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A PERFECT SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY – 3 MONTHS ON THE BANANA PANCAKE TRAIL

The perfect Southeast Asia itinerary for 3 months of backpacking and travel is a tough trip to plan as the “perfect” route highly dependent on you, your tastes, and what you enjoy most in your travel experiences. 

With so many countries, so many options for proceeding through them, and so many sites and experiences that you absolutely must experience, it can be a pain crafting your perfect trip. Trust me; I know what you’re feeling.  During my first trip through Southeast Asia, I pretty much just wandered with no timeline, experiencing each place as it came and deciding the next city of my trip just a couple days before departure.  Though this is a wonderful way to travel, not everyone has an unlimited amount of time to wander the way I did.   Of course, we all still want to experience Asia’s best, even with limited timelines.

Lucky for you, I discovered all of the highlights of Southeast Asia not to be missed.  With this perected Southeast Asia Itinerary 3 Months will be more than enough to discover the best of Southeast Asia. These highlights add up to a list of unique experiences suited to specific “types” of travelers (street food, surfing, trekking, partying, safaris, motorbiking, etc.) and patched them together into a “create your own adventure” itinerary.

Don’t fret about creating that perfect SEA backpacking trip.  In this post, we’ll share the perfect core itinerary for backpacking Southeast Asia for three months. We’ll then share how to adapt the perfect Southeast itinerary to your specific tastes by recommending a couple of extra countries focused on specific adventures and experiences.  The result – the perfect Southeast Asia travel itinerary for you.

MY EXPERIENCE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA ON THE BANANA PANCAKE TRAIL

Three years ago, I quit my job, packed my things, and set out to treat myself to a year of discovery wandering the world.  Though I had already been to the Middle East, South America, and Europe, a close friend still recommended Southeast Asia and, what he called, the “Banana Pancake Trail” as the best starter for travel around the world.

He was absolutely right.




At his recommendation, I booked a one-way flight to Thailand and a rough plan to travel to the Thai islands and find a deserted beach with a beach hut to gather myself for the trip to come.  However, the beauty of experiencing Southeast Asia is that the “Banana Pancake Trail” already has a plan for you.

By the end of my first night in Bangkok (where I first arrived), my plan for Southeast Asia had been scrapped, I found a travel buddy, and the adventures were in full swing.

The following day, we decided to go to the north’s Chiang Mai hill country, exploring and wandering as our crew grew from 2 members to 10.  The adventures that followed over the next four months were more than I could have planned, asked for, or dreamed.

The Banana Pancake trail’s momentum took us tasting, exploring, and partying with like-minded travelers in Thailand.  We continued to experience history, culture, and adventure in Vietnam.  Surprisingly, Vietnam turned out to be one of the richest destinations of all my travels, suitable for any age.  We continued by cruising the Ho Chi Minh trail by motorbike “moto-packing” on 125cc Vietnam and made motorcycles up to China and down through Laos, ultimately experiencing places that hadn’t seen people like us in decades.  Through Cambodia, we continued exploring ancient kingdoms and Asian castles that are rightly called “wonders of the world.” 

Then, we all parted ways, but my adventure continued.

I trekked to floating cities and wandered through lost kingdoms and thousands of Pagodas in Myanmar.  I trekked alone to the highest mountain in the world, Everest, in the peaceful quiet of Nepal.  I shared bananas with a wild elephant alone in Sri Lanka. I tackled fears and surfed waves taller than me in Bali. And I swam with giants, diving breathlessly below whale sharks in the Philippines.

All of this happened with no plan, with ease, and on a budget.

My experience was genuine but far from uncommon for backpackers on the Banana Pancake Trail.

I highly recommend the experience.

After al of this firsthand experience bouncing around the best of Asia, how long is the perfect Southeast Asia Itinerary? 3 Months.  Yup.  You guessed it.

Now that we have your interest let’s explore how you, too, can experience the Banana Pancake Trail with this Southeast Asia Itinerary for three months of mind-blowing travel and experiences.

THE “ADVENTURE FIRST” SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY FOR 3 MONTHS

To maximize your enojoyment and experience, here is a Southeast itinerary for 3 months that will help you see more than you ever thought possible.  This itinerary helps you start with adventures and end with countries specific to your favorite travel experiences.

  • Weeks 1 to 3: Vietnam
  • Weeks 4 to 5: Laos 
  • Week 6: Cambodia
  • Weeks 7 to 9: Thailand
  • Weeks 10 and 11: Additional Country #1
  • Weeks 12 and 13: Additional Country #2

Additional Countries Recommended: Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bali (Indonesia), The Philippines, Nepal

WHAT IS THE “ADVENTURE FIRST” ITINERARY, AND WHY SHOULD YOU DO IT?

The first itinerary starts you off in Vietnam, arguably the new hotspot for backpacking (dethroning Thailand). Thailand’s long north to south stretch of traveler trail is filled with likeminded backpackers and travelers that are bussing and “moto-packing” between cities to hike, climb, party, and explore in a very adventurous way.

Followed up Vietnam with even more rural and adventurous Laos for jungle trekking and outdoor adventures, and your trip will be front-loaded with adventurous memories.

Then, proceeded through the more relaxed and slower-paced Cambodia sites on to the beaches, rice fields, and street food experiences of Thailand before moving on to the “name your own adventure” portion of your itinerary.


THE “PLEASURE FIRST” SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY FOR 3 MONTHS

For those that need to start their travels with a chance to recharge and refresh, this itinerary for three months in Southeast Asia takes you through the peaceful pleasures of the Banana Pancake Trail before introducing its adventures.

  • Weeks 1 to 3: Thailand
  • Weeks 4 to 5: Laos 
  • Weeks 6 to 8: Vietnam
  • Week 9: Cambodia
  • Weeks 10 and 11: Additional Country #1
  • Weeks 12 and 13: Additional Country #2
  • Additional Countries Recommended: Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bali (Indonesia), The Philippines, Nepal

WHAT IS THE “PLEASURE FIRST” ITINERARY, AND WHY SHOULD YOU DO IT?

Thailand is renowned for its beaches, street food, traditional Thai massages, and how easily new travelers can experience the country.  If you’re escaping the world and need to “decompress” to get yourself into the travel mood, “the Thailand first itinerary” is the one you want to roll with.

Thailand is the original backpacker paradise offering a slower-paced experience (if you want it to be) with all of its highlights catering to the senses and enjoyment.  In Bangkok, street food and traditional Thai massage rejuvenate you and awaken the senses.  In the northern portion of the itinerary, in Chiang Mai and Pai, temples, rice fields, and pleasant company pull you into a state of peace.

A brief island stop on a Thai island hopping day tour

In the southern portion of the Thailand itinerary, the beautiful beaches and countless islands keep you in that state of pleasure and relaxation with the option of all-night parties with fellow travelers.

If the idea of a cottage on the beach or serene rice field is exactly what you need right now, start with Thailand first, continue through Laos, on to the adventures of Vietnam and the ruins and history of Cambodia.  Finally, end your itinerary with one or two of the “additional countries” listed below that speaks to your unique travel tastes.


THE “OTHER COUNTRIES” I RECOMMEND IN SOUTH ASIA

The four core countries on the “Banana Pancake Trail,” Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, are all amazing experiences that nearly any traveler can appreciate.  However, there is beauty, pleasure, and adventure strewn across Southeast Asia to experience far beyond just these four countries.

