Backpacking through Southeast Asia for young travelers has become a cliché rite of passage. Many American travelers, in particular, began exploring Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s.
This gave rise to the nickname, “Banana Pancake Trail,” where many of the destinations popular with tourists would offer banana pancakes, and other Western comfort foods, to appeal to the influx of young visitors.
But don’t throw out your Lonely Planet travel guide just yet! This region is well-traveled for a reason.
The tourist industry is structured to be inviting and hospitable to young backpackers, and you don’t have to venture far off the beaten path to experience all the culture, shopping, and nightlife that these destinations have to offer.
The traditional Banana Pancake Trail passes through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and sometimes includes Laos and the Philippines. Below you have a 2-week travel itinerary sample that won’t break your bank.
Know Before you Go
While each region may have its own microclimate, generally speaking, the rainy seasons are from June to August. The best time to visit is November through February when the climate is drier and cooler.
Check the passport requirements for the countries that you are traveling to and from. Many countries only require a passport from US and UK citizens.
However, some countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia require entry visas. Do your research in advance to avoid heartache at a land crossing later.
Make sure you speak to your doctor prior to your travel, as the CDC recommends a number of vaccinations if you are heading to Southeast Asia.
There are so many foreseeable (and unforeseeable!) things that can go wrong during your visit, and you do not want to be stuck with a bill you or your family may be paying back for years to come.
There are lots of insurance companies that offer good, cheap, flexible insurance for short and long-term stays.
Pick a policy that you understand so that you aren’t scrambling to determine whether you are covered if something comes up. Do not get caught – be prepared for the things that can go wrong.
Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary 2 Weeks
If you only have two weeks for your travels, don’t be tempted to try to see and do everything in one shot. Instead, choose the most important must-see destinations that appeal to you and your interests, and spend quality time on those destinations.
The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is a country rich in history and culture. It is the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, and tourism makes up more than 20% of the GDP.
Appealing to Asian (and especially Chinese), European, and Western tourists alike, Thailand is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
Four Days in Bangkok
Begin your adventure in Bangkok, where the streets are bustling – an estimated 22 million people visit yearly – and the famous street food is cheap.
It’s not only a great place to explore on its own, but it also offers low-cost flights and transport to other areas. Bangkok is a very safe place for travelers, with a crime rate lower than most U.S. cities.
Exploring Bangkok’s temples is a great way to spend your first day. In Old Bangkok, you will find the Grand Palace, which is the top tourist destination in Bangkok.
It is also home to Wat Phra Kaew temple. This temple houses the Emerald Buddha statue, a 26 inch Buddha dating back to the 15th century that only the King of Thailand is allowed to approach.
Aim to see Wat Arun, the temple of the dawn, at sunset if you can, when the views are at their best.
Ensure that you dress appropriately for your day at the temples, and over your knees and shoulders. You will also be required to take your shoes off.
See also: The Best Time to Visit Bangkok by Month
Bangkok has so much to offer in the way of shopping. Floating markets, named so because vendors line the canals in wooden boats to sell produce and crafts, are a must-see while you’re in Bangkok.
Damnoen Saduak is the largest floating market, though it can be crowded with tourists. Starting early to avoid the crowd is one of the best tips for people who visit Thailand for the first time.
The Siam Square district offers modern shopping malls featuring electronics, designer clothing, and western brands. Be sure to check out the Sea Life Ocean World, the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia, while you’re in the district.
One of the many Bangkok’s night markets is a great place to end a day of shopping. The best market, if you are looking to avoid counterfeit goods, is the Asiatique. It’s open daily from 4pm until 11pm, and features a museum, restaurants, and even a Ferris wheel.
Be sure to pick up some Thai silks, and if you’re interested in the popularity of silk in the U.S., you may wish to detour to the Jim Thompson House. If you’re visiting on a weekend, the Chatuchak Market is the world’s largest weekend market, covering 35 acres.
While some backpackers prefer to learn the heart and history of Thailand from the streets, there are plenty of beautiful museums that focus on Thai culture.
The Museum of Siam is one such institution, where you can find interactive exhibits and self-guided tours, all in an air-conditioned space.
If you find yourself with some extra time, you may want to go back to visit a favorite spot or take a tour. You may also want to get a Thai massage if you feel too tense.
I’m sure all of you have watched Hangover II and you probably know that has been filmed in Bangkok. There are numerous tours now that cover the places where Phil, Stu, and Alan went: Sky Bar, Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, Pat Pong, and more.
