Backpacking Southeast Asia: The Ultimate Guide

By Mark Wiens 116 Comments
Backpacking Southeast Asia
Backpacking Southeast Asia

You’re going to love backpacking Southeast Asia!

It’s one of the most captivating and amusing areas of the world.

I’ve been slowly migrating around Southeast Asia now since 2009 and to be honest, I still haven’t been to a fraction of the places I’d like to visit – there’s still so much for me to explore… but, I have been to quite a few places and my aim of this ultimate guide is to offer you some personal travel advice and tips about where to go, what to see and what to eat!

After just over 3 years I have finally been to the 10 countries that make up Southeast Asia (11 if you count East Timor but I haven’t been there).

There are a lot of links throughout this guide, if you see anything that looks interesting just click on the link for more information about it.

For each country I’ll give a little introduction, then go over a few of the cities I’ve visited and enjoyed, and finally briefly mention a few places in that country where I’d like to go… but haven’t yet.

Also, be sure to check out the videos that I’ve embedded into this guide. Alternatively, you can browse my video channel to watch country specific videos.

I hope this will be a great resource on your backpacking Southeast Asia trip of a lifetime! If you have any other advice or questions, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article!

Siam area of Bangkok, Thailand
Siam area of Bangkok, Thailand

1. Thailand

Visting Thailand is almost mandatory when it comes to backpacking through Southeast Asia – just about everyone comes through Thailand at least a few times. Recent statistics have shown that Thailand receives something like 19 million tourists annually (and rising each year).

With a busy airport, it’s easy to catch a flight directly into Bangkok to begin your southeast Asia adventure – that’s what I did in 2009 before visiting other countries in the region.

Backpacking Thailand
One of the most famous temples in Bangkok - Wat Phra Kaew

Bangkok

Spending time in the Big Mango (Bangkok) is a thrilling experience. Here are a few things to check out when you’re in town:

I’ve spent over two years in and out of Bangkok now, it’s a great hub for getting to other destinations around the country and around Asia

After teaching English for one year I’ve been able to leverage my savings and make enough money from a few online projects to survive and continue to slowly travel.

(Click here to watch the Dangerous Maeklong Train Market video on Youtube)

If you have some extra time in Bangkok I would highly recommend visiting Amphawa Floating Market which is one of the most popular local floating markets and the Maeklong Train Market (VIDEO Above), a truly fascinating market that takes places directly over the train tracks (and the train still runs).

Backpacking Southeast Asia
I thought I might get eaten... but I came out ALIVE!

Chiang Mai

After Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a destination located in northern central Thailand many choose to visit. It’s known for its forest trekking, beautiful mountainous scenery, for all kinds of adventure sports and for the famous Thai elephants.

  • Digital Nomad Headquarters: There’s a rising amount of people, especially digital nomads, that prefer Chiang Mai over Bangkok – here are 18 reasons
  • Best Spots in Chiang Mai: An excellent little guide about some of the coolest spots in Chiang Mai to visit
  • Jungle Trekking Chiang Mai: If you enjoy the outdoors, it’s pretty easy to organize a hiking trip into the jungle mountains near Chiang Mai – here are some great photos to inspire you!
Traveling in Southeast Asia
Beautiful Krabi - Backpacking Southeast Asia

Krabi

While backpacking Southeast Asia, you’ll be able to enjoy a wide range of different natural environments including mountains, forests, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Krabi in Southern Thailand is a gateway entrance to a number of beautiful islands and stunning beaches.

Sangkhlaburi

Sangkhlaburi (in Kanchanaburi): A beautiful relaxing town on the border of Burma with a scenic lake and just a perfect lazy environment

2 Festivals

Though there are many festivals in Thailand, here are 2 that you’ll enjoy and it would be great if you were here during one of these events:

  • Thai New Year (Songkran Water Festival): By far Thailand’s most celebrate and anticipated holiday – a giant all out party, water fights, lots of food and a time for local Thais to spend time with family
  • Thai Vegetarian Festival: You’ll love this annual event in Thailand if you are vegetarian or even a carnivore. There’s great vegetarian food and very interesting ceremonies to watch (especially famous in Phuket).

(Click here to watch Thai street food video on Youtube)

Delicious Thai FoodDelicious Thai Food

Even though there’s tons of awesomely delicious food throughout ALL of Southeast Asia, I would have to say that Thai food is the best.

Now I may be a little biased, but when it comes to variety, vibrancy of flavors and overall cleanly conditions, Thailand takes gold.

I created the Eating Thai Food Guide to be the ultimate resource for hungry travelers in Thailand wanting to discover the next level of awesome Thai food. You don’t want to miss the best Thai dishes!

Also, if you are vegetarian it can be difficult backpacking in Thailand, so after eating fully vegetarian for a month in Bangkok I launched the Vegetarian Thai Food Guide just for you!

Places I haven’t been:

  • Chiang Rai: A beautiful city north of Chiang Mai known for its mountainous scenery and for the famous White Temple
  • Koh Lanta: If you are interested in visiting Koh Lanta, check out this useful site by a friend of mine
  • Pai: One of the most famous places on the Thailand route of backpacking Southeast Asia is a little country town known as Pai. I haven’t been there, but I’ve heard that it is a highlight of many people’s trip.
Backpacking Southeast Asia
The Temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia

2. Cambodia

Cambodia is an anticipated destination mainly for the temples of Angkor Wat. Many backpackers choose to head straight from Bangkok to Angkor Wat.

Siem Reap – Angkor Wat

The big ticket for travelers visiting Cambodia (or even Southeast Asia altogether) are the famous temples of Angkor Wat – a truly remarkable attraction.

When I visited the temples, I took local transportation from Bangkok and chose to see the temples for just one day (you can also buy a 2 day ticket). It’s not just a single temple, but Angkor Wat is a huge area with many ancient temples and ruins.

