- Southeast asia
- 3 Months Backpacking Itinerary for Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is one of the most popular backpacking spots in the world. With its low cost of travel, diversity and unique cultures, all within close proximity, Southeast Asia is the perfect destination for travelers to spend 3 months traveling around without getting bored and blowing a hole in your wallet.
Southeast Asia is also considered to be one of the easiest places to backpack in the world due to the easy-going mentality and often smiley and helpful locals. If you are just starting out as a backpacker, Southeast Asia is the prime place for you to hone your crafts and start your journey as a traveler.
Whether you are a newbie or an avid traveler, there is something for everyone in Southeast Asia and to help you get started, here you will find a 3 months complete backpacking itinerary complete with a travel guide on things to do, where to stay, and everything you need to know before traveling to Southeast Asia. Without further ado, let's begins!Table of Contents
- 3 Months Southeast Asia Itinerary Map
- Southeast Asia Travel Video
- When to Visit Southeast Asia
- Where to Stay in Southeast Asia
- How to Get to Southeast Asia
- How to Get Around Southeast Asia
- Is Southeast Asia Safe?
- Internet in Southeast Asia
- Travel Insurance
- 3 Months Backpacking Itinerary for Southeast Asia
- Hanoi, Vietnam
- Halong Bay, Vietnam
- Sapa, Vietnam
- Hoi An, Vietnam
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Chiang Khong, Thailand
- Cruise to Luang Prabang, Laos
- Luang Prabang, Laos
- Vang Vieng, Laos
- Vientiane, Laos
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Mandalay, Myanmar
- Bagan, Myanmar
- Mandalay, Mandalay
- Khao Sok, Thailand
- Krabi, Thailand
- Koh Lipe, Thailand
- Penang, Malaysia
- Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Melaka, Malaysia
- Jakarta, Indonesia
- Yogyakarta, Indonesia
- Surabaya, Indonesia
- Mt. Bromo, Indonesia
- Bali, Indonesia
- Gili Islands, Indonesia
- Lombok, Indonesia
- Kuching, Malaysia
- Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Further Reading for Backpacking in Southeast Asia
3 Months Southeast Asia Itinerary Map
Southeast Asia Travel Video
When to Visit Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia covers a wide range of landscapes, all of which have different weather patterns. It can rain all year round and the heat and humidity often linger in the low land most of the year.
That said, the best time to visit overall is from November to March where the weather is often cooler and not as humid all across the board.
Combining the cool weather and the clear days you will get during this month, you will be able to maximize your time in the sun outside doing outdoor activities rather than being stuck in the rain.
All the other months are ok to visit too but keep in mind that April is often considered the hottest month of the year while June to August is considered to be a rainy season.
Where to Stay in Southeast Asia
Penang, Malaysia - The Frame Guesthouse (Budget) - 8 USD/Night (Dorm) | 21 USD / Night (Double Room with Shared Bathroom)
Mount Bromo, Cemoro Lawang, Indonesia - Bromo Otix Guest House (Budget) - 12 USD/Night (Double Room)
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia (optional) - Panda Cottage - 10.52 USD/Night (Dorm) | 24.54 USD/Night (Double Room)
Gili Meno, Indonesia (optional) - The Rabbit Tree Hostel - 5.96 USD/Night (Dorm) | 13.32 USD/Night (Twin Room)
Brunei - AE Backpackers Hostel (Budget) - 14 USD/Night (Dorm) | 27 USD/Night (Twin Room)
How to Get to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has a lot of hub cities you can fly into cheaply. The most prominent ones are Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
From the US, you can fly to one of these cities via either Japan on ANA Airways or via the Middle East with airlines like Emirates and Qatar, etc.
If you are from Europe, KLM, AirFrance, or Lufthansa are great options as well with direct flights and more.
If you are already in Asia, that's even easier and cheaper since AirAsia pretty much covered most of the big cities within this part of the world.
Since this itinerary begins in Hanoi, it is recommended that you find a flight from your home countries to either Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore first and from there, fly via AirAsia to Hanoi and begin your journey there.
How to Get Around Southeast Asia
Since this travel guide covers over 9 countries, we will be traveling around Southeast Asia with almost every mode of transportation imaginable, except maybe a submarine... or a horse... or a... well, let just leave it at that 🤣.
Trains are an affordable and scenic way to see the diverse landscapes of Southeast Asia you wouldn't otherwise see on a bus. It's relatively reliable and very accessible even if you do not know the language. One drawback is that it's not a fast train like what you may find in Europe.
Buses/Minivans will likely be your main mode of transportation. The public buses in Southeast Asia are cheap and quite accessible whereas shared minivans are a great alternative if you are looking for a more direct route. It is a bit more expensive than the bus you will be getting a much smoother and faster experience.
You can book all your bus and train tickets for Southeast Asia online here: Book your bus & train tickets for Southeast Asia with 12GO.
Flights, although the priciest option out of all, is a great way to skip long distances and be at the place you really want to be at an instant. In this guide, I have a few routes (Vientiane to Bangkok, Bangkok to Mandalay, Singapore to Jakarta and Lombok to Sarawak) that I would recommend you take a flight instead which should help you see Southeast Asia more with the limited time we have.
Thankfully, flights in Southeast Asia are pretty cheap with AirAsia and if you book them in advance, some may be as low as 30 USD.
Mass Transit System is a great way to explore big cities in Southeast Asia. Places like Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta, are equipped with accessible and well-covered train systems that should help you explore the cities easily.
GRAB, popular taxi-hailing app in Southeast Asian is also a great way to not deal with the terrible taxi. Simply download the app before you arrive in Southeast Asia, connect it with your phone number, get yourself verify and you should be able to use to app to hail taxis when you arrive in Southeast Asia.
Taxis, let's be honest, aren't the best things to experience in Southeast Asia and I often avoid using them altogether if I'm traveling but if push comes to shove, for a non-metered taxi, be sure to agree on a price before you get on, or if it is metered, tell them to use it and if they say no, leave it and find another.
For exploring small cities like Yogyakarta or Hoi An, you can also rent a motorbike, which should cost you no more than 5 USD per day, to explore the surrounding area at your own pace. Please do not rent a motorbike if you have never driven before and if you do, please always wear helmets. Southeast Asia roads are among the most dangerous roads in the world.
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Is Southeast Asia Safe?
Southeast Asia is generally safe but like all big metropolitan areas, petty thefts can happen so be aware of your belongings at all time, especially in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok.
I have heard reports of people getting their phones snatched from their hands in Ho Chi Minh City by a passing motorbike so avoid using your phone on the streets.
Theft doesn't just come from bad locals, it can come from other bad backpackers as well. Southeast Asia, due to how cheap it is, attracts all kinds of weird characters from those that pick fights in bars, to those that just steal money outright from other backpackers or hostel reception.
Keep your wallet and valuables with you at all time, even when you are in a hostel. Do not leave your valuables unattended when you go to the bathroom or a shower. I have heard many reports of people getting their money stolen from their wallet in a hostel when they left it on the bed and went to the bathroom.
Scams are also quite common in Southeast Asia especially at the land borders so be extra vigilant when you are crossing the border in Southeast Asia. A good rule of thumb is to be suspicious of over-friendly, speaking perfect English, people that approach you.
Local taxis are also known to scam tourists so if you hail a metered taxi, make sure that they use it, or if it's unmetered, agree on a price before getting on.
The most serious safety issue in Southeast Asia is road accidents. You have no idea how many foreigners covered in bandages I've seen in Southeast Asia. If you are renting a vehicle, go slow, wear helmets, and do not risk it if you are not a strong driver.
Vang Vieng used to be known as a drug-fueled party town and the government is trying very hard to crack down on that and even though you will find drugs available out in the open pretty easily in Vang Vieng, do not think that it is ok to do it in public. I have heard reports that the police extorted 500 USD from a group of tourists who were smoking weed outside of a hostel.
If it's illegal in your home country, it's probably illegal here too and the police can do whatever they want including throwing you in jail if you do not pay them.
Internet in Southeast Asia
Since you will be traveling over 9 countries and Southeast Asia is not exactly Europe, getting connected via reliable WIFI or through local sim cards can be quite tricky. For one, you will need 9 sim cards if you want to be connected all the time, which is not economical and wrapping your heads around all the data packages in these countries will drive you insane.
WIFI is widely available in most hostels/hotels nowadays in all countries except Brunei and Myanmar. Having a WIFI and having a usable one is a different story though which is often the case in some establishments in Southeast Asia that claim they have WIFI. That said, you will likely have no trouble staying connected in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and some parts of Thailand and Vietnam.