The famous Khao San Road is the backpacker’s epicenter when it comes to Bangkok’s nightlife. Is the perfect place to meet, drink, and party with other backpackers.
The Siam Square district is a popular shopping destination, however, it also offers much in the way of nightlife. Rooftop bars, American chain restaurants (like Hard Rock Café), and clubs feature in the area. Vertigo & Moon bars both have beautiful views of the skyline.
Depending on what you would like to do, a range of ฿800-1500 per day is a good backpacker budget.
Keep in mind that if your time away is limited to two weeks, you may wish to spend more to be able to see more and travel quickly through the region.
Where to Stay
Khao San Road is the mecca of backpackers from around the world, and for good reason. Here you will find the cheapest places to stay, meet tourists from around the world, party, and make travel arrangements for the rest of your journey.
If you are staying on Khao San Road, you will be able to find a range of accommodations, from hostels to three-star hotels. Pay a little bit more and you’ll find hostels with TVs, pools, onsite bars, or even a gym.
If you prefer to stay in a different area then check our guide for the best places to stay in Bangkok.
Bangkok is notorious for traffic jams, so plan to get around Bangkok using the Skytrain, also known as the BTS.
Taxis are great when traffic is low, and if you’re feeling brave, try a motorcycle taxi. You can even travel by boat up the river. Watch for boats with orange flags, which are the public ferries.
Thailand, and especially Bangkok, is known for its street vendors. Street food is convenient and cheap, but also arguably more delicious than what you will find in restaurants.
The food has its roots in Chinese and Teochew cuisine, and the secret to picking the best vendors is to watch to see where the locals are lining up.
Take note that Mondays are street cleaning days, and you won’t be able to get much. Definitely check out the night markets for the best offerings.
When you have completed your explorations in Bangkok, you have some options for getting to Chiang Mai. You can check in with your hostel to see if they know of any deals.
The hour-long flights are fairly cheap (฿1,500) if you are in a hurry, and will save you a day of travel.
You can also take a bus from Mo Chit, Bangkok’s Northern bus station, which will cost around ฿500.
Finally, there are night trains available, which will take about 12 hours, and cost around ฿750-1,200. From my point of view, this is the best option, they are very comfy and you can sleep well.
They arrive the next day in the morning and you have the whole day to explore the city. You will also save the money that you would have paid for one night of accommodation.
Three Days in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is referred to as the Northern Capital, home to more than 500 temples, and was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom.
It is cooler in Chiang Mai than in Bangkok, especially in the evening, so be prepared if you are traveling light.
I always thought the north of Thailand is special and really different than the rest of the country and I suggest you spent at least a week (if possible) or follow this two-week itinerary.
No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without visiting a selection of temples. While there are 500 temples to choose from, you can select the most popular to view some of the best architecture and rich history.
Wat Doi Suthep is known for its elevation and beautiful views and is part of Doi Suthep National Park, where you’ll find a waterfall, cave, and hiking trail. Wat Phra Singh is another temple not to be missed, known especially for its architecture.
When visiting temples, make sure you dress appropriately and be prepared to remove your shoes when asked.
Lanna Culture & Jungle Sanctuary
Chiang Mai is known for elephants, and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a wonderful, and ethical, way to get up close and personal with these creatures.
Your hostel should be able to arrange tickets (even tho usually is more expensive), buy online or you can contact the sanctuary directly.
Travel & Explore
In the afternoon, explore the Lanna Folklife Museum in the Old City.
The Lanna (Lan Na) people of Northern Thailand are a strong presence in Chiang Mai, and a visit to the museum will give insight into the background of this amazing group of people, and their history in Thailand.
Your third day will probably be spent traveling to Cambodia, however, if you plan to fly, you might have some downtime on Day Three.
Given how close you are to the jungle, you may wish to arrange a jungle tour or find a zip line for a beautiful and thrilling view.
Chiang Mai is slightly more affordable than Bangkok, however, try not to budget less than ฿1,000 per day to make sure you can comfortably experience all the city has to offer.
Some of the temples, the main draw to the area, are free to enter. Street food is extremely cheap, as are some of the restaurants.
Where to stay
The best place to stay in Chiang Mai is Old Town. Here you can rent private rooms or dorms, and there are plenty of other travelers to mingle with.
