THE COOLEST SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAVEL ITINERARY
Southeast Asia is a popular travel destination for all kinds of travelers.
You’ll find older couples, college-aged backpackers, solo female travelers, and digital nomads.
It’s the ideal region for anyone looking for a region that’s safe and easy to travel.
When planning your Southeast Asia travel itinerary, there’s a lot to consider.
We’ll walk you through everything you need to know – between travel insurance and night markets to capital cities and street food.
Here’s what you’ve got in store for you on your adventures.
Best Time to Visit Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is made up of 11 countries.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Southeast Asia is from November to April.
This is when the temperatures are most mild in the region, and you can maximize all of the outdoor activities that Southeast Asia has to offer.
It’s also important to note that each country in Southeast Asia also has an optimal time to visit, so if you’re just interested in visiting a country or two, then you can plan your Southeast Asia travel itinerary according to the following information:
- Indonesia: April to October is generally the best time to visit Indonesia. You’ll find the temperatures average between 24 to 30 degrees Celsius (75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and that the weather is mostly dry. Indonesia does have a rainy season from December to February. July to September is considered “peak” season. If you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll want to steer clear of booking during these months.
- Malaysia: Malaysia can be hot, humid, and rainy. If you want to visit Malaysia when it’s driest, then January through March and June through September are your best windows. These months have the lowest average rainfall. October to December is considered “rainy season”.
- Brunei: Brunei is a tiny nation on the island of Borneo, in 2 distinct sections surrounded by Malaysia and the South China Sea. It has beautiful beaches and a biodiverse rainforest. While it doesn’t always make everyone’s Southeast Asia travel itinerary, it’s a great stopover destination. It’s a common layover when flying out of Southeast Asia, and it’s easy to extend your trip. You can expect similar weather to Malaysia in terms of seasons.
- Singapore: Singapore’s climate and weather is much like Malaysia and Brunei’s.
- Vietnam: The weather in Vietnam varies depending on where you are and what time of year it is. The rainy season is May to September. The best time to visit Central Vietnam (e.g.: Hoi An) would be January to May due to the dry climate and lower temperatures (21 to 30 degrees Celsius, 70 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). June to August is also decent. If you’re looking to stay around the capital, Hanoi, then March to April and October to December will offer the mildest temperatures.
- Thailand: Locals will joke that Thailand has three seasons – hot, hotter, and hottest. You’ll never go to Thailand and escape the heat, but that’s part of the reason that everyone loves it. The weather is nicest in Thailand from November to February. If you’re not a fan of the heat, then don’t visit in April and May as these are the hottest months. The rainy season is from June to October. You’ll also experience a lot of rain if you visit the gulf islands from August to December.
- Cambodia: The best time to visit Cambodia is during the dry season from November to May. The cool season runs from November to February, so the country typically sees a surge in tourism. While temperatures remain high during his period, the humidity is lower, which means it’s fairly pleasant.
- Timor-Leste: The best time to visit Timor-Leste is from April to July due to the tropical monsoon climate. This is when the island gets the best weather.
- Laos: Laos has the same cool season as Cambodia (November to February). Its dry season runs from November to April. If you’re planning to visit Laos, aim for some time in November to April.
- The Philippines: The best time to visit the Philippines is from December to February. The country is fully accessible and has beautiful islands that you can visit during good weather. You can expect the temperatures to be around 24 to 31 degrees Celsius (75 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Myanmar: Myanmar’s dry season is from October through May. Its wet season is from May/June to early October. This is when the south-west monsoons start to blow, which means it’s not the most convenient time to visit. When creating your Southeast Asia travel itinerary, aim to visit Myanmar during the dry season. This is when the entire country is accessible and warm. You’ll find temperatures range from about 22 to 38 degrees Celsius (72 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
Places to Visit in Southeast Asia
The following Southeast Asia trip itinerary will take roughly three months if you travel it as laid out.
It gives you time to stop and really soak up your time in these places.
If you don’t have this much time off from work or simply can’t commit to three months, no problem!
Split it up and go back whenever you can.
You can do it country by country or choose a couple at a time.
Start your trip in Yangon.
This city is also known as Rangoon.
It is the capital of the Yangon Region and the largest city in Myanmar.
It is often the hub that tourists fly into when visiting the country of Myanmar.
It is widely considered to be one of Asia’s safest large cities.
There are no areas to avoid and plenty of sights to see.
