Planning to travel in Southeast Asia? Then you’ve made a great choice!
Backpacking Southeast Asia is easily one of the best things you can do simply as it’s one of the world’s best regions to travel independently. Southeast Asia offers more adventure than you can shake a stick at, and for the most part, it’s incredibly inexpensive too.
“But how much time do you need to see Southeast Asia?”, you might ask. Honestly, as much time as you possibly have.
My first-ever backpacking trip to Southeast Asia lasted a whopping nine months, roughly following the so-called “Banana Pancake trail”. You can spend all that time (or more!) in this region, never get bored, and still barely scratch the surface.
Rest assured, it’s also entirely possible to have a fantastic experience lasting a couple of weeks or months.
Your only challenge will be in deciding where to go and how much time to spend in each place. That can be easier said than done.
The above map shows the key Southeast Asia backpacking routes. You’ll often find other travelers going down these lines, hitting up some of the region’s top sights. However, there is much more to see than you might be able to cover in one trip.
Having traveled in the region many times now, I’ll share here my best tips on how to plan a route. We’ll also talk about the infamous Banana Pancake trail: what it is exactly, and how you can follow (or not follow) it while traveling around Southeast Asia.
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Don’t bite off too much!
This is easily the most important tip I can share about creating your route for Southeast Asia.
I know you’ll be intensely tempted to include every highlight listed in your travel guide. But unless you have all the time in the world, chances are your route is already too ambitious.
It’s usually better to focus. Think about it: do you want to see loads of stuff only very superficially (and tire yourself by continually moving from place to place in a hurry)? Or do you want to pick a more realistic number of places and then see them in a more meaningful way?
If your answer is still the former, that’s okay! Not everyone likes to travel the same way. Personally, I think it’s often better to pace yourself.
Readers often ask me if, say, three weeks is enough to see Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s technically possible, but I don’t recommend it.
Why? Well, you would probably need another holiday just to recover from such a hectic schedule. And when you’re frantically pinballing around the region, you’re likely to experience most places only fleetingly.
Cutting back and streamlining your itinerary can actually improve your trip. Here are a few reasons why:
- You will have more time to truly get to know a country instead of just ticking things off a list;
- A tighter route typically means more time to experience things, and less time wasted in transit;
- You’ll have more opportunities to go beyond the most obvious tourist hubs.
Not to mention, traveling long distances can be tiring!
While infrastructure is improving in Southeast Asia and budget flights are increasingly commonplace, it’s still easy to underestimate the time and distances involved, especially if your goal is to travel mostly overland.
Balancing your Asia itinerary
Okay, so maybe you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin.
Apart from that, I recommend having a good mix of Big Things as well as small things in your itinerary.
What do I mean?
In your research, much of your attention will inevitably be drawn to Big Things. I’m talking about UNESCO world heritage sites or other famous places. Southeast Asia is full of them!
Maybe you already know about the towering limestone islands of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, or the epic temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the famed beaches and islands around Krabi in Thailand. These places are so iconic that they often appear first in videos about these countries — and if you use any paper travel guides you’re guaranteed to find them in the ‘top 10’ lists before the first chapter.
Now, these places are definitely worth visiting, but they are usually also rammed with tourists and drones, and selfie sticks. It’s quite a specific type of experience and it’s not all there is to travelling this part of the world. While it’s definitely cool to have several of these major sights in your itinerary, especially for that pure wow factor, it should not be an obligation to see them all.
Personally, I think it’s fun to mix them with a few less-known places that may have more local character.
Many of my favorite travel memories in Asia are not of grand or iconic locations. I often think back fondly to simply riding a scooter through rice fields in northern Thailand, watching the sunset over the Mekong river in Laos, or enjoying a delicious bowl of Pho noodles at a market in Vietnam.
If you’re finding it impossible to fit in all the big bucket list items, don’t beat yourself up about it. Your route simply may not be able to capture them all. Just know that between the famous sights there are so many smaller things you may enjoy just as much, but might not be as headline-grabbing while you’re still in the planning phase at home.
Now enough with the disclaimers… let me share a few ideas!
Southeast Asia in 2 weeks
Two weeks is honestly not a whole lot to be thinking about an entire region, but I understand that not everyone has the luxury of time. Given 2 weeks, you’ll have some tough decisions to make.
Some 2-week itineraries out there suggest flying everywhere and spending only two or three days per country, trying to capture as many Big Things as possible, but I think that’s a bit of a waste. Such a whirlwind tour isn’t going to capture what’s so truly great about this region.
Instead, consider just picking one country, then make the most of your time there.
I know, that might feel unambitious! But it may let you be more ambitious within that country and see and do more things overall.
Not sure where to go? If you’re new to Southeast Asia, then Thailand is always a safe bet. The food is phenomenal, travel logistics are easy, and you’re spoiled for interesting attractions. Check out my Thailand itinerary for a rough template for a 2 week or longer trip to Thailand. From Bangkok, you could also make an excursion into Cambodia to see the sprawling temples of Angkor Wat, though Thailand also has its own ancient temple ruins at Ayathuya and Sukhothai.
Vietnam is also a great choice for a 2-week trip. It’s a big and stretched-out country though transportation options are solid, including many train connections (with sleeper cabins) that let you cover long distances efficiently. Seeing all the highlights would take at least 3 or 4 weeks, so with 2 weeks, you may want to choose to see either the south or north of Vietnam.
Intrigued? I have a detailed guide to backpacking Vietnam, as well as my list of highlights in Vietnam. I consider Vietnam a somewhat underrated destination, the reason for which I explain in these guides.
Southeast Asia in 4 weeks
4 weeks gives you more to work with, but it’s realistically still too tight to include all of mainland Southeast Asia. My suggestion is to focus on the two countries that call out to you the most.
Some adjacent countries combine especially well. For example, Thailand and Laos. Thailand is more developed and has a lot of entertainment on offer, while Laos is mostly rural, wild, and sparsely populated, with some amazing opportunities for jungle trekking and cultural travel. A neat loop through northern Thailand and northern Laos will give you the best of two worlds.
Or combine Vietnam and Cambodia. Start in northern Vietnam, visit Halong Bay, then work your way south. Vietnam alone could take you 2,5 or 3 weeks; keep at least one week free to dip into Cambodia to see the temples of Angkor Wat. End your trip with some quality beach time on the Cambodian islands, or on Thailand’s Koh Chang archipelago.
If you don’t want to travel strictly overland, you could also split your time between two countries and fly between them. I do like traveling overland as somehow this makes it feel more like a true journey.
Of course, I’m not saying you must stick to just two countries. But I do think two countries in four weeks will give you a nice unhurried pace, with some opportunity to explore.
Southeast Asia in 2 months or more
2 months is the perfect minimum time to enjoy all four countries in mainland South-East Asia without having to rush.
You can follow the complete so-called ‘Banana Pancake’ trail, a well-trodden Southeast Asia backpacker route that mainly runs through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam (though it has many other tendrils through other countries).
In case you were wondering, the Banana Pancake trail was named after the guesthouses that were all starting to sell banana pancakes back when hippies were trailblazing around this region in the 1970s. At the time this pancake breakfast offered the only alternative from the usual rice-based meals.
The name doesn’t make that much sense anymore, but it’s what stuck!
An example of what the Banana Pancake route commonly looks like, more or less. Only showing key waypoints, not smaller places.
Due to having so many flight connections, many people start their trip in Bangkok. To a lesser degree, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are also common entry points into the region. If in doubt, Bangkok is always a great place to kick off your adventure.
You can get some ideas on my Thailand itineraries page for how to plan an initial route in Thailand. Head north up to Chiang Mai, then head for Chiang Rai and the Laos border.
Many backpackers then like to take the two-day slow boat from the Laos border to Luang Prabang along the Mekong. It’s nice to see the landscape slowly change and to get a glimpse of the locals living along the river. The boat is also a great way to meet other travelers. On my first journey through Southeast Asia, I kept meeting people from that boat for many weeks after.
Be sure to spend some time in northern Laos, by the way. I think it’s an incredibly scenic and underrated part of the region.
If you’re following the classic route from Luang Prabang down to Vang Vieng and the capital of Vientiane, it may be worth flying to Vietnam from there. While infrastructure is slowly improving in Laos, overlanding from Vientiane to Hanoi still makes for a soul-destroying 25+hour bus journey that you may wish to skip.
Work your way down Vietnam, then through Cambodia, and end your trip lazying on the Thai islands.
Pssst, don’t forget your travel insurance!
Traveling Asia for a while? Then I recommend Heymondo. It covers you for medical emergencies, theft, travel delay, cancellation, lost luggage, and much more. (If your trip is under 60 days, consider their affordable Annual Multi-Trip Insurance which will cover trips up to this length.)
Alternative Banana Pancake route
The route above is roughly how I traveled the banana pancake trail way back in 2013 as a rookie backpacker following more or less the tried-and-true path.
Knowing what I know now from the trips in the years since — and if I had to cherry-pick — I would create a different route. Below is probably how I’d do things now, adding more focus on nature and rural regions, and a bit less focus on cities or some of the most touristy parts.
Some of the most key changes:
- This route leaves out Vientiane in Laos, as I (humbly) think it’s one of the dullest capitals in the region
- More stops in the mountainous central and north Vietnam instead of the south (but this can always be added back in)
- Added southern Laos for a gentler Mekong river experience, in favor of the busier Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam
- Less time spent in southern Thailand, which can be more commercial and expensive (Not to be a travel snob… I should also say the southern Thai coast is an easy place to have a lot of fun).
I think this route will be interesting to you if you’d like to add a few quieter or more authentic places — and maybe keep the Thailand highlights for its own holiday someday.
Some of the highlights along this route:
- Rent a motorbike and do the Mae Hong Son loop for a great slice of rural Thailand
- Luang Namtha in northern Laos is a nice jumping-off point for hill tribe and jungle hikes.
- Visit the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang, known for its French colonial architecture and Mekong river views
- Go to Nong Khiaw for waterfall treks and other adventures. The landscape and things you can do here are a bit similar to Vang Vieng but less touristy.
- See lush rice fields and karst landscapes around Ninh Binh. Consider staying overnight instead of doing this as a day trip from Hanoi, as it has a nice vibe. Take a boat tour to Trang An, not Tam Coc (it’s better).
- Explore Vietnam’s traditional capital of Hanoi. It seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it place, but I think it’s absolutely wild and exciting. I’ve been in Hanoi thrice now and wrote this experiential guide to Hanoi in the hopes of inspiring more people to enjoy its street life and secrets! From Hanoi, you can also add a potential route extension into the mountainous northwest of Vietnam. The Ha Giang region is unbelievable; either rent a motorbike or join a tour where you can sit on the back.
- Take a cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Ha Long Bay. It takes a day longer but has much fewer crowds.
- Stop at Phong Na for caving adventures. You’ll find here some of the most unique and largest caves in the whole world. The town also has a fun and laidback hostel/bar scene.
- Go to Hoi An, a pleasant town known for its colourful lanterns at night. This is one of the most touristy places in Vietnam, but almost everyone loves it.
- Head to Pakse and consider exploring the Bolaven Plateau, which has some of Laos’ prettiest waterfalls and some very interesting experiences along the way.
- Chill at the riverine archipelago of Si Phan Don. Note: the happy pizzas sold here have an additional ingredient. Even if you’re not into the hippie-like scene, there is much to enjoy here.
- See the epic temples of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap
- Relax on the islands of Cambodia and/or southeast Thailand. These islands are a bit less commercialized than the more famous ones in southwest Thailand (like Koh Phi Phi). I wrote here about my time on a beach on Koh Rong Sanloem, a very nice laidback place.
Of course, there are a million ways to travel through Southeast Asia and this is just one other way.
This suggested route stitches together various pieces from trips I’ve done. I should mention I’ve not done the overland trip from central Vietnam (Hoi An) into south Laos (Pakse), which seems can be a bit tricky and could involve multiple minivans. Other segments do have direct connections by bus or train.
Expanding your Asia route
I’ve focused so far on the four mainland countries as they allow for many overland routes with many public transport connections. With more time to spare or added flights, there’s clearly a whole other chunk of Southeast Asia to consider.
Malaysia makes for an obvious extension from southern Thailand. It’s a more conservative country with a quieter atmosphere than Thailand, though the nature and its diverse mix of cultures (Malay, Indian, Chinese) are a big part of its appeal. Malaysian Borneo has some of the best wildlife experiences and the tallest mountain in the region.
Some of my favorite backpacking destinations are on Southeast Asia’s periphery. I’m a big fan of Indonesia, which is best known for the crowd-pleasing island of Bali, though there are numerous other islands to consider. I really liked Lombok, Flores and the Komodo Islands, and Mount Bromo and the Ijen Plateau on Java are also amazing.
I also love The Philippines. It’s a bit far removed from everywhere else, but it’s worth it. It has some of the friendliest people (many English speakers) and some of the best beaches and islands. El Nido on Palawan is probably the most known destination, though it may have suffered a bit from overtourism in recent years. You can’t go wrong with a trip through the Visayas or Northern Luzon, other parts of Palawan, and literally countless other islands.
Myanmar is another fascinating destination. Sadly, it’s been going through many political issues and it’s an unstable place right now, embroiled in a civil war. Keep an eye on current events to know if it’s a good time to go to Myanmar. If things stabilize again one day, don’t hesitate to go there.
The countries that are normally considered part of Southeast Asia include Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. There is no need to restrain yourself to regional boundaries, of course. Destinations like China, Sri Lanka, India, or Nepal are not terribly far away.
Or… make your own route!
What I’ve shared here is merely some common wisdom for backpacking Southeast Asia. But maybe you have different ideas, in which case you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what to do!
I have traveled a fair bit in Asia but, in the end, I’m just some guy with a blog who has some biased opinions. Everything is subjective and everyone has different travel goals. You’ll often notice this in hostel rooms or at the breakfast tables in B&Bs when travelers share their stories; people can come away with totally different impressions of the same places.
Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track and make whatever crazy route you want. Equally, don’t be afraid to stick to the beaten track; attempts at being ‘original’ and going to some end-of-the-road place didn’t always pay off for me, when I was honestly just happy to just hang out with other travelers in a fun place for a while, instead of being alone in a very local place. How you feel in the moment should really be the deciding factor.
If you’re going on a longer trip, keep in mind not everything needs to be planned out in advance. Improvisation is very easy in Southeast Asia, so you can always just wing it and see where adventure takes you!
More help planning your trip
Hopefully, this article has helped you get some ideas for your Southeast Asia trip. But if you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s understandable.
Apart from creating your route and selecting your destinations, there are many other issues to consider, like travel costs, visas, what to pack, vaccinations, safety issues, not to mention how to tackle some of the annoying challenges you may face on the road.
But there is only so much you can cover in a blog post!
Luckily, I also wrote a 272-page travel planning book that helps you with every possible question you might have before setting off on your journey.
Readers have called it “reassuring, inspiring, and specific” and “the single most helpful piece of writing I have read regarding travel”. (You can see many more reviews at Amazon).
This book is kind of my magnum opus: I took all the raw learnings and insights I picked up from traveling around the world for 10+ years, filtered them thoroughly, compressed them into pure travel wisdom concentrate, which I then delicately infused into every page for you to read.