My recommendation is to buy local sim cards only in the countries you will be staying the longest. With my itinerary, I would suggest you buy local sim cards for Thailand, Malaysia and maybe Indonesia.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Southeast Asia, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
3 Months Backpacking Itinerary for Southeast Asia
Hanoi, Vietnam (2 Nights)
We first start off our journey in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Hanoi can be a bit hectic to start off your journey but this will give us a natural way to travel through Southeast Asia without detouring too often which should, in turn, minimize the days you will spend on a bus/train/plane.
Hanoi is a bustling capital city of Vietnam where motorbikes weave through the roads like unstoppable water flowing in a river. I didn't spend much time in Hanoi but one of my favorite things to do in the city is to go out and try all the delicious street food there.
With 2 nights in Hanoi, it should allow you to see every tourist attraction the city has to offer. Places like Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum are really interesting to see. They are all located in the same area of the West Lake so you do see them all in one go.
With these 2 areas, that should occupy you for most of the day with some time left at the end of the day to prepare for our next destination.
Getting to Halong Bay from Hanoi: For our next destination, we will be heading to Halong Bay where you will be going on a cruise to explore all the stunning limestone mountains. To get to the cruise, you will have to organize a tour with your hotel or a travel agency in Hanoi and they should pick you up at your hotel in Hanoi, bring you to Halong Bay where you can spend 2 - 3 nights on the boat.
Halong Bay, Vietnam (2 - 3 Nights)
Halong Bay is no doubt one of the most touristy things to do in Vietnam but, like I often said, "I am here. Might as well just do it and get it over with" 😆. Try to avoid looking into the party boats and look straight for nature and you will be alright 😉.
For the cruise in Halong bay, the price varies a lot depending on how many days you want to be on the boat and how luxurious you want it to be. The cruise can range from 50 USD all the way to 150+ USD for 1 day 2 nights.
Beware of Halong Bay tour agencies that offer you a ridiculously cheap price compare to others. You will often get exactly what you paid for here. I would recommend you spend a few hours walking around the travel agencies in the Old Quarter in Hanoi, get their prices and compare which one fits your style of travel.
A popular travel agency is Sinh Tourist where you can buy a package tour for Halong Bay. I personally have never traveled with them but I heard good reports of them operating the Halong Bay tour so you can check them out in Hanoi. Beware, there's a ton of copy cats around the area, so make you go to the right one.
Getting to Sapa from Hanoi: To get to Sapa, you can either go with an overnight train or a day bus from Hanoi. The train leaves at 9 - 11 PM and arrives around 5 - 6 AM and it will cost you 35 USD for a bed berth per person. If you go by train, you don't have to stay one extra night in Hanoi and sleep on the train instead.
If not, you can take a bus directly to Sapa that leaves Hanoi at 10 PM. The bus takes 6 hours and costs around 12 USD.
You can book your train/bus ticket online here: Book a train/bus ticket to Sapa from Hanoi.
Sapa, Vietnam (3 Nights)
After being a big city like Hanoi and cruising around in the sea for 2 days, you will love the drastic change of scenery and weather of Sapa, our next destination. Sapa is one of my favorite places in Vietnam. The nature around this region and the cooler breeze of the mountains are quite a change from what we have experienced in the past 4 days.
Sapa is also a great place to learn about the Black Hmong, the minority that lives in this region. What do the Black Hmong looks like? Don't worry, they will make themselves known immediately when your bus rolls into Sapa.
Don't let that overwhelm you though because that's the only way they can make a living off tourists, selling trinkets and such. They are harmless even if they seem like they are about the overrun you. They are actually really nice people and they might also be the key for you to have a more authentic experience in Sapa.
You can either rent a motorbike and drive up to these places by yourself or if you are more than one, you can rent any taxi driver in Sapa to take you there and back. Be sure to negotiate the price before you get in the car.
Photo by Constant Loubier.
As of 2019, you can now get to the top of Fansipan (3,143m), the highest point of Indochina, with a cable car. When I was there, they were building it and the only way to get up there was to trek. The cable car ticket cost around 25 USD (600,000 VND) and the operating hour is from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM, every day.
If you are a little more adventurous, you can rent a bike and drive south and explore the beautiful landscape and small villages at your own pace. In my opinion, this is the best way to explore Sapa. Once you get away from the town center, you will be able to experience the true beauty of Sapa. You will have the infinite view of rice terrace, all to yourself.
If you are interested in seeing a local village, you can also visit Cat Cat Village, but I think the place is commercial, full of tourist traps and isn't really worth the walk. I'd say, if you want to have an authentic experience, instead of staying in the hotels, stay with the Hmong people and learn how they live. That's a better way to experience Sapa and you are also giving back to the locals directly.
Getting to Hoi An from Hanoi: After 2 full days in Sapa, you can take the bus or an overnight train down to Hanoi again and from there you can either rough it out and take an 18 hours sleeper bus to Hoi An via Hung Thanh or Queen Cafe. The trip should cost you around 15 USD, leaving around 6 PM from Hanoi and you will arrive in Hoi An by 12 PM, the next day.
If that doesn't sound very appealing to you, you can fly domestically from Hanoi to Danang instead and from there, you can take a bus or a van to Hoi An. The entire trip should cost you around 55 USD including the flight and the bus to Hoi An and it should take you no more than 2 hours for the entire trip.
You can book your train/bus ticket online here: Book a train/bus ticket from Hanoi to Hoi An.
Hoi An, Vietnam (3 Nights)
Hoi An is an ancient port town that used to be an important Southeast Asian trading port between 15th - 19th Century. It is now one of the most photogenic tourist attractions in Vietnam attracting over 3 million visitors annually.
Its beautiful blend of traditional and foreign influence on the architecture of the ancient town draws a ton of tourists from around the world each year. It can get crowded at times especially by the river at night but Hoi An just has too much to offer that it will be a mistake to ignore it.
On your first day, you can spend the morning exploring the beautiful streets of the ancient town which should still be quite empty at that time. Hoi An is known for its delicious food so let's have a nice lunch in Hoi An by trying some of the best food Vietnam has to offer such as the Cao Lau (signature noodle dish), Bahn Bao Vac (Vietnamese dumplings) and Bahn Mi (Vietnamese Baguette sandwich).
Craving Cao Lau for lunch? I would recommend you try Cao Lau at Quán Cao Lầu Thanh restaurant. Looking for a cheap place to try their Bahn Mi? You can't go wrong with Bánh Mì Phượng restaurant, one of the best Bahn Mi places in Hoi An. Beware that due to its deliciousness and how cheap it is, you might have to wait in line for quite a while but I can assure you, it's well worth the wait.
Another great place to visit to have a nice cup of tea/coffee is the Reaching Out teahouse. What makes this teahouse so special is that they only employ people who are deaf and mutes, giving them jobs while allowing us to support the local community. They also have a wonderful service and a cozy atmosphere, unlike any cafes in Hoi An.
Getting bored of the ancient city? Why not rent a bike and go explore different parts of Hoi An away from the bustling ancient down like visiting the beach or learn how to cook Vietnamese food in one of the many cooking schools around Hoi An. If you are lucky, your homestay might be able to teach you for free. The place I stayed, Thien Tan Homestay, cooked me a full-blown lunch for free. They are awesome!
Right before the sunset, the ancient town of Hoi An lights up and becomes alive. The place is illuminated by all the lanterns from the houses making it quite an atmospheric place to walk around at night. It will also be quite crowded with many activities happening all around, almost the opposite of what you saw in the morning.
For the second day in Hoi An, you can go on a day tour to My Son Sanctuary, the ancient spiritual capital of the Champa empire which occupied much of what is now central and lower Vietnam between 7th - 10th century.
The tour shouldn't cost you more than 5 USD and it will take you half day until they drop you back in Hoi An. My Son ruin, although not very well maintained, is a fun half-day visit allowing you to walk through and learn about the ancient history of Central Vietnam.
Getting to Ho Chi Minh City from Hoi An: From Hoi An, you have a pretty similar option as when you came from Hanoi. You can choose between a long 22 hours bus ride, 18 hours train or a 1.5 hours domestic flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
A sleeper bus will take you around 22 hours from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City and it will cost you 22 USD. This is by far the slowest and cheapest way to travel between these 2 cities.
For an overnight train, it will take you 18 hours and cost you 50 USD. I personally wouldn't recommend the train for this one as the price almost double compared to the bus and it isn't significantly faster. You might be better off taking a flight instead.
