Masasa Beach, Philippines
Which countries are in Southeast Asia? The answer is Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Lester, and Vietnam. There are 11 countries in Southeast Asia. Now, if you decide to travel in this part of the world, you don’t have to go to all of them in one trip especially if you have limited time. Even they are neighbouring countries, they are very different from each other and honestly takes so much to go around.
Some people will go for only two weeks since that’s the only time off they get from work. While others quit their jobs and start to travel the world. Either way, let me show you the best Southeast Asia travel route, I will always suggest some itineraries per country for you
NOTE: All prices are in USD ($). You may also use the table of contents to navigate faster.
RELATED POSTS: To help you map out and prepare for your trip, check these pots:
- Travel budget for backpacking in Southeast Asia
- Best time to travel to Southeast Asia
- Backpacking in Southeast Asia travel guide and tips
- Surfing in Asia; where to surf in Asia
TIP: Use the table of contents to navigate faster
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU SPEND IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Southeast Asia is massive, that’s not a secret. So, how much time do you need to explore the entire region? I personally travelled here for 8 months on my first trip then another 8 months on my second time. You can easily spend 2 weeks to a year depending on how much time you have. If you only have a few weeks, that’s no problem as well, have a taste of Southeast Asia and see if you want to come back later.
HOW MUCH IS A GOOD BUDGET FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA
You can easily spend $1,000 in a month or $2,000 for six months, like what I did. I know that’s not really hopeful. Let’s take a look at this ideal travel cost:
- Accommodation: $6 for a dorm room, $10 for a private room – these are the average prices, I found some dorm room for $3 and a private room for $8
- Transportation over land: $8 for a 5-6 hour bus
- Flying: $25 for a domestic flight, $35 (is the lowest I’ve taken) for a flight to another Southeast Asia country – the price differs A LOT because of the distance
- Food: $3 per meal or $1 for a street food
- Tours: from FREE to $10 for a day trip (covers transportation and/or bottle of water)
- Visa: $35 and up; a lot of European and North American countries need to pay for a visa in some Southeast Asian countries
Depending on WHERE you are going and HOW you are going to travel or what they call, your travel style and HOW LONG you are going to travel for is how you can figure out your budget.
WHERE TO START IN YOUR SOUTHEAST ASIA ROUTE
A lot of backpackers start in Bangkok, Thailand. This is mostly because there are flights directly from Europe (UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Finland, and Poland. If your budget permits, fly to the country where you really want to start.
Another reason why backpackers start in Thailand is that, there are thousands of travellers here and they have been coming to Thailand for more than a decade now. This makes Thailand a great hub; meet travel companions, there are locals who speak English, there are parties everywhere, Thai food is almost everyone’s favourite, and it has beautiful and stunning beaches that even someone who doesn’t like the beach that much will say “wow!”.
Have you heard about the Banana Pancake Trail? This trail doesn’t really have a definite route, this is also known as the Southeast Asia trail. But most travellers will describe Banana Pancake Trail starts in Thailand, then Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, then back to Thailand – from here, you can decide if you want to go to cross the land border to Myanmar or Malaysia, or fly to the Philippines or Indonesia or Singapore.
I personally started in Vietnam, then to Thailand, then Myanmar, back to Vietnam, then Laos, then Vietnam again – I don’t really have a trail as you see.
SOUTHEAST ASIA IN 2 WEEKS OR LESS
Even 2 weeks is not a lot, you can still enjoy Southeast Asia. What you need to remember is to not try to see 4 countries in a span of 2 weeks. Doing this will result in you spending ALL your time in the bus or airports instead of actually enjoying or experiencing each place.
With only 2 weeks on your trip, focus on one country and 2 cities/towns/islands only. Having limited time, you may also want to consider the smaller countries or countries with fewer islands or else again, you will only spend time getting from point A to B.
If it’s your first time in Southeast Asia, think about which activity do you like most, is it going to the beach, history, party, or climbing mountains? Here are the countries I suggest you start and spend your 2 weeks:f
Sea Salt, Beaches, Sunnies
If you are looking for a quick beach getaway, a lazy day on the beach, reading a book, drinking cold cocktails, and snorkelling or surfing your day away, Southeast Asia have something for you.
Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia
These three are the best options for this type of trip and holiday.
Thailand‘s beaches are probably something you have seen on the movies or telly before, and those are not lying. Thailand is really a great place to do all the beach and water activities you want to do, not to mention the most interesting cuisine you’ll ever try.
