their parents see them as a source of monetary gain and the less inclined they are to send them to school -- where they'd have a shot at a better future.

Instead of giving children money, trying chatting with them. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

When diving/snorkeling or out in nature, make sure to adhere to the no trace policy , not littering or taking anything from delicate natural environments.

If you want to lend real support to locals in Southeast Asia, dine at Tree Alliance restaurants . Located in Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, these eateries train disadvantaged young adults as chefs and waiters and also donate money to programs that assist low-income locals to get jobs. Offering traditional cuisine, these restaurants provide a delicious way to help.

Related: 5 tourism-supported charities that need your help now more than ever

Or, visit an organization like Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang, where tourists can read books, play games or chat with kids and teens eager to practice their English.

Related: How to be a better traveler

Bottom line

Armed with these useful travel tips for Southeast Asia, you'll have a safe, smooth and successful first trip to this beautiful region. Happy travels!

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South East Asia Tours & Trips 2024

Explore tour packages that will take you through the mesmerizing lands of Southeast Asia. These adventures will reveal the beauty of Thailand and Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, alike. Visit world-renowned temples or soak in the sun on some of the best beaches on the planet such as Bali .

250+ South East Asia tour packages with 40,479 reviews

Southeast Asia Discovery: Seasides and Street Food Tour

  • In-depth Cultural
  • Active Adventure
  • Christmas & New Year

Southeast Asia Discovery: Seasides and Street Food

"I really enjoyed traveling with Cheak. He really made our group feel as a family. 10 out of 10 would recommend traveling with Cheak"

Glimpse Of Indochina In 16 Days (Vietnam,Cambodia,Thailand,Laos) Tour

Glimpse Of Indochina In 16 Days (Vietnam,Cambodia,Thailand,Laos)

"First of all, this trip wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was if it wasn’t for Tessa from Realistic Asia’s team! She was available 24/7 on our trip; and leading up to it. She answered every question we had and if we had any problems she immediately resolved them quickly, and made the experience better. We had a blast in all 4 countries. We thought we’d be more jet lagged than we were having to take 9 flights coming from Boston, but the Realistic Asia team keeps you busy so you don’t even notice! Food was amazing, temples were other worldly, and our highlights were Siem Reap And Laos. From the waterfalls, villages, culture and traditions- it was insightful, adventurous and an absolutely stunning part of the world. I would 100% say this trip is for ADVENTURE people. If you are looking to relax and go to the beach, this is not the trip for you. Southeast Asia has so much culture, amazing, kind and respectful people and so many amazing sights to see. Do it all! We also were two 23/24 yr old women going on this trip and felt safe every where especially with door to door private transportation everywhere. I liked how the tour had us busy from mornings to later afternoon most days (3-7pm end time) so we had time to explore on our own. We also added the elephant sanctuary in Bangkok and it was life changing. The only real issue is understanding there is a lot of travel involved once in the countries. There is a lot of traffic and you have to be ok with it. It’s worth it to get to the end destination. We did the four star accommodations and they were ok, we had some issues regarding cleanliness at some of the hotels but they were quickly resolved and even upgraded with Tessa’s help. It’s important to note the Western expectation for hotels is slightly different so be prepared- still the hotel staff is very friendly, good rooms and all your really doing is sleeping and showering so it wasn’t a problem. I can’t wait to come back and I will for sure be doing it through Tessa, Realistic Asia— she deserves a RAISE!!! Tessa is amazing and made the trip wonderful for us. She went out of her way multiple times to make sure we had an amazing time. It was her first priority and it was felt! 🤗"
  • Book With Flexibility This operator allows you to rebook your dates or tours with them for free, waiving change fees.

Southeast Asia Encompassed Tour

Southeast Asia Encompassed

"Patty was incredible. She deserves the highest praise for capability, positive energy, leadership, personality. She made the journey through SE Asia a joy. Her skill at uniting the family of travelers is top notch."

Bali Bucket List Original 10 Day Tour Tour

  • Sightseeing

Bali Bucket List Original 10 Day Tour

"Ali was a wonderful tour guide and worked hard to make everyone happy. Really made it an enjoyable experience along with the rest of the group!"
  • €55 deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

South to North - 15 days Tour

South to North - 15 days

"This was my first solo group travel experience and it honestly couldn't have gone better - Gab and Emi were amazing tour leaders, everyone in the group was so lovely and ended up feeling like a little family???? The trip really does cover all the best bits of Thailand...Some of my personal highlights were staying in floating houses in the national park, the overnight night train, being able to see elephants up close and Sammy's cooking class???? Everything was planned really well giving us a perfect mix of culture, expierences and night outs! This was one of the best things I've done and I will treasure the memories forever...anddd I really recommend feelfree as a company to do it with❤️"

Glimpse Of Indochina In 15 Days - Departure every Sunday from Siem Reap Tour

Glimpse Of Indochina In 15 Days - Departure every Sunday from Siem Reap

Thai Intro 12 Day Tour

Thai Intro 12 Day

"I had the most amazing experience on Thai Intro! Kyle was our group leader and was the perfect leader for this trip. He bought the fun and reassurance that everyone needed. Couldn’t recommend enough"

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Northern Thailand Adventure Tour

Northern Thailand Adventure

"Whisky was an amazing tour guide who made sure we were all welcomed into the group and had an incredible 2 weeks. He went above and beyond to help anyone in the group as well as being great fun to be around. He was such a lovely person, was always happy and the holiday would not have been the same without him. The tour was great value for money and we did so much in 2 weeks! Would recommend to anyone!"

Philippines One Life Adventures - 10 Days Tour

Philippines One Life Adventures - 10 Days

"What a way to spend New Years. I've been on a few group tours before and this one really stood out. Its such a well-balanced itinerary of activities, culture and relaxation. The places you go are stunning, its like waking up in paradise everyday. Our guide Mike was incredible, he made everything run so smoothly. Highly recommend this tour!"

Thai Intro 18 Day Tour

Thai Intro 18 Day

"What an incredible time these 18 days in Thailand were. This trip is full of once in a lifetime experiences that I’ll never forget and I feel so privileged to have experienced. Floating bungalows in Khao Sok, cruising around the crystal clear waters of Phi Phi and hanging around the campfire in the middle of the northern Thai jungle are just some of the beautiful experiences that will stay with me forever. I’m not much of a party guy and I had some reservations about coming to a big group trip in Thailand. Turns out this was all for nothing as although there’s definitely a big party scene it’s only there if you want it and you have so many other chances to bond with everyone and have the best time ever. Massive thanks to our group leader Mea. Every day she went above and beyond for us all (e.g. answering my endless number of questions) and always made sure that we were safe and that everyone felt included in the group. Mea’s passion and knowledge for all things Thailand was incredible and we were so lucky to have her as our group leader. Shout out to Zoe as well who joined us for the first few days and was such good fun and helped us all bond from the start."

Bali One Life Adventures - 12 Days Tour

Bali One Life Adventures - 12 Days

"The tour was well organized and did enjoy every second. 12 days went too fast and we saw the beauty of Bali and didn’t miss anything. If you looking for exploring Bali in 12 day, this is the best for you. Thanks to Wisnu for his guide, he was awesome and we enjoyed the time with him. Also so helpful for everything we need."

Thailand Island Hopper Tour

  • Island Hopping

Thailand Island Hopper

"My guide was Gema, and she is the worlds loveliest, most caring and funniest guide I have met, she made sure everyone was happy, having a good time and was in the right state of mind, the mum of the group, she got involved in the laughs and jokes but also making sure everything was perfect for everyone, i genuinely from the bottom of my heart couldn’t have asked for a better tour Guide, she really did make dreams come true, the experience more than matched, Infact blew my expectations out of the water! We met locals, traveled the sea’s, met amazing characters on the way, saw beautiful sun sets, explored islands, swam with all sorts of creatures and fishes, did dare devil activities and tried unique cuisines, we made memories and shared laughs, and the best part about it was the fact it is also all optional when you are out there, you do not feel unsafe or pressured into doing something. the trip was just one big 5 star movie, and all thanks to Gema this couldn’t have happened with out her and my dream is satisfied… for now! Until next time! THANK YOU GEMA!"

Wanderlands Bali & Lombok - 13 Days Tour

Wanderlands Bali & Lombok - 13 Days

"Such a great tour with our amazing guides Stacia, Zio and Tim. We spent thirteen days discovering Bali and other beautiful islands and had the best time together. Our group was a lot of fun and we felt like one big family in the end. I'd definitely recommend this tour to everyone who wants to have a fun time with other people and do a lot of activities."
  • €145 deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Endless Beauty of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand - 19 Days Tour

Endless Beauty of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand - 19 Days

"We had an excellent trip. Everything was well organized, the guides and drivers were all very good, apart from one madman, but not everything is perfect. Only one small detail: we had a lot of trouble finding our driver at Bankgok airport. You have to give the gate number, it's not easy, it's a very big airport. Apart from that, everything was fine. Thank you"
  • 10% deposit on some dates Some departure dates offer you the chance to book this tour with a lower deposit.

Southeast Asia Discovery 19 Days Tour

Southeast Asia Discovery 19 Days

"My 19-day Southeast Asia Discovery tour was an absolute revelation and a testament to the art of travel. This adventure, crafted meticulously by Bravo, took us on an epic journey through the heart of Southeast Asia, revealing the wonders of each unique destination"

Reviews of South East Asia Tours

"This was my first time ever travelling without family and it was amazing! One of the best months of my life. Our CEO Tong was brilliant and full of knowledge about where we were going and what we would be doing. He made sure to have enough time for anyone and helped in anyway he could to make things run smoothly for everyone on tour including myself. If you go on this tour, make sure you ask for Tong or (Phanet Tep) as your CEO!"
"My Glimpse of IndoChina tour was fantastic- all the excursions were interesting and well thought out and I had enough free time to do other things if I wanted. Only 1 of the hotels did not live up to expectations and many were much better. Rosie at Realistic Asia was great, any issue I had was quickly resolved- even late at night! I would heartily recommend them and will go again with them. 5 stars all the way."
"I loved this tour. It was a wonderful overview of Indochina. The local tours and experiences were memorable. Our guide, Ratha Van is one of the best if not the best we've had. He was very knowledgeable, organized and fun. We had regular briefings including useful local words and phrases to make our stays more engaging. He shared his local knowledge which was extensive. When any tour member had problems, he was very helpful in helping us to resolve them. He made our tour extra special."
"Amazing tour packed full of incredible experiences. If you’re open minded, want to learn about different cultures, and you’re willing to throw yourself into all of the activities, then I would definitely recommend this tour! The hotels were clean and comfortable and everyone we met was really friendly and welcoming. There was a good mix of guided group activities and free time to choose what you want to do. Our tour guide Ali was brilliant. He kept us updated with meeting points, showed us good places to eat and made sure we were all safe and having a good time throughout the trip. Thank you Ali!"
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"My Intro Thailand 12 day tour was one of the best things ever. Such a beautiful country, very good activities and excellent food (even as a vegan). Especially our tour leader Mea was amazing. The only regret I have is not booking the 18 day tour. I would 100% recommend this tour."
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2 Week Southeast Asia Itinerary – 4 Itineraries and Routes

2 Week Southeast Asia Itinerary – 4 Itineraries and Routes

If you have only 2 weeks in Southeast Asia, check out these 4 different Southeast Asia itineraries for your perfect trip to see a combination of different places in SEA.

Southeast Asia is a vast and diverse region located in the south eastern region of Asia. Countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are in Southeast Asia.

Although these countries are collectively called Southeast Asia, you will find vastly different history, culture, climates, terrain, religion, customs and food in each country, and even within each country!

It is impossible to have one itinerary for Southeast Asia especially if you are just there for two weeks. Therefore this blog will give you 4 different Southeast Asia itineraries and routes depending on what type of things you want to do and see.

Pinterest Pin: 2 weeks Southeast Asia alternative itineraries

This blog contains occasional affiliate links, where I receive a small commission on sales of the products/hotels that are linked at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases .

Why Should I Travel to Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia is probably one of the most diverse and interesting regions in the world.

Southeast Asia has about 680m people in the region, about 8.5% of the world’s population. There are about 1000 languages spoken in Southeast Asia and a number of different religions being practiced in Southeast Asia (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and others).

Since each country in Southeast Asia has its own history, religion, culture and lifestyle, you can expect to have a vastly unique experience in every country that you visit.

In terms of terrain, you will find lush rainforest, golden rice terrace, powerful waterfalls, awe-inspiring mountains and volcanoes, world renowned beaches and diving sites in Southeast Asia.

If you like food, you will have the opportunity to try different regional food in Southeast Asia. Rice is still the staple food in Asia, but that’s where similarity between each Southeast Asian country’s cuisine ends. Every country (and even provinces within the same country) has their own dishes, ingredients, cooking style and flavor.

If you like history and religion, then you are in luck. You will find ruins of ancient civilizations such as the Pyu civilization in Myanmar, the Khmer kingdoms in Cambodia, the ancient kingdoms in Thailand and Vietnam.

Therefore regardless of what you like to do and want to experience, you will find them in Southeast Asia.

How do I get to Southeast Asia?

Major cities in each of the Southeast Asia country has domestic and/or international airports.

Depending on where you are located, your travel time to Southeast Asia could be as short as two hours or as long as 30+ hours.

If you are traveling from within Asia, then chances are there are many direct flights to places you want to go in Southeast Asia.

But if you are located in North America like US and Canada, you are generally looking at 20+ hour travel time.

For the most part you will need to transit somewhere in Asia or the Middle East (like Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, Beijing (prior to the pandemic), and Dubai) before reaching your final destination in Southeast Asia. There are a few direct flights to Singapore but most likely not directly to other cities in Southeast Asia.

How to fly to southeast Asia - Eva airline Hello Kitty Plane

If you are traveling from South America, oh boy you are looking at a long travel time and will most likely transit in Europe once or twice before reaching Southeast Asia.

How Do I Get Around Southeast Asia?

Since Southeast Asia is huge and there are so many countries, how you get around really depends on the country itself.

But in general, you can fly between the countries and take train, buses, taxis (and ride share services) and rent a motorcycle to travel between cities in the same country.

Flying in Southeast Asia

If you are planning to travel between a different countries in Southeast Asia, you will need to fly. There are certain exceptions like between Singapore and Malaysia where you can cross the border by bus or even a ferry.

The good news is there are so many airlines that fly within Southeast Asia. Some are the national flag carriers like Singapore Airline , Vietnam Airline , Thai Airways , etc.

There are also popular budget airlines that can take you everywhere in Southeast Asia, such as Air Asia , Jetstar , Scoot , etc.

Taking the Train in Southeast Asia

Train travel is popular in Southeast Asia since it is cheap, safe and convenient. You will find both day time trains (with seats) and overnight sleeper trains (with beds).

In fact many tourists and backpackers such as myself prefer taking sleeper trains to travel within each country in Southeast Asia. These overnight trains can be luxury and can save you a lot of time and money since you won’t need one night hotel.

Hanoi Train Station - Vietnam Sleeper Train | How to get around Vietnam

You can read about my overnight train experience in Vietnam .

Train tickets can be booked at the train station in person, or online websites such as 12Go , which is my go to site to book transportation in Southeast Asia.

Taking the bus in Southeast Asia

Long distance buses are another popular mode of transportation in Southeast Asia. In fact buses might be even more popular than trains because it can cover more routes.

Sleeper Bus in Vietnam | Southeast Asia itinerary and travel guide

There are day time buses as well as overnight sleeper buses in Southeast Asia, including some very luxury overnight buses.

Again, buses are cheap and convenient so many tourist and locals use them to travel long distance within one country. Again, you can book them online on 12Go , go to the bus station, or even ask your hotel to help you book.

Traveling by taxi and luxury van in Southeast Asia

Taxi, especially private ones, are something you can book in Southeast Asia if you prefer not to take bus or train and you simply want customize your trip and not be restricted by the bus or train time.

luxury Van in Southeast Asia | The best Southeast Asia travel itinerary

For the most park you can ask your hotels to help you book taxis in advance. There are also websites like 12Go and Viator that you can use to book private transfers.

We took a lot of private transfers when we were in Southeast Asia; it just made things a lot easier and we could leave whenever we wanted.

Ride share apps in Southeast Asia

With the rise of ride sharing apps globally you can bet they are in Southeast Asia also.

The most popular ride sharing app in Southeast Asia is Grab , which works similarly to Uber and Lyft. You will need to download and set up the app ahead of time and you can use it immediately upon landing (if you have data). You may also find Go-Jek in Indonesia.

There is no Uber or Lyft in Southeast Asia, they exited the market number of years ago.

Certain countries and places in Southeast Asia banned Grab in order to protect local drivers, so be sure to check before you travel. Sometimes it is the best to book a taxi or private transfer with your hotel especially in places like Bali.

Renting a Motorbikes in Southeast Asia

If you are just doing short distance travel like a day trip, you can do it the local way and rent a motorbike in Southeast Asia.

There are many motorbike rental agencies throughout Southeast Asia in major cities and towns. You can also ask your hotel where to rent them.

This is probably the cheapest and easiest way to get around Southeast Asia and offers you plenty of flexibility on where to go. But you need to be careful as many foreign tourists do get into accidents riding Motorbikes in Southeast Asia.

When is the Best Time to Go To Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia generally has 2 seasons: dry season and rainy season. However this also depends on where exactly you are going in Southeast Asia.

Dry season typically is between December to April and rainy season runs between May to November , where you can experience downpour rains and flooding (again, depends on where you go). Sometimes even during rainy season there is only a couple of hours of heavy rain then you are good to go.

Since Southeast Asia is a large region, there are a lot of plenty of microclimates. Although most of Southeast Asia is near the Equator, there are regions that are more north, near the border of China that experience colder winters than regions south of the equator.

You should also aim to avoid burning season in Southeast Asia, during which local farmers burn crops to prepare for the upcoming cultivation. The burning season is usually during the colder dry season in February and March, but it could vary by region and year.

During burning season, you will experience bad air quality, haze and unclear sky.

Another time to avoid visiting Southeast Asia is to avoid large national or religious holidays , although this also varies by country.

But during certain holidays the stores and restaurants are closed and some holidays don’t even allow people to step outside of their residence. Be sure to research the particular country and region you are visiting to avoid these holidays.

Is Southeast Asia Safe, Especially For Female Solo Travelers?

In general, Southeast Asia is quite safe, even for female solo travelers. In fact many backpackers and solo travelers rave about how safe and nice it is to visit Southeast Asia for an extended period of time.

Of course as anywhere else in the world, you should always follow local etiquette, laws and customs. There is definitely petty crime in Southeast Asia but violent crimes are rare.

Keep in mind that Southeast Asia in general is quite conservative, and there are many religious sites that require you to dress moderately, covering knees and shoulders. You may want to think twice before wearing skimpy and revealing clothing as you may get some stares and disapproving looks from the locals.

One issue you may face in Southeast Asia is taxi scams or parking scams, so try to use Grab or use public transportation or ask your hotel/ hostel to book taxi for you to avoid being scammed.

Another concern in Southeast Asia is food safety; many foreign tourists do get food poisoning at least once when visiting Southeast Asia (I have gotten food poisoning once but I have been to Southeast Asia many times). Just try to eat at well established restaurants and popular spots. If something doesn’t look fresh, don’t eat it.

Where to go with two weeks in Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia Itinerary #1 : First time in Southeast Asia (Thailand & Singapore) Southeast Asia Itinerary #2 : Explore Malaysia & Singapore Southeast Asia Itinerary #3 : Off the Beaten Path (Laos & Northern Vietnam) Southeast Asia Itinerary #4 : Flavor of Everything (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam)

Since Southeast Asia is a huge region, you cannot see everything in Southeast Asia because that would mean 1-2 days per country!

It is best to spend time in 1-2 countries during 14 days in Southeast Asia so you can get the most out of it (and not spend all your time flying around).

Southeast Asia is a region that you can keep coming back to since there are so much to see and do.

I will highly 4 different Southeast Asia itineraries to best fit your need. Keep in mind that these 4 itineraries mostly cover the part of Southeast Asia that’s on the Mainland.

Southeast Asia Itinerary #1 First time in Southeast Asia itinerary (Thailand & Singapore)

Day 1 – 3 : Bangkok, Thailand Day 4 – 8 : Chiang Mai, Thailand Day 9 – 12 : Thai Islands Day 13 – 14 : Singapore

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia for the first time, then I would recommend going to the most popular Southeast Asian countries: Singapore and Thailand.

The reason I recommend Singapore is because the population speaks English, everything is very easy to navigate and it is extremely safe.

I also recommend going to Thailand if it’s your first time in Southeast Asia because Thailand has a very well established tourist infrastructure and there are many foreigner visitors and backpackers. Thailand also has a variety of things for you to do, including modern cities, beautiful temples and mountain areas as well as incredible beaches. It is very easy to travel around in Thailand so it’s a great first-time-in-SEA destination.

Day 1 – 3: Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand and it is one of the most visited cities in Southeast Asia.

Lebua Hotel Bangkok

Bangkok is a very exciting city, it is a city where you will find historical sites, religious monuments, vibrant night life, interesting street markets, and much much more. It is also a great base for day trips to nearby towns and historical sites.

During your 3 days in Bangkok, there are plenty you can do! Also, just in case you are curious on how to save money on attractions, the Bangkok Explorer Pass covers most of the things you’d be interested in doing in Bangkok.

Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand

Start off exploring the most famous sites in Bangkok, including the beautiful golden Grand Palace , walk to the nearby Wat Pho (golden leaning buddha), enjoy a river cruise down Chao Phraya River and explore Wat Arun for sunet.

Read Next : 2 Day Bangkok Itinerary and Travel Guide

You need to be dressed conservatively to visit Grand Palace and the religious sites, so your knees and shoulder must be covered. There are places to rent traditional clothing if you don’t have long pants or dress (I get it, it’s hot there!).

