You can’t expect to fit everything Southeast Asia has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. So, to help you start planning, we’ve put together 8 ideas for your Southeast Asia itinerary from The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.
For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. Plus, there’s lots to discover off the beaten track.
For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.
Start in colonial streets of Hanoi (1), the country’s historical, political and cultural capital. Go for a sail around the famed natural wonders of Ha Long Bay (2), before heading to the northern hills to the ethnic minority villages orbiting Sa Pa (3).
Take the train down to imperial architecture of Hué (4), make a day-trip to the DMZ, then move south to charming Hoi An (5). Nha Trang (6) is Vietnam‘s pre-eminent beach party town, whereas Mui Ne (7) offers great water-sports and sandy coasts with a more laidback vibe.
Da Lat (8) is your gateway to the Central Highlands, and from here you can strike southwest to reach bustling Ho Chi Minh City (9). Once you’ve explored the city, travel to the Mekong Delta (10) where you can visit one of the region’s floating markets, before finishing your trip on the island of Phu Quoc (11), a restful place perfect for beach bums and divers.
Kick off in Yangon (1) for street markets and the glorious Shwedagon Paya, then go to Mawlamyine (2), Myanmar‘s third largest city. Catch a boat to Hpa-an (3) before visiting one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, Kyaiktiyo (4).
Kalaw (5) is a perfect base for treks to ethnic-minority villages, and traditional life at Inle Lake (6) shouldn’t be missed either. Watch the sunset over Mandalay (7), then head northeast to stroll the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin (8).
3. Laos and Cambodia
Begin with the unmissable two-day trip down the Mekong River from Houayxai to Luang Prabang (1), the city of golden spires. Then its off to the stunning natural playground of Vang Vieng (2), before venturing to the country’s quaint capital, Vientiane (3).
Enjoy the pretty French-colonial lanes of Savannakhet (4) and explore the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou near Champasak (5). Set course towards Si Phan Don (6) to chill out for a few days in one of the four thousand islands scattered across the Mekong River. Catch a mini-bus to Cambodia for river dolphin watching in Kratie (7).
An easy bus ride takes you from Phnom Penh (8) to Siem Reap, where the world-famous temples of Angkor (9) beg to be explored. But if you’re feeling a little travel-worn afterwards kick back on the beach resort and offshore islands of Sihanoukville (10) or laze riverside in relaxed Kampot (11).
4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand
Rent a bicycle to explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (3) and then make for the elegant temple remains in Sukhothai (4). To break free of the tourist route head to isolated Umphang (5), where the surrounding mountains are perfect for trekking.
5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands
Trek through the jungle in Khao Sok National Park (4) – one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet – and as you move further south, consider a stop in the slightly ugly tourist village of Ko Phi Phi (5) for undeniably fun all-night parties, snorkelling and diving.
Continue south to the relaxed island getaway of Ko Lanta (6), before winding this itinerary down in the pockets of paradise still remaining in Ko Lipe (7) and the stunning Ko Tarutai National Marine Park nearby.
6. Singapore and Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur (3) is a must, as is former-colonial George Town (4), with its thriving food and arts scenes. Next, make some time to relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands (5) before heading to the rainforests of Taman Negara National Park (6), before catching a ride on the jungle railway to Kota Bharu.
Nature and adventure buffs alike will love Gunung Mulu National Park (9), Kinabalu National Park (10) and the wildlife outside of Sandakan (11). Finish this itinerary among the teeming marine life of Pulau Sipadan (12), one of the top dive sites in the world.
Take time to explore Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta (2), before moving on to Java cultural heart: Yogyakarta (3), the best base for the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Take a pre-dawn hike up to the crater rim of still-smoking Gunung Bromo (4), adventure the many wonders of Hindu Bali and hop over the Lombok (6) and the Gili Islands for adventures in paradise.
Enjoy close encouters with Komodo dragons in Komodo and Rinca (7) before heading to the mountainous landscapes of fertile Flores (8). Finish up on Sulawesi, immersed in the flamboyant festivals and fascinating culture of Tanah Toraja (9).
8. The Philippines
Start by soaking up the compelling energy of Manila (1), a convenient gateway to some of the country’s more inaccessible areas.
Check out the shipwrecks and prehistoric landscapes of Palawan (2), before you pass through Cebu city (3) on your way to Camiguin (4), a small volcanic island home to a bohemian arts scene and some amazing adventure activities.
Boracay (7) also shouldn’t be missed, home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nightlife rivalling Manila. Conclude this itinerary in the cool mountain villages of the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera (8), nestled among jaw-dropping rice-terrace scenery.
Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.