Of the seven “optional countries” in South Asia, I recommend adding on at least one or two to the end of your trip.  Each of these extra countries has an irreplaceable theme or experience that perfectly fits a certain type of travel urge.

A brief stop in Sri Lanka allowing the monkeys to check out my tuk tuk

The five additional countries to consider adding to your Southeast Asia backpacking trip are:

  • Myanmar: Remnants of an ancient empire with thousands of temples and lake treks in the backdrop of a recently opened country
  • Sri Lanka: The Garden of Eden, wild animals, ruins of ancient kingdoms, hiking, and surfing for all levels
  • Bali, Indonesia: A true paradise with rice fields, beaches, hipster backpacker havens and a spiritual backdrop
  • The Philippines: A true water world of those of islands and the most pristine water and beaches I’ve ever seen – perfect for divers, free divers, snorkelers, and water children
  • Nepal: A mecca for trekking, rural mountain cultures (Sherpa) and home to the tallest mountain in the world

SOUTHEAST ASIA HIGHLIGHTS NOT TO BE MISSED

As you adapt this itinerary for your travel preferences, spend more time in places that offer what you love and don’t be scared to skip places that don’t offer anything that interests you.  Your time and money is precious, treat it as such.

Lucky for us, and planning, each country in Southeast Asia naturally has a specific theme, experience, or adventure that it offers better than any other destination in the world.  Use the list of SE Asia highlights


SOUTHEAST ASIA HIGHLIGHT EXPERIENCES + WHERE TO FIND THEM

  • Street Food: Thailand, Vietnam
  • Ancient Cities and Ancient Ruins: Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Pagan (Myanmar), Polonnaruwa (Sri Lanka)
  • Animal Experiences: Sri Lanka
  • Diving Adventures: Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand
  • Surf Adventures: Bali, Sri Lanka
  • Trekking: Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia
  • Wild Motorbiking Adventures: Vietnam, Laos – mini-adventures in Thailand and Bali
  • Wild Outdoor and Rural Experiences: Laos

WHY IS THE BANANA PANCAKE TRAIL A PERFECT TRAVEL ADVENTURE?

This route through Southeast Asia offers every sight, taste, and experience you want from a good travel adventure, all for cheap and easily navigated.

There are many other backpacking routes through the world:

However, the Banana Pancake Trail through Southeast Asia is one of the best, cheapest, and easiest, making it perfect for first-time travelers.


THE BANANA PANCAKE TRAIL IN SOUTHEAST ASIA IS THE BEST FOR NEW AND BUDGET TRAVELERS.  HERE’S WHY…

Wherever you travel to in Southeast Asia you’ll always find these amazing benefits:

  • Cheap Cost of Travel
  • Great Travel Infrastructure
  • Variety in the Adventures
  • Several exotic cultures in an easily navigated experience
  • Fantastic Food Experiences
  • Boundless pleasures suitable for all types of travelers

Cheap Cost of Travel: $15 to $35 per day, with cheap intercity/intercountry buses and budget airlines

Great Travel Infrastructure: From the cheap yet extremely comfortable hostels to the easily and cheaply booked buses, rail, and trains, navigating Southeast Asia on a budget is very easy and convenient

Variety in the Adventures: Day trips by boat, motorbiking around an entire country, swimming in empty bays with glowing plankton, trekking, food adventures, diving, surfing, and so much more.  Few other regions of the world offer such a variety of adventures in such a small area for such a low price.

Several exotic cultures in an easily navigated experience: Though westerners may think of Southeast Asian countries as all the same, each country on “the trail” has its own very unique culture and highlight experience.   This variety accents the overall travel experience and opens the mind, all presented in a way that isn’t too shocking for even newbie travelers.

The street food experience in Thailand is one of the best in the world

Food Experiences: Southeast Asia – specifically Thailand – has one of the most robust food scenes globally.  The street food scene of Thailand boasts food carts with Michelin stars, and Bali is the peak of “hipster fusion,” creating an adventure within an adventure for foodies on the road.

Pleasures: From traditional massages to the most beautiful beaches in the world with sunsets on beanbags with coconuts, in Southeast Asia, there is always a new (or old reliable) pleasure around the corner to soothe the senses

THE PERFECT SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY FOR 3 MONTHS

The beauty of the Banana Pancake trail, for old and new travelers alike, is how well the tourism and travel infrastructure is built out and well defined the “highlights” are for each location.

Thanks to this well defined and supported travel route, choosing the right cities to visit – that deliver experiences worth your precious time and energy – traveling between them are easy.

The following itinerary of countries and cities hits the irreplaceable highlights of the region. It flows in such a way that you will be able to cheaply and easily travel to your next stop while bumping into familiar friends along the way.

Note: This itinerary is the “Adventure First” itinerary.  To prioritize relaxation and pleasure, make the same city stops, but placing Thailand first


OVERVIEW OF THE PERFECT BANANA PANCAKE TRAIL ITINERARY

1.     VIETNAM (3 WEEKS)

  • Ho Chi Minh City (2 Days): A big, bustling city with 3 centuries-old – Essential Ho Chi Minh City Experiences –  Ben Thanh Market, touring the Cu Chi Tunnels from the Vietnam War, city tour by motorbike**, free walking tour**, countryside bike tour
  • Dalat (2 Days): Vietnam’s city of eternal spring with amazing architecture and a mountain backdrop – Essential Dalat Experiences – Canyoning tour, a coffee experience with a trip to a plantation and several cafes, “chase clouds” in Trai Mat, visit Truc Lam Buddhist Temple, visit Elephant Waterfall, visit Maze Bar Dalat (100 roofs café).
  • Da Nang (1-2 Days): Another big city offering typical tourist delights – Essential Experiences – Visit Ba Na Hill & Golden bridge, ride the dragon bridge by motorbike, explore the nightlife, and plenty of great restaurants
  • Motorbike the Hai Van Pass from Da Nang to Hoi An (2-hour ride): A straight of coastal mountain highway with beautiful, peaceful ocean views for the entire stretch, perfect for two-wheeled adventures and open-air Jeeps
  • Hoi An (2 Days): A beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City and one of the most well-preserved Southeast Asia trading ports dating back to the 1400s. Hanoi artfully blends local and foreign influences into architecture, food, and experience – Essential Experiences – Hoi An Central Market, wander Hoi An Old Town, plenty of food adventures, walking across “Japanese Bridge,” get some tailor-made suits or clothes for fun, take a cooking class, grab a beer by the Thu Bon River on itty bitty plastic chairs, motorbike to the Marble Mountains, Hoi An Night Market
  • Hanoi (3 Days): Charming and heavily influenced by French architecture and food.  Wonderful for relaxing while being a gateway to the more beautiful north of Vietnam – Essential Experiences – Hanoi Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake + Legend, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi Hilton tour (Hoa Lo Prison) Pho, Egg coffee at Café Pho Co overlooking the legendary Hoan Kiem lake, street food tour, shop for potentially counterfeit outdoor and adventure gear/clothing (“Made In Vietnam” store), Phung Hung Mural Street, Dong Xuan Market
  • Essential Side Trips from Hanoi: Ha Long Bay (2 Days), Sapa (2 days), Ha Giang Loop (4 Days),  Ba Be (2 Days), Ninh Binh

