Planning a trip to southeast Asia is no easy task! But don’t get too stressed out, this will help you break it down into steps and give you a general idea of the area, how to start planning and what it will cost!
Whether you’re planning on backing throughout the region or visiting one country for a quick holiday, I break down the best things to see in each country and what kinds of travellers each country is ideal for.
Get your bag ready and get planning your trip of a lifetime!
You’ll have heard of some of these destinations but others may be new. There are still some areas in southeast Asia that have yet to be explored which is good news for adventurous souls.
Thailand is the backpacker destination, the ultimate holiday getaway and so much more. Thailand is perfect for travellers looking for those idyllic beaches, adventure, elephants, culture and great food. There really isn’t a reason why Thailand shouldn’t be on your itinerary.
- Phi Phi Islands, where The Beach was filmed starring Leonardo Dicaprio
- Khao San Road, the ultimate party street and the most famous in all of southeast Asia
- Koh Phangan, for the Full Moon parties
- Koh Tao, for the cheapest diving in the world
Thailand Travel Guide: How to Plan the Perfect Thailand Itinerary
Vietnam is a bit of a tougher country to travel in than Thailand but is still very easy. In Vietnam, you’ll find an incredibly diverse landscape that changes from north to south. Vietnam is perfect for adventure travellers and those who have a minimum of 2-3 weeks to spend travelling the country.
- Ha Long Bay, for cruises through the towering limestone rocks
- Sapa, for trekking through gorgeous green rice terraces
- Hue, to see a bit of history at the impressive Imperial Citadel
- Hoi An, for custom made clothing and a beautiful old town
- Mui Ne, for epic sand dunes
Vietnam Travel Guide: Backpacking Vietnam on a Budget: 2-3 Week Itinerary + Tips
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is still off the beaten path. Though it is growing in popularity, it’s a little gem that should be discovered before visitors begin flowing in continuously. Myanmar opened its boarders to foreginers only a few years ago. It is ideal for travellers looking for adventure like trekking and those who are okay with getting off the beaten path and discovering things for themselves.
- Bagan, for epic sun rises in hot air balloons over thousands of temples
- Inle Lake, the floating city surrounded by lush green mountains
- Shwedagon Pagoda, a place with so much gold you’ll be in awe for days
- Golden Rock, a special spot for Myanmar Buddhists where the rock looks like it’s about to fall off the cliff
Myanmar Travel Guide: The Perfect 2 Week Myanmar Itinerary
Cambodia is a surprise to many as it’s more than just Angkor Wat. The county has a rough history but lovely people and stunning sights. Cambodia is perfect for travellers wanting somewhere not quite as touristy but still looking to see some epic places.
- Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world…get ready for temples!
- Koh Rong, a beautiful little island that has yet to be overtaken by big resorts (though it’s starting to happen)
- The Killing Fields, a sad place but excellent for learning about Cambodia’s violent history
Cambodia Travel Guide: Backpacking Cambodia on a Budget (1-2 Itinerary)
Laos is often overlooked but is a beautiful country filled with temples and waterfalls. It is amazing on your wallet and is a great country for relax in for a while. Laos is ideal for travellers looking to see more nature. There are also parties! Laos is also perfect to connect travels between Thailand and Vietnam.
- Luang Prabang, a gorgeous city with French architecture that is also a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Vang Vieng, nature and of course the famous tubing destination
- Buddha Park, a site filled with religious statues that makes for an interesting trip
Most famously known for Bali, Indonesia is a little slice of paradise. This country made up of over 17,000 islands is home to a diverse range of activites. Indonesia is ideal for any type of traveller such as those who are interested in diving, a yoga retreat, nature or active activities like hiking or surfing, culture, history and beaches. There is literally something for everyone in this country.
- The whole island of Bali is one big attraction with the highlights being the cultural centre of Ubud
- Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world in Yogyakarta
- Mount Rinjani, the second tallest volcano in Indonesia that you can trek to the summit
- Komodo National Park, a must-visit for its great diving and to see these Komodo dragons in the wild
Bali Travel Guide: How to Plan the Perfect Bali Itinerary
Singapore may be a small country but it’s packed with entertainment. It is the least budget-friendly country in Southeast Asia with prices like are more like western countries, but it’s still worth a visit. Singapore is known for its wide variety of food (that just so happens to be very budget friendly), it’s home to the Merlion (the unofficial mascot of the country) and incredible 1st world attractions, plus the #1 airport in the world!