- Shwedagon Pagoda
- Chaukhtatgyi Buddha
- The Sitting Buddha at Ngahtatgyi Paya
- Bogyoke Aung San Market
- Day Trip to Kyaikhtiyo (Golden Rock)
We’d recommend staying here for around 4 days, especially if you’re adjusting to a time change.
After that, you’ll head to Bagan.
Most people do this by bus, which takes 9 to 12 hours.
Just make sure you book the VIP bus where you get air-conditioning, reclining seats, and TV screens with movies.
This generally costs only $18-$21.
Bagan is a highlight of their trip to Myanmar for most people.
In fact, if you’re looking for a couple’s getaway, then this may be the perfect trip.
Check out our blog The Most Romantic Bucket List Vacations for Couples.
We’d recommend staying for around 4 days.
Visit dozens of temples and take a hot air balloon ride.
Then, take a bus to Mandalay.
Again, book the VIP bus, which takes 5 hours.
In general, because this city doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Bagan or Yangon, tourists don’t typically spend as much time here.
However, there are some worthwhile sights to see.
You can check out the following:
- U-Bein Bridge
- Mahamuni Buddha Temple
- Mahagandayon Monastery
- U Min Thonze Pagoda
We’d recommend staying in Mandalay for 1-2 days.
Thailand is an incredibly popular tourist destination.
You’ll find modern malls, skyscrapers, beaches, night markets, street food, temples, and more.
The first stop?
Bangkok: Thailand’s largest city and capital.
Here are some sights you may want to check out:
- The Grand Palace
- Chatuchak Market
- Khao San Road
- Thai Massage
- Jim Thompson House
- Wat Arun (at sunset)
Bangkok is a great destination for 3-4 days!
Hit the city before you diversify your Southeast Asia travel itinerary and spice it up a bit.
From Bangkok, you can either head south or north depending on your timeline.
If you’re looking for a beach vibe, head south to Krabi.
You’ll have access to a tropical paradise and a ton of islands.
You can take a day trip out to the Phi Phi islands, go scuba diving, learn how to rock climb, go snorkeling, or any number of exciting activities.
You can decide how long you want to spend in Krabi, but there are plenty of things to do for at least 7 to 10 days.
If you’re not looking for a beach vacation, you can head north to Chiang Mai.
It is the largest city in Northern Thailand and known for its beautiful ancient temples.
It is often a paradise for shoppers and adventurers.
Head to this part of Thailand if you’re all about food tours at night markets, cultural experiences, and the chance to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary.
The journey down the Mekong River starts at the border of Thailand and Laos.
If you opt for this adventure, then you’ll drift down the river for 2 days, seeing gorgeous mountains and beautiful landscapes.
You’ll then arrive in Luang Prabang, which is a little French town in the Laos jungle.
The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you don’t want to miss it.
Here are some of its top sites:
- Night market
- Kuang Si Waterfall
- Mount Phousi
- Royal Palace Museum
We recommend spending 5 days in Luang Prabang.
Although, if you’re limited on time, you could shorten this part of the trip and make it only 2-3.
This will be a great 4 to 5-day trip to add onto a country like Thailand if you want to do a limited Southeast Asia trip itinerary and do it in chunks.
Cambodia was once a hidden gem, but the travel world is catching on to just how incredible it is.
You’ll never forget the temples you see here or the history you learn about the tragic Cambodian genocide.
Siem Reap is a must-see destination.
This is the city where Angkor Wat resides along with other incredible temples.
You’ll need at least 5 to 7 days in this city to ensure you get the most out of whichever temple pass you select.
You can also take a day trip to Tonle Sap or take a cooking class.
If you’re feeling adventurous, Siem Reap’s night markets have scorpions, crickets, tarantulas, and other creepy crawlies that you may want to try.
Next, head to the capital city of Cambodia.
Phnom Penh has its own gilded temples, but it also has a dark history.
Be sure to visit the Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields.
This may be a more sobering part of your visit, but it’s absolutely worth seeing.
Finally, head out to Kampot.
This is a small town on the coast of Cambodia where you can relax and unwind.
Tourists often rent motorbikes to ride up Kotor Mountain.
We recommend doing this only if you have experience.
Many tourists also get injured on these motorbikes.
Kampot is also an awesome spot to try stand up paddleboarding.
Vietnam has so many places to visit you can spend months here alone!
Don’t do Vietnam on a rushed timeline.
You’ll regret it.
Here are a few spots we recommend you add to your Southeast Asia travel itinerary.
These are ordered as if you are going south to north in the country.
But you can also start north and go south as well.
Phu Quoc Island is a tropical island off the coast of Cambodia.