As far as the Siem Reap town goes, I wasn’t much of a fan – tons of tourists and lots of Western restaurants. Backpacking Southeast Asia you should definitely see Angkor Wat but don’t spend too much extra time in Siem Reap.

(Click here to watch Phnom Penh video on Youtube)

Phnom Penh

IMG_0424

It’s been a long time since I was last in Phnom Penh and I know some things have evolved in the city. I did write a few cultural observations about life in Phnom Penh and the video is the first city video I made!

Places I haven’t been:

Southern Cambodia: The southern portion of Cambodia is beginning to gain a reputation as a great backpacking Southeast Asia destination for its lazy lifestyle and beautiful beaches. Check out Sihanoukville or Kep.

Visiting Laos
Sunset view while relaxing in Vientiane

3. Laos

It seems that almost the entire country of Laos was colonized by relaxation – partly because the country is surrounded by bustling Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand so it’s a quiet oasis in the middle of booming industrialization.

If you are looking for scenic outdoors, hiking and or course relaxing in a hammock, Laos is a country you’ll surely enjoy!

Vientiane

The capital and largest city in Laos is in reality a very low-key easy going city. Many would say there’s not much to do, but when you’re backpacking in Laos you don’t want a long list of attractions to check off from your to-do list.

Situated on the Mekong River, Vientiane is a great spot for watching the sunset, eating Laotian food and hanging out.

Backpacking through Southeast Asia
The beautiful laid back city of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the Chiang Mai of Laos – easy to navigate and a place you’ll probably fall in love with while backpacking Southeast Asia.

It’s beautiful, there are plenty of places to stay, there’s a fantastic handicraft market and there are lots of nature related activities in the area.

  • Luang Prabang: A slow paced town and an unparalleled place to unwind and refresh yourself
  • Boating the Mekong: A few years ago I took a 3 day boat trip from Luang Prabang all the way to the Thai border and then on to Chiang Mai. It was a fantastic river experience. If you are interested you can take the boat in either direction.

(Click here to watch Wat Phou video on Youtube)

Champasak and Wat PhouBackpacking in Southeast Asia

Peaceful even by Laos standards, Champasak is a quaint little town and the gateway to the famous temple of Wat Phou, located just 15 minutes away by bicycle.

  • Champasak: It’s truly an unspoiled travel retreat if you want really peace and solitude
  • Visiting Wat Phou: A UNESCO world heritage site, similar to Angkor Wat on a smaller scale, but I though the setting and the ruins were absolutely beautiful – I would highly recommend it.

(Click here to watch the 4000 Islands video on Youtube)

4000 Islands4000 Islands of Laos

Of the 4000 islands, there are 3 main popular islands to visit. You may want to check out all 3 and decide for your self which you prefer.

If you do enjoy the party atmosphere, Don Det is your island – think Khao San Road on an island.

If you prefer quiet relaxation, Don Khong and Don Khon are fantastic!

Places I haven’t been:

  • Vang Viang: Vang Viang is famous for river tubing, drugs and alcohol, and for its beautiful scenery. This is not actually a place that I want to go (but I included it because of its popularity). I skipped visiting Vang Viang altogether, but linked is an article about the good and bad of Vang Viang.
  • Plain of Jars: It looks like a pretty interesting site, jars scattered all over the place that remain quite mysterious
Hanoi, Vietnam - Backpacking Southeast Asia
I'm in Hanoi trying not to get hit by traffic!

4. Vietnam

Vietnam has so much to offer, and I have only been to a very small fraction of this exciting bustling country. I’ve heard the north is very different from the south, so while backpacking Southeast Asia it would be great to see both sides of Vietnam.

Despite hearing lots of stories of scams and rip-offs, I had a very enjoyable time visiting Vietnam and managed to escape all those stories (even fighting in the buffet line).

(Click here to watch the Hanoi street food video on Youtube)

Hanoi

While in Vietnam I spent the majority of my time (I only had 2 weeks) in the capital city of Hanoi. I highly enjoyed walking around, sitting at cafe’s and taking things easy as the world of Hanoi was rushing in every direction.

  • Hanoi Travel Guide (Look at this first): A list of most of the places I ate and slept while traveling in Hanoi
  • Long Bien Market: Probably the most chaotic market I’ve ever seen in my life – at 4 am!
  • Hanoi Street Food: Vietnamese food is delicious, and there’s so much to eat – don’t miss these delicious dishes (also be sure to watch the video above for Hanoi street food)
  • Coffee in Vietnam: There’s nothing better than watching the world by sitting on a low stool sipping on Vietnamese iced coffee
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay

From Hanoi, it’s a short distance to one of the most famous attractions in Vietnam: Halong Bay.

There are so many tour agencies that it can be a hassle to organize a tour of the scenic bay. I booked a boat tour from one of the hotels that I stayed at, and it was a fantastic experience.

Places I haven’t been:

  • Ho Chi Minh (Saigon): Here’s a great informational guide (plus a podcast) by Sherry Ott about visiting the busy southern Vietnamese city of Saigon.
  • Hoi An: The city of Hoi An is a main stop on the backpacking Southeast Asia route in Vietnam because it’s an old and picturesque Vietnamese town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Sapa: Sapa is a place that I really wish I would have had more time to visit, a town in the northern tip of Vietnam famous for its mountainous terrain and rice terraces.
Backpacking Myanmar (Burma)
The streets of Yangon, Myanmar

5. Myanmar (Burma)

Things are changing rapidly in Burma. I was in Yangon in 2012 and I had an incredible time, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore any other parts of the country. Though I missed many places in Myanmar, I still had an incredible time just in Yangon!

Before you do anything, read this important Myanmar travel information.

(Click here to watch Yangon travel video on Youtube)

YangonBackpacking in Burma

Yangon is dirty, loud and busy, but if you look around and slow down you’ll find an amazing amount of beauty and entertainment in the city.

I spent about 2 weeks in Yangon and had an incredible time walking around, eating, and chatting with extremely friendly locals.