While the Philippines have 7,000 islands – I think I don’t need to say more but if you want some information, the Philippines have the most diverse aquatic ecosystem in the world. You can snorkel, dive, surf, kayak, or simply go partying. One of the best features of this country is that more than 80% of the locals speak English.
If you want to get away from the crowd while still enjoying the beach, Malaysia is the place for you. Being a Muslim country, enjoying the beach shouldn’t be a big problem, however, you have to remember the dress code in most part of the country. Malaysia is popular to family travellers, so, if you have kids with you, you just found the right place for the next trip.
Mountain, Hiking, Sunrise
For some adventure, time with nature, and enjoying a sunrise over the mountain top, Southeast Asia will not disappoint.
Indonesia, Philippines, Borneo
Indonesia and the Philippines both have amazing and thousands of mountains to climb. One of the most known in Indonesia is Mount Bromo, Mount Rinjani, Semeru, Ijen to name a few.
In the Philippines mountain Apo, Sagada, Pulag, Pinatubo, Mayon, and Pinatubo. are the most beautiful you can see in this country.
Borneo is undeniably one of the richest forests in the world. It’s beautiful with many various species of animals, trees, and not to mention traditional societies have lived and also known for historic warfare and headhunting.
REMEMBER: Not all mountains in Indonesia and the Philippines can be hiked because a lot of them are still active and are off-limits to the tourists.
Cultural and Historical Trip
If you are a traveller who loves to learn the history and culture of a place, one of the most suitable places you can explore are Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam
Myanmar only fully opened up to the tourist in 2010 (originally in 1992 but with very strict rules). Myanmar has been a mysterious destination and many people who travelled there have found the Burmese culture is very fascinating and raw, the locals are still getting used to tourists.
Cambodia had a very dark history; a genocide which happened in 1970s. Almost 2 million died which was carried by the Khmer Rouge. You can visit the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum to learn more about this dark chapter of Cambodia.
I’m sure you are familiar with the Vietnam War, and if not, you should know about it. The Vietnam war is one of the biggest and darkest wars in the history of Southeast Asia. Many people have died many locals until today are still suffering to the result of this war which happened in 1970. A war between north of Vietnam and the south of Vietnam (slash the US.).
Land Travel Only
If you prefer the over the land travel only, Vietnam and Cambodia or Thailand and Myanmar are two great destinations to check out.
Vietnam and Cambodia
You can easily fly to Vietnam and cross the border to Cambodia or the other way around. For only about $12 bus fare on a 5-6 hour bus ride, you can explore two countries in a short period of time. Both countries have fascinating history and culture, both have beaches that you can enjoy as well.
Thailand and Cambodia
Enjoy the beach of Thailand and then explore the mountain and the interesting culture of Cambodia, you can easily cross the border to Cambodia (about 6-hour bus ride, and $12 ticket). Both have great beaches, while both are pretty affordable destinations.
TIP: Here is a great travel guide and information about travelling in Vietnam.
SOUTHEAST ASIA IN 4 WEEKS OR 2 MONTH
One month of travel is a great length of time while 2 months is even better. You can focus on one country and check out its off-beaten track or you can combine two countries depending on how you will get from one place to another or how much you want to see in each country. Here are the countries I suggest you focus for one month:
If I have my favourite place in Southeast Asia, it would be Vietnam. It’s crazy (in a good way). It’s super cheap, Vietnam is probably the most affordable in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, spending 4 weeks or 1 month will let you explore its popular destinations and the parts that are not very known to other backpackers.
- Motorbiking in Vietnam – this is one of the best ways to travel around Vietnam, you can go everywhere at your own pace
- North to south or vice versa – with 4 weeks in your hand, you can travel the entire country. Most backpackers will either go to the north or head down to the south. In this way, you know that you won’t miss anything along the way while you meet travellers who can give you their first-hand experience in the other locations that they have been.
The top destinations in Vietnam are:
- North: Sa Pa, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Trang An, Phong Nha
- Central: Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Da Lat
- South: Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc Island
Malaysia is another favourite destination because of its more quiet vibe, islands that are not full of tourist or parties, destinations that are cheaper and even a tax-free island like Langkawi.
A lot of travellers don’t spend a full month in Malaysia, which is great, this means there are places that are secluded and very relaxing. If you have a limited time, check this 2 weeks in Malaysia itinerary. Here are the popular destinations in Malaysia:
- Kuala Lumpur is a great capital city if you love skyscrapers. You can go around the city easily because they have such an amazing transportation system.
- Langkawi which I mentioned a while ago is a tax-free island. You can rent a motorbike for $5 for 24-hours.