Much of what’s in Travel the World Without Worries comes from my 18+ months combined of exploring Southeast Asia (as well as other parts of the world). The book is designed to help you with planning your trip, though along the way you’ll also learn about some of the stupid, silly, and incredible things I’ve experienced, so that you can know what to expect.
To continue where this article left off, be sure to grab your copy now!
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Hi – loved reading this!
We are first-timers to Asia and have 8 weeks February-March’24
These are our initial thoughts and we’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂
Bangkok 3 nights, overnight sleeper to
Chiang Mai and the loop (self drive, car) 7 nights
Huay Xai 1 night to pick up downstream long tail boat
Boat 2 days
Luang Prabang 4 nights
Nong Khiaw 3 nights
Hanoi 4 nights
Ha Long/Ninh Binh 2 nights ‘cruise’
Ha Giang Loop 4 nights
Phong Nha 4 nights
Pakse 4 nights
Si Phan Dong 3 nights
Siam Reap 4 nights
Kampot 4 nights
We are 2 well-seasoned ‘seniors’ with lots of independent travel experience.
Thanks so much
Looks like a great itinerary! It’s nice you’ve put plenty of days in some places to enjoy them to the fullest. 4 nights in Pakse might be a lot unless you are doing a multi-day Bolaven Plateau trip… the city itself is not hugely interesting for that length of time. Everything seems great to me though. Consider making a brief side trip from Nong Khiaw up to Muang Ngoi Neua… it’s a beautifully situated riverside town. Have a great trip!
Hey what would be the best place to fly to if I wanted to travel to Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines for two months. What is the best route for this travel? I’m trying to backpack Southeast Asia! Thanks so much
Consider Bangkok. Lots of connections between all of the places you’ve mentioned, in many cases with budget airlines. E.g. Airasia flies to Bali from Bangkok for like 80 eur/usd one way.
Not sure which order you want to do the countries. Personally I’d start with Thailand+Vietnam, then the other two.
Hi! Super helpful post! I’ll be traveling SE Asia for 2 months and would love to create a route map similar to what you posted! My route will be very similar with a few tweaks. How did you create that map? Thanks!
I created it myself for the blog using illustration software. Not sure if there is a site that lets you make maps like this more easily!
I recently came across your blog and I like it very much! Thanks for your work!
I really like the alternative banana pancake route and want to go there for 2 months soon. I have a question regarding the Visa in Laos: According to my research, it is only possible to get a Tourist Visa for 30 days, which cannot be extended. Also, I think it is only allowed to enter Laos once with this Visa. Could you please explain, what I need to do when I want to travel the alternative pancake route? My plan is to be ~2 weeks in northern Laos, then traveling down Vietnam for 3 weeks, and then enter the south of Laos again. Do I need to get two tourist Visas? Is this even possible?
Thanks a lot Marek!
Hey Rüdiger! Yeah in this case it would involve 2 Laos visas. If you’re from Germany you can get a visa on arrival, then another one the next time you want to enter. This of course adds the cost of a second visa. The alternative is to skip southern Laos and do south Vietnam to Cambodia.
Thank you so much for your fast reply! Yes, I am actually from Germany.
Would you in general (also for the other banana pancake route – countries) recommend the visa on arrival or rather get an e-Visa beforehand? Most countries have both options and I am unsure which one is the better one. Do you have any recommendation?
I’ve always used VoA without problems. eVisa is new and doesn’t seem to have many benefits… it’s more expensive than VoA and you can only use it at specific entry points (mainly airports). Hmm.
Hey Marek, thank you a lot for this guide! Your alternative banana pancake route seems like the perfect fit for me, as I visited the main spots in thailand already and enjoyed much more the peaceful and quiet nature of thailand like pai and railay beach, than the crowded places like phuket and bangkok. I have 6 weeks to make the most out of it, but could also take two more weeks off for the full two months you recommend. Do you think It’s manageable to do this route in 6 weeks solo travelling and skipping some more or less repetitive sights? If so, what would you skip? I am also not able to ride a motorbike, which you recommend often here, would you still recommend the alternative route? Adding two more weeks would cost me additional 3’000 euros cut off my salary, which is why I am really not sure. Thanks a lot!
Hey Petar. I think you can definitely adapt it to be 6 weeks. Since you’ve been in Thailand already perhaps you could (mostly) cut Thailand. Maybe cut south Laos as well, in order to focus on north Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia. You’d get lots of bang for your buck, so to speak 🙂
All the main places in my alternative route will work fine with public transport. Having a motorbike/scooter is just a bonus to give you more freedom. Local tours or public transit can get you to most of the sights.
I don’t know your specific circumstances but sounds like a big salary cut. Those funds could be used for a future trip 🙂 It’s not absolutely necessery to have 8 weeks if you cut a few things here and there. For reference my last trip in SEA was 6 weeks and I did Laos (north+south), Cambodia, plus 4 days on some Thai beaches. But everyone travels at different speeds of course.
thank you so much for your amazing blog which is helping me a lot in planning my trip. I will be traveling in the end of the year for 2 exactly months, probably in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I loved your suggestion for the “Alternative Banana Pancake route” which includes more or less all the things I would like to visit.
However, I am a bit worried that the travelling distances are too long, as I don`t want to spend 1/3 of my time there with sitting in public transport (nighttrains/nightbuses are no problem, I just don`t like the tought of loosing a whole day by sitting in a bus for the whole day). Could you maybe give some estimations about the traveling times between the destinations on the Alternative Banana Pancake route? Especially for Laos and Cambodia, I find it quite difficult to find good information online about traveling times. Based on the traveling times, I am maybe thinking to cut down my plan a bit and only visit 3 instead of 4 countries.
Best wishes and thank you so much for your help,
Hi Laura. Oof, listing all the travel times would probably be a whole other article! 🙂 Maybe I can do one in the future. For now, you might try putting different travel routes into 12Go Asia. They don’t have every bus or train that exists but the times shown are a good indication.
I’ve loved reading your blog and have been using it to help plan a trip to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia starting next week!
I know this is short notice but was wondering if you have any advice about the rainy season? This is my first time travelling however I am keen to go off the beaten track. I assume the rainy season will make this harder but not impossible?
Any advice would be much appreciated, thanks!
Hey Ben. The difficult bit is the islands… storms can undermine your enjoyment there and some ferry services even shut down during this time. But inland areas are very doable, on or off the beaten track. Just need to be a bit more flexible than usual 🙂
Thank you for the fast reply! I’ve only got a rough itinerary planned and was intending to be flexible anyway so that sounds good 🙂 Thanks again!
I have just been reading through your blog, it’s brilliant! My partner and I are travelling SEAsia next month and it has been an absolute nightmare planning it with all the restrictions in place. We have now been advised that travelling to Laos will be quite difficult so we are trying to re-plan a route.
Is there any reason you would advise against doing the normal route (Bangkok to northern Thailand etc) but the opposite way round (Bangkok into Cambodia, Vietnam then fly to Northern Thailand as we are avoiding Laos)? I am just interested to hear your opinion as it always seems the advice is to go north first rather than straight into Cambodia.
Hi Rosie! The Laos situation is quite frustrating. I’d still keep an eye on this page on the off chance they reopen properly in the next few weeks.
A counterclockwise route can work just as well. My main reason for advising clockwise is to put mountains/jungle/active/etc first and put more beachy places last. But it’s more of a preference than ‘don’t do it this way’. Either direction will work 🙂
Hope you have an incredible experience!
As of today May 9 Laos is reopened (with no more testing or quarantine requirements) so maybe that’s still in time for your trip…
Hi Marek, I want to say that you’ve made an amazing blog. I love how keen you are on details and on how you tackle each destination. Thank you for sharing such helpful Southeast Asia Itinerary Suggestions.
Hi Marek, fantastic page and site. Thank you very much! Seems like you are really passionate about what you do.
Re SE Asia – I’m thinking of planning a trip from Singapore, across land through Malaysia, then Laos/Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand (not necessarily in that order. I have approx 3 months.
Are you able to advise, roughly, how much money is required on a daily basis, please? I know this might be a ‘how long is a piece of string’ type question, but what I mean is excluding travel to and from Singapore/final destination, and any internal plane rides, plus any really expensive activities such as diving. More, how much per day needed to food, accommodation (think basis but clean), train rides, treks etc.
If you are able to give a ball park figure, please, that would be much appreciated.
I’ve travelled quite a lot through Indonesia, so don’t know how the costs compare to there.
Hi Sian, thanks for your kind words! Here is an article that should be helpful. If you have some specific questions, let me know. It’s difficult comparing with Indonesia as it’s so large and there are differences even between Bali and other islands. You’ll probably find most countries roughly similar to Indonesia though, if not a little cheaper.
Cost of diving also depends on the location. It can be as little as $25 USD per dive or as much as $50. Depends on the country but also how far the dive sites are from the dive shops. Malaysia and Thailand are great for diving, Vietnam or Cambodia not so much.
I’ve been reading a lot of your stuff and find the information invaluable, and really interesting, keep up the good work!
Im planning a trip to SEA, not sure when i’ll be going (Darn COVID), my trip duration is open ended, im thinking about 9 months, but have no problem extending to 12+ months if I want to.
I plan to do the mainland block, including the northern mountains, i also intend of visiting Borneo for some nature hikes, the Philippines, Indonesia etc… I also plan on diving whilst im there (qualified instructor already).
My question is do you think i could do this with a 40L backpack? I do pack light, but I also really enjoy adventure activities, so I intend on packing some light walking boots for multi day treks plus warmer clothes for the mountains. A mask and computer for the diving, and a compact camera and GoPro to record this all. I know I’ll also need a relatively well stocked first aid kit for some of the adventures, as well as a filtered water bottle and spare filters.
Would something like the Osprey Farpoint 40L be sufficient, or would the Farpoint Trek 55 be more suitable and better to hike longer distances with?
If I did go for a larger pack, what are you experiences with checked luggage on Asian airlines like?
Hey Daniel. Great question. Honestly, these things always depend on the person. I’ve done it all with a Farpoint 40 and thought it was just the perfect size (and I think for a lot of people it is). Then again I met a traveler in Asia who got that bag on my advice and could just barely fit everything in (he really wanted to bring more gear). It sounds like in your case the Farpoint Trek 55 will actually be better.
I’ve mostly done carry-on flights, but I did a couple of flights with checked luggage. If you fly with budget carriers like AirAsia it does cost extra, though the overall ticket costs are pretty low. Security wise it’s also OK. For what it’s worth, one time in Yogyakarta Airport, a luggage handler did keep my backpack ‘hostage’ for a while hoping for a tip (he waved his hands through the flaps of the baggage carousel), but there was no real threat of me losing my luggage and I don’t think this was a common problem.
Thanks for the fast response! Okay that makes me feel a little better about potentially taking a slightly larger bag. I think the best option will be to get everything i intend on taking out and ready to pack (including toiletries, electronics etc..) and then try both bags and see if it fits, then take the smallest one possible
This blog page is amazing thank you! So informative, clear and gives lots of ideas!
I am at the beginning of my planning for my first backpacking experience. Always wanted to go to south east Asia and hopefully in March 2021 my dream will come true!
Can’t wait to get your book.
Think I just need to decide how long and how much I want to spend. I am going to go on myself, i am more interested in learning the culture and the traditional food rather than the tourist hotspots. Thinking about 2/3 months then go to Australia or New Zealand for a year.
Hey Breda. You couldn’t ask for a better region to start backpacking! You could always earn some money in Australia/NZ, then go back to Southeast Asia for a second round of travel 😉 Good luck with the planning
Thank you Marek – I am a planner by nature so am already starting on a 6 month trek in 3 years 🙂 I have gone to many of your pages and all are so informative. Will try to support by using your links!
I backpacked Europe several years ago and did hostels, but will be traveling with my husband. He is a hotel kinda guy so I am hoping to find a go-between that makes sense for both of us without breaking the bank!
Thanks for your kind words Emily and your support. Perhaps a nice middle ground is to find local guesthouses or bungalow type places which have some of the comforts of a hotel but an atmosphere a bit closer to a hostel. There are a lot of those in Southeast Asia (easy to find by ticking ‘guesthouse’ in the sidebar at Booking.com). Maybe he likes it and you can then go for some hostels 😉
Me and my boyfriend are planning on traveling next year and are in the very early stages of planning. We are still yet to establish a route but your guides are proving to be very helpful, so thank you!
I was just wondering if you could suggest the best months to travel SEA? We are planning on doing a minimum of 2 months.
Hey Aimee, glad you’ve found them useful! It depends on where you want to go. Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, have a dry season in the middle of the year (April to October). In the mainland (Thailand, Vietnam, etc.) that’s actually the monsoon season.
For the mainland countries I think Oct-Nov is great, Feb-Mar too. Dec-Jan has great weather but is normally high season with more crowds at the tourist sites, though after this year I guess that may be less of a factor.
Thank you so much for the great guide above. Me and my boyfriend are planning our SEA trip at the moment and would really appreciate your advice!
We will have a time frame of around 3 weeks, I am aware thats not ideal but thats as long as possible. If we had a month or two we would have loved to attempt the full loop that you suggested, but the idea now is to break it up into sections and do them one trip at a time.
Since it is our first visit in SEA and we want to see the culture as well as getting some beach time, we came up with the following:
Bangkok – Siem Reap – Koh Rong (Sanloem) – Ho Chi Minh City.
We would like to spend around 5 days at each stop and do day trips as well to see some of the surroundings. Do you think the route is still too ambitious? We would love to hear your opinion, and also if you have any ideas for day trips to get a more real feeling for the countries and cultures around Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City they would be greatly appreciated!
Thank you so much again, your blog is a huge help!
Sounds like a great plan actually. 🙂 I don’t think you have to worry about the route being too ambitious at all. It’s very measured and you could even add in another place or two.
Near Ho Chi Minh City it’s worth going to the Mekong Delta and seeing the floating markets there. You can do them with a standardized day tour although they can be a bit cheesy, nicer if you can stay in the area for a night, like in Can Tho.
From Bangkok try Kanchanaburi.
Nice to make a little stop in Kampot as well on the way to Koh Rong Sanloem. I liked visiting caves and pepper farms around there.
Your well-written, nicely-organized website is helping me as a NEWBIE! Here we go- This very well might be the silliest question you’ve ever gotten but I’d like your advice or any tips you might have on the matter. I’ve always dreamed of backpacking and have never done it. Was considering SEA as my first go, but I’m open to other countries/routes as well. Even though I know that this is a strike of luck and is not predictable by any means, I’m interested in possibly increasing my odds of finding love on my journey (don’t laugh, haha). I dream of meeting a fellow traveler so we can take on the world together!
So my question for you is.. any routes/countries you’d recommend where I could run into more solo male travelers? I’ve never stayed in a hostel before so I’ll be trying that as well.. I know that helps (even though I might get private rooms to start when I have the opportunity bc I feel more secure that way for now.) But could you share with me any male predominant routes, activities, camps, classes you recommend along my first backpacking journey where I could join/participate to increase my odds of meeting more traveling men?