  • Shwedagon Pagoda: Backpacking Southeast Asia you’ll see lots and lots of temples, but one of the most impressive is Yangon’s golden Shwedagon Pagoda
  • Thiri Mingalar Market: I think this market is no longer in the same location, but this was one of the most local and coolest markets I visited
  • Burmese Cuisine: Food and more food, try these amazing 20 Burmese dishes

Places I haven’t been:

  • Mandalay: From the sunset views on top of Mandalay Hill to the famous U Bein bridge, Mandalay is a destination I would still love to visit, but haven’t yet
  • Inle Lake: From all I’ve read, it’s absolutely beautiful and worth seeing if you have enough time
  • Temples of Bagan: A truly impressive area dotted with well preserved historical temples  that were anciently constructed
Singapore in Southeast Asia
The modern skyline of Singapore

6. Singapore

Singapore is not the place to go if you are backpacking on a tight budget. While in most of Southeast Asia you’ll be rejoicing about the prices, in Singapore you’ll feel like you’re back in Europe or the United States.

While backpacking Southeast Asia, some visit Singapore just for a few days as a city of transit or a place to fly in or out of. Tiger Airways is a great budget airline based out of Singapore and you may be able to find some cheap tickets.

I personally was in Singapore for three days. I did enjoy walking around, enjoying the clean streets and eating delicious Singaporean cuisine.

If you’re looking for the tastiest marvels of Singaporean food, I Eat I Shoot I Post is your ultimate food resource.

Visiting Kuala Lumpur
Skyline of Kuala Lumpur at night. Can you see the Petronal Towers and KL Tower?

7. Malaysia

There are two main sections of land that make up the country of Malaysia: The main peninsular section connected to Thailand, and a part of the giant island of Borneo (shared with Indonesia and Brunei).

I’ve been to both sides of the country and I have great things to say about Malaysia – it’s not the cheapest place for backpacking in Southeast Asia, but there are lots of cool things to see, an interesting international culture, and truly magnificent Malayasian gastronomy.

(Click here to watch the Malaysian street food video on Youtube)

Kuala Lumpur

The international melting pot of cultures, cuisines and traditions is what truly fascinates me about Kuala Lumpur. It’s an easy to navigate city with a smooth running network of public transportation and a modern infrastructure.

Home to the Petronas Towers, the Batu Caves, and a smorgasbord of Malay, Indian and Chinese food, Kuala Lumpur is a great place to spend a few days (or more) while backpacking Southeast Asia.

Backpacking Malaysia, Southeast Asia
The lovely antique looking streets of Melaka, Malaysia

Melaka

Melaka is a great little historical town in southern Malaysia. I had a great time here.

  • Jonker Street: The historical area of town where you’ll find lots of old Chinese style buildings, nice restaurants and lots of fun things to do
  • Baba Cendol: A delicious sweet ice based treat
  • Satay Celup: If you’re looking for a local style food hangout you’ve got to try Satay Celup – a restaurant where you grab things on a stick and cook them in the oily peanut sauce before you
Sun setting in Penang
Sun setting in Penang

Penang

So far, I’ve honestly only spent a total of about 3 days in Penang so I’m by no means very experienced. I basically remember all the good food and a few pretty cool attractions.

Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia, wrote this awesome guide about what you can do with 36 hours in Penang.

Backpacking Southeast Asia
On the ferry to Langkawi Island in Malaysia

Langkawi

I spent just a few days on the northern Malaysian island of Langkawi. If you’re backpacking Southeast Asia and looking for more island experiences, you may want to check out Langkawi Island.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu

On the Borneo side of Malaysia I went with the main intent to climb Mount Kinabalu (an hour from the Kota Kinabalu town), one of Southeast Asia’s highest mountains.

Kota Kinabalu is a beautiful little town with an awesome seafront evening market and a greta atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and wished I could have stayed longer to visit other parts of Sabah and Sarawak.

  • Climbing Mount Kinabalu in One Day: Many choose to climb Mount Kinabalu in 2 days, but in order to save money, I attempted the hike in 1 day. It was a grueling adventure, and due to the weather conditions, I didn’t actually make it to the top – but it was still an amazing experience!
  • Kota Kinabalu’s Night Market: Great street food and phenomenal sunsets is a combination that really goes well together, and you can enjoy it nightly at the Kota Kinabalu market
  • Sabah’s Ngiu Chap: Like beef noodle soup? This is for you!
  • Curry Laksa: It’s extraordinary, outrageously delicious – noodles covered in curry and dressed with lime juice, chillies and chicken!

If you proceed on to the country of Brunei, check out this guide about how to get from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei in 1 day.

Places I haven’t been:

  • Malaysian Islands to Visit: Here’s a quick overview of some of Malaysia’s most beautiful islands
  • East Coast Malaysia: Few backpackers or tourists travel to Malaysia’s forgotten East Coast (I’ve never been there), but it’s a place in Southeast Asia I’d love to visit in the future.
Backpacking in Brunei
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Brunei

8. Brunei

From Kota Kinabalu I took the ferry to neighboring Brunei, the third country represented on the island of Borneo. It was extremely interesting to visit the rarely traveled to city of Bandar Seri Begawan, even though I was only there for 1 day and 1 night.

(Click here to watch this Brunei video on Youtube)

If you are in Kota Kinabalu, here’s how to get from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei.

Hiking Mount Bromo
Hiking Mount Bromo

9. Indonesia

It would take years and years to say you’ve traveled through all of Indonesia – there’s more than 19,000 islands that make up the country!

The island of Bali is extremely famous on the backpacking Southeast Asia route, but I would encourage you to explore some other parts of the country as well.

I’ve been to 3 islands, and each one was beautiful in its own unique and fascinating way. From the people to the food to the intense beauty, you’ll find so much to see and experience in Indonesia.

