How to Plan an Extended Trip in Southeast Asia
From the smiling faces and pristine beaches in Thailand, to the incredible, fresh food in Vietnam, to one of the most impressive sites in the world in Cambodia, to the sleepy, still undiscovered lands of Laos, Southeast Asia is ripe for the picking if you love to travel.
What to expect
Sure, you may not always be comfortable (hello, minibuses in Laos) but what you give up in comfort you get back in the wallet. One of the most surprising things about travel in SE Asia was just how easy it truly is. Unless you really get off the beaten path, the language barrier is pretty much nonexistent as most everyone, especially those involved in tourism, speaks English. Because the region has been a popular travel destination for the better part of 50 years, they have it down and know how it’s done, so enjoy the ride!
Planning your trip to Southeast Asia
Check out our Southeast Asia Travel Guide
Getting around SE Asia is pretty easy (though it may not be the epitome of comfort all the time), with many options depending on your budget.
- Air- Air Asia is the main budget airline in the region, and if you are flexible and on top of things, you can get dirt cheap flights between major cities (Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, etc.).
- Bus- Bus quality varies from country to country and even city to city. Thailand and Vietnam have some decent buses, some of them the sleeper variety, but some flat out suck, too. Be sure to check the information below to see specifics on overland travel in each country.
- Minibuses– While not the most comfortable transport in the world, minibuses are in all Southeast Asian countries in some form or another (costing practically nothing). The unifying factor amongst bus transport is that it’s dirt cheap.
- Train- Trains are available in all countries as well, with some really nice ones in Thailand, in particular. There are different types and different classes of seats, with sleeper compartments as well (that are really nice), so do your homework.
- Boat- One of the coolest modes of transport around Southeast Asia is by riverboat. Some slow boat trips (Thailand into Laos) are said to be pretty brutal, but others are amazing (Vietnam into Cambodia). Boat travel is becoming less and less common, though.
As long as you’re willing to eat street and market food (which you should as it’s the best), you can eat like a king for a few dollars a day. A huge plate of pad thai costs about $1US on the streets of Bangkok, a steaming bowl of Pho in the alleyways of Hanoi about the same, and as long as you eat locally, even in restaurants, it’s still not going to run more than a few dollars for a meal.
Thailand and Vietnam are a little more expensive than Laos and Cambodia, but if you plan on $40US/day for these four countries, you’ll be traveling well most of the time.
To find more in depth information about vaccinations, check out these articles:
Laos and Cambodia both offer 30-day visas upon arrival. It is recommended to have US dollars for visas, and make sure they are crisp bills with no tears and little wear (I argued for 15-minutes with a visa officer entering Laos because a few of my bills weren’t in good enough condition).
Check out our visa service and visa application page
Where to go
Some travelers can blast through all four countries in a month, seeing the highlights and moving fast. Others can take months or even years to explore the region. It all depends on how much time and money you have.
Thailand is a land the evokes many images for travelers. White sand beaches in the south, one of the biggest, bustling metropolises in the world in Bangkok, and peaceful hill stations in the north. There is a reason Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations not only in Southeast Asia but in the entire world.
To read more about Thailand, check out the following articles and resources:
Mountains, jungles, beaches. History, culture, cuisine. It’s no secret why Vietnam is becoming a top travel destination around the world. It really does have it all, and with a well trodden tourist trail, travel around this country is rather easy. The people may not be as friendly as nearby Thailand, or as laid back as neighboring Laos, and not everyone has an affinity for travel here, but once you get used to the chaos, Vietnam offers all travelers an unforgettable experience.
To read more about Vietnam, check out the following articles and resources:
When people think of Cambodia, they automatically connect it with one of the world’s greatest wonders, Angkor Wat. Rightfully so, as it is one of the most visited and spectacular sites in the world. While Angkor steals the spotlight, there are plenty of other fantastic places to visit in this beautiful Southeast Asian country.
To read more about Cambodia, check out the following articles and resources:
To read more about Laos, check out the following articles and resources:
- Laos Indie Travel Guide
- 5 Dishes No Traveler to Laos Should Leave Without Trying
- Luang Prabang Indie Travel Guide
Planning a trip to Southeast Asia, whether for a few weeks, months, or years, is a traveler’s dream. There aren’t many regions in the world that offer what Southeast Asia offers, particularly with these low prices.