First posted in 2014 — main revision in 2018.
Should you plan to journey in Southeast Asia, you then’ve made a good selection!
Backpacking by Southeast Asia is well probably the greatest issues you are able to do. The area gives extra journey than you possibly can shake a stick at, and for probably the most half, it’s extremely cheap to journey in.
“However how a lot time do you have to see Southeast Asia?”, you may marvel. Truthfully, as a lot time as you presumably have.
My first-ever backpacking journey to Asia lasted a whopping 9 months. You possibly can spend all that point (or extra!), by no means get bored, and nonetheless barely scratch the floor. However relaxation assured, it’s additionally completely doable to have a incredible expertise a long-lasting a few weeks or months.
Your solely problem might be in deciding the place to go and the way a lot time to spend in every place. However that may be simpler mentioned than performed…
Don’t chew off an excessive amount of!
That is simply the most necessary tip I can share about creating your route for Southeast Asia.
I do know you’ll be intensely tempted to incorporate each spotlight listed in your journey information. However until you could have on a regular basis on the planet, chances are high your route is already too formidable.
It’s often higher to focus. Give it some thought: do you wish to see a great deal of stuff solely very superficially (and tire your self by frequently transferring from place to put in a rush)? Or do you wish to decide a extra real looking variety of locations after which see them in a extra significant means?
In case your reply is the previous, that’s okay. Not everybody likes to journey the identical means. However personally, I feel it’s higher to tempo your self.
I usually see folks asking if, say, three weeks is sufficient to see Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Whereas it’s technically doable, I don’t suggest it. You’ll in all probability want one other vacation simply to recuperate from such a busy schedule. And while you’re frantically pinballing across the area, you’re more likely to expertise many locations solely very fleetingly.
Slicing again and streamlining your itinerary can really enhance your journey. Listed below are a number of explanation why:
- You should have extra time to really get to know a rustic as a substitute of simply ticking issues off an inventory;
- A tighter route sometimes means extra time obtainable to expertise issues, and much less time wasted in transit;
- You’ll have extra alternative to go past simply the apparent vacationer hubs.
To not point out, touring lengthy distances will be tiring! Whereas infrastructure is enhancing in Southeast Asia and finances flights are more and more obtainable, it’s nonetheless simple to underestimate the time and distances concerned, particularly in case your aim is to journey largely overland.
Balancing your itinerary
Okay, so that you don’t wish to stretch your self too skinny.
Aside from that, I additionally suggest having a pleasant combine of Large Issues in addition to small issues in your itinerary.
What do I imply? Nicely, in your analysis, a lot of your consideration will inevitably be drawn to Large Issues. I’m speaking UNESCO world heritage websites and iconic well-known locations (that are additionally closely marketed). Possibly you’ll examine Ha Lengthy Bay in Vietnam, or the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the well-known karst islands round Krabi in Thailand.
I’m not saying these locations aren’t price it. They often are! However they’re additionally often rammed with vacationers and drones and some too many selfie sticks. Having some main landmarks in your itinerary is unquestionably very cool, nevertheless it ought to by no means be an obligation, and it’s good to combine them with some much less assuming locations.
A lot of my favourite journey reminiscences in Asia are literally not of grand or iconic areas. For instance, I usually suppose again simply to using a scooter by rice fields in northern Thailand, watching the sundown over the Mekong river in Laos, or just having fun with a scrumptious bowl of Pho noodles at an area market in Vietnam.
In case you are discovering it unattainable to slot in all the large bucket record objects, don’t beat your self up about it an excessive amount of. You route merely might not be capable of seize all of them. (I wrote earlier than about combating your journey FOMO.) Simply know that between the well-known sights are loads of smaller issues it’s possible you’ll take pleasure in simply as a lot.
Now sufficient with the disclaimers… let me share a number of precise ideas.
South-East Asia in 2 weeks
Two weeks shouldn’t be so much to be excited about an entire area. You’ll have some powerful choices to make.
Some 2-week itineraries on the market counsel flying all over the place and spending simply two or three days per nation, however I feel that’s an enormous waste. Contemplate simply choosing one nation.
Take into consideration what kind of actions you want and decide a rustic that you just most just like the sound of.
