5 Itineraries to Help Kickstart Your Southeast Asian Adventure

Ever since I got back from my month-long Southeast Asian trip last August 2014, some friends have expressed their interest of doing the same, but don’t know exactly where to start.  

The thing is, when people ask me for my itinerary, I’m a bit hesitant to just give them what I used because it is customized according to MY traveling style. 
I found that it has changed over the years. I no longer feel the need to pack as many attractions as I can in day, and would prefer to pay more for convenience rather than sacrifice comfort for the sake of sticking to my budget. 

I also traveled solo, so my expenses were inevitably bigger than usual. And the only tickets I had pre-booked on sale were my Manila to Bangkok, Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and Bali to Manila flights. The rest of the flights, I booked when I was already on the road.

I actually traveled for 32 days

With the fuel surcharge now chucked from airfares, and the AirAsia ASEAN Pass launched, I want to share 5 itineraries to help kickstart your own Southeast Asian adventure. The first 3 I have done personally (except for the ferry to Bintan/Batam), and the last 2 are options you can consider if you have more time to travel. 

To make your work easier, here are some guides that you can tweak according to your preference: 

Philippines – Malaysia – Singapore – Philippines (2 flights)

MALAYSIA

1. Kuala Lumpur

WHAT TO SEE & DO: Petronas Twin TowersBatu Caves, Bukit Bintang, KL Tower, Chinatown/Petaling Street, Little India, Masjid Jamek, Beryl’s Choco Kingdom 

SIDE TRIP: Putrajaya
 

WHERE I STAYED: Budget to Mid-range: Classic Inn KL

2. Penang

HOW TO GO TO PENANG FROM KL: By plane or by bus
 
WHAT TO SEE & DO: Kek Lok Si Temple, Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Khoo Kongsi, Fort Cornwallis, Batu Ferringhi Beach, Penang Hill, visit the clan jetties, Kuan Yin Temple, check out various street art around Georgetown, pig out!
WHERE I STAYED: Budget to Mid-range: Hutton Lodge

3. Melaka/Malacca

HOW TO TRAVEL TO MELAKA FROM PENANG: You can arrange this with your guesthouse (if available) or go to Sungai Nibong Terminal, and buy tickets to Melaka Sentral.

 

 

4. Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru is actually closer to Singapore than KL that’s why it’s a popular side trip from the former. LEGOLAND is 1.5 hours away from Singapore. 

 

SINGAPORE

HOW TO GO TO SINGAPORE FROM MELAKA: There are plenty of buses that ply the Melaka to Singapore route. Check schedules here.
 
WHAT TO SEE & DO:  Sentosa, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer, Universal Studios Singapore, Merlion Park, Esplanade, Light & Water Spectacular, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Visit the ethnic quarters (Little India, Chinatown, Geylang, Kampong Glam, Peranakan/Joo Chiat)
 

WHERE I STAYED: Budget: Footprints Backpackers Hostel

SIDE TRIP:

HOW TO GO TO LEGOLAND FROM SINGAPORE: Avail of the coach service from WTS Travel.

Alternatively, there’s a great website for booking bus tickets all over Singapore, and to major cities in Peninsular Malaysia, and even to Thailand and Indonesia. Head over to Easybook to check the routes.

HOW TO GO TO BINTAN/BATAM, INDONESIA FROM SINGAPORE: Take the ferry

Philippines – Vietnam – Cambodia – Thailand – Philippines (or vice versa) (2 flights)

 
This route, often referred to as the ‘Banana Pancake Trail’, is the most common, easiest, and not to mention, cheapest way of backpacking Southeast Asia.
 
How cheap? I spent around Php15,000.00 (USD330.00 +/-) for 9 days.
 

Banana Pancake Trail

 

VIETNAM

HO CHI MINH CITY

WHAT TO SEE & DO: Saigon City Tour (The Independence Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Saigon Opera House, Ben Thanh Market, Mekong Delta Tour, Cu Chi Tunnels Tour, Cao Dai Temple, Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre

WHERE I STAYED: Budget: Bich Duyen

CAMBODIA

SIEM REAP

HOW TO GET TO SIEM REAP FROM HCMC: Moc Bai – Bavet Border Crossing

WHAT TO SEE & DO: 

Angkor Complex Tour

  1. Sunrise at Angkor Wat
  2. South Gate (Angkor Thom) – Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants 
  3. Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, sunset from Phnom Bakheng


