12-City Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary

Take a circle tour of the top Southeast Asia travel destinations in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam

Planning Southeast Asia travel can be really daunting.

There are a million places to see and things to do, and if your time and budget are limited it can be tough to pick and choose where to go and when.

That’s why I’ve laid out this year’s Southeast Asia circle tour in detail.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed while planning your trip, you can simply follow in my footsteps!

Below I’ve listed

  • Which city/country I visited
  • What hotel/hostel/guest house I stayed at
  • The best thing I did/saw in that city
  • How much time I spent there
  • What to watch out for
  • How I traveled between each city (bus/train/plane)

Let’s go!

1. Vientiane, Laos


Where I stayed: The Funky Monkey Hostel – private room for $12/night. This place definitely had a hostel vibe, but the private rooms are on a different floor from the dorms so they’re pretty quiet.

The best thing I did: Visited Buddha Park

How long I stayed: 6 days – if you’re not working as you travel, you can easily see all there is to see in Vientiane in 1 or 2 days.

Watch out for: The Lonely Planet Guide to Laos, which says you can take a bus to Buddha Park. In fact, you can only take a bus to the Friendship Bridge. From there you have to take a 50,000 kip tuk tuk to Buddha Park.

Also, don’t buy electronics (ear buds, cell phone chargers) at the “Apple Store” in the Talat Sao mall. They’re shit quality and will break as soon as you buy them.

How I got out: 12+ hour bus ride to Luang Prabang.

2. Luang Prabang, Laos


Where I stayed: Central Backpackers Hostel – very hostely, private rooms from $12+/night, thin walls, noisy, friendly staff, slow WiFi, free breakfast but it’s pretty gross (and I’ve had a LOT of free hotel breakfasts on my journey).

The best thing I did: It’s a toss up between a trek with Tiger Trail and teaching English to the monks at Big Brother Mouse.

How long I stayed: 2 weeks.

Watch out for: Flies at food stalls in the day market, scammy tuk tuk drivers, women on the street who ask you to “come talk to my daughter, she just happens to be leaving for college in the town you happen to be from, won’t you come have dinner at our house?” (SCAM! RUN!)

How I got out: Mini-bus to Nong Khiaw (3-4+ hours)

3. Nong Khiaw, Laos (and Muang Ngoi Neua)


Where I stayed: The Sunrise Bungalows ($10/night for a private riverside bungalow. Beautiful, bare bones but your own bathroom and balcony. Pray your neighbors are quiet because you’re basically sleeping outside and can hear everything).

The best thing I did: Hiked to “the Lookout Point” – it’s a tough hike up the main mountain in town and may take you a good 90 minutes to reach the summit, but the stunning views are more than worth it.

How long I stayed: 6 days. There’s not much to do here but relax. I could’ve stayed longer.

Watch out for: Noise. The set up couldn’t be more peaceful (picture yourself lounging in a hammock on a balcony that overlooks a sweeping river gorge below), but there is constant thumping music coming from the boat dock and noisy boats passing by all day.

How I got out: Mini-bus back to Luang Prabang followed by a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.


A note about Muang Ngoi Neua:  This is a tiny river village about an hour’s boat ride north of Nong Khiaw. I stayed here for one night at a bungalow owned by a Swiss guy named Gabriel. (He’ll be the only white guy waiting at the boat landing and he’ll walk you to the bungalow himself). It’s definitely worth a visit but keep in mind that it’s off the grid completely – Lonely Planet says there is WiFi but THERE IS NOT. There is barely cell reception. 

4. Hanoi, Vietnam


Where I stayed: Lakeside Hostel and Hanoi Hostel on several different occasions. Both were around $12/night for a private room. Lakeside has smelly rooms without windows and unfriendly staff. Hanoi Hostel has friendlier staff, good free breakfast, and large (if a bit dusty) private rooms.

