Where to Travel in Southeast Asia: Countries at a Glance

April 7, 2018

If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Southeast Asia, then you may have already stumbled upon quite a few ranked listicles. Most of these, frankly, always feature the same 10 places ripped from the Lonely Planet, which is kind of a bummer.

What I thought I’d do instead is share my overall take on each country in Southeast Asia, which could then help you jump off into further research on countries or regions that you like the sound of. This is really the best method for finding interesting places that aren’t yet in all the top 10’s!

Southeast Asia is full of amazing places to visit, though keep in mind not every place will make you feel like you’re on a mystical journey. Some famous locations get very crowded, particularly in peak season. That doesn’t mean these places aren’t worth visiting, but it’s good to go in with the right expectations.

While I’ve not been everywhere (has anyone?), I’ve traveled the region for a combined 12 months on trips from 2013 to 2018.

*Boop boop*, subjectivity ahead! The following are blatantly just my opinions. I like to travel independently and on a budget. I also like to focus on the culture, nature, and local food (instead of staying resorts and such). Perhaps our tastes in travel are similar. Your comments are always welcome!

 

Other recommended posts

This article is mostly about where to travel, but I’ve also written plenty about how to travel in Southeast Asia. While you’re here, you might not want to miss these other resources for planning a trip to Asia:

 

Thailand

Good starter country (or good for a lazy holiday)

Cheap flights to Bangkok, easy travel logistics, fun, party central
Hella touristy in most places, party central

I still remember what it was like to arrive in Bangkok for the first time. The temples, the neon lights, the smells of cooking oil from street food vendors, the tuk-tuk taxis whizzing past… it was like stepping into a whole new world.

Even though my heart now beats faster for less commercialized destinations, I have to recognize what an amazing country Thailand (still) is to the unjaded traveler. Southeast Asia can be quite bewildering at first, but Thailand lets you ease into things. It’s exotic enough to feel adventurous, but the travel logistics are easy, and the famed Thai hospitality will make you feel at home even when almost nothing is familiar.

Bangkok’s infamous tourist district of Khaosan

That said, over 35 million people visit this country every year, and in all honesty it shows — especially along the beaches and islands in the south, where mass tourism has truly taken its toll.

To get the best of Thailand you have to select your destinations wisely. (If you don’t like mass tourism, don’t go to Phuket.) Then again, if you’re coming to Thailand as a first-time backpacker you may just as well find yourself planning very little and simply going along the well-established circuit. Chances are that you’ll have a great time.

If you’re simply looking for some sand and sun, then Thailand of course has got you covered. There is also a renowned party scene, particularly in Bangkok (Khaosan Road) and on the islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Phi Phi, attracting many younger holidayers and gap year travelers.

Some unspoiled beaches still exist, such as this one on Koh Kood

Interested in a more authentic (or simply quieter) Thailand? It’s still there if you know where to look. I’ve much enjoyed exploring the quieter southeastern parts near Cambodia, especially the town of Trat and the Koh Chang archipelago. I think this little corner is secretly the best part of southern Thailand! Northern Thailand also has plenty of off-the-beaten-track places.

For more tips, see my travel guide to Thailand and sample itinerary.

Since Bangkok has a lot of international flight connections, Thailand makes for as a convenient gateway to the rest of Southeast Asia. And to so many globetrotters addicted to travel (like me!), Thailand was their first rite of passage. It may not be the most original or adventurous choice, but it’s easy, fun, and has something for everyone.

More about Thailand »

 

Laos

Personal favorite!

Remote jungles, quiet rural places, river journeys, motorbike loops
No big buzzing cities, barely any nightlife (if that’s what you want)

Laos is a thinly populated and sparsely developed country with a syrupy slow pace of life. At first glance, it may not seem as immediately exciting as Thailand or Vietnam (which both have more iconic sights), but its Buddhist calm and Mekong river views are sure to win you over.

I think Laos is the destination for adventurers. Thanks to its pristine jungles and karst mountain landscapes, it may well be the best country in mainland Southeast Asia for hiking and trekking. It’s also an excellent place for other outdoor activities like kayaking, zip-lining, caving, and rock climbing.

Mekong sunsets on the 4000 islands in southern Laos

Karst landscapes in northern Laos

Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang

Landlocked Laos has been mostly overlooked by the masses more easily enticed by a tropical beach. Due to midnight curfews, there also isn’t much of a party scene. These factors have conspired to preserve Laos as an incredible ecotourism and adventure travel destination. Filled with quiet delights, I think it’s one of the true backpacker highlights of the region.

Old guidebooks talk about how difficult Laos is to travel. Actually, the infrastructure has improved, and it’s now quite easily accessible.

Don’t miss the lazy 4000 islands archipelago in the Mekong. Rent a motorbike and explore the countryside independently. And consider a stay at the Gibbon Experience, which lets you sleep in treehouses high in the jungle canopy and fly around using zip-lines, giving you a unique perspective on the rainforest.