You can always book this tour to explore the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha Temple, Wat Pho, markets and Wat Arun together and save yourself the trouble of having to find ways to get to Wat Arun by yourself.

Khao San Road in Bangkok Thailand

For evening activities, you can check out Chinatown and the famous pedestrian street Khaosan Road , You can find tons of street food vendors, shops, bars and restaurant in both areas.

Muay Thai match in Bangkok Thailand

Watching Muay Thai match is also something to do at night, or you can simply get a Thai massage and relax (or get a massage everything!).

You can also check out fancy rooftop bars in Bangkok, such as Sky Bar at Lebua Hotel where they filmed Hangover 2 . Other nice rooftop bars include Moon Bar , Red Sky restaurant, Octave , SEEN , etc.

Bangkok Floating Market in Thailand

There are wonderful day trips from Bangkok to the world renowned Floating Market , or to visit temples in Ayutthaya or explore Samut Prakan Ancient City . The great thing is all of these day trips are covered by the Bangkok Explorer Pass !

Ancient City Bangkok Thailand

Other exciting things to do in Bangkok including doing a food tour to try all the street food as well as going to a cooking class to learn how to cook Thai food.

Most tours and cooking classes are included on the Bangkok Explorer Pass .

Day 4 – 8: Chiang Mai, Thailand

You can either take an 1 hour flight or a 13 hour train (or sleeper train) from Bangkok to Chiangmai, one of travelers’ favorite regions in Thailand.

Located in the mountainous region in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. It was the capital city of the Lanna Kingdom, which is why you will find moats and city walls in Chiang Mai even today.

Chiang Mai may not be as modern and vibrant like Bangkok, but its slower pace, beautiful temples and its proximity to nature actually make it very unique and appealing for visitors.

With 3 to 4 days in Chiang Mai, you can do a lot both in Chiang Mai and nearby places.

You can start by visiting the old city, that is where you will find temples, museums, and interesting sites within the ancient city walls.

Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai

Since there are over 3000 temples in Chiang Mai, you can’t see them all. But you can see the best ones such as Wat Chiang Man , Wat Chedi Luang , Wat Lok Moli , Wat Sri Suphan , Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan , etc.


Continue your evening adventure to check out the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar , the night market at Wua Lai Walking Street , or even the Chang Phuak Gate Night Market for authentic street food or if you just want to buy clothing and souvenirs. Just be sure to use a lot of bug spray as the mosquitoes can be aggressive.

Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai

Outside of Chiang Mai city center, there are even more things to see. You can take the Monk’s trail to the famous Wat Pha Lat , visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep , see the city from the observation deck, continue up to visit Doi Suthep , Hmong Doi Pui Village . Or take a taxi or a tour if you do not want to hike up or ride a scooter up yourself.

If you like nature, you can do visit Doi Inthanon National Park or hike and bike in Doi Suthep Pui National Park .

Zip lining in Chiangmai Thailand

If you enjoy adventure, then be sure to not miss zip lining adventure and white water rafting .

If you like animals, you can visit Tiger Kingdom , elephant sanctuary where you can bathe and feed elephants or a night safari in Chiang Mai. You can even stay at Chai Lai Orchid Eco Lodge where you can have elephant visit your room.

Lastly, if you really want to visit the iconic white temple in Chiang Rai, you can do a day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.

Chiang Rai white temple in Thailand Southeast Asia | The Best Southeast Asia itinerary

Day 9 – 12: Thai Islands

When you think of white sand beach, crystal clear water, wonderful snorkeling and vibrant night life, islands in Thailand check all the boxes.

From Chiang Mai, fly down to Phuket, the gateway to the islands in Thailand.

Phuket boat in Thailand

If you want, you can spend all 3 days in Phuket and do day trips to Phi Phi Island, the famous “ the Beach ” and James Bond Island or do a snorkeling tour to Similan Islands .

Phuket is where most people stay, since it is cheaper than staying on some of the islands, easy to get to from the airport, has a ton of hotels, restaurants, bars and night time entertainment.

But I actually would advise you to stay on some of the islands for a nicer and quieter experience. Islands like Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Lanta offer a different experience and there are budget to 5 star hotels on these islands.

Phi Phi Island in Thailand

These islands are also not far from Phuket by boat, so you can easily travel there from Phuket. I particularly loved Phi Phi island and its view point hike, where you can get a postcard perfect view from above.

Krabi Thailand | The best Thailand itinerary

If you want both beach and nature, then Krabi is a wonderful choice, where you can enjoy the beautiful beach and hike the famous Monkey Trail and Dragon’s Crest. Of course you can also take boat tours from Krabi to visit other beautiful islands, sand bars, islets, etc.

Day 13 – 14 : Singapore

Singapore skyline

Last but not least, Singapore! Singapore is only a short flight away from Phuket, and it is well connected to large international airports around the world, making it the perfect last stop of your 2 week Southeast Asia itinerary.

Singapore is a small city-state at the tip of Southeast Asia mainland. Although it’s very small in size, it is the third most dense in population in the world (after Macau and Monaco).

Some people say Singapore is an adult’s Disneyland; it is beautiful, modern, clean, safe and just amazing in general. It gives you a very different vibe than what you get in Thailand and any other Southeast Asian country.

Although Singapore is small, there is a lot to do. If you have watched the movie Crazy Rich Asians , you may be familiar with some of the iconic places in Singapore. But if you haven’t, don’t worry, you will find out the famous places in the next few paragraphs.

With only 2 days in Singapore, you will have to prioritize what you want to see and experience.

Marina Bay Sands evening light show

The most famous sites in Singapore include the Merlion Statue (the symbol of Singapore), Marina Bay Sands (casino + famous Infinity Pool for guests), Gardens by the Bay , Singapore Botanic Gardens , Singapore Flyer (Giant ferris wheel), Singapore Zoo , Cable Car and Sentosa (Island resort with beach, waterpark, Universal Studios), Chinese Garden .

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore

If you are into Museums, Singapore has the National Museum of Singapore, National Gallery Singapore, Asian Civilisations Museum.

Important religious sites include the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Thian Hock Keng Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple, Sultan Mosque

Masjid Sultan Mosque in Singapore

Of course don’t forget the Instagram spots in Singapore such as Fort Canning Park, Lory Loft at Jurong Birdpark, the colorful Little India, the Peranakan Houses, and the Jewel Changi Airport itself!

You also cannot leave Singapore without having eaten at a hawker center, open-air complexes with food stalls and don’t forget to grab a beer at Clarke Quay and enjoy the night scene there. Overwhelmed by all the food choices or simply not sure what to eat? Don’t worry, this food tour will take you to the best spots in Singapore!

There are also many fun tours you can take in Singapore, like biking tours , kayaking tour, Singapore River Cruise , hop on hop off bus, and the round trip cable car experience.

The great news is that many attractions and tours in Singapore are Covered by the Singapore attraction pass so you can save a lot of money!

Southeast Asia Itinerary #2: Explore Malaysia & Singapore

Day 1 – 2 : Singapore Day 3 – 5 : Kuala Lumpur Day 6 – 7: Cameron Highlands Day 8 – 10 : Penang Day 11 – 14 : Redang Island or Langkawi

If you have already been to Thailand before or you prefer somewhere different, then I would highly recommend exploring Malaysia.

Malaysia is a large country with a lot of history, culture and different landscape. In Malaysia you will find delicious food, white sand beaches, beautiful tea terraces and mountains as well as modern cities.

Day 1 – 2: Singapore

Start your 2 week Southeast Asia adventure in Singapore and follow Itinerary #1 to explore the highlights of Singapore.

Day 3 – 5: Kuala Lumpur

It is quite easy to get to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore. You can either take a 5 hour bus or take an 1 hour flight. Buses are more frequent and cheaper if you are on a budget, but note that sometimes bus arrives 1-2 hours later than expected, which could cut into your travel time.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. It is where you will find a mixture of tradition and modernity. Kuala Lumpur has some of the most famous sights in Malaysia, such as Petronas Towers , which was featured in the blockbuster movie Entrapment.

In addition, KL is culturally rich with multiple religions. Although the official religion of Malaysia is Islam, but you will find Buddhist, Christian and Hindu communities in KL.

Petronas Towers in KL, Malaysia

With 2-3 days in KL (depending on when you arrive if you are taking the bus), you can see a lot. Explore the beautiful central KLCC area , where you will find upscale shopping malls, restaurants, gardens, Aquaria KLCC (Aquarium) and the famous Petronas Towers. You can also go up Menara Kuala Lumpur observation deck to have a sweeping view of the city.

Be sure to check out Merdeka Square , where the first Malaysia Flag raising took place on August 31, 1957. Then move onto Central Market and Chinatown and Petaling Street Market for local shopping and food.

One of the best things you can do if you like food is to take a street food tour . This tour lets you sample over 15 dishes and snacks in KL so you don’t have to wonder what’s the best thing to eat!

Thean Hou Temple in KL Malaysia | Where to go in Southeast Asia

Other important landmarks in Kuala Lumpur include the National Mosque , Perdana Botanical Garden, Thean Hou Temple, Bukit Bintang (and Jalan Alor street for food), and various museums . You can easily explore KL with a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus .

Batu Caves in Malaysia

You may also be interested in day trips to the famous Batu Caves that is all over social media.

Day 6 – 7: Cameron Highlands

If you want to get away from the busy (and often times hot) KL, then Cameron Highlands would be the perfect escape.

Located only about 3-4 hours by bus, Cameron Highlands is located in the mountainous region in central Malaysia. Cameron Highlands was “discovered” by British geologist William Cameron during the British rule and became an agricultural area. Nowadays, Cameron Highlands is one of the most popular tourist spots in Malaysia.

Cameron Highlands in Malaysia

Given its location in the mountains, Cameron Highlands experience cooler weather and is known for its tea plantations, hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes, mossy forests, etc.

The main town in Cameron Highlands is Tanah Rata, your bus will drop you off here and you will find a ton of hotels and restaurant in Tanah Rata.

Cameron Highlands Butterfly Farm

Some of the best things in Cameron Highlands include hiking the Jungle Trails , visiting Boh Tea Estate and strawberry farms , walking through the Mossy Forest , visiting local tribe villages , butterfly farms and lavender gardens .

You can ask your hotel to book you a taxi, hike around, or take a tour (and explore other parts by taxi or walking) to explore Cameron Highlands. I really loved the tea plantation and Cameron Highlands is probably my favorite area in Malaysia.

Day 8 – 10: Penang

From Cameron Highlands, you can take a 4-5 hour bus ride to the food capital of Malaysia, Penang.

Penang is the birthplace of Malaysian Street Food and is one of the best places to eat in Malaysia. Therefore you can bet there will be a lot of eating, cooking classes and food tours you can do in Penang.

But food is not the only thing you will find in Penang, you will also find arts, temples, historical houses, national park and beach.

Penang George Town Street Art

Start your Panang journey exploring the UNESCO old town of George Town . You may have seen beautiful murals of George Town all over Instagram, and here is where you will find them. Wander around the old town of George Town is one of the best ways to discover beautiful street arts and murals.

Penang Little India

As you explore George Town, don’t forget to check out Chew Jetty , the colorful Penang Little India , Pinang Peranakan Mansion , Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower , Fort Cornwallis , and Chulia St , known for its street food and hawker stalls.

If you have time, go up the TOP Penang to enjoy a bird’s eye view of Penang Island.

Penang hill view in Malaysia

Another popular destination in Penang is Penang Hill , where you can enjoy some hiking (or taking the funicular) up to the 360 degree observation deck for an amazing view of Penang and the surrounding sceneries.

There are restaurants, a gallery, eco-tourism discovery center, temple and other attractions to check out at Penang Hill.

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang Malaysia

Near Penang Hill is Kek Lok Si Temple , a colorful hilltop Buddhist temple. It is one of the most important temples to visit in Penang. You also get beautiful view of the city from this temple. You can also visit Penang Botanic Gardens if you have time.

Other things to do in Penang include visiting Fruit Farms or spend a day in Penang National Park for some hiking, canopy walk and beach.

Day 11 – 14: Redang Island or Langkawi

When you are done with urban and forest and nature, it is time to move to the beach.

Malaysia has really amazing beach and I dare say the best beach I have ever been to was in Malaysia.

For beach you have two options. If you want to minimize travel time then you can visit the famous Langkawi , an archipelago off Malaysia’s northwest coast.

Langkawi Beach in Malaysia

If you want to avoid the crowd and go somewhere different (and perhaps more pristine), then make your way across Malaysia to the west side of the country to go to Redang Island .

Langkawi is easy to reach from Penang, you can take an one hour flight or 3 hour ferry from Georgetown.

Redang Island white sand beach

Redang Island requires either a flight (via KL) or a long distance bus and ferry which pretty much takes the entire day.

You can’t really go wrong with either option but I really do think Redang Island has a much more pristine beach . Redang Island is a lot smaller than Langkawi so Langkawi has more variety in terms of accommodations, restaurants and things to do. But if you just want to relax on an amazing beach and do some snorkeling then Redang Island is the obvious winner.

Southeast Asia Itinerary #3: Off the Beaten Path (Laos & Northern Vietnam)

Day 1 – 3 : Luang Prabang Day 4 : Vientiane Day 5 : Hanoi Day 6- 7 : Halong Bay Day 8 – 10 : Ha Giang or Sapa Day 11 – 13 : Cao Bang Day 14 : Hanoi

If you want to explore places that are not as frequented by visitors, then Laos and Northern Vietnam would be a good choice.

You will be able to to enjoy some unspoiled nature and have a more authentic experience.

Day 1 – 3: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the ancient capital of Laos and later became a French colony. In Luang Prabang you will find a mixture of traditional Lao and French influenced architecture.

Ever since its opening up for tourism in 1989, Luang Prabang has become an unique destination in Southeast Asia. It is not as famous or popular as many other Southeast Asian cities but you will find an even more interesting experience.

Wat Xieng Thong Laos

Luang Prabang is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the old town, you will find beautiful temples such as Wat Xiengthong , Wat Mai , Wat Sensoukharam , visit the Royal Palace museum , participate in an Alms Giving Ceremony (starting at 5:30am), chill at a cafe by the Mekong River, check out food in the Night Market , and ride a Mekong River cruise to enjoy the sunset.

Mount Phou Si in Laos

Without leaving Luang Prabang, you should also pay a visit to Mount Phousi . You can climb up for sunset or simply just to enjoy the view from the top.

Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang Laos

One of the most famous sites near Luang Prabang is the 3 tiered waterfall, Kuang Si Waterfalls . It is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists and you can take a dip in the turquoise pool.

Other places to visit near Luang Prabang include Tad Sae Waterfall (+ Kayaking tour ), Pak Ou Caves (over 4000 Buddha statues), Nahm Dong Park (nature reserve with zip line and cooking class).

Day 4: Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and similar to Luang Prabang, you will find a mix of French colonial architecture with traditional Laos architecture and temples.

I only suggest one day in Vientiane as a transit center before you go to Vietnam and see some of the best sights.

Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane, Laos

Since you only have one day in Vientiane, I would suggest checking out the famous gold-covered Buddhist stupa Pha That Luang , followed by a visit to Patuxai Victory Monument , the arc de triomphe of Vientiane.

Phat That Luang Vientiane Laos

Other things to check out in Vientiane include the Talat Sao Morning Market , Wat Sisaket , Ho Phrakeo Museum , Wat Si Muang , Chao Anouvong Park and end the night in Vientiane Night Market .

You can take a short evening flight from Vientiane to Hanoi to start your Vietnam adventure next.

Day 5: Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it is probably one of the most charming cities in Vietnam.

You will most likely stay at and explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi. You can certainly spend longer than a day in Hanoi if you decide to skip on some of the other items on the itinerary.

I do find that although there is a lot to see in Hanoi, I personally prefer to simply walk around Old Quarter, find a cute cafe to try Vietnamese coffee, people watch and try local food.

However, if you do want to take advantage of your first full day in Hanoi, you can certainly check out some of the most famous sites, such as the Train Street , Temple of Literature , Hoan Kiem Lake (and Ngoc Son Temple ), the night market , Ta Hien Beer Street (super lively at night).

Again, I think the charm of Hanoi is really to relax, enjoy coffee and food and people watch!

Best Tours to Take in Hanoi Given your limited time in Hanoi, if you want to experience Hanoi in an authentic way, there are a few tours you should take! Food Tour is something you simply cannot miss when visiting Hanoi! Want to try all the local food and fruits? This is the best tour for foodies. If you want to see the major sites in Hanoi and don’t want to bother with taking a Grab, then you would really enjoy this half day tour of Hanoi to visit all the famous sites I mentioned above.

Day 6- 7: Halong Bay

If this is your time in Vietnam, then one of the must-do activities near Hanoi is to do a Halong Bay cruise.

There are day cruises, 2 day 1 night cruises as well as 3 day 2 night cruises. If you just want a taste of Halong Bay while enjoying a relaxing holiday after the hustling and bustling of Hanoi, then 2 day 1 night Halong Bay cruise is the perfect choice.

There are cruises for every budget, some can be as cheap as $100 and some are as expensive as $1000+ a room per night.

Halong Bay Cruise

Some of the most luxurious Halong Bay cruises now include  Emperor Cruise ,  Orchid Cruise ,  Stellar of the Sea Cruise ,  Heritage Cruise . These cruises have spacious rooms, balconies, beautiful bathtub with floor to ceiling windows, and incredible service and food.

A typical 2 day 1 night Halong Bay Cruise itinerary include the following:

Day 1 of Halong Bay Cruise

  • 8am: pick up from Hanoi
  • 12pm: boarding the cruise
  • 1-2pm: lunch
  • 2-4pm: activities (kayaking, cave, small hike, swimming, etc – every cruise is slightly different)
  • 4-6pm: happy hours
  • 6pm: Dinner
  • 7-9pm: Squid fishing

Day 2 of Halong Bay Cruise

  • 6-7am: Tai Chi & Cooking class
  • 8am: Breakfast
  • 9am: Kayaking
  • 10:30am: back on shore to check out
  • 3pm: Back in Hanoi

Once you are back in Hanoi, you can continue your sightseeing before taking a sleeper bus to Ha Giang.

See my complete Halong Bay Cruise Guide to decide if it’s worth taking a Halong Bay cruise.

Day 8 – 10: Ha Giang or Sapa

You may have seen photos of beautiful rice terraces in Vietnam, in fact they are the main reason why I decided to go to Northern Vietnam!

Most people may have heard of Sapa, known for its rice terrace, but did you know that there are other places in Northern Vietnam that have beautiful rice terrace without the crowd? Ha Giang is one of the off the beaten track places in Northern Vietnam that is known for its dramatic landscape and rice terrace.

If you prefer to go to a place that has a more established tourist infrastructure , then you probably will like Sapa . But if you prefer a more quiet, less touristy but still beautiful place to see rice terrace, then I would highly recommend Ha Giang .

Ha Giang rice terrace

Both Sapa and Ha Giang require you to depart from Hanoi. For Sapa you can take an overnight train or sleeper bus from Hanoi. To get to Ha Giang you will need to take a bus (day time or overnight). You can book transportation from Hanoi to Sapa or Ha Giang on 12go .

If you decide to go to Ha Giang, the most famous thing to do there is the Ha Giang Loop (best done on the back of a motorbike) , which requires 3 days minimum.

Ha Giang Loop Vietnam

During the 3-5 days you spend on the Ha Giang Loop, you will come across many different villages, rice paddies, tea fields, waterfalls, caves and view points. You will most likely be staying at homestay at different villages during your Ha Giang Loop ride.

If this does not sound appealing to you or you cannot ride a motorbike or just don’t have the time, then Sapa may be a better option for you than Ha Giang.

Sapa has gained its popularity among tourists in the recent years. It has developed so fast that you will find many tour groups (and individual tourists) everywhere in Sapa.

3 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Sapa if you are thinking about trekking.

If you are taking an overnight train or sleeper bus from Hanoi, you will arrive early in the morning in Lao Cai (train station) or Sapa town. You can spend the first day visiting Cat Cat Village and Fansipan , the highest peak Vietnam. I recommend visiting Fansipan later in the day as it is more likely to become clear but check the weather forecast before you go.

Sapa trekking in Vietnam

On the 2nd day of your Sapa trip, you can do two day one night trekking with a guide . During trekking you will have an opportunity to trek in the rice terrace, visit Hmong villages, do an overnight stay at a homestay, visit bamboo forest and waterfalls before coming back to Sapa on the third day.

Or alternatively you can do a one day trekking and spend day 3 explore the various photo spots in Sapa Town .

Take an afternoon bus back to Hanoi on the third day.

Day 11 – 13: Cao Bang

Cao Bang is located in northern Vietnam, on the border of Vietnam and China. It is most famous for the Ban Gioc Waterfall, a tiered waterfall that is located within both Vietnam and China.

If you visited Ha Giang, you can travel from Ha Giang directly to Cao Bang by motorcycle albeit it is a long ride.

If you went to Sapa, then you will have to return to Hanoi first and then travel by bus or taxi from Hanoi to Cao Bang. It is about a 6-8 hour drive from Hanoi to Cao Bang and best done on an overnight sleeper bus (this means you can explore Hanoi during the day!).

Mat Than Mountain in Cao Bang Vietnam

Some of the best things to do in Cao Bang include Ban Gioc Waterfall , Nguom Ngao Cave (Tiger Cave), drive or hike to see the Me Pia Pass , check out Cao Bang city center , go to other smaller waterfalls and visit Mat Than Mountain .

Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang, Vietnam

If you prefer the convenience of having a tour instead of taking sleeper buses, you can book a 2 day one night tour to Cao Bang from Hanoi and not have to worry about transportation.

Day 14: Hanoi or Ninh Binh

Depending on how long you spend in Cao Bang, on your last day of this 14 day Southeast Asia itinerary, you can either spend the day in Hanoi or do a day trip to Ninh Binh (assuming you do not have a flight to catch).

