2 Week Southeast Asia Itinerary – 4 Itineraries and Routes

2 Week Southeast Asia Itinerary – 4 Itineraries and Routes

If you have only 2 weeks in Southeast Asia, check out these 4 different Southeast Asia itineraries for your perfect trip to see a combination of different places in SEA.

Southeast Asia is a vast and diverse region located in the south eastern region of Asia. Countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are in Southeast Asia.

Although these countries are collectively called Southeast Asia, you will find vastly different history, culture, climates, terrain, religion, customs and food in each country, and even within each country!

It is impossible to have one itinerary for Southeast Asia especially if you are just there for two weeks. Therefore this blog will give you 4 different Southeast Asia itineraries and routes depending on what type of things you want to do and see.

Pinterest Pin: 2 weeks Southeast Asia alternative itineraries

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Why Should I Travel to Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia is probably one of the most diverse and interesting regions in the world.

Southeast Asia has about 680m people in the region, about 8.5% of the world’s population. There are about 1000 languages spoken in Southeast Asia and a number of different religions being practiced in Southeast Asia (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and others).

Since each country in Southeast Asia has its own history, religion, culture and lifestyle, you can expect to have a vastly unique experience in every country that you visit.

In terms of terrain, you will find lush rainforest, golden rice terrace, powerful waterfalls, awe-inspiring mountains and volcanoes, world renowned beaches and diving sites in Southeast Asia.

If you like food, you will have the opportunity to try different regional food in Southeast Asia. Rice is still the staple food in Asia, but that’s where similarity between each Southeast Asian country’s cuisine ends. Every country (and even provinces within the same country) has their own dishes, ingredients, cooking style and flavor.

If you like history and religion, then you are in luck. You will find ruins of ancient civilizations such as the Pyu civilization in Myanmar, the Khmer kingdoms in Cambodia, the ancient kingdoms in Thailand and Vietnam.

Therefore regardless of what you like to do and want to experience, you will find them in Southeast Asia.

How do I get to Southeast Asia?

Major cities in each of the Southeast Asia country has domestic and/or international airports.

Depending on where you are located, your travel time to Southeast Asia could be as short as two hours or as long as 30+ hours.

If you are traveling from within Asia, then chances are there are many direct flights to places you want to go in Southeast Asia.

But if you are located in North America like US and Canada, you are generally looking at 20+ hour travel time.

For the most part you will need to transit somewhere in Asia or the Middle East (like Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, Beijing (prior to the pandemic), and Dubai) before reaching your final destination in Southeast Asia. There are a few direct flights to Singapore but most likely not directly to other cities in Southeast Asia.

How to fly to southeast Asia - Eva airline Hello Kitty Plane

If you are traveling from South America, oh boy you are looking at a long travel time and will most likely transit in Europe once or twice before reaching Southeast Asia.

How Do I Get Around Southeast Asia?

Since Southeast Asia is huge and there are so many countries, how you get around really depends on the country itself.

But in general, you can fly between the countries and take train, buses, taxis (and ride share services) and rent a motorcycle to travel between cities in the same country.

Flying in Southeast Asia

If you are planning to travel between a different countries in Southeast Asia, you will need to fly. There are certain exceptions like between Singapore and Malaysia where you can cross the border by bus or even a ferry.

The good news is there are so many airlines that fly within Southeast Asia. Some are the national flag carriers like Singapore Airline, Vietnam Airline, Thai Airways, etc.

There are also popular budget airlines that can take you everywhere in Southeast Asia, such as Air Asia, Jetstar, Scoot, etc.

Taking the Train in Southeast Asia

Train travel is popular in Southeast Asia since it is cheap, safe and convenient. You will find both day time trains (with seats) and overnight sleeper trains (with beds).

In fact many tourists and backpackers such as myself prefer taking sleeper trains to travel within each country in Southeast Asia. These overnight trains can be luxury and can save you a lot of time and money since you won’t need one night hotel.

Hanoi Train Station - Vietnam Sleeper Train | How to get around Vietnam

You can read about my overnight train experience in Vietnam.

Train tickets can be booked at the train station in person, or online websites such as 12Go, which is my go to site to book transportation in Southeast Asia.

Taking the bus in Southeast Asia

Long distance buses are another popular mode of transportation in Southeast Asia. In fact buses might be even more popular than trains because it can cover more routes.

Sleeper Bus in Vietnam | Southeast Asia itinerary and travel guide

There are day time buses as well as overnight sleeper buses in Southeast Asia, including some very luxury overnight buses.

Again, buses are cheap and convenient so many tourist and locals use them to travel long distance within one country. Again, you can book them online on 12Go, go to the bus station, or even ask your hotel to help you book.

Traveling by taxi and luxury van in Southeast Asia

Taxi, especially private ones, are something you can book in Southeast Asia if you prefer not to take bus or train and you simply want customize your trip and not be restricted by the bus or train time.

luxury Van in Southeast Asia | The best Southeast Asia travel itinerary

For the most park you can ask your hotels to help you book taxis in advance. There are also websites like 12Go and Viator that you can use to book private transfers.

We took a lot of private transfers when we were in Southeast Asia; it just made things a lot easier and we could leave whenever we wanted.

Ride share apps in Southeast Asia

With the rise of ride sharing apps globally you can bet they are in Southeast Asia also.

The most popular ride sharing app in Southeast Asia is Grab, which works similarly to Uber and Lyft. You will need to download and set up the app ahead of time and you can use it immediately upon landing (if you have data). You may also find Go-Jek in Indonesia.

