Backpacking Southeast Asia 2019 - The Classic Banana Pancake trail
Backpacking Routes,  Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Backpacking Route

Backpacking Southeast Asia is as popular as ever and it’s not hard to see why. The region is cheap, home to truly unique and varied cultures, fantastic weather and scenery but with such a thriving backpacker scene, home comforts are never hard to find. Perhaps it has lost some of the mysticism it had back in the day when traveller numbers were still relatively small but there is still undeniably a certain magic about this part of the world.

This page aims to give you a basic idea of what a typical traveller itinerary in Southeast Asia looks like. It’s not the definitive answer to travelling around the region and you will probably have a much more rewarding and interesting trip if you veer off the so-called ‘Banana Pancake Trail’ once in a while but hopefully it will help shape your plans for travelling around this wonderful part of the world.


All our Southeast Asia Backpacking Routes

Choose one of the countries below if you are only interested in a route for a specific destination. Otherwise read on for our main Southeast Asia itinerary which takes in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.


Mainland Southeast Asia Backpacking Route Overview


TIME NEEDED – 3-4 MONTHS

Could just about be squeezed into two months but that would be a real rush. If you’re not limited on time you could easily spend six months travelling in Southeast Asia.

POSSIBLE SHOESTRING BUDGET – £2500, €2800, $3200

Figures are based on prices and exchange rates as of June 2019. They don’t include the cost of flights to/from region or other pre-trip expenses such as getting travel insurance and vaccinations. For more specific info and a more comfortable backpacker budget for the region see our article on the cost of travel in Southeast Asia.

Note that this shoestring budget allows for a bit of partying and the odd organised tour/trip in the day-time but if you are planning on doing lots of either then you will spend more! On the Southeast Asia backpacker trail, temptation lies at almost every corner and it’d be easy to blow this budget if you aren’t great on self-discipline! If it’s your first time travelling then you’d be wise to budget for more than the figures above.

CUT YOUR SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAVEL COSTS

We’d highly recommend getting a Revolut Card before you travel. This will enable you to pay for things in local currencies such as the Thai Baht. Over the course of a lengthy backpacking trip, this will save you a lot of money as you’ll dodge most of those irritating hidden fees. You can easily load money directly from your bank via the app and can exchange it in an instant at excellent rates. They also have some great budgeting tools which will help you keep tabs on your expenditure and make sure you are not overspending.

WORK OR VOLUNTEER WHILST TRAVELLING

A good way to truly immerse yourself in the local culture and to make your money go further is to use Worldpackers to find host placements. Essentially you will use your skills in exchange for free accommodation, food and other benefits. You can also use the platform to find volunteering projects through NGO’s and other social projects. Use the Promocode ‘MYFUNKYTRAVELWP’ for a $10 discount when you sign up!

TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend SafetyWing who specialise in providing affordable travel medical insurance cover for long trips to all four corners of the world including Southeast Asia. Do check the full terms and conditions though before booking any insurance to make sure the cover is adequate for your trip.

We have more on the best travel insurance for backpacking trips here.


Southeast Asia Itinerary – 3 to 4 Months

Our Southeast Asia backpacking route begins in the traveller hub of Bangkok before heading into mystical Northern Thailand and then crossing through lazy, chilled-out Laos. Next stop is Vietnam, a rapidly developing country with a complex history before looping back around into the crazy kingdom of Cambodia. Back in Thailand and a short stop in Bangkok to connect for the trip to the beach paradises of Southern Thailand. After a few weeks of island hopping, the route takes in the length of Malaysia before finishing off in the swanky city state of Singapore.

Southeast Asia Map

Zoom into the Southeast Asia map above for a complete overview of the route which can be loosely split into two parts. Part one is the loop starting and ending in Bangkok (can be done in either direction). Part two is the long line south through the Thai islands and Malaysia before finishing in Singapore. You can save the map on google by pressing the star button for easy reference when you are travelling in Southeast Asia or just bookmark this page.


Central & Northern Thailand Itinerary

Backpackers in Bangkok

Bangkok  

The Thai Capital is the most convenient place to commence your Southeast Asia backpacking trip. For starters, it’s a major airline hub so it is very easy to get to. Flights are also more reasonably priced than ones to other Southeast Asian cities which often pass through Bangkok anyway. It is the most westernised city in the region so the culture shock is less than if you landed straight into Vietnam or Laos. It also offers you a chance to stock up on anything you may need for your trip with prices much cheaper than back home but still with great choice. Bangkok is very much base camp for travellers in Southeast Asia. Love it or loathe it, chances are you’ll be back again before too long.

As for the city, well it’s the sort of place that divides opinion. It’s certainly something of a backpacking Mecca centred around the famous Khao San Road which is possibly the most international street in the world. It is a huge metropolis with many different districts and lots of sights to see so you will need several days (although you will return later in this Southeast Asia backpacking route so don’t stress if you can’t fit everything in). There is also, unquestionably, a seedy side to Bangkok and its infamous sex industry, which is almost unavoidable and probably what the city is most known for around the world.

Ayutthaya

Ancient city and former capital of Siam. Ayutthaya is effectively an island in the middle of three rivers. History buffs will love it and for everyone else it makes for a nice stop on the way to the North of Thailand.

Phitsanulok

Not on the regular hit-list for people backpacking in Thailand, but it is somewhere to break up the journey between Bangkok and Chiang Mai (although as of 2019, there are regular budget flights connecting the two cities, so if you’re pushed for time, you can always take a flight and skip Ayutthaya and Phitsanulok). Perhaps the best thing to do in Phitsanulok is to explore the nearby Sukhothai Historical Park. There are also a few temples and small museums in town.