Luckily, Chiang Mai is easy to navigate. You may wish to rent a bicycle or scooter for this leg of your journey (฿50-250 per day), or take the various taxis and buses that are available. If you didn’t use Grab, you should download the app.
However, if you planning an extended holiday, check out this 3-week itinerary in Thailand before moving to Cambodia.
On to the Next Destination
The best and fastest way to travel to Cambodia is to fly. Flights will cost between ฿2,500-5,000. Trains are also available for slightly cheaper (฿1,500), but be prepared to lose up to two days on travel, with the average travel time being over 24 hours.
While Cambodia can be overlooked on some Southeast Asia travel itineraries, it is a strikingly beautiful and fascinating country.
With a diverse history, beautiful beaches, and lively nightlife, any backpacker will fall in love with this country. Like most of Southeast Asia, it is relatively safe if you stay within the tourist destinations.
You should plan to spend on average between $35-55 USD per day. Note that Angkor Wat’s admission fee is relatively expensive at $37 USD for a day pass (Angkor Wat accepts Cambodian Riels, USD, Euros, and Thai Bhat).
Much like Vietnam, Cambodia is a haven for vegans and vegetarians. The food is heavily dependent on fish and vegetables, as well as pork. Fried spider is a regional snack that you will find on some food carts after a night of drinking.
Three Days in Siem Reap
Just as Bangkok is the natural starting point in Thailand, Siem Reap is its counterpart in Cambodia. Though it is the second-largest city, it is the main tourist destination of Cambodia and a cultural center for the country.
Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest religious monument in the world. You can visit it for sunrise and sunset and take some amazing photos and videos. Hot air balloon rides are also popular to see the expansive temple from the air.
Relax in Siem Reap
After a long day, you may want to spend a day or two relaxing and take in the sights.
Siem Reap offers various spas (Mudita Spa is a favorite) that provide massages, facials, and pedicures at great rates. Various meditation classes are available to foreigners and are well worth a drop in.
Siem Reap is not just known as a religious center but has a rich nightlife as well.
The bars are centrally located around Pub Street, so you won’t have to spend money on transportation to try all the famous bars – Angkor WHAT? Bar, and Angkor Famous Bar in particular.
Where to Stay
Siem Reap has a lot of accommodation options for everyone’s taste. If you are looking for a party hostel, midrange, or luxury hotel, check our guide for the best properties in Siem Reap.
On to the Next Destination
If you are flying to Phnom Penh, you can reach it in just under an hour for about $80 USD.
While you will save money traveling by bus ($10 USD), it will also eat about six hours into your day of travel, so choose wisely depending on how much of Cambodia you want to explore.
Two Days in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s largest city and an excellent stopping point between the North and the South. As a stop-over city, there are plenty of things you can cover.
The Central Market building pays homage to the art deco style of the 1920s and provides plenty of shopping opportunities.
Be sure to visit the Royal Palace, which is home to Cambodia’s royal family. The Palace contains beautiful gardens, and features a Silver Pagoda, with silver tile floors.
Tragic History – The Killing Fields
In the former orchard of Choeung Ek, you will find the Killing Fields. This is a place where you may wish to engage a guide, to understand the deep significance of this area.
It is a Buddhist memorial to the victims of the mass genocide by the Khmer Rouge, and home of the mass graves.
On to the Next Destination
To travel to Kampot, you can rent a taxi for between $35-50, or take a bus or train for about $7-9.
Two Days in Kampot
Kampot is a city in southern Cambodia, near the Gulf of Thailand. You will find that Kampot is at a slower pace than the previous cities, making it a great way to wind down the last leg of the trip.
Situated on a river next to the Elephant Mountains, Kampot opens a wide opportunity for sightseeing and food adventures at their best.
Parks and Temples
A Hindu shrine exists in a limestone cave just outside of Kampot, the Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple.
Phnom Bokor National Park provides breathtaking scenery and is a popular destination for those staying at nearby resorts.
The Salt Fields are a peaceful and interesting way to spend an afternoon, watching the locals rake the salt that forms from the seawater.
Cambodia is also world-renowned for its pepper, and you can visit the Cambodian pepper fields as part of a tour.
Kampot has some great locations to cool off from the heat. The Guesthouses along the river have to stand up paddleboards (SUPs) for rent so that you can explore.
A variety of thrill-seeking opportunities exist with Kite Surfing, which is available throughout Kampot. There is also a so-called “Secret Waterfall” if you have the time and patience to go looking for it.