Haha that’s certainly an original question! Honestly, pretty much anywhere that’s a known travel destination will let you meet travelers. SEA is perfect as there are established travel routes and lots of solo travelers. DO stay in hostels as this is like pixie dust for meeting people.
Backpacking can be super social – if you’re hoping for romance, you can let things come to you naturally. Do the activities you like and you’ll meet male travelers for sure. The only activity where I’ve somehow never seen single dudes are cooking classes!
There aren’t any male predominant routes or anything – the crowd is almost always a mix. One thing you might consider is your age and what type of male traveler you’d fancy meeting. Some parts of SEA are very boozy with lots of party bros (Thai beaches, Bali & Gili Trawangan, Koh Rong, etc.), most other places are more adventure/culture focused, like the ones mentioned in this post. Latin America is often people’s second backpacking trip after Asia, so the average age is a bit higher there. In Asia the age of backpackers starts basically around 18 (especially in the newbie-friendly places in Thailand and Bali), while in Latin America it’s more mid/late twenties and up. But SEA is easier for a first backpacking trip.
Good luck and hope you find your ultimate travel partner! 🙂
Hey Marek, flying into bankok and have about 6-7 weeks in the region. Thought about doing 3-4 weeks in thailand and the rest in vietnam. Is it worth trying to incorporate cambodia in there for a week?
how/what itinerary would you recommend?
me and a friend are looking to travel SE Asia for 4 weeks with the following route (not set and stone!)
– Chiang Mai
(move down Vietnam and stop in cities on the way)
-Ho Chin Minh City
– Phuket (inc. Islands)
What are the best ways to get from Chiang Mai to Hanoi? We want to get a coach but we can’t find any and it looks like we’d have to get a visa for Laos.
Whats the best way to travel down Vietnam with stops?
What do you think is the best way from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia and then to Southern Thailand?
Do you think our plan is too ambitious? If so what would you recommend.
Hey Josh! If you’re not visiting Laos then honestly I would just fly from Chiang Mai to Hanoi. Doing it overland is going to take you probably 3 days and dozens of hours on buses – it’s not worth it unless you also stop in Luang Prabang and other places.
3 countries in 4 weeks is a lot and you’ll be skirting the surface for sure. You won’t have a lot of time for Vietnam, maybe 2 weeks there at most (and many travelers consider 3 weeks the ideal minimum for Vietnam). If that will be the case I’d suggest only stopping in the Hue / Da Nang area between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
Personally I would cut the more commercial Pattaya and Phuket and spend some time on the less developed Cambodian beaches, but that’s just me 🙂 Or go to Koh Chiang island as it’s more on the way and keeps your route more compact.
You could also do a Hanoi to Bangkok trip and skip northern Thailand… you’d have a really nice amount of time for such a route. Just a few quick thoughts
I will be traveling to S. E. Asia in May 2020, and am looking to fly into Singapore and work my way up. My question is rather than fly into and out of Singapore would you recommend to fly out of Ho Chi Min or Hanoi. This would require me to make my way to Vietnam. My plan would be to head up to Thailand and see Phuket and Bangkok and of course ChiMai but given that Cambodia is parallel to Bangkok should I cut over or head to Chi Mai and continue my journey into Laos and somehow make it to Siem Reap. ANY and all suggestions would be welcomed. I plan to travel for 6wks
I would love to help you but it’s honestly hard for me to visualize your route. I’m getting a bit confused! Generally, I’d say it doesn’t matter too much where you start. The most important thing is which countries you’d like to visit most. Do you want to include Vietnam, or are you just thinking about it because fights go there? With 6 weeks I recommend sticking to about 3 countries max so you can really get the most out of them.
So the idea would be to fly into Singapore and work our way up into Thailand. From there the plan would be to cross over into Cambodia to see Angkor and then cut back into Bangkok and work our way up to Chi Mai, from there head over to Laos and Vietnam and work our way down Vietnam so that we can explore the Cambodian islands and see Phnom Penh and then fly out of Siagon, Ho chi Men. I would like to see Malaysia, Thailand, parts of Cambodia and Vietnam along with Laos. So any thoughts and suggestions are welcome.
Hello! My family (me, husband and kids aged 8 and 11) are planning a 6 week trip through SE Asia as part of a longer 3 month adventure. I think we’ve narrowed it down to the Mekong region: (Northern) Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. We should be hitting that region around mid-Feb.
We’re a bit daunted by the whole thing and am struggling with where to start. We have flights already booked out of Bangkok at the end but still haven’t booked our flights in (from India). Not sure if it makes most sense to start in Bangkok and do a loop or would you recommend starting somewhere else?
We want to obviously take in the “must see” spots in these countries (eg Agnkor wat) but also want to try to get a real “feel” for these countries.
Also, while our kids are pretty good travellers, we’ve never done anything like this before – not sure if you have any specific advice?
I realise this is all a bit vague…as I said, we’re struggling to work things out!
Any tips/advice gratefully received!
Hi Erin. You could try starting somewhere other than Bangkok, but chances are that most flights from India will go there, or maybe to Ho Chi Minh City. Doing a loop is certainly a good way to do it, in which case it makes sense to start and end in the same city.
I don’t have kids and have no personal experience, though I have met plenty of families traveling through SEA. There are a lot of fun adventures throughout the area that are kid friendly (things like monkeys, snorkeling, etc.). You could even do some more holiday-type stuff every now and then (there’s a great water park in Nha Trang, Vietnam).
Although this is subjective, to get that real ‘feel’ for the countries I especially recommend making a stop in southern Laos, or spending time in northern Vietnam (the mountains).
I am travelling for 5 months from March 14th, wanting to go to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia.
My original plan was to fly into Singapore and work my way up through Malaysia and then across the others countries and then fly to Indonesia. However I am now reconsidering my route because of rainy season in Cambodia, would anyone have a different route to avoid rainy season at this time or does this sound ok?
Any advice would be so appreciated
I’m hoping you can help me out re timings as I want to make sure I’m not trying to cram in too much. I have roughly 6 weeks to work with. I’m thinking fly into Bangkok; then head to Northern Thailand to see Chiang Mai and maybe Mae Hong Son loop; then cross over to Laos to do Luang Prabang down to Vientiane; then fly down to Phnom Penh and see Angkor Wat while I’m down there; then back to Thailand, firstly down to Surat Thani and islands from there, then to Krabi/Phuket and islands; then down through Malaysia via Penang and KL and finish up in Singapore.
So do you reckon this seems reasonable in 6 weeks? And if not, what bits do you reckon I should cut out? I don’t mind doing a fair amount of travelling, I just want to be have enough time in each place to properly enjoy it when I get there without rushing through too much.
Thanks very much for the site, it’s very helpful!
Yeah definitely doable, as you’ve picked just a few spots in each country. Reading your description I’m counting 1 week northern Thailand, 1 week Laos, 1 week Cambodia, etc. Should be good. It’ll get tight if you get distracted on your journey and check out more placed than planned though 🙂 If that happens you could always decide to cut Malaysia and train/plane it to Singapore.
Great info. I am currently halfway through a 12 month trip around South East Asia. I am blogging as I go; hopefully, my site can also help fellow travellers. Visit http://www.globaltreats.net for travel tips and tales.
I love your blog! I’ve been diving into all your guides; thank you! Planning to go on a 2.5-month (May-July) solo trip through the Banana Pancake Trail, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan. Especially in Southeast Asia, I’m a bit hesitant about bringing my Apple watch and Apple Airpods. Will this cause unwanted attention by those up to no good?
All I want to do is track my steps/activity and listen to music/books as I go on runs and hikes.
Thank you again for such a wonderful site! I’m recommending you to all my friends.
Hey Kenton. Sounds like an exciting trip! I wouldn’t worry about the airpods as they sell fake ones in Asia for like $1 that look almost identical, so a thief wouldn’t know if he’s getting anything of worth! An Apple Watch does seem like much bling and I personally avoid wearing watches/jewellery when I travel. Then again, I also travel through Asia (and other places) with a $2000+ camera, so maybe it’s all fine. Maybe avoid bringing that stuff out at night.
I’m traveling to Thailand for 2 weeks, 1 day in Cambodia ( I just want to see Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat, and then back to Thailand) and then another 2 weeks in the Philippines, so 4 weeks in total. How much money do you think is sufficient? I’m only thinking of bringing $3K pocket money. I’m a photographer and I’m basically just gonna visit temples and beautiful beaches and just take photos of things that interest me (and relax on my 4 weeks holidays). Hotels and airfare are taken care of so basically I’m just worried about transportation expenses and food. What advice can you give me?
It depends on what kind of places you eat, if you take private or public transportation, or if you’re one to drink fancy cocktails vs local beers. In your case though, I wouldn’t worry about costs at all. $3K will likely be at least 6X more than you need for 4 weeks of day to day expenses. I think you’re overestimating the costs of Southeast Asia 🙂
Hi I am from Philippines and I can confidently say that your 3,000 would be more than enought. 🙂
Hi! My partner and I are looking to travel S E Asia later this year and your blog is endlessly helpful!
I was wondering what you’d recommend as the best route of travel (and the best modes of transport between countries based on ease/price) for Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan?
Thank you so much for your content!
Hey Freya. In Japan, many travellers like to take the bullet trains. You can get a special ticket with JR that gives you unlimited train travel for a certain period. Buses are usually your best bet in the other countries. There are also some trains in Thailand and Vietnam – they are much slower than buses, but it can be a cool experience (and some go during the night).
Hi Marek. Great website, very helpful! Currently looking into a 6 week trip to SEA by myself. First time for me going to this area so I’m spending many hours to figure out routes, destinations, travel periods etc. I have a couple of questions I hope you could help me with!
– I am the kind of guy that likes to plan stuff as much as possible, to make sure I don’t get stuck anywhere without a train/bus/hostel. That’s why I usually plan every hostel at a specific date beforehand. Now, I’ve been told that SEA is very good for planning stuff a few days beforehand as there would be plenty of buses and hostels available all year. I was wondering if that’s true, what is your opinion on that?
– I like cities and their surroundings, and I do them at a fast pace. I’ve always been able to “do” a city in a short time, which is exhausting but that’s not a problem for me. In cities I like to see things outside, like buildings, rivers, markets and shopping streets, and not so much malls or museums. For example, I like temples from the outside, and care less about the inside.
I don’t plan to go somewhere specificly for the environment as I think I will see plenty of that from buses and trains. If I’m wrong for thinking that, please let me know.
At this point my plan is: Hanoi (3d + trip to Ha Long Bay 1 day) – Da Nang + Hoi An (2d) – HCMC (3d + 1d excursion to the war tunnels) – Phnom Penh (2d) – Siem Reap (2d + 1d Angkor Wat)- Bangkok (4d) – Vientiane (2d) (back thru Bangkok) – Phuket area (2d) – Penang (2d) – Kuala Lumpur (3d) – Singapore (3d + 1d to Batam). These days are 32 full days and exclude days travelling between them so in total about 6 weeks. Is this realistic, are there any places on this route where I must absolutely spend more time, and are there places that I skipped that are a must-see?
– I was thinking to travel between Hanoi and HCMC by train, HCMC and Bangkok by bus and between Bangkok and Singapore by train again. What are your experiences with this? I prefer trains over buses whenever trains are an option because they’re more comfortable and more on schedule than buses.
– I plan to do this in April until mid-May. Is this a good period, weather-wise? I don’t mind heat but I do mind rain. From what I understand, May is between dry and rainy season mostly. Could you clarify this for me?
– First I wanted to fly from Europe into Hanoi and back from Singapore, but this is quite expensive and somewhat difficult. So now I’m thinking to buy a returnticket to Singapore, and take a local flight from Singapore to Hanoi to start my trip. Are local flights easy and cheap to book or do you need to book weeks/months ahead for a cheap flight?
Lastly, I realize this is quite a list of questions to ask, but you seem to be very much the guy to answer them. Thanks!
Hey Myron! Whoa, many questions! 🙂
– Yes it’s easy to improvise with hostels and transportation in SEA and not book everything ahead. I recommend booking e.g. 2 days or so ahead while you travel, that way you know you have a reservation but you still maintain some flexibility.
– If you just like cities then your route will work well. I personally would try to have more of a mix though! The nature is highly worth seeing too and you won’t see a lot of it while travelling… usually you’ll see just roads with endless advertising signs / shops / gas stations etc. as they don’t take the scenic routes, especially between all these major cities or capitals.
– Not sure if it’s worth going all that way to Vientiane and back… it’s a pretty dull city. Why not go to a smaller place near Bangkok like Kanchanaburi or Lopburi? Less time wasted and more time to have experiences.
– The Hanoi to HCMC train is great. Not done Bangkok to Singapore but hear it’s good too.
– There’s not a single ‘rainy season’… it’s different for each country so check the details for per country. April is a perfect time to start in north Vietnam though. Since you’ll be focusing on cities I actually wouldn’t worry too much about the rainy season.
Hope this helps!
Hey, thanks for the excellent information in this site! I’ve been reading it over the last few days. I strongly agree with your views on meaningful travel… I think most of us fall into that trap when we first start, I certainly did a few years ago. I’ve travelled Thailand before but I’m going back in January for 3 months, with option to extent further, to spend a little time in Thailand, then Laos, Vietnam and hopefully Cambodia, finishing with a month I hope in the Philippines.
Thanks again for a easy to understand and nicely written site 🙂 (*excluding the Vietnam visa page ha)
Hey Barry, appreciate your nice words. Sometimes I feel Thailand is too touristy but then I’m reminded how easy it still is to find cool stuff that isn’t in the usual top 10’s! The Vietnam visa page really broke my brain when I wrote it 😉 Good luck on your trip!
Loved the blog and advices!
I am gong to travel south my boyfriend for probably 3month and your modified banana trail have me great ideas amthought we are climbers so we are mixing it with the places to rock climb.
One thing we are worried is the vaccins and all the mosquitoes diseases that you can get.. any tips on that?! Are the vaccins really a must do?
Hey Laura! Check with your doctor and tell them where you’re going. I personally don’t take malaria prophylaxis and I believe it’s not needed for basically any area visited by tourists/travellers. But some other vaccinations are always good to have.
I’m going on my first ever trip in January 2019 and your modified Banana Pancake trail has had a huge influence on my planning thus far! I also purchased your book which has been very helpful.
My question is how do you travel from Laos into Vietnam? I’m on a fairly tight budget and would rather not fly if it is at all possible. I’m searching other methods of travel and can’t seem to find much between these two locations. I’m not picky about exactly where I leave from Laos and arrive in Vietnam, but was thinking Hanoi would be the best place for me to start.
Really looking forward to hearing from you and thank you so much in advance.
Hey Brenna. Glad to hear! For these routes, you’re unlikely to find info on online bus booking sites or anything (it doesn’t work that way yet). Travel guides, Wikivoyage, etc. are better sources for timetables, or local guesthouse owners can give you info. Just looking at a guide I have with me here, Vieng Xai (Laos) to Mai Chau / Thanh Hoa (Vietnam) is a possibility (every morning at 8.30am), and buses also go from Phonsavan to Vinh in Vietnam (in the morning 4 times a week: tue/thur/fri/sat). Hope this helps!
I’m finding all this incredibly useful! Thanks for sharing!