Taking a flight is the fastest way to get to Ho Chi Minh City from Danang. It will cost you 60 USD via VietJet Air and it will only take about 1.5 hours. As you can see, it is only 10 USD more than the train but it will have you a day of traveling, which I think is a good trade-off.
You can book your plane/bus ticket online here: Book a train/bus ticket from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (3 Nights)
Ho Chi Minh City is a modern city full of history and attractions for you to learn a bit more about Vietnam history during the colonial and Vietnam War period. The city itself is like any other big cities in Southeast Asia, with crazy traffic jam, full of nightlife activities and a ton of things to do.
The best way to understand a country and its people is to know where they came from and one of the best places to understand Vietnam is at the Vietnam War Museum.
Be warned that the content of the Vietnam War Museum is very depressing and some photos are extremely graphic. I was completely exhausted after visiting the museum and reading about all the atrocities committed during the Vietnam war.
That said, I highly recommend anyone to visit the museum so that you can learn about the Vietnam War from both the Vietnamese side and the US side of the stories.
The museum is divided into several rooms and floors starting from the top floor going down. You can spend at least 2 hours going from room to room, and learning about every part of the war from the cause to the side effects and the aftermath that has yet subsided from the Vietnam War.
After the museum, you can spend the rest of the day exploring the city, visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City or visiting the Saigon Central Post Office nearby, which should give you a great example of how the French influenced the city during the colonial time in the 18th century.
If you would like to experience a local market in Ho Chi Minh City, you can check out the Ben Thanh market. For me personally, the experience I had here was not the best as we were shouted at by the vendors in the market for standing in front of their stores without buying. That said, the architecture is quite nice from the outside and it isn't too far from the main tourist area (Pham Ngu Lao street).
If you are looking for a way to see Ho Chi Minh city from the top, I would recommend you to visit the Bitexco Financial Tower and go up to their rooftop bar for a stunning sunset view over the city. Everything is expensive up there but the view is unbeatable.
For the second day, you can go on a day trip to Cu Chi tunnels, an old elaborate network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It is located 2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh city and you can visit, and even walk through one of the small tunnels yourself if you wish. It's not exactly for the faint-hearted.
The tunnels are really small and if you are claustrophobic or you don't feel comfortable doing it, I would recommend against entering the tunnel. One of the guys in my group fainted due to him not knowing he was claustrophobic and it was extra hot that day.
A day trip to Cu Chi tunnels will take you half a day before they drop you back in Pham Ngu Lao district where you can continue your day exploring Ho Chi Minh city.
One of the coolest things you can do in Ho Chi Minh city is to mingle with the locals at the September 23rd Park in Pham Ngu Lao district. There are a lot of young Vietnamese people who are eager to learn English from travelers and they often hang out in this park. You can simply walk around and you will likely be approached by a group of students asking you to teach them English. This is a great way to mingle with the locals, allowing you to see the country in a more authentic perspective.
After spending 2 full days in Ho Chi Minh City, it is time to say goodbye to Vietnam, and start our journey in the next country on this list of our Southeast Asia trip, Cambodia.
Getting to Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh City: To get from Vietnam to Cambodia, you will have to take a bus to the border and cross the land border on foot by yourself into Cambodia and the same bus will take you to Phnom Penh.
There are several bus companies that operate this route like Giant Ibis and Kumho Samco. The price often ranged from 13 - 15 USD per person and it will take you around 6 - 7 hours, depending on how crowded the border is that day.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a train/bus ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2 Nights)
Phnom Penh is a great place to start your journey to Cambodia. With its awesome museums, there is no way you will leave Cambodia without learning a thing or two about the great Khmer empire that ruled this region in the middles ages.
A great museum to start off is the National Museum located a little north of the Royal Palace, which we will be exploring in the evening. The museum is full of artifacts and relics from the Khmer Empire discovered not long ago.
The architecture of the National Museum is worth a visit in itself with the red modern style Khmer temple architecture. Inside, you will find over 14,000 items which include items from the prehistoric times, before, during and after the Khmer empire era.
The entrance fee is 10 USD + 5 USD for an audio guide. You can spend at least 2 - 3 hours, walking around the museum, admiring all the stunning artifacts of the ancient times and learn all about the Khmer Empire before you visit Siem Reap, the seat of power of the Khmer Empire.
After the museum, you can learn more about the history of Cambodia during a darker period when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, once a school turned prison turned museum where the Khmer Rouge used to contain prisoners before they ship them to the Killing Field.
It is an overwhelming experience to learn about all the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during that time, especially if you pair your visit with an audio guide. It was also not that long ago that this happened and at the Genocide Museum, you will get a chance to meet the survivors and talk to them about it.
After the Genocide Museum, you can take a tuk-tuk or a taxi to the Killing Field, a mass grave where they took those prisoners, shot and buried them in the field. Again, this place is best with an audio guide so you can learn how the Khmer Rouge systematically massacred their own people. It's horrible but important for anyone visiting Cambodia to learn.
Once you are done with the Killing Field, it's time to visit the Royal Palace. Why did I leave this for the evening? Well, for one, the place will be less crowded then and, best of all, there will be more things going on around the palace that you can enjoy.
One of my favorite places to visit in Phnom Penh in the evening is the Royal Palace Park in front of the palace where the locals often bring their families for a picnic to cool down from the city life and enjoy the sunset vibe together. It is a great place to hang out and go people-watching in Phnom Penh.
I'm sure, after an entire day learning about Cambodia, you are probably exhausted and so you can spend the rest of the day, chilling out along the Phnom Penh riverside and start planning your trip to Siem Reap.
Getting to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh: Getting to Siem Reap is pretty straight forward. There are several bus and van services that connect this route such as Virak Buntham Express, Thero Express, and Giant Ibis. It will take you around 5 - 6 hours to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and it should cost you around 15 USD per person.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket to from Phnom Penh Siem Reap.
Siem Reap, Cambodia (3 Nights)
Siem Reap, the once prosperous seat of power of the ancient Khmer empire is home to one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the Angkor Wat. I don't think there's any introduction needed from me for the Angkor Wat, so here is what you can do in 2 days in Siem Reap.
On your first day in Siem Reap, I would recommend you hire a tuk-tuk driver for a day to take you to all the Khmer temples around the region. You can hire the driver through your hostel/hotel. It should cost you around 15 USD for a day, and around 20 USD if you wish you visit the Angkor Wat during sunrise.
After you got the driver, you will have to agree with your driver on the itinerary of your day. You can start off your day as early as 4 AM if you wish to witness the Angkor Wat during sunrise, which is nice, but extremely crowded or you can start whenever you feel like it.
My suggested itinerary for your tuk-tuk driver would be to start with the sunrise trip in Angkor Wat, where you will get your entry ticket, which will cost you 37 USD (as of 2019) for a single day entry per person, and you will get access to the Angkor Wat and all the other temples around the area.
After the Angkor Wat, you can go further afield and visit Banteay Srei temple complex follow by Ta Phrom (Tomb Raider temple), Ta Keo, Baphuon, Bayon Temple (the one with the smiling faces carved into stone walls), Angkor Thom South Gate, and finally, spend the rest of the day back in Angkor Wat, when there is less tourist.
Keep in mind that this is just a rough itinerary and you can change it up depending on your style of travel and your driver recommendations. Either way, it will be an action-packed first day in Siem Reap.
For the second day, you have the option to take either take it slow and stay in Siem Reap and spend your day visiting the Angkor National Museum, and walk around the touristy Pub Street or if you want to explore further, get a taxi to take you to Beng Mealea, a lesser know, but as epic Angkor temple outside of Siem Reap.
Things to keep in mind about the Beng Mealea temple is that it isn't included in the multi-day Angkor Wat pass, so no need to get the 3-day pass to visit this temple for your stay in Siem Reap. You can just get the 1-day Angkor pass and visit this temple separately on your second day. The entrance fee for Beng Mealea is 5 USD and can be bought right in front of the temple.
Getting from Siem Reap to Bangkok: It's quite a long journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok. With a bus, it will take you around 9 and will cost you around 30 USD via Giant Ibis or Nattakan Transport. The land border crossing is a little bit easier compared to the Vietnam-Cambodia border as these 2 bus operators offer direct buses where you won't have to cross the border on foot with your luggage.
This is by far, the most convenient and affordable way to get to Thailand from Cambodia. The bus often leaves in the morning at 8 AM and you will arrive at Mo Chit 2 bus terminal in Bangkok by 5 PM, depending on the traffic.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Siem Reap to Bangkok.
