The best Southeast Asia Itineraries for travelling on a budget

Your Southeast Asia itinerary: 8 ideas for exploring the region

By Rough Guides Editors
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You can’t expect to fit everything Southeast Asia has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. So, to help you start planning, we’ve put together 8 ideas for your Southeast Asia itinerary from The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

SEAOAB jacketFor those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. Plus, there’s lots to discover off the beaten track.

For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.

1. Vietnam

Start in colonial streets of Hanoi (1), the country’s historical, political and cultural capital. Go for a sail around the famed natural wonders of Ha Long Bay (2), before heading to the northern hills to the ethnic minority villages orbiting Sa Pa (3).

Take the train down to imperial architecture of Hué (4), make a day-trip to the DMZ, then move south to charming Hoi An (5). Nha Trang (6) is Vietnam‘s pre-eminent beach party town, whereas Mui Ne (7) offers great water-sports and sandy coasts with a more laidback vibe.

Da Lat (8) is your gateway to the Central Highlands, but if you’re still craving sea and sand the island of Phy Quoc (9) is a haven for beach bums and divers. Float down lush canals in the Mekong Delta (10), and finish your trip in bustling Ho Chi Minh City (11).

2. Myanmar

Kick off in Yangon (1) for street markets and the glorious Shwedagon Paya, then go to Mawlamyine (2), Myanmar‘s third largest city. Catch a boat to Hpa-an (3) before visiting one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, Kyaiktiyo (4).

Kalaw (5) is a perfect base for treks to ethnic-minority villages, and traditional life at Inle Lake (6) shouldn’t be missed either. Watch the sunset over Mandalay (7), then soar in a hot-air balloon over the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan (8).

Stroll the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin (9) before taking the train ride across the Goteik viaduct to Hsipaw (10), an increasingly popular trekking base.

3. Laos and Cambodia

Begin with the unmissable two-day trip down the Mekong River from Houayxai to Luang Prabang (1), the city of golden spires. Then its off to the stunning natural playground of Vang Vieng (2), before venturing to the country’s quaint capital, Vientiane (3).

Enjoy the pretty French-colonial lanes of Savannakhet (4) and explore the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou near Champasak (5). Set course towards Si Phan Don (6) to chill out for a few days in one of the four thousand islands scattered across the Mekong River. Catch a mini-bus to Cambodia for river dolphin watching in Kratie (7), or laze riverside in relaxed Kampot (8).

An easy bus ride takes you from Phnom Penh (9) to  Siem Reap, where the world-famous temples of Angkor (10) beg to be explored. But if you’re feeling a little travel-worn afterwards there’s no better place to kick back than the beach resort and offshore islands of Sihanoukville (11).


4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand

After immersing yourself in Bangkok, Thailand’s frenetic and thriving capital, chill-out among the rafthouses and waterfalls of Kanchanaburi (2).

Rent a bicycle to explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (3) and then make for the elegant temple remains in Sukhothai (4). To break free of the tourist route head to isolated Umphang (5), where the surrounding mountains are perfect for trekking.

Chaing Mai (6) is always a backpacking favourite, but an amble through the arty night markets and excellent live-music bars of Pai (7) shouldn’t be missed either.

5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands

Commence among the old-world charms of Thailand‘s Phetchaburi (1), then take a trip to the paradisiacal islands of Ko Tao (2) and Ko Pha Ngan (3) for raging moon parties or a detox.

Trek through the jungle in Khao Sok National Park (4) ­– one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet – and as you move further south, consider a stop in the slightly ugly tourist village of Ko Phi Phi (5) for undeniably fun all-night parties, snorkelling and diving.

Continue south to the relaxed island getaway of Ko Lanta (6), before winding this itinerary down in the pockets of paradise still remaining in Ko Lipe (7) and the stunning Ko Tarutai National Marine Park nearby.

6. Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore (1) is an easy introduction to Southeast Asia with its array of tourist-friendly pleasures. But move on to Melaka (2) for a fascinating mix of cultures and an ideal first stop in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (3) is a must, and the cooling heights of the Cameron Highlands (4) will provide refuge after the bustle. Relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands (5) then make for the rainforests of Taman Negara National Park (6), before catching a ride on the jungle railway to Kota Bharu.

Attractive Kuching (7) is an ideal base for visits to the Iban longhouses, and a journey along the 560km Batang Rajang (8) river into the heart of Sarawak is unforgettable.

Nature and adventure buffs alike will love Gunung Mulu National Park (9), Kinabalu National Park (10) and the wildlife outside of Sandakan (11). Finish this itinerary among the teeming marine life of Pulau Sipadan (12), one of the top dive sties in the world.

7. Indonesia

There’s plenty to discover by starting in Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba (1), the famous orang-utan centre, soaring volcanoes and island retreats among them.

Take time to explore Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta (2), before moving on to Java cultural heart: Yogyakarta (3), the best base for the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Take a pre-dawn hike up to the crater rim of still-smoking Gunung Bromo (4), adventure the many wonders of Hindu Bali and hop over the Lombok (6) and the Gili Islands for adventures in paradise.

Enjoy close encouters with Komodo dragons in Komodo and Rinca (7) before heading to the mountainous landscapes of fertile Flores (8). Finish up on Sulawesi, immersed in the flamboyant festivals and fascinating culture of Tanah Toraja (9).

8. The Philippines

Start by soaking up the compelling energy of Manila (1), a convenient gateway to some of the country’s more inaccessible areas.

Check out the shipwrecks and prehistoric landscapes of Palawan (2), before you pass through Cebu city (3) on your way to Camiguin (4), a small volcanic island home to a bohemian arts scene and some amazing adventure activities. 

Surfers flock to the acclaimed reef breaks of Siargao (5), while the captivating sunsets and limited electricity at both Malapascua and Bantayan (6) typifies island living at its best.

Boracay (7) also shouldn’t be missed, home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nightlife rivalling Manila. Conclude this itinerary in the cool mountain villages of the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera (8), nestled among jaw-dropping rice-terrace scenery.

Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.

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