TIP: From here on the Vietnam itinerary, continue on to northern Vietnam as the often skipped north has what I would argue to be the most beautiful landscapes and experiences in Vietnam


2.      LAOS (2 WEEKS)

  • Luang Prabang (3 Days): Kuang Si Waterfalls, countless Buddhist temples, 
  • Vang Vieng (3 Days): Tubing or kayaking the Nan Song River (with booze and friends), dense jungle day hikes – both of these are only possible outside of monsoon season
  • Vientiane (3 Days): Sunset by the river with the evening market and experiencing Laos local life, visit the COPE Center (Vietnam War in Laos history)
  • Optional: “Don Det” 4000 Islands in Si Phan Don (if traveling by motorbike to Cambodia): to float, wander, and relax
  • Optional: Motorbike Thakek Loop en route to 4000 Islands
  • Optional: Gibbon Experience** ziplining through the jungle canopy in Nam Kan National park

3.      CAMBODIA (1 WEEK)

  • Phnom Penh (1 Day): S-21 Genocide Museum, shoot big guns, temples (Wat Phnom), a river cruise on the Mekong
  • Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (2 Days): Angkor Wat by tuk tuk at sunrise, night market experiences of The Lane + Pub Street
  • Optional (2-3 Days): Sihanoukville to Koh Rong and Koh Ron Samleon island for beautiful beaches and phosphorescent plankton
  • Optional – Kampot: A low key town where backpackers enjoy riverside cocktails and food, rent scooters to cruise the hills nearby

4.      THAILAND (3 WEEKS)

  • Chiang Mai (3 Days):  Walking tour of Old Town Chiang Mai, Temples, Old Town and Nimman Street Food Night Markets, Thai Massags, a Thai cooking class,
  • Pai (2-3 Days): Cruise the hills of Pai by motorbike, and hike a beautiful Pai Canyon hike by sunset. cave tours. By Street food at the Pai Night Market by night
  • Bangkok (3 to 5 Days): Party on Khao San Road, street food, Bangkok floating market, Chao Praya River area and ancient royal district, the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho temple
  • Krabi / Railay (3 Days): Railay Beach, the towering Tiger Cave Temple (+1,237 steps), Soi RCA, Ao Nang Night Market & street food, Emerald Pool and hot spring  waterfalls, jungle trek through Khao Sak National Park, cave swingat Hollow Mountain
  • Ko Phi Phi (2-3 Days): Maya bay day trip, boat tour between the islands, lots of beach time, or consider Ko Lanta for a more peaceful experience as Ko Phi Phi tends to be a party island
  • Koh Tao (2-3 Days): Motorbike, cruise, and snorkel between beaches, SCUBA dive certification, Ko Tao pub crawl, sunset at Mango Bay, Love Koh Tao Viewpoint Café for coffee.
  • Ko Pha Ngan (2-3 Days): Full Moon Party (Full Moon Party calendar here for 2020 + 2021), half-moon beach party, wander between beaches andwaterfalls,

5. ADDITIONAL COUNTRY OF YOUR CHOOSING #1 (2 WEEKS)

Choose an additional country specializing in something you love, based on our list of additional recommended countries.  Choose two shorter ones, or just one country if a 3+ weeks itinerary is required.

6. ADDITIONAL COUNTRY OF YOUR CHOOSING #2 (2 WEEKS)

Choose a second additional country that specializes in something you love, based on our list of additional recommended countries


These “additional countries” plugged into the end of your itinerary add a specialized bit of travel that focuses on the tastes that interest you most – beaches, diving, animals & safaris, trekking, and more

MYANMAR | SRI LANKA | BALI, INDONESIA | THE PHILIPPINES | NEPAL  

A Tip on itineraries: Prioritize the sites and adventures that are “musts” for you, and from there, don’t stick to a strict itinerary abiding by the days recommended.  Stay in each city as long as you’re vibing with that particular city. Don’t feel pressured to book accommodations, transport, or excursions far in advance as there will likely always be a suitable option available.  Leaving that room for flexibility in your adventures is invaluable.

A Note on “Days per Destination” in this itinerary: Each destination has a 2 to 3-day buffer, allowing you to stay longer if you are enjoying a place more than normal.  On the other hand, if you arrive in a place and you’ve either 1) quickly completed all of the experiences or 2) simply don’t like it, I highly recommend proceeding onward to create extra time for your favorite places that pop up in the itinerary.

THE PERFECT SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY FOR 3 MONTHS IN-DEPTH

VIETNAM ITINERARY FOR 3 WEEKS

Vietnam is a cheap, beautiful, and adventure packed country that is arguably the best place in Southeast Asia for backpackers – old and new. 

Whereas Thailand was once the “go-to” Southeast Asia travel destination, Vietnam is now single easiest, most entertaining, and most economical destination in SEA. 

THE TOP 5 REASONS WHY VIETNAM IS AN EXCELLENT DESTINATION:

  1. A deep, unadulterated cultural experience: food, experiencing Vietnamese daily life, and finding tourist-free locales
  2. Amazing adventure opportunities: Motorbiking the entire country, canyoning, trekking
  3. Amazing beauty and landscapes: “Floating islands”, Patagonia-esque mountains, beautiful beaches, jungles, canyons, rice fields and more
  4. Making new backpacker friends on the backpacker trail is insanely easy
  5. Great transportation infrastructure makes getting around easy and cheap and tons of cheap yet comfortable lodging in every city (~$5 to ~$25 USD per night) keep travel cheap

VIETNAM HIGHLIGHTS

  • Motorbiking the length of the country, the Ha Giang Loop, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail
  • The Hanoi experience: Heavy French influence in Asia
  • Beautiful Northern hill country: rice fields, amazing views, and a great cultural experience (Sapa & North)
  • Ha Long Bay and the “Castaway” experience
  • Plenty of friendly backpackers and travelers to befriend

 OVERALL RATING FOR VIETNAM

  • Tourist Rating: 8/10 – Something for everyone and travel options to fit all tastes
  • Adventure Rating: 9/10 – Motorbiking, trekking, and adventure sports to fit all types
  • Backpacker Travel Rating: 9/10 – Cheap, fun, social, and easy to travel. The new “it’” destination

 

 THE VIETNAM ITINERARY: 3 WEEKS

With this near perfect Vietnam itinerary, 3 weeks will be enough to experience the best and most unique of Vietnam while experiencing the food, culture, amazing landscapes, and adventures you’ll find few other places in the world

  • Ho Chi Minh City (2 Days)
  • Dalat (2 Days)
  • Da Nang (1-2 Days)
  • Motorbike the Hai Van Pass from Da Nang to Hoi An (2 Hours)
  • Hoi An (2 Days)
  • Hanoi (3 Days)
  • Optional Tours and Day Trips from Hanoi
    • Ha Long Bay (2 Days) or Ha Long Bay Castaway Experience (2 Days)
    • Sapa tour and ricefields trek (2 Days)
    • Ha Giang Loop – solo by motorbike or via tour (4 Days)
    • Ba Be National Park (2 Days)

HO CHI MINH CITY (2 DAYS )

The capital of Vietnam is big and bustling but proceed quickly to other, better adventures throughout Vietnam