Go to Laos – you won’t regret it.

More about Laos »

 

Vietnam

Exhilarating cities, food, train travel, stunning caves, war museums
Cookie-cutter tours (see below), scams, average beaches

I think of Vietnam as a conflicting place — one that can be both deeply fascinating and potentially frustrating at times.

To start with the positives, it has some of the most vibrant cities around. If you’re a bit of an urban explorer then you’ll surely love wandering around the leafy traditional capital of Hanoi, or the frenetic commercial capital of Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon). Snarls of scooters and small motorcycles will constantly pass you by, loaded with anything from construction materials to entire families. The local food markets are dizzying beehives of activity, enveloping you in a delightful sensory overload.

Dramatic landscapes also dominate the central and northern parts of Vietnam. At Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng, you can visit some of the biggest caves in the world. The famous bay of Ha Long is dotted with countless limestone cliffs, feeling a bit like a mystical pirate’s hideout. You can go on a 1, 2- or 3-day cruise around these breathtaking islands, but don’t expect to be alone at this highly commercialized UNESCO World Heritage Site. (A quieter alternative is Bai Tu Long Bay, which is further away and out of reach of day-trippers.)

Another thing I loved about traveling in Vietnam is its trains! There are good railway connections all the way from the north to south, including sleeper trains that let you efficiently cover a lot of ground.

The famed island archipelago of Ha Long Bay

Busy street scenes in Hanoi

Colorful boats anchored outside the fishing village of Mui Ne

But while the culture, delicious food, and history are a big draw, the Vietnamese attitude to tourism can be a bit off-putting. Vietnam can strike you as a tour factory, with groups often herded onto standardized trips and rushed from one tourist trap to the next. Ignore the cheap but cookie-cutter tours to places like the Mekong Delta or Chi Chi Tunnels and go independently instead if you can. You’ll have a way better time.

Unfortunately, tourists often seem regarded as chickens to be plucked, with scams and theft still being real problems in this country (at least, on the tourist trail). Vietnam also does a poor job of protecting its nature, with many reefs destroyed by dynamite fishing and even the famous Ha Long Bay blighted by trash.

Whoa… I guess that makes things sound super negative. Actually, I love Vietnam a lot! But I want to share both the good and bad. Be sure to check out my guide to the many highlights of Vietnam.

I guess Vietnam can be a polarizing travel destination. In your research, you might come across some strong opinions on blogs. But while the scams, touting, and lame tours can be an issue, I don’t think that should keep you from visiting. In many ways, it’s among the most exciting destinations in Southeast Asia. And the more you avoid the tours, the better an experience you’ll have.

More about Vietnam »

 

Cambodia

Temples of Angkor Wat, laidback islands, Cardamom Mountains
Dirty Sihanoukville & Chinese casino takeovers

There are essentially two big reasons why you’ll want to go to Cambodia.

Firstly, there is the spectacular Angkor Wat, which is one of the largest ancient temple complexes in the world. This sprawling site can take days to explore properly, and it’s easily of the top sights in Southeast Asia. The nearby city of Siem Reap has become a fun-filled base from which to take excursions into the Angkor Wat archeological park.

Secondly, Cambodia has some of the nicest islands in the region, which are still relatively underdeveloped compared to those in Thailand or Vietnam. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem (among other islands) have a funky vibe and their beaches are mostly unspoiled. It won’t stay that way forever, so go there now.

Despite the crowds, Angkor Wat is one of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia

Visit a farm in Kampot, where some of the world’s best peppercorns are produced

Apart from this, Cambodia also has its share of quaint towns along the Mekong River with remnants of French colonial architecture. While Cambodia puts little priority on nature preservation (to put it very mildly), it does have some amazing national parks; I especially recommend going to Chi Pat for excellent ecotourism adventures.

Just a little tip, don’t bother with the resort city of Sihanoukville. It’s a bit of a dump, and anyone recommending it is just lazily copy-pasting information from 10 years ago! My guide to Cambodia has more tips on how to cherry-pick the best of Cambodia.

More about Cambodia »

 

Malaysia

 Hassle-free, multicultural, nicer islands than Thailand, Borneo wildlife
More conservative, Borneo not quite as untouched as you’d expect

While Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam which were once colonized by France, Malaysia was once part of the British empire. That gives its historical cities a different character. It also often feels more cosmopolitan and multi-cultural, home to a mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and various minorities.

Malaysia is a bit more wealthy, orderly, and conservative than its neighbors. It may be lacking that rough-and-tumble feel, but it also means it’s not as over-the-top as Thailand. Its beaches and islands (such as the Perhentian Islands) are relatively low-key, and most of its other destinations are family-friendly and well set up for visitors.