I was thinking of taking a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, then going south to Koh Rong, but now you’re making me have second thoughts. Is that route you mention (Bangkok>Koh Chang>Trat>Koh Kong/Koh Rong) easy enough to do? Did you do it by bus? I think it might make more sense as I’ll be going to Vietnam/Laos afterwards and might have more connections from Siem Reap than from the Southern islands.
I’m now trying to figure out whether to leave out Southern Vietnam. This itinerary is still work in progress, and I’m assuming it’ll change once I’m there, so not too bothered, but want to have a rough idea.
Yeah I did it earlier this year by bus (in the other direction) and it was very easy. Plenty of buses that way. 🙂
This is such a fab site! I am planning 6 months in SE Asia and plan on roughly following your suggested route. Do you think adding the Philippines would be too much? Also would you advise buying my return flight before travel and say travelling to and from Bangkok? Or to Bangkok and from the Philippines? also where possible I’d prefer to catch flights rather than 20 hour buses – would there be much option for this following the banana trail? Thanks 🙂
6 months is plenty so no reason not to add the Philippines! You could get a single to Bangkok and a single back from wherever, but sometimes it’s cheaper to just buy a return. Bangkok, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur make for good hubs in the region and it’s easy to get connecting flights to/from there. You can cut journey times with flights… check out AirAsia and other budget carriers.
Thanks a million 🙂 I wondered if I might have problems travelling on a one way ticket. I’ll check out the price difference for one way and a return from a different airport.
Hi, Marek! I read this post when my husband and I were planning our 1 year world travel and I am back again!haha Thanks for this awesome post. We are currently at KL, and trying to plan out our Philippine trip in Mid December, hoping to find some good deal to fly in.
I’ve looked up the flights from many different capitals of SEA and it seems like the cheapest I can find is about $95 from Bangkok!
Wondering where you flew from when visited Philippines and if you have a better suggestion to fly from since we don’t have anything planned yet for November.
Thank you so much 🙂 Hope to hear from you soon!
Have a great exciting day!
Glad you caught the travel bug! 🙂 I flew from Singapore at the time. I find it’s usually Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur that have the most / cheapest flights.
Aww gotya. So what I see might be the deal to catch then.haha
Appreciate your time, Marek!
I was wondering what your thoughts are on whether to travel South East Asia first (3mths) and then Aus/NZ/Fiji (3mths), then South & Central America (4mths), or the other way round i.e. Central America, South America and then Aus/NZ and the South East Asia. Looking at going end of Jan/start of Feb next year for 9-10 months too.
Sounds good dude! Nice to put SEA first. Did an aug/SEP start in Central America once myself and it worked well (rainy on the Carribbean side though, but mostly just fine).
Hi Marek! As with everyone else here, I found this post incredibly helpful – I’m also impressed with all your responses to readers so figured I’d ask a question too!
My husband and I are planning to do at least 3 months in SE Asia starting mid-march. While your routes are awesome, I’m curious how much you would suggest altering them (if at all) based on weather. We aren’t sure how much to let time of year dictate where we choose to go and the order of our travels. Is this something you take into consideration when mapping a route out?
If so, do you have any tips for a March – July trip?
Hey Maya. Yeah I try to take that into consideration but within reason as it’s difficult to be everywhere in the supposed ‘perfect’ time.
I’d start in the north (as in my example) as march/april are still known as great months for hiking/trekking and such. By june/july you’ll be hitting the monsoon in places like Cambodia/Thailand though which makes the beaches not as great. Fortunately you could alternatively go to east coast peninsular Malaysia (where it’s approaching the high season then) or to Indonesia for sunny beaches. 🙂
Hi Marek, I am planning on traveling on your alternative trail for Southeast Asia. I was curious if you had any favorite guidebooks for the 4 countries on the banana pancake trail as well as any historical books about the area (possibly interested in the Vietnam war but am open to suggestions). Thank you!
Hey Lukas. Lonely Planet has a combined guide for North Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia… it’s OK but not amazing. Haven’t tried any other guides yet, though I usually like the ones by Rough Guide as they tend to contain more historical info & background.
Super useful website, thank you!
I have a flight in and out of Bangkok at the end of the year, with a month to play with.
I’ve done some travelling in other continents, but have never been to SEA before.
I looking to avoid mass partying and overly commercialised areas. Full Moon parties and fishbowls are not high on my list! (or anywhere on it, for that matter!)
Beach, culture, some adventure and chill is basically what I’m after.
With that in mind, does this route make sense:
Vientiane (>> Fly to Phnom Penn)
Siem Riep (>> Fly to Bangkok)
Is that a feasible 1 month itinerary?
Am I selling myself short by not going to any of the Thai Islands?
Your help is much appreciated!
Yep that strikes me as quite doable in 1 month. You’d probably quite enjoy islands like Koh Rong Sanloem or Koh Ta Tiev for a chill vibe. If you’re mostly after culture then the Thai islands aren’t a must I think.
Your blog is great! Very informative and has really helped me planning my trip in South-East Asia. I will be doing a route similar to your alternative banana pancake route and wanted to check with you regarding the transport options from Laos to Vietnam. As I am planning to do the Viang Xai caves, I would ideally be going from Viang Xai to Hanoi. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information if there are actually any buses doing this route. The only info I have found was a few horror stories from people trying to get to Hanoi and getting stranded in rural Vietnam. Could you please advise?
Hey Paula! Sorry for my slow reply. I based this particular segment of the route off of what some friends did – they took a minibus from Viang Xai to Vietnam but I don’t think this went direct to Hanoi. You’ll probably need to go via Thanh Hoa or Ninh Binh, then go up to Hanoi and then come down again. This does involve a bit more backtracking within Vietnam but it’s likely to be easier. I’ll need to tweak my route a bit based on where the most direct bus routes are.
you have charged me to travel
your site is very informative and guides well
what a bundle of knowledge
This blog is great. So informative! I am spending 4 months travelling SE Asia and just wanted to know if we will be able to see all the countries listed in the first pic, including Borneo, Bali, Manila etc. Don’t want to be rushing around, just taking it at a good pace, being able to explore off the beaten track in the non touristy parts at times.
Hmm, I think even with 4 months you’ll still have to make some choices. I’d focus less on seeing everything and instead cherry pick your favorites! The Thailand > Laos > Vietnam > Cambodia loop can easily take 2 months already at a leisurely pace. Adding everything in that first map without rushing would take at least 6 months.
Hi Marek! First, your blog is so fantastic and is one of my favorite travel blogs I’ve found.
My husband and I are planning our first trip to Southeast Asia and we’re using your Alternative Banana Pancake route as a guide :). I have a question regarding transport between Hoi An and Southern Laos / Pakse – is there a route you would recommend? I’ve been doing my own research and am now looking at catching a bus from Danang to Kon Tum, then from Kon Tum to Pakse the following day. We’re keen to travel overland and have the time to take a couple of days to get there.
Any advice or guidance you can offer is really appreciated! And thanks again for your fantastic blog :). I look forward to reading about where you travel next!
Hey Brittney. I actually visited Hoi An and Pakse on two separate trips, and then connected them in my suggested route after hearing others made the trip between these places. I’ve not been to Kontum but it seems like a decent place to break up the journey – probably better than Attapeu in Laos. I know there are Vietnamese minivans going directly from Gia Lai province to Pakse but doing it in 2 legs is probably better if you have the time 🙂
Thanks so much for the kind response, Marek! Great to know, and I’ll certainly look into the route from Gai Lai province, too :). Have a great day!
Really Great article you have here 🙂
All the information you have provided has really helped me in preparing for my upcoming SE Asia adventure.
I will be travelling for 10 weeks so I pretty much plan to follow your alternative banana pancake route, but I’m pretty chill so could end up staying in some places and skipping out on others.
Also on the information on bags to purchase and equipment to get really helped. I settled for the osprey farpoint 40 bag which I love and have managed to get all my belongings in and still have some room 🙂
I just have one question in relation to travel insurance every blog or article I read seems to recommend World Nomads for backpacker insurance. I have got quotes from them, Multi-trip, Blue, AA, Flexicover and several more. World Nomads is working out around double the cost of all others which I just cant seem to find any justifiable reason for paying.
Really what my question is, I’m hoping you may be able to shed some light for me why i would choose world nomads over any other backpacker company. Insurance has been the most difficult thing for me in picking. I just want to feel secure & I know sometimes paying more means you have more but everything seems to be the same. is there something I’m missing here?
Thanks in advance,
Hey Kyle. Great question. It’s true that World Nomads aren’t the cheapest. But they have a great reputation, and I’ve used them myself for a long time and had an easy time making claims through them, so they’re easy to recommend. Another reason you see them mentioned a lot on blogs is that they have a great partnership program that lets blogs benefit from promoting them. There are certainly other insurers around so if you’re on a tight budget, you may wish to go for a different backpacker or nomad insurance. Another insurer I recommend here is Columbus Direct by the way, and they may be a little cheaper too (used them a lot too). Hope that helps!
Glad my articles have proven so useful to you by the way. Have an amazing time in SEA 🙂
Thanks for creating this awesome site! And sorry in advance for asking for itinerary help as it seems like you get a lot of similar questions!
My BF and I will have about two weeks in SEA (November) and are flying in and out of Bangkok. We are definitely going to go to the Yee Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai which falls towards the end of our trip, but we wanted to try and fit in some other cities as well. Ideally we were thinking of doing Bangkok > Siem Reap > Hanoi > Chiang Mai > Bangkok. I am worried our timeline might be a little too tight to potentially do all of these cities. I’ve heard Siem Reap can be done as a day trip from Bangkok so I wonder if we just keep it as Bangkok > Hanoi > Chiang Mai > Bangkok and do Siem Reap as a day trip, which might still be pushing it!
Do you have any recommendations on how to get the most out of our timeline with out cramming in too much?
Thanks so much in advance!
Hey Nicole. It’s a full schedule for sure, and some of these places are quite far apart. I assume you will be flying between some of these cities? Siem Reap as a day-trip isn’t that realistic as it takes at least 7 hours to get to from Bangkok overland (plus a border crossing with potentially long waits). Better to go to Siem Reap and stay there to enjoy the temples. Personally, I’d be tempted to sacrifice one of these cities in favor of exploring just 4. Then you can get to spend 3 full days in each and get a proper taste.
Great article to read, especially as my girlfriend and I are currently planning a round the world trip, starting in SE Asia.
I have hashed together a rough route and time in each country (for SE Asia so far only) and was wondering your thoughts on if it will be long enough in each place/any places that could, if need be, be omitted.
Route would be:
Fly to Bangkok, work through Cambodia to southern Vietnam and work up to halong bay, cut through the top of Laos to Chiang Rai, train down to southern islands (beaches!!) the through Malaysia to Singapore, fly to Philippines and go round the beaches, back to Indonesia (Medan) and work to Bali, then off to Australia from there.
Was thinking the following number of days in each country:
71+4 extra days for travelling.
What are you thoughts?
Many, many thanks in advance 🙂
It’s so hard to say as it’s always so subjective! Your route sounds cool. Personally, I’d maybe take a few days from Thailand and put them into Laos or Philippines. Thailand can be very crowded/commercialized, and I think the other two a bit more special in some respects. But again, it’s very subjective stuff 🙂
I’m planning on going to South East Asia and I’ll be spending 2 months there. Since I’m likely to follow a route based on this article, I would go to Thailand twice (fly first to Bangkok, go north and then re enter from Cambodia). So do you know how would the visa work in this case? Do I need to apply for a two month visa or will they issue a new one when I re enter?
Thanks and sorry if you had already replied to this somewhere.
Hey Jo. You can get a 30-day visa-on-arrival when you land in Bangkok. At the Cambodia border, you can then get another 15-day visa-on-arrival. (This does make some assumptions about your nationality by the way. Check Wikipedia for the details.) You can also get a multi-entry visa in advance from a Thai embassy, but if the time limits on the visa-on-arrivals work for you then this won’t be necessary. 🙂
Just want to bounce some ideas with you. I will travel to Indochina in november/december for 3 weeks. Based on your suggested itinerary I’m thinking to include following stops in my itinerary:
– Chiang Mai (including the Loi Krathong Festival)
– Gibbon Experience (express tour)
– Nong Khiaw
– Luang Prabang
– Si Phan Don
– Islands of Cambodia
– Siem Reap
I’m a bit unsure whether this itinerary is do-able in the (limited) amount of time we have. Any alterations / suggestions that you might have?
Would love your advice! Thank you so much in advance.
Oof, it might be a bit tight. Roughly speaking that’s at least 10 places in 21 days. That’s only 2 days per location, during which you have to travel between them as well.
Maybe consider flying from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap and cut Si Phan Don / Kratie (lovely as these are). That buys you some time letting you spend at least 3 days in some places (and get the most out of them!)
Hi mark, love the blog, a really nice and informative read!
I was thinking about going travelling this summer, whilst on summer holidays from university. Just a little unsure where to start in terms of planning things, or worried I’ve left it too late. If I were to go, it would be mid-July for around a month and a half. Another think I’m a bit apprehensive about is going travelling alone, and not being the most outgoing person, I’ve just got a couple of concerns about being lonely whilst out there. Once I get to know people I’m perfectly fine, but I’ve just got an initial bit of anxiety about meeting new people.
I’m still unsure what to do, would you say to get the most out of the experience, you need to be much more of an outgoing person?
Sorry I spelt your name wrong, Marek! Was thinking about travelling Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in the one and a half months or so
No worries! Sorry for the late reply… I was away from WiFi for a few days! 🙂
Hey Brad. Great question – I totally recognize that initial bit of anxiety. It always depends on the person, but what I can say is that backpacker hostels in Southeast Asia are extremely fertile grounds for making friends. There are many other solo travelers in Southeast Asia and hostels are very communal spaces, so put those two things together and inevitably people end up talking to each other. You might feel some ‘first day at school’ apprehension at first, but honestly everyone on the travel circuit is super open and in a positive mindset. It’s helpful if you’re very outgoing but it’s not required… many travelers are introverts.
It’s not too late to plan a trip. This might sound like a plug, but I think you might benefit a ton from my book. It goes into this stuff in more detail than is possible on the blog, and many have found it allayed their concerns (specifically around solo travel). 🙂
Hi Marek! I am a high school student right now, but I am hopefully going to take a gap year and travel. Would it be wise for me to travel solo? Also, I’m not sure if you’ve done a piece on this yet, but when is the weather the best in the Asian countries? Your website is beautiful, and it’s definitely helping me prepare for my travels in the future. Thank you so much!
Hey Carson. Southeast Asia is amazing for traveling solo! Be sure to stay in hostels as it makes things easier and you’ll meet lots of other travelers. Read plenty of travel guides before you go so you’re prepared.
Best weather is different everywhere… for example June is rainy season in Thailand, but dry season in Indonesia. I recommend researching it per country you want to visit.
Thank you Marek!
Dude, this was an awesome read! Some very great ideas you have here and I will deff be implementing most if not all.
I have a question. Do you just book all bus rides and plane tickets once you are already in Asai?
Glad you find it useful Chris! 🙂 Yep I normally just figure that stuff out when I get there. It’s pretty easy (usually).
