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Southeast Asia. A backpacker’s paradise, it has it all: pristine beaches, ancient temples, lush jungles, delicious food, and cheap prices. Furthermore, there are an abundance of countries to visit, from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar. So how do you decide the perfect itinerary for Southeast Asia?
It is definitely difficult planning a Southeast Asia itinerary. So, to help you out, I have outlined my own 5-week Southeast Asia travel route, that I traveled as a solo college student. Hopefully my travel experiences outlined below will inspire you as you plan your own Southeast Asia travel itineraries!
So, without further ado, here is my 5-week itinerary. Enjoy!
Itinerary for Southeast Asia: 2 Weeks in Vietnam
The first destination on my itinerary for Southeast Asia was Vietnam, and as a nature enthusiast, I utterly adored the stunning scenery of northern Vietnam. Here’s an outline of what I did for two weeks:
Hanoi: 4 Days
First, I stopped in the hectic city of Hanoi. Visiting Hanoi was my big introduction to Southeast Asia, and it was a big introduction, with its bustling streets surging with traffic.
But, there are a ton of amazing things to do in Hanoi, from circling the Hoan Kiem Lake, visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, touring around the Old Quarter, and stopping by St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
The highlight from my time in Hanoi, however, was definitely the day trip I took to Trang An, Ninh Binh. Known as the Halong Bay on land, it was absolutely breathtaking.
If you have the time, I definitely recommend visiting Trang An and taking a boat tour to admire the towering limestone karst peaks, incredible caves, and tranquil waters up close; it is definitely one of the must see places in Vietnam. And at the same time, check out the magical Ninh Binh and Mua Caves!
Halong Bay: 2 Days
Next, I took a 2-day 1-night tour of Halong Bay. One of the biggest tourist attractions in Vietnam, Halong Bay lives up to the hype.
I booked one of the cheaper (but still reputable) tours, and I had a ton of fun. The other travelers on the tour were fellow budget backpackers like me, and together, we ate delicious food, swam and kayaked in the turquoise water, and hiked Cat Ba National Park.
While some travelers take a Halong Bay day trip from Hanoi, I recommend staying for at least two days; with its spectacular scenery and vivid emerald waters, you don’t want to rush your time in Halong Bay.
However, there are some drawbacks to Halong Bay. Namely, the immense number of tourists who visit, and (consequently) the amount of garbage floating around in the water. It was truly heartbreaking to see the pollution caused by tourism. So, if you visit, remember to travel responsibly!
Sapa: 3 Days
I then proceeded to go to another popular tourist destination in Vietnam: Sapa. Located in northern Vietnam, Sapa is the ultimate hiking Southeast Asia destination, offering beautiful treks, picturesque villages, soaring mountain peaks, and charming rice terraces.
The best times to travel to Vietnam, or specifically, the stunning rice terraces in Sapa, are September and October. Since I embarked on my trip in May, I unfortunately missed out on the phenomenal vivid colors of the rice terraces in Fall.
However, I still immensely enjoyed my time in Sapa. From exploring the towering summit of Mount Fansipan to discovering the hiking routes surrounding Sapa, I definitely don’t regret including Sapa on my Vietnam travel itinerary.
Da Nang: 4 Days
Next, I headed to Da Nang. Famously known for its Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills, Da Nang may be the best city to visit in Vietnam.
However, most of Da Nang’s allure comes from the number of phenomenal day trips you can take. While there are many places to visit in Da Nang, such as My Khe Beach, Ba Na Hills, and the Dragon Bridge, the best sights are those surrounding Da Nang.
From the My Son ruins, the Marble Mountains, Hoi An, and the Cham Islands, there are an abundance of incredible day trips from Da Nang. One of my biggest tips for Vietnam travel is to explore these exceptional destinations!
Ho Chi Minh City: 2 Days
My final destination in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City (i.e., Saigon). While I more-or-less viewed Ho Chi Minh City as a long layover as I made my way into Cambodia, I still enjoyed my time there. While I did not have time to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, I did stop by the Saigon Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon.
Conclusions for Vietnam: Itinerary for Southeast Asia
I utterly adored my two weeks in Vietnam. Some highlights include the day trips from Da Nang (including my stops in My Son, Hoi An, and the Marble Mountains), touring around Halong Bay, trekking in Sapa, and going on a boat tour in Trang An.
If I could go back and change one thing from my itinerary, I would stay in Ninh Binh (near Trang An) for a few days, and skip Ho Chi Minh City altogether. Not to say that Ho Chi Minh City is not an amazing city (sorry for the double-negative); I just simply love the scenery of northern Vietnam, and I wish I could have experienced it more.
Itinerary for Southeast Asia: 1 Week in Cambodia
After spending 2 weeks in Vietnam, I made my way into Cambodia. While I made a brief stop in Phnom Penh, my true destination was Angkor Wat. Here’s an outline of my Cambodia travel itinerary:
Siem Reap: 7 Days
One of the most celebrated Cambodia tourist spots and iconic Southeast Asia temples is Angkor Wat, and my true intention in visiting Cambodia was to explore the numerous ancient temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap.