If you decide to stay and explore Hanoi, you can check out the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum , Quan Thanh Temple , Imperial Citadel , One Pillar Pagoda and Hanoi Opera House .

If you are really ambitious, you can do a day trip to Ninh Binh, one of the most beautiful places in Northern Vietnam in my opinion.

Ninh Binh is known as Ha Long Bay on land and it is not hard to see why people have Ninh Binh high on their list. You will find limestone peaks, rice paddies, river valleys and ancient pagodas in Ninh Binh.

Mua Cave Ninh Binh Vietnam

Like this dress? You can purchase it on Etsy .

Some of the best places to see in Ninh Binh in one day include Mua Cave , Bich Dong Pagoda , Tam Coc Boat Ride . If you have more time, you can check out Bai Dinh Pagoda and the 3 hour Trang An Boat Ride but you won’t be able to do everything I mentioned here in one day.

Vietnam Ninh Binh Bich Dong Pagoda

If you decide to go to Ninh Binh without a tour, you can take an early morning bus or luxury van and rent a scooter or a private taxi to get around Ninh Binh.

Trang An Boat ride

Alternatively, you can take this tour to see Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, Mua Cave, Bich Dong Pagoda and take the Tam Coc boat ride.

Or if you want something different, this tour  will take you to Bai Dinh Pagoda, Mua Cave and Trang An Boat Ride.

Bai Dinh Pagoda | Best Vietnam itinerary

No matter what you choose, you will be blown away by the beauty of Northern Vietnam.

Southeast Asia Itinerary #4: Flavor of Everything (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam)

Day 1 – 3 : Bangkok Day 4 – 6 : Phuket & Islands Day 7 – 9 : Angkor Wat Day 10 – 12 : Hoi An Day 12 – 14 : Hue

If you really cannot decide where to go in Southeast Asia for 2 weeks, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. We will do everything.

Day 1 – 3: Bangkok

Fly into Thailand and start your 14 day Southeast Asia adventure in Bangkok.

Wat Paknam in Bangkok Thailand

Some of the best temples to check out in Bangkok include Wat Pho , the Temple of Emerald Buddha , Golden Mount Temple (Wat Saket), Wat Traimit , Wat Arun and Wat Paknam (featuring a towering stupa).

Other sites not to be missed in Bangkok is the Grand Palace , river cruise , China Town , Lhong 1919 , Khao San Road . Checking out fancy shopping centers like ICON Siam and Siam Paragon , grabbing a drink at rooftop bars and getting a Thai Massage are all unforgettable experiences to have in Bangkok.

Bangkok Floating Market 2

You can also do day trips outside of Bangkok to the floating market (or combine with Maeklong Railway Market ), Ancient City , Bubble in the Forest Cafe if you want the instagram shot, and visit temples in Ayutthaya .

Most tours and day trips from Bangkok are included in the Bangkok Explorer Pass .

Day 4 – 6: Phuket & Islands

After visiting the lively Bangkok, it is time to fly to the islands and relax.

Whether you spend all 3 days in Phuket and do day trips to Maya Bay and James Bond Island or stay on Phi Phi or Krabi, you will have a good time.

Day 7-9: Angkor Wat

You really cannot go to Southeast Asia without stopping by Angkor Wat, one of the most famous archaeological remains in Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat is a large temple complex built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th Century. In fact it is the largest religious monument in the world as it occupies more than 400 acres.

Angkor Wat in the morning in Cambodia | Best Southeast Asia itinerary

It is the top tourist attraction in Cambodia and it’s not hard to see why. Its historical and religious significance, beautiful architecture and the intricate stone carving are all reasons to visit.

You will need to fly into Siem Reap in order to access Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Ta Phrom Temple | Where to go in Southeast Asia

Although Angkor Wat is the main attraction in Siem Reap, there are other things to do before your big day in Angkor Wat. The day before you can do a cooking class , stop by Angkor National Museum , visit one of the temples for sunsets (I recommend Pre Rup or Phnom Bakheng ) and grab a drink on Pub Street and get a masage.

You will need entrance ticket for Angkor Wat , and they are either 1 day ($37), 3 days ($62) or 7 days ticket ($72). Unless you plan to see Angkor Wat 3 days in a row, I think 1 day ticket is enough. You can even visit Phnom Bakheng for sunset the day before without having to buy another Angkor Wat ticket.

Angkor Wat will take the whole day to visit and sunrise at Angkor Wat is spectacular. You will need to go super early to get the best spot. Be sure to buy the Angkor Wat ticket ahead of time before your visit if you want to go for sunrise.

You can visit Angkor Wat by yourself or get a guide . We got a guide and it was very useful to hear the stories and histories of the various spots in Angkor Wat and we saw other temples in the complex as well.

Besides Angkor Wat, other things you can do in and near Siem Reap include visiting a floating village , Kulen Mountain National Park , Kok Ker & Beng Mealea temple , and watch a Cambodian circus.

Day 10 – 12: Hoi An

After visiting Angkor Wat, you will head to Da Nang, Vietnam.

Da Nang is the gateway to Central Vietnam and given the time restraint, you will visit two of the most famous cities in Central Vietnam.

First stop is Hoi An, an UNESCO World Heritage Old Town about an hour by car from Da Nang.

Hoi An Ancient Town | Best places to visit in Vietnam

Hoi An is a well preserved ancient town and in the old town, you will find streets lined with lanterns, historical monuments, museums, shops, restaurants and most importantly, tailors!

Vietnam Hoi An Ba Mu Temple | Southeast Asia itinerary and travel guide

With only 2 days in Hoi An, you will have plenty of time to explore the old town center; some of the best things to do and see in Hoi An ancient town include Japanese Covered Bridge , Old Houses of Tan Ky , Ba Mu Temple , Cantoneses Assembly Hall , Phac Hat Pagoda , Hoi Quan Phuoc Kien , Hoi An night market.

Hoi An lanterns

Hoi An is known for their tailors , so you can literally get a dress custom made for you within 24 hours. At night it is also really nice to walk around to see all the lanterns lit up or take a 20 minute boat ride on Thu Bon River.

If you do end up with more time in Hoi An, you can visit the beach, do a coconut boat tour , visit historical monument in My Son , do a day trip to Ba Na Hills for the Golden Bridge or take a day trip to Cham Islands .

Golden Bridge Ba Na Hills

Read Next : My complete Hoi An Itinerary and Travel Guide

Day 12 – 14: Hue

Another important city to visit in central Vietnam is Huế, the ancient Imperial City of Vietnam. So you can expect to find imperial palaces and emperors’ tombs in Hue.

You can take a bus or private taxi from Hoi An to Hue.

With 1.5 to 2 days in Hue, you can actually see all the best Hue tourist attractions.

Start your Hue adventure at the Imperial Citadel , the former residence of the imperial family. If there is time, stop by Thien Mu Pagoda and check out Dong Ba Market by Perfume River.

Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam

The next day you can start early to first visit the Thuy Tien Lake Abandoned Water Park if you want to grab a quick Instagram worthy photo.

Hue Vietnam Abandoned water park dragon spot

Then you can go tomb hopping as there are numerous tombs all around Hue. The 3 best ones that I’d recommend visiting are tombs of Emperor Khai Dinh , Emperor Minh Mang , and Emperor Tu Duc . If you have time, you can also see the tomb of Emperor Gia Long .

Khai Dinh Tomb in Hue Vietnam | What to do in Hue

If you want to save money on entrance fee, there are combo tickets you can buy at each of the location instead of buying individual tickets.

It’s best to rent a scooter to ride around Hue or hire a private taxi. Most of the tombs are located outside of the city itself so it would be difficult to try to use Grab to get a car when you are out there.

See my detailed 2 day Hue itinerary on what to do and eat in Hue , Vietnam.

Useful Resources to Plan Southeast Asia Itinerary

For transportation within Southeast Asia

  • 12go for train and bus booking
  • Grab app for getting taxis

For hotel booking within Southeast Asia

  • Booking.com or Agoda are the best resources for booking hotels
  • Hostelworld is great for booking hostels

For booking tours within Southeast Asia

  • Klook : Singapore based tour booking website with the most number of tours and budget prices
  • Getyourguide and Viator are also good websites to book tours

Other Practical Things to Know Before You Go to Southeast Asia

  • Be sure to check visa requirements for the different countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam (read my guide on how to get a Vietnam E-Visa )
  • It is best to take a no-fee ATM card (like the ones from Charles Schwab if you are American or Wise Card or Revolut no fee ATM cards for non-Americans) and take out cash from local ATMs to get the best exchange rate
  • Cash is king; even though most hotels take credit cards, many restaurants, vendors and attractions only take cash
  • Download and set up Grab app before you leave, it is the Uber of Southeast Asia
  • Download Whatsapp, it is the primary way to communicate with hotels, train/ cruise companies in Southeast Asia
  • You can buy sim cards at the airports for very cheap, but most may have a daily limit of how much data you can use
  • Be sure to have Plug Adapter when you go to Southeast Asia
  • You can buy most necessities in Southeast Asia (like toiletry, clothes, bug spray, etc) to save luggage space
  • You should definitely get an external battery for your phone especially if you take photos and videos on your phone.
  • Food poisoning could happen so be sure to eat at clean and legit restaurants and well cooked food; avoid ice if possible and buy bottled water (no tap water!)
  • Have bug spray with you at all times, the mosquitoes can be vicious if you go outside of winter months
  • Even though Southeast Asia is generally hot, if you are going to mountainous region, be sure to have layers with you

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15 Best Places to Visit in Southeast Asia

Written by Diana Bocco Updated Jul 13, 2022 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

The countries that fall in the Southeast Asia region have so much going for them, it's almost impossible to keep them off anybody's travel bucket list . From white, soft beaches and major cities to the rich history, culture, and the must-try food, this part of the world has something for everybody.

While some destinations, such as Thailand's beaches and islands and the majestic Angkor Wat in Cambodia, are known everywhere, some places in Southeast Asia remain more elusive and off the main tourist radar. This gives visitors a chance to mix things up – to go with the crowds to see the most popular spots, but also make time to discover new and different corners of Southeast Asia.

Whatever your heart is set on, here is a list of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.

1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

2. ha long bay, vietnam, 3. koh samui, thailand, 4. boracay, philippines, 5. bagan, myanmar, 6. kuala lumpur, malaysia, 7. bangkok, thailand, 8. singapore, 9. yangon, myanmar, 10. luang prabang, laos, 11. palawan island, philippines, 12. tegalalang rice terraces, bali, 13. komodo island, indonesia, 14. chiang mai, thailand, 15. hanoi, vietnam, map of places to visit in southeast asia.

Buddhist monk in Angkor Wat

Located in northwestern Cambodia, the city is best known for being the gateway to the Angkor region, but Siem Reap has much to offer on its own. A mix of Chinese and colonial architecture gives the city a unique vibe, where countryside residents and old motorbikes blend with a vibrant café culture and a modern club scene.

Siem Reap is home to two important museums: The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center , which offers a chance to learn more about landmines and their ongoing impact on Cambodia and other Asian countries, and the War Museum , which covers the involvement of Cambodia in several wars.

There are also a number of massive markets in the city, including Psah Chas, which caters to both locals and tourists with a variety of souvenirs, fresh food, and more.

Angkor Wat , the largest religious monument and one of the top World Heritage Sites , lies less than six kilometers north of Siem Reap. The ruins of this 12 th -century temple complex cover a space of over 162 hectares, with hundreds of structures built using sandstone blocks. There are a number of other temples, also built in Khmer style, in the area, including Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and Pre Rup.

  • Best Places to Visit in Cambodia
  • Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Siem Reap

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay consists of a group of islands and limestone karsts that have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Many of the islands are actually tall monolithic cliffs that cannot be walked on, covered in green, lush jungle. Some of these are hollow and house beautiful caves. Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stake Cave) is a good example, a massive cave with three main chambers, multicolored stalagmites, and rock paintings. Many of the islands also have their own enclosed lakes.

Of the almost 2,000 islands here, less than 40 have permanent residents, often in the form of small communities that live in floating houses and fishing villages.

Ha Long Bay's largest island, Cat Ba , is the most common overnight stop for tourists coming to Ha Long Bay for cruises and tours. Kayaking the turquoise-green waters of the bay is a popular activity here, as well as cruising the bay in traditional junk boats.

  • Read More: Things to Do in Halong Bay

Ang Thong Marine National Park

While Koh Samui has always been a beloved destination for sun worshippers and snorkelers, the crowd the island attracts has changed over the years.

Once a favorite of backpackers, Koh Samui has undergone a remarkable transformation. It now boasts high-end resorts, posh spas, and some of the whitest palm-fringed beaches in Thailand. Chaweng and Lamai beaches attract the bulk of the travelers and are well developed, clean, and full of activities, including opportunities to sail, scuba dive, and swim.

While most visitors come to Koh Samui for the beach , there's much more to see and do. Take time to explore the mangroves and hidden lakes of Ang Thong Marine National Park ; the 12-meter-tall golden Buddha at the hilltop Big Buddha shrine; and the Na Muang waterfalls, reached after a trek uphill through thick tropical forest.

Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Koh Samui

Boracay, Philippines

The tiny island of Boracay is just across the water from Panay Island, one of the Philippines' largest islands. Despite being only 10 square kilometers in size, Boracay attracts thousands of visitors a year, who come here for the four-kilometer-long beach and its powdery white sands that wash right into the turquoise waters and the sailboats rocking away on the waves. This is one of the best beaches in the Philippines .

In addition to scuba diving and snorkeling, Boracay is well-known for its parasailing, kiteboarding, and swimming-and, perhaps more unexpectedly, its cliff diving . Diving boards ranging from three to 15 meters high over the water are placed on certain parts of the island, with lifeguards waiting and watching as divers fly up in the air over the mirror-like waters below.

  • Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in the Philippines

Temples in Bagan

A UNESCO World Heritage Site , the ancient city of Bagan was once the capital of the first kingdom of Myanmar. Between the 11th and 13th century, over 10,000 pagodas and Buddhist temples were built here. Over 3,500 still stand today in the area known as the Bagan Archaeological Zone, which spreads over 41 square kilometers.

One of the most famous temples in Bagan is the Ananda Temple , a Buddhist temple built in a unique fusion of Mon and Indian styles. Dhammayangyi Temple , the largest religious structure in Bagan, is visible from all corners of the city and is famous for its mysterious bricked up interior.

The Bagan Archaeological Museum , located within the Archaeological Zone, is home to artifacts recovered from the area, such as stucco works, lots of lacquer and metal artifacts, and stone sculptures, including a Rosetta Stone dating back 1,000 years.

Just outside the Bagan Archeological Zone sits the sleepy village of Myinkaba, famous for the ancient art of lacquerware. Visitors can stop by workshops to see items being painted by hand, and then grab some souvenirs at the many shops around.

For the most famous sunset-viewing spot in town, head to the white Shwesandaw Paya pagoda. Here, you can climb part of the building to catch the 360-degree views over the hills and other temples around.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bagan

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia's capital is a city of contrasts: the cultural and financial heart of the nation, with magnificent skyscrapers and three of the world's largest shopping centers-but also a great example of colonial architecture, Malay Islamic details, and old Chinese shophouses. Walking through the city is a great way to appreciate the eclectic look of this relatively new Asian capital and see the different cultures and styles melting into each other.

KL is home to the tallest twin buildings in the world , the Petronas Towers – architectural marvels of steel and glass that stand 452 meters tall. The towers are surrounded by a large urban park and are home to a massive shopping center with over 350 stores, a theater housing the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and even an underwater aquarium.

KL is a very green city, with many parks, gardens, and open spaces everywhere you go. The 92-hectare Lake Gardens is a major urban park that contains a butterfly park, the world's largest aviary bird park , and an orchid garden. You'll also find three forest reserves within the city, perfect for trekking and catching sight of rare fauna.

The limestone Batu Caves (which contain several Hindu shrines); the Cameron Highlands with its tea plantations ; and the colorful town of Malacca, established by Portuguese settlers, are all great day-trip destinations from Kuala Lumpur.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur

  • Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Kuala Lumpur
  • Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Malaysia


Thailand's capital has lots going for it. Not only is this the main gateway for all major destinations within the country, but this cosmopolitan city also has much to offer on its own. With over 24 million visitors arriving here every year, this is also one of the top cities in the world to visit .

Sitting right on the Chao Phraya River and full of stunning skyscrapers that share the sidewalk with major Buddhist temples and popular cafés and hangouts, Bangkok's multi-faceted sights will please a wide range of visitors, from those looking for excitement and shopping opportunities, as well as those wanting to dive into cultural and historical landmarks.

Even tourists who are only here briefly on their way to the islands should make time to visit the Grand Palace , a former royal residence converted into a museum. For those with more time in the capital city, the royal Vimanmek Mansion (the largest teak building in the world) and the Jim Thompson House, a museum dedicated to the American businessman who revolutionized the local silk industry, are also worth a visit.

For a completely different view of the city, get on a classic tuk-tuk taxi or jump on a water bus.

  • Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bangkok

Singapore skyline at dusk

Singapore is a unique spot in Southeast Asia. This island city-state is modern and cosmopolitan , a place where multi-story shopping centers mix with stunning and unexpected natural attractions.

The Marina Bay Sands , an integrated resort, is a good example of that-it offers not only a hotel, but also a museum, art-science exhibits, and the best terraced views over the city and bay from the infinity pool set on their roof.

Sentosa Island is another example, an entertainment complex that includes everything from a two-kilometer-long beach and a restored coastal fort to Southeast Asia's first 4D theater, a Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, and even a Universal Studios Singapore theme park.

Singapore's airport has been named the best in the world, and it's an attraction all in itself, home to the world's tallest indoor waterfall, a five-story tall indoor garden, a mirror and haze maze, and a massive butterfly garden with over 1,000 species flying free in tropical greenery.

  • Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Singapore
  • Best Beaches in Singapore

Shwedagon Pagoda

Up until 2011, Myanmar offered only limited access to tourists because of the five-decade-long military dictatorship that commanded the country-so now that it's finally possible to visit, and before it becomes crazy busy with tourists, you definitely should see this fascinating destination.

Yangon was the capital of Myanmar (or Burma) until 2006, when the military government moved it somewhere else. Since the country was under military dictatorship for so long, the city suffered a lot of issues and still boasts a lot of buildings in decay and with inadequate infrastructure.

Still, Yangon is full of beautiful architecture in the form of colonial-era buildings centered around the 2,600-year-old Sule Pagoda . It is the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda (also known as the Golden Pagoda) that dominates the skyline of the city, however-the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country, believed to contain relics of the last four Buddhas.

Visitors should make time to visit the Bogyoke Aung San Market , where stalls sell everything from antiques and local handicrafts to Burmese jade, local delicacies, and even natural medicine products. Another great must-do is the Yangon Circular Train , which runs on a 46-kilometer-long loop around Yangon, offering a unique insight into the real daily life of Burmese people.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Yangon

Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang

This northern city in Laos is surrounded by a number of villages that together form the UNESCO Town Of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site . Recognized for its mix of rural, French colonial, and religious architecture and heritage, the city is one of Laos' most visited and certainly most beautiful.

Luang Prabang sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and is home to many temples-including Wat Chom Si shrine, located at the top of Mount Phou Si and overlooking the town. Alms ceremonies (where monks take to the streets to ask for food) are so common here that in the early morning, the entire town is covered in streams of orange as the monks make their way through the streets.

Just outside the city, the Bear Rescue Centre (which specializes in helping sun bears rescued from poachers) and the multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls are both worth a visit. If you're up for some trekking, head out to the Pak Ou Caves , famous for their hundreds of miniature Buddha sculptures.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Luang Prabang

Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Laos

Aerial view of Palawan Island

Palawan has been named one of the most beautiful islands in the world so many times, it's hard to ignore its beauty. Technically speaking, Palawan remains under-developed, which means fewer high-end hotels but also slow, sustainable growth to protect the virgin forests, green jungle mountains, and wonderful wildlife.

Palawan is surrounded by quiet turquoise waters that are ideal for snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking. Lots of smaller islands dot the ocean around Palawan, and you can spend an entire day island-hopping and still not see all the amazing beauty the area has to offer.

Miniloc Island , a rustic escape northwest of Palawan, is home to a number of lagoons and soft sandy beaches you can reach on your own or via a motorized water taxi.

For those who prefer underwater adventures, the waters around Palawan hold six shipwrecks of coral-encrusted Japanese ships sunk during WWII. Divers can slip in and out of the engine rooms, bomb holes, and portholes, swimming with fish and turtles-some of the wrecks are as deep as 42 meters.

  • Read More: Best Places to Visit in the Philippines

Tegalalang Rice Terraces

Say "Bali" and people think soft white beaches, corals, and snorkeling-and while it's true that Bali has plenty of beautiful destinations on the sand (including the Nusa Penida beach, with cliffs that resemble the head of the T-Rex), that's not all you can see here. In fact, the lush, green, terraced rice fields in the province of Ubud are just as stunning.

Bali's farmers have been setting rice paddies on terraces for centuries to deal with the hilly terrain of the area-and these areas make for stunning landscapes.

For a donation entry fee that equals pennies, visitors can walk the terraces here for hours, as the green fields extend far beyond what the eye can see. Those who arrive early in the morning will have the place almost to themselves, the soft sound of the rice fields swishing in the wind.

Visitors to Ubud can also check out the Ubud Monkey Forest ; a macaque sanctuary; the traditional royal palace Puri Saren Agung; and the gardens of Pura Taman Saraswati, a water temple famous for its lotus pond and volcanic tuff sculptures of deities.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in Bali

  • Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bali

Pantai Merah (Pink Beach) on Komodo Island

Komodo Island is more than "just one" of the over 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia. This rugged island of just under 400 square kilometers is home to the world's largest lizard , the Komodo dragon. In fact, the population of Komodo dragons here is double the population of permanent human inhabitants, making for a unique sight as you walk through the island's volcanic hills and forests.