However, it is part of Vietnam and provides a nice and relaxing getaway.
If you’re taking a trip that combines both Vietnam and Cambodia.
This is a great place to go!
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is Vietnam’s largest city.
This city was the capital of South Vietnam until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
The government renamed the city of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City after their communist leader Ho Chi Minh.
As a result, you’ll still find locals who refer to it as Saigon.
Sometimes it’s just for convenience as Saigon is a shorter name, sometimes it’s for other reasons.
If you’re looking for a place you can learn more about the Vietnam War, HCMC is your spot.
Keep in mind that all museums will be from the perspective of the Vietnamese.
If you learned about the Vietnam War from a Western perspective, this is often an eye-opening experience.
We’d recommend spending 3 days in HCMC.
Here are the top experiences to have in HCMC:
- Cu Chi Tunnels
- War Remnants Museum
- Motorbike tour
- Food tour
Hoi An is a tourist hot spot in Vietnam because everyone falls in love with it.
It has charming shops and ancient architecture.
You can rent a bike or motorbike.
You can walk across the Japanese Bridge.
You can spend the day at An Bang Beach.
You can take a day trip to Da Nang.
There’s so much to do.
We’d recommend spending 5 days here.
To travel from Hoi An to your next destination, Hue, we’d recommend the Hai Van Pass.
This is a fantastic road trip.
You can read more about the Hai Van Pass here.
Next, you’ll head to Hue, which was the capital city of Vietnam until 1945.
You can visit the Hue Imperial City, Khai Dinh Tomb, and Thien Mu Pagoda.
This will be a short stay with only 2 days dedicated to Hue.
Finally, you will arrive in Hanoi for your final 4 days in Vietnam.
This is the current capital city of Vietnam.
There isn’t an abundant list of sites to see in Hanoi, but it’s a great jumping-off point for other day trips and travel.
While you’re here, you’ll want to stroll through the Old Quarter, visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, and walk around Hoan Kiem Lake.
You can also head to Ha Long Bay and Sapa from here.
These are both magical trips (minimum 3 days each) you don’t want to miss.
Southeast Asia Travel Guide
Southeast Asia is an exciting destination.
Yet, there are a lot of unknowns if you’ve never visited the region.
We’ll talk you through what to expect in the following travel guide in a Q&A format.
Q: Is there a language barrier?
A: When traveling to a new country or region, it’s natural to worry about a language barrier.
Will you be able to communicate with the locals?
Will it be difficult to get around?
Will you be able to read street signs and maps?
The good news is that you will find some degree of English available in most tourist areas in Southeast Asia, so this should not impact your Southeast Asia travel itinerary.
Even if a language difference is present, it should not impact your enjoyment of Southeast Asia.
You’ll often find locals are friendly and willing to work with you.
Approach every situation with a friendly attitude and smile.
Even if the person you approach doesn’t know English themselves, they may have a friend or relative nearby that knows English.
As a conscious traveler, it’s also helpful for you to learn some local phrases before you enter a country.
This not only shows an appreciation for the culture, but it also displays the effort you’re putting forward.
Most locals will appreciate this and meet you halfway with any English skills they may possess.
Q: How much time do I need to travel in Southeast Asia?
A: Are you ready for this one?
To do Southeast Asia right, you’ll need at least a few months.
This can be hard to swallow if you only have a few weeks of paid time off that you’re hoping to spend in Southeast Asia.
The moral of the story?
Take your time and pick a country or two to explore for those 1-2 weeks.
You should not try and see 6 countries in a week.
It simply won’t be worth it.
Q: Do I need to take antimalarials?
A: In order to get antimalarials, you’ll need to visit a doctor.
Take their advice over anything you read online.
That said, whether you need to take antimalarials will generally depend on where you’re going.
There are low to no risk areas and then there are high-risk areas.
If you’re visiting a high-risk area, then it’s typically recommended that you take antimalarials while you’re there.
Q: Is street food safe to eat?
A: Not only is it safe to eat, but you’ll come across some of the most delicious food you’ve ever eaten.
Be smart and take some anti-diarrheal medications along just in case, but don’t deprive yourself of local experiences.
Street food is awesome!
Q: Will I have to use squat toilets in Southeast Asia?
A: It’s funny how you can become so comfortable with other parts of a culture, but as soon as you are faced with an unfamiliar bathroom situation, you’re uncertain of how to proceed.
“Western” sit-down toilets are common in tourist areas.
However, you may still come across squat toilets that are preferred by locals.
These will primarily be in temples, markets, and transportation hubs.