There is no Uber or Lyft in Southeast Asia, they exited the market number of years ago.

Certain countries and places in Southeast Asia banned Grab in order to protect local drivers, so be sure to check before you travel. Sometimes it is the best to book a taxi or private transfer with your hotel especially in places like Bali.

Renting a Motorbikes in Southeast Asia

If you are just doing short distance travel like a day trip, you can do it the local way and rent a motorbike in Southeast Asia.

Hanoi motorbikes | The best Vietnam travel guides

There are many motorbike rental agencies throughout Southeast Asia in major cities and towns. You can also ask your hotel where to rent them.

This is probably the cheapest and easiest way to get around Southeast Asia and offers you plenty of flexibility on where to go. But you need to be careful as many foreign tourists do get into accidents riding Motorbikes in Southeast Asia.

When is the Best Time to Go To Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia generally has 2 seasons: dry season and rainy season. However this also depends on where exactly you are going in Southeast Asia.

Dry season typically is between December to April and rainy season runs between May to November, where you can experience downpour rains and flooding (again, depends on where you go). Sometimes even during rainy season there is only a couple of hours of heavy rain then you are good to go.

Since Southeast Asia is a large region, there are a lot of plenty of microclimates. Although most of Southeast Asia is near the Equator, there are regions that are more north, near the border of China that experience colder winters than regions south of the equator.

You should also aim to avoid burning season in Southeast Asia, during which local farmers burn crops to prepare for the upcoming cultivation. The burning season is usually during the colder dry season in February and March, but it could vary by region and year.

During burning season, you will experience bad air quality, haze and unclear sky.

Another time to avoid visiting Southeast Asia is to avoid large national or religious holidays, although this also varies by country.

But during certain holidays the stores and restaurants are closed and some holidays don’t even allow people to step outside of their residence. Be sure to research the particular country and region you are visiting to avoid these holidays.

Is Southeast Asia Safe, Especially For Female Solo Travelers?

In general, Southeast Asia is quite safe, even for female solo travelers. In fact many backpackers and solo travelers rave about how safe and nice it is to visit Southeast Asia for an extended period of time.

Of course as anywhere else in the world, you should always follow local etiquette, laws and customs. There is definitely petty crime in Southeast Asia but violent crimes are rare.

Keep in mind that Southeast Asia in general is quite conservative, and there are many religious sites that require you to dress moderately, covering knees and shoulders. You may want to think twice before wearing skimpy and revealing clothing as you may get some stares and disapproving looks from the locals.

Hanoi Train Street in Vietnam
Dress can be purchased here

One issue you may face in Southeast Asia is taxi scams or parking scams, so try to use Grab or use public transportation or ask your hotel/ hostel to book taxi for you to avoid being scammed.

Another concern in Southeast Asia is food safety; many foreign tourists do get food poisoning at least once when visiting Southeast Asia (I have gotten food poisoning once but I have been to Southeast Asia many times). Just try to eat at well established restaurants and popular spots. If something doesn’t look fresh, don’t eat it.

Where to go with two weeks in Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia Itinerary #1: First time in Southeast Asia (Thailand & Singapore)
Southeast Asia Itinerary #2: Explore Malaysia & Singapore
Southeast Asia Itinerary #3: Off the Beaten Path (Laos & Northern Vietnam)
Southeast Asia Itinerary #4: Flavor of Everything (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam)

Since Southeast Asia is a huge region, you cannot see everything in Southeast Asia because that would mean 1-2 days per country!

It is best to spend time in 1-2 countries during 14 days in Southeast Asia so you can get the most out of it (and not spend all your time flying around).

Southeast Asia is a region that you can keep coming back to since there are so much to see and do.

I will highly 4 different Southeast Asia itineraries to best fit your need. Keep in mind that these 4 itineraries mostly cover the part of Southeast Asia that’s on the Mainland.

Southeast Asia Itinerary #1 First time in Southeast Asia itinerary (Thailand & Singapore)

Day 1 – 3: Bangkok, Thailand
Day 4 – 8: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Day 9 – 12: Thai Islands
Day 13 – 14: Singapore

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia for the first time, then I would recommend going to the most popular Southeast Asian countries: Singapore and Thailand.

The reason I recommend Singapore is because the population speaks English, everything is very easy to navigate and it is extremely safe.

I also recommend going to Thailand if it’s your first time in Southeast Asia because Thailand has a very well established tourist infrastructure and there are many foreigner visitors and backpackers. Thailand also has a variety of things for you to do, including modern cities, beautiful temples and mountain areas as well as incredible beaches. It is very easy to travel around in Thailand so it’s a great first-time-in-SEA destination.

Day 1 – 3: Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand and it is one of the most visited cities in Southeast Asia.

Lebua Hotel Bangkok
Lebua Hotel

Bangkok is a very exciting city, it is a city where you will find historical sites, religious monuments, vibrant night life, interesting street markets, and much much more. It is also a great base for day trips to nearby towns and historical sites.

During your 3 days in Bangkok, there are plenty you can do! Also, just in case you are curious on how to save money on attractions, the Bangkok Explorer Pass covers most of the things you’d be interested in doing in Bangkok.

Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand
Grand Palace
Wat Pho in Bangkok Thailand reclining Buddha
Wat Pho

Start off exploring the most famous sites in Bangkok, including the beautiful golden Grand Palace, walk to the nearby Wat Pho (golden leaning buddha), enjoy a river cruise down Chao Phraya River and explore Wat Arun for sunet.

