You’ve got some time off, and you’re excited to give Mainland South East Asia a go. The stories coming from travellers and holiday makers alike cannot be true, can they? From beautiful beaches, to crazy night life, to Buddhist monuments that expand as far as the eye can see.
Let us take you on a journey from Thailand, through Cambodia, along the coast of Vietnam, finishing in Laos. Whatever your time limit permits, we have a few tips to help you kick start the decision making process!
2-3 Weeks (Budget $500)
Country hopping is exciting, but sometimes if you’re working within a two week time frame, it’s logistically impossible. Our suggestion: pick one country and spend the full trip exploring everything that country has to offer. Once that decision has been made, it’s now time to actually choose your destination. Why not give Thailand a go?
It might seem almost too obvious, but this is for good reason. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Buddhist culture, or go sit on a beach and never move ever again, or even go have a bath with an elephant – Thailand really has it all.
Let’s take a look at a few of the cities worth visiting.
To see the safety situation in Thailand, check this article.
Your first stop, and entrance to South East Asia, is the capital, and what an incredible city it is. Take a Tuk Tuk to the temple of your choice (Temple of the Emerald Buddha is a goodie). Eat street food. Visit the Grand Palace. More street food. Get a massage. Take a bike tour of the old city. The options really are endless, in a city that is often overlooked by the wary traveller.
Book yourself in on an overnight train and head north (ask for the red train!). The hustle and bustle quickly becomes beautiful scenery and you can feel yourself starting to relax almost immediately. A much smaller city; Chiang Mai is famous for its elephant sanctuaries and serves as a perfect escape for those looking to relax a bit before heading South to the beaches. As an important side note, the elephant sanctuaries have a strict ‘no riding’ policy, and the elephants are treated like family. Feeding, bathing, and general play time with elephants will change your life forever.
The most popular part of Thailand for tourism has got to be the islands. There is something so satisfying about catching a boat to go sit on a new beach, or swim in crystal clear (WARM) water, or stand under a waterfall. The islands are so exotic they could be straight out of a movie (and some of them are). Spend the bulk of your time exploring and relaxing on the islands, and you’ll be planning your return the moment you leave.
1 Month (Budget $750)
If two weeks was enough for one country, it follows that two countries should be on the agenda for your one month stay. You’ve finished being a beach bum in Thailand and it’s time to catch a bus to Cambodia from Bangkok.
Border crossing is always an interesting adventure, but once you’re in the country, Cambodia has a lot to offer. Temples, and historical sites galore.
Historical sites – Phnom Phen
Your first stop in Cambodia, if coming from Thailand, will once again, be the capital. You will be struck by how poverty stricken the people of Cambodia are, in stark contrast to the incredible palaces scattered across the city. One of the cheaper stops on your South East Asia tour certainly does not mean worse. The food, the people, and the city life are all absolutely amazing.
Important Note: One of the main sites to visit is a more somber one, as you take a tour of Cambodia’s awful past, in the killing fields museum. It’s important to know what has happened in order to see how far the country has come, and how far it still has to go.
Angkor Wat – Siem Reap
It’s time to hop on yet another bus, and head to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat. A must see, that stands as the largest religious monument in the world (interestingly, it was built as a Hindu monument, and slowly became a Buddhist monument). Take a sunrise guided tour, and perhaps some photies with the local monks.
One thing that will stay with you, is the feeling of going back in time. As you leave the capital, everything slows down, and life becomes a lot easier. Spend some time in the more rural villages, and get a grasp on how things are done in Cambodia.
Party Time – Sihanoukville
If you’re interested in letting loose for a while, then this is the city for you. 24 hour bars, and incredibly cheap beers. Not for the faint hearted, as the party quite literally, never stops in Sihanoukville.
2 Months ($1500)
Bring on the rest of Mainland, South East Asia!
2 months is just about enough time to do a decent tour of the mainland, and the next two stops are Vietnam and Laos. After heading back to Phnom Penh, yup you guessed it, it’s bus time, destination: Ho Chi Minh.
Culture Club – Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)
The starting point for the Vietnam leg of the journey, and be prepared to enter yet another city, out of this world! Don’t be surprised to find yourself shocked at how big Ho Chi Minh is. Immerse yourself in the local culture, and do a few guided tours around the city. A popular outing for people of all ages is to spend some time in the Mekong delta.
See you later Vietnam – Sa Pa
Jumping right ahead to your final destination in Vietnam, Sa Pa is on the more relaxing side of the scale, especially as you would have stopped off in the hustle of Hanoi. Rice fields, and terraces a plenty. Sit back, take it all in, and say your goodbyes to Vietnam in style.
“Thailand before the tourists” – Laos
It’s time to start winding down from the experience that is Mainland South East Asia. A slower way of life, definitely, does not mean more boring. We recommend spending a week maximum in Laos, as it will allow you to properly explore Vietnam, and give you some wiggle room when traversing the rest of the Mainland.
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