WHERE I STAYED: Budget: Ta Som Guesthouse

 

THAILAND

BANGKOK

HOW TO GO TO BANGKOK FROM SIEM REAP: Poipet – Aranyaprathet Border Crossing
WHAT TO SEE & DO: Visit the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Chao Phraya River Cruise, Watch Siam Niramit, Shopping at Chatuchak Weekend Market and/or Khao San Road, Vimanmek Mansion, Jim Thompson Museum, take day trip to Ayutthaya and/or Kanchanaburi 
 

WHERE I STAYED: Mid-range: Bangkok City Hotel

 

My latest trip: Philippines – Thailand – Laos – Malaysia – Indonesia – Philippines (4-6 flights)

Here’s what my solo month-long trip looked like:

THAILAND

1. Bangkok

I booked my Manila to Bangkok flight via Cebu Pacific, and just used Bangkok as my jump-off point. When AirAsia had a sale, I booked a Bangkok to Chiang Mai ticket. However, AirAsia flies from a different airport i.e. Don Mueang International Airport. This is not a problem though as they have a free shuttle service from Suvarnabhumi. Just go to Level 2 between Gates 2 and 3, present your AirAsia ticket at the kiosk, and get on the bus. I think the shuttle leaves every 30 minutes. Travel time is 45 minutes to 2 hours (during peak hours and depending on traffic), so make sure you have enough time between your arrival and departure from Bangkok.
Alternatively, if you have more time, you can take the 12-hour sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. 

2. Chiang Mai

The Rose of the North is just about 1.15 hours flight from Bangkok. 
 
WHERE I STAYED:
 
Budget to Mid-range: Rustic Guesthouse
 

LAOS

 
I took the 2-day slowboat from Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang because it’s probably the most common (and cheapest) way of crossing the border. 
 
I booked it through Rustic Guesthouse in Chiang Mai, and paid THB2,400.00. This included the van pick-up from the guesthouse, a side trip to Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), overnight accommodation at Namkhong Guesthouse and Resort, dinner, breakfast, packed lunch, transfer to Thailand-Laos border, tuktuk ride from the Laos border to the port, the 2-day slow boat ride, and supposedly, my overnight accommodation in Pakbeng (Namkhong Guesthouse gave me a refund of THB400.00 because they said the room in Pakbeng was newly-painted. They said I should just look for a different room once I get there.)

1. LUANG PRABANG

WHAT TO SEE & DO: Observe the alms-giving ceremony (about 5:30-6:00 am), hike to Phousi Mountain, shop at the night market and try the various buffets along the tiny alley beside Indigo House on Sisavangvong Road, visit the numerous temples, book a lunch cruise, visit Pak Ou Caves, Kuang Si Waterfalls (I highly recommend this!) 

WHERE I STAYED:

Budget: Sackarinh Guesthouse
Mid-range: Lao Lu Lodge
Splurge: Villa Maydou

2. VANG VIENG

I originally planned on stopping by Vang Vieng since it’s on the way to Vientiane anyway, but because I absentmindedly planned my trip during the monsoon season, I figured I wouldn’t be able to do the things I wanted anyway, and decided to just skip it, and head straight to Vientiane.

Anyway, based from my research, here’s some things you can do in Vang Vieng:
river tubing, ATV ride, go to the Blue Lagoon, hot air balloon ride

3. VIENTIANE

 

I took the VIP bus (different from the sleeper bus) from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Travel time was about 12-13 hours, with one stopover for dinner. I think I paid around LAK160,000. You can easily book bus tickets at any of the numerous agencies in Luang Prabang along Sakkaline Road.

WHAT TO SEE & DO: Wat Sisaket, Wat Phra Keo, That Luang, Patuxai Monument, Buddha Park

WHERE I STAYED: I was only in Vientiane for a little over 24 hours, so I only stayed at one accommodation – Moonlight Champa 

 

MALAYSIA

From Vientiane, I took an AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR – For this trip, I just stayed in Kuala Lumpur to catch up with work.

WHERE I STAYED: Refer to Malaysian itinerary above for budget accommodation.
 
             Traders Hotel


INDONESIA

From KL, I flew to Yogyakarta via AirAsia.