Chiang Mai

The Northern city of Chiang Mai is an intellectual kind of place with an alternative vibe and many travellers prefer it to Bangkok. It’s a good spot to study traditional Thai practices such as massage and meditation. It is also the best place to base yourself for exploring or trekking into the jungle and ethnic minority villages near the city. It’s also a good place to hang around for a few months if you fancy living in Southeast Asia as opposed to merely travelling through it. Chiang Mai is well located for easy visa runs and features in our article on five cheap places to live in Asia. It is also the best place besides Bangkok to catch a flight over the border and spend some time backpacking in Myanmar.

Chiang Khong

Right on the border with Laos, Chiang Khong has a real Southeast Asia backpacker vibe to it with people heading in both directions. It is in the Golden Triangle, a famous opium growing region which covers areas of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Chiang Khong is also a market town which brings in local hill tribes such as the White Hmongs.

Explore the mountainous region, visit some of the other villages and learn about the opium trade which has been largely cut out in Thailand but still thrives over the nearby Lao and Burmese borders.


Border Crossing from Thailand to Laos: Chiang Khong and Houay Xai are right next to each other so it’s fairly straightforward and you can purchase a 30 day Laos tourist visa for around $30-40 at the border.


Where to go in Laos?

Southeast Asia travel route

Vang Vieng in Laos, CC BY-SA 2.0

Houay Xai

For a border town, Houay Xai is very pleasant and it may be worth hanging around for a day or so to adapt to the chilled out Lao lifestyle and enjoy sitting on the banks of the Mekong or consider visiting the nearby Bokeo Nature Reserve. It’s a decent spot to psyche yourself up for the long journey to Luang Prabang. (Backpacking in Laos isn’t as easy or anywhere near as comfortable as in Thailand thanks to dodgy roads and a basic to non-existent transport system).

Luang Prabang

French and Indochinese culture met here and resulted in an enchanting city, one of the highlights of Laos. The Old Quarter on the banks of the river is home to an array of temples and museums. Meanwhile the night market is another big draw for travellers. There are also plenty of companies offering trekking, biking and kayaking opportunities.

Vang Vieng

This is another hugely popular backpacking destination in South East Asia. Hop on a rubber tube and make your way between the various bars along the river. This is the main attraction here but there’s plenty of other adventurous stuff you can do around the ramshackle town of Vang Vieng, which has a real chilled out backpacker vibe. The tubing is not as crazy or dangerous as it once was thanks to a government crackdown but injuries and deaths are not uncommon.

Vientiane

A capital city it may be but don’t let that deceive you. Vientiane is about as friendly and laid back a place as you’ll find anywhere. Set on the Mekong River, this French influenced town is pleasant and picturesque and the perfect place to chill out for a few days. Be sure to visit and support COPE Laos which helps the country’s many people with mobility related disabilities.

Tha Khaek

A small town with a large market selling all sorts of weird stuff and dishes based on a variety of meats including snake, squirrel and frog. Its main use for travellers is as a base for exploring the Phou Hin Boon National Park. Don’t miss the giant Konglor Cave, which is basically a river beneath the surface that can be navigated on boat trips. You can also visit the Tham Nong Pafa Cave discovered as recently as 2004 and home to 200 mysterious Buddha statues.

Savannakhet

This may be the second biggest city in Laos, but again it feels pretty small and is very chilled out with both French and Lao influences. Things to do here include a visit to the Dinosaur Museum which exhibits various dinosaur remains found in the area (it has received mixed reviews). There’s also a museum about the problem of unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War that still litter the eastern side of the province. The city also hosts many different festivals throughout the year which you may be lucky enough to catch.

Read more: How much does it cost to travel in Laos?


Border Crossing from Laos to Vietnam: Buses are fairly high quality with air-con and run from Savannakhet to Dong Ha in Vietnam and take around 8 hours. Enquire in town for bus times. Depending on how long you wish to stay in the country, you may need to arrange your Vietnam visa in advance, which is probably best done at the Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane.

Note that this route skips out Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam – two popular stops with Southeast Asia backpackers. Should you wish to visit both then consider taking a flight from Vientiane to Hanoi and skipping Tha Khaek and Savannakhet.


Southeast Asia Backpacking – Good Morning Vietnam!

Hoi An Boats

Dong Ha

Vietnam is very different to Laos and it will take a little time to adjust to the increased pace of life here. The main sight near Dong Ha where the buses from Savannakhet arrive is the former de-militarised zone (DMZ) which used to separate North and South Vietnam. You won’t want to stay in Dong Ha more than a day though and many travellers head straight to Hue.

Hue

Hue is an ancient city on a musty coloured river with dragon boats. There are lots more Vietnam War sites nearby and a pretty decent traveller scene. It’s a good place to try Vietnamese food. It also rains a lot.

Hoi An

This riverside town is pretty damn cool. It’s the place where backpackers buy tailor-made clothes of all varieties and then prance around like prize nutters in their bright, new and utterly impractical purple suits. The beach is a short moto-taxi ride away and is one of the finest in the country. There are also some surprisingly cool bars here catering to a variety of music tastes. It’s a nice spot to hang around for a few days and there are loads of cheap places to eat in Hoi An.

Nha Trang

Nha Trang has a fairly seedy traveller area and a dirty beach but there are a few positives. A peaceful temple near the bus station is home to a giant white Buddha. There’s also a decent beach club that serves cheap cocktails and stays open till much later than anywhere you’re likely to find further north. Some decent water sports on offer here too.

Dalat

1500 metres above sea level, Dalat has a distinctly different feel to the rest of the main places to visit in South East Asia. With a temperate climate that makes nights chilly, it comes as a refreshing change and with lakes, forests and waterfalls that surround the town, it is a paradise for fans of the great outdoors. Hiking and cycling opportunities aplenty here and there’s a few tribe villages nearby that are worth heading out to.