Bangkok, Thailand (3 Nights)
Ah, Bangkok, my home town. I do have quite a love-hate relationship with Bangkok but I have since been a little less critical to my hometown and have been enjoying the city more every time I had a chance to come back. It's definitely a city with 2 identities that will be quite interesting for travelers like you to experience.
One identity of Bangkok that is most popular among travelers is the laid-back vibe of the old town area where all the popular tourist attractions are located. The Grand Palace is a no-brainer as it is the most popular tourist attraction in the city. It's a palace complex full of stunning temples and museums within the palace wall.
It's VERY VERY crowded and you might not enjoy it as much due to the number of people in there but if you focus your eyes on the architectures inside, you should be able to enjoy yourself quite a bit.
The entrance fee is 15 USD and the dress code is extremely strict. No shorts whatsoever and pants have to be long enough that it covers your ankle (really), otherwise, you will have to buy the god-awful elephant pants at one of the many shops in front of the palace. No tank tops too so if you can not handle the heat, be sure to bring a non-see-through scarf to cover yourself up when you are in the temple.
Within the same area, there's also Wat Pho where you will be able to find one of the biggest reclining Buddha statues in the world. I especially like this temple more than the Grand Palace as it often has significantly fewer tourists and the entrance fee is way cheaper (5 USD).
Khaosan road, in my truest opinion, is not the greatest place to experience Thai culture, but if it's a place you might want to see for yourself, just for the freak-factor of it.
Another identity of Bangkok is the hyper-modernized area of Siam where all the high-end shopping malls all clustered up together in one big extravaganza. Think of it as the Tokyo of Bangkok whereas the Old Town area is the Kyoto of Bangkok. You can reach Siam via the BTS "Siam" sky train station.
This is where you will find all the high-end brand name shops that no one will be able to afford. It's a great hang-out place for young people of Bangkok and a good place for you to enjoy the luxury the city has to offer, at a much cheaper price than in the western countries.
Between these shopping malls, you will also find cheap places where you can buy souvenirs or eat out. MBK, a popular electronic mall is also in the same area, which is a great place to visit if you are looking to buy cheap electronics or get your phone fixed at a much cheaper price than if you get it fixed in your home country.
If you are in Bangkok during the weekend, you are in luck, as one of the largest flea markets in the country is open on Saturday and Sunday. The Chatuchak Market is a place where can buy anything you can think of at a cheap price. May it be a 5 USD handbag or a 3 USD t-shirt, they have got it all here. It's also a fun place to hang out even if you don't plan to buy anything.
There are a ton more things to do in Bangkok with many districts you have yet to explore but this should do for 3 nights.
Getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai is an 8 hours drive and an even longer journey on our slow train so I think it is best that you just fly straight to Chiang Mai. There are several AirAsia and NokAir flights that fly this route every day. It takes 1.5 hours and it costs around 25 - 50 USD, which is not much different from taking a bus.
If you want to take the bus, it's a 10 hours journey and it will cost you around 20 USD. For a train, it will take you around 12 hours and it will cost you 30 USD.
You can book your plane/train/bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai, Thailand (3 Nights)
Chiang Mai used to be a kingdom of its own, separated from Siam, called Lanna and that is why you will see a whole different culture when you arrive in Chiang Mai. There is a ton of things to do in Chiang Mai but I'll start off with the simplest one, visiting the Buddhist temples in the area.
There are a ton and it's unlikely that you would see them all so I would recommend you visit these 3 temples, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which sits on top of a hill overlooking the city, Wat Chedi Luang, one of the oldest temple in the old city wall area, and Wat Umong located in a jungle just outside of Chiang Mai old city wall. You can rent a scooter and explore all these temples in a day.
Another popular attraction in Chiang Mai is a chance to be able to observe and interact with elephants, a friendly intelligent large mammal that symbolized Thailand as a country. Elephant Nature Park is a rehabilitation center where you will be able to feed and wash them. Riding is not allowed in this park and which is good because it is unethical to ride one.
In the evening, if you are there during the weekends, you should drop by the Saturday Market or Sunday Night Market and eat your way through it. There's a ton of delicious food to try in Chiang Mai, such as Khao Soi, a yellow curry with fried and boiled noodle, Nam Prik Num, a northern style green chili dip and Sai Aua, a Nothern style spicy sausage.
For the second day, we can go all out adventure and flinging ourselves off a tree with a zip-line via Flight of the Gibbons, go jump into the water of Hang Dong Canyon dubbed Thailand's grand canyon, or if you are in Chiang Mai during the Loy Krathong days (late October to early November), be sure to participate in the Yi Peng festival at the Mae Joe University.
Getting from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong: GreenBus company that operates daily, 3 times in the morning and once in the afternoon, that connects Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, a town before you cross the border to Laos. It will take you around 6 hours and the bus should cost around 10 - 15 USD per person.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong.
Chiang Khong, Thailand (1 Night)
Since you will be arriving in the late afternoon, you will have to stay one night in Chiang Khong which is not a bad place to start planning on how to get to Luang Prabang in Laos from Thailand. A great way to travel from Thailand to Laos is on a slow boat and we will do just that.
The next day, wake up early and walk or take a shuttle bus across the Friendship bridge at the border between Thailand and Laos. Cross the border into Laos, and from there, you will have 2 options: organize the boat trip straight from the border which may be a bit more expensive (around 10 USD difference) or take a shuttle bus (5~ USD) to Huay Xai where you can get on a boat from there.
For more information about slow boat to Luang Prabang from Huay Xia, check out Slow Boat to Laos – The Best Tips and Advice by NomadaSaurus.
Cruise to Luang Prabang, Laos (1 Night)
Cruising along the Mekong river to Luang Prabang is one of the best ways to start your trip in Laos. You will be able to experience the beautiful landscape of Laos at a much slower pace, allowing you to see what life is actually like in the country-side.
On your first day, you will be cruising along the Mekong for 7 hours until you arrive in Pakbeng where you will be spending the night before starting early the next day and continue your journey on the river for another 8 hours until you arrive in Luang Prabang at 5:30 PM.
Food and drinks are available to buy on the boat at a premium so if you want to save some money. buy your lunch before you get on the boat.
Luang Prabang, Laos (2 Nights)
After 2 days on the boat, it's time to hit the ground running! Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage town which means that everything here from architectures to the culture is to be preserved and protected.
With its unique rural development and the French influence during the colonization, Luang Prabang has a lot of unique experiences to offer. For one, the town is full of cozy French cafes for you to indulge yourself in whereas all the glorious temples like Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mahathat or the Temple of the Great Stupa and Wat Nong Sikhounmuang, are all located within the same area, making exploring the temples of Luang Prabang a breeze.
One of the most impressive sight in Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Waterfall, a gorgeous azure and turquoise cascade located 20 km away from Luang Prabang. You can reach there in 40 minutes if you rent your own scooter or hire a tuk-tuk to take you there and back.
After a refreshing swim at the Kuang Si Waterfall, make your way back to Luang Prabang, and start climbing the 300 stairs to the top of Mount Phousi for a stunning sunset over Luang Prabang.
Not too far from Mount Phousi, you will find the night market food district, which is the perfect place to stop for dinner before ending your day in Luang Prabang, especially after climbing that 300 stairs to Mount Phousi.
Getting from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: There's a minivan service by Naluang that departs 5 times a day leaving from Naluang Bus Station. It will cost you around 15 USD and it will take you around 5 hours to get to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng, Laos (2 Nights)
Vang Vieng, once a drug-fueled party town, now a prime place for adventure, is a town located along the Nam Song river, surrounded by beautiful and mystical karst hill landscape, a perfect place for you to explore the beautiful nature of Laos.
On the day you arrive, you can go walk around the main street (it's not a big town and you will see the main street right away when you are there) and find adventurous activities to do the next day.
There is a ton of tour agencies along the main road that offers a full-day adventure that includes kayaking the Nam Song river, tube the water cave and a visit to Blue Lagoon, all in one day.
I love kayaking the Nam Song river! The limestone mountains as seen from the river as I cruised along is a sight that is hard to forget. Tubing inside the water cave was also a fun unique experience where we got to explore the dark water cave with our inflated inner tube.
Blue Lagoon is very beautiful but because of that, it attracted way too many tourists during the day, so much so that it can totally ruin your time there. The best way to visit Blue Lagoon is to go there in the morning before everyone else and have the place to yourself. There are also caves for you to explore if you want to get away from the crowd but you will need a headlamp to go inside.