Komodo Island is also home to a wide variety of wet ecosystems, including mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which attract lots of travelers looking to explore, dive, or kayak around the island.

The main sightseeing attraction here, however, is Pantai Merah , one of only seven pink-sand beaches in the world. The cotton-candy sands are the result of an interesting natural phenomenon-when microorganisms, called foraminifera, that live in the coral die, their bright red shells are washed out on the beach and mix in with the white sand, creating the beautiful hue that attracts so many visitors.

Floating lanterns during the Yi Peng Festival at Wat Phra Singh Temple, Chiang Mai

Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai is often referred to as the cultural capital of the country. Once the seat of the former Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is teeming with centuries-old temples, jungle-shrouded sanctuaries, and mountains in every direction.

A smaller and less chaotic city than Bangkok, Chiang Mai still attracts travelers from all over the world who come for the low-key lifestyle, nature, history, culture, restaurants, and budget-friendly hotels.

Backpackers often make Chiang Mai a main stop on their Thailand travels, as prices are much more attractive than down south on the beaches, and Chiang Mai is a jumping-off point from which to explore the various smaller hill communities that dot the mountains.

One of the must-see temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a golden hilltop shrine that overlooks the entire city below. One of the most sacred spots in Thailand, this temple complex is simply stunning. Visit just before sunset when the monks begin to chant. It is the most magical time to be at the temple.

From Chiang Mai, travelers often set out to explore Mae Hong Son province to the northwest, one of Thailand's most historic provinces, known for its smaller villages and ancient tribal communities.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Places to Stay in Chiang Mai

Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things To Do in Chiang Mai

Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) and the Turtle Tower in Hanoi

Vietnam's capital sits at an unusual precipice between historic and modern. The thriving city only opened to tourism as recently as the 1990s. Today, Hanoi is a buzzing, chaotic, energetic, beautiful amalgamation of ancient history, a war-torn past, and a modern future. It's one of the best places to visit in Vietnam to really learn about what makes the country tick.

Start in the old quarter, where you will find a heady mix of street vendors, cafés, restaurants, and more motorbikes than you can possibly count. But in between the zipping, zooming, pulsing chaos are pockets of tranquility and peace. Take Hoan Kiem Lake, for example, a 12-hectare lake in the heart of the historic city center. Around the lake are beautiful pagoda gateways, one of which is How Phong Pagoda, one of Hanoi's must-see sites .

The Temple of Literature is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, too. It is a Confucian temple that was built as a university that dates back to the 11th century. Hanoi is also the city where visitors will find the tomb of Ho Chi Minh, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, and the Military History Museum.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com


More Great Destinations in Southeast Asia: When it comes to choosing the best places to visit in SE Asia, the list is long and the decision can be tough. If you are traveling through Thailand , consider heading up to Chiang Mai or head over to the Andaman Sea to explore places like the Phi Phi Islands or Phuket , and the beautiful beaches in Krabi .

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Home » Southeast Asia » Backpacking Travel Guide

Backpacking Southeast Asia Travel Guide (Budget Tips • 2024)

For many travellers, backpacking Southeast Asia is the ultimate highlight of their backpacking adventures . If you are coming from western civilisation, exploring the countries of Southeast Asia is like being catapulted into an alternate reality.

From the moment you set foot on the continent, you can feel the electricity in the air. Your senses explode from stimulation and you head out into the hustle and bustle in search of an ice cold beer…

If you’re new to backpacking, this corner of the world is a great place to start your travels – it’s affordable, safe, diverse, friendly, and beautiful.

With enticing tales of adventure coming from a few generations of travellers, it can be hard to know where to start planning your visit to Southeast Asia. Legions of inspiration are found in every country throughout the region – and you want to see it all !

Never fear! This Southeast Asia travel guide will give you a detailed low-down of everything you could possibly need to know before you embark on your epic journey.

From the OG Banana Pancake Trail itinerary to ideas for something more offbeat to my favourite street food, this guide has it all.

Spoiler alert : banh mi is the best street food!

Fasten your seat belts and put on your motorcycle helmet. This is the ultimate backpacker’s guide to travelling Southeast Asia !

Will looking out over the temples of Bagan, Myanmar, Asia

Why Go Backpacking in Southeast Asia?

Backpacking Southeast Asia is wildly chaotic, punctuated by brief moments of reflection and utter calm. When I first landed in Vietnam and began my travels in the region, I got that wonderful thought of so this is what travelling is about .

The best thing about visiting Southeast Asia is that you can stick to the well-trodden path and still have a mind-blowing adventure that’s easy on logistics. There are cheap buses you can catch between countries, it’s easy to buy your own motorbike and explore yourself, plus internal flights are usually cheap too.

Conversely, it’s very easy to step off into the wilderness and have a raw, untamed adventure. Some of my best memories come from taking a side road through the jungle on the Vietnam-Laos border. I camped on the outskirts of small villages amongst unruly jungles that hadn’t seen tourists come through in 10 years. Of course, obligatory rice wine was shared each night!

southeast asia travel

Generally speaking, backpacking in Southeast Asia is very cheap compared to travelling to other parts of the world. You don’t have to count your pennies and hustle at every step of the way in order to enjoy a beer at the end of the day. I’d say this part of the world takes the cake when it comes to budget backpacking .

Because the region is so cheap, you can enjoy big-ticket experiences that you might not be able to afford in other regions of the world. This could include world-class SCUBA diving in Malaysia , or a freediving course in the Philippines.

Even the ‘everyday experiences’ of backpacking Southeast Asia are epic, though! Think about taking yoga classes in the morning and surf in the afternoons in Indonesia . What about hiking through dense jungles exploding with wildlife, raging rivers, and massive waterfalls in Laos ? And you can’t forget to explore Vietnam by motorbike .

There is a reason that, despite how touristy some parts of the region get, Southeast Asia remains an incredibly special place to both first time and veteran travellers!

It’s just that bloody good .

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Southeast Asia

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Let us be clear about one thing: Southeast Asia has so many things to do and see that it would be impossible to see it all in one lifetime let alone in just one backpacking trip. That said, you can sure pack in a whole lot no matter what your time frame is!

Also, remember that this is a region that lives, breathes, and thrives on a certain degree of chaos. Backpacking in Southeast Asia requires one to adapt to that chaos and embrace the wonderful spontaneity that can arise here.

A man on a motorbike selling street food on a bust street in Vietnam

I don’t think that you should attempt to plan your trip to the last tuk-tuk ride. That said, having a general Southeast Asia travel itinerary in mind will help you get the most out of your trip. You don’t want to spend your time scrambling for things to do – nor do you want to pack so much into your travels that you forget to enjoy yourself.

Do you have 2 weeks? 3 months? 6 months? No matter what your time frame is, the itineraries I have listed below have helpful travel routes for Southeast Asia to suit all schedules.

Note that each itinerary can be combined with another, done in reverse, and customized based on your interests. Sometimes it’s worth leaving off one or two sights in order to fully enjoy the others.

2 Weeks Backpacking Southeast Asia Itinerary: An Epic Getaway

southeast asia travel

When low on time, I advise sticking to smaller countries like Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia. That way the transportation distances won’t eat a big bite out of your precious backpacking time. You will certainly only be scratching the surface, but you will leave with an even more intense hunger to return!

You could start your 2 weeks by visiting Bangkok  and exploring the city for a few days. Thailand also has some spectacular temple ruins of its own at Ayathuya and  Sukhothai which are close to Bangkok and well worth checking out.

From Bangkok, it’s easy to travel to Chiang Mai  in Northern Thailand and from Chiang Mai onwards to the mountain town of Pai in just a few hours. If the north doesn’t quite do it for you, you can always go party on the epic Thai islands in the south.

Alternatively, you could go from Bangkok across the border into Cambodia . There you can go see Angkor Wat and go south to visit the tropical islands off Cambodia. While there is a party vibe on the Cambodian islands, they’re definitely more relaxed. Think swimming at night with bioluminescence and chilling all day in a hammock with just a splash of psytrance.

3 Months Backpacking Southeast Asia Itinerary: The Banana Pancake Trail

Southeast Asia backpacking itinerary - Banana Pancak Trail map

This backpacking itinerary takes you through the heart of what put Southeast Asia on the map. This is the juiciest of the banana pancake trail!

I would recommend flying into Bangkok and still kicking off your Southeast Asian travel with a bang. As you head north to the likes of Chiang Mai and the hippie village of Pai where there are lots of opportunities to creep off the beaten path.

southeast asia travel

Explore the best of what Thailand has to offer before heading to Laos. Take the slow boat from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang . If you have time,  climb Mount Phousi , because daaaaaaaamn , those views are insane! 

Laos receives a fair amount of backpackers, however far fewer than Thailand. The main attraction to Laos is its unmatched natural beauty, kind people, and rock-bottom prices. Vang Vieng is the main backpacker playground in Laos; this is the place where you can smoke a joint and eat banana pancakes all day.  Tad Lo Waterfall is definitely worth the visit as well.

Vietnam is another classic stop on this route. Soak in the majestic views and cooler temperatures of the mountains in the north before heading south. Hire a motorcycle, explore the cities, go scuba diving, or hop around the islands.

Vietnam has THE best street food in all of Southeast Asia, so prepare your belly for bliss. From backpacking Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi there are ample rice paddies, bustling metropolises, and banh mi glory to enjoy!

Finally, travel to Cambodia and Angkor Wat en route back to Thailand’s southern beaches. Learn about Cambodia’s sobering recent history whilst exploring some of the most impressive temples and beaches in all of Southeast Asia.

You can finish your 3-month extravaganza with a full moon party on one of Thailand’s best beaches. Bottoms up! You deserve it.

6+ Months Backpacking Southeast Asia Itinerary: The Longterm Backpacker

Map of Southeast Asia 6-month backpacking itinerary

You will not be the first backpacker who loved backpacking Southeast Asia so much that you spent 6 months there followed by another 6 months followed by another cheeky 6 months. The longer you spend here, the more that the region opens up beyond parties on the beach.

Go trekking in Borneo! Get your ass to Indonesia and explore a few of the thousands of remote islands there! Hit up far-flung places in the Philippines! I will always vouch for travelling off the beaten path .

This itinerary would still have you flying into Bangkok AKA Asia’s Sin City. Backpacking Thailand is almost a rite of passage for those that backpack Southeast Asia. Now, while Thailand is crazy beautiful, you can experience a lot of Thailand’s best highlights  in a month or less. 

southeast asia travel

You can travel south to explore Cambodia and the Thai islands before crossing over into Northern Malaysia . Check out Langkawi Island before heading south. Staying in Penang is the best; it’s one of my favourite cities in Southeast Asia, with some great hikes and diving to be had around Penang National Park .

Alternatively, you can travel to Bali or Manila  from Bangkok and explore a totally new part of Southeast Asia. Philippine highlights include climbing Mt Pulag ,  Sagada’s Crystal Cave  and  Olahbinan ,  Kalinga Jungle ,  El Nido for some climbing and partying, and Coron for epic scuba diving.

If you want to dedicate a couple of months to Indonesia you won’t be disappointed. Alongside the Bali to Flores route, you can also catch a flight to Sumatra . Here, visit the orangutan sanctuary in Bukit Lawang  and the stunning Lake Toba .

Also on tap here is world-class diving at Pulau Weh . This tiny island is located at either the beginning or end of Indonesia, depending on which way you’re looking at the map. You’ll have to pass through the town of Banda Acehto  to reach here, which is the only place in Indonesia that has Sharia Law in place. This definitely isn’t the place to come party while backpacking Indonesia, but the juice is worth the squeeze if you get to Pulau Weh.

Is this the Best Hostel in South East Asia?

southeast asia travel

Tribal Hostel  – Bali’s first purpose-built co-working hostel and perhaps the greatest hostel in the world!

An ideal hub for Digital Nomads and backpackers, this very special hostel is now finally open…

Come on down and enjoy amazing coffee, high-speed wifi and a game of pool?

Southeast Asia is truly massive .

There are 11 countries that comprise the Southeast Asian region; each one is special and also radically different in its own ways. You won’t even be eating the same food from country to country. Sure, it’s all mostly rice-based, but is it fried Nasi Goreng with an egg on top or is it laden with spicy green Thai curry?

The landscapes are even more varied with jungles, mountains, epic coastlines, and deserted islands all found in this region.

southeast asia travel

There’s something addictive to landing smack bang in the humid collection of markets, traffic, and skyrises that do crop up amongst all major Southeast Asian cities. Just visiting one or two of these countries will have you desperate to come back for more!

Backpacking Thailand

For many first timers, backpacking Thailand is the image at the forefront of their imaginations when it comes to destinations in Southeast Asia. Those white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and towering jungle peaks are sprinkled with a little hedonistic fun and low, low prices.

Finding a Thailand backpacking route is easy, as many routes are well-established and there are plenty of backpackers on the ground to grab tips from. You just never know who will suggest an epic street food vendor where you find spicy watermelon, or who will give you the heads up that certain roads have become notorious for police asking for bribes.

Woman standing next to a Chinese warrior statue in Bangkok, Thailand

In addition to its natural splendour, Thailand boasts some of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic cities, especially if you are wanting to settle in somewhere as long term as a digital nomad. In fact, Thailand is rapidly becoming the digital nomad capital of the world. While being a digital nomad changes your travels , it can be incredibly rewarding – especially if you’re surrounded by a group of like-minded people.

Thailand receives more visitors annually than any other Southeast Asia nation by a long shot, so it’s not super easy to get off the beaten path. That being said, if you drive far enough north, you’ll stop seeing tourists and start seeing covert drug smuggling routes. I’m not suggesting that drug smuggling routes make the best adventure – especially for first-time backpackers – but if you happen to find work as a fresh-faced, aspiring journalist, then this country is definitely still full of stories.

There are also some lesser-known hikes nearby Chiang Pai – plus the motorbike riding around there is amazing . Just be aware of elephant experiences–the vast majority are unethical, so make sure you do your research and only visit TRUE sanctuaries like Elephant Nature Park.

What to Know Before Visiting Thailand

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… the North – this is the REAL Thailand! Sure, those Southern Islands are beautiful and full of some cheeky debauchery, but if you want to get off the beaten path then you need the jungle mountains of the north.
  • You know what’s overrated… the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan – it’s pretty sloppy here, not to mention hectic. The Eden Party is way better.
  • The coolest hostel is… Get Hi Hostel in Chiang Rai is a The Broke Backpacker favourite! Especially if you’re travelling solo through Thailand, it’s a perfect place to find your tribe.
  • The best food is found in… Bangkok. If you find yourself craving a cheesy pasta or fat steak you won’t be disappointed in this city! But even better (in my opinion) are the endless side alleys and markets selling incredible street food. Spicy watermelon, pad thai style noodle salads, and soups so spicy you’ll sweat out your demons… YES, please!

Backpacking Vietnam

Over the last few decades, Vietnam has charged to the head of the line as a top destination for backpackers. Delicious cuisine, cheap places to stay, epic ancient temples, and mind-boggling motorbike routes are just a few of the draws that make up the charm in Vietnam.

If you are wanting to explore Southeast Asia by motorbike, then Vietnam is the best place to go. The country is long and thin, so it’s perfect for a road trip and bikes with Vietnamese plates can enter most other countries in Southeast Asia (this is pretty unique).

A person on a motorbike/ motorcycle with a backpack on their bike and mountains in the background

Vietnam has the feeling of a country that’s leapt into the future so quickly that its countryside is buffering to catch up. When exploring Hanoi , Ho Chi Minh City, or any of Vietnam’s big cities you’ll find skyscrapers and high-speed internet. There are underground music scenes and students who deal a little weed on the side to ex-pats. The streets are thick with motorbikes.

Then there’s the countryside: rolling green rice paddies, straw hats, and shacks. The mornings are long and slow, the evening is full of the sound of insects. Fields are thick with buffalo herds. And yet, both sides of Vietnam are united by their incredible food.

Pho might be the most famous noodle broth, but it’s far from the only tasty meal. Vietnam knows how to make a meal out of very little and they know how to make it taste good . Most backpackers will at some point indulge in a 3 am banh mi after a big night out and know what I mean!

What to Know Before Visiting Vietnam

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… the  Ha Giang Loop by motorbike . This one of the hidden gems of Vietnam that takes you through towering jungle covered mountains on windy, delicate roads. This is not for the faint hearted or ill prepared. This is a real adventure!
  • Look out for… those bamboo pipes in the north – they’re used for smoking local tobacco and hit HARD. You might risk lung cancer, but all in the name of experiencing the local way of life, right?
  • The coolest hostel is… Redhouse Dalat . It’s easily one of the most beautiful hostels I’ve ever stayed in and the owner, Linh, is an absolute gem!
  • The best food is found in… Hue – it’s well known for its Central Vietnamese plates. I had quite possibly the best meal of my life here (definitely top 10, anyway). In a back alley, crammed into plastic chair far too small for me, I sampled the legendary Bun Bo Hue… I never knew noodles and broth would make me want to become a foodie.

Backpacking Laos

Laos is truly a special country in Southeast Asia and one that has managed to retain its easy-going identity in the era of mass tourism. Wild jungles, river deltas, smiling locals, and amazing treks make Laos the backpacking paradise that it is.

southeast asia travel

Places in northern Laos, like the areas in and around Luang Prabang , experience cooler temperatures in the mountains and rainforest. The south is more of the agricultural heart of the country.

Each area holds a lot to explore for backpackers. Laos is the perfect country for backpackers wanting to experience Southeast Asia within a short time frame as you can get in a bit of all climates, different cultures, and party vibes.

One can easily see the highlights and experience the country off the beaten path in 2 weeks to a month. Take it easy though. Laos is a country that is not to be rushed through. Plus, going slow means you might just end up on the 420-friendly river island– Don Det –just like I did!

You will see when you get your boots on the ground that nothing happens quickly in Laos anyway… This is a land of chill .

What to Know Before Visiting Laos

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… the mountains around Vang Vieng. Lots of people neglect exploring these in favor of tubing the river. The river party scene in Vang Vieng is diminishing anyways.
  • You know what’s overrated… Luang Prabang. In recent years, it’s become very touristy and a bit disingenuous. The nearby waterfalls are still cool though.
  • The coolest hostel is… Vang Vieng Chill House . It encompasses all the things I love most about hostels: chilling and good vibes. It gets a little noisy sometimes but it’s a great place to meet people.
  • The best food is found… on the streets! The street food in Laos is absolutely top-notch.

Backpacking Cambodia

The temples at Angkor Wat are an obvious draw for those backpacking Cambodia and are truly impressive. Cambodia is a country rich in culture, beautiful beaches and islands, the Mekong River Delta, and bustling markets.

The nation of Cambodia is a country still pulling out of an extremely dark, recent past. A staggering 1.5 – 3 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge, led by tyrant Pol Pot. It happened only 35 – 40 years ago and is still very fresh and raw to the Cambodian people.

southeast asia travel

Despite the tragic history, the local Khmer people are some of the kindest humans in the world. The country is still recuperating, rebuilding, and moving forward, however, corruption is hindering its rehabilitation.

There is a strange energy in the air in Phnom Penh sometimes. It can be quite tense and stifling amongst the humidity. It’s as if everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop and for chaos to return.

This is a country that makes you think about how lucky you were to be born into a country of peace. And I think that it’s important amongst the wild nights partying in Cambodia that you pause and really learn something from the lands you’re travelling in.

Cambodia is one of my favourite Southeast Asian destinations to travel to; I loved it so much that I ended up overstaying my visa. From the awesome hostels , cheap prices, and epic off-the-beaten-track travels, Cambodia seriously has it all. See it for yourself and you’ll fall in love too.

What to Know Before Visiting Cambodia

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. One of the most sobering places in Southeast Asia and a refreshing change of pace.
  • Keep an eye out for… temples other than Angkor Wat. Cambodia is full of Khmer ruins, like Koh Ker. You can spend days getting lost in the ruins of an empire past.
  • The coolest hostel is… Yellow Star Hostel . It’s the kind of place you extend your stay for as long as your Cambodia itinerary allows.
  • The best food is found in… the outdoor food market in Siem Reap. Most of the backpacker accommodation is conveniently located around here so it’s simply a matter of walking down and gorging yourself silly!

Backpacking Myanmar

Oh, Myanmar. For a few years between roughly 2011 and 2019, backpacking in Myanmar really took off as the country instituted democratic reforms and started to open up to the world. There was even a fear that in opening up to the world too quickly, Myanmar would lose some of its authenticity and charm.

I want to stress that I love Myanmar. I love the country and I love the people. I travelled there through some of the remote Northern regions. I caught the dilapidated trains, hitchhiked with monks, and even publically pooped my pants on a public bus after some dodgy food.

The temples are second to none, the food is cheap and delicious, and the countryside is beautiful .

southeast asia travel

But, the seeds of what has happened to Myanmar had been sown many years before. You can trace the military take over and crackdown back to the consequences of British rule back in Imperial times. There was a lot of tension during the decolonial period too with the government shirking a lot of international aid and joining any international forums.

This isolationism was intensified with the first military coup of the 1960s. This was the same military that was loosening the reigns during the 2010s that allowed a few of us to explore what truly is one of my favourite countries on the planet.

The tensions with the various ethnic groups on the borders never went away though. And neither did the military. As of early 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi (the former democratic leader) has been imprisoned and political dissenters shot and jailed as the military clamps down on control again.

I couldn’t in good conscience advise anyone to go backpacking in Myanmar at this time. But I don’t want to strike this country off the map entirely. The people deserve better than that.

It’s probably not the place of a travel guide to tell you to support democratic movements – especially not ones that are as flawed as Aung San Suu Kyi’s – but I think it’s fair to say that the moment it’s safe. Go backpacking Myanmar!