Mui Ne

The nearby sand dunes are good fun if you can stand the heat. There is one road, it’s very long and runs parallel to the 20 km or so long beach which is largely deserted and one of the best on this Southeast Asia backpacking route. It’s a good place to unwind but there is not much going on in terms of partying.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC (AKA Saigon) is the biggest city in the country and has by some considerable margin the largest backpacker scene in Vietnam. Hit the Pham Ngu Lao traveller area and you will find numerous cheap places to eat, sleep and drink. The area is busy until late and has cuisines from literally all over the world. The moto drivers here will compete for your business non-stop so it’s easy to get anywhere else in town. Lots of sights relating to the war here in this ever growing and somewhat crazy city. The traffic is mental so be a combination of brave and careful when crossing the road!

Check out our full Vietnam backpacking route which includes both Hanoi and Ha Long bay!


Border Crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia: Buses from Saigon to Phnom Penh are cheap and regular taking around 6 hours. You will have to get off at the border and most bus companies seem to rather annoyingly take your passports off you on the bus and charge an extra $5 or so to sort out the Cambodian visa as opposed to the official $30 (as of June 2019). If you refuse and demand to sort it yourself, you risk being left at the border, while your belongings hurtle towards Phnom Penh!


Cambodia Backpacking Route

Southeast Asia travel itinerary

Pre Rup Sunrise, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Phnom Penh

On the surface Phnom Penh is a pleasant, aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly peaceful capital city with lots of monks. Dig a little deeper and it’s a lawless, poverty stricken place where just about anything goes. Welcome to Cambodia.

It’s easy to lose yourself in Phnom Penh and you may hear bizarre stories of everything from backpackers supposedly blowing up cows with rocket launchers, attending cock fighting matches and getting off their faces on ridiculously easily available drugs. If none of that really sounds like you, then you can spend some time reflecting and trying to understand the horrors that took place here all too recently during the days of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge by visiting the Killing Fields and a former prison where unimaginable horrors took place. There are also some stunning temples and palaces which could grace any of the finest cities on the planet. Inequality is everywhere in Cambodia and Phnom Penh demonstrates it better than anywhere else.

Sihanoukville

24 hour bars and unspoiled beaches are the order of the day here. It’s a bit like some of the Thai beach destinations would have been like 20 years ago before they became commercialised. Much like in Phnom Penh there’s a majorly psychedelic backpacker scene, although more organised tourism is coming to the area too.

Battambang

Travelling to Battambang from Sihanoukville is likely to involve going back to Phnom Penh and changing buses such is the limited transport network in the country. The city is full of statues and interesting Wats and has plenty of river based activities to entertain travellers. Once you’re done hop on a boat north to Siem Reap. It may be worth checking the estimated length of the journey as it depends on water levels and can take up to 12 hours, in which case you may well prefer the less scenic bus route.

Siem Reap (for Temples of Angkor Wat)

Siem Reap has grown from nothing into a thriving little town thanks to its proximity to the country’s main pride and joy, the magnificent Temples of Angkor Wat, an essential stop for anyone backpacking in Cambodia or indeed Southeast Asia as a whole. If you’re a fairly well travelled person you’ve probably been to some ancient ruin that was in all the guidebooks and been left thoroughly disappointed at the crappy little pile of rocks that you paid to go and see.

Angkor Wat however is in a different league and with hundreds of impressive ruins spread out over a large area of jungle, it’s a pretty amazing place. You’d have to be very hard to please not to be impressed by the scale of it. In Siem Reap itself there are few sights but some decent bars and plenty of great food.

Read more: Cambodia Backpacking Costs | 3 week Cambodia itinerary


Border Crossing from Cambodia to Thailand: There are direct international buses from Siem Reap to Bangkok. However if you fancy doing it all yourself then first take the bus from Siem Reap to Poipet, a Cambodian border town which is a total hellhole. Your main objective ought to be to cross the border as quickly as possible whilst trying not to get scammed. The Thai side isn’t as bad but you are likely to have your luggage sniffed by dogs either at the border or once on board your onward bus which will probably be stopped by police at some point early on in the journey. They are looking for drugs and penalties are severe if caught. Once you’ve got through immigration, take a tuk-tuk to the bus terminal in Aranya Prathet from where there are regular buses to Bangkok taking 4 hours or so.


Beach Paradise & Backpacker Parties in Southern Thailand

backpacking Southeast Asia

Bangkok

Kick back on the Khao San Road for a few head days or head south depending on how much you enjoyed the city first time around. Having completed the big loop around the North of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, it’s time to hop on a night train and head for the beach paradise of Southern Thailand.

It is also possible to fly from Bangkok to Southern Thailand but note that domestic flights go from the city’s other major airport – Don Mueang which features in our list of the most dangerous airports in the world!

Ko Samui

A large and very westernised island that tends to attract more mainstream tourism than people travelling in South East Asia on a budget. Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai are party central for the tourist masses but there are plenty of quieter spots to explore with a vast choice of beaches to choose from and you may have to pass through here to get the boat to Ko Pha Ngan anyway.

Ko Pha Ngan

This island is probably the most famous backpacking destination in the world. A tropical paradise it certainly is and the options are endless when it comes to finding a beach to spend the day on. There are no major developments here so accommodation is basic and dirt cheap with plenty of traditional beach bungalows still available. Hat Rin is the place to party and home of the famous full moon parties which attract thousands at that time of the month. The other beaches and particularly the northern parts of the island are considerably quieter and great places to relax and enjoy your days in peace.

Ko Tao

Express boats travel the 45 km between Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao taking around two hours. This is the place to come to delve into the ocean and experience diving or snorkelling in beautiful clear waters with lots of marine life. It almost goes without saying that this is also another great island to soak up the sun and laze around on the beach all day. Hat Sai Ri’s bars are the centre of the drinking action, but Ko Tao’s nightlife is nowhere near as lively as that on Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Samui.