The Blue Lagoon is the most disappointing one, however, not because it's not beautiful but because it was so touristy. That said, I heard that people were able to have the place for themselves if they arrive early enough, so if you have your own vehicle, be sure to drop by the Blue Lagoon in the early morning.
Getting from Vang Vieng to Vientiane: To get to Vientiane from Vang Vieng, there are only 2 bus operators that operate at the same time, departing at 9 AM and again at 01:30 PM. The bus costs around 8 - 10 USD and it will take you around 5 hours to get to Vientiane.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Vang Vieng to Vientiane.
Vientiane, Laos (2 Nights)
While you are at the Pha That Luang temple, do go for a walk around the landmark and check out the many beautiful buildings around it. Just beyond the Pha That Luang's gate is the Pha That Luang Neau temple that boasts a stunningly detailed carving as shown above.
Vientiane, one of the few capital cities in Southeast Asia that doesn't feel overwhelming, in fact, it has that laid-back vibe that you don't often get in other capital cities in the region.
I hope you are not getting bored with temples yet as there are some really authentic looking ones in Vientiane that you should visit. Wat Si Saket is one of these authentic-looking temple that has a stunning antique style to it. The architecture of the temple is made of teakwood that dated all the way back to the early 18th century.
Pha That Luang is another great place to drop by. It boasts a stunning gold stupa that was built in the 3rd century. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by us Thais in the 18th century, and restored by the French to what it is today.
Other sites worth visiting are Pha That Luang Neau, a stunning mix of tradition and modern style architecture, a Hophakawe Museum, a former temple built in the 15th century, now a museum and the Patuxay Monument, an unfinished war memorial featuring a European-style architecture and traditional Laotian carvings.
Getting from Vientiane to Bangkok: Vientiane is a long way from Mandalay, Myanmar our next destination and so you will have to fly to Bangkok first. Thankfully, AirAsia does operate this route and so you can fly from Vientiane directly to Bangkok for only 60 USD. If you want to save cost, you can also take a 14 hours bus
You can book your plane ticket online here: Book a plane ticket from Vientiane to Bangkok.
Bangkok, Thailand (1 Night)
Depending on which flight you are on from Vientiane, you might be able to get away with not staying one night in Bangkok and get the same-day flight to Mandalay but if you can't make it, you can stay one night in Bangkok, preferably near Don Muang airport so you can get the next flight out easily.
Getting from Bangkok to Mandalay: There is one flight per day operated by AirAsia that connects these 2 cities together. The flight will cost around 60 USD and it will take you around 2 hours to arrive in Mandalay, where you will begin your journey in Myanmar.
You can book your plane ticket online here: Book a plane ticket from Bangkok to Mandalay.
Mandalay, Myanmar (2 Nights)
Myanmar is currently entering a new era. It used to be one of the most off-the-beaten-path in the region, but nowadays, as the country is opening up more and more to the world, the country is going through a big change for better and for worst.
Thankfully for us travelers, that means that we can finally travel around this beautiful country, learn about their rich history, and be able to explore all the stunning ancient architecture freely.
Mandalay is a former ancient royal city of the Northern region of Myanmar. It is home to the impressive Mandalay Palace, the last standing royal palace of the last monarchy of Myanmar. There is a ton to see and do inside, a perfect place to start your first day in Mandalay.
Another of my favorite architecture in Mandalay is the Shwenandaw Monastery, an antique-looking teakwood monastery built in the late 19th Century. Its architecture style is a complete contrast of what you see at newly renovated Mandalay Palace, allow you to get a glimpse of how the Myanmar architecture looks like back in the days.
There are a few other things worth seeing in Mandalay as well such as Mandalay Hill, the perfect viewpoint for the sunset over the city, U Bein Bridge, one of the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world, another great place to watch the sunset/sunrise, and the incomplete Mingun Pahtodawgyi stupa, the remains of a massive construction project that started in the 18th century but never finish.
In order to get around Mandalay and see all these places, you might have to hire a moto-taxi to take you around the area, which should cost around 15 - 20 USD for a day.
Getting from Mandalay to Bagan: There are 2 ways you can get to Bagan from Mandalay, one is the local train which leaves at night and you will arrive at 5 AM the next day, taking around 8 hours and costs 8 - 13 USD, and the second way is by bus/minivan which will take 6 hours and cost around 12 USD.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Mandalay to Bagan.
Bagan, Myanmar (3 Nights)
Bagan and all its 2,000 stupas scattered all over a plain are by far one of the best places to watch the sunrise in the world. Every time I was in Myanmar, I always to get myself to Bagan to bike around and discover abandoned stupas I haven't discover the last time.
Bagan is an ancient capital city of the Pagan kingdom that ruled the area from the 11th - 13th century. During there reign, they built over 10,000 stupas and temples all over Bagan and 2,000 of them are still standing today, waiting for us to explore.
The stupas and temples are all scattered out and so we will need to find a mode of transportation that will get us to, at least, all the main sites of Bagan ancient city. One of the best ways to explore Bagan is by bikes or e-bikes which allows you to visit some of the more remote ruins that require you to go through small sandy roads.
Here is a list of all the main temples and stupas you should visit when you are in Bagan:
- Shwe San Daw Paya - The best viewpoint to watch the sunrise. There will be a ton of people doing the same thing though so be prepared. My recommendation is to outstay them as most people will leave when the sun rises only a bit. The beauty of Bagan at sunrise lasts until 10 AM, so outstay the rest of the tourists and you will have the whole place to yourself.
- Htilominlo Temple
- Ananda Temple
- Thatbyinnyu Temple - a stunning temple with a pointy spire that you can see from everywhere in Old Bagan.
- Dahmmayan Gyi Phaya - This is my favorite temple of all because it has a unique architecture style, totally different from the rest of the temples in the area. Most temples usually have spires decorated on top of the structure, except this one, probably due to the fact that the King being assassinated before the project was complete.
- Sulamani Temple
Getting from Bagan to Mandalay: You will have to backtrack back the way you came from with a morning/overnight bus or a train to Mandalay and stay one night there to catch a flight back to Thailand.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Bagan to Mandalay.
Mandalay, Mandalay (1 Night)
In order to get back to Thailand to continue our journey south, we will have to stay one night in Mandalay and catch the next flight back to Bangkok the next day.
Getting from Bangkok to Khao Sok: After arriving back in Bangkok from Myanmar, you will have to take an overnight bus which goes directly to Khao Sok National Park. There is one bus operator that operates this direct route and they depart 3 times a day, 7 PM, 7:30 PM and 8 PM. The journey will take over 14 hours and it will cost you 30 - 40 USD.
You can book your plane ticket online here: Book a plane ticket from Bangkok to Khao Sok.
You can also get a domestic flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani via Thai Lion Air or AirAsia, which fly 6 times a day, takes about an hour and a half and cost about 25 - 50 USD. Once you arrive from the airport, you can get a direct van operated by Phantip, in you will be in Khao Sok in 2 hours, and it will only set you back 11 USD.
You can book your van ticket online here: Book a van ticket from Surat Thani Airpot to Khao Sok.
Khao Sok, Thailand (3 Nights)
After Myanmar, our next destination is the Khao Sok National Park. If I have to pick my favorite places to visit in Thailand, this must be it. Khao Sok Lake is an artificial lake formed by the construction of the Ratchaprapa dam, where you can take a long boat into the national park, through all the stunning limestone mountains, and sleep in a remote floating bungalow for a night.
After arriving in Khao Sok village, you will have to stay one night in the quiet and peaceful village of Khao Sok where you will be able to relax a little and spend the rest of your day finding a tour that will take you to a floating bungalow in Khao Sok lake. There is a ton of options for you to choose from, from spending only one night or 3 nights, go hiking, caving, and many more.
For this itinerary, I would personally go with a 2 days 1 night trip to the government-run floating bungalow that should include a morning safari and wild animal spotting, a water cave walk, and a jungle walk. It is a 2 days trip, full of action-packed activities all the while, allowing you to enjoy the nature of the national park by yourself in the evening.
There's a kayak that you can rent and explore the limestone mountains around your floating bungalow at your own pace. This is one my favorite pastime activities but beware, a lot of people will want to do the same so be sure to get the kayak before everyone else!