Backpacking Southeast Asia
The ultimate chill sport, maybe in the entire world, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sumatra – Medan, Lake Toba, Orangutans

From Kuala Lumpur I boarded an Air Asia budget flight to Medan, the capital city in central Sumatra. As soon as I landed I got that exciting  sensation, the same kind of positive feeling I get when I return to Africa.

  • Peaceful Shores of Lak Toba: It’s one of those places I’ll never forget, a place so relaxing and beautiful that I could have spent years admiring the beauty at Lake Toba – one of the most amazing places!
  • Face to Face with an Orangutan: If you are interested in wildlife, you’ll be happy to see the orangutans in Sumatra. I went on a two day trek through the jungle and was able to see some amazing orangutans in their natural habitat.

I spent 9 days in Sumatra and barely scratched the surface of possibilities on this lush giant island.

Old Dutch quarter of Jakarta, Java, Indonesia
Old Dutch quarter of Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Java – Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Mount Bromo

Java is the most populous island of Indonesia, home to the largest cities and a fascinating mixture of cultures.

I took a flight (again with Air Asia) from Medan to Jakarta, spent a few days in Jakarta, just one day in Surabaya, almost a week in Yogyakarta and then on to Mount Bromo.

Backpacking in Indonesia
View from the top of Borobudur Temple

Though some areas are quite touristy these days, Yogyakarta is an amazing city to visit with two incredible UNESCO World Heritage temples in the nearby vicinity.

  • Borobudur Temple: Borobudur is an ancient Buddhist temple masterpiece, and if you enjoy visiting historical attractions while backpacking Southeast Asia, this site should be right up there with Angkor Wat on your list.
  • Prambanan Temple: Just a short distance from Borobudur is another remarkable temple, this time Hindu, known as Prambanan. The site of the temple and its ancient construction blew my mind!
Traveling in Bali
It was an amazing sunset on the beach at Lovina, Bali, Indonesia

Bali

Wrapping up my 1 month trip in Indonesia, I spent a few days on the island of Bali. Kuta is a place I didn’t really care for, lots and lots of backpacking tourists and an over amount of partying (in my opinion).

Luckily, there are some amazing places on the island of Bali, like Lovina and Ubud.

When I was last in Bali, I wasn’t really keeping accurate notes or photos, so I barely have any of my own information to share.

Check out the Travelfish Bali travel guide for lots of useful tips.

Places I haven’t been:

Of course, in a country that has as many islands as Indonesi, there are so many places to go, but I’ll just mention a few places that are on top of my list when I return to Indonesia.

  • Sulawesi: This island is a popular destination for divers with its coral ecosystem and is also famous for the Toraja ethnic group and their funerary ceremonies.
  • Komodo Island: You go to Komodo to see giant Komodo dragons in their natural habitat – a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while now
  • Lombok: With amazing beaches, one of Indonesia’s biggest mountains, and beautiful island life, Lombok looks like a lot of fun.
Local Transportation in the Philippines
Local Transportation in the Philippines

10. Philippines

One country that is often overlooked by the majority of backpackers is the Philippines. Why? For one, as an island nation it’s a little out of the way, and two, in the past the Philippines has not been known as the safest destination.

After spending two months in the Philippines, I’m here to tell you that it’s one of the most beautiful countries in Southeast Asia. But again, just like Indonesia, I’ve only had the privilege of exploring a micro portion of the vast archipelago nation of the Philippines.

Backpacking Manila
The sprawling chaotic city of Manila - and I loved it!

Luzon Island – Manila, Banaue

Luzon is the biggest and most populous island in the Philippines, home to the city of Manila as well as a lot of amazing attractions. To get to Manila I got a great deal on a flight with Tiger Airways from Singapore.

Despite Manila not having the greatest reputation, I genuinely had a fantastic time in the action packed city and really came to like love it. About 3/4 of my time in the Philippines, I was in Manila volunteering in Payatas with an organization known as Gawad Kalinga.

  • 16 Things to do in Manila: Here’s a list to give you some ideas of things to do while you are in Manila
  • The World’s First Chinatown: Manila is home to the first Chinatown (outside of China), a great are of town to explore and restaurant hop
  • Seafood Dampa: One of my favorite things to do in Manila is to purchase fresh seafood and have expert chefs freshly prepare it!
  • How to Eat Balut: Ever heard of balut? It’s the Filipino hard boiled egg including a duck embryo – and you’ve got to try it while visiting the Philippines!
  • Mt. Taal: A trip to the world’s smallest active volcano is just a few hours from Manila – climbing Mount Taal was a really fun day trip.
Backpacking the Philippines
One of my most amazing places I've been while backpacking Southeast Asia are the rice terraces around Batad, Philippines

Banaue and Batad Rice Terraces: In the central northern part of the island of Luzon are some of the most incredible rice terraces I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Despite planning to be in Batad for just a few days, I ended staying in the region for about a week, hiking and enjoying the beauty.

Sagadais a small town located in the pine tree mountainous region of Luzon. Arriving to Sagada, the scenery made me feel like I had left the Philippines altogether. When backpacking Southeast Asia, I can’t think of a better mountainous relaxing retreat than Sagada. The ancient hanging coffins were quite interesting, but I really loved hiking into the cave.

Backpacking Southeast Asia
I guarantee you'll feel like a Millionaire while sailing to your private beach!

Palawan – Coron Island

Being a country made up of lots of islands, the Philippines is a beach lover’s dream come true. One island beach destination that I was able to visit was Coron Island just off the larger Palawan Island.

Being a Millionaire in the Philippines!
Being a Millionaire in the Philippines!

It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Renting a boat, hopping from beach to beach, dining on fresh grilled fish and crab was an experience that left me feeling like millionaire for just $35.32.

One reason I love Southeast Asia so much is because you can literally have priceless experiences at affordable costs.

Places I haven’t been:

  • Cebu: Cebu City is another important city in the Philippines and the location where the Spanish first stepped on the islands. I’ve heard there’s a lot of good food in Cebu!
  • Chocolate Hills of Bohol Island: The main reason people come to the island of Bohol is for the amazing natural perfectly shaped hills that resemble Hershey Kiss chocolates.