Read Next: 2 Day Bangkok Itinerary and Travel Guide

You need to be dressed conservatively to visit Grand Palace and the religious sites, so your knees and shoulder must be covered. There are places to rent traditional clothing if you don’t have long pants or dress (I get it, it’s hot there!).

You can always book this tour to explore the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha Temple, Wat Pho, markets and Wat Arun together and save yourself the trouble of having to find ways to get to Wat Arun by yourself.

Khao San Road in Bangkok Thailand

For evening activities, you can check out Chinatown and the famous pedestrian street Khaosan Road, You can find tons of street food vendors, shops, bars and restaurant in both areas.

Muay Thai match in Bangkok Thailand

Watching Muay Thai match is also something to do at night, or you can simply get a Thai massage and relax (or get a massage everything!).

You can also check out fancy rooftop bars in Bangkok, such as Sky Bar at Lebua Hotel where they filmed Hangover 2. Other nice rooftop bars include Moon Bar, Red Sky restaurant, Octave, SEEN, etc.

Bangkok Floating Market in Thailand

ayutthaya
Ayutthaya

There are wonderful day trips from Bangkok to the world renowned Floating Market, or to visit temples in Ayutthaya or explore Samut Prakan Ancient City. The great thing is all of these day trips are covered by the Bangkok Explorer Pass!

Ancient City Bangkok Thailand
Ancient City

Other exciting things to do in Bangkok including doing a food tour to try all the street food as well as going to a cooking class to learn how to cook Thai food.

Most tours and cooking classes are included on the Bangkok Explorer Pass.

Day 4 – 8: Chiang Mai, Thailand

You can either take an 1 hour flight or a 13 hour train (or sleeper train) from Bangkok to Chiangmai, one of travelers’ favorite regions in Thailand.

Located in the mountainous region in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. It was the capital city of the Lanna Kingdom, which is why you will find moats and city walls in Chiang Mai even today.

Chiang Mai may not be as modern and vibrant like Bangkok, but its slower pace, beautiful temples and its proximity to nature actually make it very unique and appealing for visitors.

With 3 to 4 days in Chiang Mai, you can do a lot both in Chiang Mai and nearby places.

You can start by visiting the old city, that is where you will find temples, museums, and interesting sites within the ancient city walls.

Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Chedi Luang Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Chedi Luang

Since there are over 3000 temples in Chiang Mai, you can’t see them all. But you can see the best ones such as Wat Chiang Man, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Lok Moli, Wat Sri Suphan, Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan, etc.

chiang-Mai-night-market
Night Market in Chiangmai

Continue your evening adventure to check out the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, the night market at Wua Lai Walking Street, or even the Chang Phuak Gate Night Market for authentic street food or if you just want to buy clothing and souvenirs. Just be sure to use a lot of bug spray as the mosquitoes can be aggressive.

Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Outside of Chiang Mai city center, there are even more things to see. You can take the Monk’s trail to the famous Wat Pha Lat, visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, see the city from the observation deck, continue up to visit Doi Suthep, Hmong Doi Pui Village. Or take a taxi or a tour if you do not want to hike up or ride a scooter up yourself.

If you like nature, you can do visit Doi Inthanon National Park or hike and bike in Doi Suthep Pui National Park.

Zip lining in Chiangmai Thailand

If you enjoy adventure, then be sure to not miss zip lining adventure and white water rafting.

If you like animals, you can visit Tiger Kingdom, elephant sanctuary where you can bathe and feed elephants or a night safari in Chiang Mai. You can even stay at Chai Lai Orchid Eco Lodge where you can have elephant visit your room.

Lastly, if you really want to visit the iconic white temple in Chiang Rai, you can do a day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.

Chiang Rai white temple in Thailand Southeast Asia | The Best Southeast Asia itinerary

Day 9 – 12: Thai Islands

When you think of white sand beach, crystal clear water, wonderful snorkeling and vibrant night life, islands in Thailand check all the boxes.

From Chiang Mai, fly down to Phuket, the gateway to the islands in Thailand.

Phuket boat in Thailand

If you want, you can spend all 3 days in Phuket and do day trips to Phi Phi Island, the famous “the Beach” and James Bond Island or do a snorkeling tour to Similan Islands.

Phuket is where most people stay, since it is cheaper than staying on some of the islands, easy to get to from the airport, has a ton of hotels, restaurants, bars and night time entertainment.

But I actually would advise you to stay on some of the islands for a nicer and quieter experience. Islands like Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Lanta offer a different experience and there are budget to 5 star hotels on these islands.

Phi Phi Island in Thailand
Phi Phi Island
Maya Bay with long boat in Thailand

These islands are also not far from Phuket by boat, so you can easily travel there from Phuket. I particularly loved Phi Phi island and its view point hike, where you can get a postcard perfect view from above.

Krabi Thailand | The best Thailand itinerary

Dragon's Crest hike on Krabi, Thailand, Southeast Asia itinerary
Krabi

If you want both beach and nature, then Krabi is a wonderful choice, where you can enjoy the beautiful beach and hike the famous Monkey Trail and Dragon’s Crest. Of course you can also take boat tours from Krabi to visit other beautiful islands, sand bars, islets, etc.

Day 13 – 14: Singapore

Singapore skyline

Last but not least, Singapore! Singapore is only a short flight away from Phuket, and it is well connected to large international airports around the world, making it the perfect last stop of your 2 week Southeast Asia itinerary.

Singapore is a small city-state at the tip of Southeast Asia mainland. Although it’s very small in size, it is the third most dense in population in the world (after Macau and Monaco).