This blog is the most useful thing I have found so far for the route I am planning, thankyou! In January myself and my boyfriend are hoping to travel the revised ‘Banana Pancake Route’ that you suggested that takes us over land through Northern Laos rather than fly to Hanoi. I was wondering if you knew the best way to get from Vieng Xai in Laos across to Hanoi. We are happy to go via the Northern Terretories of Vietnam like you suggested in your itinerary, how I can’t find any information on how to get across the border into Vietnam and the transport options! Any advice would be really appreciated, as we want to avoid flying and explore by land as much as possible! Thanks so much!!!
Hey Mhairi. If I’m not mistaken there are two possible bus routes from Vieng Xai which both end in Hanoi – one goes via Mai Chau Hoa Binh and one via Thanh Hoa. Should be easy to figure out when you get there (there’s probably not that much info online as this travel route is less common).
Hey! Thank you so much for your reply! Yes I think we will take the Mai Chau route from my research, but will just have to wing it when we’re there! Thanks for taking the time to reply! And happy travels!!
No worries, hope you have an amazing trip! 🙂
thanks so much for this, I’m definitely going to look into getting your book for the full info.
I wanted to know what’s your recommendation regarding the monsoons-
I planned on travelling to thailand-vietnam-cambodia-laos, July 1st-october 1st. but just realized that it’s apparently the worst time in terms of weather.
so my question is, how bad is it really? [I’m starting a volunteer program in October for the year so I don’t think the time can be changed, only the destination. Im getting the sense SEA is a perfect area for a first time travelers though and it’s exactly what I want so I’m having trouble deciding to go somewhere else.
is it a waste of a trip?
I’m especially interested in nature things like hikes and jungle, and the temples (and meeting locals ,discovering new cultures, but I can’t imagine the rain would interfere with that to the same extent).
so will I still be able to do jungle or hike trips? what if it’s a hike that’s longer than one day and can’t guarantee me cover from the rain; besides for getting a bit wet, is that dangerous?
thank you so much 🙂
Hey Lynn. I’ve only done bits and pieces in the rainy season in SEA and not an extended trip during this time. But yes hiking is still possible. In the rainy season it doesn’t typically rain all day – usually, it’s some intense showers in the morning or late afternoon, but dry in between. I know of some remote mountain treks that shut down but you should have plenty of options left. Might want to get a guided hike. While I can’t speak directly to your specific time period, I can say that I’ve been in many places in the world at the ‘wrong’ time (Argentina in winter, Myanmar at the hottest time of the year, etc. etc.) and had a great experience despite it. One of the huge advantages is that there’ll be fewer other tourists making it easier to meet locals!
Absolutely brilliant post – thank you so much. I’m probably going to stick to all your suggestions, not just because they’re great but also because I’m completely out of my depth and don’t know where to begin!
Beginning to plan my travels from September-August, so I’ve a full year. I’m travelling from Ireland and want to spend around 3-4 months in SEA and the rest in Australia on a working holiday visa. (Maybe leave Australia early to do some more of SEA)
Weather wise, do you think it’s best to go to Australia first then travel SEA? Or do you think it really matters?
Am so excited and now I’m even more excited! First time traveller.
Hope you can help, any suggestions and advice welcome!
Hey Sammi. I’d probably do SEA first. Sept to Dec-Jan is a very nice time to travel there. You’ll get a bit of the shoulder season and a bit of the high season. You’ll have some great weather.
I’ve only been to Australia once, but I believe the summer there is until Feb, so being in Oz after that for a bit of the summer + autumn doesn’t seem bad. 🙂
Thanks for your wonderful site. A lot of useful information here. Its amazing that you can travel for so long and so frequently. How do you do it!
Any ways, I was wondering if I can get some advise from you. My GF and I are currently on a 6 months trip through Japan and SEA. We’ve done 2 months in Japan and 3 weeks in Thailand already. Currently in Cambodia. Other destinations with flights already booked are Malaysia (for 3 weeks after Cambodia), India (2 weeks), Nepal (2 weeks), then back to Thailand (2 weeks) then a layover in Japan and back home.
We are currently in Siem Reap with Angkor Wat and the Tomb Raider temple already visited. The problem we have is that the original plan was to have a Cambodian cousin of my gf’s to guide us around through the less touristy area but we’ve found out that he is no longer available. We’ve heard from local family members that Phnom Penh/Sihanoukville has became more increasingly dangerous. So we may end up bypassing 2 weeks of PP and Sihanoukville. We’ve reserved 1 month for Cambodia and we may have too much time on our hands now. We will be going to Battambang for a week or less. So now we are wondering if we should fly out to another country after Battambang.
Unfortunately we do have a flight booked to fly out of Cambodia after a month but I guess we will have to accept losing the flight if we cannot make full use of a month in Cambodia.
We have considered Indonesia but it looks like they are receiving heavy rain right now. I’ve also heard Philippines can be dangerous from many co-workers who are from there especially if we don’t know anyone to guide us there. Singapore is on the list for consideration for a short few days stay.
We generally enjoy nature, street food, snorkeling, easy transportation, hiking, seeing animals in nature and connecting with friendly locals.
Would love to know if you have any recommendations!
Hey Eric. Sounds like you’re having an amazing trip! Coincidentally I’m in Cambodia as well at the moment. This is just a quick reply before my next bus departs, but considering your interests I would maybe recommend Koh Rong Sanloem or some of the smaller islands around Sihanoukville. I haven’t heard anything lately about the safety there, but Sihanoukville is a very commercial place and if you’re more into nature it could be a bit disappointing. I’m about to explore the nearby Cardamom Mountains (4 day jungle excursion) and maybe it’s up your alley too. So yeah, the first thing I’d do is consider other places within Cambodia that you might like. Seems a shame to write it off on the basis of PP and Sihanoukville (which in my opinion aren’t the best places anyway!).
In The Philippines you may wish to be a bit cautious in Cebu and Manilla (and avoid Mindanao entirely), but I think you may also have been spooked too much! I’d still keep The Philippines in for consideration, especially given your interests (but that’s just my 2 cents 🙂 ).
Thanks for your quick response.
We will definitely give Koh Rong Sanloem and Cardamom Mountains a look at. We will ask around to see the best way to get there from Battambang.
Surprisingly it is hard to reach my gf’s relatives here in Cambodia who we originally planned to rely on for this Cambodia trip. Part of the plan was to visit an uncle in Sihanoukville but we aren’t able to reach him lol.
Speaking of jungle excursion, I actually got wounded on my heel trekking through the jungle in Thailand a week ago and the recovery has been slow with a minor bacteria infection. And it has even brought on a fever and a sinus infection. I expect to have recovery in a few more days and then I should be able to head out to the islands and mountain you suggested. Stay safe out there!
Thanks for the suggestions!
I just found your blog and I love your advice so far. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for getting from Cambodia to Southern Thailand. Would I have to go through Bangkok again or is there an alternate route? (Probably for January). Also, are you Czech? :p
Thank you very much,
Hey Shelby! I’ve personally only done Siem Reap straight to Bangkok by bus. It’s a bit difficult to avoid that city as almost all transportation goes through it, unless you fly directly down to southern Thailand from Cambodia. You could consider going to Koh Chang to break up the journey a bit if you’re going overland.
I’m half Polish, hence my name 😉
(* Edit: I have just done Sihaoukville > Koh Kong > Trat > Koh Chang > Bangkok and can highly recommend this route.)
I’m in the early stages of planning 3 months (at least) in SE Asia from early January 2018, but I’m concerned about travelling the region during the hotter months. Are Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam best saved until later in the year, with lower temperatures but more rain? Or, would it be possible to spend January-February there, before moving on to other countries in the region? I’m okay in hot temperatures, but I doubt I’ve experienced the level of humidity that I’ve ready about over there in March-April.
Any advice would be very gratefully received.
It’s honestly very hard to say as it depends a lot on you! I’ve travelled there in the Jan-Feb months and I was fine with it. I do remember the first few days in Bangkok were like “whoaaa” so I spent a lot of time cooling off in the pool or otherwise hiding from the heat. But after a while I got used to it and adapted, and after a week I didn’t even think about it at all anymore.
Everything has pros and cons so there’s never a perfect time. For example I’ve been in Thailand in Oct/Nov, Jan/Feb and May and either way you’re still in a tropical climate. So you may be overthinking it and you should just go in whatever time is most convenient 🙂 (Jan/Feb is generally considered a great time to travel Thailand/Laos/Cambodia/Vietnam.)
Fantastic. Thanks for the helpful, prompt response and keep up the good work. I’ve found your site incredibly useful already.
Thank you so much Marek!! Truly appreciate this and so interesting how your advice resonates with what my cousin advised earlier of best to spend 2 countries per month to get the most of it and not feel rushed as I prefer.
Also, I like staying on a budget in a simple, yet safe way and never have really been into luxury and more into dissecting local culture.
My plan was to visit Thailand,Cambodia and Vietnam as the minimum leaving a 35 days for them 3 and possibly squeezing in Laos. Nice how you suggested 1st to leave out is Laos due to time factor and I have usually been more into seeing Thailand, Cambodia and especially Vietnam as I have many cool Vietnamese acquaintances back in USA whom I really like and really always wanted to visit Vietnam. According to my plan, I am thinking of travelling from December 28th, 2017 to February 2nd, 2018 and heading to Singapore on Feb 3rd from one of those countries spend weekend with relatives and see Singapore for a day before heading to USA.
Below, are few ?s:
1. Did you ever book a tour package or have a tour guide? On a budget, what do you recommend doing when looking into hostels as well as the best way for doing site-seeing and tours on your own?
2. When you advise up to $20 to $40 per day for some countries, did you take into account staying, site-seeing and leisure?
3. What do you advise for a Vegan like me who wants to visit Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and possibly Laos?
4. How do you deal with the horrific dilemmas of not being ripped off or demanded to pay a fee as a foreigner to see certain tour sites?
Hey Samar. Some quick answers to your questions 🙂
1. I think it’s helpful to do local tours every now and then (e.g. a day of sightseeing or a guided trek). Not everything is always completely easy to do independently. For the best tour prices, it’s best to find such tours locally at small agencies in the places you’re staying, instead of booking them ahead online.
2. Yeah those estimates do include sightseeing and transportation and such. It’s a backpacker budget though, so it assumes you avoid the most expensive activities and focus on things that are either free or relatively cheap. It also assumes you mostly eat local food and use accommodation that is basic.
3. Not sure, sorry!
4. Ask people who are independent sources of information (for instance staff at a hostel, or other travellers) what the real prices are, so you know when you’re being ripped off. Always haggle a bit if you can.
Hi Samar, how is the availability of vegan food? I’ll be in SE Asia over the coming winter and I’m also vegan. When I was in Thailand about 4 years ago it was very hard to eat. I’ll be in Chiang Mai for a few weeks and I know that it’s easier to eat there than in other places.
My fiancé and I want to go to S E Asia this coming January for about 6-8 weeks. Is going to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia too many places? The best way to get around each country? And from the US would you fly into BKK and also out of there, or do a open jaw ticket?
Thanks! Super helpful!!
It’s not too many if you just want to get a broad sample of what SEA has to offer and if you can be a bit selective with what you want to see in each country. (For instance, if you have a week in Vietnam you might want to focus specifically on Saigon and the south). For visiting 5 countries, 8 weeks total will give you a lot more flexibility than 6 though.
I done returns to BKK or Singapore every time I’ve gone to SE Asia – budget carriers like AirAsia just make it cheap and easy to backtrack. You could have a look around for open jaw options but buying two singles can often be quite a bit more expensive, though it does save you some flight time.
hi there, this is a great post!
I am asking for some advice (oh no not another one haha)
I have 12 weeks (3 months) in SEA and landing in Bangkok this October eek.
I am wanting to do Cambodia, laos and Vietnam. I was thinking of doing a month in each but now am unsure if I should spend more time in Vietnam and less in Laos?
The only issues would be is paying for a more expensive Vietnamese visa for 90 days (around 90GBP) but will it be worth it?
So maybe around 3.5 weeks Cambodia, 3.5 laos and then 5ish in Vietnam.
Sorry for all the questions!
Thanks so much for any help!
Hey Alice! I can definitely see arguments in favor of spending a bit more time in Vietnam, as Laos and Cambodia are both a bit smaller and have somewhat fewer sights. That said I spent a month in Vietnam (maxing out the normal visa) and felt this was enough to get all the main highlights from north to south. So… it’s hard to say 🙂
Me and my girlfriend are planning on doing the 2 month route. We are leaving from Bali and are wondering if we can start in Cambodia and go this way around. Would there be any issues with travel?
Also is the season too rainy to start in Cambodia this time of year? Would you recommend starting in Bangkok and up to Chiang mai instead?
Thanks in advance, this is a great article btw. Appreciate sharing the knowledge!
I haven’t experienced the rainy season in Cambodia. It’ll be rainy season in most places around this time though… not sure there’s a clever way to get around it! There’s no problem doing this route in the reverse direction though. The route is really just an example 🙂
Great post, Marek! I wanted to ask what were you using for cell phone service? Did you have a SIM card for each country? Or did you find yourself not needing it as much? Would love to get your opinion on that. Thanks!
Hi, thanks! I’ve travelled in Asia entirely without mobile data. I’ve found that not being connected all of the time made me be more in the moment. There’s still plenty of wifi everywhere that lets you keep in touch (in cafes, hostels, etc.) but I liked not getting any notifications etc. while exploring. If you install MAPS.ME you can still do maps and GPS stuff while you’re offline.
Thanks for that tip! That was my primary motivator for having mobile data.
Hi there! Thanks for all of the great info. Quenstion. My bf and I have 2 weeks at then end of December to do SE Asia . Initially we wanted Vietnam as we felt it was more “cultural”. But, we are finding that some of the places we were wanting to go in northern Vietnam (Sapa/ Ha Long Bay) Won’t be great in December. So, we are wondering if it would be better to do Thailand/Cambodia for this time of year. Again, we were prioritizing culture over beaches and liked the idea of Vietnam being relatively less popular. But, don’t want to do a trip to Vietnam an injustice if the weather is less than ideal… w hat do you think about this…? Either place we also want to tag in Cambodia at the end.
1) Vietnam/Cambodia:. North to South Vietnam and then to Cambodia
2) Thailand/Cambodia : Bangkok, Chang Mai,Siem Reap, Southern Thai island/beach to end
Hey Gina. I was in north Vietnam in December and it was indeed a little cold. Hanoi is still really amazing to visit but Ha Long Bay is quite misty and drab this time of year.
Both plans are certainly doable but with plan 1 you will only be able to fit a limited number of stops (Vietnam is a big country!). You might end up just seeing a lot of cities. I might be inclined to focus on a particular part of Vietnam so you can do more side excursions and see the countryside.
Plan 2 also sounds good for a cultural focus/ I must admit it’s hard for me to think about 2-week itineraries as I’ve usually had the luxury of more time.
I am planning a trip with one of my friends from late december to early february, around 45 days. I was wondering what to do, some friends told me thailand´s beaches are so crowded that I am hoping we can avoid the crowds. And I would really like to visit Myanmar. So, my initial idea would be start in Bangkok (my flight would get there from Argentina), and after that I don´t know, what route do you recommend me to choose?