Backpacking Southeast Asia

You’ve reached the end of this massive 5000 word backpacking Southeast Asia travel guide!

I hope the information in this guide (as well as all the links and videos) will give you some fresh ideas about where to go, what to see, what to eat, and just a preview taste of what to expect.

I am confident that because Southeast Asia is such an amazing part of the world, you’ll have a fascinating trip wherever your journey takes you!

If you have anything to contribute about backpacking in Southeast Asia, PLEASE leave a comment below!



116 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Garret Oien

    1 year ago

    On your picture captioned “You’ll feel like a millionaire while sailing to your private beach,” where is this located? I am hoping to travel back to Southeast Asia in 2017 and the Philippines is definitely on my list.

    • Ally

      3 months ago

      that is in Coron palawan. You better capture the picture and show it to your boat man so that they could take you there when you go island hopping

  • Kenneth

    1 year ago

    Hey Mark! I’m flying out to SE Asia for 6 weeks in a few weeks. This is my first backpacking trip ever and I’m doing it alone.
    I was wondering what your thoughts were on me setting a strict itinerary for myself to follow. I ask because I feel like I need to purchase hostel spaces and/or hotel rooms ASAP. I felt like going with the flow would not be the best idea if I don’t have places to stay set up for me.
    Countries I plan on visiting since I have limited time are Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. (Back to Bangkok after Cambodia)
    So what do you think?
    Thanks!

    • Mike Jones

      3 weeks ago

      You don’t need to purchase in advance, there are tons of hostels, hotels you can just walk in.

  • Krystle

    1 year ago

    Hey Mark! I just read your blog, wow I’m amazed that you’ve been to a lot of places. Your blog really helped me on where to travel next. I do have a question for you. Me and my husband are planning on traveling to Thailand next year as backpackers, could you recommend other countries that we can also go to? I was thinking Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, & Malaysia. Would that be okay? Or what do you recommend? The transportation being by train. Our plan is to go to all the cities in Thailand first. I hope you can help me out. It’ll be my first time backpacking, your help will surely be appreciated. I hope to hear from you Mark. Thank you & God bless 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hi Krystle, great to hear from you and glad you found this post helpful. Yah, those countries you mentioned are all good choices and they are all within the main part of Southeast Asia. You may also be able to add Myanmar to the list as it’s rapidly developing and tourism is growing. So good to visit now when it’s not as busy still. How long will you have?

  • Leigh

    2 years ago

    My boyfriend and I are going to travel soon with his family and I am so glad that I came across your blog. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I feel more prepared to travel now than ever! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Great to hear that Leigh. Hope you and your boyfriend’s family have an amazing trip. Will you be traveling all over Southeast Asia?

  • Ying

    2 years ago

    I have about 30-35 days to start my 1st SE Asia trip in June, and I still can’t decide which countries to visit!! I want to take my time and explore a country, probably can’t go back in future. I was thinking starting in Bangkok and go south make my way to Singapore. But I am open to ideas

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hey Ying, good to hear from you, glad you are going to travel soon. That sounds like a good idea to me!

  • Eugene

    2 years ago

    Hello..

    Is it possible to visit Southeast Asia just by land and water? 🙂

    Thanks.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Eugene, yes you can visit by land or water if you like.

  • Dean Read

    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this excellent guide Mark. I’m flying out to Asia for 3 weeks of backpacking around Thailand next week, your posts and videos have been a massive inspiration over the years. I can’t wait to get out there and see / taste some of things I have seen on your YouTube channel. Many thanks and keep up the great work 🙂 Dean

  • tino

    2 years ago

    Hi mark ! Thanks for sharing this. I’m planning to explore SE Asia and this site is really great.
    Mark maybe you should come to Aceh my hometown i will gladly guide you.
    You will get a lot of good food in Aceh. Thx for sharing this its really helpful.

  • Brian

    2 years ago

    Hey Mark,

    You really have to go to El Nido, Palawan.
    Why? Because you loved Coron and I found El Nido even more beautiful.

    There are also some pictures on my Webpage.

    P.S. I found your website through entering the keywords “backpacker philippinen” into Google. I think I recognized you also from YouTube 🙂

    Cheers,
    Brian

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hey Brian, great to hear from you, thank you very much for the recommendation. I would love to visit El Nido in the future!

  • Gary

    2 years ago

    My girlfriend and I went to Cambodia last year, and we loved Angkor Wat. However, I had a mixed drink at a nice restaurant later that evening, and I think the ice cubes in the drink gave me a 24 hour stomach flu. I should have ordered a bottle of beer instead. That didn’t stop us from exploring, however. Some of the best pictures I have ever taken in my life was on that trip.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Gary, great to hear from you, sorry to hear about that, but glad you continued enjoyed the food and exploring. Thanks for reading.

  • Rae

    3 years ago

    Hey Mark,

    Thanks for sharing! There is just so much to learn and see, you’re right, you just have to jump in and go!

    I’ve been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for a few months now and only gotten to see the stretch between Hanoi and Central Vietnam so far. It was amazing of course, but I wanted to recommend a hidden treasure not included in many guidebooks and articles. Phong Nha in Quang Binh Provence is the home to the world’s largest cave and many other jaw dropping ones. The area is very new to tourism and you won’t get the hassle that you would in places like Sapa or Hoi An. Accommodation is available at either the Easy Tiger hostel or Phong Nha Farmstay. Tours of the caves and National Park are a must, as well as taking a dip in the village river.

    Maybe see you sometime!
    Rae

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hi Rae, great to hear from you. Wow, thank you for the recommendation. I’m hoping to visit Vietnam again in the near future, so I really appreciate your suggestion for Phong Nha, sounds beautiful. Yah, would be great to see you as well. Thanks.