Some people say Singapore is an adult’s Disneyland; it is beautiful, modern, clean, safe and just amazing in general. It gives you a very different vibe than what you get in Thailand and any other Southeast Asian country.

Although Singapore is small, there is a lot to do. If you have watched the movie Crazy Rich Asians, you may be familiar with some of the iconic places in Singapore. But if you haven’t, don’t worry, you will find out the famous places in the next few paragraphs.

With only 2 days in Singapore, you will have to prioritize what you want to see and experience.

Marina Bay Sands evening light show
Marina Bay Sands

The most famous sites in Singapore include the Merlion Statue (the symbol of Singapore), Marina Bay Sands (casino + famous Infinity Pool for guests), Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Flyer (Giant ferris wheel), Singapore Zoo, Cable Car and Sentosa (Island resort with beach, waterpark, Universal Studios), Chinese Garden.

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
Gardens by the Bay
Cable Car in Singapore

If you are into Museums, Singapore has the National Museum of Singapore, National Gallery Singapore, Asian Civilisations Museum.

Important religious sites include the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Thian Hock Keng Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple, Sultan Mosque

Masjid Sultan Mosque in Singapore
Masjid Sultan

Of course don’t forget the Instagram spots in Singapore such as Fort Canning Park, Lory Loft at Jurong Birdpark, the colorful Little India, the Peranakan Houses, and the Jewel Changi Airport itself!

You also cannot leave Singapore without having eaten at a hawker center, open-air complexes with food stalls and don’t forget to grab a beer at Clarke Quay and enjoy the night scene there. Overwhelmed by all the food choices or simply not sure what to eat? Don’t worry, this food tour will take you to the best spots in Singapore!

There are also many fun tours you can take in Singapore, like biking tours, kayaking tour, Singapore River Cruise, hop on hop off bus, and the round trip cable car experience.

The great news is that many attractions and tours in Singapore are Covered by the Singapore attraction pass so you can save a lot of money!

Southeast Asia Itinerary #2: Explore Malaysia & Singapore

Day 1 – 2: Singapore
Day 3 – 5: Kuala Lumpur
Day 6 – 7: Cameron Highlands
Day 8 – 10: Penang
Day 11 – 14: Redang Island or Langkawi

If you have already been to Thailand before or you prefer somewhere different, then I would highly recommend exploring Malaysia.

Malaysia is a large country with a lot of history, culture and different landscape. In Malaysia you will find delicious food, white sand beaches, beautiful tea terraces and mountains as well as modern cities.

Day 1 – 2: Singapore

Start your 2 week Southeast Asia adventure in Singapore and follow Itinerary #1 to explore the highlights of Singapore.

Day 3 – 5: Kuala Lumpur

It is quite easy to get to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore. You can either take a 5 hour bus or take an 1 hour flight. Buses are more frequent and cheaper if you are on a budget, but note that sometimes bus arrives 1-2 hours later than expected, which could cut into your travel time.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. It is where you will find a mixture of tradition and modernity. Kuala Lumpur has some of the most famous sights in Malaysia, such as Petronas Towers, which was featured in the blockbuster movie Entrapment.

In addition, KL is culturally rich with multiple religions. Although the official religion of Malaysia is Islam, but you will find Buddhist, Christian and Hindu communities in KL.

Petronas Towers in KL, Malaysia

With 2-3 days in KL (depending on when you arrive if you are taking the bus), you can see a lot. Explore the beautiful central KLCC area, where you will find upscale shopping malls, restaurants, gardens, Aquaria KLCC (Aquarium) and the famous Petronas Towers. You can also go up Menara Kuala Lumpur observation deck to have a sweeping view of the city.

Be sure to check out Merdeka Square, where the first Malaysia Flag raising took place on August 31, 1957. Then move onto Central Market and Chinatown and Petaling Street Market for local shopping and food.

One of the best things you can do if you like food is to take a street food tour. This tour lets you sample over 15 dishes and snacks in KL so you don’t have to wonder what’s the best thing to eat!

Thean Hou Temple in KL Malaysia | Where to go in Southeast Asia
Thean Hou Temple

Other important landmarks in Kuala Lumpur include the National Mosque, Perdana Botanical Garden, Thean Hou Temple, Bukit Bintang (and Jalan Alor street for food), and various museums. You can easily explore KL with a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus.

Batu Caves in Malaysia

You may also be interested in day trips to the famous Batu Caves that is all over social media.

Day 6 – 7: Cameron Highlands

If you want to get away from the busy (and often times hot) KL, then Cameron Highlands would be the perfect escape.

Located only about 3-4 hours by bus, Cameron Highlands is located in the mountainous region in central Malaysia. Cameron Highlands was “discovered” by British geologist William Cameron during the British rule and became an agricultural area. Nowadays, Cameron Highlands is one of the most popular tourist spots in Malaysia.

Cameron Highlands in Malaysia

Given its location in the mountains, Cameron Highlands experience cooler weather and is known for its tea plantations, hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes, mossy forests, etc.

The main town in Cameron Highlands is Tanah Rata, your bus will drop you off here and you will find a ton of hotels and restaurant in Tanah Rata.

Cameron Highlands Butterfly Farm

Some of the best things in Cameron Highlands include hiking the Jungle Trails, visiting Boh Tea Estate and strawberry farms, walking through the Mossy Forest, visiting local tribe villages, butterfly farms and lavender gardens.

You can ask your hotel to book you a taxi, hike around, or take a tour (and explore other parts by taxi or walking) to explore Cameron Highlands. I really loved the tea plantation and Cameron Highlands is probably my favorite area in Malaysia.