The best thing I did: Walked around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake area. There is so much to see in Hanoi simply walking around – the colors, the people, the sites and smells are simply brilliant. Seeing Tet fireworks over the lake on Vietnamese New Year’s Eve was stunning too.

How long I stayed: 5 days, then two weeks, then on and off again for a day or two here and there. Hanoi is a travel hub so if you’re journeying to Cat Ba, Sa Pa or southern cities you’ll probably have to stay here and depart from here.

Watch out for: Scammy taxi drivers, scammy street vendors. Do your research on what things should cost before you go, and don’t be afraid to bargain and/or walk away if the price is too high.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus combo to Cat Ba Island.

5. Cat Ba, Vietnam


Where I stayed: Ali Baba’s Hotel and Restaurant

The best thing I did: Boat tour of Ha Long Bay and the floating villages surrounding Cat Ba

How long I stayed: 6 days initially, then I went back later for 6 weeks

Watch out for: Slow WiFi, no computer shops, nowhere to get a bikini wax.

How I got out: Bus/boat/bus back to Hanoi, followed by a 16-hour bus ride to Da Nang.

6. Da Nang, Vietnam


Where I stayed: Sea Wonder Hotel near the beach – $14/night, semi-private balcony, walking distance to the beach. Friendly staff, the food in the downstairs restaurant is decent but overpriced.

The best thing I did: Hiked to the big Buddha statue at the base of Monkey Mountain – the views of Da Nang from here are simply stunning. The Cham Museum in town is also worth a visit. There are also beautiful bridges lining the river that leads to the ocean – at night they are lit up in stunning electric.

How long I stayed: 8 days. You may not stay as long if you want something more touristy. Da Nang has beautiful beaches, great coffee culture, and amazing seafood, but it is very much a ‘local’s town’ – not many tourists, simply a shining, modern city where regular Vietnamese people live and work. I loved it here.

Watch out for: No menus in English depending on where you go, less English spoken here than in Hanoi or HCMC. Also, if you stay by the beach you should rent a motorbike b/c it gets pricey taking a taxi to and from the ‘downtown’ part of the city (where you’ll want to go for dinner, museums, etc).

How I got out: Motorbiked down to Hoi An, returned by motorbike then flew to HCMC.

7. Hoi An, Vietnam


Where I stayed: Jolie Homestay – $16/night for a huge private room in a house with a very kind Vietnamese family.

The best thing I did: Hard to choose – I loved taking the Hoi An Photography Tour almost as much as I loved swimming with the locals at An Bang Beach.

How long I stayed: 4 days initially. I’m actually back in Hoi An for the summer because I loved it so much (at the time of writing I’ve now been here for 5 weeks).

Watch out for: Scammy food vendors (a baguette should NOT cost 15,000 dong, it should be 10,000 or less!) My friend got pick pocketed here by way of a very common ‘coin scam’. If someone wants to show you their coins or see your coins, run.

How I got out: Motorbike back up to Da Nang then flew to HCMC.

8. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


Where I stayed: The Spring House Hotel in District 1. $17+/night. Very much a hotel. Nice enough room, no free breakfast, good location across from the park and a block away from some seriously astounding nightlife.

The best thing I did: Visited the War Remnants Museum. I can’t begin to express how moved and shaken I was by this experience.

How long I stayed: 5 days. You could easily go higher or lower, the city is positively massive and I didn’t begin to explore all it has to offer.

Watch out for: Motorbike pick pockets. Hang on to your stuff and make sure to utilize zippers.

How I got out: Bus to Sa Dec booked through the hotel.

9. Sa Dec, Vietnam


Where I stayed: Thao Ngan Hotel. $11/night. Pure hotel, windows that looked out onto a brick wall. Close to the market and the bus station.

The best thing I did: Enjoyed the best pho I had in Vietnam. The restaurant is called Pho Hien. From the hotel, walk across the bridge back toward the bus station and it will be on your left, set back away from the street.

How long I stayed: 4 days. The only thing “to do” here is to see the The Lover house – a local one-story abode made famous because it used to be owned by the nameless lover featured in Marguerite Duras’ novel.