Krabi

Back on the Thai mainland and now the Andaman Coast, hit the popular beaches of Ao Nang, Tang Sei and Rai Leh. Crash out in a cheap guesthouse or bungalows on one of the beaches. There’s also more opportunities for the active traveller here so if you’re bored of lazing around all day, try your hand at rock climbing, a popular activity on Hat Ton Sai and Hat Rai Leh AKA Railay Beach, another favourite spot with anyone backpacking Southeast Asia.

Ko Phi Phi

Ever popular with backpackers in Thailand, this is where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed and is still screened virtually every night at some point in Phi Phi town. The main action, and again a very lively party scene, is on the larger island and you will have to stay on it (Phi Phi Don). It’s a bit pricier than some of the other Thai beach destinations and isn’t exactly a secret paradise any more but it’s still beautiful despite being badly affected by the 2004 tsunami and a recent large influx of Chinese tourists.

Note that it is no longer possible to visit Maya Bay, where the movie was filmed. The Thai authorities have closed it down until 2021 due to the damage caused by around 5,000 visitors per day in recent years.

Ko Tarutao National Marine Park  

Over 50 little islands in the far south-west of the country. So far it has managed not to become at all commercialised or overrun by foreigners and isn’t that regularly visited by backpackers in Thailand. You can rent out a tent on one of the few accessible islands and enjoy a day or two in unspoiled natural surroundings.


Border Crossing from Thailand to Malaysia: Boats travel between Satun, Thailand and Pulau Langkawi in Malaysia taking 1 hour 15 minutes and costing 350 Baht – $11 (as of June 2019). Violence sometimes flares up in the largely Muslim provinces in the far south of Thailand so if in doubt it’s best to head straight to Malaysia rather than crossing by land.


Malaysia Itinerary

Malaysia budget travel

Penang

A small island off the west coast of Malaysia that is well worth visiting. Hit Georgetown, for a taste of British colonialism in this part of the world. Also be sure to check out Penang’s famous markets and religious sites of various faiths. Elsewhere on the island there are some pleasant beaches and plenty of quaint little fishing villages.

Ipoh

There are lots of cool sights in Ipoh and even the train station is something of an architectural masterpiece. It is a mysterious kind of place, home to haunted castles, secret passages, weird statues and spooky caves. You can also go trekking in the surrounding jungle, visit nearby hot-springs, enjoy a day at the water park or for the adventurous try your hand at caving and white-water rafting.

Taman Negara National Park

It can be a bit of a pain to get to but is well worth the effort. You don’t really need a guide so you can wander around the jungle terrain at your own leisure. There are some beautifully clear lakes to swim in as well as some spectacular water cascades and a 500 metre long suspension bridge which cuts through the jungle canopies. Longer treks deeper into the jungle can be arranged as can mountain climbing and 4WD safaris.

Kuala Lumpur

The Malaysian capital is a developed modern city. There is some excellent shopping and lively nightlife here in the Golden Triangle, home of the Petronas Twin Towers, two of the tallest buildings in the world. It is considerably more expensive than most places on the route but still very cheap by Western standards.

Malacca

Another World Heritage Site, Malacca is considered one of the backpacking highlights in Malaysia. It’s a rather old city having being founded over 600 years ago but there’s still plenty of buzz about Malacca today. There are plenty of interesting, centuries-old streets and squares to kick back in, and there’s a good choice of local dishes and drinks to try.

Read about the cost of travel in Malaysia to compare it to other countries in the region any beyond.


Border Crossing from Malaysia to Singapore: Heading to Singapore, one way or another you’ll need to get to the town of Johor Bahru which is connected to Singapore by a 1 km long causeway. There are frequent buses from Johor Bahru’s bus station north of the city and Queen Street Station in Singapore. They all stop at both immigration checkpoints where you will need to get off with your luggage and then re-board once you’re through passport control.


Singapore – The Lion City

Travel itinerary for Southeast Asia

Singapore Marina Bay, CC BY-SA 2.0

Singapore

The glamorous city state of Singapore is full of flashy skyscrapers and is a complete contrast to most of South East Asia. The city is is very multi-cultural and has lots of fascinating districts to explore and foods to taste. The law here is famously strict so behaviour that is considered perfectly acceptable in Cambodia and Laos could be punished by the death penalty so don’t take any chances. Even chewing gum is illegal here!

As far as budget travel in Southeast Asia goes, travel costs in Singapore are firmly on the expensive side of the scale. Beer here is probably ten times the price it is in other parts of the region. Although not everything is extortionate, it’s a good idea to ensure you’ve not totally blown your budget by the time you get here.

Singapore also has probably the best airport in the world and is very well connected so this is the perfect place to end your trip and fly home or onwards to a different part of the world. There are cheap connecting flights to Bangkok if you booked a return flight to the Thai capital.

Alternatively you could make the short sea crossing to Indonesia and continue your travels there. Many travellers then take a flight down under from Singapore and you might find some more inspiration in our backpacking route for Australia or 5 week New Zealand travel itinerary.


Southeast Asia Backpacking Tips & FAQ’s

How much does it cost to backpack Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia is still quite cheap to visit when compared to almost any other region in the world although prices are rising steadily in some of the more popular destinations. Check out our article on Southeast Asia travel costs for a much more detailed overview of how much a typical Southeast Asia backpacking trip costs.

Is backpacking Southeast Asia safe?

Overall, travelling around Southeast Asia is relatively safe, certainly when compared to South America or other parts of Asia. Parts of the bigger cities and small pockets of Thailand have a dangerous reputation but those areas are pretty easy to avoid. Sticking to this route, you shouldn’t encounter any problems beyond the sort of hassles that can occur anywhere in the world – such as petty theft.

The threat of terrorist incidents is not really any greater here than anywhere else although there was a bombing in Bangkok in 2015 which killed 20 people. There are occasionally violent crimes against travellers but again given the huge numbers of young people from around the world who visit the region, it’s inevitable that a small number will be the victims of crime. Southeast Asians are typically a very peaceful bunch and much less likely to get aggressive or start trouble than your average drunk in Europe or North America. However they don’t take kindly to people who insult their country or culture so it’s important to be respectful at all times.