TOP EXPERIENCES IN HO CHI MINH CITY
  • 3 centuries-old Ben Thanh Market
  • touring the Cu Chi Tunnels from the Vietnam War
  • City tour by motorbike: Bookable through most hostels
  • One of the many free walking tours in Ho Chi Minh City
  • countryside bike tour
WHERE TO STAY IN HO CHI MINH CITY

DALAT (2 DAYS)

Vietnam’s city of eternal spring with amazing architecture and a mountain backdrop

TOP EXPERIENCES IN DALAT
  • Canyoning tour
  • coffee experience with a trip to a plantation and several cafes
  • “chase clouds” in Trai Mat
  • visit Truc Lam Buddhist Temple
  • visit Elephant Waterfall
  • visit Maze Bar Dalat (100 roofs café)
WHERE TO STAY IN DALAT

DA NANG (1-2 DAYS)

Another big city on the Vietnam adventure trails that offers typical tourist delights

TOP EXPERIENCES DA NANG
  • Visit Ba Na Hill & Golden bridge
  • Ride the dragon bridge by motorbike
  • Explore the nightlife
  • Plenty of great restaurants.

MOTORBIKE THE HAI VAN PASS FROM DA NANG TO HOI AN (2-HOUR RIDE):

The “Hai-Van Pass” is an epically beautiful stretch of coastal mountain highway between Hoi An and Da Nang. The entire stretch of peaceful ocean views is perfect for motorbiking adventures and open-air Jeep tours from Hoi .

How to ride the Hai Van Pass: Arrange rental of a motorbike to cruise at your own pace from Hoi An to Da Nang and arrange transport of your bags to be taken separately by car.  The scooter/motorbike rental will be for a one way trip and the provider should be able to arrange delivery of your bags. Ask your hostel/hotel staff for motorbike rental recommendations – they will be the best source of information for the adventure.


HOI AN (2 DAYS)

A beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City recognized as being one of the most well-preserved Southeast Asia trading ports dating back to the 1400s, artfully blending local and foreign influences into architecture, food, and experience

TOP EXPERIENCES HOI AN
  • Hoi An Central Market
  • Hoi An Old Town
  • Plenty of food adventures,
  • Japanese Bridge
  • Getting a tailor-made suits or clothes for fun with wacky prints
  • Vietnamese cooking class for Hoi-An specific cusisine
  • Grabbing a beer by the Thu Bon River on itty bitty plastic chairs
  • Motorbiking to the Marble Mountains
  • Hoi An Night Market
WHAT TO EAT AND WHERE
  • Grab Bánh mì at Banh Mi Phuong, recommended by Anthony Bourdain
  • Pork buns, Bahn Xeo
WHERE TO STAY

HANOI (3 DAYS)

A charming city despite its size, heavily influenced by French architecture and food.  Wonderful for relaxing exploration while being a gateway to the more beautiful north of Vietnam

TOP EXPERIENCES HANOI
  • Hanoi Old Quarter
  • Hoan Kiem Lake + Legend
  • St. Joseph’s Cathedral
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Hanoi Hilton tour (Hoa Lo Prison) Pho
  • Egg coffee at Café Pho Co overlooking the legendary Hoan Kiem lake
  • A street food tour
  • shop for potentially counterfeit outdoor and adventure gear/clothing at one of the “Made In Vietnam” store)
  • Phung Hung Mural Street
  • Dong Xuan Market
WHERE TO STAY
  • Vietnam Backpackers Central: 100% party and instant social life (book directly via the hostel’s site)
  • Republik Backpackers hostel: Peace, quiet, and comfort
WHAT TO EAT
  • Bun Cha, Pho

ESSENTIAL SIDE TRIPS FROM HANOI AND IN NORTHERN VIETNAM 

RECOMMENDED TOURS FROM HANOI
  • Ha Long Bay (2 Days) or Ha Long Bay Castaway Experience (recommended via Vietnam Backpackers)
  • Sapa tour and ricefields trek (2 Days)
  • Ha Giang Loop – solo by motorbike or via tour (4 Days)
  • Ba Be National Park (2 Days)
  • (Optional)Cat Ba Island
  • (Optional) Ninh Binh

HA LONG BAY (2 DAYS)

This bay of 1,600 floating islands inspired the dreamscapes of the movie Avatar and are the best experience for a fun boat tour, allowing you to swim and kayak along the way. Consider leveling up the experience with a party heavy two-day castaway leaving you stranded on an island for an excitingly irreplaceable experience.

SAPA (2 DAYS)

This romantic mountain town is nestled in the cool north.  Experience the relaxing ambiance with a day trek (guided by locals) through the hills and rice fields, sharing history and culture along the way.

HA GIANG LOOP (4 DAYS)

Rent a motorbike and ride this four-day loop of northern Vietnam through rice fields, mountains, and to the border of China for arguably the most beautiful and authentic adventure in Vietnam.  Grab your motorbike for the trip from Style Motorbikes in Hanoi.

BA BE NATIONAL PARK (2 DAYS)

4.5 hours from Hanoi lies a peaceful escape, a national park of only bays, caves, and flooded rice paddies.  Stay at a guesthouse on the cheap and take a guided tour of the park (by boat) for an experience you can’t have anywhere else.

(**Ba Be National Park video**)

(OPTIONAL) NINH BINH

If you have extra time consider adding the beauty of Ha Long Bay’s floating islands experienced on land.


OTHER GREAT EXPERIENCES FOR ANYWHERE IN VIETNAM

  • Vietnamese Coffee making class: Best in Dalat
  • Vietnamese cooking class: Best in Hanoi, Hoi An, or Ho Chi Minh city
  • Riding all of Vietnam by Motorbike: Buy a motorbike from a fellow backpacker for $200-$500 USD, and ride!
  • Vietnam Backpacker’s “Bull Run”
  • Vietnam Backpacker’s Castaway in Ha Long Bay
  • Ninhvana Backpacker’s Resort in Ninh Van
  • Riding the Hai Van Pass

VIETNAM IN PICTURES


BUDGETING AND COSTS IN VIETNAM

  • Nice Hostel Bed per Night: $7/Night
  • Hotel Room Per Night: $25/night
  • Average Meal: $3
  • Daily Backpacker Budget: $25/day + additional $30-$50 for each big trip

ESSENTIAL FOOD AND DRINK IN VIETNAM

  • Bun Cha (Best in Hanoi)
  • Egg Coffee (Best in Hanoi)
  • Vietnamese Coffee
  • Local beer: Made from rice, and served draught streetside at the bars with countless tiny chairs
  • Banh Mi (Best everywhere, style varies by city
  • Pho
  • Cao Lao (Best in Hoi An)
  • Cha Ca (Best in Hanoi)
  • Guoi Cuon (Spring Rolls)
  • Bun Bo Hue (Best in Central Vietnam)

HOW TO GET AROUND VIETNAM

  • From Airports: Grab Rideshare app (to avoid being ripped off by taxis)
  • Between Cities: 12go.Asia or Rome2Rio for planning buses or booking shuttles through your hostel, hotel, or local travel agent kiosk
  • In-Town: Byfoot is the best option for explorers, booking tour buses for adventures outside of town.  Moto taxis are great for getting around town and best booked in the Grab rideshare app or with a price agreed upon in advance
  • Adventure Option – Motorbike Vietnam: Join the Vietnam Backpackers FB groups and purchase a used motorbike from a fellow backpacker for $200-$400, “moto-pack” the length of Vietnam, and resell before leaving.