Day 8 – 10: Penang

From Cameron Highlands, you can take a 4-5 hour bus ride to the food capital of Malaysia, Penang.

Penang is the birthplace of Malaysian Street Food and is one of the best places to eat in Malaysia. Therefore you can bet there will be a lot of eating, cooking classes and food tours you can do in Penang.

But food is not the only thing you will find in Penang, you will also find arts, temples, historical houses, national park and beach.

Penang George Town Street Art

Start your Panang journey exploring the UNESCO old town of George Town. You may have seen beautiful murals of George Town all over Instagram, and here is where you will find them. Wander around the old town of George Town is one of the best ways to discover beautiful street arts and murals.

Penang Little India

As you explore George Town, don’t forget to check out Chew Jetty, the colorful Penang Little India, Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, Fort Cornwallis, and Chulia St, known for its street food and hawker stalls.

If you have time, go up the TOP Penang to enjoy a bird’s eye view of Penang Island.

Penang hill view in Malaysia

Another popular destination in Penang is Penang Hill, where you can enjoy some hiking (or taking the funicular) up to the 360 degree observation deck for an amazing view of Penang and the surrounding sceneries.

There are restaurants, a gallery, eco-tourism discovery center, temple and other attractions to check out at Penang Hill.

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang Malaysia

Near Penang Hill is Kek Lok Si Temple, a colorful hilltop Buddhist temple. It is one of the most important temples to visit in Penang. You also get beautiful view of the city from this temple. You can also visit Penang Botanic Gardens if you have time.

Other things to do in Penang include visiting Fruit Farms or spend a day in Penang National Park for some hiking, canopy walk and beach.

Day 11 – 14: Redang Island or Langkawi

When you are done with urban and forest and nature, it is time to move to the beach.

Malaysia has really amazing beach and I dare say the best beach I have ever been to was in Malaysia.

For beach you have two options. If you want to minimize travel time then you can visit the famous Langkawi, an archipelago off Malaysia’s northwest coast.

Langkawi Beach in Malaysia
Langkawi

If you want to avoid the crowd and go somewhere different (and perhaps more pristine), then make your way across Malaysia to the west side of the country to go to Redang Island.

Langkawi is easy to reach from Penang, you can take an one hour flight or 3 hour ferry from Georgetown.

Redang Island white sand beach
Redang Island

Redang Island requires either a flight (via KL) or a long distance bus and ferry which pretty much takes the entire day.

You can’t really go wrong with either option but I really do think Redang Island has a much more pristine beach. Redang Island is a lot smaller than Langkawi so Langkawi has more variety in terms of accommodations, restaurants and things to do. But if you just want to relax on an amazing beach and do some snorkeling then Redang Island is the obvious winner.

Southeast Asia Itinerary #3: Off the Beaten Path (Laos & Northern Vietnam)

Day 1 – 3: Luang Prabang
Day 4: Vientiane
Day 5: Hanoi
Day 6- 7: Halong Bay
Day 8 – 10: Ha Giang or Sapa
Day 11 – 13: Cao Bang
Day 14: Hanoi

If you want to explore places that are not as frequented by visitors, then Laos and Northern Vietnam would be a good choice.

You will be able to to enjoy some unspoiled nature and have a more authentic experience.

Day 1 – 3: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the ancient capital of Laos and later became a French colony. In Luang Prabang you will find a mixture of traditional Lao and French influenced architecture.

Ever since its opening up for tourism in 1989, Luang Prabang has become an unique destination in Southeast Asia. It is not as famous or popular as many other Southeast Asian cities but you will find an even more interesting experience.

Wat Xieng Thong Laos
Wat Xieng Thong
Alms Giving In Laos Luang Prabang
Alms Giving

Luang Prabang is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the old town, you will find beautiful temples such as Wat Xiengthong, Wat Mai, Wat Sensoukharam, visit the Royal Palace museum, participate in an Alms Giving Ceremony (starting at 5:30am), chill at a cafe by the Mekong River, check out food in the Night Market, and ride a Mekong River cruise to enjoy the sunset.

Mount Phou Si in Laos

Without leaving Luang Prabang, you should also pay a visit to Mount Phousi. You can climb up for sunset or simply just to enjoy the view from the top.

Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang Laos

One of the most famous sites near Luang Prabang is the 3 tiered waterfall, Kuang Si Waterfalls. It is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists and you can take a dip in the turquoise pool.

Other places to visit near Luang Prabang include Tad Sae Waterfall (+ Kayaking tour), Pak Ou Caves (over 4000 Buddha statues), Nahm Dong Park (nature reserve with zip line and cooking class).

Day 4: Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and similar to Luang Prabang, you will find a mix of French colonial architecture with traditional Laos architecture and temples.

I only suggest one day in Vientiane as a transit center before you go to Vietnam and see some of the best sights.

Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane, Laos
Patuxay

Since you only have one day in Vientiane, I would suggest checking out the famous gold-covered Buddhist stupa Pha That Luang, followed by a visit to Patuxai Victory Monument, the arc de triomphe of Vientiane.

Phat That Luang Vientiane Laos
Phat That Luang

Other things to check out in Vientiane include the Talat Sao Morning Market, Wat Sisaket, Ho Phrakeo Museum, Wat Si Muang, Chao Anouvong Park and end the night in Vientiane Night Market.

You can take a short evening flight from Vientiane to Hanoi to start your Vietnam adventure next.

Day 5: Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it is probably one of the most charming cities in Vietnam.

You will most likely stay at and explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi. You can certainly spend longer than a day in Hanoi if you decide to skip on some of the other items on the itinerary.