In truth, there are more nuisances than real dangers in Southeast Asia. Mild over-charging of foreigners is not uncommon all over the region. Be wary of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers and negotiate a price before getting in or better still demand the use of the meter where there is one. If they tell you it’s broken, don’t believe them.

One thing you should keep an eye on though is any sign of political instability. Military coups and sometimes bloody street protests do occur from time to time and it’s best to alter your plans if there is any sign of that.

First and foremost, make sure you have good travel insurance which will be a real help if you are unfortunate enough to get into any difficulty. You may want to check out our suggestions for the best travel insurance for Southeast Asia backpackers.

When should I travel to Southeast Asia?

There is not really a definitive right or wrong answer to this question but you can read our lowdown on the best time to visit Southeast Asia here. There are pro’s and con’s to travelling at different times of year. Things are generally cheaper outside of the peak season (which is around Christmas time and heading into the start of the new year) but clearly the climate may be less pleasant. You will also want to consider what festivals and celebrations are on during the time of your visit.

What Visas do I need for Southeast Asia?

Many nationalities do not require a visa for Thailand (30 days), Malaysia (90 days), Singapore (30-90 days) or Vietnam (15 days) but most visitors will need to get a visa on arrival in Laos and Cambodia, the cost of which depends on where you’re from in Laos (usually $30-40) and is $30 in Cambodia (although subject to change). You don’t need to do anything in advance, just show up at the border with your passport, some US Dollars and a few passport sized photos.

Use our visa check tool to confirm which countries you will need a visa for.

What’s missing from this Itinerary?

Northern Vietnam especially Hanoi and Halong Bay are well worth visiting and perhaps the most notable exclusions from our route. Arguably they are more interesting than the Vietnam destinations we have included but the problem is they are fairly inaccessible from Laos by road.

Indonesia is a huge place and could justify 6 months travelling in its own right with the possibility of continuing onto Australia and New Zealand. Check out our suggested backpacking route in Indonesia if you’re interested. The Philippines is also a huge collection of islands and is generally less popular with travellers, possibly because it is off the South East Asian mainland and parts of it have a somewhat dangerous reputation. However there are some really beautiful parts of the Philippines and it is certainly getting more visitors these days. Check out our Philippines route for some inspiration.

Day-trips to Burma can be arranged from the north of Thailand and longer visits are becoming increasingly popular – see our 3 week backpacking route for Myanmar. If you do decide to visit then you will find a fascinating country with as much to see as any of the others in the region.

Above all, please remember this route is designed to show you what a typical budget traveller’s Southeast Asian itinerary might look like. You don’t have to follow it blindly and will probably discover far more about Southeast Asian culture and its people by veering off it.


This article was last updated in June 2019.

Comments & Questions are welcome below! We aim to reply to them all.


60 Comments

  • plowman

    Hi Im thinking of doing a 3 or 4 month trip like this in november, Ive been to Bangkok and Chiang Mai before.
    My question is Ill have abudget of 3-4000 USD. if I were to stay in some of the places you recommend, would be seen as a creepy old guy as a 53 yr old male?

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi, In most of the destinations, there are lots of options for accommodation and there’s usually a few places that are essentially ‘party hostels’. They tend to attract a really young crowd so you might feel a bit out of place in those ones but it’s normally pretty easy from reading reviews and how they advertise themselves to figure out which hostels they are.

      However you can still find cheap accommodation almost everywhere that isn’t specifically geared towards 18-24 year olds and very few places have any sort of age limit. I’d suggest to just research a bit before you head to a new place what your options are, read reviews or even get a local sim and call up the hostels and you can probably get a better feel of what sort of vibe it would be. You should still be able to find some sociable, budget places that aren’t just full of teenagers on a gap year!

      In terms of being creepy, I think most people won’t judge you for your age and I’ve met people in their 60’s, 70’s in budget accommodation in SE Asia.

  • James Day

    Hi My Funky Travel.
    I am planning to follow your route for S.E.A for about 6 months backpacking in early 2018. I would be naive to think I won’t have some points with rainfall, but in your opinion, when is the best time to fly out for this route to avoid the monsoon/thunderstorm seasons for all regions? I am looking at the moment in flying out from the UK in March/April time to Bangkok and onwards, for 6 months, on your amazing route. Any help would be great!
    Also I have budgeted for around £5-6 thousand, does that seem like a realistic budget for 6 months in these places and possibly parts of Indonesia?
    Thanks, James
    🙂

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi James,

      Your budget sounds about right for a typical backpacker in this part of the world. You wouldn’t get a lot of luxury for that but if you’re willing to stay in cheap places and eat local food then you’d certainly have money left over for a fair amount of daytime trips/activities and/or partying.

      With regards to the weather, the rainy season strikes at different points of the year across the region so it’s basically impossible to totally avoid the rainy season everywhere. As a rough guide, in much of this route (North of Malaysia) the rainy season goes from May/June to September/October so March/April is perhaps not the best time to head out if that’s a big concern. However there are exceptions. The islands in the Gulf of Thailand (Samui, Pha-ngan, Ko Tao) stay dry until more like October so April-September is viewed as a good time to go there.

      There’s some useful info here on the climate in some of the main destinations – http://www.travelzoo.com/uk/blog/whens-the-best-time-to-visit-southeast-asia/

      Personally I’d say that November/December might be the best time to head out and do this route, with the following few months generally speaking dry in most places and a bit cooler.