VIETNAM VISA STRATEGY

Available for 1, 3, and 6 months, authorization required before arrival

  • Vietnam Visa Fees: Agent fee (varies) paid in advance and stamp fee on arrival (varies)
  • All visas require a visa approval letter attained prior to your arrival from a visa agent and printed to present at the airport on arrival – you won’t have the chance to print on arrival and will be turned away if you don’t have it
  • Different visas are required if you fly internationally into Vietnam or cross a land border (via Cambodia, Laos, or China).  Request the correct type of Visa accordingly.
  • Average Visa Agent Fees (paid in advance to private visa agent): 1 month single: $6 / person; 1 month multiple: $6 / person 3 months single entry: $15 / person ; 3 months multiple entry: $20 / person – these are in addition to stamp fees paid on arrival
  • Visa Stamp Fees (paid on arrival to Vietnamese government): Bring cash (in USD or VND) as you will have to  pay for visa stamp fee (paid by yourself upon arrival at the airport: 25$ for 1 month and 3 month single entry, 50$ for 1 month multiple entry and 3 month multiple entry, 95$ for 6 months multiple entry, 135$ for 1-year multiple entry
  • My Visa Agent: I used http://vietnamvisapro.com/ several times with no issues

TRAVEL INSURANCE IN VIETNAM

I highly recommend having travel insurance in Vietnam, as the motorbiking, canyoning, and off the beaten path adventures.  I recommend the following two options

  • World Nomads: Higher cost, but great support and few issues filing claims
  • SafetyWing: Lower cost, but sufficient to cover most all adventures in Vietnam

ESSENTIAL HEALTH TIPS FOR VIETNAM

 Consider getting a rabies booster in advance.  Carry the medications you need for most situations for a minimum of 3 days, including stomach meds as you adjust to Asia (Pepto, Immodium, etc.) and pain relievers.

WHEN TO VISIT VIETNAM

December to March during high season, when the weather is dry.

LAOS 2 WEEK ITINERARY

Laos is a rugged and often overlooked backpacking destination in Southeast Asia, but the hidden beauty, preserved culture, and numerous outdoor adventures – trekking, rafting, motorbiking, and more – make Laos a fulfilling locale for budget travelers and backpackers that love the outdoors.

HERE ARE THE TOP 5 REASONS TO TRAVEL TO LAOS

  1. Rural, off the beaten track feel: No matter where you go in Laos, it feels like you’re traveling back in time experiencing Asia before the Banana Pancake Trail set in
  2. Plenty of Outdoor Adventures: Jungle treks, floating down the river on inner tubes, and exploring limestone caves/bunkers are a few of the many adventures that we miss in urban destinations
  3. Laos is cheap: For travelers on a budget, Laos will be the cheapest destination on your itinerary while still providing plenty of easy travel and transport infrastructure
  4. Hidden history: From unexploded ordance to the history of the “Secret War”, Laos will shock you with history you likely have never heard about
  5. Amazing Landscapes: Top to bottom, Laos is filled with towering mountains, green jungles, and rolling hills that most westerners will only witness in pictures

OVERALL RATING FOR LAOS

  • Tourist Rating: 6/10 – Not as glitzy as other SEA destinations as Laos lacks urban flare
  • Adventure Rating: 9/10 – Perfect for lovers of the outdoors and adventure sports
  • Backpacker Travel Rating: 9/10 – Cheap, easy to travel, and rugged enough to be charming

2 WEEK LAOS ITINERARY

If you’re backpacking SEA and want the best of everything, this 2 week Laos itinerary helps you maximize your time by hitting the quintessential experiences that you can only experience in Laos.

  • Luang Prabang (3 Days)
  • Vang Vieng (3 Days)
  • Vientiane (3 Days)
  • Optional: “Don Det” 4000 Islands in Si Phan Don (if traveling by motorbike to Cambodia)
  • Optional: Motorbike Thakek Loop en route to 4000 Islands

LUANG PRABANG (3 DAYS)

Luang Prabang is an absolute highlight of adventuring through Laos.  A former French colonial town, this UNESCO world heritage site boasts an amazingly rough and southeast backdrop, monasteries and temples to explore, and countless wild adventures outside of the city

TOP EXPERIENCES IN LUANG PRABANG
  • Kuang Si Waterfalls, countless Buddhist temples

VANG VIENG (3 DAYS)

A haven for wild backpackers and backpackers that love the wild outdoors, Vang Vieng is a jungle town with adventure and relaxation in equal parts.  Cheap, cozy, comfortable, and perfect for a genuine travel experience.

TOP EXPERIENCES IN VANG VIENG
  • Tubing or kayaking the Nan Song River (with booze and friends), dense jungle day hikes – both of these are only possible outside of monsoon season

VIENTIANE (3 DAYS)

A big colonial French city, Vientiane is more of a “transit and resupply” location with much less charm and adventure than Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.  Plan in this stop as simply a transit point, and use the days to wander Laos’ biggest city, eating the local (and French inspired) food, observing the architectural influence, and ending sunset on the local river walk next to the market.

TOP EXPERIENCES IN VIENTIANE
  • Sunset by the river with the evening market and experiencing Laos local life, visit the COPE Center (Vietnam War in Laos history)

OPTIONAL ADVENTURES LAOS

  • “Don Det” 4000 Islands in Si Phan Don (if traveling by motorbike to Cambodia) to float, wander, and relax
  • Optional: Motorbike Thakek Loop en route to 4000 Islands
  • Optional: Gibbon Experience** ziplining through the jungle canopy in Nam Kan National Park

LAOS IN PICTURES


BUDGETING AND COSTS IN LAOS

  • Nice Hostel Bed per Night: $5
  • Hotel Room Per Night: $20 – $40
  • Average Meal: $3
  • Daily Backpacker Budget: $20
  • Daily Tourist Budget: $60

ESSENTIAL FOOD AND DRINK

  • Larb/Laap – A meat salad served with sticky rice
  • Khao Jee – Baguette Sandwich
  • Khao Poon – Spicy Soup with Vermicelli Noodles and Pounded Meat
  • Sai Gok – Laotian sausage, season pork served with sticky rice
  • BeerLao – A local beer brewed with rice (vice grains)
  • Laos Pho – Similar to Vietnamese Pho but served with flat noodles (or thin rice noodles on request) and may have beef innards (heart, liver, etc.)
  • Or Lam – A Lao stew originating in Luang Prabang made with dried buffalo meat
  • Sien Savanh – Laotian beef jerky
  • Tam Mak Hoong – Lao papaya salad

GETTING TO LAOS

  • From Vietnam by Air, fly from Hanoi into Luang Prabang, making for a smooth, one-way tour south (~$100).  Most flights from Ho Chi Minh city connect through Hanoi, making Hanoi the best departure point
  • Consider leaving Hanoi to Luang Prabang from Vietnam by bus, but plan on a 25-hour bus ride.
  • From Thailand, consider taking the relaxingly adventurous slow boat from Huay Xai to Pak Beng to Luang Prabang.  Travel by bus from Chiang Rai, Thailand, to the border
  • BEST OPTION: Buy a motorbike in Vietnam, ride into Laos**, ride to the northern border (China), ride west into Laos, and ride south toward Vang Vieng à Luang Prabang à Vientiane.  Be sure to by a bike with the “blue card” to ensure you can make it across Laos – Vietnam border