- Gardens by the Bay, a colourful light show by night, an out of this world garden to explore by day
- Marina Bay Sands, the world-renowned hotel
- Sentosa Island, for endless amusement park entertainment
- Neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and Little India
Singapore Travel Guide: How to Plan the Perfect Singapore Trip
Other destinations in southeast Asia include Malaysia, Brunei and East Timor (Timor-Leste).
Your dollar is going to stretch very far in Asia which means you can travel longer or travel like a king or queen. But if you choose to do both it will add up. Southeast Asia can easily be travelled through on $30-$40 (USD) a day. Of course, you could always end up spending more or less.
Typically the cheapest countries are Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Myanmar, outside of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, the Philippines and Laos are slightly more expensive but still very affordable. Singapore is the most expensive and often people only visit for 2-3 days.
This budget is very much achievable if you follow these basic tips:
- Stay in hostels
- Eat street food
- Minimize your drinking (it’s cheap but it will add up quickly)
- Bargain (this is common so get used to it)
Travel Insurance in Southeast Asia
Don’t even try and go to southeast Asia without travel insurance! I’ve personally used travel insurance in Asia (when I got sick in the Philippines) have friends who have been hospitalized and have read too many stories to not travel with travel insurance. I personally used and recommend World Nomads, but if you’d like to do your own research you can use this guide to help you pick the right one for you.
READ THIS: A Guide to Choosing Travel Insurance
Southeast Asia is a very large area and the climates can range drastically in one country alone. That being said, it is crucial that you research what the weather is like as you’re planning your trip. Getting suck in the monsoon season in Myanmar or Malaysia could result in rainfall constantly or entire parts of the country shutting down.
Events & Holidays
Some events in southeast Asia are a big deal and can mean that you’ll end up paying higher prices if you’re visiting around the event or holiday. That being said, you may also want to plan your trip around one of said events or holidays because it can be an incredible way to experience a culture.
Outside major cities in southeast Asia you will find local transportation is minimal. You’ll often find yourself hiring a scooter or hopping on a tuk tuk. Get your bargaining skills ready and make sure you check over your scooter before renting it as many people are caught in scams. Ask about driving in the area as well because many areas are not good for those with little experience on a scooter.
From city to city there are many ways to get around depending on the country. Research safe ways to get around, it is often worth it to spend the extra bit more and get a VIP bus or something with air conditioning! Other places you’ll need to take ferries which can be unreliable. Just do your research beforehand on specific routes.
Anyone looking to travel southeast Asia on a budget should be staying in hostels. That being said, it is easy to splurge once in a while and get a private dorm or hotel room because they can be quite reasonable! Dorms rooms are usually $10USD and under while hotel rooms can be around $30USD.
I personally use and recommend these sites for finding accommodation throughout southeast Asia:
FOR HOSTELS AND HOTELS: Booking.com
Lastly, one of the most important things for planning a trip to southeast Asia, visas! Most countries will allow you to get a visa on arrival but there are some exceptions. Myanmar and Vietnam both require visas in advance. You can get these from an embassy or online depending on how you are travelling into the country. Visas range from free to over $50USD and change price depending on where your passport is from.
Each visa also has different limitations of how many days you can spend in a country. Do the research before you go so you don’t end up overstaying in a country which could result in paying extra fees.
Learning Cultural Norms and Languages
Remember you are travelling to someone’s country, it is your responsibility to adhere to their norms. The basics are being polite and covering up. Each country is different though. You may be able to get away with a crop top in Thailand but that won’t fly in Myanmar.
Learn to eat like a local as well and you’ll save a ton of money. There is no need to fear street food! Use your judgment before you eat something, if it looks like its been sitting there for hours then it probably has so move on. Quite often food is cooked right in front of you and can often be better than restaurant food for both taste and safety-wise!
Make the small effort and learn a few key phrases or words in each language of all the places you’re travelling to. I can help you get started with the basics of how to say hello and thank you.
That was a lot of information! This just covers the basics but hopefully it gives you a better idea of where to start. This guide is loaded with links to more detailed posts and travel resources so be sure to keep the email with this link to refer back to it.
- 51 Travel Tips for Backpacking Through Southeast Asia
- 11 Common Southeast Asia Travel Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
I try my best to keep all information up to date but things change constantly so please be sure to do the necessary research.
Southeast Asia in an incredible, beautiful and unreal place packed with adventures, relaxation hot spots, history and so much good food. It is inevitable that things are going to go wrong, that is a part of travelling in southeast Asia. Be as prepared as you can but know that you will never be prepared for all of southeast Asia’s surprises!
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