  • SHANIEK

    3 years ago

    I WILL BE IN THAILAND, CAMBODIA, LAOS AND VIETNAM FROM JUNE TO JULY. IS THIS A BAD TIME TO VISIT THOSE COUNTRIES?

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hello Shaniek, not it’s alright 0 but just might be a little rainy, but that’s alright!

  • xylem

    3 years ago

    Wow! Such a wonderful source of information you have in here. I really appreciate how you detailed your post. Thank you for a wonderful Asia travel review

  • Nicolas Parra

    3 years ago

    Hey man! Awesome post!
    I am from Argentina, and I am going on this trip for 1 year… I will be working in Australia or New Zeland to make some money for 6 months, and then I want to follow your path + Nepal, India and Sri Lanka! Do you think it will be enough with 6 months, or I should think about a longer trip?
    Thanks!

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Nicolas, great to hear from you, thank you for reading this article. For time, it depends on how much you want. For those three countries, I think 6 months is a good amount of time, but you could also spend more time, depending on how many places you want to go. 6 months would be good for those 3 countries!

  • Lythis

    3 years ago

    This was an awesome read, man… I’m heading to Thailand in June, and I’ve been devouring every site I can find to prepare. lol I’m on Stumble for several hours every day, and yours is one of the most inclusive guides I’ve seen. Thanks!

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Cool to hear that Lythis, glad you’ll be going to Thailand soon!

  • The Roaming Coconuts

    3 years ago

    Love the blog! If you HAD 3 or so weeks and you had to choose would you say Cambodia or the Philippines?

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey, thank you so much for checking out my blog. For 3 weeks, I would say the Philippines!

  • Robert

    4 years ago

    Wow … what a great post! We visited Bangkok and Koh Samui last spring for the first time. Just loved it! Wished we could have seen Krabi, maybe next time! Thanks for sharing!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Robert, thanks for checking this out, hope you can come again!

  • Jeremy

    4 years ago

    Hi Bud,

    this has to be the best website i have come across while planning my trip to Thailand and Cambodia in Jan/Feb for about a month.

    I am so excited to get lost in all the food options, i am actually worried i may not get to try everything. now that i have learnt how to properly use a squat toilet thanks to you! my experienses in South America where not good i am every more excited…

    do you ever meet up for lunchs or diners with people while they are there?

  • Ryan

    4 years ago

    Stellar guide! I’ll be headed to Southeast Asia in November to teach English in Thailand, and then explore all over from there. I’ll definitely be using a LOT of information on this page as reference. Rad guide, thanks!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey, good to hear that Ryan, I know you’re going to enjoy SE Asia!

  • Paupau

    4 years ago

    Bookmarked! I can’t wait for my own backpacking adventure in 2014. Thank you heaps for this. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Paupau, thank you very much, hope you have an awesome upcoming trip!

  • Wally Zebco

    4 years ago

    I backpacked in S.E. Asia for 12 years. I then lived and worked in Thailand for another 10 years. I would never try to tell people where to go and what to do. I see website with kids who think they are experts and know so very little. My best advice after 22 years in S.E. Asia, don’t listen to anyone (including/especially me) And pack very little, almost nothing.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Wally. I agree, it’s best to GO and see what happens and how things unfold. Packing little is great advice too!

  • Peter Lee

    4 years ago

    Asia not just limited to 3 spots. There are so many other amazing spots to travel like Thailand, Singapore, India, Malaysia etc. One can spend their vacations and enjoy at these destinations. Shanghai is another good option.

  • bakeca Trento

    4 years ago

    very nice places

  • T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries

    4 years ago

    Good gods man, that’s an intense guide!

    I still haven’t made it to Asia yet. I’m hoping….2015, or 2016, to make it to that part of the world. I’m not traveling solo anymore, so it’s a matter of getting the significant other to want to head on over. So many links/information here…one of the better posts I’ve seen about backpacking in Asia. Awesome, Mark!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks a lot T.W. Hope you can come to Asia in the coming years!

  • Luke Lewis

    4 years ago

    Mark, I absolutely love your blog and videos, I cant get enough of them. I think you should add a donation page to your blog as im sure many people would like to donate to you in return for the useful and entertaining information you provide. Your videos have made me decide to quit my job and leave the isle of wight in england and head out to south east asia at the end of this year. Im a massive street food fan and cant wait to try all your recommendations

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Luke, thank you so much for your kind words, and I’m so happy to hear you’ll be coming to SE Asia! Thanks for the idea, I might just test out a donate page. Thanks again!

  • Charles Rahm (@DWJustTravel)

    4 years ago

    This is a great list for backpackers. The Philippines has so many beautiful spots that it hard to fit everything in. I never tried Durian in Malaysia! Maybe next time 🙂 After my travels I ended up staying in Bangkok. You never know, maybe after travelling through SE Asia, you may decide to stay put in one place as I did. I would be delighted if you took look at my blog.
    http://www.dontworryjusttravel.com/index.php/asiapacific

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Charles, yes you’ve got to try Malaysian durian. Your blog is great, thanks!

  • Zuproc

    4 years ago

    It’s good to know that you’d fallen in love with my country (Philippines):D, When you plan to visit us again, Visit Bicol region all the way to Cebu:D, via land and sea, its going to be an amazing experience you’ll never forget. And ofcourse, Manila-Ilocos region-Cagayan-Isabela-Baler up to Casiguran:D and my forever fave place here in the Philippines – BATANES..

    And by the way, one of the must visit places here in the Philippines is Mindanao, don’t forget to include this places on your next visit:D You can never go wrong here in the Philippines:D

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Zuproc, thanks for the comment. I would love to return to the Philippines again and visit all the places you mentioned. There are so many beautiful places in the Philippines!

  • liza

    4 years ago

    Im going to kota kinabalu then off to bali. Can u suggest a great way to go there directly? Im new to backpacking and will need all the help i could get.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Liza, hmm, I guess the best way would be to fly from Kota Kinabalu to Bali – if you can’t get a direct flight you may have to fly to Kuala Lumpur first. Try AirAsia.com

  • Amar

    4 years ago

    Hi!