GETTING AROUND LAOS

  • Plan for roughly a day of travel (4 to 12 hours) between cities
  • Minibusses between Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane arranged through your hostel, hotel, or local travel agency – Online bookings and route times available at 12goAsia
  • Consider buying a motorbike in Laos, easiest in Vientiane for ~$150, and explore the country

VISA STRATEGY

  • 30-day visa on arrival available for most nationalities at 27 entry points/border crossing. Extendable twice up to 90 days total. ($30 to $42 depending on nationality, plus passport photo) (Link: http://www.immigration.gov.la/visas.html)
  • 60-day e-visa available to nationalities ineligible for the Visa on arrival and can be used to enter at the Thai-Laos friendship bridge, Wattay International Airport (Vientiane), and Luang Prabang International airport ($50) (Link: https://laoevisa.gov.la/)

PACKING ESSENTIALS

  • A good backpack – roller luggage or duffel bag would make travel miserable
  • A good compressible daypack as most of the adventures are less than a day’s length
  • Good boots for hiking, to make the most of the exploration opportunities
  • Adventure and trekking ready sandals like the Xero Trails or Chacos
  • A 10L to 20L waterproof bag to keep the essentials dry in wet weather and on river floats
  • Ziploc bags large and small, to keep things dry and un-muddied on the adventures
  • Bug spray to start the adventures as jungles are filled with buggies

TRAVEL INSURANCE IN LAOS

Laos is an adventurous destination.  With the river floating, jungle trekking, and motorbiking experiences, travel insurance is an absolute must.  I wouldn’t consider visiting without it.  I highly recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing as they have both been reliable on adventures and the cost is reasonable

WHEN TO VISIT LAOS

January to March in Laos is best as temperatures are manageable and the weather is drier. The Laotian monsoon season is May until October, and the dry season is from November to April.

MOVING ON FROM LAOS: GO TO CAMBODIA OR VIETNAM

Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are all very accessible from Laos.  Plan on flying out of Vientiane to your next destination, or consider motorbiking through Laos and on through Cambodia

CAMBODIA 1 WEEK ITINERARY

OVERALL RATING FOR CAMBODIA

  • Tourist Rating: 9/10 for Angkor Wat, 6/10 elsewhere
  • Adventure Rating: 6/10
  • Backpacker Travel Rating: 9/10 for Angkor Wat, 6/10 elsewhere

CAMBODIA 1 WEEK ITINERARY

  • Phnom Penh (1 Day): S-21 Genocide Museum, shoot big guns and things that go “boom,” markets (Russian Market + food stalls), temples (Wat Phnom), a river cruise on the Mekong
  • Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (2 Days): Angkor Wat by tuk tuk ($25 for Tuk Tuk + $37 entry ticket) tour starting at sunrise, night market experiences of The Lane + Pub Street
  • Optional (2-3 Days): Sihanoukville to Koh Rong and Koh Ron Samleon island for white sands, clear waters, and phosphorescent plankton
  • Optional – Kampot: A low key town best for backpackers, enjoy riverside cocktails and food, rent a scooter for a fun half-day ride through the hills nearby

CAMBODIA IN PICTURES


BUDGETING AND COSTS IN CAMBODIA

  • Nice Hostel Bed per Night: $5
  • Hotel Room Per Night: $35
  • Average Meal: $6
  • Daily Budget: $25 to $70 + fees for major attractions
  • Note: Siem Reap will be much more expensive than Phnom Penh, Kampot, and Koh Rong

GETTING AROUND CAMBODIA

  • Plan to travel between cities by bus booked through your hostel or hotel, or at a local travel kiosk.  Aim to only travel between cities during the day due to safety risks (bandits, robberies targeting foreigners on roads between cities at night).

CAMBODIA VISA STRATEGY

e-Visa valid for 30-day stay costing $36 USD available at the Kingdom of Cambodia visa pagehttps://www.evisa.gov.kh/

PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR CAMBODIA

Fanny pack/bum bag or other means of tightly securing valuables from “run-by” bag thieves

TRAVEL INSURANCE IN CAMBODIA

Absolutely necessary! Confirm coverage includes medical evacuation

Most reputable travel insurance options will do because there are few “high risk” activities to do in Cambodia.  I highly recommend SafetyWing for budget travelers and World Nomads for travelers with larger budgets.  Due to the risk of getting sick (stomach bugs) and relatively poor medical facilities, having medical evacuation coverage with your travel insurance is highly recommended.

WHEN TO VISIT CAMBODIA

Visit during the dry season between November and May, with November to February being the coolest months. Visiting during the dry season ensures the weather will be suitable for the Angkor Wat experience. 

Cambodia’s wet season is from June to September.  Expect extreme heat (highs of ~35 Celsius, 95 Fahrenheit) between March and June

ESSENTIAL BOOKS AND MOVIES ABOUT CAMBODIA

The Killing Fields (movie)

GETTING TO CAMBODIA

Arriving in Cambodia from Vietnam, a 6-hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh city to Phnom Penh is the best entry plan.  When arriving from anywhere else to Cambodia, an international flight into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap is the best, cheapest, most efficient option.

MOVING ON FROM CAMBODIA

Fly on to Chiang Mai or Bangkok in Thailand or to Ho Chi Minh city or Hanoi in Vietnam to continue the Banana Pancake Trail.

THAILAND 3 WEEK ITINERARY

The original “backpacker” paradise: Street food, beautiful islands, and peaceful hill country

HIGHLIGHT EXPERIENCES IN THAILAND 

  • Excellent starter destination
  • Street food (Bangkok and Chiang Mai Old Town)
  • Beach life
  • Bangkok backpacker experience
  • Khao Sak National Park
  • Hill Country and Monastaries (Chiang Mai and Pai)

LOWLIGHTS OF TRAVELING IN THAILAND

  • Fading “backpacker” vibe, as prices rise and heavy tourism takes over

OVERALL RATING FOR THAILAND

  • Tourist Rating: 9/10
  • Adventure Rating: 9/10
  • Backpacker Travel Rating: 9/10

THAILAND 3 WEEK ITINERARY

CHIANG MAI (3 DAYS)

Walking tour of Old Town Chiang Mai + visit the Temples around Old Town Chiang Mai (Wat Rajamontean, Wat Lok Molee, Wat Suan Dok), visit Wat Doi Suthep in the hill country + Doi Suthep hike, visit the many Old Town and Nimman Street Food Night Markets, Thai Traditional Massage Experience, take a Thai cooking class, visit the mega mall and a hipster café in Nimman.  Also, check out the many Chiang Mai cafes and coworking spaces to plan the rest of your trip.

Getting to Chiang Mai: Take the train from Bangkok (booked at the train station), then take a red collective taxi (the pickup trucks) for 35 Baht to your destination

PAI (2-3 DAYS)

Rent a motorbike (from the main road) to cruise and explore the hills of Pai, then ride and hike to the following adventure spots: Mae Yen waterfall, the World War II Memorial Bridge (Japanese Bridge), the short yet beautiful Pai Canyon hike by sunset. Take a cave tour (Tham Lod is a good choice). By night, enjoy street food at the Pai Night Market (here) on the main road.