  • Natasha Lovell

    Brilliant guide….we are looking to spend a year travelling the world but wanted to spend a majority of our time in SEA , due to beauty, culture and of course cost !! …..Myself and my husband will be travelling with our 8yr old son, so major partying not on the agenda. Is there any places that need to be defiantly avoided with a child and can you recommend any particular beautiful beaches etc, that would be child friendly. Do most places do tours in the jungle or is this something you would have to organise ourselves, wanted to kinda get lots of culture for my son too. Just starting our plans so really am clueless at this point so any advice would be much appreciated, hoping to travel to oz after to catch up with friends.
    Many thanks

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Natasha, Thanks for getting in touch!

      Wouldn’t have thought any of the stops in the route need to be avoided completely just because you’re travelling with a child but it’s more a question of choosing where to base yourself. You’d want to avoid the main party beaches/streets on Koh Pha-Ngan, Phi Phi etc and some areas of the bigger cities like Bangkok and HCMC are probably best avoided. However it’s really not that hard to find a much quieter place to stay and there’s still plenty to see and do in those places that would be child-friendly. The less isolated beach destinations like Samui and perhaps Krabi would have more stuff that would be specifically geared towards kids.

      SEA is very touristy these days and almost every stop in this route will have a number of travel and tour companies offering a variety of different trips. Therefore you don’t really need to organise jungle trips like that yourself and it’d probably be unwise to do so.

      Given you’ve got a whole year for travelling, you don’t need to stress out too much about planning everything in advance. Perhaps you could use this or another route as a very rough guide but there’s not much time pressure and once you’ve visited a few destinations and are a week or so into your trip, you’ll have a much better grasp of what travelling in the region is like.

  • poppy large

    Hi, Love your guide, really helpful! I’m thinking of starting my travels in September, coming back early December. Really like the look of your route but was worried about rainy seasons ect.. Do you think it would be ok around that time?

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Poppy,

      There’s quite a bit of variety in when the rainy season/ hot seasons etc comes so it’s hard to totally avoid the bad weather if you’re travelling around the whole of SE Asia. Following this route you’re likely to come into a bit of rain in Vietnam during that time but by the time you get round to Southern Thailand, Malaysia etc. you’d be heading into what’s generally considering the best season to visit (November to February) as it’s generally dry and sunny but not as hot as the summer period (March to June).

      I’ve travelled roughly the same period as you and although there were spells when it rained heavily, it was mostly good weather so I don’t think it’s a bad time to visit at all.

  • andrew

    Greetings From America (New Yorker),

    Currently doing my homework on a 3 week (23 days) indoasia adventure. My Focal Point at the start of my trip would be Vietnam(6 Day Max) with the hopes of stopping over briefly in Laos (2 days) Cambodia and finally reaching Bangkok(2-3 days) and Phucket for what evers left hoping a 7 day stretch. Ive never traveled to any of these locations and after some reading it seems i may need to cut out a few P.O.I in the countries mentioned. So Am i biting off too much?

    Andy

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Andy,

      Might be a bit ambitious but if you’re not on a limited budget, you can probably take a few flights and fit it all in.

      I’d look at doing Hanoi, Halong Bay & maybe one other place in Northern Vietnam. Then you could fly to Luang Prabang or Vientiane in Laos, before heading down to Cambodia and travelling by land to Bangkok and then flying to Phuket.

      Personally I’d consider skipping the two days in Laos though as it’s the least accessible of the countries with limited flights in/out and slow bus transfers so it’d be the most complicated bit to fit into your trip. Without Laos, you could probably do the Southern Vietnam to Bangkok bit overland as suggested in the post and then head to Phuket for the final week.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi varies between the countries to be honest. In Thailand and Vietnam, it was usually the train which I’d highly recommend with the odd bus where there wasn’t train lines and obviously boats to the islands. If you’re pressed for time, try Thai Lion Air for some of the longer trips in Thailand. They are very cheap and you can fly to basically everywhere in the country from Bangkok.

      Cambodia and Laos you basically have to take the bus everywhere as there are no train lines and the limited flights that exist are quite expensive. It’s cheap but slow travel! Another option in a couple of places is to take a boat up the Mekong River which is a good experience but very slow.

  • Julius Alvaro

    Thank God you left out the Philippines in your backpacking trip…I can say though, you missed another excellent backpacking experience with that 🙂 Seems like a biased comment by saying “Philippines is also a huge collection of islands and is less popular with travellers, possibly because it is off the South East Asian mainland and parts of it have a somewhat dangerous reputation.” Maybe you can try visiting Cebu, Palawan (Coron, Puerto Princesa, El Nido), Bohol, Boracay, Banaue/Sagada, Apo island, Siquijor, Ilocos Regions, etc soon.

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Wouldn’t really describe that as a ‘biased comment’. It is more a fact that The Philippines doesn’t receive as many international backpackers/budget travellers as the other countries but more people are heading there, certainly since the article was written. We do have a Philippines route in our more recent SE Asia Guide which features many of the excellent destinations you mentioned.

      • Julius Alvaro

        I have read a lot of blogs and seen vlogs from non-Filipino backpackers / tourists who have visited the Philippines and they all agree that even though there were less international backpackers, there were a lot of local backpackers or tourists which they said that it was not seen in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam. Kudos to your “Philippine route” guide and hope to see what’s in it.

        • MyFunkyTravel

          Thanks Julius. Would like to get a Philippines route on the site soon too. Will take your suggestions on board for sure although If you or any other Filipinos are interested in writing out a route for your country with a bit of info about each destination then we’d be very happy to feature it.

  • Greg Angus

    Great guide, quick question though. Do you need a special visa for leaving then re-entering Thailand? don’t most visa’s stipulate single entry only?

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Greg, it depends where you are from but for people from many countries do not need a visa to enter Thailand.

      This means when you enter Thailand for the 1st time (presuming you are flying in) you will get a 30 day stamp in your passport on arrival. You don’t need to do anything in advance or pay any money.