Georgetown, Penang

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary on Malaysian Borneo (Sabah)

I have to say that my knowledge of Peninsular Malaysia is a bit patchy (despite two visits), though I think the cities of Penang and Malacca are pretty interesting. I aim to come back sometime to explore more areas off the western coast.

As an adventure traveler, I was more enticed by the other part of Malaysia on the island of Borneo. I’ve spent most of my time in the eastern state of Sabah, where you can climb Kota Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia), go scuba diving at Pulau Mabul and Pulau Sipadan (easily some of the best diving I’ve ever done), and visit national parks such as the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (where even on a bad day you can spot countless monkeys, hornbills, crocodiles, and so much more). It’s all pretty damn epic around these parts!

But I must also admit that when I first came here, I had quite an idealized image in my head. I had heard the word Borneo mostly just uttered in reverent tones by the likes of David Attenborough in nature documentaries, usually accompanied by drone shots of vast unbroken rainforests. Then I arrived and was met instead by big cities and endless industrial-scale palm oil plantations. I guess I had expected things to be a little more wild! Fortunately, some primary rainforest does still exist within the national parks, where you can definitely still see a dazzling amount of wildlife.

By the way, be sure to budget a bit more for Malaysia. Accommodation and food are great value, but local tours, hiking trips, or entries to national parks do add up a bit faster here.

More about Malaysia »

 

Singapore

Super clean, organized, modern
Ummm… super clean, organized, modern… and expensive!

The city-state of Singapore makes for an interesting visit, given how strongly it contrasts against other nearby destinations. It’s spotlessly clean and high-tech, and is truly a world apart from all the chaos, smells, and congestion elsewhere. It’s a meticulously designed place, often making you feel as though you’re wandering through the glittering futuristic visions from an architect’s dream.

Singapore’s Marina Bay feels like a future Earth from Star Trek

Singapore’s decidedly cozier Chinatown

The modern comforts can be a refreshing change if you’ve spent some time in less developed parts of Southeast Asia. The food in Singapore is also phenomenal and no visit is complete without going to one of its many hawker centers (a type of food court) where you can sample virtually any Asian cuisine — very cheaply and with hygiene standards much higher than the street food in other countries.

Singapore is an easy and comfortable destination, although much of the city can feel quite business-ey and too neatly maintained. It’s been getting more creative and vibrant though and it’s got plenty of interesting areas to check out. Singapore makes for a gentle introduction to Southeast Asia or can serve as a convenient pit stop on a larger trip. Do keep in mind that prices in Singapore (apart from the food) are essentially at Western levels.

More about Singapore »

 

Indonesia

Personal favorite!

 Volcano hikes, remote beaches, snorkeling/scuba, wildlife
Congested Jakarta and overtouristed Kuta on Bali

To state the obvious: Indonesia is huge.

It is, in fact, wider than the United States. It’s so big that if you were to write a complete guide to Southeast Asia, you’d probably have to do a separate Volume II just to cover Indonesia.

Most travelers focus only on a tiny part — the resort island of Bali — but beyond it lies a vast area to explore, with incredible potential for off-the-beaten-track adventures. Blessed with 17,000 islands and numerous volcanoes, Indonesia is a prime destination for surfing, trekking, diving, and wildlife spotting (with a chance to see orangutans). It is culturally diverse as well, with different islands following the Muslim, Hindu, Catholic or Protestant religions.

The temples of Prambanan on Java

If you’re pressed for time, then spending a week on Bali is honestly not the worst idea. Its capital of Kuta may be nauseatingly commercial and focused totally on mass tourism, but dive deeper into Bali and you’ll discover plenty of beautiful Hindu temples, green rice paddies, and laidback beaches.

A typical longer itinerary has you starting in the city of Yogyakarta on Java, then visiting the ancient temples of Borobudur, the epic volcano of Bromo, and then ending in Bali. This post tells you, incredibly, how this can be done in one week — though I recommend at least 2 or 3 weeks for this route.

The Ijen volcano crater with its turquoise lake and sulfur vents

The colorful Gili Islands are great for a lazy beach escape (especially Gili Air)

Lombok, the island that is adjacent to Bali, is filled with surfer spots, waterfalls, and quieter beaches. Further east, I loved exploring rural Flores and seeing the Komodo dragons at Komodo National Park.

So far I’ve been on two big trips to Indonesia, and I’m itching to go back. The next one will probably take me to the less-explored parts of Sumatra, Sulawesi, or West Nusa Tengarra. Indonesia feels to me like one of the final frontiers of Southeast Asia.

The country seems oddly overlooked among travel bloggers (at least outside of Bali), but I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s one of the real highlights of Southeast Asia.

More about Indonesia »

 

Philippines

Personal favorite!

 Rice terraces, island hopping, easy contact with locals, underwater wonders
Meh food, congested Manila, Palawan got too popular too fast

This is Asia’s best-kept secret. I adore the Philippines and keep recommending it to everyone.