Watch out for: Scammy cab drivers and scammy transpo in general. The taxi driver that took me from the bus station to the hotel tried to charge me about 10x what it should have cost. The hotel also massively overcharged for a bus ticket out of town.

How I got out: Local bus to Chau Doc.

10. Chau Doc, Vietnam


Where I stayed: Trung Nguyen Hotel across from the main market in town. $15/night. Balcony. Free breakfast and transpo to the boat to Cambodia (which is why you stay in Chau Doc – to catch the fast boat to Phnom Penh).  

The best thing I did: Walked along the riverfront. It’s amazing to watch people living their lives on the water – eating dinner on their tiny wooden boats, paddling across the wide waters standing upright, living their lives on floating structures.

How long I stayed: 1 night

Watch out for: Not much English spoken here – if you need help ask at your hotel before leaving the building. Tuk tuk drivers will ask for tips for taking you 100 yards.

How I got out: The fast boat to Cambodia arranged through my hotel.

11. Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Where I stayed: The Mad Monkey Hostel. Friendly staff. Privates from $13/night. Overpriced Western food in the downstairs restaurant. The first floor is a bar and the music pumps all day and night and can be heard in the upstairs rooms.

I was so irritated with this I changed to the Salita Hotel in the central part of the city. Three times the price but much, much nicer (and quieter!).

The best thing I did: Feasted in the night market near the river. There are a lot of different markets to see in Phnom Penh and lots to do. By the time I got here I was beat and could only manage to gorge myself on street food.

How long I stayed: 6 days.

Watch out for: Oppressive heat, pollution/car exhaust, pick pockets, traffic, diarrhea, and – say it with me now – scammy tuk tuk drivers.

How I got out: Mini-bus to Siem Reap.

12. Siem Reap, Cambodia


Where I stayed: Sam So Guest House. Best free breakfast of them all, incredibly friendly staff, $12/night for a private ($17/night if you want air-con).

The best thing I did: Angkor Wat was incredible, but I really loved taking a private motorbike tour with my friend Ratha who showed me the surrounding villages and countryside outside the city. (If you’re in Siem Reap and want to see “the real Cambodia,” email me and I’ll put you in touch with Ratha).

How long I stayed: 3 weeks. You can do Angkor Wat in a day, or in 3 days, or in a week. The area is enormous and the ruins seem to never end. But Siem Reap is a lovely river town, a great place to live and work. I found it to be a fantastic resting place to relax at the end of 3 months of hectic Southeast Asia travel.

Watch out for: Theft. I never had anything stolen but have heard countless stories of people getting their phones jacked. Also, watch out for “the milk scam” – if a kid comes up to you begging for you to buy her milk (for “her baby” or “her sister”), don’t do it.

She has a deal with whatever store she takes you to where she can sell the milk back to the store for cash. Cash that she then gives to her “keeper” (like a pimp for begging kids) so the child you think you’re helping does not benefit in any way.

How I got out: Flew to Hanoi because one month was not enough time in Vietnam!

Where will you go on your Southeast Asia travel itinerary? 

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9 comments on “12-City Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary

  1. Rebekah Voss Post author

    From Hilary via email:

    “Hello Rebekah

    Wow – this is a brilliant post!

    I would have LOVED to have something like this when first travelling to Indochina.

    If you ever do something like this about areas I haven’t been to I’d be thrilled to bits. Hope you go to the Ha Giang area in Vietnam and on to Yunnan province in China really soon!

    Good notes too about spending time in a place – when I first started I was so anxious to see and experience everything on a budget I generally only spent a few days in each place. In fact you can see and experience heaps if you stay in a place for a while, getting to know locals, seeing off beat places you’re unlikely to know about unless you know the area, and having time to get up for photography at 4 am and allowing yourself the luxury of an afternoon snooze to recover. Plus of course you save money this way, not spending out on transport so often and bargaining great long stay rates at guest houses, etcetera. I wish I’d known all this 25 years ago…

    The Hoi An area is also one of my favourite places in the world to spend time. On 3 month visas and travelling around, I still spent 2 months there last year and 2 months there again this year!”