Getting from Khao Sok to Krabi: To get to Krabi, you will have to get yourself to Surat Thani city center first and you can take the van from Surat Thani to Krabi. You can get the one at 9 AM from Khao Sok where you should arrive in Surat Thani by 11:30 AM and then you can get the 12:30 PM van to Krabi. The entire trip should take about 6 hours and cost around 16 USD.
You can book your plane ticket online here: Book a plane ticket from Khao Sok to Krabi.
Krabi, Thailand (3 Nights)
We are definitely in the heart of Southern Thailand now and as the further south we go, the more relaxing the vibe. Krabi is definitely a place where you go to relax at the beach, enjoy the beautiful limestone mountains on a kayak, or if being stationary bored you, go rock-climbing.
In Krabi town, you will be able to find a ton of travel agency offering several types of day-trips. If you like adventure, you can go rock-climbing at Railey beach. If you are looking to take it easy, you can go on a 4 islands tour that will take you to Pranang Beach, Tup Island, Chicken Island and Stop Poda island.
If you want to still go on an adventure but would rather do it at your own pace, how about go to Ao Nang beach and rent a kayak there and explore all the limestone mountains by yourself, and after that, visit the Ao Nang night market and end your day with a tummy full of delicious seafood.
Getting from Krabi to Koh Lipe: From Krabi city center you can get a direct transfer operated by Jolly Travel the departs at 6:30 AM and will take you to the Pakbara pier in Satun province where you will be transferred to a speed boat which will take you to Koh Lipe. It will cost you around 30 USD and it will take around 6 hours.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Khao Sok to Koh Lipe.
Koh Lipe, Thailand (3 Nights)
Koh Lipe is a small island off the coast of Satun province in Thailand bordering Malaysia but does not let the size fool you. There is a ton of things to do in Koh Lipe, most of which are underwater around the island.
Koh Lipe is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Thailand. Once you arrive on the island, paid a park entrance fee, you will be met with 2 options for snorkeling, one will take you to the inner islands to snorkel and the other, the outer islands. Both trips should cost around 15 - 20 USD and both of them will take you all day until 4 - 5 PM.
You can choose to do both trips in 2 days or you can choose to spend your first day exploring the inner islands and the second day relaxing on the island. I prefer the latter so I chose the inner island trip which took me to Jabang, Koh Hin Ngam, Koh Rawi, Koh Adang, and Koh Yang. The trip includes lunch, snorkeling gear and life jacket for safety.
On the second day, you can walk around the island, watch the sunset at the Sunset Beach, and eat your way through Walking Street. You will find some delicious southern-style street food at the night market so be prepare to appetite.
Getting from Koh Lipe to Hat Yai: There are a few steps that you have to take to get to Penang, Malaysia from Koh Lipe. First, you will have to get to Hat Yai, a southern city hub that connects Malaysia with Thailand. Departing from Koh Lipe at 9:30 AM, you should be in Hat Yai by 01:30 PM and it should cost you around 20 USD.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Koh Lipe to Hat Yai.
Getting from Hat Yai to Penang: From Hat Yai, you should be able to find a direct bus operated by New Asian Travel to Penang that departs at 03:00 PM. It should take another 4 hours and cost around 13 USD before you arrive in Penang at around 8 PM.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Hat Yai to Penang - Make sure you don't get the ticket that drops you off at Georgetown, not Butterworth terminal.
Penang, Malaysia (3 Nights)
Penang is an island off the coast of the Malaysian peninsula and it is a great place to start your journey in Malaysia. Relative to neighboring countries, Penang is not very well known as a vacation destination for most tourists because of its not-so-beautiful beaches but due to its rich multicultural history full of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences, the city is truly one of a kind, full of things to do, places to see, and delicious food to try.
Scattered around George Town are street arts that combine physical objects with wall paintings to depict the life of the people in Penang, all of which within walking distance, and that is one of the first things you can do in Georgetown, Penang.
Chew Jetty, a village on stilts on the shores of Penang, is also another attraction right in the city center of George Town that you can visit. Walking around the jetty should help you understand the life of the people in this area back in the days. They also sell souvenirs so you can help support the local community by buying their handcrafts for your loved ones at home.
Looking for a place to eat your way through Penang? I've got just the place for you. Free of tourists, the Farlim Night Market is a great place for you to walk around, grab a bunch of street food you want to try, find a spot to sit and eat them all with your friends. This is the place where Penang truly comes alive.
For the second day in Penang, one of the most impressive attractions on the island is the Kek Lok Si temple, a large complex of Chinese-style Buddhist temple located at the center of the island.
At the heart of the temple is a seven-stories high Pagoda of Rama VI with over 10,000 bronze statues of Buddha, and the most iconic landmark of this temple, the 30 m tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. You can probably spend half a day here just walking around and explore all the temples inside the complex.
Right around the corner of the Kek Lok Si temple complex is a famous Laksa food stall called Ayer Itam Assam Laksa. You have to try them out as supposedly, it is the best place to eat Laksa in Penang. Also, try the sugarcane juice while you are at it.
Getting from Penang to Cameron Highlands: There is a direct bus that departs Penang at 12 PM operated by New Asian Travel that you can take to get to Cameron Highlands. It should take you around 5 hours and cost you 13 USD for the trip.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Penang to Cameron Highlands.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (3 Nights)
Cameron Highlands is one of the oldest tourist spots in Malaysia. Surveyed by geologist William Cameron in 1885, Cameron Highlands is now known for its beautiful hills, tea estates, cool weather and a great place to go hiking.
On your first day in Cameron Highlands, I would recommend you to go on a tour to visit all the attractions that are further away from Tanah Rata, the town where you will be based. I went with Eco Cameron travel agency and they were awesome. I went for a half day tour (8:30 AM - 12 PM) to Boh Tea Plantation and Mossy Forest and it costs me 50 MYR.
This way, you will be able to see all the cool attractions that are hard to reach on foot all in one go. The tour was small in number (5 of us) and we went to many places that were not as crowded. I would highly recommend going on a tour with Eco Cameron any day.
For the second day, we can explore all the hills and tea plantation at our own pace on foot on one of the many hiking trails available in Cameron Highlands. There are 14 hiking trails for you to choose from but the best one, by far is the trail #6 combining with trail #10.
Trail #6 starts off in Tanah Rata and it will take you to the top of Gunung Jasar where you will descend along Trail #10 through thick forest into the tea plantation of Cameron Valley where you will be able to experience the tea plantation up close.
The hike should take you half a day and you can spend the rest of the day, freshen up and relax in Tanah Rata trying their famous scones.
Getting from Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur: There are plenty of buses operated by Unititi Express connecting Cameron Highlands with the capital city for you to choose from. The trip should take around 4 hours and cost you 11 USD.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (3 Nights)
Kuala Lumpur is a unique capital city that is often overlooked but the city has a few tricks up its sleeve. For one, it is cheap for a city this size, not very well-known to other travelers, and the best part, the city is the melting pot of religions where people of many beliefs and races live together resulting in one of the best places to go out and eat and explore stunning varieties of architectures and cultures in Kuala Lumpur.
One of those religious sites that you should visit is the Batu cave, located 45-minutes train ride away from Kuala Lumpur. Batu cave is a sacred Hindu temple located magnificently inside a limestone mountain. In front of the cave is the 43m high golden statue of Lord Murugan.
You can climb the 272 steps up to the top where you will find Hindu shrines built perfectly under the sun ray coming through the cavern. It is one of the most religious structures in KL and an interesting one to witness.
Other places worth visiting in Malaysia are the National Museum if you are interested in how Malaysia came to be (really interesting museum), the National Monument and the Perdana Botanical Gardens, a great place to escape the city and be among nature, and lastly, if you are looking for a place to eat out all kinds of Asian street food, be sure to drop by Jalan Alor Street in the evening.
If this isn't your first time in Kuala Lumpur or you have already done everything I recommended, you can go and explore the coffee and Kopitiam culture of Malaysia and try all the cool restaurants and cafes in the city.
Getting from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka: It's pretty straight-forward. There are several buses that depart from the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan. The bus should take you around 2 hours and cost only 4 USD.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka.
Melaka, Malaysia (1 Night)
Melaka is one of the most important port cities in the history of trade. Situated in the Malacca Strait that connects South Asian sea and Europe to the East, the city was once the seat of the Malay Kingdom and has gone through several periods of prosperity and neglect, resulting in a city so unique, you need to see for yourself.
Due to its diverse nature with the city's unique Nyonya culture (Chinese + Malay) and the influence from the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, Melaka has plenty to offer for travelers who are curious about the history or simply enjoy experiencing unique cultures.