I know, this country is being run by a pretty divisive guy right now who doesn’t always make the news in positive ways. But don’t let this stop you: the Philippines is safe and the people are incredibly welcoming.

Since many Filipinos speak fluent English, you can get a lot closer to the culture. I’ve found myself traveling together with Filipino backpackers, made friends in many villages, and sung karaoke with locals. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia the language barrier can put you in a bubble, but much less so here. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference this makes.

(By the way, English is also widely spoken in Malaysia and Singapore. But besides the language, I’ve found the Filipinos especially hospitable as well.)

The rice terraces of Batad in northern Luzon

The Philippines also happens to have the most amazing beaches and islands, hands down. Sadly, in the last couple of years, the island of Palawan has become overrun with tourists as word spread rapidly about the islands and lagoons around El Nido. It seems to be struggling to cope now, though I hear the nearby island of Coron is still very chill.

Fortunately, the Philippines has over 7,000 islands, so I don’t think it will be running out of amazing spots any time soon! My recommendation is to go to the central Visayas — particularly islands like Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, and Camiguin.

You travel around the islands by banka, a traditional type of catamaran-style boat

The Philippines used to be a Spanish and then an American colony, which is reflected in the religion, architecture, and language. The food does take a lot of inspiration from American fast food or Spanish asado and seems less concerned with Asian spices. That’s a bit of a bummer, though this is also clearly a matter of taste.

Thanks to its incredible islands, stunning rice terraces, volcano hikes, lovely people, and a fascinating cultural melting pot, I think the Philippines is a genuine highlight.

One tip though: it’s worth departing the capital of Manila quickly, as it’s super congested and not very nice. Avoid Mindanao for security reasons.

More about Philippines »

 

Myanmar (Burma)

Temples of Bagan, wonderful train travel, tourism is still in its infancy
Difficult political situation

Myanmar is a relative newcomer to the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit, as prior to lifting of international sanctions in 2012 it was difficult to go here. While it’s been rapidly opening up, you’ll still find authentic culture and a relative lack of cynicism towards tourists in Myanmar.

The thousands of ancient temples at Bagan provide some true pinch-me vistas, particularly at sunset. Burmese cuisine is hugely underrated and a foodie is going to have a great time. Take a train at least once: the creaking old carriages are something to experience.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Putting a slight damper on things more recently is the government’s prosecution of the Royingha minority, which the UN has characterized as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar is clearly going through some tough issues right now, although boycotting would also hurt the incomes of many locals who are entirely uninvolved in these events. The travel community is often bitterly divided on these issues and I think it should be up to the individual (the key question is: where do you draw the line?).

Recent headlines aside, Myanmar is quite a pure travel destination without any party scene and barely any beach resorts. Until recently, it was entirely untouched by globalization (though the first Starbucks popped up in Yangon in 2017). Much like Cuba, it’s a see-it-before-it-changes kind of place.

More about Myanmar »

 

Southeast Asia cost of travel

Not everywhere in Southeast Asia is equally cheap. Be sure to check out my Southeast Asia backpacker budgets along with average accommodation prices and up-to-date costs for various popular tours, trips, and park entries.

If you’re on a shoestring budget it’ll be easiest to stick to northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia. If you have a little room in your budget, then other destinations will give you excellent value as well.

Need more help?

As should be obvious… Southeast Asia is a big place! If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed while planning your trip, that’s understandable (trust me, I’ve been there!). Fortunately, I’ve also got something that can make things a little easier.

My in-depth guide to traveling will help you plan, pack, and prepare for your trip. Readers have said it feels like having a friend sit down with you to mull over your travel dreams and turn them into real plans. With my expert guide, you’ll be able to better research your destinations, create a realistic but adventure-filled route, and prepare yourself for anything Southeast Asia might throw at you! The book is filled with many lessons I learned (sometimes the hard way) while traveling around Southeast Asia for many months on end. You can check it out here.

P.S. I’ve not yet been to Brunei or Timor-Leste! Perhaps I’ll have a chance to add these countries here in the future.

58 comments

  1. Ana Reply August 7, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Many thanks, Marek for your quick reply about children-safe beaches in South East Asia!!

  2. Ana Reply August 3, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Hi Marek, do you have any recommendations for safe-swimming beaches in South East Asia in August? Any but also in particular in Bali? Traveling with small children and we would like them to be able to go freely into the sea. I was in Seminyak last August and red flag was up most of the days with signs banning swimming

    • Marek Reply August 6, 2018 at 10:44 pm

      Not really sure, sorry Ana! I only know that Sanur on Bali is known as a very safe and family-friendly beach. I think it’s also a pretty lame beach though (not very scenic) but not sure what alternatives to suggest.