    With heaps of best wishes
    Hilary : )

  2. Lauren

    This is amazing, thank you SO much for sharing all of this info! Im a solo female traveller in the daunting task of planning a trip through SE Asia, and this has been insanely helpful!

    1. Rebekah Voss

      Hi Lauren,

      I’m so glad you found this useful! I’m not sure if you’re in Asia yet, but once you’re there you’ll meet other travelers and will hear about all sorts of places you didn’t read about online. Just keep in mind that everyone is different – so many people told me they disliked Vietnam, to the point that I was scared to go! Then I loved it so much I stayed 7 months. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything and go find out for yourself!! (:
      Rebekah Voss recently posted…Don’t F*$! With Mother IndiaMy Profile

  3. gabi

    Hello Rebekah, Firstly, congratulations for your website and idea. I loved it!
    Then, my friend and I are planning a trip to Southeast Asia for next June/July. We only have a month and -well. willing to visit Thailand, Camboya, Vietnam, Singapur and Malasia. I know it is way too pretensious. So the questions would be:
    1. Do you really think to visit chiang mai is a must? I was told than visiting the temples near Bangkok give you an idea of what we could find in Chiang mai. But still, since we will be so close we are not sure what to do.
    2. Our idea is to do siem rep in Camboya and Hanoi/Ha Long Bay and Ho Chi Ming in Vietnam, then some beaches in Thailand and Bangkok. So How many days would you recomend for of the appointed cities? Which Thai beaches would you recomend the most?
    3. Spending 3 days in Singapur and 3 days in Kuala Lumpur would at least give us a glance of them? Or it will kill us?
    4. Travelling by plane (since we have so less time) is simple? I mean in terms of getting into and from airports?

    Thanks in advance!



    1. Clara

      Hi Gabi! Not sure if you will see this, but I spent 6 nights in Chiang Mai last Christmas. It is really easy travelling within the country, and it is beautiful even though loaded with tourists everywhere. Soi Du Threp Wat is a must see! I think 4 nights will be good in Chiang Mai for visiting the old city, and the outskirts. But if time allows, head down to Pai – a 3 hr minivan ride from Chiang Mai. It is really, really serene and chill. I live in Singapore, so in my opinion, 2 nights are enough if you aren’t up for partying – one night for some good drinks in cool bars, and then another day touring the city. There is nothing much to do in Singapore honestly, and hope you have done up some research on Singapore because it is totally not like other southeast asian countries – more expensive, and VERY city-like, full of sky-scrapers, fast paced etc.

      On the other hand, thank you Rebekah for a wonderful write up on these 3 countries!! I am planning on a Myanmar > Bangkok (just for transiting) > Cambodia > Laos > Vietnam trip this July and it’s really nice that you have some hostels listed. I may be a little ambitious trying to cover around 11 cities in about one to 1.5 months, so I am thinking which routes I should give up. But great article nonetheless!


  4. Brigitte

    Hey! Love the post.

    When you travelled through Cambodia, did you ever feel unsafe and like you wish you had gone with someone? I’m travelling alone through SE Asia and would love to see Cambodia…but other fellow travellers are warning me about it.

    What’s your take?


    1. Sue

      Hello Brigitte,

      I am also planning a solo trip to SE Asia. I must be in Bali for an event so I am planning my trip around it. I am still a bit reluctant to travel alone, so trying to see if anyone wants to tag along for at least part of the trip or some cities. Let me know! My dates are flexible but likely to begin around Nov 01/2015 and to end by Dec 10/2015.

  5. Maddie

    I love the photo for Sa Dec! The blue is so striking! Thanks for sharing about Nonh Khiaw. I just got back from Laos and would love to go back and explore more places like that!


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