If you are looking to relax, you can safely budget $40 per day for the last leg of your journey. If you are interested in adventuring or partaking in some of the rented activities, you may want to increase your budget.
You can get around Kampot mostly on foot, however, you may wish to rent a bicycle for the duration of your stay. For the areas around Kampot, it’s most economical to go with a tour group.
Where to Stay
If you can, stay alone or close to the river. They are tricky to find, but there are hostels that cater to backpackers in this area. I do recommend Mad Monkey Hostel.
A trip to Kampot is not complete if you have not tried a durian. Durians are a funky-smelling fruit that is actually banned in some public areas.
Kampot boasts the freshest, tastiest, and cheapest durian fruit, and even has dedicated a statue to the fruit.
If Durian isn’t your thing, you will be able to find plenty of pork with rice, a Cambodian favorite.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to go to Cambodia is in the dry season, which is between November to April.
Concluding Your 2 Weeks
While this is not an exhaustive list of the destinations available in Thailand and Cambodia, this should give you enough of a flavor for the country to interest you.
Many travelers find that they are drawn back to these spots time and time again, and areas like Kampot and Bangkok are full of Expats who fell in love with the area and never left.
Southeast Asia Travel Itinerary 1 Month
With one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, Cambodia is brimming with must-see destinations.
Start the second half of your journey by taking in more of the nation’s breathtaking scenery and lively nightlife.
Two Days on Koh Rong Island
Koh Rong Island has both active nightlife and many beachside adventures. There are not usually many tourists, so you will likely not encounter large crowds.
The easiest way to get to the island is by ferry from Sihanoukville.
While here, make a visit to its sister, Koh Rong Samloem.
Fun Activities & Entertainment
Koh Rong Island is a hotspot for water sports like paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, and scuba diving.
During the day, book a time to explore some of the most ethereal marine life on the beach. There are several locations you can go snorkeling, all at around $10 USD.
Book a second underwater excursion during the night to swim among the glowing plankton. It’s like swimming through the night sky.
Koh Touch (Kaoh Touch Beach) is always booming with music that continues late into the night. Visit one of the beachside bars or nightclubs to party with the locals.
To the right of the main pier in Koh Touch is a quieter spot to spend a day on the beach and soak in the sun. Lay back and enjoy the island’s gorgeous scenery.
Where to Stay
The island offers affordable, beautiful places to stay. Stay in a beachfront bungalow or in one of the coolest beach resorts Koh Rong has to offer.
There are no proper roads in Koh Rong, so your options will be motorbike taxis and shuttle boats. Shuttle boat fees range from $5-7 USD.
Get back to Kampot the way you came, then get to Hoi An by bus and train for about $60 USD. For $150 USD you can fly there in half a day.
Vietnam is beloved by locals and backpackers for its blend of past and present. Its vibrant history and culture can be seen in both urban and rural areas.
This nation is the fourth-largest economy in Southeast Asia and is estimated to become 21st in the world by 2025.
Plan to spend an average of $40 USD per day. Food and transportation are budget-friendly, and many tourist sites don’t cost over $10 USD for entry.
Vietnamese food combines local dishes with many global cuisines, primarily from France. Prepare your tastebuds for an adventure amidst the diverse restaurants and food stalls.
Four Days in Hoi An
Hoi An is a peaceful, traditional town in Central Vietnam known for its skilled tailors and nighttime view of the river. As a trading port back in the day, the town was visited by traders from France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other Asian countries.
Hoi An doesn’t have an airport so you need to fly to Da Nang and take a bus or you can get a night train from Hanoi. The easiest and most affordable way is by bus.
Hoi An Central Market is the place to go for street foods, souvenirs, and silk tailoring services. With some of the most affordable fine tailoring in the world, you will walk away with a brand-new garment in less than 24 hours.
Wait until the evening to visit Hoi An Night Market on Nguyen Hoang Street. Here, you will find more local and traditional goods under the light of colorful lanterns overlooking the Thu Bon River. Light a lantern by the river, or take a boat out for a stunning view.
When searching for souvenirs, don’t be afraid to bargain.
See Where to Eat in Hoi An for some of the best restaurants and street foods.
Purchase a Hoi An Old Town ticket to gain access to a variety of attractions. In the center of the neighborhood is the Japanese Covered Bridge. Take a picture with the dog and monkey sculptures on each end, representing the birth years of two Japanese Emperors.