- Penang is popular for the street arts that you cannot find anywhere else in Southeast Asia, you can also enjoy the beach from here if you head to Georgetown
- Peripheral Islands is the place you want to go for a really relaxing beach holiday. The water is unbelievably clear and blue, there are fewer parties, it’s a perfect place to enjoy nature, read a book, and drink coconut water
- Malacca is an old town that you won’t want to miss, from here you can head and cross the border to Singapore
A month in Thailand will let you hike its mountains and enjoy its beautiful islands. From here you can easily cross the border to Malaysia or Cambodia. Although Thailand has become a little more expensive than other Southeast Asian countries, it is still cheaper than a holiday in south Europe. Here are the top places you want to explore in Thailand.
- Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Chang, Koh Phangan, and Koh Phi Phi are the places for the party and to enjoy water activities for such affordable price
- Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for mountain adventure
- While there are motorbike rentals in Thailand that will let you rent a bike, it is illegal to do it and will cost a lot of money if you get caught.
In my opinion, you can spend 3 weeks in Cambodia and you will basically be able to cover the “must-sees” spending more than that will give you the chance to discover other parts of the country that not many backpackers are able to see. Cambodia is a known destination for the following reasons:
- Cambodian Genocide – if you like history, travelling in Cambodia will teach you about its genocide that is not very known. The dark history of Cambodia is a good way to educate yourself about this part of the world
- Angkor Wat – head to Siem Reap and learn more about Cambodian history
- Islands – there are islands in Cambodia that you can enjoy for such affordable price, I personally went on a 6-hour boat trip for $10 which includes food, boat fee, tour guides, snorkelling gears, and drinks
- Motorbiking in Cambodia – is a less known way of travelling compared to Vietnam but it is possible
Laos, the place you want to spend your 4 weeks if you want to get away from crazy parties in Thailand or you prefer to go hike the mountains than diving on the ocean. Fewer people are travelling in Laos, you will meet mostly those who love to lie on the hammock, enjoy nature, and relax. Laos is not known as a place to start a trip in Southeast Asia, which is a shame since you can reach 3 countries from here. Top places you can visit in Laos:
- Vientiane – is the capital of Laos which are not well-visited but still offers great atmosphere especially if you like to interact with the locals
- Luang Prabang – here, you can visit Kuang Si Falls
- Vang Vieng – is the party hub for Laos, not as wild as Vietnam, but indeed a must-visit place
- From any of these places, you can get to either Vietnam, Cambodia, or Thailand.
Another country that you can spend 3-4 weeks but not less than 2 weeks would be the Philippines. You can check this 3-week itinerary for the Philippines.
COUNTRIES TO COMBINE IF YOU HAVE 4 WEEKS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Like what I mentioned before, I would either focus in one country if I have 4 weeks but you can also combine 2 countries as long as they are land bordered to each other or there are flights that are direct flights that are not too expensive. Here are the countries you can combine together:
- Vietnam and Cambodia – these two countries are land bordered in the south. You can get from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh is 6 hours on a bus.
- Vietnam and Laos – if you love mountains, stay in the north of Vietnam and do a border crossing to Laos for more nature and mountains. Although the bus takes about 20-30 hours. Flying is also an option.
- Thailand and Cambodia – This is already a popular choice and the bus journey is only less than 5 hours, not too long unless you get a hangover from partying in Bangkok like me when I crossed the border from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
- Thailand and Malaysia – crossing from the south of Thailand and entering Malaysia via Langkawi island is a great combination if you really love island hopping.
SOUTHEAST ASIA IN 3 MONTHS OR MORE
Now, 3 months is a lot of time. However, after you travelled and have used up all your time, it will feel like it was not enough because there is just so much to see. Either you have 3 months, 6 months or more, there is always a place that not many have travelled yet.
Some backpackers who headed to Southeast Asia have a lot of time in their hands but not enough budget to keep travelling which lead them in stopping or travelling slower in some places and work or volunteer which is not a problem either. It’s a great way to learn more about the new place you just discovered.
While if you have the time and budget, this is the route I would love you to consider.
- Thailand – land or arrive in Southeast Asia here, however, Bangkok is in the middle, therefore, you will be torn between the north and the south which is filled with islands, what I can suggest is, go up north and spend a month exploring the mountains like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and do volunteers. From here you can head to Myanmar.
- Myanmar – you can enter the land border between Thailand and Myanmar. You can explore the beautiful Bagan, trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, visit Mandalay and other small towns in the North and finish up in Yangon, from here, you can head back to the north of Thailand and cross the border to Laos.