  3. Timothy Reply August 3, 2018 at 2:57 am

    We’re gonna be travelling for first time with my girlfriend. Were torn between thailand or indonesia bali. Im also thinking about Pagan,Myanmar but i read some blogs regarding the political and security issues there. We’ll be travelling March 2019. Any suggestions or advise? Thank you so much

    • Marek Reply August 3, 2018 at 11:24 am

      No real security issues in Myanmar that I’m aware of for visitors (despite recent political issues). The temples of Bagan are fantastic. Without knowing you it’s very hard to say whether Thailand or Bali is a better bet – some people love one but not the other, some people think they’re too touristy while others relish the ease of travel in these places!

  4. Shannon Reply May 17, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Hi, thank you so much for your really detailed articles, they have got me so excited to travel SE Asia in the autumn! I’m heading to the Philippines in November, but I was wondering if you had any advice as to where to travel in September-October? I didn’t realise that it was still off-season, and I was set on going to Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia, but I’m a bit worried about the rain! Any advice will be welcome!

    • Marek Reply May 19, 2018 at 12:35 pm

      You could have a look at Indonesia as it’s in the dry season then. Or you could do the countries you mentioned but go north (instead of south / beaches). There’ll be somewhat less rainfall there, but also more city stuff / cultural sights that don’t rely on perfect weather.

  5. Maria Reply May 16, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Very informative and helpful! I’ve been reading lots of blog for southeast asia and most sounds so judgemental but this blog was so good. Thanks!

    • Marek Reply May 16, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks Maria, happy it’s been helpful to you!

  6. Caroline Reply May 14, 2018 at 2:21 am

    What a great site! Thanks for the info. Our family of 5 with kids 5, 8 and 9 want to travel to SEA from NZ in january for 2-4 weeks. Weve been to many pacific islands so not fussed on beaches this time more interested in kids seeing some amazing history, culture, wildlife etc. They are quite adventurous and have done a lot of hiking. Which country would you recommend? Thanks!

    • Marek Reply May 19, 2018 at 12:40 pm

      Hmmm. Northern Thailand, Laos, northern Vietnam are great for hiking, outdoors adventures, culture, etc. I would think Bali (the interior) or Malaysian Borneo could be good for a family holiday too (with wildlife, volcanoes, temples, etc).

  7. Irene Reply April 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Hi Marek,
    your blog is amazing!! Thank you for all of the helpful information.
    We are panning to go to SEA from mid July to mid August for a month more or less (maybe 35 days if we can). I am aware of it being the rain season, but it is our only option for the moment.
    I would deeply appreciate your help on planning our itinerary, since I would like to make the most of our trip taking the weather into account.
    Our interests are hiking, nature, exploring culture and history, and food.
    We want to travel lightweight, and are on a budget.
    So the first thing to ask would be, which country is the best to visit during this season? I am really torn between Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
    Any other advice or information would be very appreciated.
    Thanks in advance, lots of love (L).

    • Marek Reply April 23, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      Hey Irene. All those countries you’ve mentioned are great! There’s generally less rainfall in northern Thailand/Vietnam than in the south though. I’d maybe check out the rice terraces in northern Vietnam as they’ll be lush and green around this time. Hanoi is also amazing in any kind of weather. The mountain scenery in northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam is great for hiking. So I’d probably start looking around those parts. Just my 2 ct of course, hope this helps!

  8. Claudia Reply March 29, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Hi there! This is Claudia from Italy/Spain!

    I’m doing South East Asia from 01/06 to 08/08 so two months!! I had the following route in mind (in sequential order): Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines. This would mean roughly 7 days per country on average (does not mean i will spend just 7 days in a certain country). Do you think this is enough time per country, and in general, do you think 2 months is enough time of travel for the 8 countries I listed? I am scared of over planning and i really don´’t want to put THAT much on my plate otherwise I wont fully experience the bag packing feeling!

    In case you think 2 months is too little for these 8 countries, which countries would you NOT do, and leave them for some other time to discover?

    Thank you so much for the information posted. By far, the best website I’ve found when doing my research! Best of luck to you.

    Claudia

    • Marek Reply March 29, 2018 at 4:45 pm

      Hey Claudia! You can do it if you really wanted to, but it’s a very intense schedule so personally I would choose fewer countries (and get more of that backpacker feeling)! It’s hard to say which countries not to do though as I like them all. My favorites are Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines but it can be very different for everyone.

  9. Glenn Reply March 13, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    Hi Marek,
    Love your articles. we are planning 6 weeks in SE asia this summer with our 13 and 4 year old boys. (did 6 months in india with our eldest when he was 4 so used to travelling with kids).
    so far have a few days in BKK booked and then a beach break on Koh Kut. We want to venture into Cambodia after this then either Laos, Vietnam or
    Both. any advice on what’s good to see? need to try and mix it up -culture, history and some beach life for the boys!