      The link there and other sources suggest they are trying to clamp down on people who just leave thailand and then immediately come back to get a fresh 30 days. This is because some people have lived in Thailand for years by just doing regular border runs. As that article points out it is at the discretion of the immigration officer and if it is the first time you are doing it I think it is highly highly unlikely you’ll have any problems getting back in visa-free and without paying any money. They want tourism and if it is clear you are just travelling you should have no issues.

      I was in the region at the end of last year. Spent 30 days in Thailand and left by land to Laos before returning to Thailand 10 days later also over-land and had no problems whatsoever getting a fresh 30 day stamp.

  • Anya

    Hi,

    Three friends and I land in Bangkok on the 8th of Feb, and have yet to fully decide on a route to take. We have heard so many differing opinions and obviously want to make the most out of this once in a lifetime trip! 🙂 We have set aside 4+ months and aim to see Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and some parts of Indonesia (mainly Bali, the Gili Islands and Lombok).

    – Is this route above really the best way? any advice would be amazing! 🙂

    We are pretty chilled and don’t intend to rush, wanting to get our Scuba Diving certs in Koh Tao and being in Thailand for Songkran, are some on our list.

    Cheeers! x

    • MyFunkyTravel

      It’s just a guideline really, should give you an idea of what a typical backpacking route in Southeast Asia might look like with a mix of beach/party places, cultural highlights, cities, natural sites, history etc. Wouldn’t expect anyone to follow it blindly but it should hopefully give you some inspiration and then you could tailor it more towards the interests of you and your friends.

      It might work quite well with your timescale I’d say although fitting Songkran in might be the challenge. You might want to consider doing Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos first and then you should be back in Thailand in time for Songkran. Although you’d probably need more than 30 days in Thailand if you did the North and islands in one stint so you’d have to get a tourist visa (for up to 30 days in Thailand you don’t need one, which is partly why we’ve split Thailand into two sections on this route).

  • Lucy

    Hi, would it be easy enough to switch the route up a little an do Thailand all together? So Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia (or singapore depending on budget / time)

  • enriquemarcos

    Hi.. First of all congrats, excellent guide and tips… I am planning on doing Asia trip next week , for about months.. Could you please help me with basic itinary and tips.. Time is no problem my plan is around 5-6 months.. but I have no clue what route to take .. I plan in starting from Bangkok. Also i plan to party and do alot of activities so i was wondering budget wise 7-8 grand´should cover no.. thank you very much in advanced all info is greatly apreciated

  • Lucy

    Hi, I’m pretty much doing this trip from September this year. As a solo female traveler though what would you recommend in terms of accommodation? I’m all up for staying in hostels and doing the trip on the cheap but just wondering about safety. I’m sure hundreds of females have done these trips and stayed in hostels so I’m probably just being stupid but any tips / advice on how to keep safe in these places would be much appreciated (more so I can pass on to my parents really 🙂 )

  • Sarah Brown

    Great guide and tips!! Myself and my boyfriend (24 year olds) are flying into bangkok 31st May to spend 4 weeks travelling… We were hoping to travel around 2-3 countries but don’t want to be rushed. Thailand is our main priority. What would be the most worthwhile places to visit in Thailand and what other countries/places should we visit? If you could give us a route for 4 weeks that would be great!! Looking for fun activities, beautiful beaches etc.Thanks in advance!!

  • disqus_ZdwfUrWkVv

    This has all been very useful, thank you. I was thinking of leaving in late February. If i followed the route you suggested, for about 4 months am i going at a good time considering the weather?

    • MyFunkyTravel

      It varies a little bit across the region but generally the time you are going is the hottest time of year and should be mostly dry. If you don’t mind the heat it’s fine but November to February is often the most popular time to go as it’s a bit more comfortable temperature wise and still fairly dry.

  • Andros Luke Neofytou

    Hey i just need help please,im travelling to asia 1 way ticket i am British and im getting my Thailand visa to enter for 30 days then if i pass borders can i get a visa there or do i have to apply for one before i get there? for example if i cross border to go Laos?Vietnam? do i get a visa on borders? thanks

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Andros, You don’t need a visa to enter Thailand. You can stay for 30 days visa free when arriving at an airport. For Laos and Cambodia you can get your visa at the border crossing (cost approx 25-35 US dollars) and it doesn’t take too long. For Vietnam I believe you need a visa in advance if arriving at a land border crossing. You can sort this out online or at a Vietnamese embassy in one of the neighbouring countries.

  • Hannah

    Hi,
    Im from the UK – Would you suggest that £2k is a comfortable budget or on a shoestring?! Don’t want to go all that way and be short! many thanks!

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Hannah, it is based on eating in local restaurants, sleeping in fairly basic hostels and travelling by the cheapest option so it is a shoestring budget but you can fairly comfortably get by on less. If it’s your first major trip abroad then you might want to allow for a bit more as the cheapest way of doing things isn’t always obvious.

      Clearly everyone is different too… someone who goes out and parties every night will spend far more than someone who doesn’t so 2 grand is just a guide but it is a realistic shoestring budget.

      http://www.limbonis.com/2014/05/my-limbonisasia-trip-365days-challenge.html?m=1 this is a useful breakdown of one backpackers expenses. Think he spent under £1000 in 4 months which shows it can be done!

      • Sarah Brown

        If you can do the route by bus then it is pretty cheap. Flights are the killer! Air Asia is great but if you want to hit a lot of countries in a short time then flights are the only option. Getting over to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines etc. Overland travel is cheaper 🙂 obvs…

  • BW

    This is a really nice guide, thanks for providing it! I am planning a similar route starting in November but I am thinking of adding Burma.
    Can you tell me anything about Myanmar? A lot of information I find online is rather old because I understand it has become accessable by land last year. Can you cross the coutry easily via land in the North-West of Thailand (is that part of Burma worth seeing then for about two weeks)? And can you get from Burma to Loas then to continue the route described by you? Also I’m interested in costs since I read somewhere it has become rather expensive.
    Thanks a lot for any information you can give!