- Laos – which you can enter via slow boat. You can buy a motorbike and drive around Laos if you are feeling adventurous. If not, you can easily travel by buses. Visiting Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Vientiane (the capital) and many more places. From here you can take your motorbike, fly or take a bus to the north of Vietnam.
- Vietnam – If you are taking the bus, they will more likely to drop you off in Hanoi, if you have a motorbike, you can enter through the most north of Vietnam which is Lao Cai province near Sa Pa where you can hike the highest peak in Indochina called Fansipan. If you have a motorbike bike, you can head down south or take the best night buses in Southeast Asia. If you don’t have a motorbike or want to sell yours, you can do it in the popular cities in town throughout Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), it’s very easy to cross the border to Cambodia.
- Cambodia – You can also bring your motorbike with you to Cambodia or buy or rent one once you get there, explore the dark history of Phnom Penh, and the lively city of Siem Reap and Battambang, don’t forget to swim and party at Koh Rong Island and Koh Rong Samloem. You will more likely to end in Siem Reap where you can take a bus to Thailand
- Thailand – unfortunately, you cannot bring your motorbike here. From Bangkok, you can either fly down to the islands or take a bus. From Padang Besar, you can cross the border to Malaysia.
- Malaysia – and head to Langkawi, the tax-free island, where everything is much cheaper than Thailand. Malaysia can be tricky, it has north to south and west to east. If you have more time, there is no reason to rush, but if you have a limited one, choose which part you’d rather see. By reaching the south of Malaysia, you will have an easy time crossing Singapore by land.
- Singapore – an expensive but very fascinating country, make sure you know someone who lives in Singapore or have made enough Singaporean friends before you reach here. If you play your cards well, you can save money by couchsurfing or ask a friend if you can crash their place. One of the few affordable things in Singapore is flying out, Changi airport has many flights to everywhere in the world. The best is to fly to the Philippines or Indonesia.
- Philippines – you can easily spend more than a month here, however, due to its large number of islands, you will be needing to spend a lot of time using the boat or taking a flight. You can take a bus to the north and enjoy Banaue Rice Terraces and Vigan, then fly to Boracay to party or swim in Palawan or go surfing in Siargao. Leaving the Philippines, you can either fly out of Cebu or Manila to Indonesia, Brunei, or Timor-Leste.
WHAT ARE THE LESS TRAVELLED COUNTRIES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are the top destinations in Southeast Asia. While Laos is also popular, this is mainly because along with the way, many backpackers would hear about Laos and it’s basically on the way between Thailand and Vietnam.
Those who have unlimited time to travel are the ones who normally would consider Laos, which is personally, I think should not be missed. It’s less touristy and most backpackers are the ones who only go to Laos. It’s rich in beautiful nature than stunning cities, it’s a place where you want to go if you want to escape the loudspeakers on every street of a city, it’s a place where you want to spend more time on a hammock or hiking or simply just on a beach.
The Philippines is somehow popular, but because of the fact that it’s not land bordered to any countries, many backpackers will either skip the Philippines or visit it next time they are in Southeast Asia. If head here, you will notice that most couples on their honeymoon, retired Europeans and North Americans, South Koreans and Japanese, or backpackers in their late 20s are the ones travelling here.
If we will only talk about the “real” less travelled in Southeast, it must be Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Myanmar. Although Myanmar is already gaining massive attention, it’s starting to be more and more popular among backpackers.
Timor-Leste and Brunei are the two that are truly less popular. Many would argue because there is nothing very special in these two countries while others will say it’s because it’s too small or they are actually not budget-friendly, plus, like the Philippines, they are not really bordered to any other countries or areas that are touristy making the trip there will cost more money and time.
WHAT TO REMEMBER WHEN PLANNING YOUR SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAVEL ROUTE AND ITINERARY
If you join backpacker and traveller’s forum on social media like Facebook or Reddit or forum sites like TripAdvisor, there are too many things that they will tell you what to remember and what is something that you should not be bothered about.
Let’s talk about all of them and you can decide for yourself which one are worthy a wrinkle on your face.
Vaccinations and Pills
Of course, it’s always best to get them, but you are on a budget and want to keep things right at the margin. The thing is, accidents are unpredictable, I never expected or wished to get bitten by a dog in Thailand, but man, it happened and it was scary.
MUST-READ: Vaccinations for Southeast Asia – an in-depth article
Now, if you know that you will spend time around dogs, rural areas, and forests – get that vaccine-like rabies, tetanus, hepatitis A & B, and Yellow Fever. These are valid for a few years while others can last for life. I really think it’s worth the hassle.
If you are on a budget, head to Southeast Asia and get them here as soon as you can, they are super affordable and easy to get. Do the research and make a list of hospitals and clinics who can give these shots and can do the service in English.