    I really wish to thank you for this amazing guide. I’m in Bangkok right now and I stumbled on your guide a few months ago. Been here a week now. I was really scared about going at this epic backpacking trip alone after every single of my friends dropped out. But I read your guide, I got so inspired and I have a rough estimate of the route I want to take. Kind of a classic, beginners route – Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I think that’s about all I’ll manage in 4 months. But seriously, thank you so much. I really appreciate it and I’ll be following your blog now. Good luck!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Amar, wow, thanks for sharing, and great to hear this guide has been useful. Hope you have an amazing trip!

  • Ange

    4 years ago

    Mark,

    Your blog was amazing to read, have been thinking off and on for a while know about doing some travelling over to South East Asia but have been scared of doing it alone. Reading posts like yours brings me that much closer. Awesome Awesome!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Ange, thanks a lot for checking out my blog, and great to hear that you’re interested in traveling. Hope you’re able to do some traveling in the future!

  • Nica

    4 years ago

    One of the best SEA bakpacking list and article I’ve ever read. Great things to say about our country – Philippines. You should visit again and go to Boracay, Cebu (if you liked Manila, you’ll defnitely love Cebu City and the beaches), Caramoan Island (where they filmed Survivor), Baguio City and a lot more! Safe travels and all the best for 2013! Happy New Year! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks a lot Nica. I would love to return to the Philippines again in the future, amazing things to do, see, and eat too!

  • Larry H

    4 years ago

    Are there any groups or social organizations that get together and go on excursions like these that you know of – in Bangkok? Or where you can meet like minded people looking for travel companions? I’d love to go on trips like this but I feel I want to start off with people before even trying to go at it alone. Might sound silly but I have this probably paranoid feeling of getting kidnapped or worse when traveling alone in foreign countries.

    Hell, anywhere you can meet like minded people who speak English would be cool to know of too – preferably people around their mid twenties and thirties like us. I plan on volunteering because that’s definitely one way to meet other people but I was wondering of any other solutions.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Larry, in Bangkok I’m not fully sure of any organizations that would get people together for in depth excursions like this, but there are many many foreign travelers that congregate around the Khao San area of Bangkok. Many of them are just there to party, but you can find some that are adventurous travelers that will get off the beaten track.

      Other than hands on networking, maybe you could post in a forum like Lonely Planet, or even couchsurfing.com to try and ask to see if anyone wants to travel.

      Another idea is to just go for it yourself, and often if you stay at a hostel in the communal room and start talking with others you’ll likely meet a few other solo travelers who have similar interests as yourself.

  • Jara

    5 years ago

    I really want to go to coron! I’ve been to cebu, i didnt really have that much fun in the city. We went to the southern part of cebu. The roadside view was amazing, white sand coast! Some cebuanos were really disappointing, they overcharged us upon hearing we dont speak their local laguage (im also a fil but speaks only tagalog). Do visit the islannd of siquijor, its a very peaceful and beautiful island.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hi Jara, thanks for sharing! The Philippines is a country I would love to explore more – so much to see and so much to offer. I hope to visit Siquijor someday on another trip to the Philippines. I hope you have a chance to visiti Coron soon!

  • thepinaysolobackpacker

    5 years ago

    wow! this is a very informative post. thanks for sharing, glad you’re enjoying Asia! If ever you revisit the Philippines, do let us know. There’s a lot of travel bloggers here to welcome you! 🙂 Happy travels!

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thank you, I appreciate you checking it out. I will definitely let you know if I get back to the Philippines, would love to!

  • Stephen

    5 years ago

    I’ve been to a lot of the places you describe on here (and some you haven’t) and this guide really wants to make me to go back/see more – it’s really inspirational. As for me, well I travelled and learned that you can see the world and still not find whatever it is you may be looking for. Turned out, it was under my nose all along at ‘home’ so now I am happily married with a beautiful daughter. Having said that (!) I’m still really envious of this journey that you’re on! Ride this train for as long as possible Mark and keep up the good work as it keeps people like me in my IT office job going ;D I would recommend India to you for the food, culture and sights. The local people outside of the cities are some of the best in the world too – just a thought……

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Stephen, thanks for stopping by. I fully agree with your thoughts, sometimes it just takes traveling and/or a fresh perspective to realize what is for us and what we’re intended to do. Glad you were able to find a wife and have a daughter in the place that was right for you. India is a country I would love to visit and hoping to do so in 2013. Thanks again for reading this guide and for leaving a comment.

  • Joel Bruner

    5 years ago

    Dude what a killer post! This is great man. So many places seen, and so many more to go… I think you can rest assured that you have done a great job. If you go for the second round, trying to really get to every place that you could find or hear about, you will be in SE Asia for the rest of your life. So, the question is, where are you going next? Where is the next place that can be explored as in depth as you have explored SE Asia??? I think there might not be anywhere else in the world that can be as easily travelled as where we are right now…

    Keep up the great work man! Peace

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks Joel! You’re right man, SE Asia is such a great place to explore with so much to do and pretty good transportation. It would hard to explore somewhere as in depth as SE Asia. Many more explorations to come man!

  • Tracy96

    5 years ago

    1. Brunei
    2. Cambodia
    3. Indonesia
    4. Laos
    5. Myanmar
    6. Malaysia
    7. Philippines
    8. Singapore
    9. Thailand
    10. Vietnam

    These are the members of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
    Timor-Leste is a candidate for joining ASEAN, while Papua New Guinea is an observer nation.

  • Dharshani

    5 years ago

    Hey Mark, after reading your experiences i have got full confidence in traveling alone. This is the greatest guide I have ever come across in detail and once till i read this i was under impression that international trips mean expensive (not anymore). Keep traveling and keep posting your experiences. recommendation to some cheaper, best and safer accommodation and places would be an added advantage as when girls plan a trip its not the same like men traveling alone. As safety is the concern comes first in our mind, your guidance would enlighten us. Thanks.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      I really appreciate the kind comment Dharshani. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and that it can be useful. In the future I’ll try to recommend safe and affordable places to stay. I wish you a safe trip and thanks again for checking this out!