After a bit of research, I devised my 3-day plan for touring Angkor Wat. My itinerary was as follows:
- Day 1: Rent a bike for the day. Cycle to Angkor Wat, then complete the Small Circuit Tour (Phnom Bakheng, Baphuon Temple, Terrace of the Elephants, Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda, Ta Keo, and Banteay Kdei).
- Day 2: Book an affordable tour, taking me to the biggest and most popular temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and Phnom Bakheng).
- Day 3: Hire a tuk tuk, visit Angkor Wat at sunrise, and then complete the Grand Circuit Tour (Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, and Srah Srang).
But things didn’t go as planned.
Day 1 came. I successfully rented my bike, bought my 3-day pass, and arrived at Angkor Wat. Things were going well… until they weren’t.
Shortly after I arrived, I started feeling extremely nauseous and ill. I told myself it was because I over-exerted myself, cycling to Angkor Wat (which took me about an hour) in the overbearing heat and humidity, and I hoped it would go away after a few minutes of rest.
One hour came and passed, and the spasms of pain did not end… and I knew it wasn’t simple exhaustion. It was traveler’s diarrhea. Then came the hard part: cycling back to my hostel while fighting the urge to jump off my bike and vomit in the bushes.
I spent the next two days bed-ridden and sick. But, I had spent $62 USD on a 3-day pass to Angkor Wat and had already booked a $12 USD tour, so on the third day (when I did feel a little better), I forced myself out of bed and returned to Angkor Wat.
While that first day in Angkor Wat was unpleasant, it is undeniable that Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the best places to visit in Cambodia, and a definite must for all Cambodia itineraries.
The history of the ancient temples is utterly captivating, the architecture outstanding, and the scenery breathtaking. It is definitely one of the best Cambodia tourist attractions!
However, there are other places to visit in Siem Reap. Some things I did (while not sick) include visiting the Old Market and exploring the Angkor National Museum. If you want to learn more about the amazing things to do in Siem Reap, click here!
Conclusions for Cambodia: Itinerary for Southeast Asia
While I unfortunately did not have a ton of time to determine the best places to go in Cambodia, Angkor Wat should be in everyone’s Southeast Asia trips. As one of the best Southeast Asia destinations, it is definitely worthy of the bucket list!
Itinerary for Southeast Asia: 2 Weeks in Thailand
The final country on my 5-week Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand itinerary was Thailand. I spent 2 weeks in Thailand, and it was the perfect way to end my trip: I trekked through the lush jungles up north, island hopped down south, and went sightseeing around Bangkok. Here’s an in-depth review of my travels:
Chiang Mai: 7 Days
The first stop on my Thailand odyssey was Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, I was still recovering from my illness from Cambodia, so I wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked.
Nevertheless, Chiang Mai is one of the top places to visit in Thailand, with an abundance of activities to do and incredible Chiang Mai day trips to take. The things I did include exploring Doi Inthanon National Park and embarking on a trekking tour, where I swam underneath a waterfall, trekked through the jungle, and relaxed on a bamboo raft.
Other things to do include visiting Wat Phra Singh, exploring Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham, and hiking to the Huay Kaew Waterfall.
Overall, I definitely recommend visiting Chiang Mai; it’s one of the best destinations in Thailand!
Phuket: 4 Days
I then proceeded to fly to Phuket; one of the best destinations for some Thailand island hopping! There are an abundance of day trips from Phuket (I even wrote about it on Claire’s Itchy Feet), and I had an amazing time exploring the islands of southern Thailand.
However, the Phuket day trips don’t only include the islands. One of the most amazing experiences I had on my 1 month Southeast Asia itinerary was visiting the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project.
With its center housed in the lush jungles near Bang Pae Waterfall, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is an organization set on rehabilitating abused gibbons. Visiting the center is a huge reminder about the negative impacts of tourism, especially on animals, and what we can do to travel responsibly!
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, and Phuket in general, is definitely one of the best places to go in Thailand.
Bangkok: 3 Days
Finally, I spent my last few days in Southeast Asia exploring Bangkok. While my first few days in Hanoi were hectic and stressful, I was now used to the hustle and bustle of the big Southeast Asian cities!
Despite the fact that Bangkok was overbearingly humid, I still had a great time. I embarked on an Ayutthaya day trip, toured around the Grand Palace, and explored Khaosan Road.
Conclusions for Thailand: Itinerary for Southeast Asia
Overall, I had a great time in Thailand, and I don’t think I would have changed anything about it. For those planning a trip to Thailand, I would definitely recommend doing the Ayutthaya day trip from Bangkok, trekking around Chiang Mai, and island hopping near Phuket!
I hope you found my 5-week itinerary for Southeast Asia helpful and inspiring! The destinations outlined were utterly stunning, and perfect for luxury and budget travelers alike.
And hey, if you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, why not check out my ultimate Southeast Asia packing list for women?
Thanks for reading the article! If you have any questions, feel free to comment down below, and if you want to see more travel and hike-related content, make sure to check out my other articles.
Photos by the author and Pixabay.
If you enjoyed this article on my 5-week Southeast Asia itinerary and want some additional inspiring travel content, check out my article on my 5-week Europe itinerary!
About to embark on a trip? Here are some helpful articles to make your trip as awesome and stress-free as possible:
And here are some additional helpful links:
- Click here for my walking guides
- Click here for my hiking guides
- Click here for more posts on Asia
- Click here for more resources
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