February 2023 Update : In the past few months, Myanmar has reopened its e-visa program and is officially “open for tourism.” Many travellers have reported successful and problem free trips, BUT it’s still important to proceed with extreme caution. Though the political situation has stabilized, there is the chance of getting stuck in the country.

What to Know Before Visiting Myanmar

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… Bagan. There are touristy spots in Bagan, however, the scope of the area is immense. Riding an e-bike to a secret place and setting up for sunset is the way to go. There are so many side roads and off the beaten path ruins here that you’ll find something special.
  • You know what’s overrated… Inle Lake. Super beautiful, super touristy, and super expensive. Visit, then shoot through for some of the mad trekking in the nearby regions.
  • The coolest hostel is… Ostello Bello . These guys are a solidly run hostel chain that will have your back and provide a place of comfort while travelling Myanmar.
  • The best food is found in… Mandalay. I actually love staying in Mandalay , and the aromas drifting from the nighttime street food market is a big reason why! It’s a big city so there’s a lot

Backpacking Malaysia

I absolutely LOVE backpacking in Malaysia. Somehow, Malaysia has managed to stay below the radar of many travellers on the Southeast Asia backpacking circuit. To write off Malaysia as uninteresting would be a mistake: Malaysia should be your next backpacking destination!

For one, I found Malaysia to have some of the lowest prices in all of Southeast Asia. The country is extremely clean, the roads are in great shape, and the people speak decent English. Malaysia is also a majority Muslim country, which I found to be an interesting contrast to the Buddhist majorities of the countries to the north.

southeast asia travel

Tioman Island is one of Southeast Asia’s best-kept secrets. Getting your PADI open water certificate is cheaper on Tioman than anywhere in Thailand. Also, diving is better – in my opinion. The coral reefs are not experiencing the same level of bleaching as they are in Thailand. I saw plenty of turtles, sharks, and more vibrant reef systems generally.

Malaysia is also home to one of the world’s oldest rainforests at Taman Negara . So alongside some of the most vibrant and developed cities in Asia are some of Asia’s most wild and unruly jungles! And, if that wasn’t enough, Malaysian food is seriously delicious.

Then there is Malaysian Borneo . Parts of Borneo are surprisingly well developed. That said, there are giant swaths of the island that are still wild and teaming with rhinoceros, orangutans, and other rare wildlife. The trekking here is of the old school, beat your way through the jungle variety! Malaysia has incredible adventure opportunities for those willing to get well off the beaten path!

What to Know Before Visiting Malaysia

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… Borneo. It’s such an overlooked destination but there’s so much cool stuff going on here. Get a tattoo in Kuching!
  • Look out for… hidden speakeasies in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. They’re VERY well disguised, and absolutely worth it! Being an Islamic country, it’s harder to get alcohol here but where there’s a will there’s a way.
  • The coolest hostel is… Best Attitude Hostel Cenang . This hostel has great social events running all the time – even if the karaoke makes me cringe!
  • The best food is found in… Penang. Whilst ALL the food in Malaysia is good, Penang takes top honors. Seriously, those soups had me in a proper food coma.

Backpacking Singapore

Singapore is the smallest country to make our list. This tropical island city-state nation might be a blip on the map, but it is a regional economic and cultural powerhouse.

Backpacking Singapore has the reputation of being an expensive place to visit in Southeast Asia. Whilst Singapore is certainly more expensive when compared to its relatively cheap neighbours, there is still plenty to do for backpackers on a budget.

Some of the best street food in the world can be found amongst the food stalls of various markets. Singapore is a multi-cultural melting pot, so it is possible to taste the influences of many different cultures in a single dish. Rub elbows with locals and chow down on some epically delicious cheap eats.

southeast asia travel

Visit Chinatown , explore Arab Street , and be sure to grab a curry in Little India . Just based on the neighbourhood names alone, you can gather that many ethnic groups are represented across this city-country.

If you are visiting Singapore for longer, be sure to check out the nature reserves surrounding the city. Few people realize that just outside of Singapore’s urban centres there are some great day hikes to be had in the surrounding jungle. There’s also plenty of local life to be experienced beyond the neon landscape.

Singapore is a city that has something for every backpacker. Whether you are just passing through or coming specifically to backpack Singapore, you can be sure that there is always something awesome (and tasty) to get into here. It’s wildly different to other countries within the region, and yet there are glimmers of something similar. You’re sure to love it!

What to Know Before Visiting Singapore

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… the hawker centres (cafeterias). When you’re in Singapore, you EAT. The food is incredible.
  • You know what’s overrated… Sentosa Island – it’s just Disney World with a fake beach. And you know what’s worse than hoardes of people? Paying to be around hoardes of people.
  • The coolest hostel is… The Bohemian . This colourful little corner of Singapore makes my heart sing… apore.
  • The best food is found in… Maxwell Food Centre. This is the most famous hawker centre in Singapore. In fact, the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant is here! But aside from that, there are countless delicious options. There’s little wonder I ended up a couple of kilos heavier after backpacking in Singapore!

Backpacking Indonesia

As a vast archipelago nation composed of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. The country is so big and so spread out that exploring it can feel overwhelming.

Backpacking Indonesia is an adventure like no other. For starters, you can climb active volcanoes, encounter orangutans in the jungle, visit ancient temples, and enjoy spectacular diving.

All along the way, you’ll be welcomed in by some of the most friendly people out there while you enjoy the varied and delicious cuisine. Best of all, you can easily backpack Indonesia on a budget.

southeast asia travel

Bali is definitely the backpacker magnet of Indonesia and for good reason. Along with a blossoming digital nomad scene and tons of epic places to see, Bali is also surf and party central. If you are wanting to become a yoga teacher, there are countless programs being offered all across the island.

It’s worth staying in Bali for some time, but be sure to visit some of the other islands as well. Though fun, I would argue that Bali is not at all what the rest of Indonesia feels like. The country is jam-packed with off the beaten path exploration potential.

17,000 islands bro! Get yourself out there and explore some of them and you will quickly fall in love with this massive island nation. Because the real Indonesia is well outside of Bali.

The streets of Jakarta are a hot mess of traffic and street food contrasted with towering skyscrapers. The outer islands are deserted. There are jungles and villages as much as there are modern cities.

What to Know Before Visiting Indonesia

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… island hopping. Backpacking Nusa Penida , Derawan, the Kai Islands, Wakatobi; these are some of the best, but there are many more to see.
  • You know what’s overrated… Kuta, Bali. Avoid it like the plague. Drunk Australians and piles of garbage. Plus, the tourists have made many of the locals suspicious of travellers. Not a vibe.
  • The coolest hostel is… Tribal Hostel . Super cool, open and tropical, you won’t find a better place to stay than Tribal. In the quiet area of Pererenan Bali, and with a huge coworking space, Tribal has it all!
  • The best food is found in… Jakarta. This city takes satay to a whole new level. Be sure to try as many satay sticks as possible – and Nasi Goreng, of course.

Backpacking The Philippines

Cheap beer, beautiful beaches, adrenaline-pumping activities, and some of the most friendly, genuine, people in all of Asia; the Philippines truly captured my heart. I made some incredible friends in the Philippines and I have to say, it is one of the easiest countries in the world to travel around as the locals are so friendly.

Getting around the Philippines as a backpacker and finding a sweet and cheap place to stay (and a sweet and cheap thing to eat) is breezy.

There are thousands of islands to choose from. This translates into EPIC scuba diving, a great place to learn to snorkel and to go fishing. If you have never learned to spearfish , you should absolutely give it a go. Spearfishing doesn’t get much better than in the Philippines where the visibility is insanely good!

southeast asia travel

If you love trekking like me, then you will be pleased to find some epic hiking opportunities in the Philippines. Caves, rivers, mountains, you name it, one can find all the outdoor playgrounds here. There are heaps of adventure opportunities in The Philippines if you’re equipped for the job!

There are endless trekking options in the Philippines: remote hill hikes and active volcanoes, gentle strolls, and multi-day backpacking trips. Some popular treks include  Cordillera and its rice terraces and trekking Mt. Pulag .

Not too far from here you can reach Sagada (and my saucy Sagada travel guide ) and hike in the hills. Bohol and the Chocolate Hills are a great place to trek as well. The Philippines is home to 25 active volcanoes that can be climbed to the summit!

If you’re a fan of a party then you’re in the right place as festivals in The Philippines are some of the most lively events you can experience as a traveler, and a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the culture of such a diverse country.

What to Know Before Visiting the Philippines

southeast asia travel

  • Don’t miss out on… El Nido. It’s utter paradise, the stuff of dreams and legends. Stay here forever if you can.
  • Look out for… crowds at Baguio. It’s becoming one of the most popular places in The Philippines; let’s hope it doesn’t become TOO popular.
  • The coolest hostel is… Mad Monkey Hostel Siargo . The MM chain is somewhat legendary – but this one is my favourite.
  • The best food is found in …hard to say, really – there’s just so much diversity when it comes to Filipino food . Suckling pig in Cebu, empanadas in Ilocos, bulalo in Tagaytay; nothing really beats adobo  made by a local grandma though.

Getting Off the Beaten Path in Southeast Asia

Once you have your boots on the ground, the Southeast Asia backpackers circuit will be as obvious as the stars in the night sky. Backpackers generally don’t venture too far off of the so-called Banana Pancake trail.

That said, if you are a keen and adventurous type, there are many parts of Southeast Asia that are untouched by backpackers to this day. Many regions are very wild and make for endless exploration opportunities.

southeast asia travel

Additionally, there are islands in Southeast Asia (think Indonesia) that are so damned remote, few westerners have ever been to them. Have fun on the Banana Pancake Trail, but don’t forget to dip out once in a while to truly explore.

For starters, I’d suggest trekking in Borneo or taking a long motorbike excursion to the Vietnam-China border. These are two wildly different types of adventure, but they hint at the wild times you can forge for yourself if you avoid other tourists like the plague.

Aether Backpack

We’ve tested countless backpacks over the years, but there’s one that has always been the best and remains the best buy for adventurers: the broke backpacker-approved Osprey Aether and Ariel series.

Want more deetz on why these packs are so  damn perfect? Then read our comprehensive review for the inside scoop!

Southeast Asia is an adventure playground. It is a backpacker paradise and a place teeming with awesome budget adventures. There will certainly never be a day where you are bored for lack of things to do in Southeast Asia. Let’s dive in and take a look at some of the radical adventures that await you in Southeast Asia…

1. Jungle Trekking

There is some great jungle trekking in Northern Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam… Hell, in every country in Southeast Asia, really! If you choose to go trekking make sure to go on a multi-day hike. Personally, I prefer trekking in Laos, and I had an epic experience in Myanmar back when it was safe to travel through.

I would love to explore more of the remote corners of Indonesia and Borneo too – the options to go jungle trekking in Southeast Asia are really limitless!

southeast asia travel

2. Scuba Diving

Many backpackers fall in love with scuba diving whilst in Southeast Asia. Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia offer incredible diving opportunities in crystal clear waters with abundant marine life and plenty of wrecks for the underwater adventurer. The cheapest place to learn is the island of Kao Tao in Thailand and the islands in Malaysia.

If you’re not up to learning to dive, you can always learn to snorkel too. But with the affordable prices of Asia combined with the excellent visibility, you can’t really go wrong!

3. Motorcycle in Southeast Asia

Perhaps there is no better way to explore a country than by motorbike . You’re truly free to design your own itinerary and take every side alley that takes your fancy.

Plus, you become part of the landscape when you’re riding. There aren’t windows of a bus separating you from the buffalo or the mountain.

But there also isn’t much of anything to protect you if you fall off. So I’d suggest wearing proper riding gear and having insurance. That way, you’re free to enjoy the jungle roads, the epic peaks, and the offbeat camping destinations that Southeast Asia has to offer with some peace of mind.

southeast asia travel

4. Learn To Cook

Love the hell out of Southeast Asian cuisine? Me too!

Taking a cooking class whilst visiting a Southeast Asian country will supercharge your cooking skills. You will be preparing delicious meals for years down the line that remind you of the good ol’ days backpacking Southeast Asia.

Each country is full of such diverse dishes, too. You could pick up a nasi goreng recipe down in Indonesia which would stand completely apart from a classic Thai green curry, or a delectable set of Vietnamese rice paper rolls.

5. Chase Waterfalls

Don’t go chasing waterfalls… What nonsense! In every country in Southeast Asia, you will stumble upon waterfalls, epic waterfalls. Each will be more impressive than the last and will have you dreaming of turquoise waters for years to come.

southeast asia travel

6. Go Caving

Southeast Asia is home to some truly impressive cave systems. If you have the chance, you must explore some of them! There is the world’s largest cave in Vietnam, but many of the smaller caves throughout the region are equally as epic and more accessible. Over in the Phillippines, you can even try your hand at cave diving – that shit’s UNREAL!

7. It’s Street Food O’Clock

Love trying new things? There is something delicious, tasty, and bizarre to put in your mouth around every turn.

I hope the words “no, I don’t think I want to try that” never come out of your mouth. You will find food that makes you cry tears of joy. There will be times when your entire mouth becomes a burning pit of hell. And there will be magical moments where it’s a bit of both.

Each country brings something unique to the table for you to sink your teeth into – literally. So you’ve got no choice but to start munching your way through street carts!

(Exceptions are granted only if the food in question is an endangered or protected animal.)

southeast asia travel

8. Go climbing

Southeast Asia is full of karst mountains, which rise like pillars and towers from the ground. For the casual tourist, these spires make great photos. For climbers though, these are the stuff of dreams.

Visit Railay, Cat Ba, and Kuala Lumpur for some grade-A routes.

9. Island hopping

The Philippines has over 7,100 islands; Indonesia has 17,000. Combine these with all the other random islands scattered throughout Southeast Asia and you have a shit ton of islands to live out your Robinson Crusoe adventures. Better get started now – it’s going to take a while to visit them all.

southeast asia travel

If you get really addicted to island life, you may want to try boat life . That way you can perpetually traverse the best of Southeast Asia’s islands and beyond…

10. Stay in a Coworking Hostel

More and more backpackers are looking to turn their travels into a full time way of life… the best way to get inspired is to meet and brainstorm with other aspiring entrepreneurs and digital nomads, check out Tribal Hostel in Bali to find ideas, support and new friends 🙂

Psssst…. Searching for your Tribe?

southeast asia travel

Tribal Hostel – Bali’s first purpose-built co-working hostel and perhaps the greatest hostel in the world!

Come on down and enjoy amazing coffee, high-speed wifi and a game of pool 😉

The most common place to stay while backpacking Southeast Asia is, of course, hostels. They’re cheap, ubiquitous, and can be a helluva a lot of fun.

Never stayed in a hostel before? You’re in luck! Southeast Asia is the best place to learn how to live the hostel life .

Southeast Asia has some of the most well-known and well-regarded hostels in the world, which would impress even the most seasoned backpacker. There’s a real mix of cheap places to stay, too. There are the classic party hubs where to beer never stops flowing. But there are some really chill places where it’s more likely that everyone is sitting around smoking a joint while swapping travel stories.

If you’re going to be hitting the Banana Pancake Trail hard and for several months, you’ll want to pack the right stuff with you. We all know that guy who steals towels from hostels and takes them wherever he goes; don’t be that guy.

southeast asia travel

Whilst it’s easier to find hostels in the well-trafficked parts of Southeast Asia, there are some real gems just slightly off the beaten path. One of the best hostels I ever stayed in was in the middle of nowhere Northern Vietnam.

As is always the case, camping would be the ultimate way to save cash while backpacking. Just make sure you take a good tent with you and do your best to check your site – there are some really dangerous snakes and crazy, heavy rain out there in the remote, jungle areas.

There is really never a need to stay in a hotel while backpacking Southeast Asia. If you need a private space, book an airbnb or find a local guesthouse instead. Because it’s Asia, it won’t be very expensive and might be just what you need to recharge yourself.

  • Where to Stay in Vietnam
  • Where to Stay in Thailand
  • Where to Stay in Malaysia
  • Where to Stay in the Philippines
  • Where to Stay in Singapore
  • Where to Stay in Cambodia

Southeast Asia is the Mecca for cheap places to travel broke . Nowhere else on earth can you drink beer, find accommodation, and eat out every day easily for under $10 USD .

southeast asia travel

To give you an idea of the cost of backpacking Southeast Asia, here are some examples of shoestring travel budgets:

  • $20 – $30 / day: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia
  • $25 – $35 / day: Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia
  • $30 – $40 / day: Indonesia, Philippines

As you can see, some countries in Southeast Asia are more expensive than others. For example, the cost of a trip to Thailand  is not as dirt cheap as you might think, especially if you plan on just eating Western food.

Generally speaking, any of the islands you visit whilst backpacking Southeast Asia will be more expensive than the mainland. Also, Singapore kind of stands as its own thing – you can expect a much higher cost of travel there than the rest of Southeast Asia as it’s not catered to budget travellers.

Creating the right Southeast Asia budget for yourself is the key to a successful backpacking adventure. Travelling in Southeast Asia should never be super expensive. With a few budget travel hacks up your sleeve, you will save a ton of money and have the time of your life.

A Daily Budget in Southeast Asia

Here is a more in-depth breakdown of what you can expect to pay on a daily basis whilst backpacking Southeast Asia…

Budget Tips for Visiting Southeast Asia

To keep your spending to an absolute minimum whilst travelling in Southeast Asia, I recommend sticking to these basic rules of budget adventuring….

southeast asia travel

  • Camp : With plenty of untouched beaches, forests, stunning countryside, and far-flung jungle, Southeast Asia can be a great place to pitch a tent for the night. A solid sleep system saves you money and can help you get off of the beaten path.
  • Eat street food : Southeast Asia has the BEST street food in the world. You can easily load up on just a few dollars. Night markets are iconic places to start from.
  • Couchsurf: Southeast Asian locals are awesome, so get to know some! Check out Couchsurfing to make some real friendships and see a country from the perspective of locals. When using Couchsurfing, be sure to send personalized messages to your potential host – make yourself stand out!
  • Haggle: Barter, negotiate, sit down for a tea, and philander hedonistically if necessary. A good haggling game is going to go a long way towards backpacking Southeast Asia on a budget.
  • Hitchhike: This is just your friendly neighborhood reminder that hitchhiking is the best, and it saves you cash! But more than that, it launches you right into the thick of it and entices adventures to come out of their hidey-holes.
  • Leave “The Bubble”: Staying in the tourist bubbles always gets more expensive. Remember to leave the bubble and live the local life for truly cheap Southeast Asia travel.

Why Should You Travel to Southeast Asia with a Water Bottle?

Whilst there’s a lot that we can do when it comes to travelling responsibly , reducing your plastic consumption is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, don’t take plastic shopping bags, and forget straws. All of this just ends up in landfills or in the ocean.

One way you can minimise your plastic footprint is by investing in a premium filtered water bottle . That way, not only do you save money by not having to buy bottled water everywhere you go, but you aren’t contributing to the problem. You’re being part of the solution! And the turtles thank you!

grayl geopress filter bottle

Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.

Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress  rigorously  from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

Due to the great distances involved when we are talking about ALL of Southeast Asia, the weather can really vary.

The peak tourist season in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam is from November to February when the weather is beautiful across the region, but there’s a high chance you’ll run into a ton of tourists. The really popular guesthouses fill up fast.

The local people are a really friendly bunch and keen to help so if you have any problems don’t be afraid to ask for directions from the locals. It is best to avoid northern areas of Thailand from February to April as the burning season starts and mountains will slowly be covered in smoke.

southeast asia travel

When we are talking about Indonesia for example, keep in mind that Indonesia is WAY farther south and nearer to the equator. The weather in Indonesia can be loosely applied to Malaysia as well.

Generally speaking, there are 2 seasons in Indonesia – the dry season and the rainy season. In most parts of the country, the dry season lasts from May to September . Of course, this is also the most popular time to visit.

Consider visiting in either May or September if you want to try and avoid the massive summer crowd, especially in Bali. This way you can find cheaper accommodation which is difficult to find during peak season.

Most of the rain in Indonesia falls from October to April , with some regional variations. Those looking to do some serious trekking or diving may want to try and plan a trip in the dry season. There’s no need to let a little rain spoil your trip, though. Rain usually comes in quick downpours so just take a solid rain jacket; you’ll still get to enjoy several hours of sunlight.

Best Time to Visit – Country Breakdown

Best Months to Travel: November-February, March-September (Southeast Coast)

What’s the climate in Thailand like? 

Most of Thailand is dry and comfortable to visit from November-February. In March and April, the temps start to rise until they become horrible in June. The rains start in May.

The exception to this is the southeastern coast of Thailand (Koh Samui, Hat Yai, etc). The rains come a bit later here.

Best Months to Travel: November-April (North & South), February-July (Center)

What’s the climate in Vietnam like? 

Vietnam is a weird one: the North and South have similar rainy seasons, but the center’s is a bit later in the year. The absolute perfect time to visit the whole country would be in February and March.

Best Months to Travel: October-April

What’s the climate in Cambodia and Laos like? 

Pretty straightforward with only two distinct seasons: a wet one and a dry one.

In the wet summer season, downpours can washout dirt roads, and the heat can be OPPRESSIVE. Be prepared for lots of lazy days of doing nothing if traveling to Cambodia or Laos during the summer season.

Best Months to Travel: October-March

What’s the climate in Myanmar like? 

Typical Southeast Asia. The dry season in Myanmar actually runs until May but the temperatures at the end of the month are just WAY too much. June is unbearable to visit.

Visiting during March or October (shoulder months) are great times.

Best Months to Travel: November-February (West Coast), March-September (East Coast)

What’s the climate in Malaysia like? 

Pretty hot and humid all year round but each coast has opposing rainy seasons. Stick to one coast depending on when you’re visiting Malaysia.

Note the Cameron Highlands are temperate all year-round with a rainy season from September-December.

Best Months to Travel: May-September

What’s the climate in Indonesia like? 