    • Marek Reply March 14, 2018 at 12:48 am

      Hey Glenn. Hmm I’m trying to think what would be fun for kids. Chi Pat in Cambodia comes to mind (see my post here)… lots of jungle with cool animals. Maybe 4000 islands in Laos (kayaking, waterfalls). Hoi An in Vietnam. For history the war museums in Vietnam and Cambodia aren’t very child appropriate but the cu chi tunnels in Vietnam might be of interest…

  10. Cameron Reply February 22, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Hi Marek, thanks for the very detailed article. The Philippines was not something that I had considered until this article. Where would you recommend in the Philippines for one week in early June? I’ll be coming from Ho Chi Minh City and departing for Singapore. Palawan seems like the best destination, but Bohol/Cebu is easier/cheaper to get to. I would ideally not like to stay in an area where it is too westernized. Thanks!

    • Marek Reply February 22, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      Yeah, Palawan is good, but I do hear it’s gotten too crowded lately. I highly recommend Cebu/Bohol!

  11. Sherley Reply February 22, 2018 at 5:25 am

    Hi Marek,
    Different line of questioning. I will be studying abroad in the Fall and am heavily contemplating Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand & Cambodia…I’ve ruled out the others (Indonesia would have been my first choice otherwise) just because they don’t offer any programs with the courses that I need. Since you have traveled pretty extensively in Southeast Asia I am curious as to which of these countries you think you could have stayed in for 3 months or more. I am a bit put off by Thailand…it seems to have been exploited for tourism and not a place that will offer an authentic cultural experience (that also seems to be the case for Vietnam) nevertheless I would still like your honest opinion as to which of these countries resonated with you the most and is the most pescatarian friendly. Access to pescetarian/vegetarian food (I don’t mind meat based broths/stocks) is actually really important as I had a really difficult time the last time I studied abroad and would like to eat the local food as often as possible. As long as there is opportunity for adventure, music and food I am open. Also India is an option if you have been there.

    • Marek Reply February 22, 2018 at 11:37 am

      Hey Sherley. Great question (it’s not one I get usually!). There’s a big difference in visiting a place briefly and staying there for several months. Thailand is very touristy but that’s much more easily avoided when living there. But anyway, I’d maybe look at Vietnam. I know a few digital nomads and expat friends who taught English there and loved it. Ho Chi Minh City seems quite popular among those who are staying longer. Plenty of seafood & veggie there too. If you’re staying somewhere for a while, you can definitely find the authentic cultural experiences – more time to make local friends!

      • Sherley Reply February 23, 2018 at 3:46 am

        Much appreciated is your quick and helpful reply! Thank you!

  12. Niki Reply January 23, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    Hey. Marek, we will be in Thailand for a sporting event until 9/12/18 and would like to explore another country in the time we have left till the 15th any recommendations. ? Many thanks Niki

    • Marek Reply January 24, 2018 at 11:25 am

      It’d difficult to say not knowing what kind of stuff you’re into! But I recently traveled in Laos again and it’s amazing for nature, trekking, and culture.

  13. Tomas Reply January 17, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Marek! This is Tomas from Portugal. I am currently planning a trip to SEA and your website is packed with solid insights! I need your opinion if possible. Im planning this trip to visit as many countries possible but I dont know whether to do 2 months of travelling or 3 months of travelling. What do u think best? Taking into consideration it would happen between May to July or to August depending on the duration of the trip and the expenses attached to such an adventure. Just need a break from this corporate world! Thank you!!

    • Marek Reply January 17, 2018 at 2:23 pm

      Hi Tomas. All I can say is: try to go for as long as your finances and situation permit. If you can stretch it to 3 months then why not! It’s rare to have a break from your usual life, and you’ll surely love having another month to travel. And if you get a flexible ticket, it’s possible to move your flight should you not have enough money left to continue. Greetings from Lisbon! 🙂

      • Tomas Reply January 17, 2018 at 2:33 pm

        I guess you are right!!! Flexible ticket sounds like the best option; better intensify my saving mode then!! Which country would you start flying in? It would make more sense starting in Myanmar and then start the quest down south no? All the best man!

        • Marek Reply January 17, 2018 at 5:22 pm

          There are countless possible routes. 🙂 Myanmar is not a bad place to start! It’s full of cultural highlights and isn’t as touristy yet as some other countries.

  14. Jordi Vyncke Reply January 17, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Hey there,
    Thanks a lot for the ton of information provided on your blog. I’m still looking for a little bit of advice tho, I’m planning a solo trip to SEA and am looking to land in Bangkok mid-August and I plan on staying either 3 or 4 weeks. I’d like to avoid mass tourism and fly-and-flop holiday-resorts, I’d like to spend most of my time in nature and I am also interested in Buddhism, that’s why I was thinking of heading to North-Thailand first and visit Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Pai, Pan-Ung, Mae Hong Song, Chiang Dao, etc. From Chiang Rai I’d like to get to Luang Prabang with the slow-boat (which somehow sounds appealing to me), sadly enough there’s not that much in Laos that sparks my interest (except the slow boat, LP and maybe Kuang Si Waterfall), also I’d like to see a part of Vietnam. On top of that I need to end in Bangkok to get my flight back. I know this is a little bit too much for 4 weeks so that’s why I’m asking for your opinion on what things I might better drop and also what part of Vietnam you recommend me to visit.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Marek Reply January 19, 2018 at 12:45 pm