1. YOGYAKARTA

WHAT TO SEE & DO: Candi Borobudur, Candi Prambanan, Taman Sari Water Castle, Kraton (Royal Palace), Ratu Boko, shopping in Malioboro
 
WHERE I STAYED: 
 

2. BALI

From Yogyakarta, I flew to Bali via AirAsia. 

WHAT TO SEE & DO: 

Bedugul and Tanah Lot Tour

– Taman Ayun Temple, Ulun Danu Temple, Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, Tanah Lot Temple

Kintamani – Besakih Tour

– Barong Dance, Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Kintamani Volcano, Besakih Temple

Uluwatu Tour

– Uluwatu Temple, Kecak and Fire Dance

Ubud

– Ubud Monkey Forest, Ubud Palace, Ubud Market, Barong & Kris Dance

Gunung Kawi Village Tour

– Batubulan Village, Gunung Kawi Temple, Tirta Empul Temple, Goa Gajah Temple

Beaches

– Kuta, Seminyak, Jimabaran, Dreamland, Canggu, Padang Padang, Bingin, Geger

WHERE I STAYED:
 
Budget to Mid-range: Swiss-Belhotel Rainforest Kuta
Budget to Mid-range: The Kana Kuta
Mid-range to Splurge: Courtyard by Marriott Seminyak

Philippines – Malaysia – Myanmar – Thailand – Cambodia – Vietnam – Philippines (4 flights)

Depending on how much time you have, you can do the Malaysian tour in this post or just simply use KL as your jump-off point. From KL, you can then fly to Yangon in Myanmar
 
Here’s a sample Myanmar itinerary arranged by Chito Flores. You can check his blog for a more detailed itinerary and budget: 
 

 

MYANMAR

1. YANGON

WHAT TO SEE & DO: Shwedagon Pagoda, Botataung Paya, Sule Paya, Bogyoke Market, Karaweik Hall, Maha Bandula/Mahabandoola Park
 

WHERE WE STAYED: Mother Land Inn (2)

2. BAGAN

3. MANDALAY

 
WHERE WE STAYED: Peacock Lodge
 

From Mandalay, you can fly to Bangkok and do the Banana Pancake trail in reverse.

Philippines – Vietnam – Laos – Thailand – Myanmar – Malaysia – Philippines (4-6 flights)

Lastly, this trip is for someone who has a lot of time, patience, and courage because the land travel is no joke.
 
You can start off at Ho Chi Minh City. You can make your way to Mui Ne to check out the sand dunes before heading north to Da Nang. You can then visit the quaint town of Hoi An before making your way to Hue, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. 
 
From Hanoi, you can travel to Luang Prabang in Laos by bus, which is a very, very long journey, like, 24- to 30-hour journey. Read fellow blogger, Claire’s horrific experience, here.
 
From Luang Prabang, you can take the 2-day slowboat to Chiang Kong in Northern Thailand OR make your way to Vientiane then take the sleeper train to Bangkok.
 
From Bangkok, you can fly to Mandalay in Myanmar, and travel through Myanmar in this order: Mandalay -> Bagan -> Yangon
 
From Yangon, you can fly to Kuala Lumpur then to Manila. Still got time and money? Then do the Malaysia – Singapore itinerary above. 😉
 
 

REMINDERS:

Before you get all too excited and go on a booking spree, consider the following factors when drafting your itinerary:
  • Determine the number of days you can travel. Check how many vacation leave credits you have, and then build your itinerary around it. Someone told me before she was planning to visit 4 ASEAN countries on a single trip. When I asked her how many days she has, she told me 6. Uhm, no. That’s just not possible.
  • In the same vein, choose which countries you really want to visit. Now, I know it’s very tempting to travel to several countries that are next to each other, BUT just because they’re beside each other on the map doesn’t mean it’s easy to cross to the other. Case in point: Laos and Myanmar. You cannot cross by land, and there are no direct flights between the two either. Yes, there’s a connecting flight, but it’s expensive.
  • Are you going to be traveling solo, with a partner/friends, or with your family? This can help you in budgeting, and in choosing the types of activities and attractions you will include in the itinerary. Most of the itineraries might not be suitable for the elderly as it involves long bus rides and/or several flights.  
  • After you’ve drafted your itinerary, you’ll then have an idea how much money you’ll need. Lodging and transportation usually eats up a big chunk of the budget.
I know this is a very lengthy post, but I really hope you’ll take the time to read it first before asking questions. 

K

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