In most of the country, the wet, hot season runs from October to April. Around May, the rains start to subside, temps drop, and tourists return. Visit Indonesia in May before prices go up.

Northern parts of Indonesia, like Maluku and Raja Ampat, experience the wet season in OPPOSITE months. October-April is the best time to visit these.

Best Months to Travel:  November-May

What’s the climate in the Philippines like? 

Not quite as hot as continental Southeast Asia, which makes travel in April and May more viable. But June-August should definitely be avoided – this is typhoon season and storms can very dangerous. Most ferries and resorts shut down during this time.

southeast asia travel

What to Pack for Southeast Asia

An adventure backpacking in Southeast Asia means navigating a certain level of chaos. If this is your first backpacking trip, or even if you’re a veteran, you gotta make sure you’re equipped for the job!

Make sure that packing list is spot on. For every adventure, there are a few things I never go travelling without:


Snoring dorm-mates can ruin your nights rest and seriously damage the hostel experience. This is why I always travel with a pack of decent ear plugs.


Hanging Laundry Bag

Trust us, this is an absolute game changer. Super compact, a hanging mesh laundry bag stops your dirty clothes from stinking, you don’t know how much you need one of these… so just get it, thank us later.

sea to summit towel

Sea To Summit Micro Towel

Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

Monopoly Card Game

Monopoly Deal

Forget about Poker! Monopoly Deal is the single best travel card game that we have ever played. Works with 2-5 players and guarantees happy days.

Grayl GeoPress Water Filter and Purifier Bottle

Grayl Geopress Water Bottle

Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator. Boom!

Is Southeast Asia Safe? This is easily one of the most common questions I’m asked.

Every country on earth has a certain degree of crime and the associated shitty people. Southeast Asia is no different. Though violent attacks on backpackers are extremely rare, they can happen.

A common problem in Southeast Asian cities is the motorcycle bag snatch. Two dudes roll up on a motorbike and grab your purse or day bag and they ride off into the night (or day). I have heard reports of this gig being particularly rampant in the touristic areas of Phnom Penh.

southeast asia travel

Keep an eye on your stuff, especially when you are in the big cities and crowded bus stations. Be smart hiding your valuables and money when travelling and things will be chill. In general, Southeast Asia is one of the safest places in the world to go backpacking, so fear not!

Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia . Despite being an experienced driver, I’ve had a total of 3 crashes in Southeast Asia over the last 10 years. On the one occasion, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to the hospital. Your mum doesn’t want to get the call about your insides being on the outside…

To stay safe, every backpacker should follow the common-sense rules of safe backpacking .  In general, being out late, drunk, and alone is a recipe for trouble anywhere in the world.

If ever you run into the very rare hold-up situation, give them what they want and don’t resist. Your iPhone and wallet are never worth dying over, ever!

  • Is Thailand Safe to Visit?
  • Is Vietnam Safe to Visit?
  • Is Cambodia Safe to Visit?
  • Is Myanmar Safe to Visit?
  • Is Indonesia Safe to Visit?
  • Is Malaysia Safe to Visit?

Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in Southeast Asia

There’s a reason that those seeking something a little hedonistic oftentimes get stuck in Southeast Asia… You can buy ketamine from certain pharmacies and the acid seems to be ubiquitous amongst travellers. Many Southeast Asian countries have very harsh drug penalty laws though, and even without harsh laws, there are some truly crippling fines dished out.

Drugs on the road is pretty much a guaranteed experience – and in Southeast Asia more so than ever. There are the magic mushroom shakes popular in Thailand and Cambodia; there are the strong and freely available prescription meds too.

Plus, doobies are a staple of almost every hostel. So, if you’re gonna do the good stuff, then stay hydrated and watch out for ya mates!

southeast asia travel

What seems to go hand in hand with travelling even more so than drugs? Why, love and sex of course! But we don’t like to have frank and honest discussions about sex on the road out of fear we’ll be too judgemental – or not judgmental enough.

southeast asia travel

At the end of the day, love and sex will on the road is inevitable so we might as well have a conversation about it.

Remember that free love is about love as much as it is about sex. And I’d be dancing around the elephant in the room if I didn’t talk about how easy it is to engage with sex tourism in Asia.

Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings, and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people; you just happen to be from a more privileged background.

Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of – but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country , which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with our countries…

Travel Insurance for Southeast Asia

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

southeast asia travel

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

As I said before Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are Southeast Asia’s two main international hubs. Most backpackers start their journeys visiting and staying in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok for a spell. Budget flights throughout the region will almost certainly have you passing through one of those airports.

If you are looking to do the classic Southeast Asia Loop or the Banana Pancake Trail, then starting off by staying in Bangkok is the obvious choice. Flights into Vietnam through Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are getting increasingly less expensive as well, so keep an eye out if the prices keep falling.

Visas and Entry Requirements for Southeast Asian Countries

The biggest headache of travelling is getting a visa organised! The rules are subject to change at a moment’s notice and you never know what the land border will actually be like. All I can say is do your research, (politely) refuse to pay bribes that you don’t have to, and get organised in advance.

Luckily, most Southeast Asian countries have pretty straightforward visa requirements. Tourism is their bread and butter after all.

  • Visa on arrival: Visa-free travel, 30 days for most countries.
  • Extension: Yes, one-time, usually for 30 additional days, $60.
  • Notes: Those arriving by land usually receive a 15-day visa-free waiver.
  • Visa on arrival: Yes, but only for a small group of countries.
  • Evisa: Yes, 30-day validity, $25, longer stays possible.
  • Extension:  Yes, but you’ll need to leave the country and reapply for the evisa.
  • Notes: Evisas are not valid at many border crossings.
  • Visa on arrival: Yes, 30 days for most countries, $37.
  • Evisa: Yes, same price and length as visa-on-arrival.
  • Extension: Yes, one-time, usually for 30 additional days, $48.
  • Notes: If crossing from Laos or Thailand, visas will cost more if you pay in baht or kip.
  • Visa on arrival: Yes, 30-day validity, $35.
  • Evisa: Yes, 30-days, price varies
  • Extension: Yes, $2/day, filed in Vientiane .
  • Notes:  The evisa is inconvenient, most travelers may opt for visa-on-arrivals.
  • Visa on arrival: Yes, 90-day validity, no charge.
  • Extension: Possible at embassy.
  • Notes: Malaysia is very easy to enter but takes overstays very seriously.
  • Visa on arrival: Yes, between 30-90 days, free.
  • Extension: Possible to file online.
  • Notes: Like Malaysia – easy to get in, just don’t overstay.
  • Visa on arrival: Yes, 30-day validty for most nations, $35.
  • Extension: Only available to those with visa-on-arrival or prearranged visa.
  • Notes: Foerginers can enter Indonesia on a visa-waiver program for free but they will not be able to extend stay. Some ports of entry require prearranged visa.
  • Visa on arrival: Visa-waiver (30-day validity) or visa-on-arrival (59-day validity) available.
  • Extension: Possible for those with visa-on-arrival.
  • Notes:  You will need proof of an outbound flight to enter the Philippines.

The most popular and rewarding way of independent travel in Southeast Asia is to rent or buy a motorbike. It also helps if you can rent for longer periods of time. Most shops in Bali charge around $5 a day for a motorbike, but I was able to rent one for only $50 a month!

With a full tank of gas costing only around $1, you can cover a lot of ground without burning a hole in your wallet if you’ve got a long-term motorbike rental. Pair this with a proper motorcycle tent , and you’ll hardly ever spend a dime!

Common Types of Transport in Southeast Asia

You can easily buy a bike in Thailand or Vietnam (or anywhere really) and then pass it on to a local or fellow traveller when your time backpacking Southeast Asia is through. Don’t buy the first piece of shit bike you come across!

If possible, try to get the bike checked out by someone who knows bikes. It would be a shame to buy a bike just to have it break down the next day. Again, always wear a fucking helmet!

Taking local buses and trains (when possible) is the most economical way of getting around. Sometimes, this will mean rocking up at the bus or train station and sussing out a ticket, but it’s getting easier than ever to sort your journeys in advance.

Bookaway is an epic online booking platform where you can book bus, train, and ferry tickets in advance for a nominal fee – this is way better than rocking up at the bus or train station and hoping you can get a ticket – because sometimes you can’t.

One can find budget flights in Southeast Asia, but these flights and taking ferry boats to the islands add up. So pick and choose where you want to go and budget accordingly.

For short distances,  tuk-tuks are your best bet just keep an eye on your shit and keep your wits about you when in a tuk-tuk . Luckily, Grab (similar to Uber) is now readily available in several countries in the region, including Thailand!

Grab is hands down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off, AND it will always work out cheaper than travelling by taxi or rickshaw.

Hitchhiking in Southeast Asia

Hitchhiking should not prove to be too difficult and in some countries, it is fairly easy to get picked up. You have to be persistent and make sure the locals understand where you need to go or you will end up getting dropped at a bus station.

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Some locals decide to turn their car into a taxi cab the minute they spot a foreigner on the highway. I would never assume that the ride is free initially. Always ask to avoid having an awkward scenario in which the driver who picked you up is demanding an unexpected fee.

Due to the large number of backpackers riding motorbikes across Southeast Asia, it is possible to score a ride with some fellow travellers. Generally, hitchhiking in Southeast Asia is safe, though you still have to be smart and use good judgment.

Onwards Travel from Southeast Asia

Whether you are heading home or carrying on travelling, budget international flights are your best bet. Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur is where you will find the lowest prices.

India and South Asia may beckon the vagabond to continue their travels. Or, Australia and New Zealand might get the backpacker to settle down in a sense and get a backpacking job .

Many backpackers pop over to Australia or New Zealand for 6 months to a year on a working holiday visa, make some cash, and come right back to Southeast Asia for their second round of backpacking escapades.

  • Backpacking Australia
  • Backpacking New Zealand
  • Backpacking Fiji
  • Backpacking Oceania

Working in Southeast Asia is certainly popular – though not especially lucrative. Scoring a gig as an ex-pat of some kind is always great, but most backpackers won’t fall into that category. Since work visas are sometimes difficult to get, a lot of the work ends up being done under the table.

That’s not to say it’s all dodgy run businesses, of course. There are a surprising amount of opportunities for backpackers to find work in Asia, but don’t expect to make a lot of money. You’re here for the lifestyle and experience, not the cash.

Popular jobs include dive instructor, English teacher, or some kind of hospitality. How easy it is to get a job will depend on the country. But a more popular way of making money while on the road in Asia is to work as a freelancer or digital nomad – this is where Asia truly shines.

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The Digital Nomad Scene in Southeast Asia

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Southeast Asia is THE most popular place for digital nomads to base themselves (based on recent digital nomad stats ). Places like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Bali are thriving nomad hubs that attract people from all over the world. Kuala Lumpur and many large Vietnamese cities are quickly following suit.

Southeast Asia is a paradise for remote workers for many reasons:

  • The cost of living is very low.
  • Internet is ubiquitous and reliable.
  • Expat communities are strong.
  • Local economies are booming.
  • Visas relatively easy to organize.
  • Conferences and events are frequently organized.
  • There’s a lot to do in your free time.

If you’re a digital nomad or someone who wants to give the lifestyle a try, you can’t go wrong living in Southeast Asia.

Teaching English in Southeast Asia

For another way of living or extending your trip to Southeast Asia, people have been teaching English abroad for a long time. Though you won’t always need one, having a TEFL certificate will increase your chances of scoring a gig.

We suggest using MyTEFL to get accredited. Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR ).

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I think that working as an English teacher does give you a deeper appreciation of the country that you’re travelling in. You spend time fostering connections to a place and you are, ultimately, teaching people a skill that will carry them far in life.

Volunteering in Southeast Asia

Volunteering abroad is an amazing way to experience a culture whilst helping your host community. There are plenty of different volunteer projects in Southeast Asia including teaching, construction, agriculture, and pretty much anything.

There are so many different volunteer opportunities in Southeast Asia to suit any skill set. You could support communities doing social work in Vietnam, help out on farms in Thailand, teach English in Cambodia, or volunteer in a hostel in Laos.

Other opportunities include bartending, doing community work, and web development. Short-term volunteers should apply for a tourist visa before arriving, but you’ll need the appropriate permits to stay longer depending on what country you’re in. 

Volunteer programs run through reputable work exchange programs like Worldpackers are great places to start looking for volunteer work – but it doesn’t cover you for everything . Always tread with extra caution, especially if you’re working with kids or animals.

Ask the average Joe what they know about the history of Southeast Asia and most will be able to think as far back as the Vietnam War, maybe the Japanese occupation of Thailand. Beyond that, Southeast Asia is kind of a mystery.

But the history of Southeast Asia is long, complex, varied, and extremely fascinating. Before the Europeans arrived – the French in Vietnam, English in Burma, and Dutch in Indonesia – there were great kingdoms: the Toungoo, Khmer, and Malaca Sultanate, to name a few. Through these channels, Buddhism, Islam, trade, and science all flowed.

It is quite difficult to talk about “Southeast Asian Culture” because it would be a generalization; there are just so many different aspects.

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What travellers SHOULD know about Southeast Asia is that it is, in fact, way deeper than it seems. Thanks to a long history of colonization that dates back before the Europeans – Indians, Arabs, and the East Asians all settled in SE Asia – the region is enormously diverse. Food, religion, politics, customs, all of the things that SE Asia does so well, come in part from external sources.

Of course, the colours of people’s personalities also change from country to country. Thais are legendarily nice (and open to just about anything). Malaysians are incredibly diverse ethnically and thus incredibly tolerable. Cambodians are the most laidback people in Southeast Asia by far. All of these traits become more obvious as you spend time in each country.

Don’t stay on the established Southeast Asian backpacking route if you want to get to know the locals. Koh San Road, Hanoi’s Beer Street, Kuta, and all the other tourist hotspots are poor representations of the culture.

The real Southeast Asia is found at the plastic tables on the street, inside the bike repair shops, and in the dusty corners of the region.

There are people who go backpacking in Southeast Asia just for the food. And for good reason, too: it’s fantastic! More than just delicious, it’s also cheap and hugely varied depending on where you are.

You can definitely expect a lot of rice, noodles, and curry in Southeast Asia. Luckily though, no two of these are ever the same. For example, noodles in Vietnam are traditionally served in broth ( pho being the most famous). Thailand, on the other hand, usually prefers dry noodles.

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This is just the tip of the gastronomic iceberg that is food in Southeast Asia. And honestly, it’s really difficult to lump everything into one category. I will simply say that countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand consistently rank among the most delicious in the world, every year.

Because of its tropical climate, the fruit in Southeast Asia is also ridiculously good. Borneo is practically the Garden of Eden where just about everything grows, and the local markets in all the major cities have incredible selections to choose from. Be prepared to eat lots of fruit on your backpacking trip, especially bananas when served with pancakes.

I definitely recommend eating at the local markets and street food stalls. The prices are super low and the food is just as good as anything you’d find in a restaurant. Just keep on an eye out for sanitation – make sure the food is fresh and things look clean (enough).

Food to Try in Southeast Asia

There are some dishes you simply HAVE to try when you go to Southeast Asia:

  • Banh Mi Thit (Vietnam) – The best sandwich in Asia.
  • Pho (Vietnam) – Noodles served in broth w/ extras.
  • Pad Thai (Thailand) – Dry noodles w/ peanut sauce and chilis.
  • Tom Yung Goong (Thailand) – Soup made with lemongrass, herbs, and shrimp.
  • Satay (Malaysia, Indonesia) – Grilled meat skewers.
  • Fish Amok (Cambodia) – Spicy fish coconut curry served in a banana leaf
  • Burmese Curry (Myanmar) – Local take on the dish that is famously good.
  • Shan-style noodles (Myanmar) – Thin-sliced, flat noodles.
  • Nasi Goreng (Indonesia) – Fried rice.
  • Chili crab (Singapore) – Singapore’s claim to fame.
  • Larb/Laap (Laos, Cambodia) – Beef salad with lots of seasoning.
  • Tam Mak Houng (Laos) – Spicy green papaya salad.

Southeast Asia is a fantastic budget destination that is great for your everyday travels, but it’s also amazing because it allows you to splurge on some truly unique experiences.

You can go surfing, sky diving, bungee jumping, or any number of exciting things! But there are two big-ticket items that grabbed my heart more than any other: trekking and SCUBA diving .

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Trekking in Southeast Asia

Each country in Southeast Asia offers up trekking experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Whether you prefer guided or independent trekking, there is ample hiking on hand for every backpacker to enjoy. Pack yourself the right adventure gear , and go do something crazy!

  • Taman Negara, Malaysia : Explore the oldest rainforest in the world and spend the night in a bungalow in the jungle (for free).
  • Kibungan Circuit, The Philippines: A 3-mountain circuit in the town of Kibungan in Benguet . The circuit, which takes anywhere from 2 to 3 days to complete, spans across the mountains of Tagpaya , Oten , and Tagpew .
  • Shan State, Myanmar : Shan state is a popular place to go trekking and there are some great hikes around Kachin state as well. You will likely encounter no other travelers whilst trekking here.
  • Phongsali, Laos : If you want to get off-the-grid and go trekking in Laos, I recommend making the long journey to the northern town of Phongsali . Though tough to reach, it’s equally rewarding for trekkers. While there isn’t much to do in the actual town, there are plenty of opportunities to visit remote hill tribes through the Provincial Tourism Office.
  • Ring of Fire, Indonesia: While the beautiful beaches in Indonesia may be the major draw for tourists, there are also plenty of opportunities for adventures on land. Located in the Ring of Fire, Indonesia is home to well over 100 volcanoes. Trekking to the summit of some of these volcanoes is one experience you won’t want to miss when backpacking Indonesia. In addition to the aforementioned Mt. Bromo  and  Mt. Rinjani , you can also scale  Mt. Agung on Bali or  Mt. Egon on Flores .

Mount Bromo Indonesia

Scuba Diving in Southeast Asia

If you have been paying attention, you should be aware now that Southeast Asia is fucking paradise when it comes to scuba diving. Without a doubt, Southeast Asia is the cheapest place in the world to become a certified diver. That fact coupled with some of the best dive sites in the world make scuba diving a no-brainer whilst you are backpacking Southeast Asia.

If you want to go diving in Thailand, go for it! Though I must reinforce how great diving is in Malaysia and Indonesia. The reef systems are in better shape and you won’t have to contend with quite so many tourists. Bali has loads of diving sites , and that’s just the start of the underwater sightseeing.

southeast asia travel

And if you aren’t up to learning to SCUBA, then you can always learn to freedive or snorkel. There is truly a whole other world waiting to be discovered once you leave the surface!

You’ve got questions about Southeast Asia and we’ve got answers!

Is backpacking in Southeast Asia safe?

Yes. Violent crime against tourists is very low in this part of the world – and even petty theft isn’t that common. That being said, you should still watch out for your valuables in very touristy areas. The thing to watch out for here is food/water bugs that can really knock your health back.

Where can I backpack in Southeast Asia?

Currently, all countries in Southeast Asia are open for backpackers, though Myanmar is still (sadly) risky to visit.

How long do you need to backpack Southeast Asia?

A backpacker could get a good idea of the region by spending 3 – 6 months there. Really, you could spend a lifetime exploring Southeast Asia and still have oodles left to explore. But this is enough time to explore a heap of places without feeling too rushed.

How much does it cost to backpack Southeast Asia for 6 months?

Southeast Asia is a blessing to broke backpackers. You can live comfortably here on $10 a day and splurge every so often on unique experiences. Including flights, insurance, and wiggle room within your budget, 6 months in Southeast Asia should cost between $5000 – $10 000.

What’s the best country to backpack in Southeast Asia?

This is a contentious question! My personal favourite is Vietnam simply because their food is my favourite. Aside from that, it’s cheap, full of epic motorbike adventures, and deadly rice wine!

Be good to Southeast Asia. It’s an incredible region that truly does have a little bit of something for everyone – all while being super cheap. We risk ruining a place when we don’t appreciate how special it is, and Asia is pretty freaking special.

Whether you stop by just one of its countries for a short SCUBA diving trip, or whether you get lost on the banana pancake trail for a year or so, you know you’re in for a good time. There are rice paddies, ancient temples, piles of spicy noodles, and some of the friendliest faces in the world waiting for you here.

Now, I hope I’ve been a source of inspiration in this guide but I also hope you’re ready to forge your own path through this great region. Because there are so many offbeat adventures and epic trekking to be done – you don’t need to get lost in the endless supply of cheap beer.

So off you go, you broke backpacker! I hope to see you deep in the Malaysian jungle or ordering your fifth banh mi of the week in Vietnam. Whatever you choose to do in Southeast Asia, it’s sure to be an adventure.

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Updated February 2023

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Nestled between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the enchanting region of Southeast Asia beckons to travelers seeking a harmonious blend of diverse cultures, delectable indigenous cuisines, captivating indigenous communities, and awe-inspiring landscapes—all at remarkably affordable prices. This tropical paradise boasts a plethora of hidden gems, showcasing both natural wonders and rich cultural heritages. Marvel at the sacred temples, stand in awe of majestic waterfalls and intricate karst caves, lounge on pristine sandy beaches, and lose yourself in the allure of crystal-clear water bays.

Moreover, the seamless flight connections within the region and to international destinations make Southeast Asia an easily accessible haven for globetrotters. The uncomplicated visa procedures , often exempting foreigners, further contribute to the hassle-free exploration of this enticing destination. Embarking on a journey to Southeast Asia guarantees a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with the opportunity to discover iconic landmarks like the breathtaking Halong Bay in Vietnam , the enigmatic Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia , and the picturesque paradise of Bali in Indonesia . Join us in embracing the wonders of Southeast Asia—your passport to unparalleled adventures awaits! Let the exploration begin!