  • stevie macgregor

    Hi,

    You’re guide is fantastic, the best I have read in fact.

    I am arriving in Bangkok on 22nd August for around 3 months and intent to go on a similar route to yourself. How much would you recommend as a 3 month budget if I miss out Singapore and Malaysia?

    Thanks

  • Faye S

    This sounds great…I’m going to five weeks on the 19th July and want to fit in the Full Moon on the 10th Aug. We want to do Laos and Cambodia…do you recommend what order we do it in/places we can miss out? Great guide, thanks!

  • Megan Clarke

    Love the guide! How much would you recommend for a budget for 4 months for someone who wants to do lots of activities? (i.e. diving, climbing, trekking, elephant riding, horse riding etc)

  • JUAN-ted

    1.) “Backpacking SEA: It’s ridiculously cheap”, maybe to western people and not for everyone, unless your readers and followers are all from the far West.
    2.) “Accommodation: they are very cheap (from $4/night for a bed in a dorm)”, many travellers within this region are also from one of the countries belonging in the same region and the majority get a basic pay of a little over or sadly, under $4 a day which according to you is very cheap.

    • MyFunkyTravel

      There are probably only a handful of countries in the world that are as cheap to travel in as most of Southeast Asia so in comparison to almost every country in the world it is very cheap (Not just ‘western’ countries). $4 for a bed in a dorm is again barely replicated anywhere in the world. Even many comparatively poorer countries in Africa you would have to pay at least double that for a dorm bed so I don’t think it is unreasonable to class $4 as cheap.

      Any references to how cheap or expensive something is, is clearly relative to travel costs in other countries around the world (not just rich ones). This is a travel site after all 🙂

      • JUAN-ted

        That’s fair. You have a wonderful site, no question about that. I may be too dramatic but perhaps I am only not accustomed to use “very cheap” in reference to accommodation but “affordable” or “the most affordable”. We are entitled to our own opinion and that is mine. They may have the same meaning to many, I just read and understand those phrases very differently and I am expecting you can give me that one. Cheers!

    • MyFunkyTravel

      October is pretty much the end of the rainy season in most of the region so I’d say late October would be a good time to start your trip. It would be hot and humid then in most of the places in the route but it’s Southeast Asia so what do you expect! December/January is supposedly a good time weather-wise so if your planning on staying a few months then late October would be a good time to start

  • Nic G

    Loved your Guide! great tips, and inspiring ideas. I’m heading to SEA in August for 5 months and i cant wait, will be using your recommendations for a couple places 🙂

  • srikanth santhanam

    This is really informative ! Give a good picture of the places and great help to plan mine for this year ! Thanks

  • Kristina Medvedeva

    Thank you very much! It’s very useful! It is exactly what I would like to do next summer! :)))
    Only one question : how would you fit that trip in 2 months, what should I cut out in your opinion?
    & what budget should I provide (for local food, all the transport in Asia, sleeping places and visa)?

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi Kristina, thanks for your comments.

      Personally, I would suggest perhaps skipping Malaysia and Singapore unless they really appeal to you. They are much more developed and not quite as fascinating as the other countries.

      This would enable you to just book a return flight to Bangkok and the rest of the route is possible in two months but would be a little rushed. Perhaps visit only 2/3 of the Thai islands mentioned. In Vietnam: Nha Trang, Hue and Dong Ha could perhaps be missed out too but you will be left with a few quite long journeys.

      Budget wise have a read of this:
      http://www.myfunkytravel.com/southeastasia-backpacking-budget.html

      perhaps consider $2000 as a realistic budget if it’s your first time backpacking and a bit less if you’ve travelled before and are comfortable staying in budget places etc. Getting around by land and local food is very cheap. Visa costs would depend on where you’re from but for most visitors you would have to pay in the region of $20-30 for entry into Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and nothing for Thailand.

  • Kanthakathewhite

    This is really insightful information to me as I’m aiming to return to Asia in the near future , thank you so much for taking your time to share 😀

      • Kanthakathewhite

        I’d like to know some of your favourite places in Asia that wouldn’t be so commercial and over developed , I mostly enjoy hanging by the beach and partying so I’m looking for some place where my money goes a long way however I don’t have a strict budget or time limit so I’m open to suggestion… also is there other locations I should visit?

        • MyFunkyTravel

          in terms of partying and hanging by the beach on a budget then your best bet would most likely be to hit the islands of Southern Thailand. Ko Tao, Ko Phangan and Ko Phi Phi are all good places to party with great beaches and are less commercialised than the main resorts in Thailand. Of the 3 Ko Tao is the least touristy and I’d certainly recommend it.

          Bali in Indonesia is the other most popular place for budget travellers to hit the beach and party. A newer option is Sihanoukville in Cambodia which is probably the cheapest and least commercialised of all the places here but the beaches aren’t quite as nice. Further afield perhaps Goa but it’s not as lively as it once was.

          There are loads great beaches across SE Asia. Vietnam, Malaysia and The Philippines have some lovely ones but less in the way of a party culture although it can be found just in smaller doses than in Thailand or Bali.

    • MyFunkyTravel

      This would be a realistic schedule:

      Thailand (1st part) : 2 weeks
      Laos : 2.5 weeks
      Vietnam : 2.5 weeks (if you are not pushed for time then head upto Hanoi and Halong Bay and then it would be more like 4 weeks)
      Cambodia : 2 weeks
      Thailand (2nd part) : 3 weeks (really depends on whether you’re a beach lover. Some people stay for months on the Islands)
      Malaysia : 10 days – 2 weeks
      Singapore : 3/4 days

      This would be about 3 and a half months. You could easily spend 6 months on the route though adding in a few more places or maybe hanging around longer in places you liked.

      If you’re limited for time then going quickly you might just be able to do the whole route in 2 months but it would be quite hectic so I’d suggest skipping a few places and taking your time.

      Hope this helps, let us know if you have any other questions

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