Hanoi Vietnam busy intersection in the Old Quarter for tourists

I do find that although there is a lot to see in Hanoi, I personally prefer to simply walk around Old Quarter, find a cute cafe to try Vietnamese coffee, people watch and try local food.

Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Beer Street at night
Hanoi Beer Street

However, if you do want to take advantage of your first full day in Hanoi, you can certainly check out some of the most famous sites, such as the Train Street, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake (and Ngoc Son Temple), the night market, Ta Hien Beer Street (super lively at night).

Again, I think the charm of Hanoi is really to relax, enjoy coffee and food and people watch!

Best Tours to Take in Hanoi

Given your limited time in Hanoi, if you want to experience Hanoi in an authentic way, there are a few tours you should take!

Food Tour is something you simply cannot miss when visiting Hanoi! Want to try all the local food and fruits? This is the best tour for foodies.

If you want to see the major sites in Hanoi and don’t want to bother with taking a Grab, then you would really enjoy this half day tour of Hanoi to visit all the famous sites I mentioned above.

Day 6- 7: Halong Bay

If this is your time in Vietnam, then one of the must-do activities near Hanoi is to do a Halong Bay cruise.

Halong Bay Cruise

There are day cruises, 2 day 1 night cruises as well as 3 day 2 night cruises. If you just want a taste of Halong Bay while enjoying a relaxing holiday after the hustling and bustling of Hanoi, then 2 day 1 night Halong Bay cruise is the perfect choice.

There are cruises for every budget, some can be as cheap as $100 and some are as expensive as $1000+ a room per night.

Halong Bay Cruise
Swimsuit can be purchased here

Some of the most luxurious Halong Bay cruises now include Emperor CruiseOrchid CruiseStellar of the Sea CruiseHeritage Cruise. These cruises have spacious rooms, balconies, beautiful bathtub with floor to ceiling windows, and incredible service and food.

A typical 2 day 1 night Halong Bay Cruise itinerary include the following:

Day 1 of Halong Bay Cruise

  • 8am: pick up from Hanoi
  • 12pm: boarding the cruise
  • 1-2pm: lunch
  • 2-4pm: activities (kayaking, cave, small hike, swimming, etc – every cruise is slightly different)
  • 4-6pm: happy hours
  • 6pm: Dinner
  • 7-9pm: Squid fishing

Day 2 of Halong Bay Cruise

  • 6-7am: Tai Chi & Cooking class
  • 8am: Breakfast
  • 9am: Kayaking
  • 10:30am: back on shore to check out
  • 3pm: Back in Hanoi

Once you are back in Hanoi, you can continue your sightseeing before taking a sleeper bus to Ha Giang.

See my complete Halong Bay Cruise Guide to decide if it’s worth taking a Halong Bay cruise.

Day 8 – 10: Ha Giang or Sapa

You may have seen photos of beautiful rice terraces in Vietnam, in fact they are the main reason why I decided to go to Northern Vietnam!

Most people may have heard of Sapa, known for its rice terrace, but did you know that there are other places in Northern Vietnam that have beautiful rice terrace without the crowd? Ha Giang is one of the off the beaten track places in Northern Vietnam that is known for its dramatic landscape and rice terrace.

If you prefer to go to a place that has a more established tourist infrastructure, then you probably will like Sapa. But if you prefer a more quiet, less touristy but still beautiful place to see rice terrace, then I would highly recommend Ha Giang.

Ha Giang rice terrace

Both Sapa and Ha Giang require you to depart from Hanoi. For Sapa you can take an overnight train or sleeper bus from Hanoi. To get to Ha Giang you will need to take a bus (day time or overnight). You can book transportation from Hanoi to Sapa or Ha Giang on 12go.

Ha Giang

If you decide to go to Ha Giang, the most famous thing to do there is the Ha Giang Loop (best done on the back of a motorbike), which requires 3 days minimum.

Ha Giang Loop Vietnam

During the 3-5 days you spend on the Ha Giang Loop, you will come across many different villages, rice paddies, tea fields, waterfalls, caves and view points. You will most likely be staying at homestay at different villages during your Ha Giang Loop ride.

If this does not sound appealing to you or you cannot ride a motorbike or just don’t have the time, then Sapa may be a better option for you than Ha Giang.

Sapa

Sapa has gained its popularity among tourists in the recent years. It has developed so fast that you will find many tour groups (and individual tourists) everywhere in Sapa.

Trekking in Sapa rice terrace view

3 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Sapa if you are thinking about trekking.

Cat Cat village in Sapa, Vietnam
Cat Cat village

If you are taking an overnight train or sleeper bus from Hanoi, you will arrive early in the morning in Lao Cai (train station) or Sapa town. You can spend the first day visiting Cat Cat Village and Fansipan, the highest peak Vietnam. I recommend visiting Fansipan later in the day as it is more likely to become clear but check the weather forecast before you go.

Sapa trekking in Vietnam

On the 2nd day of your Sapa trip, you can do two day one night trekking with a guide. During trekking you will have an opportunity to trek in the rice terrace, visit Hmong villages, do an overnight stay at a homestay, visit bamboo forest and waterfalls before coming back to Sapa on the third day.

Or alternatively you can do a one day trekking and spend day 3 explore the various photo spots in Sapa Town.

Take an afternoon bus back to Hanoi on the third day.

Day 11 – 13: Cao Bang

Cao Bang is located in northern Vietnam, on the border of Vietnam and China. It is most famous for the Ban Gioc Waterfall, a tiered waterfall that is located within both Vietnam and China.

