So I graduated from grad school in June, secured a job in an exciting new city starting in September, and have a whole lot of time in between… so I’m obviously going to be traveling! Back in April, my friend and I were dreaming of post-grad life and wanted an epic trip before heading into the real-world. We kicked around the idea of a road trip, backpacking through Europe, and, finally, going to Southeast Asia. The last option was the most out of our comfort zone so we were very attached to this hypothetical trip. The next step was getting my parents on board and figuring out where exactly we wanted to go. After researching the area, I convinced my parents that it is not as dangerous as they thought.
In May, my friend and I set out to plan our trip. There are so many sights to see in Southeast Asia but in the end, we decided on Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Then, we planned our route and started booking flights and hotels. Now all that’s left is packing and getting ready for the trip!
Here is how we planned an epic trip to Southeast Asia!
Where To Go
First things first, you need to decide where to go in Southeast Asia. Like I previously mentioned, there are numerous temples, markets, and other sights to see anywhere you decide. The first step is to do as much research as you can on the things that interest you. When we first started planning, we thought we wanted to go to Phuket > Krabi > Bangkok > Siem Reap > Phnom Penh > Ho Chi Ming. We looked into what we would be doing in each location and quickly found there are so many options and some were less desirable for us.
After this initial research, we knew we want to hit the beaches in Phuket, Thailand as well as visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and White Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We didn’t find much in Phnom Penh other than shooting ranges but we want to go to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. After talking to friends and seeing reviews online, we want to go to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh . In the end, we decided on:
Patong > Phuket Town > Krabi > Chiang Mai > Bangkok > Siem Reap > Hanoi > Ho Chi Minh
We were able to remove Phnom Penh but incorporate an extra stop in Chiang Mai and Hanoi because we knew we want to visit all the spots in these cities.
When and How Long
For us, this came first due to other trips and time constraints. June was too soon and August wasn’t possible so we will be traveling in July. However, if you don’t have a specific few weeks in mind, you can plan around weather, number of cities, and flight costs.
Try leaving and coming back in the middle of the week for cheaper flight and hotel options. Also keep in mind the hot and rainy seasons in the countries where you plan on visiting. USA Today says the best time to visit Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam is between November through February. It is cooler than March through June and drier that June through October. Traveling to these places in June and July doesn’t necessarily mean it will rain the whole time though so don’t completely rule out these months either. Sites like Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet is your resource when it comes to answering the question of when to go and what to do!
If you want to partake in local events, be mindful of when these take place. The Thai New Year, Songkran, is April 13 to 15 and Chinese New Year (in February) is best spent in Singapore. The floating markets all across Southeast Asia are usually on weekends.
Make sure you have enough time to visit all the cities you’re planning on. If you only want or can travel for 2 weeks, you won’t enjoy it if you cram over 3 or 4 cities. Try to spend at least 3-4 days in each place if you’re planning on visiting multiple places in a limited amount of time, more if you find that there are a lot of things to do. Of course, the optimal trip would be at least few months and you can go to every city or sight your heart desires!
Once you know when and where you’re going, figure out if you need visas. US Citizens visiting Thailand for 30 days or less do not need a visa. Apply for a tourist visa before you go if you plan on being in Thailand for 60 days. With or without the tourist visa, you can extend your stay by another 30 days for a fee. Cambodia and Vietnam both require visas for US Citizens so check out the links for more details and the application. For both countries you can get visas on arrival but we got them ahead of time. The Vietnam visa requires an additional fee on arrival as well.
This was a lot of fun for me. I highly highly recommend signing up for Ebates if you haven’t already. It not only helps when shopping online for clothes but it also works on sites like Agoda. I got 3% cash back all 7 times we booked a room. Agoda was seriously my best friend when booking all of the hotels and hostels. If you’re looking only for hostels and reviews by backpackers, Hostels World is perfect.
You can filter by ratings, price, and location. We stuck to a budget of $20-30 per person total per location with a guest rating of at least 8.5, and sorted by guest rating. Look for photos of every room (including the bathroom) and skim the reviews so you know what you’re getting into.
Hostels and hotels can be as low as a few dollars. In southeast Asia you don’t need to break the bank and you can get cash back through Ebates.
If you can, try buying your plane tickets to and from southeast Asia 3-4 months out. Our trip was a little last minute so we bought them 2 months in advance. Compare prices on sites like Google Flights, Kayak, Cheap Air, and Orbitz (the last two are Ebates friendly). With Google Flights is that you can track prices over time but it doesn’t always include all available flights.
Within southeast Asia, there are a few different options. You can take overnight busses, trains, and flights. Flights are obviously quicker but they are more expensive. Overnight busses and trains can be cost effective but be sure to check reviews. Some may have bed bugs or issues when crossing borders. Since we are short on time, we are spending more and mostly taking flights. The exceptions are Phuket to Krabi where we will be taking a ferry to Phi Phi then to Krabi. We also read great reviews for the Giant Ibis busses which can take you across most cities around the region.
There are so many ways to travel to and around southeast Asia but it is cheaper than most other destinations. I’m so excited to go on the trip and experience a new part of the world. Be on the lookout for more travel tips as I get ready for this adventure. I will also be posting about my travels during the trip and after I get back!