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Five of the best backpacking routes in southeast Asia

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Craig Sauers

Wednesday January 24 2024, 15:43pm

Southeast Asia, home to 11 countries and stretching from Myanmar to the Philippines, is packed with different cultures, customs, landscapes and languages. To give you a sense of the scale, Indonesia alone has more than 18,000 islands. The diversity is what makes southeast Asia so compelling — alongside being terrific value and highly accessible via a network of budget flight and rail routes. To guide you through the richness of the region, we’ve picked the most spectacular journeys and highlighted key attractions along the way. 

Main photo: backpackers in Thailand take a break (Getty Images)

This article contains affiliate links, which may earn us revenue

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1. Bangkok to Singapore

Historic buildings in Jonker Street, Malacca, Malaysia

Recommended time two to three weeks

First-timers can experience southeast Asia’s highlights — rich nature, buzzing cities, epic beaches — in a journey between its top travel hubs, Bangkok and Singapore.

In Bangkok , visit Ratchada Night Market, sip cocktails at BKK Social Club — one of the city’s best but with a price tag to match — and feast on Michelin-starred street food at Jay Fai. Then head to Phuket, a one-hour flight or 12-hour bus ride away. For extra room, book the 24-seat “VIP” sleeper buses that depart from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal in the Taling Chan district.

Five days affords enough time to idle on some of Phuket ’s 30-plus beaches — including seven-mile Mai Khao — and a visit to Phuket Town. Here, colourful 19th-century buildings house dim sum shops, boutique hotels and hostels, and lively bars and cafés, including cocktail haunt Dibuk House.

Take a flight or overnight bus to Penang and wander around Unesco-recognised George Town. Gorgeous Sino-Portuguese architecture sits next to Buddhist shrines, Hindu temples and mosques while hawker centres serve everything from Hokkien noodles to nasi lemak (Malay-style coconut rice with sides) and roti canai (flaky Indian flatbread with curry).

Then take a train to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia ’s efficient trains are among the region’s best, and you’ll reach the capital in around four hours. Take three days to eyeball the Petronas Towers, visit the underrated Islamic Arts Museum and explore the Batu Caves, the Hindu pilgrimage site known for its statue of Murugan, the god of war. 

Venturing two hours south to Malacca allows you to explore the Unesco-listed city, which showcases its British, Dutch and Portuguese influences in windmills, forts, shophouses and fusion dishes such as Portuguese-style devil’s curry. 

End your adventure in Singapore , but beware the backpacker budget might go out the window here if you’re not careful. Hostels are more expensive and the city is known for its luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants; instead head to the hawker centres for the best no-frills food. Look for the stalls with the longest queues and it’s hard to go wrong.

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2. Vietnam from south to north

A restaurant in central Hoi An

Recommended time two weeks

For intrepid travellers, tackling Vietnam on two wheels is a rite of passage. But those who don’t want to drive motorcycles on the country’s notorious roads can do the same journey via the Reunification Express, the train linking Ho Chi Minh City with Hanoi.

After slurping pho and visiting markets and museums in frenetic Ho Chi Minh City, travel to Dalat, the cool highland escape encircled by pine forests, lakes and waterfalls. Visit Vietnam’s beachy Nha Trang for two days of R&R, then hunker down in Hoi An. The Unesco site enchants travellers with its boutique shops, cooking classes and cultural shows — try to visit during the full moon, when lanterns light up the town and local people stage traditional performances on the river. Nearby Danang might be less majestic, but the rapidly developing city is also a great base, thanks to its big-brand hotels, restaurants and craft breweries.

Step into the past in Hue, where Nguyen dynasty emperors once ruled. Although Hue suffered significant damage during the war, the imperial city has been carefully restored. Then finish in Hanoi , where centuries-old architecture lines the capital’s lanes. Do as the locals: settle into tiny plastic stools for bun cha (grilled pork balls with noodles) and bia hoi, the beloved — and staggeringly cheap — fresh beer. Budget extra (from £30 to £100 per person depending how fancy you want to go) to spend a night on a junk boat among the karst in Ha Long Bay, too. Note though that the bucketlist site has been plagued with rubbish for several years; a rowing boat trip in Tam Coc has become a popular alternative for its equally splendid landscapes minus the floating heaps of plastic. 

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3. Northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

Recommended time three to four weeks

A girl in traditional dress in Thailand's Chiang Mai Province (Alamy)

Most travellers start in Bangkok, but Thailand ’s underrated second city, Chiang Mai, can captivate you for weeks. The former Lanna kingdom capital has teak and brick temples such as Wat Phra Singh, mellow Burmese-influenced dishes like khao soi (yellow curry with egg noodles) and vibrant streets with snacks, shopping, music, streetside massages and more. The city also serves as a gateway to adventure travel, offering treks to Karen and Hmong villages, plus thundering waterfalls like the 280m-tall Mae Ya.

For an extended adventure, take a minivan to Chiang Rai province, four hours north, and explore its diverse attractions: blissful eco-lodges, national parks, the blue and white temples Wat Rong Suea Ten and Wat Rong Khun, and the Choui Fong tea fields in Doi Mae Salong.

Consider the overnight slow boat from Thai border town Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang, Laos’s imperial capital. This one-of-a-kind journey rumbles along the Mekong, past dense Laotian jungles, offering snapshots of rural life you won’t find elsewhere. Otherwise, nonstop flights from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai can take you directly to Luang Prabang.

Unwind in Laos’s cultural capital, immersing yourself in the city’s numerous temples, the turquoise Kuang Si waterfall, the daily tak bat (dawn alms-giving ritual) and a Lao massage.

For about £15, a new high-speed train takes you to Vang Vieng in an hour. This revamped backpacker hub is now Laos’s outdoor adventure hub, primed for bike roads and treks around the stunning limestone karst formations. 

Take the train once more to the capital, Vientiane. After exploring the Patuxay Monument — Laos’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe — head to the riverside for larb with a cold Lao beer.

Then either work your way south by bus or fly to Phnom Penh. After exploring the Cambodian capital, which now has hip bistros and markets alongside its devastating genocide museums, end your tour in Siem Reap. Nothing tops watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat.

  • Best places to visit in Thailand
  • Best things to do in Thailand

4. Borneo to Bali

Bingin beach in Bali

Journeys to Borneo tend to start in one of two places: Jakarta or Singapore. While the Indonesian capital has its charms, Singapore’s transport infrastructure (including Changi, frequently ranked the best airport in the world) makes it the easier choice.

From here, fly to Kota Kinabalu to hike up 4,095m Mount Kinabalu for sunrise, then join a tour to see orangutans in the jungle. If time is limited, go to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre instead.

After a one-stop flight to Bali , spend a week exploring the Island of the Gods. Bali is well-trodden, but you can still find places away from the crowds. For example, skip over-run Kuta and Seminyak in favour of the brilliant white-sand beaches of Bingin or blissful Nunggalan in Uluwatu. Take a day trip to Nusa Penida island to hike, dive or lounge in the sand, or head to backpacker hub Ubud, where you’ll find plenty of others who want to join you in a visit the Tegallalang rice terraces and Tirta Empul, the sacred water temple. 

If you have more time, take the ferry to the car-free Gili islands, which are prime spots to snorkel and encounter sea turtles, or neighbouring Lombok, a larger island known for its pink beach and hikes around Mount Rinjani, an active volcano. Of the three stunning Gili islands, Gili Trawangan has a lively party scene, while Gili Air and Gili Meno are much quieter. 

  • Best hotels in Bali

5. Island-hopping in the Philippines

The Bacuit archipelago at El Nido, Palawan island, the Philippines

Recommended time one to two weeks

Manila, the capital of the Philippines , is your starting point for this island-hopping adventure. Skip the city’s chaotic traffic and make straight for the beach with a one-hour domestic flight to Coron. This island is full of postcard-worthy scenery: limestone cliffs tower above electric-blue waters in Twin Lagoon and sugary sands line Banol beach, where rustic huts hang over the water.

Next is El Nido, at the tip of Palawan island, via a four-hour ferry ride from Coron. To explore El Nido, it’s mandatory to book one of four island-hopping excursions, labelled A, B, C and D. The most popular, tours A and C, take you to lagoons and hidden beaches, including the can’t-miss Big Lagoon and Helicopter Island. Book in advance through a reputable tour operator such as Discover El Nido or Hello El Nido. While you can book these tours privately, group trips are great ways to meet other travellers. 

Take a bus four hours south to Puerto Princesa and fly to Bohol. The jungle-covered island is best known for its Chocolate Hills — thousands of grassy hills, scattered across 50 sq km of land, that turn brown in the dry season. Budget five days here to go cliff-diving into turquoise pools with Kawasan Canyoneering; spot the tiny tarsiers at the island sanctuary; and unwind on Panglao, an island with white-sand beaches linked to Bohol by a bridge. 

If there’s time to spare, take the two-hour ferry from Bohol to Siquijor. Meet the island healers who cast off evil spirits with their bolo-bolo rituals, cool down in emerald Cambugahay Falls or explore the 23 coral reef dive sites, before taking one of the regular ferries to Dumaguete City on Negros — a 50-minute trip — and flying back to Manila.

  • Best beaches in the Philippines

Bangkok, Thailand is a popular destination for backpackers in Southeast Asia


20 places to explore in Southeast Asia

Posted: October 28, 2023 | Last updated: October 28, 2023

<p>From lush national parks and incredible archaeological sites to vibrant cities and intriguing temples, <a href="https://www.visitsoutheastasia.travel/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Southeast Asia</a> is home to numerous natural and cultural treasures to add to your bucket list. Discover 20 fascinating places to explore on your next trip to this sublime part of the world.</p>

From lush national parks and incredible archaeological sites to vibrant cities and intriguing temples, Southeast Asia is home to numerous natural and cultural treasures to add to your bucket list. Discover 20 fascinating places to explore on your next trip to this sublime part of the world.

<p>Near Luang Prabang in Laos, you’ll find the dazzling <a href="https://laostravel.com/kuang-si-waterfalls-luang-prabang/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Kuang Si</a> waterfalls. Truly a natural wonder, their crystal-clear waters tumble into a series of turquoise basins, creating a breathtaking spectacle. Cool off on torrid days with a refreshing dip in these superb natural pools. The dry season, from November to April, is an excellent time to visit this magical place.</p>

Kuang Si, Laos

Near Luang Prabang in Laos, you’ll find the dazzling Kuang Si waterfalls. Truly a natural wonder, their crystal-clear waters tumble into a series of turquoise basins, creating a breathtaking spectacle. Cool off on torrid days with a refreshing dip in these superb natural pools. The dry season, from November to April, is an excellent time to visit this magical place.

<p>Nestled in the mountains of northwestern Vietnam, <a href="https://vietnam.travel/places-to-go/northern-vietnam/sapa" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Sapa</a> is an extraordinary destination sure to charm with its astonishingly beautiful landscapes. Particularly impressive in September and October, verdant rice paddies stretch as far as the eye can see. Hiking enthusiasts can also explore the peaks of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, including the country’s highest, <a href="https://vietnam.travel/things-to-do/why-fansipan-must-do-sapa" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Mount Fansipan</a>.</p>

Sapa, Vietnam

Nestled in the mountains of northwestern Vietnam, Sapa is an extraordinary destination sure to charm with its astonishingly beautiful landscapes. Particularly impressive in September and October, verdant rice paddies stretch as far as the eye can see. Hiking enthusiasts can also explore the peaks of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, including the country’s highest, Mount Fansipan .

<p>In 2017, nearly <a href="https://www.phnompenhpost.com/business/ticket-revenue-angkor-wat-jumps-72-percent-after-price-hike" rel="noreferrer noopener">2.5 million visitors</a> descended on this magnificent 12th-century Khmer temple complex, a 12 per cent increase compared to the previous year. This massive influx of tourists has led to the growth of the surrounding urban area, which drains water from the soil and weakens the structure of these historic monuments. The Cambodian government stepped in, doubling the price of admission to the complex and limiting the number of visitors who can be on-site at any given time. Too little, too late?</p>

Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor , an architectural masterpiece in Cambodia, is a must-see on any trip to Southeast Asia. Founded in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire, this temple complex is considered one of the world’s greatest religious monuments. Its most striking attractions include the central temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon temple featuring hundreds of faces carved in stone, and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm temple. Located just a few minutes from the town of Siem Reap, Angkor also offers exceptionally magical sunrise visits.

<p>Located in southern Thailand’s <a href="https://www.tourismthailand.org/Destinations/Provinces/Krabi/344" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Krabi province</a>, <a href="https://www.weseektravel.com/phra-nang-beach/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Railay</a> Beach is a tropical paradise nestled between limestone cliffs on the Andaman Sea. Its fine sand and clear waters offer exceptional opportunities for swimming and kayaking. Accessible by boat, the site includes Phra Nang, just off Railay Beach, and other explorable caves with imposing stalactites.</p>

Railay Beach, Thailand

Located in southern Thailand’s Krabi province , Railay Beach is a tropical paradise nestled between limestone cliffs on the Andaman Sea. Its fine sand and clear waters offer exceptional opportunities for swimming and kayaking. Accessible by boat, the site includes Phra Nang, just off Railay Beach, and other explorable caves with imposing stalactites.

<p>The enigmatic city of <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2019/07/bagan-myanmar-photos/594985/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Bagan</a> is an extraordinary archaeological site featuring thousands of temples scattered over a vast territory in the heart of Myanmar. Visit historical monuments like the Ananda and Dhammayangyi Temples and don’t forget to book a cruise on the Ayeyarwady River to admire the landscape from a different perspective. For a truly magical experience, climb aboard a hot-air balloon at sunrise or sunset for an incredible view of Bagan—you won’t regret it!</p>

Bagan, Myanmar

The enigmatic city of Bagan is an extraordinary archaeological site featuring thousands of temples scattered over a vast territory in the heart of Myanmar. Visit historical monuments like the Ananda and Dhammayangyi Temples and don’t forget to book a cruise on the Ayeyarwady River to admire the landscape from a different perspective. For a truly magical experience, climb aboard a hot-air balloon at sunrise or sunset for an incredible view of Bagan—you won’t regret it!

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Certainly one of Southeast Asia’s most emblematic locales, Ha Long Bay is not only a north Vietnamese natural treasure, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thousands of karst islands, covered in lush vegetation, emerge from emerald waters to create a most impressive landscape. Take a trip on a traditional boat to explore its caves and hidden lagoons or opt for kayaking and paddle among its picturesque rock formations. For optimum temperatures outside of the rainy season, schedule your trip between October and April.

<p>You’ll find <a href="https://www.getyourguide.com/grottes-de-batu-l4011/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">the Batu Caves</a> about 15 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur. These geological and cultural wonders captivate visitors from all over the world. After climbing 272 steps, visit a series of fascinating caverns adorned with gigantic statues of Hindu deities. Considered sanctuaries, the Batu Caves are open to visitors year-round, but the best moment to see them is in January or February during the Thaipusam celebrations when festive decorations bring the caves to life.</p>

Batu Caves, Malaysia

You’ll find the Batu Caves about 15 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur. These geological and cultural wonders captivate visitors from all over the world. After climbing 272 steps, visit a series of fascinating caverns adorned with gigantic statues of Hindu deities. Considered sanctuaries, the Batu Caves are open to visitors year-round, but the best moment to see them is in January or February during the Thaipusam celebrations when festive decorations bring the caves to life.

<p>Nature lovers are in for a treat when they visit the Philippines’ <a href="https://www.universal-traveller.com/11-best-things-to-do-in-bicol-philippines/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Bicol</a> region and its imposing, majestic Mayon volcano between December and April. Seashore lovers will appreciate the palm-fringed beaches of Caramoan and Donsol, famous for whale shark sightings. Travellers can also explore the Calaguas Caves and hike through a rainforest.</p>

Bicol, Philippines

Nature lovers are in for a treat when they visit the Philippines’ Bicol region and its imposing, majestic Mayon volcano between December and April. Seashore lovers will appreciate the palm-fringed beaches of Caramoan and Donsol, famous for whale shark sightings. Travellers can also explore the Calaguas Caves and hike through a rainforest.

<p>A true work of architectural art, the <a href="https://www.visitsoutheastasia.travel/top-sights/sultan-omar-ali-saifuddien-mosque/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque</a> graces the heart of Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. A symbol of elegance and the country’s Islamic faith, the mosque will leave you breathless with its magnificent golden dome, slender minarets, and opulent gardens. Non-Muslims can now go inside, but silence is mandatory, photos are forbidden, and shoes must be removed before entering.</p>

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Brunei

A true work of architectural art, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque graces the heart of Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. A symbol of elegance and the country’s Islamic faith, the mosque will leave you breathless with its magnificent golden dome, slender minarets, and opulent gardens. Non-Muslims can now go inside, but silence is mandatory, photos are forbidden, and shoes must be removed before entering.

<p>A true natural sanctuary and Thailand’s oldest national park, <a href="https://www.thainationalparks.com/khao-yai-national-park" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Khao Yai</a> attracts its share of plant and wildlife lovers. In fact, its dense forests are one of the best places in Southeast Asia to observe wild elephants. Admire macaques, jackals, and bears as well, plus a multitude of majestic waterfalls, including Haew Suwat. The falls dry up in summer, however, so the <a href="https://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/waterfalls/asia-haew-suwat-waterfall/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">best time</a> to visit Khao Yai Park is during the cool season between November and February.</p>

Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

A true natural sanctuary and Thailand’s oldest national park, Khao Yai attracts its share of plant and wildlife lovers. In fact, its dense forests are one of the best places in Southeast Asia to observe wild elephants. Admire macaques, jackals, and bears as well, plus a multitude of majestic waterfalls, including Haew Suwat. The falls dry up in summer, however, so the best time to visit Khao Yai Park is during the cool season between November and February.

<p>Nestled in the heart of the Indonesian island of Bali, <a href="https://theworldtravelguy.com/best-things-to-do-in-ubud-bali-monkeys-temples-markets/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Ubud</a> is a cultural and natural haven of peace. From the lush rice terraces of Tegallalang and legendary Saraswati temple to the <a href="https://monkeyforestubud.com/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Monkey Forest</a> in the heart of the city, there’s no shortage of interesting things to do. Art enthusiasts will be especially delighted as Ubud’s renowned galleries, craft studios, and market offer superb local creations. This tranquil town is also ideal for yoga retreats and Balinese cooking classes.</p>

Ubud, Indonesia

Nestled in the heart of the Indonesian island of Bali, Ubud is a cultural and natural haven of peace. From the lush rice terraces of Tegallalang and legendary Saraswati temple to the Monkey Forest in the heart of the city, there’s no shortage of interesting things to do. Art enthusiasts will be especially delighted as Ubud’s renowned galleries, craft studios, and market offer superb local creations. This tranquil town is also ideal for yoga retreats and Balinese cooking classes.

<p>Exquisite botanical gardens and exotic greenhouses have made <a href="https://www.introducingsingapore.com/gardens-by-the-bay" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Gardens by the Bay</a> a Singapore landmark. The futuristic oasis awaits on the Marina Bay waterfront. Home to an impressive collection of plants from the four corners of the globe, the Cloud Forest Dome and Flower Dome will be among the highlights of any visit. Also stop at the zoo and historical Chinatown during your stay in Singapore.</p>

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Exquisite botanical gardens and exotic greenhouses have made Gardens by the Bay a Singapore landmark. The futuristic oasis awaits on the Marina Bay waterfront. Home to an impressive collection of plants from the four corners of the globe, the Cloud Forest Dome and Flower Dome will be among the highlights of any visit. Also stop at the zoo and historical Chinatown during your stay in Singapore.

<p>Visitors to <a href="https://www.elnidotourism.com/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">El Nido</a>, in the Philippines’ <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/partner-content-go-island-hopping-in-palawan-philippines" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Palawan archipelago</a>, will find its heavenly beaches the stuff of dreams. Impressive limestone karsts populate blue-green waters in stunning seascapes. Don’t hesitate to book a boat trip to discover hidden lagoons, white-sand beaches, and abundant coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving.</p>

El Nido, Philippines

Visitors to El Nido , in the Philippines’ Palawan archipelago , will find its heavenly beaches the stuff of dreams. Impressive limestone karsts populate blue-green waters in stunning seascapes. Don’t hesitate to book a boat trip to discover hidden lagoons, white-sand beaches, and abundant coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving.

<p>In contrast to the bustling capital of Bangkok, <a href="https://www.tourismthailand.org/Destinations/Provinces/Chiang-Mai/101" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Chiang Mai</a> is an enchanting city found in the country’s northern region and ideal for travellers to Thailand looking for a little peace and quiet. You’ll find hundreds of magnificent temples, including Wat Phra Singh and the mountain-top Wat Phra That Doi Suthep offering phenomenal panoramic views. Trekking to the top of <a href="https://www.thainationalparks.com/doi-inthanon-national-park" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Doi Inthanon National Park</a> and strolling through an old canal-lined village are two more must-do activities to add to your itinerary.</p>

Chiang Mai, Thailand

In contrast to the bustling capital of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is an enchanting city found in the country’s northern region and ideal for travellers to Thailand looking for a little peace and quiet. You’ll find hundreds of magnificent temples, including Wat Phra Singh and the mountain-top Wat Phra That Doi Suthep offering phenomenal panoramic views. Trekking to the top of Doi Inthanon National Park and strolling through an old canal-lined village are two more must-do activities to add to your itinerary.

<p><a href="https://www.timorleste.tl/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">East Timor’s</a> <a href="https://visiteasttimor.com/timor/jaco-island/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Jaco Island</a> is a secluded natural gem offering adventurous travellers a serene getaway in the heart of an untouched landscape. Pristine palm-fringed beaches and crystal-clear waters, ideal for snorkelling, are just some of its top attractions. The desert island also boasts abundant marine life and is a haven for seabirds, making it perfect for observing wildlife.</p>

Jaco Island, East Timor

East Timor’s Jaco Island is a secluded natural gem offering adventurous travellers a serene getaway in the heart of an untouched landscape. Pristine palm-fringed beaches and crystal-clear waters, ideal for snorkelling, are just some of its top attractions. The desert island also boasts abundant marine life and is a haven for seabirds, making it perfect for observing wildlife.