If you visited Ha Giang, you can travel from Ha Giang directly to Cao Bang by motorcycle albeit it is a long ride.

If you went to Sapa, then you will have to return to Hanoi first and then travel by bus or taxi from Hanoi to Cao Bang. It is about a 6-8 hour drive from Hanoi to Cao Bang and best done on an overnight sleeper bus (this means you can explore Hanoi during the day!).

Mat Than Mountain in Cao Bang Vietnam

Some of the best things to do in Cao Bang include Ban Gioc Waterfall, Nguom Ngao Cave (Tiger Cave), drive or hike to see the Me Pia Pass, check out Cao Bang city center, go to other smaller waterfalls and visit Mat Than Mountain.

Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang, Vietnam

If you prefer the convenience of having a tour instead of taking sleeper buses, you can book a 2 day one night tour to Cao Bang from Hanoi and not have to worry about transportation.

Day 14: Hanoi or Ninh Binh

Depending on how long you spend in Cao Bang, on your last day of this 14 day Southeast Asia itinerary, you can either spend the day in Hanoi or do a day trip to Ninh Binh (assuming you do not have a flight to catch).

If you decide to stay and explore Hanoi, you can check out the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Quan Thanh Temple, Imperial Citadel, One Pillar Pagoda and Hanoi Opera House.

If you are really ambitious, you can do a day trip to Ninh Binh, one of the most beautiful places in Northern Vietnam in my opinion.

Ninh Binh is known as Ha Long Bay on land and it is not hard to see why people have Ninh Binh high on their list. You will find limestone peaks, rice paddies, river valleys and ancient pagodas in Ninh Binh.

Mua Cave Ninh Binh Vietnam
Mua Cave

Like this dress? You can purchase it on Etsy.

Some of the best places to see in Ninh Binh in one day include Mua Cave, Bich Dong Pagoda, Tam Coc Boat Ride. If you have more time, you can check out Bai Dinh Pagoda and the 3 hour Trang An Boat Ride but you won’t be able to do everything I mentioned here in one day.

Vietnam Ninh Binh Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong Pagoda

If you decide to go to Ninh Binh without a tour, you can take an early morning bus or luxury van and rent a scooter or a private taxi to get around Ninh Binh.

Trang An Boat ride
Dress can be purchased here.

Alternatively, you can take this tour to see Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, Mua Cave, Bich Dong Pagoda and take the Tam Coc boat ride.

Or if you want something different, this tour will take you to Bai Dinh Pagoda, Mua Cave and Trang An Boat Ride.

Bai Dinh Pagoda | Best Vietnam itinerary

No matter what you choose, you will be blown away by the beauty of Northern Vietnam.

Southeast Asia Itinerary #4: Flavor of Everything (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam)

Day 1 – 3: Bangkok
Day 4 – 6: Phuket & Islands
Day 7 – 9: Angkor Wat
Day 10 – 12: Hoi An
Day 12 – 14: Hue

If you really cannot decide where to go in Southeast Asia for 2 weeks, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. We will do everything.

Day 1 – 3: Bangkok

Fly into Thailand and start your 14 day Southeast Asia adventure in Bangkok.

Wat Paknam in Bangkok Thailand

Some of the best temples to check out in Bangkok include Wat Pho, the Temple of Emerald Buddha, Golden Mount Temple (Wat Saket), Wat Traimit, Wat Arun and Wat Paknam (featuring a towering stupa).

Other sites not to be missed in Bangkok is the Grand Palace, river cruise, China Town, Lhong 1919, Khao San Road. Checking out fancy shopping centers like ICON Siam and Siam Paragon, grabbing a drink at rooftop bars and getting a Thai Massage are all unforgettable experiences to have in Bangkok.

Bangkok Floating Market 2

You can also do day trips outside of Bangkok to the floating market (or combine with Maeklong Railway Market), Ancient City, Bubble in the Forest Cafe if you want the instagram shot, and visit temples in Ayutthaya.

Most tours and day trips from Bangkok are included in the Bangkok Explorer Pass.

Day 4 – 6: Phuket & Islands

After visiting the lively Bangkok, it is time to fly to the islands and relax.

Whether you spend all 3 days in Phuket and do day trips to Maya Bay and James Bond Island or stay on Phi Phi or Krabi, you will have a good time.

Day 7-9: Angkor Wat

You really cannot go to Southeast Asia without stopping by Angkor Wat, one of the most famous archaeological remains in Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat is a large temple complex built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th Century. In fact it is the largest religious monument in the world as it occupies more than 400 acres.

Angkor Wat in the morning in Cambodia | Best Southeast Asia itinerary
Angkor Wat

It is the top tourist attraction in Cambodia and it’s not hard to see why. Its historical and religious significance, beautiful architecture and the intricate stone carving are all reasons to visit.

You will need to fly into Siem Reap in order to access Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Ta Phrom Temple | Where to go in Southeast Asia
Wat Ta Phrom
Angkor Wat Neak Pean temple | Best things to see in Southeast Asia
Neak Pean Temple

Although Angkor Wat is the main attraction in Siem Reap, there are other things to do before your big day in Angkor Wat. The day before you can do a cooking class, stop by Angkor National Museum, visit one of the temples for sunsets (I recommend Pre Rup or Phnom Bakheng) and grab a drink on Pub Street and get a masage.

You will need entrance ticket for Angkor Wat, and they are either 1 day ($37), 3 days ($62) or 7 days ticket ($72). Unless you plan to see Angkor Wat 3 days in a row, I think 1 day ticket is enough. You can even visit Phnom Bakheng for sunset the day before without having to buy another Angkor Wat ticket.