I don’t know! “What should I do” is a very broad question 🙂 What are you interested in? If it’s beaches you’re looking for then your friends are kind of right about Thailand, though you can still find some less crowded beaches there. There are no crowds at all at the beaches in Myanmar. Some great beaches in Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia (outside of Bali) as well.
Yo. Can you buy a flight from Vientiane to Hanoi last minute? i.e on the day/few days prior/ 1 week? i would prefer to get the flight than the long bus but i wanna be able to be flexible when I’m there and not worrying about getting to vientiane for a set date weeks in advance.
Hey Joe. Understand the desire to stay flexible! I managed to get a ticket a few days before. No guarantees I guess but I didn’t have any issues.
My sister and I want to travel Asia from 17 July to 2Aug.
We would start from Taiwan. Frankly, we have 0 ideas what to do. I have been trying to find the cheapest ways to travel but it’s been a complete nightmare figuring out how to jump from country to country. Initially, I wanted to island hop but seeing as it will be the rainy season I’m kinda bummed. What would you do?
For islands, maybe have a look at Indonesia. Its rainy season is different from the mainland, and July is actually peak season there. You could also focus on the S-E-A mainland but less on beaches/islands and more on nature and cities. Monsoon rains are intense but they can also stop very quickly, so you could try to work your way around the weather and visit places like Ho Chi Minh City, the temples of Angkor, etc.
Two of my friends and i were hoping to travel SEA from late april to late august. now i know that if we plan it poorly we could end up in all the right places at the wrong time. This is due to the very humid and hot seasons that take place at that time of year. However as these rainy seasons are at different times all across SEA i think with some clever planning we should be able to see everything we want to see and still successfully avoid the monsoon.
I was hoping you could give me some advice as to a route to take that takes the weather in to account but still allows us to visit all the places in the rough route you have shown above considering we will be there for nearly 4 months
Hey Charlie! I think you’ll be mostly OK following the route above. The main thing is to avoid the western coast Thai beaches as they’ll be in full-on rainy season, but the east coast is still good between May and Jul. So maybe do the east coast beaches first in Thailand (instead of last like my suggestion in the article), then go up to Chiang Mai etc. and do the route as in the map. Laos is in shoulder season in May so still OK. Northern Vietnam might be quite rainy when you get there, so Ha Long Bay might be quite misty if you’re unlucky, but things should improve again as you go south.
This is just working off the rough climate patterns though and your mileage may vary etc. 🙂
Thank you so much this is really helpful advice and it will be put in good use 🙂
My friend and I just booked round trip flights to Bangkok starting in mid July and ending in early August (exactly 3 weeks). It is my first backpacking trip without a group so we have a lot of questions as we are trying to roughly plan!
So we are young and active and like to be moving. We want to see some of the more renowned temples but out focus is sort of coastal/activity based. Two things I really want to do while we are there is rock climb and learn to surf (maybe spend a couple days surfing). I was just wondering if you had any suggestions of where we should definitely go for the more adventurous things to do?
We wouldn’t mind taking domestic flights, as I understand that transportation can be a bit gruelling, and are ok with a bit of a faster pace. Saying this, we would still like some R & R and to enjoy our time. Do you think trying to hit some major points in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos/Cambodia is too ambitious? I know it seems like a lot but we wouldn’t be navigating through entire countries (maybe like south along the gulf, through Cambodia and up to Ha Long Bay and fly back to Bangkok?) We really don’t have any plans yet but I just wanted to get your input on a route!
One more question is that I know fall is Monsoon season and our trip is a bit close (July-August) so I just wanted to know if we would have to be weary of weather during this time or if it should still get mostly sunny days?
Thanks so much and sorry about the long post!
Hey Cassidy. Krabi in Thailand is one of the best places for rock climbing. I’ve also seen it near Chiang Mai, Vang Vieng or Nong Khiaw in Laos, or Kampot in Cambodia. I am not sure where there’s good surf.
You could fly from Bangkok to Phuket, spend time there at the beaches and do rock climbing in Krabi, then fly straight to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, then onward to southern Vietnam. It would take another domestic flight in Vietnam to see things in both the north and south. It’ll require a pretty tight plan. 🙂
Actually, one snag is that the west coast in Thailand is in full-on monsoon, so maybe it’s better to drop the rock climbing requirement and enjoy the sunnier east coast at this time.
It’s hard to say what will happen with the weather. During this time in tropical Southeast Asia it does often rain very hard and every day but it’s also often very quick, during the late afternoon or evening (this is different from the all-day drizzle that’s more common in e.g. Europe).
Doh! Just remembered there’s a lot of rock climbing around Ha Long Bay / Cat Ba Island too. So maybe that should be your rock climbing destination instead… 🙂
Hi! I´m planning a 5-6 month trip to SEA I´m still checking and reading about my places of interest, do you know the cheapest months to travel? and to you have any 5 month budget?
The cheapest months is different per country. Dec & Jan tends to be busy high season though. Avoiding the high season could save you a little money on accommodation. More on budgeting here: https://www.indietraveller.co/southeast-asia-cost-of-travel/
There’s some good advice here and I don’t mean to be critical, but I do have to say that genuinely I think for some people it can be quite rewarding to pack a lot of different destinations into one trip. Yes, it is absolutely true that many people book trips that are way too ambitious (I’m talking one night in Bangkok, one night in KL, one night in Cambodia, off to Hong Kong for a night, etc.) But to say, for instance, that a two week trip couldn’t combine both Thailand and Angkor Wat is a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve done that exact trip and it wasn’t hectic at all – chilled out in Thailand for a week and spent the other week in Cambodia.
The reason I say that isn’t to be mean spirited. I think this is a great site from what I can see. But it’s a frequent thing I see on travel forums – on the one hand there’s the wildly overly ambitious “ticking boxes” approach to travel, while on the other there’s the “we’re serious travellers and if you spend any less than four weeks in one place you aren’t doing it properly” approach. I find the latter verges a bit on snobbery at times – almost like the point in travel isn’t to have fun but to conduct some kind of anthropological study.
And we do have to be aware that some people don’t have several months to travel. There’s nothing wrong at all with a short 2 week trip that combines a few major sites. Remember some people might only ever get that 2 week trip in their entire life to see some of Southeast Asia. If you put it in that way it would be a complete waste to spend the entire time in one place.
No worries, I welcome your different viewpoint!
I actually agree that a well-paced 2 week Thailand/Cambodia trip is totally possible. It does take some discipline in choosing your route and locations. I’ve had emails from people trying to cram 10+ places into this kind of route, so that’s in the back of my mind when I write this.
I do also go on 1- or 2- week trips and understand the desire to see as many highlights as you can. Though I also believe that even on a shorter trip, staying longer in fewer places can get you more rewards. Less time spent in transit is more time spent sightseeing or going on activities. The goal doesn’t always have to be full immersion / advanced anthropological studies – simplifying your itinerary can simply be a method for time optimization. 🙂
I am looking for doing something similar as you did and I was wondering if you could tell me where you were and how many days…so I can have an idea. My intention is to go 15 days and go to two countries (Vietnam &Cambodia or Thailand &Cambodia)..but after reading this post I got very scared.
Could you please give me some advise and tips?
thanks so much in advance.
Hi Marek, thank you very much for such of wonderful article. You just inspired me to go for that South East Asia route.
Can I ask you a maybe silly but important question for me, which can determines the best time for me to depart. I wil be starting an online master degree that would requires me to have projects done every week. Is it possible to do this route and be able to have internet connection enough to handle school?
Thanks a lot in advance for your answer.
Yes, you can basically keep doing your online stuff while traveling through SE Asia. There’s WiFi and good 3G or 4G in most places now. Though the more remote you go the more difficult it gets.
Love the article. I was wondering what your thoughts were on kind of just wonderlusting SEA for 4 weeks. I going with my significant other in mid December. We are entering and leaving Bangkok but we don’t really have much planned. Should we plan a little or is it okay to just wing it? I do realize we need to have an end point in which we are taken back to Bangkok by flight or end up there along the trail. Your thoughts and advice would be amazing. Thank you!!
Yes it’s definitely fine to just wing it! You can maybe do a bit of research on things you might enjoy seeing, but then just go off and sail with the wind, so to speak. SEA is a great region for doing this. 🙂
first of all, thanks for all the amazing blogs! The information this site and your book has given me is brilliant. Next month, September the 13th to be precisely, my first backpack journey will begin. My first stop is in Hong Kong as I could get a really cheap flight for that destination. After Hong Kong, I’m planning to follow this itinerary within 5 months: Hong Kong – Singapore – Malaysia – Indonesia (From Jakarta to Lombok) – Thailand/Laos/Vietnam/Cambodia (Banana Pancake trail). I have 2 question regarding my plan: 1. Do you think 5 months is enough to cover this? 2. Do you think the sequence of countries is optimal regarding travel times?
Hope to hear from you!
Keep up the good work,
Mike (a fellow Dutchie! :D)
Hoi Mike! Yes, 5 months is a realistic amount of time for those countries, and you’ll be able to do it perfectly without rushing. People often do the Banana Pancake route first and then the other countries, but your sequence makes sense for the weather/climate (Sept = dry in Indonesia, wet in Thailand). Expect northern Vietnam to get a bit cold around Dec/Jan though (jeans + long sleeve instead of shorts + tshirt) and Ha Long Bay might be misty/cold, though things will get tropical again as you get down to around Hue or so. Not really a problem but something to know.
Hi Marek, great article and thanks for sharing your experience! I have few questions on Visa. I am planning to do a 4-5months trip in SEA, and wonder if I should get my Visa in advance? I am US citizenship, and are there any countries that I must Visa prior leaving? Many thanks!
It depends on where you’re going… you can get visa-on-arrival in most countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, etc.). With Myanmar and Vietnam however, a visa in advance is required. You can get it while you’re still at home, or you can apply for them during your trip (at an embassy in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur for instance). Myanmar also has an e-visa program.
Hello, This was so informative and has really helped me. Me and my friend are travelling SE Asia in a few months (we’re saving!) We have 6 months to do as much as we can! I love your route and would like to expand it down to Myanmar and Singapore then over to the Phillipeans. Neither of us have ever backpacked before. So i have some (probably silly, novice questions for you!) How much do we need to plan or is it better to improvise and see what happens? Do we need to book hostels and train tickets in advance, or are they easy to sort when you get there?
It’s nice to improvise, and this is pretty easy in Southeast Asia. You might want to book accommodation just 1 or 2 days ahead of time (as you travel). Don’t worry about bus/train tickets, you can get those locally when you need them. with 6 months you can be pretty flexible.
BTW, I have a great chapter in my book with more info on what to plan vs. what you can improvise. 🙂
Reading this article made me missed Thailand much lol. I’m an asian (Filipina) but my first travel was in Thailand.. Wasn’t lucky to stay more and no time to travel in Chiang Mai. I had only 10 days coz i have to go back to my work in Dubai. Do you think i can make 3 weeks if i start my travel to Thailand then Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam? How much do you think it would cost? hmmm Thanks 🙂
Your articles are really very good. I visited Thailand and Cambodia for 2 weeks earlier this year. It was my first time and it took my breath away. It really lit me up. I’m planning on going back for a few months or more later in the year. I have plenty of time, so I’m going to take it and see as much of S.E Asia as I can, maybe finishing off with friends in Australia/NZ.
I have a question (if you or anyone can help)….. Would it be foolish of me to travel with a small laptop whilst backpacking around the far east?
Fewer tourist go to Philippines? Check your facts first before assuming & misleading people…first, pH got 6.8 million foreign tourist last year…almost same number of Vietnam tourist arrivals…and higher than Cambodia, Laos tourist arrivals..so its not that less visited as many ignorant people always assumed…pH is not really attuned for backpackers coz our hotels, hostels are expensive and really caters to more affluent Korean, east Asian tourist and western holidaymakers etc..plus travel within pH is expensive due to numerous domestic flights……10 million tourist expected few years from now coz ph has different types of tourist coming in not just the usual backpackers….tourism is booming here due to the Philippines being the global leader in bpo, we are also a global casino hub, education hub for foreign students, booming economy etc..manila alone has thousands of expats, digital nomads etc…so 10 million is not that low considering only few countries can achieve that arrivals…
Hey man, don’t take it too personally. Have a look at my Philippines page and you’ll see that I’m totally in love with your country and encouraging everyone to go. Keep in mind though that I’m not writing this blog for people going to casinos or Koreans going on a Boracay holiday. It’s aimed at independent travellers, and there’s noticeably fewer of them heading to the Philippines than some of the other countries mentioned. That’s just a neutral statement, and doesn’t mean anything good or bad about the Philippines.
Hi Marek! My sister and I will be traveling through Thailand and Cambodia together for three weeks. We noticed that on your route map, you seem to be able to travel from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville without crossing through Phnom Penh, but we can’t seem to figure out how to manage this via public transport. Any tips?
Oh gosh, I honestly can’t remember anymore if I travelled there directly or not! 🙂 You may just have to transfer in Phnom Penh. There are fortunately lots of small travel agencies in Sihanouksville that would be able to help you with your onward transportation.
Thank you for giving so much of your time to help novice travelers.
I have sort of a unique situation that I could use a bit of advice on if you’re able.
I’ll be visiting Australia in november to visit friends for two weeks. Since I will be that far away from home (I live in los angeles) I want to try to hit one other country. I will only be able to give up one extra week. I know virtually nothing about most of south east Asia. I’m a total beginner and solo traveler. My initial thought was to visit Bali, but I am super open to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia…wherever.
My interest include:
-Unique and delicious food and beverage experiences.
-I am a vintage collector and love to explore marketplaces and bizarres with unique goods for purchase. clothing or not.
-nightlife (not the touristy type though)
-I am interested in being submerged into a culture rather than vacationing with other americans.
-Since I will be shacking up pretty tight with a bunch of people in australia I will probably focus on staying in quaint one of a kind lodgings in SE asia.
– Im not much of an active person (in terms of hiking and backpacking) but i LOVE to walk around all day in and out of shops and bars and resaurants. lay around the beach then keep walking.
I don’t know if that information helps. Basically I’m looking for a unique one week quickie trip jam packed with culture and need help picking one country and one city or two (I don’t know). I know I won’t be able to see very much of one country – I’m ok with that. I don’t want to be running around exhausting myself. I just want to live like a local for a week in one kick ass place. get a little taste. Most importantly, I don’t want a bunch of touristy crap involved.
Any advice would be hugely appreciated.
Hey Enza. Hmm, that’s a specific question! The perfect place doesn’t really exist, though I actually think your initial instinct to go to Bali might be the right one. Distances between places on the island are very manageable, so that means you can do a lot of things in one week. There is plenty of characterful accommodation as well. In Ubud you can find a lot of art and other goods for purchase. The south of Bali is veeeery touristy though so maybe inland/central/north Bali has more of what you’re looking for.
Fantastic article and very helpful.
However i could really use your help and opinion on something. A few friends and myself are taking some time out from Dec 12th – Jan 15th so we have just over 2 weeks (apart from one guy who can only take 2 weeks off). The idea – for the long stayers at least – is to visit Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodis and if possible, Philippines.