<p>The charming town of <a href="https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Luang Prabang</a> is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true jewel of Southeast Asia. Nestled in northern Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is home to Buddhist temples and a variety of museums, including the Royal Palace Museum. Its many night markets are also superb for exploring culinary delights.</p>

Luang Prabang, Laos

The charming town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true jewel of Southeast Asia. Nestled in northern Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is home to Buddhist temples and a variety of museums, including the Royal Palace Museum. Its many night markets are also superb for exploring culinary delights.

<p>Komodo Island, in the Indonesian archipelago, is the best place to get up close and personal with Komodo dragons, the world’s largest free-ranging lizards. For a closer look, book a guided tour of the <a href="https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/609/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Komodo National Park</a>. Those who prefer relaxing by the sea should stop off at <a href="https://www.indonesia.travel/gb/en/trip-ideas/planning-to-explore-pink-beach-learn-these-5-things-first" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">the sublime—and aptly named—pink beach</a>. Its bright colour comes from a mixture of coral insect shells and white sand. The beach is also a popular spot for diving.</p>

Komodo Island, Indonesia

Komodo Island, in the Indonesian archipelago, is the best place to get up close and personal with Komodo dragons, the world’s largest free-ranging lizards. For a closer look, book a guided tour of the Komodo National Park . Those who prefer relaxing by the sea should stop off at the sublime—and aptly named—pink beach . Its bright colour comes from a mixture of coral insect shells and white sand. The beach is also a popular spot for diving.

<p>Located in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, <a href="https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1013/" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Gunung Mulu National Park</a> is a jewel of biodiversity and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hike through this mythical site and see amazing karst formations, deep canyons, and immense caves inhabited by thousands of bats. Only accessible by air, this remote tropical location is definitely worth adding to your Malaysian itinerary.</p>

Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

Located in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, Gunung Mulu National Park is a jewel of biodiversity and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hike through this mythical site and see amazing karst formations, deep canyons, and immense caves inhabited by thousands of bats. Only accessible by air, this remote tropical location is definitely worth adding to your Malaysian itinerary.

<p>Located on Vietnam’s central coast, <a href="https://vietnam.travel/things-to-do/the-best-ways-to-explore-the-ancient-town-of-hoi-an" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Hoi An</a> will immediately enchant visitors with its ancient architecture, covered bridge, and narrow streets illuminated at night by colourful lanterns. The area is famous as a former trading port on the Silk Road and is home to many talented tailors ready to create high-quality bespoke garments. Plan your stay between February and May to make the most of its historical district and local markets. Plus, take a bike tour through the surrounding rice paddies.</p>

Hoi An, Vietnam

Located on Vietnam’s central coast, Hoi An will immediately enchant visitors with its ancient architecture, covered bridge, and narrow streets illuminated at night by colourful lanterns. The area is famous as a former trading port on the Silk Road and is home to many talented tailors ready to create high-quality bespoke garments. Plan your stay between February and May to make the most of its historical district and local markets. Plus, take a bike tour through the surrounding rice paddies.

<p>Capital of Malaysia, <a href="https://ca.hotels.com/go/malaysia/best-things-to-do-kuala-lumpur" class="atom_link atom_valid" rel="noreferrer noopener">Kuala Lumpur</a> is a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis that combines tradition and modernity. Among its finest attractions are the famous Petronas Twin Towers, offering exceptional panoramic views from an observation deck. Also be sure to visit Merdeka Square’s majestic colonial buildings, Sultan Abdul Samad’s palace, and the city’s night markets while in Kuala Lumpur.</p>

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis that combines tradition and modernity. Among its finest attractions are the famous Petronas Twin Towers, offering exceptional panoramic views from an observation deck. Also be sure to visit Merdeka Square’s majestic colonial buildings, Sultan Abdul Samad’s palace, and the city’s night markets while in Kuala Lumpur.

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China courts Europe and Southeast Asia with visa-free travel

Relaxed rules show Beijing's priority is economy and hint at its geopolitical strategy

HONG KONG -- China has dramatically expanded its visa-free programs in the past three months, indicating a growing effort to boost tourism and cross-border business as the economy slows.

Beijing last week added Ireland and Switzerland to the list of countries whose passport holders can enter without visas. This expands China's outreach to European travelers after it recently granted visa-free tourism and business access to citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain for 15 days.

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The Ultimate 1-Month (4-Week) Southeast Asia Itinerary for You! (Expert Advice)

The Ultimate 1-Month (4-Week) Southeast Asia Itinerary for You! (Expert Advice)

With more than a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, 4 weeks/1 month can satisfy your ambitions to travel to many places. Check out recommended plans for your 4 weeks/1 month in Southeast Asia and expert advice.

  • Which Southeast Asia Countries to See in 4 Weeks

Week 1: Myanmar

Week 2: vietnam, week 3: laos and cambodia, week 4: thailand, how much is a 4-week trip to southeast asia, guided or independent tours, which countries to visit in southeast asia in 4 weeks.

The most popular destinations in Southeast Asia are Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Bali (Indonesia), and Singapore. For a 4-week trip to Southeast Asia, we recommend you visit 4-5 countries .

A highly recommended combo for a 4-week tour in Southeast Asia is Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar . This combination offers a rich tapestry of experiences, ranging from pristine beaches and ancient temples to a vibrant religious vibe, exotic culinary delights, encounters with elephants, and the lush wonders of the rainforest.

If you prefer a more relaxed pace , consider focusing on three or four of these nations. You might choose to omit Laos or Myanmar from your itinerary for a more leisurely experience while still enjoying the diverse offerings of the region.

Free feel to tell us your preferences and requirements. We will make a trip based on your ideas. If you don't have some ideas now, you can check our Best Southeast Asia Tour Packages for inspiration.

China Highlights , Asia Highlights, and Global Highlights collaborate to provide families and couples with personalized and stress-free experiences in diverse destinations.

A Classic 4-Week Southeast Asia Itinerary to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar

Considering the overall tour experience and transport connections, usually our route goes Myanmar–Vietnam–Laos–Cambodia–Thailand.

Myanmar and Vietnam, rich in attractions and activities, are good to place at the start of the trip. Laos and Cambodia, centering around temple visiting, are suitable for the middle part, and finally end at Thailand's beaches.

Days 1-2: Mandalay Days 3-4: Began Days 5-6: Inle Lake Days 7-8: Yangon

Days 1-2: Mandalay

Embark on a captivating tour of Mandalay's highlights, including the magnificent Kuthodaw Pagoda, home to the world's largest book. Explore the remnants of Bargaya Monastery in the former royal capital of Inwa. As the sun sets, witness the breathtaking sunset over the iconic U Bein Bridge , a symbolic landmark of Mandalay.

Days 3-4: Bagan

Immerse yourself in local life with a cooking class supported by JICA . Wander Nyuang U Market, absorbing vibrant flavors. Explore the awe-inspiring Shwezigon Pagoda and delve into Bagan's history at the Archaeological Zone. Visit iconic sites like Ananda Temple, Shwesandaw Pagoda, and Htilominlo Pahto. As dusk falls, be captivated by the sunset over the pagoda complex, a moment of tranquil beauty.

Days 5-6: Inle Lake

Discover the serene beauty of Inle Lake, where leg-rowing fishermen showcase their unique skills . Enjoy the tranquility and explore the local way of life.

Days 7-8: Yangon

Explore Myanmar's history at the National Museum and witness the stunning sunset from Shwedagon Pagoda. Visit the heart of the city at Sule Paya and contribute to the community at Thadama Myintzu Nunnery. Experience local life aboard a train and conclude your day with a stroll through Bogyoke Aung San Market, offering an array of souvenirs and crafts.

Days 9-10: Ho Chi Minh City Days 11-12: Hoi An Days 13-14: Hanoi Days 15-16: Halong Bay

Days 9-10: Ho Chi Minh City

Feel the bustling energy of Ho Chi Minh City, exploring the War Remnants Museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, and the historic Cu Chi Tunnels . Dive into local cuisine with a street food tour.

Days 11-12: Hoi An

Explore Hoi An's waterways on a traditional round basket boa t. Visit the ancient town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its charming architecture, lantern-lit streets, and enjoy a cooking class.

Days 13-14: Hanoi

Uncover the cultural gems of Hanoi, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, and the vibrant Old Quarter.

Days 15-16: Halong Bay

Cruise through this UNESCO World Heritage site, surrounded by stunning limestone karsts, and partake in a kayaking adventure. Marvel at the ethereal beauty of the bay's unique landscapes.

Days 17-19: Luang Prabang Days 20-21: Siem Reap

Days 17-19: Luang Prabang

Interact with elephants at Elephant Village and explore their world. Visit the hospital, museum, and dung paper-making facility. Trek the Trail of Falls. Witness the morning alms-giving ritual and explore Luang Prabang's cultural gems.

In the afternoon, relax at Kuang Si Waterfall. Luang Prabang offers a blend of nature and cultural charm.

Days 20-21: Siem Reap

Explore Angkor's exquisite temples, including iconic landmarks like Angkor Wat , Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Srei. Delve into Cambodia's history at the Landmine Museum. Discover remote temples like Beng Mealea and Preah Khan, adding layers to the Angkor experience.

Days 22-24: Bangkok Days 25-27: Phuket Day 28: Departure

Days 22-24: Bangkok

Embark on the final leg of your journey in Bangkok. Explore the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. Experience the vibrant street life at Khao San Road and indulge in local street food.

Days 25-27: Phuket

Relax in the tropical paradise of Phuket, visiting Patong Beach, Phi Phi Islands, and Big Buddha. Enjoy water activities, explore Old Phuket Town, and savor Thai cuisine.

Day 28: Departure

As your 28-day odyssey concludes, depart with a treasure trove of memories, having explored the best of Southeast Asia's history, culture, and natural beauty.

Southeast Asia offers good value for money. For the price of a mediocre restaurant in Western countries, you can enjoy a superb meal at a Michelin-starred establishment in Southeast Asia.

  • If you have a lower budget, you will need around 180–200 USD /day per person (including airfare within Southeast Asia, 3-star hotels, lunch, attractions, guide, and transfers). 4 weeks is about 5500–6000 USD.
  • For a medium budget, it will cost around 200–250 USD per day per person (including airfare within Southeast Asia, 4-star hotels, lunch, attractions, guide, and transfers). Thus, it may cost about 6,000–7,500 USD for 4 weeks.
  • For a higher budget, US$250–350 per day per person is needed (including airfare within Southeast Asia, 5-star hotels, lunch, attractions, guide, and transfers). The cost for 4 weeks is around 7,500-10,000 USD.

>>> Planning a Trip to Southeast Asia: A Beginner's Guide

Although Southeast Asia is a paradise for backpacking, it has its drawbacks. With an independent tour , you must handle all things by yourself : booking the transport and hotels, making detailed itineraries… But, you may be unfamiliar with these countries and will probably face unexpected events, especially if yours is a multi-country trip.

With a guided tour , all you need to do is concentrate on fully enjoying your holiday. With a well-planned itinerary created by an expert travel consultant, you can make the most of your vacation without unnecessary stress or missing out on the best of every city.

With private transport, you can reduce your time on the road, and spend more at the highlights. With a local guide, you can learn more of the culture's secrets and stories behind the attractions. He/she can help you travel safely and solve any problems — expected or unexpected.

Thus, a guided tour is recommended if you don't have much time to sit and plan. Contact us to create a worry-free tour .

Contacting Us for a Booking/Inquiry

You are warmly welcome to have us customize your trip based on your group size, interests, budget, and other needs. For a personalized tour and quote, sit back and use our Create My Trip service.

Or start from a recommended fully-modifiable itinerary:

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southeast asia travel

The China Highlights and tour of Dali was absolutely wonderful. The tour guide Daisy was so nice, knowledgeable and provided an excellent, memorable experience of Old Town Dali, Erhai Lake, the Three Pagodas and so much more. I have been on many tours and this one was the best, exactly what we were looking for, including the pace, the food, the attention to details, care and professionalism. Everything was positively great!

From the moment we arrived in Shanghai it was an unforgettable experience. The agency and Martín (our guide) made everything possible to had the best experience and were always open to show or teach more if was necessary. We were very happy with the places we saw and the stories we learned thanks to Martín!!! I totally recommend the agency!!

Our family tour with China Travel was absolutely wonderful. The China highlights of Dali was planned with the great care and help from Vanessa, and the actual tour guide, Daisy, who was knowledgeable, flexible, helpful, and provided an excellent, memorable experience for my family. We toured several locations and I especially liked the pace of Old Town Dali, the scenic view of Erhai Lake, and the history of the Three Pagodas, and so much more. I have been on many tours and this one was the best, exactly what we were looking for, including the pace, the food, the attention to details, care and professionalism. Everything was positively great! Highly

My mother and I greatly enjoyed our trip to Dali. Our tour guide was Daisy and she did a wonderful job taking us on an adventure around to everywhere we wanted to go. We even went to some under appreciated areas that we had been interested in! We visited a bit after my mother's birthday and Daisy was kind enough to give my mother a gift!

Our family tour with China Travel was absolutely wonderful. The China highlights of Dali was planned with the great care and help from Vanessa, and the actual tour guide, Daisy, who was knowledgeable, flexible, helpful, and provided an excellent, memorable experience for my family.

Ethan has been my tour guide for my four day trip to Beijing. He has been knowledgeable, polite, and most helpful. I was uncomfortable coming to China for the first time without speaking any Chinese at all. Ethan gave the tours, arranged for shows and literally took me to my seats. He also accompanied me to the train station to help figure my was around and help me find the correct train and car. I would definitely use China Highlights again in the future.

We visited Beijing with guide Mark, Xi’an with Jenny, Guilin with Frank, and Shanghai with guide Kris. Each guide was so unique but they all had in common a passion for their city and a true kindness. They were early for all of the airport and train station pickups and helped us so much checking into hotels and flights. We tried so many different foods special to each region and appreciated the great recommendations from the guides. The activities we did were a combination of “must-see” sites like the Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, Teracotta soldiers, and participating in local arts like shadow puppetry, fan making, and seeing cultural shows.

Lily Wong our guide at Guilin was wonderful. Along with all the good qualities like being punctual,courteous, organized,knowledgeable,hard working she is also caring.The scenaries at Guilin is second to none,Lily helped us to take lots of pictures to capture the scenaries as much as possible.With Lily's help I can enjoy the amazing cave and the rafting.At Yangshuo Lily also recommend a Light Show on the river.That was fantastic never saw anything like it. I must mention the unique hotel they put us in.Its called Yangshuo Moondance hotel.My wife is very happy with Lily because she took a lot of pictures for her and took her shopping for a new (Qie Pao,cantonese Cheung Sham).

I have an excellent trip to Guilin and my guide, Gary Wei who works for China Highlights Tour was very professional and knowledgeable in regard to the history of the Guilin and Yangshuo. Gary was remarkable with his recital of a lot of ancient poems. Hence, I had such a good and memorable experience. I do highly recommend China Highlights Tour to anyone who wish to visit China.

Our tour guides Doyle Cheng (Kunming), Daisy Shi (Dali), Martin (Lijiang) were knowledgeable about the local culture and folklore regaling us with many stories, history mixed with witty remarks and jokes.They made us feel safe, comfortable during the many trips feeding us with local snacks, sweets, pastries, fruits. Our shopping list were all taken care off with their well recommended shops and even bargain hunting.They were sensitive and alert to our toilet breaks, flexible to last minute changes and recommended good dinner restaurants.Big thank you to Martin for your extra attention given to our children when they werent feeling well.

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The largest country in the world at 17,075,400 square kilometres (or 6,592,800 sq mi), Russia has accumulated quite an impressive reputation. Covering more than an eight of the Earth's land area, 142 million people live there making it the ninth largest nation by population . Still known for its impressive days as the expansive Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia was the world's first and largest constitutionally socialist state. A recognized superpower, the USSR was known for its excellence in both arts and science winning many awards in both fields.

Russia changed drastically after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it continues to be a powerful and important nation. It has one of the world's fastest growing economies and the world's eight largest GDP by nominal GDP. Russia is also one of the five countries which officially recognized nuclear weapons states. In conjunction with this title, Russia is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the G8, APEC and the SCO, and is a leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

A European city in a country that lies over a vast part of Asia, Moscow holds one-tenth of all Russian residents . The city is located in the western region of Russia and is the capital and epicentre of political, economic, cultural, religious, financial, educational, and transportation happenings. "Muscovites" , as residents are known, tend to be cultured and worldly. This may be due to the many scientific, educational, and artistic institutions that are based here. An intoxicating mix of the exotic and the familiar, it is the largest city in Europe with the Moscow metropolitan area ranking among the largest urban areas in the world.

The city is situated on the banks of the Moskva River which flows through much of central Russia. Moscow is actually located in a basin for the Volga, Oka, Klyazma, and Moscow rivers. The city of Moscow is 994 sq. km with 49 bridges spanning the rivers and canals that criss-cross the city.

Forests are another part of Moscow's make-up. They coveer over a third of the territory in the region. A variety of animals like elk, wild boar, deer, foxes, weasels, lynx, martens, and birds make their home here.

Located in the UTC+3 time zone , Moscow has a humid continental climate. The summers tend to be warm and humid and the winters are long, cold, and hard. High temperatures occur during the warm months of June, July and August at about 23 °C (73 °F). Heat waves sometimes grip the city anywhere between May to September with temperatures spiking up to 30 °C (86 °F). Winters are harshly chilly with temperatures dropping to approximately 9 °C (15.8 °F). There is consistent snow cover for 3 to 5 months a year, usually from November to March.

Update 10/07/2009


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AirAsia Gets Into Event Ticketing, But Sorry, No Taylor Swift Tickets

Peden Doma Bhutia , Skift

January 28th, 2024 at 11:59 PM EST

A whole year has passed since Tony Fernandes declared his superapp would exclusively focus on travel, and so far, he seems to be sticking to the script.

Peden Doma Bhutia

AirAsia superapp, now rebranded as “airasia MOVE,” announced the launch of ticketing platform MOVETIX on Monday.

AirAsia said it has partnered with Dublin-based ticketing platform Coras to provide access to over 10,000 global events and activities.

“It is no secret that AirAsia’s strategy and direction is shifting, and the superapp (rebranding to MOVE) has been a one-stop solution for all of this,” said Hassan Choudhury, who will be spearheading MOVETIX.

Choudhury told Skift that music and sports are two big global trends, and that integrating those categories into the ticketing services will boost the app’s traffic, engagement and conversions to bundled travel products.

Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia parent company  Capital A , told Skift last year that AirAsia would be ending its other operations in the superapp to focus on what it calls its bread and butter — travel.

Nadia Omer, CEO of airasia MOVE called entertainment an essential part of travel. “With MOVETIX, our app users can now book their entire trip seamlessly including flights, hotels, land transport and meals within one single cohesive ecosystem,” a press release quoted Omer as saying.

The Taylor Swift Phenomenon

The rapid sell-out of Taylor Swift tickets recently highlighted the high demand for live events in Southeast Asia.

“The Taylor Swift tickets sold out very quickly, but we expect AirAsia to be selling tickets for some of the biggest artists in the coming months,” Mark McLaughlin, CEO of Coras, told Skift.

To mark its launch, MOVETIX has been designated as the official ticketing partner for the upcoming StarHub Football Festival scheduled from April 20-21 in Singapore.

Customers typically purchase tickets for live events and sports as their initial product before securing flights and accommodation, McLaughlin said.

“Therefore, it makes sense for a brand with millions of customers in these markets to be selling tickets,” he said of AirAsia’s foray into the events ticketing.

AirAsia MOVE currently has a customer base of over 15 million monthly active users.

Chaudhury, who is also the CEO of RedRecords , a joint venture between AirAsia and Universal Music, is drawing on experience in the music industry.

“I hope that the relationships that have been built between labels, artists, management and promoters will help us get access to these events in order to give the best experiences to fans all over the region.”

Southeast Asia Emerges as a Powerhouse in Live Entertainment

Recognizing Southeast Asia as a significant growth market for live entertainment and sports, big artists are increasingly adding the region to global tours.

“Social media has brought artists and sports stars closer to their fans wherever they are and that data can be used to plan events if you know there is an audience waiting for them. Coras’s role is to connect tickets to fans wherever they are by integrating with ticketing software systems and then looking to partner with brands like AirAsia,” said McLaughlin.

Having already integrated with Sistic, Singapore’s largest ticketing agency and one of the country’s leading e-commerce players, Coras hopes to integrate with the leading ticketing systems in other countries.

“Southeast Asia, India and Japan are huge markets for live events and sport, we hope to be working with partners there as well,” McLaughlin said.

Coras’s network of distribution partners includes UK low-cost carrier Ryanair, U.S. carrier Frontier, Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines, Iceland’s FlyPlay and Japanese marketplace Rakuten.

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Tags: air asia , asia monthly , concerts , events , music festivals , sports , superapp , taylor swift , tony fernandes

Photo credit: The rapid sell-out of Taylor Swift tickets recently highlighted the high demand for live events in Southeast Asia. Unsplash / Aditya Chinchure, Unsplash


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    Rome2Rio is a door-to-door travel information and booking engine, helping you get to and from any location in the world. Find all the transport options for your trip from Kemer to Elektrostal right here. Rome2Rio displays up to date schedules, route maps, journey times and estimated fares from relevant transport operators, ensuring you can make ...

  28. Partizanskaya (Moscow Metro) to Elektrostal

    Select an option below to see step-by-step directions and to compare ticket prices and travel times in Rome2rio's travel planner. Recommended option. Train. Take the train from Nizhegorodskaya to Fryazevo. 2h 29m. RUB 481 - RUB 601. 3 alternative options. Train via Kurskaya.