      Hey Jordi. Judging by the places you mention for northern Thailand, maybe you’d actually like northern Laos a lot. Have a look at Nong Khiaw for instance, perhaps it’s a place you’d be into – calm and a lot of nature. (What I have about Laos on my blog is in dire need of updating! I’m working on this right now.) I think the nicest part of Vietnam is the north, in and around Hanoi, so if you can fly back from there to Bangkok you’d have a really nice route. Try to do 4 weeks though… 3 weeks is going to be very tight for all of these places.

  15. Khai Reply December 29, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Marek, it is Penang, Malaysia not Pengang, Malaysia. Hehe

    • Marek Reply January 11, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      Oops! 🙂

  16. Guillermo S Reply September 13, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Hi Marek,

    I have read through many blogs and I’d agree with the comments made by others that your blog is one of the most complete blogs I have had the opportunity to read and find use of.

    I am currently 2.5 months in on a 5-6 month sabbatical traveling around the globe to take a break from the corporate world. I have traveled to 18 countries and 24 cities chasing the summer so in October I will do 1 month in Asia and your descriptions and references have made me a bit more confident about my plans there(Dont overplan, relax and go loca<—GREAT ADVICE), which are a bit less hectic than the previous 2.5 months I've traveled (longer periods of time in one place is better).

    BTW- I will be in Lisboa for 6 days next week so your advice there is also great! Maybe we'll run into each other if you are there!

    Guillermo (castawaymemo)

    • Marek Reply September 14, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Hey Guillermo! It’s definitely nice to slow down a bit, especially after a few months. I think Asia is the perfect region to do this. Hope you’ll have a great time. I go to many couchsurfing and nomad meetups in Lisbon so if you see me, say hi! 🙂

  17. Barbara Reply September 5, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Hi,

    I am planning to travel around Southeast Asia and I need some advise on the logistics part. My plan is to fly in to Thailand and travel to Vietnam through Cambodia for tha first part. Do you by any chance know or do you know where I can find out if there are any train services from Thailand to Vietnam and where the stops are?

    And for the 2nd part I am planning to fly from Vietnam to Singapure and make my way down to Sumatra, Java, Bali and/or Borne? Do you know if there are any public transport between the islands?

    Thanks for you help! I really appreciate it!
    Barbara

    • Marek Reply September 5, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Hey Barbara. There are unfortunately no train services in Cambodia. This map shows you the routes.

      You can take a ferry from Singapore to Sumatra, and from there everything is connected by buses and ferries. You can get all the way from Singapore to Bali by public transport. It won’t be fast but you’ll get there eventually. 🙂

      Hope this helps!

      • Barbara Reply September 5, 2017 at 2:14 pm

        Thanks for the quick reply!

        This map is very good and your blog is very helpful! Thanks for all the hard work you put into it!
        Barbara

        • Marek Reply September 5, 2017 at 2:18 pm

          Glad it’s helpful. Good luck and hope you have an amazing trip! 🙂

  18. Andrew Darwitan Reply August 6, 2017 at 2:00 am

    Very useful guide. I especially enjoy your section about getting off-the-beaten. Parts of the charms is really how rural some parts can be, like Ha Giang in Northern Vietnam and West Sumatra in Indonesia. Beautiful region, I must say!

  19. Rangga Nadiar Reply July 14, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Hey Marek, your blog is amazing! It’s really interesting and informative. im a 16 yo Indonesian, and im planning to go backpacking with my friend to other Southeast Asia country next year, but we’re still thinking about which country. Any reccomendation or tips? Thanks!

    • Marek Reply July 18, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks Rangga! Oof, that’s a difficult question. It depends on what you like. 🙂 I recommend reading a lot about each country and going to whichever country has the most of what you’re looking for. Since you’re already from the region, I don’t know what would interest you most.

  20. Isabel Henia Reply May 11, 2017 at 3:40 am

    Hi Marek, I was wondering if you could give me suggestions for Myanmar. I think I will only have 6 nights, maybe 8 if we are lucky, but I want to be able to get the most out of my experience. Thank you so much 🙂 Your blog is amazing, by the way….

    • Marek Reply May 11, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Hey Isabel – just replied to your email. 🙂 But the gist of it is: I’d probably do a little circle in the north (Mandalay / Bagan / etc.)