Thailand – The most important one for the group, we land in bangkok, and would like to visit phuket and koh samui, and plan on doing the full moon party on NYE. We’re happy to leave this country and come back to do other activities throughout the month.
Laos – literally the only thing i really want to do here is the tubing bar crawl at Vang Vieng which is pretty close to northern thailand, so i dont see the need to stay here any longer than two to three days
Vietnam – purely to say we’ve been there and so we can say to people “you don’t know man, you weren’t there” as a comical thing. I’m not fussed how long we stay here or where we go so im open to ideas for ‘WOW’ destinations here.
Cambodia – i’d like to see angkor wat or bantaei kdei but as above just to tick it off the list, dont mind how long or where we go.
Philippines – this is sort of the bonus baby, I have a friend living out in Princess puerto and would be nice to see him plus free accomodation if its not plausible or will lesson the experience of the rest of my trip im happy to cross it off.
The 2 week guy just wants to tube in laos and travel thailand so im guessing Nam’ and cambodia would be the after new year thing. Is this a plausible trip and how much would be a good amount of money to take with us (not including accomodation). Sorry to bombard you but im really not the best when it comes to planning, and the other guys are even worse, so any help you can give would be fantastic! thanks again, bud.
Okay, just a bit of tough love: I think what you’re trying to do is madness and bordering on the impossible. 🙂 You’re seriously underestimating the travel logistics involved, the time needed, and how tiring such an itinerary would be. It’s also pointless to go just to Laos for a tubing bar crawl or Vietnam just to say you’ve been there, as it probably won’t leave you satisfied. I’d pick two countries you like most and then plan a trip around that.
Hey Marek! This article was really helpful.It did help me build a skeleton of my itinerary. I’ll still need your help though. I plan to visit Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangkok for about 16 days. I plan to start from Ho chi minh city. Then Can tho,Chau Doc, sihanoukville, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and finally Bangkok. Does this sound feasible? I’ll be travelling solo for the first time. Any other tips you would like to share?
Yes that’s definitely feasible, particularly since you’ve wisely chosen to focus on the south of Vietnam and keep the route pretty tight… a good way to cover 3 countries. Solo travel is easy in this part of the world – the logistics are fairly easy and there are always other travellers to meet if you want to. Have fun 🙂
I have a couple questions , I love the route you have planned out here and may look into doing it myself , I have a flight booked to Bangkok in august.
I was just wondering if it will work the same going the other way around ?
i.e Bangkok , to the south islands then up through Cambodia Laos and doing the slow boat (as ive heard this is great fun)
could you please let me know , if not it may be best to stick roughly with the route you have planned
Yes you can definitely do it the other way around as well. 🙂
Hi great article! I was just wondering if you would be able to help me with this dilemma I have.
So I am travelling all around SE Asia then to india then back to Asia to do Indonesia then down to Australia and new Zealand. We plan on working in Australia. We have al the time in the world to do this trip so the plan is to just take an outward flight and go with the flow.
The dilemma I am facing is the proof of onward travel you need for Bangkok. Can I just book a train or bus out of the country will that be good enough proof? It would be great to hear your thoughts on this. What did you do about this or what would you recommend?
You can get a refundable train or bus ticket out of the country and that will be 100% fine. It’s usually the airlines that make a problem out of this instead of immigration itself. A bit more info here: https://www.indietraveller.co/travelling-on-one-way-tickets/
Hi just found your blog & interested as we are heading back to Asia this year after a 6mnth trip last year, wanting to see the places we missed. Particularly interested in Indonesia & Myanmar this time (we visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, then took the train down through Malaysia to Singapore & finally visited Bali & Sri Lanka. I’ll have a good look through your site for tips & I think logistically we’re going to need a lot more planning this time! Great I’ve found your blog!
Hi! Great post.
I am meeting a friend in Myanmar, and from there we have two months to wander around. I think we’ll pick up your itinerary in Chiang Mai after visitng Myanmar. Three questions for you and the community:
* Can you recommend any local website to book cheaper flights between these countries? I am flying to Myanmar from Sri Lanka and can’t find anything below $250 at the moment through major booking sites.
* We will be traveling from the beginning of May to the beginning of July. Any areas to avoid? I believe the monsoon is kicking in at this time of the year in most places.
* We’re looking for a city to fly out of back to Europe. Which would be realistic given our time? Bangkok? Other?
Dzieki Marek i gratuluje za piekny blog!
Thank you soooo much for this article. I am going for 2 months and am having a hard time deciding between Myanmar or Laos. I want to spend 1-2 weeks in Norther Thailand, 1-2 weeks in Vietnam, 1 week in Cambodia, and end it with 1 week in the southern thai islands. That leaves me with 1-2 weeks left. I could rush each location and minimize each visit to 1 week, but I want to explore and not be rushed. That said, I’ve narrowed it down between the two I first mentioned: Myanmar or Laos. Do you have a strong suggestion for either?
I’m leaning toward Myanmar simply bc of how untouched so much of it is. I’ve also heard they are a hard-working people and I find that attractive. Let me know what you think if you can. Side note: I will be traveling alone, if that influences your opinion at all.
Hey Laura! Choosing between Laos and Myanmar is difficult, and giving a recommendation is too. For me it’s like choosing between ice cream or a backrub – both are good, but in slightly different ways. Myanmar is quite untouched but so is Laos outside of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Can’t go wrong with either!
Great article, your site is amazing and super useful.
Since you tend to often reply back –
what would you recommend for a 4 week trek through SE Asia? My partner and I are thinking Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia – with the most time spent in Indonesia of the three.
Think we can do all 3? I know we won’t see a ton.
Hey Mia! The first two are easily (and often) combined, especially south Vietnam + Cambodia. Both those countries are quite poorly connected to Indonesia with flights though, but you can probably find an indirect flight going via Singapore or Bangkok. If I had 4 weeks (and this is totally subjective) I would probably leave north Vietnam for another time and focus on central/south Vietnam + Cambodia for about 2 weeks, then fly to Indonesia and focus on Bali and maybe Lombok/Gili Islands. Indonesia is very spread out so you can lose a lot of time in transit, but focusing on those islands keeps things compact.
I’m reading your book, it’s a good refresher after not having backpacked in 10 years, things have changed. I am planning on doing the Banana Pancake Trail April 20-June/July. I’d like to focus on Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I have been researching visa options and was wondering what you think about about getting advance visas for Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam I plan on doing advance but from what I can tell Laos and Cambodia have border crossing visa options that seem to make more sense. I plan on doing the slow boat into Laos and overland from Vietnam to Cambodia, Will I be able to get visas at border crossings like this or should I see about getting visas while in Bangkok?
Thanks a bunch, your blog is an inspiration and super useful.
Hey Matt, great to hear your positive feedback! For Laos and Cambodia it’s easy to just get a visa at the border. Vietnam normally requires pre-arranged visas – it can be beneficial to get this sorted in advance at home if you know when you’re going to be there. I have some more details on Vietnam visas here.
Really good post! If anybody is interested I threw together a similar one for around 6 week trip around Vietnam and Cambodia.
let me know what you think.
My friend and I are booking a trip to south east Asia and are hoping to see Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Unfortunately due to work and study we can only go for just over a month. I’ve always wanted to do it on our own, but due to lack of time we are leaning more towards doing a tour. is there any tours you can recommend?
I don’t know much about tour companies to be honest, as I usually travel independently. Heard good things about group tours by Intrepid or G Adventures. Rickshaw Travel does great tours that are individualised (not with a group).
Hi Marek! My Girlfriend and I are currently planning our next round of travelling just a month after finishing our first trip, we just cant stay away!
I’m just wondering if you could tell me the best/cheapest ways to travel between each place in the “2 month banana pancake trail” i.e (Cambodia – Bangkok etc.)? We are planning on doing the whole trail so as much information in regards to this would be amazing! Your pages are great and very helpful so keep it up! Hope to hear from you soon, many thanks!
Buses are the cheapest option. Trains in Thailand and Vietnam are good and cheap too!
Thanks for the wonderful resource. Care to share your opinion? I’m meeting my brother in SEA on March 31. He’s flying into Bangkok and I’m flying into Phuket. We have just about 16 days from there. Time is more of a concern than cost. I’d like to see a lot, but I don’t want to feel rushed or overly touristy. I’d like to visit Chiang Mai for Songkran (do you think somewhere else is better?) and I need to make my way back to Phuket for my flight home on April 16. Other than that, we have discussed time in Bangkok, Phuket or Ko Phi Phi, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Halong Bay as possibilities. But this is likely too much for our time. What would you include? Thanks so much!
Hmm I’d probably pick 2 areas apart from Phuket (which is your starting point) and focus on them. For instance: Chiang Mai and Siem Reap/Phnom Penh. Or: Phnom Penh and Hanoi/Halong. To do basically 3 countries in 2 weeks is a lot. But if you can spend a week or just under in one place, and another, and top things off on a Thai island, you’ll be less rushed. Songkran should be awesome in Chiang Mai.
Thanks a lot. We will definitely lighten the itinerary.
Hey! really useful article 🙂
I’m planning my trip to asia and i’ve left everything a bit late haha, i’m leaving england early march and coming back in august so i’ve got a long old while to explore! I’m going to be on a very tight budget but I’m sure I can manage, I don’t want to plan a huge ammount as i want to be open and easy to string along with other travellers that i meet out there. This will be my first time travelling and I’m going it alone so I’m trying not to think of how nervous I am :S my budget is going to be £100 a week do you think this will be enough? Also I’m finding organizing things very daunting as I haven’t really looked into where i want to go or how i’m going to get from place to place but everything i read on it and everything people have said about it is that its fairly easy to just go out there and go day by day not really having much of a plan!
Will i have to take some great British pounds with me for visas etc? also how easy is it to withdraw money? Am i best off to withdraw a bit of money before heading out of the main cities?
I’m over all extremely excited to go and explore anything and everything! I really don’t mind what i see or do!
Heya! I think you’ve got a great attitude to planning. It’s good to do some research ahead of time but you can certainly leave the day-to-day decisions for when you get there. That’s how I’ve travelled most of Southeast Asia too (I knew almost nothing at the start).
I think your budget might be a bit tight and you might struggle in some places, especially southern Thailand. Since you’re on a limited budget I’d recommend maybe keeping track of your spending with a notebook or an app. Try to spend a lot of your time in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam which are the cheapest countries.
Don’t worry about going alone (and that nervous feeling you have is normal!). It’s very easy to figure things out and to meet people, especially if you stay in backpacker hostels.
It’s better to have a bit of USD with you for visas or emergencies as it’s accepted more widely. You can get local money from ATMs. There are ATMs in most places but you may want to withdraw in the cities if you’re heading to, say, a tiny mountain town or a secluded island as sometimes these don’t have ATMs.
Good luck! Also, and this will sound like a plug, but my book is also a great resource if you’re travelling Asia for the first time. It answers a lot of these questions in more detail than I can in a comment reply 🙂 It’s worth checking out for increased peace of mind: http://www.www.indietraveller.co/book/
Hi! Great article. My boyfriend and I are planning a 6 week trip to the Philippines and Thailand this spring. We realize this is a bit of a tricky combo. Any advice for pairing the two in a time efficient way? We are backpacking newbies. Which would be the ideal country to start in?
It’s best to start in Thailand, then do Philippines. There should be flights from Bangkok to Manila…
Hi! Great site, super helpful!! We are planning a trip to SEA end of May to end of June. I am concerned about the weather (I know it will be pretty hot/rainy) and I was wondering what the best places to visit vs avoid are for that time of year. Primarily interested in Laos, Vietnam, and/or Cambodia, but willing to think about other options (we only have four weeks, so I’m thinking only two countries). We are hardy travelers (South America, Europe, Africa) and don’t mind a bit of rain or sweat, but we also want to make the most of our trip, weather-wise.
Any advice appreciated! Thanks!
Thank you so much for the information!
Im goin away for 5 weeks, and planning to do northern thailand, laos and vietnam, then home. I dont want a tight schedule, the places i wanna do so far is chiang mai, gibbon excperience, vang vieng and ha long bay.
I was wondering if you knew if i could take the 2 day boat to luang prabang and go to the gibbon excperience after? It feels like a detour, you have any other options?
To fill the rest of my trip im planning to go to places people i meet recomends.
I hope this post made sense, i have much going on in my head 🙂
Super thankful for an aswer
Hey Marcus. I’d recommend doing the Gibbon Experience first, then taking the boat. The national park is not so far from Huay Xai (the boat starting point) so it’s easier to backtrack there.
I am looking to travel to two countries in south east asia. I am thinking Thailand and Vietnam…What is the best options economically? I want to see the different sites and also off the beaten path.
I am travelling from Canada…most likely in June.
I am thinking Laos and Chiang Mai region…but so hard to decide…have never been out this way…have been to Europe and south America.
Hi Marek I’m wondering if you can advise me please. My husband and I are looking to go away for 3 weeks over the Xmas period next year. One week before Xmas and two after. We want to spend time in Thailand, at the beaches relaxing mostly with some time spent with the elephants and a few nights in Bangkok. Do you think we will have time to add a bit of Cambodia in? Either way for this time of year could you recommend an itinery? We would quite like to visit the touristy beaches like where The Beach was filmed and Phuket etc but only for a few nights, the rest we would prefer somewhere we can totally relax and get our hands on good food etc. Thanks. Gemma
Have a look at my pages for Thailand and Cambodia for some ideas. It’s always best to create your own itinerary based on your interests and what places sound the most appealing to you. Angkor Wat / Siem Reap in Cambodia is not too far from the Thai border so it combines nicely.
once again thanks for your awesome website 🙂
we want to go to the philippines ad heard the best season is january feb, we are leaving on the 17th for bangkok and will stay i SEA for 4 months, following the circular route bangkok, north thailand, laos,vietnam,cambodia, south thailand
we thought we d include philippines at the beginning after laos but cant seem to find connection from laos or super expensive
when and how would you recommend us to get to philippines?
Thanks a lot
Hi Solene! Philippines is best connected to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. You might be able to find some flights from Vietnam too, but not sure. Laos is quite remote and so few budget flights go there. You might want to avoid the wet season in the Philippines (May-Oct), but don’t get too hung up on what guides say the best time is. You can have a great time in the Philippines in April at the end of your trip, for example. I was in the Philippines in March/April as well and apart from a couple of rainy days the weather was great.
Hey Marek, nicely done on helping so many travelers plan their trips better.
Me and my partner are planning a roughly 40 day trip around some of the budget countries in the SEA. We’ve been to Malaysia and Myanmar and are planning to go (following your advice) to Thailand and Cambodia. I was thinking of landing in Bangkok and then slowly moving up north to Chiang Mai (taking 15 visa validity days) and then leave for Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap (for the next 11 or so days) and after that go to Phuket for another 15 days of island hopping.
I guess I have two questions (if you don’t mind) for you. What do you think about the length of our planned stays in each place? Isn’t it slightly too long? Maybe we could squeeze in another destination in between?
Also, would you say 1000 USD each for those 40 days would be enough? Nothing fancy to spend money on, just a bed and some local food.
What do you think?
Yes I think you could actually manage to add another destination – sometimes I have to go contrary to my normal advice! 🙂 You could probably spend 10 days in the Chiang Mai region and 10 days island hopping, and then have 10 days to spare for somewhere else. Maybe add a bit of Laos? It connects well with Cambodia.