Getting to Pai: Book a shared van through your hostel/hotel or 12go.Asia to Pai. You’ll take the same van back to Chiang Mai when moving on

My Personal Notes on Pai: Pai is a backpacker haven where solo travelers will make tons of friends.  Stay at a good hostel close to the main strip, be social, and make the most of the time.  Rent a motorbike (~150 Baht per day on the main street of Pai) for ultimate freedom.

BANGKOK (3 TO 5 DAYS)

Party on Khao San Road, explore the street food scenes near Khao San Road and in China town, eat a whole suckling pig (like Anthony Bourdain) at Tang Jai Yoo restaurant, visit the airplane graveyard and the flooded mall, visit the Bangkok floating market, explore around the Chao Praya River and ancient royal district, visit the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, visit Wat Pho temple to see the golden reclining Buddha and get an amazing traditional Thai massage, visit Siam or Chatuchak Weekend Market.  Also, consider the Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets & Bridge on River Kwai day trips from Bangkok.

KRABI / RAILAY (3 DAYS)

Enjoy Railay Beach, rent a motorbike and ride to the Tiger Cave Temple (+1,237 steps), party at Soi RCA, street food at Ao Nang Night Market, dip in the Emerald Pool and hot spring-fed waterfalls, jungle trek through Khao Sak National Park, swing under the huge cave at Hollow Mountain, hike to the Hang Nak Mountain for a towering viewpoint, raft the Songprak River.

KO PHI PHI (2-3 DAYS)

Maya bay day trip, boat tour between the islands, lots of beach time, or consider Ko Lanta for a more peaceful experience as Ko Phi Phi tends to be a party island

KOH TAO (2-3 DAYS)

Rent a motorbike and snorkel and cruise between beaches to sun and snorkel, consider taking a course for SCUBA dive certification, join the Ko Tao pub crawl that happens nightly for new friends and some interesting experiences, sunset at Mango Bay, Love Koh Tao Viewpoint Café for coffee.

KO PHA NGAN (2-3 DAYS)

Full Moon Party (Full Moon Party calendar here for 2020 + 2021), half-moon beach party, wander between and soak up the sun on countless beaches, hop between waterfalls, Thong Sala Night Market for street food, explore the forbidden on at “Eden,” smoke some “stuff” at Amsterdam Bar.


THAILAND IN PICTURES


TRAVEL BUDGET AND COSTS IN THAILAND

  • Nice Hostel Bed per Night: ~$10
  • Private Hostel Room or Hotel Room Per Night: $20-$30
  • Average Meal: ~$3
  • Daily Budget: $30

ESSENTIAL FOOD AND DRINK

  • Pad Thai – Thai Stir-Fried Noodles
  • Khao Pad/Khao Pad Kai – Fried Rice/Chicken Fried Rice
  • Pad Krapao – Fried Basil and Chicken/Pork
  • Panang – Thai Curry
  • Guay Teow – “Noodle Soup”
  • Tom Yum Goong – Spicy Shrimp Soup
  • Tom Kha Gai – Chicken in Coconut Soup
  • Som Tam – Papaya Salad
  • Laab Moo/Ka – Spicy Pork/Chicken Salad
  • Pad See Eiw – Stir-Fried Thick Noodles
  • Pak Boong – Morning Glory
  • Salted, grilled fish (street food)
  • A “bucket” of alcohol – on Khao San Road, or in the Thai Islands

GETTING AROUND THAILAND

  • Between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, traveling by train is your best option, bookable at 12Go.Asia or directly at the train station.  Still, use 12Go to find timetables.
  • For any other travel in mainland Thailand (Chiang Mai to Pai, Chiang Rai, Krabi), aim for vans and buses, best booked at one of the many small travel agent kiosks throughout Bangkok, or 12Go.Asia
  • Traveling by ferry is the obvious option for travel between islands.  It is best to book in advance at your port of departure or at one of the small travel agent kiosks you will see around.

VISA STRATEGY THAILAND

Thailand’s Visa Exemption is free and allows most nationalities to stay up to 30 days, but beware; you are only allowed two visas exemptions per year. Note that you must have a confirmed departure ticket (from Thailand) within 30 days from arrival.  You may be required to show proof that you have at least 10,000 Thai Baht (in any currency), but this part is rarely enforced

If you plan on expat’ ing or traveling Asia extensively, it is best to get a 60-day Tourist Visa in advance (at most Thai embassies and consulates) and save the Visa Exemptions.  Thailand is a great fall back location if something goes wrong anywhere else. Bangkok is a great hub for getting anywhere else – keeping at least one visa exemption creates a great backup plan when travels elsewhere in Asia go sour.

PACKING ESSENTIALS

Thailand is an extremely developed destination, and you will likely be able to find anything you need on the road in Bangkok. 

You will absolutely be adventuring heavily through wet and dry climates, so a good pair of adventure-ready sandals are crucial as well as a pair of adventure-ready shoes or boots.

Leave the roller luggage at home and bring a good travel backpack and daypack, ideally carry on size.

Bring a rain jacket or waterproof shell as Thailand does have those surprise Asia rains year-round – or go cheap and buy a poncho on arrival

TRAVEL INSURANCE IN THAILAND

Though traveling Thailand can be exciting and slightly risky, hiking canyons, SCUBA diving, and cliff jumping, most reputable travel insurance companies will do for the adventure – so stick with travel insurance you know and trust, but check to ensure they cover any of your “crazier” activities (like SCUBA diving or freediving)

If you’re searching for travel insurance suitable for Thailand, I highly recommend Safetywing as a budget option and World Nomads if you have the extra cash to spare.  Both have served me very well during my travels.

WHEN TO VISIT THAILAND

November to early April is the best time to enter Thailand, during the cool, dry season, but this applies mostly to mainland Thailand.  For coastal Thailand, on the Gulf of Thailand in the east and the Andaman Sea in the west, the dry and wet season aligns with summer and winter.  Because of this, Thailand always has an island to runaway to for great relaxing and diving.

ESSENTIAL BOOKS AND MOVIES FOR TRAVELING TO THAILAND

The Beach is a classic and arguably the quintessential “backpacking” movie.

GETTING THERE TO THAILAND

Flying into Bangkok is your best, and cheapest bet as Bangkok connects to most major international destinations

MOVING ON FROM THAILAND

If you are just starting the “Banana Pancake Trail” backpacking tour through Southeast Asia, continue east to Luang Prabang, Laos.  The journey (via bus then boat) is best started from Chiang Mai.

If you’ve already completed the basic Banana Pancake Trail (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam), consider continuing through Southeast Asia to create a more “tailored” experience.  Add one or two of the following “additional” countries in Southeast to your itinerary to build in specific adventures and specific experiences that are especially meaningful to you.

THE BEST “ADDITIONAL COUNTRIES” TO CONSIDER ADDING TO YOUR SOUTHEAST ASIA ITINERARY

The core itinerary of Southeast Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos – is perfect for any traveler and easy to do enjoyably within two months.  For those travelers with three months to spare, this extra month leaves a fantastic chance to experience a few more of South Asia’s gems of travel.