  21. Nacho Reply May 6, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Hi Marek!
    Its Nacho, from Spain. Firstly I want to thank you for making this amazing website, it is the best I found. It is helping me a lot to plan my trip, so thank you!! Well, I am planning a solo trip to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, do you think three months is enough time to get a good taste from these countries? I am not interested in highly touristic places, but I know I will go to some of them such as Angkor Wat. I have a couple of questions for you: which hostel do you recommend me for when I arrive in Bangkok? I would love a social hostel with a good atmosphere where I can meet fellow travellers. Is it necessary to prove you are leaving the country in one month to get your visa in Thailand?
    Thank you so much! Good luck with your future travels!!
    Peace
    Nacho

    • Marek Reply May 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Hola Nacho!

      I think you can get a great taste of these countries in 3 months. It’s more or less the perfect amount of time. I have some hostel recommendations on my Thailand page. I like Suneta, which is very cosy and friendly, though it is a bit small / boutique-style. If you’d prefer a bigger hostel with maybe not as much character but with definitely a lot of people, Lub D is a good bet.

      Officially you need a confirmed return ticket for the visa-on-arrival, but I’ve never had to offer such proof myself. I’ve had advance visa via the Thai embassy where no questions were asked, and I’ve had visas on arrival with no questions asked. This seems quite common for EU travellers. If you have a return flight (even if it’s 3 months later) you should be in a good position to explain that you’re visiting multiple countries in SEA. I can’t give a perfect guarantee but your visa process will most likely take like 5 seconds. 🙂

      Good luck and have an amazing trip!

  22. Jenny Reply April 12, 2017 at 4:37 am

    Hi,Marek

    Great stuffs! Your site does stand out and thanks so much for the great info !

    I had been living in HK so have been to all the popular places and find that I always go back Thailand for it’s food and ppl and Phuket.

    My bf will join part of my trip next month, and prefers to explore other countries other than Vietnam and Thailand where he has been.

    Wondering where you’d suggest for a 2 week snorkling holiday other than Koh Tao ? I will be on my own most of time so a solo traveller friendly place will be great. Thanks

    • Marek Reply April 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      So you mean outside of Thailand, right? El Nido in the Philippines comes to mind, or maybe Bali. It’s a difficult question to answer though as I don’t know where you’ve already been 🙂

  23. RebekkaS Reply March 14, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Your website is very helpfull, thank you very much.
    I am planing a four month backpack trip through Asia (and hopefully Australia.) I have way to many places i want to see, so i know i have to save a few for the next adveture. I know it depends on the city and the traveller, but i was wondering approximately how many days you would recomand in each city? Do you think a week would be enough in each city?

    • Marek Reply March 14, 2017 at 10:54 am

      It all depends. For instance, some people could easily spend a week in Bangkok, but I would probably leave after a couple of days and head towards some nature, beaches, or just a more relaxed city like Chiang Mai.

      If you want to get to know a place really well then a week is perfect. But you don’t have to decide this all in advance. You can just go and play it by ear, and stay longer or move on depending on how you feel at the time. In Southeast Asia, this is really easy to do.

  24. Adam Mason Reply October 30, 2016 at 6:18 am

    Awesome article!! I went to Thailand for a month then off to China and South Korea for a couple of weeks in spring 2016 and fell in love with the region! Im planning a return trip spring 2017 & want to do Vietnam/Thailand again (for songkran 2017, I went this past spring and it by easily the most memorable days in my journey and some of the best days of my life!)/ Cambodia/ Bali & Gillie T & would like to finish off in Philippines. Just beginning to somewhat organize my trip and this has been extremely helpful!

    • Marek Reply October 31, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      Glad to hear, Adam. Sounds like you’re planning a fantastic trip 🙂

  25. Rae Reply July 31, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Love this blog! I am going travelling this year and will be starting in Oz then going to Asia but have no idea where to even start! This has helped me loads! Thank you so much.

  26. Piotr Reply June 28, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Thanks for this extremely detailed article! 🙂
    Despite the fact that I traveled Southeast Asia a couple of times it’s still really helpful post. And thanks for sharing these amazing photos, they’re so inspiring! Time to organize next trip 🙂
    Keep this excellent work up! 🙂

  27. Lukas Reply May 31, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Splendid stuff ! Super useful ! Thanks for the effort !

    • Marek Reply June 1, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Thanks Lukas! 🙂

  28. Paula Reply February 29, 2016 at 5:03 am

    Great intro summaries Marek. I have to say, I’m so surprised at how many people felt Vietnam had a rip-off culture. I travelled there for a month and have not felt it at all, and definitely less than in some other countries in the region, i.e. Thailand. My experience was actually opposite – Vietnam was one of the few places where locals we met on the road invited us for dinner, fed us, gave us beer and asked for nothing in return. Maybe we were lucky but I loved travelling around Vietnam.

    • Marek Reply February 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      I’ve found that it’s mostly the cities that have a reputation for ripoffs. In the countryside it’s often the opposite. Or maybe you got lucky! 🙂

  29. Talwinder Singh Reply January 17, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Very detailed and extremely hepful blog,thank you.

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