An Epic Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary
Travelling around Southeast Asia is a popular destination for sabbaticals, gap year or early retirement plans, there’s a good reason for that.
But when comes time to plan travelling around Southeast Asia, you quickly realize that making decisions which place to see and visit from the plethora of bucket list items can be somewhat intimidating. Moreover, with so many of the neighbouring countries within easy reach, it becomes overwhelming to decide which one to see to and which one to skip. Planning a travel itinerary for 3 months in Southeast Asia.. a daunting task in itself.
If you’ve have decided to travel to Southeast Asia, you’ve made a great choice.
A great starting point when planning such a trip is to put down on a map your must-see places for that particular trip. Such a list of attractions can be shaped from information gathered in travel guides, Pinterest pins and recommendations.
Which country do you begin your Southeast Asia itinerary?
In our case, the departure base this time around was Australia, as we’d been house-sitting for the 7 weeks prior to this Southeast Asia trip. Finding amazing airfare rates from Melbourne to Ho Chi Minh City on Skyscanner determined Vietnam as the first stop on this multi-segment travel adventure through South East Asia. It turned out to be an ideal central choice!
This 3-month Southeast Asia itinerary covers the following countries
Table of contents
Bali /30 days
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Visit many top attractions without running yourself into the ground, by following these few ground rules on your Southeast Asia Itinerary.
• Plan a 3-night minimum stay per city
• Get some rest between outings
• Remember that you don’t have to see absolutely everything this time around. You can always come back for more
Fly into Ho Chi Minh / Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh / 3 nights
Ho Chi Minh City, which still goes by its former name Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. It’s a great city to start your Southeast Asia itinerary as most of the signage is written in the Roman alphabet, letting you navigate more easily and get your toes into the Asian culture. Vietnam is a very diverse country with many great exploration opportunities and stunning beaches and fabulous countryside. The plan is to return for some in-depth exploration of the Northern Region of Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, Sapa and Hoi An, but 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh is plenty to cover the city’s main sights.
Bus to Phnom Penh / Bus to Siem Reap / Bus to Battambang / total 13 nights
Phnom Penh, the Pearl of Asia /3 nights
From Saigon, take a day bus to Phnom Penh, known as the Pearl of Asia. Often overlooked for Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, or the many seaside towns on the Gulf side, a few days in the capital is a must do if you want to properly understand what this country has been through under the Pol Pot regime.
It’s heartbreaking to think just how much the population here suffered during the mass genocide that occurred throughout the 70s, a horrific period. But a lesson in resilience can be learned from the Cambodian people, as they greet you at every corner with a smile. Cambodia still remains a very poor country but the tourism industry is flourishing and the city of Phnom Penh is booming with hotel construction and foreign investments. Hopefully, progress won’t get rid of all the Indochine French-style architecture which is still quite present in the country’s capital.
Siem Reap: Gateway to Angkor Wat / 10 nights
A bustling resort town with the main party pub appropriately named Pub Street that attracts backpackers and gap-year travellers alike. Lodging and restaurant rates range from low-budget $5 per person to high-end luxury. Hotels and food are amazingly affordable here, the choice will be yours as to the level of comfort and epicure you seek.
To visit Angkor Wat’s 400 square miles archaeological park, you have the choice of purchasing a 1 or 3-day pass, all of which are self-guided visits. I highly recommend hiring a local guide for at least 1 of those days to make some sense of all of the different temple details you’d most likely miss on your own.
The Mekong Angkor Palace Inn
Battambang: Colonial town / 3 nights
A bus will get you to Battambang, a French colonial town most renowned for its “bamboo train” rides and nearby killing caves as well as bat caves, featuring well over a million flying residents. Grab a local tuk-tuk driver to show you around town and do the “food tour”. Learn about the making of different products from rice like bamboo sticky rice, rice sheets and wine, plus see the smelly process of fish paste curing. This is the last Cambodian stop on this South East Asia itinerary before making your way North towards Bangkok, Thailand.
Onwards to Thailand / Total 18 nights
Taxi Cab to Bangkok / Train to Chiang Mai / Flight to Krabi
Bangkok / 3 nights
Time to say goodbye to Cambodia and make our way to Thailand. Many buses do the Bangkok run regularly, but you can also hop into a private cab, which will get you there for around $50.