I had my rabies shot in Thailand which was $12 per shot(total of 5 shots). Compared to Europe, North America, and Oceania, they are a lot cheaper here unless of course, you have public health in your country.
Malaria Pills are one of the most common concern, should you be taking them? I personally did not take any, but I spent most of my time in the city and only did a few very rural area travels.
However, remember to consult your GP as well to make sure which shots and pills you will be needing.
DISCLAIMER: A Mary Road does not claim any expertise in the field of medication, these suggestions are based on my experience and should not be considered as professional advice.
Is it cheap in Southeast Asia
It is but it can only be cheap if you are willing to be one. Avoid staying in private rooms or taking an organised tour. Take buses, train, and boats instead of flying everywhere. Buy food in the grocery store or eat street food outside. You can also check this Southeast Asia travel budget.
Free walking tours are getting more and more popular in Southeast Asia, however, this does not mean that it is completely free. The tour guide will be spending his/her time, sharing knowledge, and taking you around, a tip is encouraged and will be appreciated. Give a tip depending on the guide’s performance, length of the tour, and the information you received.
If you are having a hard time deciding how much you should give, count how many tour participants and do the Math, if everyone hands over $5 or $10 would it be enough?
Hitchhiking in Southeast Asia
Many backpackers will not agree about this because Southeast is already affordable. Hitchhiking is also not as popular as in Europe, therefore, your chances to be picked up will be less.
The only place I hitchhike was in Myanmar and it was only about 300 kms of 2 rides and only did it for the experience.
Weather in Southeast Asia
This region is composed of islands, mountains, and farms. Do your research in each country because all of them poses different weather throughout the year. Who would have known that Vietnam experience cold (drop to zero Celsius) during winter? I surely did not know.
Busking in Southeast Asia
Apart from Singapore, where busking is illegal, I don’t know any other countries where you can actually be thrown in jail for doing this. However, many expats and travellers do not accept having western foreigners busking from the locals and I agree with it.
Many locals of Southeast Asia makes an average of $150 a month or even less, if one has the right to go busking, it’s the locals.
If you are in real trouble, get in touch with your Embassy or reach out to your friends and families.
Motorbiking in Southeast Asia
If you want to travel on a motorbike, you should know that not all Southeast Asian countries will allow this. Only Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia is where motorbiking is a “thing”, even so, you will more or less be driving without a legal permit. Between these three countries, there is a big chance that you can bring your motorbike between borders.
Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, motorbiking is illegal unless you have an international driver’s license that has been converted into a Thai driving license. Singapore is definitely a no go, while the Philippines, Myanmar, and Malaysia, are sort of so-so.
Language Barrier in Southeast Asia
If you head to the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. These four countries speak English and most of the road signs, airports, restaurants, and other public places will be in English.
Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are all melting pots of ESL teachers, if you speak to young locals, there is a big chance that they speak English. You should also have an easy time communicating in English in Timor-Leste. While in Myanmar, young people are getting a grasp of English as well little by little.
SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAVEL GEARS
Southeast Asia is actually very easy to travel, either by yourself or with friends or family. Getting a sim card with data is cheap and fast which basically will solve most of your mishaps on the road.
You will also meet tons of backpackers who will give you tips left and right, the locals are very warm and helpful. To make sure you will have a great time, here are some travel gears and packing tips for you:
- Maps.Me – if you are travelling for a while, get the app maps.me and download the maps for the places you are heading to. This is great if you don’t have or run out of data.
- Cash -always keep a stash of cash; US Dollars, British Pound, and Euro. Canadian and Australian Dollars can be hard to exchange especially in rural areas
- Translator – download an offline translator, it can be really handy
- Scarf and long trousers – bring a big but lightweight scarf, you will need it when visiting sacred places and can be used as a skirt or to cover your shoulders or you can also pack lightweight trousers or buy one of those elephant pants
- Photocopy of your passport – you will be surprised how many accommodations in Southeast Asia will ask if they can keep your passport, hand them a photocopy instead
For packing, you many want to check these cool travel items:
- Best quick dry towels for backpacking
- Wheeled backpack or rucksack with wheels
- Travel jacket with hidden pockets
- Long-haul flight essentials
- Eco-friendly travel accessories and product
SOUTHEAST ASIA VISA GUIDE
You can find more information about visas in Southeast Asia here.
That’s all I have for this topic, I know it’s pretty long but I hope you found something useful. If you have any questions about Southeast Asia travel route, send me an email or message me on my social media platforms. You can also simply leave a comment below.