SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAVEL GUIDE

Backpackers have been traveling through Southeast Asia since the late 1960s and early 1970s, leaving a well-worn trail around the region.

Starting in beautiful Thailand, the trail makes its way to up-and-coming Laos, through Vietnam, and to the temples of Angkor Wat. It then winds back into Thailand, where people head south to party in the Thai islands before moving down to Malaysia and Singapore.

There are a few variations to the trail, but this is what it mostly covers.

I’ve been visiting this region since 2004 and spent years living in Thailand. I love backpacking Southeast Asia and have written extensively about it as I know it like the back of my hand.

It’s an especially great region for new travelers because it’s easy to travel around, it’s safe, and there are lots of other travelers you can meet. But it’s also perfect for veteran travelers too as there are tons of off-the-beaten-path destinations that the standard backpacker trail doesn’t cover.

In short, Southeast Asia has something for every traveler — and every budget.

This Southeast Asia travel guide will help you travel the region like a pro, ensuring you save money and make the most of your time in this fun, gorgeous, and lively corner of the world.

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Southeast Asia

1. Admire Angkor Wat

One of the greatest human creations in history, the Angkor Wat temple complex is best explored over the course of a few days. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site created by the Khmer Empire and absolutely enormous. Temples to visit include Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple which has 216 gigantic stone face carvings, and Ta Prohm. I spent three days here and that simply wasn’t enough. A one-day pass is $37 USD, while a 1-week pass is $72 USD. If you’re here for multiple days, be sure to hire a driver and see some of the more out of the way ruins away from the main temple complex (and the crowds).

2. Explore Bangkok

Bangkok is the hub of travel activity in Southeast Asia. You can get anywhere you want from here. Though I hated it at first, the more I’ve spent time here the more I love it. Bangkok is like an onion whose many layers need to be peeled back. Some things not to miss include the spectacular Bangkok Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Chatuchak Market and Asiatique, and a canal trip on the Chao Phraya River. This is a city for foodies and wild nightlife.

3. Relax on some tropical islands

No visit to Southeast Asia would be complete without a visit to at least one of the thousands of tropical islands in the region. My top five include the Perhentian Islands (Malaysia), Rabbit Island (Cambodia), Ko Lanta (Thailand), and Boracay (Philippines). Lombok Island (Indonesia) has a chill vibe with unspoiled, perfect “desert island” beaches. There’s so many islands to visit. Be sure to add at least one to your trip. The country guides will have more information for you.

4. See Ha Long Bay

Sailing trips to this island-filled bay with stunning emerald waters, limestone formations, and marine life give you an appreciation for the natural beauty in Vietnam. Tours from Hanoi start at around $110 USD for two-day trips and increase from there. I love the colorful grottoes, hanging stalactites, and stalagmites of Surprise Cave (Sung Sot), Fairy Cave (Tien Ong), and Heaven Palace (Thien Cung). Make sure you go with a reputable company though as some of the cheaper boats are less than ideal. If you’d rather just visit for one day, day trips from Hanoi cost $55 USD.

5. Wander Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, with its glorious temples and incredible street food scene (this is the best place for Indian food outside of India) is not to be missed. The Petronas Twin Towers are a must-see, and if you don’t mind heights, you should walk across the bridge connecting the two. They stand an awesome 1,500 feet (451 meters) tall! One of my favorite day trips here in KL was to the karst landform 400 million-year-old Batu Caves and temples that house Hindu statues and paintings. For something more down to earth, the Butterfly Park in the Perdana Botanical Garden is the serene home to an incredible 5,000 butterflies, plants, ferns, and flowers and is a beautiful retreat from the bustle of the city.

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