Bangkok the “Oriental City” is a major hub with loads of people. Many travellers we’ve met hate it at first. Later changing their minds, as they can’t wait to return to this extraordinary metropolis. For the next 3 days, explore this huge city, visit its many temples and stuff yourself with amazing street food or explore the best floating markets before heading North to Chiang Mai. You can fly to Chiang Mai, but for a unique travel experience take a sleeper train which makes for great memories.
Heading to Thailand alone, here’s a solo travel guide to Thailand.
Overnight train to Chiang Mai / 10 nights
If you take the overnight train from Bangkok, you’ll get to Chiang Mai early morning, rested and ready to go. Chiang Mai is a hub for digital nomads and understandably so. The climate, the culture, the food and the Internet…it’s all here.
During this South East Asia itinerary, I recommend 10 days here, but you can shorten your stay to 7 days and still have plenty of time to visit the local temples, the old city, and also explore the countryside’s indigenous mountain villages. Of course, you shouldn’t miss visiting one of the many elephant sanctuaries that Northern Thailand is renowned for. I’d advise making sure that they comply with ethical guidelines, no riding, no bull hooks and no chains.
Fly to Krabi, Koh Lanta / 7 nights
After having spent a fair amount of time inland and in cities, it’s time to head to the beach! Thailand has many outstanding options in that department and depending on your travel style, you can select Phuket on the luxury side, Maya Bay or Koh Phi Phi for Moon parties or head to Koh Lanta, for somewhat of a quieter pace.
Obviously, many more options are available along the long Gulf of Thailand’s shorelines and for that reason, many travellers opt to stay in this paradisiac region for weeks. Relax and enjoy Koh Lanta for 4 days, the beach and the beautiful sunsets in this paradise. Rested, you’re now ready to set course for Malaysia.
Shuttle to Penang / Flight to Kuala Lumpur Total 10 nights
Georgetown Penang / 3 nights
To head South, backtrack back up to Krabi Town to catch a train (book it online with 12goasia) -unless a cramped, shared 13-hour shuttle, with 3 different transfers sounds enjoyable to you – that will get you all the way to Georgetown, Penang. Be warned that when you purchase a single route shuttle ticket, it can also mean multiple van transfers, border crossings and many different drop-off locations for those on board.
You’re now in Penang Old Town, a UNESCO Heritage site filled with interesting sights to see and things to do. Enjoy the street art, the murals and, of course, the amazing food. You can also have a blast touring the Upside Down Museum, a fun activity.
Hop into Kuala Lumpur / 7 nights
Further continuing our journey South, you can fly to Kuala Lumpur for under $30 pp., so there’s no sense in dealing with ground transport! A simple hop and you’ll be standing in front of the super high Petronas Towers. I used this portion of our trip to catch up, yet again on work, hence the reason for a 7 nights stay. Some travellers might enjoy such a long period in this city as there’s plenty to do in Kuala Lumpur but 3 days would suffice for most.
Petaling Street in Chinatown is a haggler dream. For those unfamiliar with this street, it’s filled with vendors selling every possible thing you could imagine, somewhat the equivalent of Canal Street in NYC – on steroids. Otherwise, the city has somewhat interesting sites for day excursions like Malacca and the Batu Caves.
Singapore, the Regal Queen
Flight to Singapore / 1 night
The Inn at Temple Street
Singapore is next up on the list, for a mere $18 flight plus a $50 fee for the checked bag. Which is why I now travel carry on only. You’re now in a FINE place. This is how the locals tend to refer to the city, as you can get FINED for almost everything. No chewing gum or else! First impressions are exactly as everyone claims, clean, structured and beautiful. The city oozes luxury, especially in the Bay Sands shopping Mall and Resort area.
After many months of travelling in Southeast Asia, the temptation of Western dishes lures you into restaurants for a bite to eat, and then the adjective EXPENSIVE hit you. If you are strapped for cash, you might want to consider eating at some of the many hawker food courts and dive into some of the low-cost fusion cuisines the city also has to offer.
Now a two-week Celebrity Cruise around the South China Sea
It had been 4 years since our last cruise and this splurge was a well-deserved vacation without Internet access! One that would take us on a leisurely sampler to more destinations that could otherwise have been trips of there own: Danang (Vietnam), Hong Kong, the Philippines and ports in Malaysian Islands such as Borneo.