The Stadthuys and its vivid red-colored square is the landmark of Melaka city center and a must-visit when you are in Melaka. As you can see from the name, the square was built by the Dutch during the colonization and it is considered to be the oldest remaining Dutch structure in the East.
There are several colonial structures scattered throughout Melaka such as the A Famosa fortress, the St. Paul's church, and many museums dedicated to telling the story of Melaka Kingdom pre, during and postcolonial time.
If you are interested in the history of Melaka, be sure to visit the Maritime Museum to learn about Melaka and its maritime prowess, and the Sultanate Palace Museum, where you will be able to learn the history of Melaka during the sultan rule.
Getting from Melaka to Singapore: This trip should be a piece of cake. There are several buses operated by StarMart Express and 707 SG that connects these 2 cities. The bus ride should take around 4 hours and cost about 10 USD.
You can book your bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Melaka to Singapore.
Singapore (3 Nights)
You might be in shock when you arrive in Singapore and see all the prices skyrocketed to European-level. It's a common reaction to travelers traveling in Southeast Asia. Singapore is by far the most expensive country to travel in Southeast Asia due to its hyper modernization of the country in the late 80s but that shouldn't stop you from exploring what the city has to offer.
Marina Bay area is a popular place to start your trip in Singapore. All the main attractions in Singapore are all clustered in this area from the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Merlion to the Garden by the Bay, all of which are within walking distance.
Little India district also offers you a glimpse of a more affordable Singapore and my second favorite type of food, Indian food.
If you are in need of nature, there is also Palau Ubin, an island untouched by the modernization of the city where you can go bike around and escape the bustling city of Singapore.
At night, be sure to stop by Garden by the Bay again in time for the light and sound show that they perform every day where all the lights of the artificial trees are lit up like Christmas. It's a fun activity to end your brief visit to Singapore before you continue to Indonesia.
Getting from Singapore to Jakarta: For this trip, you will have to fly across the ocean to get to Jakarta. Thankfully, Singapore and Jakarta are both big hubs for air traffic so you should have no problem finding cheap flights that connect the 2 cities.
You can get an AirAsia flight from Singapore to Jakarta for 50 USD and it will take around 2 hours for the trip.
You can book your plane ticket online here: Book a plane ticket from Singapore to Jakarta.
Jakarta, Indonesia (2 Nights)
Jakarta is the largest city in Southeast Asia with a whopping population of 10 million, almost doubled that of the second biggest city, Bangkok. The beauty of Jakarta does not lie in its attraction or the chaotic character of the city but the kindness within the hearts of the locals that made the city so special.
I wouldn't say that Jakarta is the highlight of this itinerary but it is always good to stop by the capital city of a country to familiarize yourself with the culture before you dive deeper into the country.
There are several sites you can check out when you are in Jakarta for the day. Places like the National Monument, the Istiqlal Mosque and the Old Harbor (Pelabuhan Sunda Kelapa) are all unique places that you can visit.
I especially love exploring the Old Habour at night, thanks to one of the locals who showed me around all the massive wooden boats and see how the people live their lives on that boat.
Getting from Jakarta to Yogyakarta: The best way to get from Jakarta to Yogyakarta is to take the early morning train that leaves a 6 AM and arrives in Yogyakarta at 2:35 PM.
You can find more information about the train here: How to get from Jakarta to Yogyakarta by train without the headache.
Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2 Nights)
Yogyakarta is a city in central Java known for its traditional arts and cultural heritage. It is among one of the most visited cities in Java and since we are heading east towards the islands, we will be spending 2 nights here to learn about the central Javanese people and all its important sites that make the city stood out from Indonesian history.
The first thing I would recommend you to do is to go on a sunrise trip to Borobudur, World's largest Buddhist temple built in 9th-century containing over 72 Buddha statues inside a pagoda. The site is considered to be one of the great archeological sites of Southeast Asia and is by far, the most visited tourist attraction in all of Indonesia.
Being there during the sunrise should allow you to have the whole place to yourself to enjoy all the intricate detail of the temple complex and the landscape around it before throngs of tourists, both locals and foreigners arrive.
Another great archeological site that you should see in Yogyakarta is the Prambanan temple, the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, only second to the Angkor Wat. Its stunning pointy spires towering over 47m high is hard to miss when you pass by.
There are also several other things to do after visiting these 2 main sites that should keep you occupied for an entire day like visiting the Taman Sari, an ancient royal bath, the Chicken Church (Gereja Ayam), which is literally a church shaped like a chicken, and many more.
Getting from Yogyakarta to Surabaya: From Yogyakarta, there is no direct bus to Mount Bromo so you will have to stay overnight in Surabaya and make your way up to the volcano from there. To get to Surabaya, you can take a bus operated by Eka Cepat, that leaves Surabaya every hour. It should take around 6 hours to get to Surabaya and it should cost you around 10 USD.
You can book the bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Yogyakarta to Surabaya.
Surabaya, Indonesia (1 Night)
Now that we have split the trip into 2 days, we can spend the rest of the day in Surabaya organizing our transportation to Mount Bromo the next day. You can either organize a taxi to drive you all the way to Mt. Bromo via your accommodation or you can do it independently.
Getting from Surabaya to Mount Bromo: To do it independently, you have to start early and take the 9 AM train to Probolinggo and you should arrive in Probolingo by 11 PM. From Probolingo, you will have to hail an o-jek or a yellow bus waiting for you in front of the train station to Bayuangga bus station (5km out of town) where you can get a bus up to Cemoro Lawang, a town located right on the caldera of Mount Bromo.
If you, for some reason, arrive too late or the bus isn't going because there are not enough people, you might have to negotiate with the bus driver and pay him premium to take you up there.
You can book the train ticket online here: Book a train ticket from Surabaya to Probolingo.
Mt. Bromo, Indonesia (1 Night)
From Surabaya, you should arrive in Cemoro Lawang before dark so you can spend some time walking around town, finding a way to get to the crater tomorrow morning. Your guesthouses should be able to organize a sunrise trip for you. It should cost you no more than 80,000 IDR for a sunrise trip. Also, the Cemara Indah Hotel has one of the best views of Mount Bromo so be sure to drop by there and check them out.
The view of Mount Bromo at sunrise is probably one of the best views you can get and even though people say it is crowded during sunrise, I can guarantee you, it is worth it. You can go a little bit off the trail and you should have no problem finding a quiet place to watch the sunrise in solitude.
If you have got yourself a shared jeep at sunrise, they should come and pick you up at 3:30 AM and they should take you to the sunrise spot, down to the crater and back.
After the sunrise, the jeep should take you down to the barren land near Mount Batok and you can walk around there. Be sure to spend a few hours here and walk all the way up the crater and around it to really grasp the scale of the volcano. You can also choose to walk back to Cemoro Lawang if you don't want to take a jeep back.
Getting from Mt. Bromo to Bali: First things first, you will have to get yourself down to Problingo. There should be a bus leaving from Cemoro Lawang to Probolingo at 9 AM (check with your guest house first as the schedule can change without notice) and you should arrive at Probolingo in 2 hours. From Probolingo, you can catch the 7 PM bus to Denpasar, Bali which should take around 10 hours and cost around 25 USD.
You can book the bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Probolingo to Bali.
Bali, Indonesia (3 Nights)
Personally, I think Bali is too crowded and the best of Indonesia is yet to come so I wouldn't recommend spending too long here. There are better beaches on Lombok and Flores with fewer people. That said, the architecture in Bali is just breathtaking and it is the only reason why I would recommend you to stop in Bali.
Ubud is a great place to see the stunning Balinese architecture with places like the Water Palace, Tirta Empul complex (where people bath off their sins in freshwater pools) and the Goa Gajah (Elephant cave) that are worth visiting.
You can also go for a little walk in the rice field at the Tegalalang rice terrace. If you want to avoid the crowds, be at the Tegalalang rice field at 7 AM and you will have the whole place to yourself.
Getting from Bali to Gili Islands: First, you will have to pick which islands you want to go. There are 3 islands, Gili Trawangan. the most budget friendly but most touristy, Gili Air and Gili Meno, both a bit upscale and have fewer tourists.
Once you have decided, will then have to get to Padang Bai Pier to get on a ferry to the Gili island you wish to go. The ferry should take around 2 hours and cost 30 USD.
You can book the bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Bali to Gili Islands.