Angkor Wat will take the whole day to visit and sunrise at Angkor Wat is spectacular. You will need to go super early to get the best spot. Be sure to buy the Angkor Wat ticket ahead of time before your visit if you want to go for sunrise.

You can visit Angkor Wat by yourself or get a guide. We got a guide and it was very useful to hear the stories and histories of the various spots in Angkor Wat and we saw other temples in the complex as well.

Besides Angkor Wat, other things you can do in and near Siem Reap include visiting a floating village, Kulen Mountain National Park, Kok Ker & Beng Mealea temple, and watch a Cambodian circus.

Day 10 – 12: Hoi An

After visiting Angkor Wat, you will head to Da Nang, Vietnam.

Da Nang is the gateway to Central Vietnam and given the time restraint, you will visit two of the most famous cities in Central Vietnam.

First stop is Hoi An, an UNESCO World Heritage Old Town about an hour by car from Da Nang.

Hoi An Ancient Town | Best places to visit in Vietnam

Hoi An is a well preserved ancient town and in the old town, you will find streets lined with lanterns, historical monuments, museums, shops, restaurants and most importantly, tailors!

Vietnam Hoi An Ba Mu Temple | Southeast Asia itinerary and travel guide
Ba Mu Temple
Hoi An Vietnam | Chinese Assembly Halls in Hoi An

With only 2 days in Hoi An, you will have plenty of time to explore the old town center; some of the best things to do and see in Hoi An ancient town include Japanese Covered Bridge, Old Houses of Tan Ky, Ba Mu Temple, Cantoneses Assembly Hall, Phac Hat Pagoda, Hoi Quan Phuoc Kien, Hoi An night market.

Hoi An lanterns

Hoi An is known for their tailors, so you can literally get a dress custom made for you within 24 hours. At night it is also really nice to walk around to see all the lanterns lit up or take a 20 minute boat ride on Thu Bon River.

Hoi An boat ride at night

If you do end up with more time in Hoi An, you can visit the beach, do a coconut boat tour, visit historical monument in My Son, do a day trip to Ba Na Hills for the Golden Bridge or take a day trip to Cham Islands.

Golden Bridge Ba Na Hills

Read Next: My complete Hoi An Itinerary and Travel Guide

Day 12 – 14: Hue

Another important city to visit in central Vietnam is Huế, the ancient Imperial City of Vietnam. So you can expect to find imperial palaces and emperors’ tombs in Hue.

You can take a bus or private taxi from Hoi An to Hue.

With 1.5 to 2 days in Hue, you can actually see all the best Hue tourist attractions.

Start your Hue adventure at the Imperial Citadel, the former residence of the imperial family. If there is time, stop by Thien Mu Pagoda and check out Dong Ba Market by Perfume River.

Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam
Hue Imperial Citadel

The next day you can start early to first visit the Thuy Tien Lake Abandoned Water Park if you want to grab a quick Instagram worthy photo.

Hue Vietnam Abandoned water park dragon spot
Abandoned water park

Then you can go tomb hopping as there are numerous tombs all around Hue. The 3 best ones that I’d recommend visiting are tombs of Emperor Khai Dinh, Emperor Minh Mang, and Emperor Tu Duc. If you have time, you can also see the tomb of Emperor Gia Long.

Khai Dinh Tomb in Hue Vietnam | What to do in Hue
Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc | Hue Itinerary and travel guide
Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang in Hue Vietnam | Best things to see in Hue
Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang

If you want to save money on entrance fee, there are combo tickets you can buy at each of the location instead of buying individual tickets.

It’s best to rent a scooter to ride around Hue or hire a private taxi. Most of the tombs are located outside of the city itself so it would be difficult to try to use Grab to get a car when you are out there.

See my detailed 2 day Hue itinerary on what to do and eat in Hue, Vietnam.

Useful Resources to Plan Southeast Asia Itinerary

For transportation within Southeast Asia

  • 12go for train and bus booking
  • Grab app for getting taxis

For hotel booking within Southeast Asia

For booking tours within Southeast Asia

  • Klook: Singapore based tour booking website with the most number of tours and budget prices
  • Getyourguide and Viator are also good websites to book tours

Other Practical Things to Know Before You Go to Southeast Asia

  • Be sure to check visa requirements for the different countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam (read my guide on how to get a Vietnam E-Visa)
  • It is best to take a no-fee ATM card (like the ones from Charles Schwab if you are American or Wise Card or Revolut no fee ATM cards for non-Americans) and take out cash from local ATMs to get the best exchange rate
  • Cash is king; even though most hotels take credit cards, many restaurants, vendors and attractions only take cash
  • Download and set up Grab app before you leave, it is the Uber of Southeast Asia
  • Download Whatsapp, it is the primary way to communicate with hotels, train/ cruise companies in Southeast Asia
  • You can buy sim cards at the airports for very cheap, but most may have a daily limit of how much data you can use
  • Be sure to have Plug Adapter when you go to Southeast Asia
  • You can buy most necessities in Southeast Asia (like toiletry, clothes, bug spray, etc) to save luggage space
  • You should definitely get an external battery for your phone especially if you take photos and videos on your phone.
  • Food poisoning could happen so be sure to eat at clean and legit restaurants and well cooked food; avoid ice if possible and buy bottled water (no tap water!)
  • Have bug spray with you at all times, the mosquitoes can be vicious if you go outside of winter months
  • Even though Southeast Asia is generally hot, if you are going to mountainous region, be sure to have layers with you

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