  • Micamyx|Senyorita

    5 years ago

    Thanks for this post, Mark! Honestly, i almost panicked when I was scrolling down and not seeing ‘Philippines’ then I saw it at the bottom part LOL. When are you coming back here? 😀

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hehe, of course I would include the Philippines – one of my favorite countries in the world. Not sure when I’ll be back, but I really hope to visit some more islands soon. You have such an incredible country Micamyxl!

  • Dale Kamp (@DaleKamp)

    5 years ago

    Reading through the entire blog post, I was getting afraid you weren’t going to include Philippines. Thank you for not overlooking the archipelago. Glad to know you’re volunteering with Gawad Kalinga.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      You’re welcome Dale. The Philippines is one of my favorite countries on the list, so glad to include it!

  • Josh @ Traveling 9 to 5

    5 years ago

    Mark, this is excellent, thanks for sharing. We’re also in SE Asia right now (Gili Air, Indonesia) and heading to Thailand in a few days. I enjoyed your post on Nasi Campur as it’s pretty much all we’ve eaten for the past two weeks! So looking forward to all the great food in Thailand.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by Josh. Glad to hear that you are in Indonesia – mmmm, it’s been a while since I’ve had nasi campur – it makes such a satisfying meal. If you enjoy eating you’ll also have a great time in Thailand – the food is outstanding! Hope you have a great trip!

  • Noel

    5 years ago

    This is a wonderful and comprehensive post. Great read! However, you miss out Sarawak on your places you haven’t been for Malaysia. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      You’re right Noel, Sarawak is another place I’d love to visit. I’ll include it on this list. Are you from Sarawak?

      • Noel

        5 years ago

        Yes, originally from Sarawak but haven’t lived there for the last 8 years. It’s definitely off the beaten track. Let me know when you plan to head over there.

        • Mark Wiens

          5 years ago

          I’ll let you know, I’d love to spend some time there!

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    5 years ago

    This is so comprehensive, Mark! We’re currently in SE Asia (Cambodia right now, and then Vietnam in a few days), so I’ve been pouring over this. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Great to hear that Christy, hope you guys are having a great trip!

  • Erin

    5 years ago

    What a fantastic detailed guide Mark. Even though we’ve spent quite a lot of time in SE Asia you’ve still introduced me to lots of places I want to visit. Thanks for linking to some of our posts too 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks for checking this out Erin! Glad to include some of your great info about SE Asia within this guide too.

  • Kevin

    5 years ago

    That was great Mark, very good intro guide to SE Asia and with some fantastic pics. Especially the one with the tiger .. or was it a stuffed toy?!. If it was real I don’t think I would risk that!

    I just discovered your blog the other day via your where to live in Bangkok post. I’m also going travelling in Asia in a couple of months time, starting off in Thailand so your posts and experience are really interesting to read.

    Kevin

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Kevin,
      Thanks for checking this out and glad to hear that this information has been useful. Yah, it’s a real tiger, and despite me sitting there, my heart was racing at top speed – I was pretty scared.
      Cool to hear you’ll be coming to SE Asia, how long will you be traveling? Hope you have an awesome time!

    • Kevin

      5 years ago

      I’m going to be travelling “open end”… see how things go and how I like it.

      Going to travel “slowly”, spend time getting to know places a bit. Will be starting off in Thailand in Bangkok, then later on maybe Chiang Mai and then other destinations in the region.

      Ive been to TL on short trips before, but it’s been some time since I was last there so it will be interesting to see what it’s like now.

      I guess that was the famous Tiger Temple with the tame tigers!

      • Mark Wiens

        5 years ago

        Glad to hear you’ll be traveling to Southeast Asia again – and awesome that you’ve left it open-end so you can just go with whatever arises. Have fun and let me know if you need any further advice!

  • Nihal Ellegala

    5 years ago

    Hi,

    Hope you can visit Sri Lanka, even better our own lodge near Kandy called Polwaththa Eco Lodges and include it to your wonderful presentation.

    Nihal

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hi Nihal, I was in Sri Lanka a few months ago and had an incredible time. I will definitely contact you if I make it back to your beautiful country!

  • Traveling Ted

    5 years ago

    This is the blog equivalent of Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. What an amazing resource.

  • Dean

    5 years ago

    This is a really great guide Mark. I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to Southeast Asia, but it’s an amazing part of the world. I would add in the area North of Luang Prabang in Laos. I really enjoyed my time in Nong Khiaw – a very relaxed and peaceful place and an area I would love to explore more in the future. Cheers!

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks for the added input Dean. I’ve never been to the very northern area of Laos, so great to have your recommendation. If I return to Laos I’ll keep Nong Khiaw in mind.

  • Shannon O’Donnell

    5 years ago

    Incredible round up of tips around SEA, this is such a helpful guide to the region (the perfect kind in my eyes with food tips, sights and people rather than merely places). Cheers! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks for checking it out Shannon! I guess also the aim of this guide is to go over some of the things I really enjoy doing and learning in Southeast Asia. I think it’s one of the most food-friendly areas in the entire world!

  • Lane

    5 years ago

    Wow. So much information. We are truly looking forward to exploring that area of the world.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Awesome Lane – do you have plans already to visit SE Asia?

  • Bama

    5 years ago

    This is a great guide, Mark! I might follow your path to some of the places that you mentioned. Speaking of following your path, next month I’m going to Medan and Lake Toba for the first time. So I guess your guide will come handy.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Great to hear that Bama – glad this can be useful. I’m sure you’ll have an incredible time visiting Sumatra, especially Lake Toba – it’s still in my memory as one of my favorite places. Looking forward to seeing some of your pictures!