Each of the countries listed below is just as easily traveled as the other core SEA countries but offers something special, making it one of the world’s best places to experience that.

Cap off the adventure of your dreams by adding one or two of these countries to the end of your itinerary based on what you love about travel.


ITINERARIES FOR THE BEST “ADDITIONAL COUNTRIES”

MYANMAR (1 TO 2 WEEKS)

  • Mandalay (2 Days): U Pein Bridge by sunrise, a bike tour of Mandalay, Mandalay Hill by sunset, Jade market
  • Bagan (Day 2): Take an “e-bike” mounted tour past thousands of temples (~$4), sit atop a temple for sunrise and sunset overlooking the Bagan Archeological Zone
  • Inle Lake trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake (2 to 4 Days): ~$30 USD for a two-day trek
  • Inle Lake Experience  (2 Days): Tour Inle Lake by boat, Mingala Market, Pindaya Caves, cooking class
  • Optional: Yangon (Rangoon) (2 Days):  Bagyoke Market, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Circular Train experience

Highlight Experiences: 1000’s of ancient temples in Bagan, trekking through the rural country, witnessing a floating city on Inle Lake, Mount Popa, and the monastery (on the way from Bagan to Kalaw)

SRI LANKA (3 WEEKS)

Note: The best Sri Lanka itinerary in the south is heavily dependent on the monsoon season.  Plan accordingly with the timelines below to avoid being caught in a storm

DECEMBER TO APRIL SRI LANKA ITINERARY

(Start on the Southwest Coast for Beaches)

  • Colombo/Negombo (2 Days): Consider renting a tuk tuk to drive yourself around Sri Lanka
  • Hikkaduwa (1 Day): A small beach town an hour outside of Negombo with great surfing and cheap hotels (and beach bars) ~20ft from the beach
  • Galle (1 Day): Visit the beautiful Dutch Galle Fort, walking on the fort’s wall’s by sunset
  • Weligama (2 Days): Enjoy relaxing surfing in the sandy-bottomed and calm Weligama Bay
  • Tangalle (1 to 2 Days): Spend a day on beautiful, desolate beaches
  • Tissamaharama & Yala National Park:
  • à Proceed onto the northern circuit to Ella and cultural triangle

APRIL TO DECEMBER SRI LANKA ITINERARY

(Focus on the Southeast Coast for Beaches)

  • Colombo/Negombo (2 Days): Considering renting a tuk tuk to drive yourself around Sri Lanka
  • Galle (1 Day): Visit the beautiful Dutch Galle Fort, walking on the fort’s wall’s by sunset
  • Tangalle (1 Day optional and weather dependent on the season): Spend a day on beautiful, desolate beaches
  • Yala National Park Safari via Tissamaharama (1 Day): Take a jeep tour through Yala National Park ($35 to $90) to see leopards, elephants, crocs, peacocks, and more, follow up with a  self-guided tour of Yala by Tuk Tuk ending at the Sithulpawa Monastery, sleep in Yala National Park
  • Arugam Bay (3 Days): Soak up sun and vibes in this cozy surf town with varied, mellow waves suitable for new and advanced surfers alike
  • Proceed onto the northern circuit and cultural triangle

CONTINUE ONTO THE NORTHERN CIRCUIT AND CULTURAL TRIANGLE ITINERARY

  • Ella (3 Days): A beautiful mountain town in the cool, high country filled with trekking and surrounded by tea plantations.  This town is built around backpackers and tourism and is arguably the comfiest city in Sri Lanka (tying with Arugam Bay)
  • Ella/Nuwar Eliya to Kandy Train Ride (1 Full Day): The most beautiful train ride in the world, stretching a 2 to 9-hour ride through Sri Lanka’s green high country
  • Nuwara Eliya (2 Days): A once English settlement that maintains its British roots and is a perfect base for the epic Adam’s Peak hike
  • Kandy (1 Day): A big city and gateway to Sri Lanka’s cultural heart
  • Dambulla/Sigiriya (1 Day): A tour of ancient caves turned into monasteries at Dambulla and the epic Lion’s Rock of Sigiriya, both with insane backstories reminiscent of Game of Thrones
  • Anuradhapura (1 Day): Spend a day wandering the 1000+-year-old temples, castles, and ruins that make the entire city an archeological site comparable to Angkor Wat and Bagan

Highlight Experiences: Driving a tuk tuk around a country, surfing, wild animal safaris, ruins,

BALI, INDONESIA (2 WEEKS)

  • Canggu (3 Days): Learn to surf and soak up the sun in Bali’s hipster center and favorite surf village on the beach filled with trendy bars, cafés, yoga studios, and endless nightlife (+ Seminyak and Kuta)
  • Ubud (3 Days): Visit the spiritual heart of Bali tucked in the mountains and hills of rice field laden high country for trekking, jungle excursions, monkey forests, and cultural experiences
  • The “Gili’s” (2 Days): Disappear to the islands free of cars and motorbikes for parties and peace & quiet with white sand beaches and plenty of turtles in between.  Great for SCUBA diving and snorkeling
  • Nusa Lembongan (2 Days): Head to an even smaller island for amazing surfing and diving all in one spot
  • Uluwatu & the Bukit (3 Days): Crystal clear turquoise waters and some of the best surfing and most beautiful beaches in Bali along with cultural experiences like seafood markets, temples, and Kecak dances
  • Optional: Amed (snorkeling and diving), Medewi (longboard surfing), Candidasa (peaceful and quiet)

Highlight Experiences: Beautiful beaches, spiritual experiences, SCUBA and freediving, surfing, hipster traveler/backpacker partying

THE PHILIPPINES (3 TO 4 WEEKS)

  • Manilla (2 days): Explore mega malls, museums, and plenty of food
  • Cebu City (1 day): Move quickly on to Oslob
  • Oslob, Cebu (2 days): Dive with whale sharks
  • Dumaguete (2 days): Snorkel and SCUBA dive with turtles and beautiful coral on “Turtle Island” aka Apo Island
  • Bohol (2 days): Motorbike rides to the chocolate hills and nightlife on the beach
  • Palawan: Experience a true and pristine water world around the Philippines most beautiful islands
    • El Nido (3 days): Consider a liveaboard cruise (like Tao Philippines), rock climb, sun on the beach, cruise a motorbike around the many beautiful beaches
    • Coron (3 days): Take a boat tour each day to the most beautiful and recently discovered destinations for mainstream travelers
  • Siargao (Optional): Surf and sun in this hip new destination made famous by Red Bull surfing

Highlights: Day trip boat cruises, pristine beaches, and waters, amazing diving, liveaboard cruises, swimming with whale sharks

When to Visit: November to April is the dry season & peak tourist season.  April is best for whale shark sightings

Optional Additions: Volcano country, eco-friendly whale shark diving in Donsol

NEPAL (2 TO 3 WEEKS)

  • Kathmandu (2 Days): Acclimatize and pick up the gear you’ll need for your trek of choice
  • One Trekking Route: Everest Base Camp (12-14 days) or Annapurna Circuit (20 days)

Highlights: Trekking in the Himalayas

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carlos is an adventure traveler, Crossfit Trainer, and Strength & Conditioning Coach dedicated to helping others travel better to far off destinations for pure adventure experiences, and stay fit and adventure-ready along the way. Click here to learn more about Carlos's story.