A short distance from the bridge is the Fujian Assembly hall, where locals would meet with Chinese visitors starting from 1690. Take time to admire the exquisite Buddhist artwork, and visit the fertility shrine if you are hoping for a child.
Spend a day in Tra Que Vegetable Village to learn about local farming and village history. You will also get to enjoy a scenic bamboo boat ride, cooking classes, a delicious lunch, and a Vietnamese foot massage.
Where to Stay
Hoi An offers many budget-friendly hostels, starting at around $6 USD a night.
With many streets reserved for walkers and bicycles, exploring on foot is the default. The limited traffic makes it safe and easy.
The cheapest option to get from Hoi An to Ninh Binh is by bus for $20-30 USD. This trip takes about 14 hours. You could also take a train for about $29 but be ready for a 16 hours trip.
Three Days in Ninh Binh
Entering Ninh Binh is like stepping into a fairytale, with limestone mountains and striking views. Prepare for a magical combination of nature and culture, and try some of the area’s specialty grilled goats during your stay.
Ninh Binh is home to the largest complex of Buddhist temples in the nation. Up 300 steps the mountainside is Bai Dinh, where you can explore caves of temples for half the day.
The Bich Dong Pagoda is another tranquil mountainside temple with some of the most photogenic sites. Pass through lotus ponds to the front gate and walk through a large cave on your way to the top tier.
Fun Activities & Entertainment
Visit Cuc Phuong National Park to see the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The center is dedicated to conserving Vietnam’s most endangered species, like the Gibbon and Loris.
Travel & Explore
Paddleboat tours are a great option for exploring the scenic landscape, and several tour options can be found throughout the area. Try the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex for a rowboat ride amidst limestone and jungle.
Enjoy some ice cream in a bizarre location at Hang Mua Peak. Hike 500 steps to the top for breathtaking views of Tam Coc Valley, frozen treat in hand from the cave.
Where to Stay
Check reviews before choosing a place to stay, as Ninh Binh has a handful of places with uncomfortable accommodations. A cheap hostel will cost as little as $7 USD a night.
Reaching Ninh Binh’s attractions is easiest by motorcycle or taxi.
The fastest and most affordable way to get from Ninh Binh to Hanoi is by train or by bus. The station is at the center of Ninh Binh, and the trip is a little over two hours.
Five Days in Hanoi
One of the oldest capitals in the world, Hanoi is interlaced with French influence. Its two main neighborhoods are French Quarter and Old Quarter.
You might think there is too much to spend 5 days in Hanoi, but it’s not true. You could do a lot of day trips from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay (one of the world’s famous landmarks), Ba Vi National Park, Bat Trang Village, and more.
If you are looking to experience some history and culture, visit the Temple of Literature. The temple was built in 1070 in honor of Confucius as a place of learning and is one of Hanoi’s most important cultural locations.
Ngoc Son Temple in Hoan Kiem Lake was also built in honor of a great figure, military leader Tran Hung Dao. Take a chance at the lake to rest and enjoy the area, and look for endangered large soft-shell turtles in the water.
There are many affordable shopping options in Hanoi, like the 65-story Lotte Center. Stop by for entertainment, souvenirs, and food, then head to the Observation Deck for a breathtaking view of the city.
For authentic handicrafts, visit Old Quarter. There, you will also find affordable options for street food and handicrafts.
History of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Several centuries ago, villagers would perform with puppets in flooded rice paddies for entertainment.
This practice has been preserved over the years and can be enjoyed at the world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. The performance is accompanied by traditional music, and the general admission is 100,000 VND.
French Quarter offers many landmarks and tourist spots. Before visiting, check online to see if there is a performance scheduled at the Hanoi Opera House and get a ticket.
The 1911 French building can hold an audience of 600 people. Choose from opera performances, ballets, and traditional folk music.
At the end of your day, get a beer at Bia Hoi Junction in the Old Quarter. Check our article for a full nightlife guide.
Where to Stay
Hanoi is known for being one of the most affordable destinations in Southeast Asia. You will find no shortage of comfortable hostels in the area that won’t break the bank.
However, if you can afford a hotel, then we strongly recommend Hanoi Paradise Center Hotel & Spa.
Concluding Your 4 Weeks
One month may seem like a long time, but it will go by in a flash. This itinerary of how to travel Southeast Asia in a month ensures you will spend quality time in a few of the greatest highlights.