1000 USD per person sounds slightly tight but should be OK. The most expensive part will probably be Phuket, but since you’re keeping it last you’ll have a clear idea at that point of how much money is left, and then spend accordingly. Escape to less touristy places if you find that you’re running a bit low at the end.
I am currently debating on what to do.
This summer, I will have five weeks to go travelling. I originally wanted to do seven, but I can’t because of university preparations.
During one week, I have to do some volunteering. This was the only condition my parents gave me in order to do this. On the one hand, I am looking forward to this but on the other, it’s kinda pushing it in terms of time. Now, I was originally intending to do a North Thailand-Myanmar-Laos-Cambodia tour, but I feel like this is kinda ambitious. Instead, I’m leaning more towards a tour like this now: Bangkok – Chang Mai – Luang Prabang (via the slow boat) – Kunming, China – Somewhere halfway – Bangkok. Is this okay for five weeks or is this kind of killing it?
I would love to hear your opinion on it!
Your original plan sounds ambitious though also not unreasonably so. It’ll be a whirlwind tour but it could of course be done, if you’re OK with spending no more than 9 days in each country.
This stuff gets subjective very quickly but intuitively I’d say your first plan might feel slightly too rushed and your second plan just slightly too open. Perhaps it’s a good idea is to plan several possible options and see how things go during your trip – you can either go slower or faster, but having already researched your options you’ll know where to go next.
Hope this helps a bit. I have yet to go to China/Yunnan myself btw so I personally can’t compare it directly to the other countries.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
Just a simple question from me:
We have 10 days to spend somewhere in South East Asia.
We want to do a 3/4 day trekking in the nature and for the rest we want to relax.
We don’t want to be very touristic areas but because of the lack of time we can not travel too long to get there.
What are the first things that pop into your mind?
Thanks for sharing!
Hmmm, lots of options really!
You could trek Mt Rinjani in Indonesia and spend the rest of the time on Lombok or Bali.
There’s great jungle trekking in Borneo (Malaysian side) as well as Mt. Kinabalu to climb – it’s not too touristy here though it’s easily reached by plane from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.
And there’s good trekking through hilly landscapes in Myanmar around Inle Lake and Kalaw, and Myanmar isn’t too touristy either.
Just a few that pop to mind… hope it helps!
Great article!! It was a great read. Got me really excited for my trip.
Myself & my partner are flying to Bangkok in January for 8 weeks. Ideally we are wanting to go to Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam (& if we have enough money Indonesia for a few days before we fly back home from Bangkok again, this isn’t a big deal if we can’t afford to get there though)
Could you recommend a budget?
So far we have £200 GBP each per week. Starting to panic that might not be enough.
We will only be eating street food & only staying in very basic rooms, travelling by sleeper trains/buses when travelling far & doing things very cheap but we do want to do alot of trips like elephant sanctuary, visit temples etc.
What do you think? Any advice is great!
I think your budget will be fine. 🙂 If you go for basic accommodation and eat the local food, 200 GBP each per week will definitely see you through. You’ll probably spend a fair bit less than that in Cambodia and Vietnam.
hi marek you have a pretty good trip planned by the looks of it, I’m planning on heading over for 2 months at the start of janurary and just wondering if you know how hard it would be to find hostels or rooms that aren’t full or if you have to pre book them?
It’s easy to find hostels/rooms. It can be nice to book ahead (by a day or two) to ensure a spot in your preferred hostel, but there’s always many options.
I’ve had some difficulty over xmas / NYE in Asia, but you will be travelling after that period so not much to worry about.
Your web site is amazing and gonna be very usefull
I ideally wanted 4 months for my first “long trip” but chickened out to go alone and so found a friend to join for a 2 months trip: 28 th dec-27th feb
Does that sound crazy to add some time in the philippines to your 2 months recommended itinerary , should we then skip something not to be running?
Thanks for your lights
PS : do you think a 2 months trip requirements planning or just to book a flight and the first few nights of accommodation and go with the flow?
Having a rough plan is very useful, but for your day-to-day decisions on a longer trip like this, it’s nicer to just go with the flow. So it’s good to have a rough plan, but don’t book things far ahead… it’s nice to have the freedom to stay a day or two longer, or to pick up the pace depending on how you feel.
2 months is already fairly tight for seeing mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam). You can always keep the Philippines as an option… if you find that you still have the time for it, you can book a cheap flight with AirAsia to Manila during your trip and tack this onto your route.
awesome thanks very much
Will be travelling to SE Asia first week in January until probably first week in May. Not sure if we should fly into Thailand and start from there or fly into Singapore for few days, do Bali for a week then work our way up through the countries to Thailand. What would you suggest? We will book a room for first few days of arrival and after that it will be book as we go. What are your most “not to miss” areas and suggestions for this travel. This is our first time travelling without a plan and sort of doing it on day to day basis with probably a couple of organized tours that we may pick up in certain areas. We should be able to visit a lot I imagine in four months. Your suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.
Both Thailand and Singapore/Bali are great starting points in Southeast Asia, so I probably wouldn’t worry too much about this choice. Starting with Singapore and Bali might be nice if you want to ease into things a bit. Singapore is very modern and clean (also a bit dull in my opinion, though the food is amazing). Bali sees lots of tourists and is very easy to enjoy. From either Bali or Thailand you can acclimatize and then make your way to other places.
There’s a lot of ‘not to miss’ stuff all over Asia – depends on what you’re after. Though with 4 months you can go with the flow. Research some places now but also ask people you meet for recommendations – this is a sure-fire way of discovering lots of great stuff along the way.
Hi Marek, I have a question! Thanks for this very thorough
article!. I am using it for guidance as I plan a trip! I’m very
excited but I have the interesting fortune to really play around with my
timing. Do you think that I should go for one month in June, or wait
until August, and go for 2-3 months — I am worried about the monsoon
season picking up. I’m looking to do Thailand+Cambodia, but if I have
ample time then of course Vietnam, Laos. (and hopefully Myanmar) . I’m
traveling solo, and I am a budget traveler (30y/o woman)
Hmm if given the choice between 1 month or 2+ months I’d go for the latter, just because you’ll have more time to experience Asia! Monsoon season is something to keep an eye on — but if you’ve got some time (as you will have) then it’s not necesserily a bad time to travel. It won’t rain all the time; you just might get unlucky and get a very rainy couple of days. If your plans are at least a bit flexible you can kind of work around that. Thailand has two different rainy seasons on its west and east coast as well, which might enable you to avoid the more rainy area when you’re there.
Thank you so much for your reply, Marek!! My mind has been doing a lot of flip-flopping here, and I think I’m going to have to go for only 4 weeks in June-July now. Maybe I will go again to check out the rest of Vietnam and Laos later this year. : o)
Hey Marek, this has all been super informative. I am currently in Australia, my visa expires the beginning of June and I was planning on travelling home via South East Asia. I probably have 3-4 weeks to play with, the only thing is I will be a lone female traveller on a budget. Can you advise on what kind of budget I would need 🙂
It depends. I’m in southern Thailand right now and noticing again how the prices are higher here (in bangkok and tourist areas) than elsewhere in SEA. But aside from the main draws in Thailand which are relatively more expensive, I usually give the ballpark of $800-900 usd / month if you eat local food, stay in hostels, and don’t do any unusually expensive activities like scuba diving. Your mileage may vary of course. I should probably do a post on cost of travel in SEA sometime!
Great post Marek! If we were to add Myanmar to your 2 month itinerary, where would you try to add it? A seperate trip from Bangkok? Head over from Chiang Mai?
I would stick it to the end – makes for a nice end of a trip. No border crossings from Chiang Mai as far as I know, though you may be able to fly from there. Limited overland border crossings possible in the south. Easiest is probably still to fly in, e.g. to Yangon and fly out from Mandalay. Check out my Myanmar page for a bit more info https://www.indietraveller.co/myanmar-travel-guide/
Hi Marek, I’ve got 5 weeks in South East Asia starting in May. What legs of the banana pancake route do you suggest to cut?
Hey! This is all super informative and I love your itinerary for 2 months. I’m leaving for my own 8 week adventure starting in the Philippines. I was thinking of spending about 2 weeks there to visit my family and bask in the sun which leaves me 6 more weeks before I fly back home to Canada from Bangkok. I’m struggling with trying not to spread myself too thin and seeing as much as I can see in the remaining 6 weeks. Any suggestions for the 6 weeks I have left?
Hi Krisha! I’m also doing a SE Asia exploration starting in the Philippines- ending??? Currently trying to plan my route. Curious to know what you’ve decided for your route?
Hi Marek your blog is awesome very informative and flexible. The way I like to travel! Me and my partner are thinking about Indonesia and Philippines. They both look wonderful and we have 6 weeks to play with. Do you think 3 weeks in each place is enough? don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin. Thanks!!
Sounds like a good amount of time! You might want to focus on specific regions within the countries as both are quite big with many islands divided by water (often requiring internal flights if you go for a spread out itinerary). But yeah you should be able to spend quality time with 3 weeks in each country 🙂
Hey Marek, great post! I’m heading over to do the Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia route at the beginning of Feb for 8 weeks, but my time there coincides with the Tet festival in Vietnam (mid to end Feb) and I was told to avoid Vietnam at all costs during that time! Is there another route that you could recommend through those 4 countries that would avoid having Vietnam right in the middle? I was thinking Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam but wasn’t sure if that’s stretching things our too much.
Hmm good question. I was speaking recently with someone who did Vietnam north to south, then Cambodia, then north into Laos along its spine and on to Luang Prabang, then into northern Thailand and ending on the Thai beaches in the south. That seems like a very good alternative. Yours sound good as well. To be honest there are many ways to skin a cat here! 🙂
Hi Tammy, my gf and I will be arriving in Bangkok on Feb 5th. We’ll be in South East Asia for 2 months. We should hang when we’re there. Email: Perez418@gmail.com or IG Perez418
Sounds great! I’m at email@example.com
Do you guys have an itinerary yet or are you winging it when you get there? Currently I have a million ideas and a potentia l travel partner from mid Feb but nothing concrete!
Hey Tammy–on the contrary, I would say that tet is an ok time to visit Vietnam, as long as you are avoiding places like Sa Pa or Hoi An where all vietnamese people are booking for their tet. It is true that prices can skyrocket, like a bowl of pho goes from 20,000 VND to 100,000 VND, ($1 to $5), but it can also be a very quiet time in the capital of Hanoi, which I find to be one of the most charming parts of Vietnam. I’ve been living here in Hanoi for 3 years as an expat, so I really know my stuff on Vietnam travel 🙂 The Tet is running from feb 18-22 this year, so if you come here during those dates, I’d suggest you to visit Hanoi and then do a 2 or 3 day cruise in Halong Bay(Really a MUST DO). A good alternative to Sa Pa is Ha Giang, a completely unspoiled area with limited tourists but one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my 10+ years of travel..and I would disagree about vietnam’s beaches not being great–places like Quan Lan, Lang Co, Quy Nhon, and Con Dao are all islands or beaches with longgggggggggg white beaches that have completely no people on them for fear of getting a tan 😉 Vietnam is still a developing country but it is A LOT different than the buddhist countries of Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos, and personally my favorite out of the entire south east asian area, although the Philippines and Indonesia are also very good! I’m headed to Myanmar for work from Feb 11-21 but if you need any tips/advice, feel free to facebook me or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy your Travels!
Hi Marek, thanks for these nice tips! I was wondering if you have any tips for boat or ferry trips along the Mekong River (in either Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam), either 1-2 day trips or shorter. All I can find are either long luxury cruises, touristy delta tours or the 2-day trip from Luang Prabang to the Thai border (which sounds nice, but not really practical as we are not travelling to Thailand!) We´ll be spending 6 weeks in these 3 countries (roughly 2 weeks in each, we´ll take it as it comes ;)) cheers
Tough to say actually. Not much springs to mind that don’t fall into those categories you mentioned. I believe there’s some boats heading north from Luang Prabang that reach villages further into Laos, which take about a day. That’s all I can think of right now!
thanks, I´ll look into it 🙂
Hi Marek! Love your blog! We are currently trying to plan a 9-10 month trip starting in August. Would you say 6 weeks is enough for Indonesia and Philippines and then 11 weeks for Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Burma? Thanks!
Hey Catherine! Yeah I think that should give you sufficient time. I suppose with Indonesia you might have to pick a specific region as it’s such a huge country.
Hi Marek! Thanks for this very insightful article. I’m heading there in March for 2 months. I guess I follow your advices keeping it flexible. Thanks a lot!
Thanks and good luck with your trip! I’m sure you’ll have an amazing experience 🙂
Just wondering what type of budget you would allow for two months through-out the four countries?
Depends of course on your travel style, where exactly you’ll be staying (as there’s differences per area within countries, e.g. southern Thailand is more expensive), and how many organized tours/treks/activities and such you’re planning to go on.
That said, a good rule of thumb is about $800-900 a month when travelling as a backpacker (staying in hostels or cheap guesthouses, eating mainly local food, etc. and doing an average amount of tourist activities). That does not include ‘overhead’ like gear, insurance, or flights.
What do you do for visas, apply at the border or beforehand?
Always just got them at the border. This can’t be done in Vietnam so had to request one while in Laos and wait a few days. Myanmar/Burma also required getting one in advance. All other countries have visa on arrival for most passports
Nice article! What do you do if you stay longer in a country than the visa is valid for? I can only get visa on arrival for 15 days in Thailand but planning to be there for about 30 days…
Your best bet is probably to make a visa run. Just briefly cross the border somewhere, then come back for another visa on arrival.
Thailand is quite lenient when it comes to overstaying, so if you are a couple of days over on your visa you typically just pay a fine for each day at the airport (which is about the same as normal visa costs but prorated). I probably wouldn’t recommend overstaying by 15 days though, they might not like that too much! 🙂
Hello Marek! Nice article. My first trip overseas was to Bangkok and I had five weeks. That enabled me to take a side trip to Siam Reap and Angkor Wat via bus and back to Bangkok. Overnight train deposited me in Chiang Mai with time to explore Pai and enough time to relax. Then, I flew to Krabi for a few days at Ao Nang and Koh Phangan. It was a nice balance of travel and exploring time without moving too often.
I may travel a bit like you. After picking four or so highlights, I listened to suggestions and was flexible enough to adapt at the last minute to experiences I hadn’t heard about. It made for a wonderful trip!
From Ho Chi Minh city, I took a boat trip via the Mekong into Cambodia which was very nice. After a month of travel in Vietnam, I enjoyed the beach time in Sihanouksville for New Year Eve.
More to see in that region so I’m anticipating my next trip there.
Safe travels and thanks for the insights! Larry
Great comment Larry. Sounds like the destinations you chose for your five weeks made for a great balance of sightseeing and not stretching yourself too thin. It’s also nice to keep the beach time for last as it makes for a relaxing end to a trip!
I wasn’t too impressed with the Mekong delta sightseeing tours in Vietnam, but actually travelling the Mekong to Cambodia might be a much better way to experience the river. I wished I had done that instead of a super touristy daytrip…
Thanks, Marek for sharing your experience.