Should you’re new to Southeast Asia, then Thailand is at all times a secure guess. The meals is phenomenal, journey logistics are comparatively simple, and also you’re spoiled for attention-grabbing points of interest. Try my Thailand itinerary for a tough template for a 2 week or longer journey to Thailand. From Bangkok, you would additionally make an tour into Cambodia to see the sprawling temples of Angkor Wat, although Thailand additionally has its personal historic temple ruins at Ayathuya and Sukhothai.
Vietnam can be a good selection for a shorter journey. It’s an enormous stretched out nation however transportation choices are nice, together with many railway connections (with sleeper trains too). Seeing all of the highlights would take at the very least three or four weeks, so with 2 weeks it’s possible you’ll wish to select to see both the south or north. (I just like the north and center components probably the most.)
Each Thailand and Vietnam will be very touristy although. If that’s not your fashion, there’s loads of different choices. Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia… they’re all actually nice. Inexperienced vacationers usually go for Thailand first, however that’s removed from a requirement.
South-East Asia in four weeks
four weeks provides you extra to work with, nevertheless it’s realistically nonetheless too tight for hitting up all of mainland Southeast Asia. My suggestion could be to deal with the two nations that attraction to you most.
For instance, you would mix Thailand with Laos. The latter is a really mild nation – it’s nice for jungle and mountain trekking and visiting small rural locations. In case you have a eager curiosity in nature and cultural experiences and don’t want a lot when it comes to leisure or nightlife, then Laos may simply be the place for you. Northern Thailand and northern Laos go collectively somewhat effectively, letting you journey in a neat little loop.
Or you would mix Vietnam and Cambodia, for example. You could possibly begin in northern Vietnam, go to Halong Bay, and work your means south. Vietnam alone may take you 2,5 or three weeks; maintain at the very least one week free to dip into Cambodia and see Angkor Wat and one or two different highlights. Finish your journey with some high quality seaside time on the Cambodian islands.
In fact, for those who don’t wish to journey strictly overland, you possibly can simply spend 2 weeks in a single nation after which fly off for one more 2 weeks someplace completely else.
I’m not saying you should stick to only two nations: you would simply determine to do kind of. I’m simply saying two nations in 4 weeks will in all probability provide you with a pleasant unhurried tempo.
Southeast Asia in 2 months or extra
2 months is the good minimal time to take pleasure in all 4 nations in mainland South-East Asia with out having to hurry.
You possibly can comply with the whole so-called ‘Banana Pancake’ path, a well-trodden Southeast Asia backpacker route that runs by Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
In case you had been questioning, this path was named after the guesthouses that had been all beginning to promote banana pancakes again when hippies had been trailblazing round this area within the 1970s. On the time this pancake breakfast supplied the one aid from the standard rice-based meals. The identify doesn’t make that a lot sense anymore, nevertheless it’s what caught!
As a consequence of having so many flight connections, many individuals begin their journey in Bangkok. (Although Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are additionally widespread entry factors into the area.)
You may get some concepts for how you can kick issues off in Thailand on my Thailand itineraries web page. Head north as much as Chiang Mai and Pai, then head for Chiang Rai and the Laos border.
Many backpackers wish to take the two-day gradual boat from the Laos border to Luang Prabang alongside the Mekong. It’s good to see the panorama slowly change and to get a glimpse of the locals residing alongside the river. The boat can be an effective way to satisfy different vacationers. On my first Southeast Asia sojourn, I saved assembly folks from the boat for months after.
You should definitely spend a while in northern Laos. I feel it’s extremely scenic and a completely underrated a part of the area. Should you’re following the basic route from Luang Prabang right down to Vang Vieng and the capital of Vientiane, it might be price flying to Vietnam from there. Whereas infrastructure is step by step enhancing in Laos, overlanding from Vientiane to Hanoi nonetheless makes for an epic 25+hour journey that you could be want to skip.
Work your means down Vietnam, then by Cambodia, and finish your journey lazying on the Thai islands.
Different Banana Pancake
The route above is roughly how I traveled by Indochina again in 2012 as a first-time backpacker following kind of the crushed path.