So, if you’re not comfortable going like the locals, then you may just have to hold it in these venues.
You may also come across “bum guns” which are used in place of toilet paper.
If you prefer to use toilet paper, you should bring your own and dispose of it in the provided trash can.
Do not dispose of it in the toilet itself.
It will clog the pipes and create a mess.
Q: How do I avoid being scammed?
A: The dual-pricing system is common in most places with a bartering system.
In most situations, tourists will be quoted anywhere from 2 to 5 times as much as locals pay.
Sometimes this is because tourists are viewed as “temporary residents” and other times it’s because they’re viewed as having “money to spare”.
If you want to avoid being scammed, then you’ll have to get good at bargaining.
This is a great skill to have when traveling.
Good-natured bargaining is a part of the local Asian culture.
When you pay their first asking price without bargaining, you contribute to inflation and bias over time.
Be sure to make a counteroffer when shopping in markets.
This may be uncomfortable at first, but it will become more comfortable.
The only situations when it is generally not acceptable to do this are with food/beverage or when the price is clearly posted.
Q: Is Southeast Asia safe for travel?
Southeast Asia is one of the safest regions in the world for everyone who may want to travel here.
You’ll come across families, older couples, solo travelers, and college students traveling in Southeast Asia.
It is rare to hear about physical danger and mugging and robbing is a lot less common than it is in the West.
Q: Will my phone work?
A: The phone question is a difficult one to answer.
In general (and there are exceptions), your phone will not work in Asia unless you have a local SIM card and number.
Most Asian countries will sell pre-paid phone credit at kiosks and mini-marts.
Do research ahead of time to figure out your specific phone situation.
Do you plan to purchase a local SIM?
Go strictly on Wi-Fi?
Use your existing carrier?
One tip you should use regardless of your plan is to prepare your smartphone for travel by turning off the auto-update feature.
This helps to cut down on background data use.
This way, your weather updates won’t silently cost you credit while you sleep!
Q: Should I be worried about petty crime? Theft?
A: We’ve all heard about someone getting their phone snatched from them in Europe or South America.
Is Southeast Asia the same way?
I’m happy to report that Asia is actually a lot better in terms of petty theft as long as you’re smart.
You don’t want to leave your phone laying in your lap or hanging out of your back pocket – this can make you a target – but otherwise, you don’t have to worry too much about your physical items being stolen.
That said, identity theft is a problem in Asia.
So, have a plan to protect your data just in case your phone is lost or stolen.
Q: Can I travel in Southeast Asia without booking a tour?
A: You can absolutely travel Southeast Asia without booking tours!
Depending on your style of traveling, you can head to night markets, Buddhist temples, royal palaces, and all sorts of other attractions all on your own.
Southeast Asia is incredibly tourist-friendly, and you don’t need a guide for most of it.
That said, if you’re concerned about navigating an unknown country or you’re looking to alleviate stress, there are also plenty of tours that you can add to your Southeast Asia travel itinerary.
In fact, odds are your accommodation will have resources for you to book any tours on the spot.
Unlike Europe, tour companies in Southeast Asia often have copious availability, and you can decide what type of activities you want to do all the way up until the day before.
Q: Do I need travel insurance in Southeast Asia?
A: When traveling outside of your home country, it is never a bad idea to have travel insurance.
Despite it being a fairly safe and popular region for tourism, there are still considerable risks (illness, injury, theft, etc.).
Protect yourself by purchasing travel insurance well before your trip.
A good travel insurance policy will protect you against the following issues:
- Medical and health issues
- Property theft or loss
- Trip interruption or cancellation
- Emergency medical evacuation
Of course, before you purchase anything new, you should also check what your current insurance covers before paying for a new policy.
For example, some homeowners’ insurance policies will cover you or property theft/loss for up to $500 (even if you’re overseas).
Credit cards may also cover you for certain types of damage.
When considering costs, travel insurance typically costs about $50 per week or $3 to $5 per day.
One popular travel insurer is World Nomads.
You can learn more about their policy here.
There you go!
Are you all set on your Southeast Asia travel itinerary?
This region is incredible, and there’s so much to see.
Don’t be afraid to break it up if you only have a few weeks.
Some countries naturally go together like Thailand and Laos or Cambodia and Vietnam.
Whatever you end up planning, it’ll be magical!
What are your tips for a Southeast Asia travel itinerary? If you have any, comment below!
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your next international trip, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
If you simply do not have the time to plan your Southeast Asia trip or you just don’t want to do it, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!