Gili Islands, Indonesia (2 Nights)
After spending 2 days in Ubud, you have 3 options for your next destination, the Gili Islands. If you are on a tight budget, Gili Trawangan is the most budget-friendly, but if you prefer a quieter and peaceful experience, you can choose either Gili Meno or Gili Air. No matter which one you choose, you will have to go to Padang Bai Port to get a ferry across to any of these islands. Be sure to ask for the boat schedule at your guesthouse because it changes depending on the weather forecast.
The Gilis are small islands off the coast of Lombok and it is the perfect place to relax by the beach, go for a snorkeling trip with sea turtles or simply walk around the island. This is what I mean. Why stay in the crowded Bali beaches where you can find plenty of pretty yet empty beaches elsewhere.
Getting from Gili Islands to Lombok: The Gili islands are only 10 - 20 minutes boat ride away, and you will be able to find public boats at the harbor that will leave for Lombok whenever it's full. The ticket should cost around 1 USD for the public boat.
For more information about the public boat from Gili Islands to Lombok: Public Boat To Gili Islands, Lombok.
Lombok, Indonesia (3 Nights)
After you spend a day on one of the Gili islands, you can hop on a boat to Senggigi in Lombok, a great place to relax and enjoy a much quieter vibe compare to Bali, rent a scooter and drive along the coastal road of Northwest Lombok at your own pace.
The beauty of riding a scooter is that you can stop and take a photo any time and with a road like this, you just have to stop and take it all in. Be sure to head over to one of the many awesome beaches near Senggigi with your scooters such as the Setangi beach, the Kerandangan beach and one of my favorite, the Pandanan beach.
Getting from Lombok to Kuching: Kuching is a city in the Sarawak state of Malaysia, located on Borneo, north of Indonesia and in order to get there, we will have to fly. Thankfully, AirAsia does offer a flight from Lombok to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur transit, all in one day. It's a bit expensive at 100 USD but we are traveling quite far and I assure you, Borneo is nothing quite like anything else we've seen here.
You can book the plane ticket online here: Book a plane ticket from Lombok to Kuching.
Kuching, Malaysia (3 - 4 Nights)
Not many people make it to Borneo on their trip to Southeast Asia but not this itinerary. We are taking you back to Malaysia and to the "The lungs of Earth".
Borneo is an island off the coast of Malaysia shared by 3 countries, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. The island also contains one of the oldest rainforests in the world (140 million years old), hence making it the last few refuges for endangered species such as the Borneo orangutan.
When you arrive in Kuching, the first thing you have to do is visit the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. Drop by either around 9 AM or 3 PM when the rangers feed the orangutan and they will come out of the forest for you to see. You can easily spend 2 hours here, watching them do their things.
Spend the other half of the day wandering around the city, checking out the Tua Pek Kong Temple, cruise along the river or walk the waterfront and appreciate the beautiful New Sarawak parliament architecture.
On your second day, take an Uber or a tour to Sarawak Cultural Village to learn more about the rich Sarawak culture and their tradition from their famous longhouse architecture, wooden bridge and their unique dance performance. It is a little bit touristy but I learned so much from visiting this place.
Start from Kuching early and take a bus and a boat to Bako National Park. There are many hikes you can do here and all the information will be provided to you when you register at the national park office. I recommended hiking the yellow trail if you don't have enough time.
You can also spend 2 days in Bako National Park, located not too far from Kuching where you will be able to see the long-nose monkeys and other kinds of animals like boars and insects in their habitat.
There are several hikes you can do in Bako National Park but the best one with a great view and not too long is the Yellow trail. Be sure to grab the hiking map at the tourist information inside the park before you embark on the journey.
Getting from Kuching to Miri: Unfortunately, there is no direct bus to Brunei but there is an overnight one to Miri, a city right at the border between Malaysia and Brunei. You will have to take an overnight bus operated by EVA Express that leaves at 11:30 PM and arrives in Miri at 7:00 AM. The bus from Kuching to Miri will cost you 13 USD and takes 7.5 hours.
You can book the bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Kuching to Miri.
Getting from Miri to Brunei: From Miri, you can either hire a taxi driver from Miri bus station to Brunei or you can wait until 8:15 AM and get on a bus operated by PHLS Express to Brunei. This leg will cost you another 12 USD and takes 1.5 hours.
You can book the bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Miri to Brunei.
Brunei (2 Nights)
One day is more than enough to see Brunei in my opinion. The wonderful Islamic architecture in Brunei is truly one of its kind. Check out the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, Istana Nurul Iman palace, and the gigantic Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque when you are there.
You can also take a water taxi to Kampong Ayer, one of the most crowded water village with over 35,000 people living on stilts. Learn the history of why Kampong Ayer used to be one of the most important trade posts in this region.
Getting from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu: Brace yourself, as this trip will get your passport stamped the most in one day due to the road going in and out of Brunei, Sarawak, and Sabah, all of which have their own stamps. There is one bus operated by Sipitang Express that leaves Brunei at 8 AM and you will be in Kota Kinabalu in 7 hours. The bus costs 25 USD per person.
You can book the bus ticket online here: Book a bus ticket from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (2 Nights)
Prepare your stomach because the moment you arrive in the Kota Kinabalu city center, you will be bombarded with the smells of fresh street food being cooked at the food market along the riverfront.
As you arrive in Kinabalu in the evening, you can drop by the riverfront at sunset, walk through the market nearby and eat and drink your way through the night and rest for the day.
The next day, you can go island-hopping around the coast of Kota Kinabalu in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed with the islands around here but if you are looking for a beach day to celebrate your last day in Southeast Asia, Kota Kinabalu is not a bad place to do so.
Getting from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur: AirAsia operates this route 10+ times a day at around 50 USD so you will have no trouble finding your way back to Kuala Lumpur where you will be flying back home.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1 Nights)
At last, we are at the end of our 3 months epic journey through Southeast Asia. You deserve a good rest before heading home, my friend. Spend your last night in Kuala Lumpur, may be indulge yourself with a night in a luxury hotel with a pool and do absolutely nothing for the rest of your day before you say goodbye to Southeast Asia.
As you can see, we are only 7 days short of making this travel guide a complete 90 days itinerary but as you know, when it comes to travel, things rarely go according to the plan and that is why I left 7 days out for you. These buffer days will come in hand when unforeseeable incidents happen, for example, you might have to stay overnight somewhere due to your bus/boat/train being late or you just want to spend a bit longer in certain places. With this itinerary I've created for you, you are able to be quite flexible with it.
I hope you found this guide useful. It was a lot to write and so if you find any typo, mistakes or simply want to ask me about Southeast Asia, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below. Have a safe journey!
Further Reading for Backpacking in Southeast Asia
Looking for more information for your trip to Southeast Asia? Here is a selection of articles that might help you with your trip planning:
- Vietnam is a great place to start your journey to Southeast Asia. If you are looking for more detail about Vietnam, check out my complete Vietnam itinerary here: 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
- Cambodia is home to one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Angkor Wat and if you are wondering what it's like there, here is my experience traveling around Angkor Wat and Siem Reap.
- Want to travel to Siem Reap and see the Angkor Wat with your own eyes? Here is a complete travel guide and 3 days itinerary for Siem Reap.
- Bagan is one of my favorite places in the world. With over 2000 pagodas waiting for you to explore, you will need a travel guide. Here's a complete travel guide to Bagan temples and more.
- Bangkok is a city that you will likely pass through quite often and it might get a bit overwhelming to plan something. Here is my suggested itinerary for Bangkok if you have 12 hours.
- Khao Sok National Park is hands down, my favorite places in Thailand and it would be a shame if you missed it on this trip. Here is a guide on how to travel to Khao Sok National Park.
- Looking to go snorkeling in Thailand? Koh Lipe is one of the best places out there and I have a travel guide for you: The Snorkeling Guide To Koh Lipe.
- Malaysia is a country often overlooked by most travelers, and that is a mistake you shouldn't make. Here is a complete 10 days itinerary for Malaysia.
- Indonesia is not a country you can simply travel once and say you've seen it all. It's a country so diverse, it requires at one-month to really get the feel of it. Here is a complete one month itinerary for Indonesia.
- Borneo is another place in Malaysia that is often overlooked which is the perfect place for us to visit and go off the main Southeast Asia path most backpackers take. If you are going that way, be sure to check out our 2 weeks itinerary for Borneo and Brunei.
- Not convinced by my words about Southeast Asia? Here are 64 photos that will inspire you to visit Southeast Asia now.
- You can also watch my travel video about Southeast Asia here: Watch "Breath Asia" travel video.
- You can see all my Southeast Asia related articles on my Southeast Asia Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides like this, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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