Figuring out what I do know now from subsequent journeys (and if I needed to cherry-pick), I’d perhaps create a special route. Under might be how I’d do issues now, with extra deal with nature and rural areas, and a bit much less deal with cities (and fewer of tremendous touristy Thailand).
Among the variations on this route:
- Extra deal with nature in northern Thailand and northern Laos
- Eliminated Vientiane as I (humbly) imagine it’s one in all Asia’s dullest capitals
- Eliminated Vang Vieng; Nong Khiaw is equally scenic however with out the bars, making it a simple substitute
- Viang Xai and Phong Na added for caving adventures
- Bai Tu Lengthy Bay as a substitute of Ha Lengthy Bay
- Pakse (Bolaven Plateau) and Si Phan Don for a quiet Mekong expertise
- Eliminated southern Vietnam in favor of center/north Vietnam (although this might simply be added again in)
- Much less time in southern Thailand, which may be very touristy and fewer adventurous
In fact, there are 1,000,000 methods to journey by Southeast Asia and this is only one different means.
Creating your individual route will be so simple as placing some markers on a map and connecting the dots! Should you’re undecided how you can get from level A to B, simply put the 2 place names into Rome2Rio (although journey occasions should not at all times appropriate).
Different components of Southeast Asia
Thus far I’ve targeted on the 4 core nations as they join effectively overland. However with extra time to spare or with some added flights, there’s clearly an entire different chunk of Southeast Asia to think about.
Malaysia makes for an apparent extension from southern Thailand. It’s a extra conservative nation with quieter seashores than in Thailand, whereas Malaysian Borneo has among the finest wildlife experiences and the tallest mountain within the area.
However a few of my favourite locations are literally on Southeast Asia’s periphery. I’m an enormous fan of Indonesia, which is hyper touristy on Bali however somewhat low-key and uncrowded elsewhere. I like Flores and the Komodo Islands so much. Mount Bromo and the Ijen Plateau are superb.
I additionally love The Philippines. I do know, it’s a bit far faraway from all over the place else, nevertheless it’s completely price it. I’ve been getting extra questions on this nation these days — it’s perhaps not serving to that it’s run by a fairly loopy man proper now — however relaxation assured it’s a secure nation and it has among the friendliest folks and finest seashores and islands. (Critically, simply go!) I’ve heard that Palawan is getting a bit overcrowded lately, however you possibly can’t go improper with a visit by the Visayas or Northern Luzon, amongst actually numerous different islands.
Myanmar is one other fascinating vacation spot, with a lot much less developed tourism (particularly outdoors of Bagan and Lake Inle).
Are you insured?
Touring in Southeast Asia could be a little adventurous. Get journey insurance coverage and also you might be lined for medical bills, theft, private legal responsibility, cancellation, and extra. I like to recommend World Nomads, which supply versatile insurance coverage for unbiased vacationers with 24-hour worldwide help. (Right here’s why you must get journey insurance coverage.)
Get a quote at world nomads »
Or… don’t take heed to me!
Thus far I’ve merely shared among the widespread knowledge for touring Southeast Asia. However perhaps you could have totally different concepts, by which case you shouldn’t let anybody inform you what to do.
Don’t be afraid to go off the crushed monitor and make no matter loopy route you need. Simply be real looking about how a lot time you could have, as I attempted to warning to start with.
Not every little thing needs to be deliberate out upfront, particularly for an extended journey. Improvisation is pretty simple in Southeast Asia, so you possibly can at all times simply wing it and see the place journey takes you!
VISAS: Most visas are simple to get on arrival on the border for a lot of nationalities. Vietnam is a little bit of an exception. Myanmar additionally requires pre-approved visas.
COST OF TRAVEL: Southeast Asia is an affordable area to journey by Western requirements. Some locations are dearer although (e.g. Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar).
WHAT TO PACK: remember to pack as mild as you possibly can. Sometimes all you want for Southeast Asia is only a 40L backpack and a few primary gear.
MORE ADVICE: there may be solely a lot you possibly can cowl in a weblog submit. I wrote a 272-page journey planning e-book that helps you take care of each query, anxiousness, or dilemma you may face earlier than setting off in your journey. You should definitely get your copy right this moment!
Map of Southeast Asia by FreeVectorMaps